The Cabinet Reshuffle: Right-winger with liberal leanings: Donald Macintyre looks at the varied career of Jonathan Aitken, who becomes Chief Secretary

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The Independent Online
RICH, handsome and urbane, Jonathan Aitken, 52, is the nephew of the first Lord Beaverbrook. After Eton and Oxford, he worked for Selwyn Lloyd and then became a journalist, first covering weddings and funerals for the East Anglian Daily Times. He was subsequently sent for trial - and cleared - for allegedly breaching the Official Secrets Act in a pro-Biafran article for the Sunday Telegraph, during Nigeria's civil war. He has a journalist's eye for high-grade political gossip, but is also author of a scholarly and praised political biography of Richard Nixon.

In 1970, he was stood down as candidate for the crusty Yorkshire seat of Thirsk and Malton - partly because he had earlier campaigned for legalisation of cannabis. Although independent- minded and not a natural Europhobe 'bastard', in John Major's unguarded phrase, he is on the right on the touchstone issues of economic policy and Europe - he was long a driving force with Sir Teddy Taylor, of the European Reform Group, almost entitled to see fellow Cabinet Eurosceptics as Johnny-come-latelies.

But he is liberal on other issues, having supported reform of the Official Secrets Act, is anti-hanging and spoke out publicly against Rupert Murdoch's 'monopoly' acquisition of the Times in 1981.

Long overdue for promotion when Mr Major brought him into the Government in 1992, he was given the defence job as much because of his Middle Eastern business connections with arms-buying countries, as despite them. He was a director of Al Bilhad UK Ltd, which had contracts with the Saudi royal family, and was deputy chairman of Aitken Hume, which channelled pounds 2.1m into TVam.

But he has reinforced his credibility as a public expenditure-cutting Chief Secretary because of his leading role in securing the cuts embodied in the Defence Costs Study, which he has handled with skill and sensitivity. He now has the difficult task of holding down public expenditure.