HOWARD, MICHAEL (1941– ), British politician. Born in South Wales, Michael Howard is the son of Romanian Jewish immigrants originally named Hirsch who ran a small shop in Llanelli. Howard was educated at Llanelli Grammar School and at Cambridge University, where he was president of the Cambridge Union. A barrister who became a q.c. in 1982, Howard entered Parliament in 1983. On the right of the party, Howard first entered Margaret Thatcher's government as a junior minister in 1985. When John Major became prime minister in November 1990, Howard became employment minister, with a seat in the cabinet. He retained a place in the Conservative cabinet until Major's government lost office in 1997, moving to the Environment Ministry in April 1992 and to the senior position of home secretary in May 1993. Howard's hard line on crime proved both successful and popular, although his deputy minister Anne Widdicombe (herself on the right of the party) famously said in May 1997 that there was "something of the night" in his personality. After the Conservatives' disastrous loss at the May 1997 general election, Howard was an unsuccessful candidate to succeed John Major. In November 2003, however, Howard was elected leader of the British Conservative Party, the first Jewish leader of a government or opposition party in Britain in the 20th century. (Sir Herbert *Samuel was leader of the minority Liberal Party from 1931 to 1935.) Howard's Jewish origins do not appear to have been a factor in his election; unlike many Anglo-Jewish leaders, and perhaps because he comes from South Wales rather than a major center of Anglo-Jewish life, Howard has not been particularly close to the Jewish community, although his Jewish background is well-known and he has often referred to his origins as the son of immigrants. Howard resigned as party leader in 2005 following the Conservative election defeat.
[William D. Rubinstein (2nd ed.)]