Parliament & Politics: MacGregor to stand down at next reshuffle

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Indy Politics
JOHN MacGREGOR has told friends he is ready to step down from the Cabinet at the next full-scale reshuffle by the Prime Minister after serving 14 years in government.

The departure of the Secretary of State for Transport, 56, is expected to herald a shake- up by John Major in July.

Sir Norman Fowler, the party chairman, brought back to run Mr Major's successful election campaign after retiring from Baroness Thatcher's Cabinet, is also expected to stand down after the local elections in May and the European elections in June.

Both Mr MacGregor and Sir Norman are believed to be ready to take up more lucrative posts in the City. David Hunt, the Secretary of State for Employment, is being tipped to replace Sir Norman as the next chairman of the party, to prepare the Tories for the testing general election campaign.

Mr MacGregor is regarded by colleagues as a trouble-shooter with an expert eye for small detail. A close friend of Mr Major, he achieved a policy U-turn to open the way for public funding of the Channel tunnel fast rail link, ensuring it would be built. With Mr Major's intervention, he also overcame Treasury resistance to the Crossrail project for London, and the Jubilee Line to Docklands.

He helped to steer Mr Major away from privatising British Rail in regions. The results have been criticised, but Mr MacGregor is convinced they are the most workable option.

A practical politician with a safe pair of hands, he rose from the whips' office to become Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 1985 in charge of cutting spending. It was the job he relished and for which he was known as 'Mac the Knife'.

After two years, he was moved in the Cabinet to become Minister of Agriculture. In 1989, he was promoted as Secretary of State for Education but failed to win Lady Thatcher's confidence, and after 12 months was made Leader of the House. In spite of having the reputation of being solid, but unspectacular, he has put in place some radical plans for transport, including introducing electronic tolls on Britain's motorways.

He was criticised by the environmentalists for allowing Twyford Down in Hampshire to be cut in two to make way for the M3 extension, but with Steven Norris, the Minister for Transport in London, won plaudits for cancelling the East London River Crossing to save Oxleas Wood.

Mr MacGregor is expected to go on to the backbenches. He has held his South Norfolk seat since 1974. Before being elected, he was a special assistant to two former Prime Ministers, Sir Alec Douglas Home and Sir Edward Heath. Married with a son and two daughters, he has told close colleagues he wants to have more time to spend on gardening and polishing up his act as a magician.