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Ex-minister Smith heads pack in CABE chair race

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New Labour's first secretary of state for culture has moved into poll position for the chairmanship of CABE.

The AJ understands that Chris Smith, one of the key ministers responsible for launching the design watchdog, is expected to take on the job as soon as he steps down at the next election.

It has also emerged that John Sorrell - a former Design Council chair and founder of the London Design Festival - is the only other serious candidate left in the running to replace Stuart Lipton.

However, the red-hot favourite remains Smith, who has made no secret of his pride in CABE and his love of architecture. It appears increasingly likely that he will be unveiled within the fortnight.

The appointment will be seen by many as a direct response to the recent audit of conflicts of interest at CABE, which recommended that no active developer should hold the chairmanship.

And one long-term CABE watcher agreed, saying the move would be welcomed by critics who had been concerned by Lipton's financial links to many architects and developers through his company Stanhope.

'This will be welcomed by the profession and those who have recently launched attacks. Architects as a whole seem to like him and his enthusiasm for architecture is a real bonus, ' the observer said.

'Given the limitations put on the decision by the recent conflicts of interest audit, most people would agree that this is a very good choice, ' he added.

Smith, who is currently MP for Islington South and Finsbury, has previously stated his intention to stand down as an MP at the next election. He was in charge at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) from the 1997 election until 2001, during which time he championed free admission for galleries and museums.

Since announcing his decision to leave parliament, Smith has taken up the directorship of the Clore Cultural Leadership Programme, an organisation committed to improving leadership in cultural bodies.

The DCMS - which is in charge of the appointment - refused to comment, except to say that an official announcement could be expected within two weeks.

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