Profile: Damian Green
Being Conservative immigration spokesman involves being comfortable with rocks and hard places.
Michael Howard got his fingers burnt when he made a tough line on immigration a centrepiece of his general election campaign, earning particular criticism for a poster reading: “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?”
But the Tories could not afford to veer too far to the other side, with immigration still causing unique consternation in British politics, and real political ground to be made with a tough immigration policy.
Damian Green has managed to walk this tightrope to general acclaim. He has propounded the Conservatives’ proposal for a cap on immigration – pretty far to the right on any analysis – but maintained, perhaps to a less successful extent, David Cameron’s commitment to stop using emotive language when addressing the topic.
But Green’s main plaudits came from his quiet sniping at the home secretary Jacqui Smith, usually over embarrassing events within her department. We now know some of that ammunition was provided by leaking troublesome information to the media.
That role will hardly have been new to him, having worked as a journalist after leaving Balliol college, Oxford, with a first in politics, philosophy and economics.
His university years, as is fairly commons with politicians, gave strong indications of what was to come. He was president of Oxford Union, and worked alongside his current boss, home secretary Dominic Grieve.
This successful streak continued immediately afterwards, with work in the BBC, Channel 4 News and the Times. He also presented Channel 4’s Business Daily programme until 1992.
He then moved onto politics, working for prime minister John Major’s policy unit until 1994. Ken Livingstone trampled all over him in 1992 when he fought against him for the safe Labour seat of Brent East. When he did enter parliament it was 1997, not the best of time for a Conservative to begin his Commons career. He fought off David Cameron for the Ashford seat, and promptly won it.
Green has sat on the front bench for the majority of that time. He began on education and employment, before being moved to the environment, and then promoted to shadow education secretary by Iain Duncan Smith in 2001.
The shadow front bench shrank significantly when Michael Howard took over the party, and Green found himself shipped off to transport – a clear demotion.
By 2004 it had bored him and he left the bench to campaign, in his words for “compassionate Conservatives”. He still had things to do, including a seat on the Home Affairs committee and the Treasury Committee. When Cameron took over the reins, his One Nation credentials earned him an instant promotion in December 2005.
Despite making similar noises about the liberal character of their party, Green and Cameron were not bound to be friends. He had defeated him for the Ashford seat in 1997, and then supported leadership challenger David Davis during the leadership election. But the relationship with Davis proved useful, when he helped to fill out his shadow home office team in the immigration post.
Initially, members of the Davis team were kept out in the cold by Cameron’s inner circle, still concerned about the former SAS man’s leadership ambitions. But Greens media skills and successful attacks on the home secretary seemed to have won the Tory leader over.
Green also acts as chairman of the Parliamentary Mainstream, a group of moderate centre-right Tories, and vice-president of the Tory Reform Group. He is vice-president of the John Smith Memorial Fund, the group founded in memory of the former Labour leader to promote democracy internationally.
He has written six books and enjoys cricket, football and opera.