Malcolm Leslie Rifkind


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(b. Edinburgh, 21 June 1946)

British; Secretary of State for Defence 1992–5, Foreign Secretary 1995–7; Kt 1997 Educated at George Watson's College and Edinburgh University, Rifkind trained as an advocate. He went to Rhodesia in 1967 to spend a year lecturing at the University College of Rhodesia. He was called to the Scottish bar in 1970. The same year he sought election to parliament, unsuccessfully contesting the Edinburgh Central seat. He was returned to the House of Commons four years later, aged 27, as member for the Pentlands division of the city. An effective debater, his talents were soon rewarded with a frontbench post as deputy to the shadow Scottish Secretary. His tenure of the post was short-lived: a supporter of devolution, he resigned from the front bench in December 1976 in order to vote for the Scotland and Wales Bill. He was returned to partial favour in 1979 and made a junior minister at the Scottish Office, serving for three years before being appointed to the Foreign Office, first as Under-Secretary (1982–3) and then as Minister of State (1983–6). In 1986 he entered the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Scotland. After a four-year stint in the office, he was appointed Transport Secretary and then, two years later, was promoted to the post of Defence Secretary. Widely regarded as a highly effective parliamentarian—renowned for his capacity to speak without notes—he was none the less seen as a supporter of greater European integration at a time when the party was adopting a more sceptical stance on the issue. He gradually came to adopt a more sceptical position, in effect making him a viable candidate for the Foreign Office in succession to the committed European Douglas Hurd. When Hurd stood down in July 1995, Rifkind was chosen to succeed him.

A gifted orator and respected administrator, he was seen by some supporters as a potential leader of the Conservative Party, combining a commitment to principle with a capacity to take a pragmatic stance where appropriate. It was his misfortune that he lost his marginal constituency in the 1997 general election and so was unable to stand for the party leadership when John Major resigned. Both a plus and a minus in party circles is the fact that he was one of the most forceful of Cabinet ministers in urging Margaret Thatcher to step down as leader following the first ballot in the leadership contest in 1990. With Kenneth Clarke, he is reputed to have threatened to resign if she did not withdraw from the contest. He stood for his Edinburgh constituency in 2001 but failed to win it back. He did return to Parliament, representing Kensington and Chelsea, in the 2005 election. He served in Michael Howard's shadow cabinet, but, after an abortive attempt at the party leadership, he returned to the back benches in December 2005 when David Cameron became leader.

Subjects: Politics.

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