Michael Howard, QC, MP (born July 7, 1941) is a British politician and was Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Conservative Party from November 2003 to December 2005. Since becoming an MP at the 1983 General Election, he held a number of positions in successive Conservative governments until their loss of power in 1997, most notably Home Secretary under John Major.
Howard was born in Llanelli, Wales, where his Romanian Jewish shopkeeper father Bernard Hecht had moved as an asylum seeker. His mother, Hilda Kershion, was Welsh-born and of Eastern European Jewish ancestry. He attended a state school and Peterhouse, Cambridge and was President of the Cambridge Union Society in 1962.
He was called to the Bar (Inner Temple) in 1964 and specialised in employment law and planning issues. In the 1966 election he fought the safe Labour seat of Liverpool Edge Hill, which led to his support for Liverpool F.C.
Howard entered the Government early, becoming Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry in 1985. This junior post became very important as he oversaw the Big Bang introduction of new technology in 1986. After the 1987 election he became Minister for Local Government.
He then guided through the House of Commons the Local Government Finance Act 1988 which brought in Mrs Thatcher's new system of local taxation, officially known as the Community Charge but almost universally nicknamed the poll tax. Howard personally supported the tax and was respected by Mrs Thatcher for minimising the rebellion against it within the Conservative Party. After a period as Minister for Water and Planning in 1988/89, in which time he was responsible for implementing water privatization in England and Wales, Howard was promoted to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Employment in January 1990 when Norman Fowler resigned "to spend more time with his family". Howard therefore took on responsibility for legislation abolishing the closed shop. He campaigned vigorously for Mrs Thatcher in the leadership contest following her resignation in November 1990. He retained the same cabinet post under John Major and made many attacks on trade union power as part of the 1992 general election campaign.
After the 2001 General Election Howard was recalled to frontline politics when the Conservatives' new leader Iain Duncan Smith appointed him as Shadow Chancellor. His performances as Shadow Chancellor won him much praise, indeed under his guidance the Conservatives decided to debate the economy on an 'Opposition Day' for the first time since coming to power. After Duncan Smith was removed from the leadership by the parliamentary party, Howard was elected unopposed as leader of the party in 2003.
In February 2004, Howard called on Tony Blair to resign over the Iraq war, because he had failed to ask "basic questions" regarding WMD claims and misled Parliament. In July taht year the Conservative leader stated that he would not have voted for the motion that authorised the Iraq war had he known the quality of intelligence information on which the WMD claims were based. His criticism of Blair did not earn Howard sympathies in Washington, where President Bush refused to meet him.
In the May 2005 general election Michael Howard failed to unseat the Labour Government, although the Conservatives did gain 33 seats. The day after the election, Howard stated in a speech in the newly-gained Conservative seat in Putney that he would not lead the party into the next General Election as he would be "too old", and that he would stand down "sooner rather than later", following a revision of the Conservative leadership electoral process.
In March 2006 Michael Howard announced his intention to stand-down as an MP at the next general election.