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General News of Wednesday, 29 May 2002

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Paul Boateng: First Black British Minister

Paul Boateng, is the new British Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and becomes the first black Cabinet minister in Britain.

Born in Hackney, Mr Boateng grew up in Ghana where he attended Accra Academy. His father, Kwaku Boateng, was a barrister, Christian evangelist and cabinet minister who was later imprisoned. His mother Eleanor was Scottish.

The family fled to Britain after a military coup in 1967, when Mr Boateng was a teenager.

He was educated at Bristol University (where he was President of the Debating Union) and a Barrister by profession. Boateng has since 1987 been an MP for Brent South, a strongly pro-Labour constituency in the inner city of London, and was the first person of African descent to be elected to the British parliament.

He combined his odyssey through London Labour politics, includinga spell as chairman of the GLC police committee, with his progression as a barrister. He became an MP in 1987, declaring somewhat improbably in his victory speech: "Today Brent South, tomorrow Soweto."

Early in his Commons career he was embarrassed by the publication in the News of the World of a picture of himself - - taken during a pantomime performance - - wearing nothing but a judge's gown, basque, stockings, suspenders and a jockstrap. Observers said he had one of the best pairs of legs at Westminster.

When Labour came to power in May 1997 he landed a junior job at the Department of Health. He was already being tipped to join the Cabinet one day, and has since climbed through the ranks at the Home Office and the Treasury.

Urbane and well-spoken, he has steered clear of controversy and built a reputation as a solid performer in the Commons.

As a Methodist, his most outspoken stance has come over his defence of the institution of marriage. At the Home Office, where he had responsibility for family policy, he veered away from the government line to claim that married couples provide a more stable environment for bringing up children than their co-habiting counterparts.

He even told a conference organised by the Family Matters think tank: "We know cohabitation is less likely to inculcate stability in a family than marriage. That is not making a moral judgment. It is just a fact. As a Christian I believe in marriage as a sacrament, but I do not believe that can be the basis for policy.

"What we need to do is inculcate into society a sense of the values that surround marriage, the framework which is most likely to produce successful relationships."

In the Eighties he was the radical lawyer who campaigned against police stop-and-search powers, backed Tony Benn to be Labour deputy leader, and was supported by Trotskyists in his attempts to find a Parliamentary seat. Today, at 50, he is the sharp-suited minister who chose a private education for some of his five children, and who loyally backed Frank Dobson's doomed mayoral campaign against that of his former GLC colleague Ken Livingstone.