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British Labour politician
Born 1961

Caroline Flint has been the Member of Parliament for the Don Valley since 1997, and is currently a Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with responsibility for Europe, having fulfilled a number of junior roles in the government since 2003. Recognised as one of the more fetching of Blair's Babes, she was once referred to by Private Eye as the "gorgeous, pouting" Caroline Flint.

Early life and career

Caroline Louise Flint was born on the 20th September 1961 at a mother-and-baby home found at 12 Avenue Road, near Regents Park in London. Her mother Wendy Beasley was an unmarried seventeen year-old typist at the time, and Caroline spent much of her early years in the care of her maternal grandparents who ran the Jolly Blacksmith Hotel in Twickenham. When her mother was nineteen she married a television service manager named Peter Flint, who legally adopted Caroline, and indeed it wasn't until she was ten that she discovered that he wasn't her biological father. She has however never met her actual father and has expressed doubts that he ever learned of her existence. A half sister Andreas was born in 1965 and followed by a half-brother Stuart in 1969, although the Flints later split up when Caroline was thirteen, after which her adoptive father remarried a much younger woman, whilst her mother Wendy later died at the comparatively young age of forty-five from "lobar pneumonia due to alcoholic fatty infiltration of liver".

During her youth Caroline was apparently keen on dancing and was taught by Babette Palmer, the mother of Bonnie Langford, and once "did an item" with Anita Harris in The Good Old Days at the Richmond Theatre, although in Caroline's case it appears that her inability to sing quashed any thoughts of a career in the performing arts. Educated at the Twickenham Girls' School, she took her A-levels at Richmond Tertiary College, and attended the University of East Anglia where she studied for a degree in American Literature and History with Film Studies. After graduating she spent a year working as the women's officer for the National Organisation of Labour Students from 1982 until 1983 when she joined the Inner London Education Authority as a management trainee in 1983 and subsequently worked as a policy officer between 1984 and 1986.

It was during the summer of 1985 she went on holiday to Sousse in Tunisia with some fellow Labour Party members, and met a local named Saief Zammel, a twenty-eight year-old stock market dealer at a bank in Tunis, whose father Hechmi Zammel was Tunisia's Attorney-General. Saief later recalled that on first meeting Caroline that she "looked stunning in a revealing top" and later invited him back to her hotel room that evening. Romance blossomed (as they say) and eventually led to the birth of their son Karim in November 1986, whilst they were later married at Hounslow Register Office in the summer of 1987. Unfortunately Caroline's attempts to settle in Tunisia failed (the Zammel family held staunchly traditionalist Muslim views regarding a woman's place in society) and so she returned to Britain in January 1988 to give birth to her daughter Hanna.

Although Saief followed her back to Britain, he similarly failed to settle down in London. Having held a highly paid job in Tunisia, he was forced to work as a cleaner, and later as a clerk in a bureau de change. Their relationship failed, and they were separated in September 1988, and Saief ended up sleeping rough on the streets. In February 1989 Caroline was granted a restraining order against Saief under the Domestic Violence Act, and shortly afterwards he was arrested and after an immigration hearing was deported back to Tunisia. For her part Caroline has claimed that her husband "had previously been twice convicted of violent offences, one towards the police", whilst although Saief has admitted that he was arrested twice, has denied that he was ever convicted of any offence and that he was, in any case, never violent towards his wife. Whatever the truth behind the story, Caroline was eventually granted a divorce on the grounds of her husband's unreasonable behaviour on the 22nd February 1990, and was given sole custody of the children.

By this time Caroline had returned to work as the head of the Women's Unit at the National Union of Students in 1988, but moved into local government in the following year as a principal officer at Lambeth Council in 1989, and worked as an equal opportunities officer until 1991 and then as a welfare and staff development officer until 1993 when she left to take up employment as a senior researcher and political officer for the General and Municipal Boilermaker's Union.

Political career

Having joined the Labour Party at the age of seventeen, Caroline was later active within the Brentford and Isleworth Constituency Labour Party, and indeed was chair of the CLP between 1991 and 1995. During this time she made an attempt to replace Ann Keen as the prospective parliamentary candidate for the constituency but failed in her endeavours, and so was forced to look elsewhere. She was subsequently chosen to succeed Martin Redmond in the relatively safe Labour seat of the Don Valley in south Yorkshire, and was duly elected at the General Election of 2007 with a majority 14,659.

She made her maiden speech on the 2nd June 1997 during the second reading of the Education (Schools) Bill, and like many newly elected Labour members was keen to make a good impression on the powers that be by asking 'helpful' questions of government ministers, being once described by Simon Hoggart of The Guardian in 2000 as "a hardline toady, an aardvark-tongued bootlicker, a member of an active service unit in the greasers' Provisional Wing". Presumably all this 'hardline toadying' worked as she soon found herself as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Peter Hain, when he was at the Foreign Office in 1999-2001 and then the Department of Trade and Industry in 2001. She subsequently performed the same duties for John Reid as Leader of the House of Commons and President of the Council 2002-2003 and then as Minister without Portfolio and Labour Party Chair in 2003.

It was finally in June 2003 that she received her first government post when she was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Department of Health, being later promoted on the 8th May 2006 to the status of Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health. She subsequently took charge of Hazel Blears's campaign for the deputy leadership of the party, although since Blears was the first to be eliminated in the contest, this could hardly be claimed to have been a success. Nevertheless on the 29th June 2007 Caroline joined Gordon Brown's first government as the Minister for State at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) with responsibility for Employment and Welfare Reform, being additionally the Minister for Yorkshire and the Humber. At the DWP she was working for her old boss Peter Hain, who was later obliged to resign, forcing Brown to have a mini reshuffle. Thus on the 24th January 2008 Caroline was moved to the Department for Communities and Local Government as the Minister of State for Housing and Planning.

She first came to the notice of the public during her time as the Minister for Public Health when she was particularly enthusiastic about condoms, welcoming Gordon Brown's decision to reduce the VAT on condoms from 17.5% to 5% ("safe sex has never been cheaper"), and later launching a campaign in November 2006 to encourage their use amongst the 18-24 age group, with the claim that the aim was "to make carrying and using a condom among this age group as familiar as carrying a mobile phone, lipstick or putting on a seat-belt". It was also in this role that she announced on the 6th June 2007 an 'improved' labelling system for alcoholic drinks; a proposal that caused Boris Johnson to refer to her as a "junior minister anxious to make a name for herself" and that she was "asserting her own existence" by "stamping her mark, like the signature of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, on every bottle we buy". Indeed it was her various pronouncements on the dangers posed by middle-class wine drinkers and chip-eating children that won her the reputation of being both bossy and interfering, and thus a leading proponent of what might be termed the New Labour nanny state.

If that wasn't enough, as the Minister of State for Housing and Planning she put forward the proposal in February 2008 that council tenants should be required to sign 'commitment contracts' in which they inter alia promised to look for work, and might therefore be evicted if they failed to look hard enough. This attracted condemnation from a number of quarters including the likes of the housing charity Shelter, all of whom pointed out that local councils would then simply be obliged to house any evicted tenants in more expensive temporary accommodation. Then in May 2008 she was photographed arriving at 10 Downing Street with her briefing papers on the emerging national housing 'crisis' in a transparent folder. A close inspection of the resulting photographs allowed journalists to provide the public with a number of key nuggets of information regarding the official view of the situation, amongst which were that house building had stalled, that house prices were expected "at best" to fall by at least 5% to 10% in 2008, and that "We can't tell how bad it will get".

This faux paux did not however effect her standing with Prime Minister Brown, who later appointed her as a Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the 6th October 2008; a move that would generally be regarded as a promotion. Now working under David Miliband, she took over from Jim Murphy as the Minister for Europe.


Caroline Flint won a Radio Five Worricker Political Award in 2007 for being the 'Sexiest Female' and once headed Adam Boulton's list of the "Top 10 Most Fanciable MPs" in 2006, but slipped to No.2 in 2007, and dropped out of the list altogether in 2008, but nevertheless caused some excitement in the press when she turned up for the budget that year wearing a split skirt. Indeed, despite being a fairly junior member of the government, she has managed to attract more than her fair share of media coverage. It was however once claimed in the Mail on Sunday that she possessed "one of Westminster's most preening egos" and that press photographers had noted how her "scowl" and "stumpy gait" would rapidly be transformed into a "Cannes Film Festival smile" and a "hip-waggling sashay" when she noted their presence.

Shortly after divorcing her first husband, she began seeing Phil Cole who worked in public relations. He later gave up his job once Caroline was elected to the Commons, since convention now dictated that she live somewhere near the constituency. An alternative source of employment soon became available however, since Caroline was simply able to employ her boyfriend to run her constituency office. Mr Cole retained political ambitions of his own and once stood unsuccessfully for election to Doncaster Council, and was said to have had his eyes on becoming mayor. On the 29th February 2000 Caroline took advantage of the leap year tradition and faxed him a proposal of marriage, and they were later married in July 2001. Caroline has nevertheless retained the Flint surname, at least for political purposes, and together they are raising her two children Karim and Hanna, together with Nick who is Phil Cole's son from a previous relationship.

She is also a member of the Fabian Society, whilst her hobbies include cinema, tennis, and tap-dancing, and was a co-founder of the Division Belles, the parliamentary tap dancing troupe that also includes Hazel Blears amongst its members.


SOURCES

  • The 'official' biography at
    http://www.carolineflint.co.uk/biography/biography.htm
  • Will Woodward, Commons question MP faxes wedding offer to partner, The Guardian, Wednesday March 1 2000
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2000/mar/01/uk.politicalnews2?commentpage=1
  • Dole Not Cole, reproduced from Private Eye No.1109, 25th June 2004
    http://www.wintergate.f9.co.uk/page11.html
  • Amanda Perthen and Ian Sparks, How 'Blair babe' airburshed secret Tunisian husband from her life, Daily Mail, 17 February 2007
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-436848/How-Blair-babe-airburshed-secret-Tunisian-husband-life.html
  • Dominic Kennedy, The tough upbringing that makes Supernanny think she knows best, The Times, June 27, 2007
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article1991398.ece
  • Niall Firth, 'Blair Babe' Caroline Flint livens up Budget day in daring split-skirt, Daily Mail, 13 March 2008
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-532111/Blair-Babe-Caroline-Flint-livens-Budget-day-daring-split-skirt.html
  • William Langley, An all-too-revealing peek at the briefs of Caroline Flint, Daily Telegraph, 18/05/2008
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2008/05/18/do1803.xml
  • Robert Winnett, Caroline Flint blunder lets slip Government's house price pessimism,Daily Telegraph, 13 May 2008
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1951760/Caroline-Flint-blunder-lets-slip-Government's-house-price-pessimism.html

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