Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

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Byline: PAUL LINFORD

POLITICS, like life, seldom turns out how you expect, and the career of the former Darlington MP Alan Milburn is a case in point.

During Tony Blair's first term as Prime Minister, and the early part of the second, I always anticipated that the contest to succeed him would be fought out between Mr Milburn and Chancellor Gordon Brown.

It was not just North East bias at work here. I think Mr Brown also viewed the charismatic health secretary as his main rival, which is why Mr Milburn often found his plans for the NHS frustrated by Treasury opposition.

Then came Mr Milburn's shock resignation in June 2003, which of all the political stories I covered in those years was easily the one I had least expected.

Mr Milburn made clear at the time that he was quitting in order to spend more time in the North East with his young family having, as he put it in his resignation letter to Mr Blair, already missed a good deal of their early childhoods.

This did not stop him making a short-lived return to the frontline as Labour's 2005 election campaign co-ordinator, but even allowing for that, I was surprised that he did not seek to make a more serious comeback once his two sons, now aged 22 and 16, were older.

There were very persuasive rumours circulating in 2008 that he was preparing to challenge Mr Brown for the Labour leadership and, in retrospect, had he done so it might have done his party a favour.

But it never materialised and instead, Mr Milburn opted to leave Parliament altogether in 2010, by then a rather isolated figure in a party he could so easily have led.

However, being an MP is only one way of having an influence on the political system, as Mr Milburn has subsequently demonstrated.

Having headed a panel on fair access to the professions under Labour, he has reinvented himself as chair of the Coalition's Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, producing a report this week which could have more farreaching consequences than anything he ever did as a minister. Unsurprisingly the North East figures strongly in the report's findings, which highlight something of a North-South divide in educational standards. …

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