Ryder no stranger to living on the edge

RICHARD Ryder, the Suffolk farmer and Ipswich Town fan who now finds himself in the hot seat at the crisis-torn BBC as acting chairman of its governors, is no stranger to having to tread a path of difficult diplomacy.

By Graham Dines

RICHARD Ryder, the Suffolk farmer and Ipswich Town fan who now finds himself in the hot seat at the crisis-torn BBC as acting chairman of its governors, is no stranger to having to tread a path of difficult diplomacy.

As Chief Whip for John Major between1990 to 1995, he was faced with a rebellion of backbench MPs over the Maastrict Treaty that threatened to bring down the Government.

Night and after in the Commons votes over Maastrict after Mr Major negotiated British opt-out, the rebels played cat-and-mouse with the Chief Whip, leading to some Government defeats but never on a vote of confidence.

He left the Government in 1995 and quit as Mid Norfolk MP at the 1997 General Election. He was created a life peer in Major's dissolution honours list, taking the title of Lord Ryder of Wensum.

Lord Ryder's first duty as acting chairman has been to issue an unreserved apology to Tony Blair for the BBC's actions following the notorious Andrew Gilligan report on the Today programme, the consequence of which were to lead to the suicide of Dr David Kelly.

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Lord Ryder was born on February 4 1949, the son of Stephen Ryder of Great Bradley Hall near Newmarket. He was educated at Radley College and Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he gained a BA in history in 1971.

Four years later, he became political secretary to Margaret Thatcher when she was elected Leader of the Conservative Party. He moved with her to Downing Street to continue advising the Prime Minister, leaving in 1981 to become a journalist and prepare for fighting Mid Norfolk for the Tories.

He joined Mr Thatcher's ministerial ranks in 1986 when he was appointed a junior whip and two years later, he became parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. In 1989, he was appointed Economic Secretary to the Treasury, a post he held for six months before joining Mrs Thatcher's last ministerial team as Paymaster General.

In 1990, when John Major became Leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister, Richard Ryder took over the crucial role of Chief Whip, a post he continued to hold after the Government reshuffle after Major's 1992 surprise election victory.

Lord Ryder was the founding chairman of Eastern Counties Radio, but resigned this post on appointment to the BBC Board of Governors.

Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer, who sat in the Cabinet with Lord Ryder, said: "He is a man of extreme probity and tremendous ability. He will make an excellent acting chairman."

He was married in 1981 to Caroline Stephens and the couple have one surviving daughter. They live in Great Bradley, on the Suffolk/Cambridgeshire border between Haverhill and Newmarket.

Locally, Lord Ryder is probably best known for his time as a director of Ipswich Town Football Club, a position from which he resigned earlier this year.

During his years on the board at Portman Road, he tasted the glory of promotion to the Premiership in 2000, followed by a successful first year back in the top flight, when the team qualified for the UEFA Cup.

However, the final years of his directorship were more difficult, with relegation from the Premiership being followed by a mounting financial crisis which culminated in the club going into administration last February.

Lord Ryder is well known for his passionate interest in football, and Ipswich Town in particular. At home matches, he would often be seen leaning over the wall of the directors' box to discuss how the game was going.

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