The Cabinet Reshuffle: Smile hides disappointment: Gillian Shephard

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The Independent Online
THERE MIGHT have been a hint of disappointment behind Gillian Shephard's smile yesterday morning, writes Patricia Wynn Davis.

There proved to be no vacancy for the job the former schools inspector would have loved - education. She spent no fewer than 50 minutes at No 10, indicating that hard words may have been exchanged, despite reports that she wanted her new job at agriculture.

A Roman Catholic, and an Oxford modern languages graduate who speaks French, Italian and German but is no Europhile, the new Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will bring a farming background going back five generations. She can add experience of negotiating at EC level where she has argued, so far successfully, for the proposed working time directive to be toned down. The Foreign Office had to step in to stop her upsetting the French with her Trafalgar Day proposal.

A former junior Treasury minister and junior social security minister who entered Parliament in 1987 as the MP for Norfolk South West, the rise of Mrs Shephard, 53, has been swift. But yesterday's sideways shuffle is disappointing in the light of John Major's professed keenness on the promotion of women.

Able and hard-working, Mrs Shephard is not viewed as having shone as Secretary of State for Employment. While few do, she held the brief during one of its least glamorous phases and suffered the indignity of not being consulted over the pit closure programme. There were cautious statements about rising and eventually falling unemployment and the worthy topic of training. Agriculture should prove more exciting.