Standing for industry

Only a handful of MPs have a background in industry, science or technology and the number is likely to fall further. On the following pages we speak to two candidates who are almost certain to be elected: Conservative David Prior, chairman of a small man

David Prior

Son of former Conservative minister and GEC Chairman Jim (now Lord) Prior. Though he studied law at Cambridge University and qualified as a barrister because `it was the easiest qualification to get’, Prior says he always had ambitions to work in industry. He founded the student Industrial Society at university to encourage links between industry and students.

In the late 1970s he spent three years in merchant banking in New York with Lazard Freres, where he met Ian MacGregor, then chairman of US mining company Amax. When MacGregor was appointed chairman of British Steel in 1980, Prior was seconded to the firm and worked as his assistant for two years. He decided to stay and was appointed managing director of British Steel’s distribution and processing subsidiary, British Steel Service Centres, where he was in charge of a restructuring operation. Later he became commercial director responsible for sales, marketing and distribution.

In 1987 he was part of a buyout of steel processing business Bore Steel. He later sold this and set up a development capital fund with one of the buyout partners. The fund invested in, among other things, Lurmark, a Cambridgeshire manufacturer of plastic and metal spray nozzles and filters, pumps and pipe fittings for agricultural and industrial spraying. He is now chairman of that company which has 58 employees and he is also a director of GEI International, a manufacturer of processing and packaging machinery.

Ambitious for ministerial office, Prior, 43, is standing for the safe Conservative seat of Norfolk North, where the sitting MP Sir Ralph Howell is retiring. He is defending a majority of 12,545.

Dr Ashok Kumar

Won Langbargh, Teesside, from the Conservatives in a by-election in November 1991, converting a 2,000 Conservative majority to a 2,000 Labour one. Lost seat by 1,500 at General Election six months later.

As a chemical engineering graduate in 1978, he joined British Steel Research for a year, then returned to university to do a PhD in fluid flow for plate heat exchanger design. Became research fellow at Imperial College working on a Nasa contract on turbulent flow over multi-element aerofoils. In 1985, he returned to British Steel’s Teesside laboratory working on mathematical modelling of heat and mass transfer in blast furnaces. Became councillor in Middlesbrough two years later.

The seat Kumar, 40, is contesting, has been renamed South Middlesbrough and East Cleveland after boundary changes, and is the 17th most marginal in the country. He hopes to use his experience to good effect on the trade and industry or science and technology select committee.