Shriti Vadera: the Downing Street bruiser who made grown men cry

Baroness Vadera, AKA 'Shriti the Shriek', is as renowned for her temper as for her intellect. Now the former banker turned Downing Street advisor is off to work for the G20.

Greater love hath no prime minister than to surrender his most trusted adviser to the cause of global economic stability. That was the spin Number Ten tried to put on the departure of Shriti Vadera, "Gordon's Representative on Earth", as she heads off to lick the G20 into shape. "No doubt scores of civil servants are heaving a sigh of relief," remarked The Guardian. As renowned for her temper as for her "fierce intellect and ferocious willpower", 'Shriti the Shriek' has been known to make grown men cry.

No one denies that Vadera a former Warburg banker "is a tough nut", says The Times. But is she really the virago she's made out to be? "The serious-minded but likeable thirtysomething I knew has transmuted into the assassin of Railtrack, the ass-kicker of Transport for London, the axe-wielder from the Treasury," observed Martin Vander Weyer in a 2007 Spectator article. But that was small beer compared to the opprobrium others heaped on her back. Depicted as heartless for her treatment of Railtrack's small investors (though she never actually made the remark about grannies "losing their blouses"), she was mocked as "Shooti" for talking up the economy's "green shoots" during the dark days of January.

Much of the nastiness is down to sexism, mixed with a suspicion of Vadera's role as Brown's shadowy fixer-in-chief. But she is her own worst enemy, says Vander Weyer. Although one of the "few competent" members of Brown's inner circle, she is "politically unsophisticated" and intensely private: she was once found weeping in the corridor because the exits were barred by baying reporters.

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Yet the more we learn of the banking crisis, the higher Vadera's stock rises, says the Daily Mail. As the BBC documentary Love of Money makes clear, she led the campaign to avert all-out collapse. There are comparisons to be made with the role JP Morgan played in curtailing the 1907 Wall Street Panic. When the chancellor was later asked what he would do with bankers if they refused to agree to lend more, he replied: "Put them in a room with Vadera and lock the doors for a couple of hours."

There are other reasons to admire her, says The Guardian. Although seen by the City as one of its own, she turned her back on "the squillions she could have made and applied her banking skills to the issue closest to her heart: the developing world". Born in 1962 in Uganda, where her parents owned a small tea plantation, the family was expelled by Idi Amin in 1972 and wound up in London. Shriti studied PPE at Oxford and joined Warburgs as a trainee. She became an African expert, specialising in debt-restructuring and privatisation work, eventually becoming a trustee of Oxfam. It was her "passion for relieving poverty in Africa" that put her in touch with Brown, says the Evening Standard. He offered her a place on the Treasury team in 1999 and soon discovered her usefulness extended beyond Make Poverty History campaigns. He couldn't have wished for a more faithful servant. During last year's troubles, she gave him a picture of the poster "Your Country Needs You", mocked up with Brown's face. He will miss her.

What's behind Vadera's move to the G20?

Vadera's change of job inevitably "calls to mind rats and sinking ships", says Madeleine Bunting in The Guardian. "She wants out from the dispiriting year that lies ahead." And who can blame her?" She's unlikely to be the last New Labour apparatchik to jump ship. By lining her up for the G20 job, Brown has certainly provided Vadera with "a lifeboat", says the Daily Mail, though hardly a lucrative one. She'll work as an unpaid liaison between the British presidency of the G20 and the South Koreans who take up the post next year. She'll probably step down when France assumes the role in 2011.

Vadera has a bijou mews house in Holland Park, a holiday house in Italy and a close circle of friends. But she rarely takes days off, says The Times. What the Koreans will make of her "is a mystery". She may eventually return to banking, but in the meantime she's performing a vital role for Brown. The G20 "remains one of the successes to which he clings". It remains vital "if he is to persuade a doubting electorate that he should be re-elected because of what he has done for the world and British economy".

Some speculate that Brown is sending Vadera ahead "to play the John the Baptist role", remarks David Blackburn on his Spectator blog. "Whilst Blair desires to be President of Europe, Brown seems to fancy himself as the G20's future Generalissimo". But don't expect an imminent move. The nation might be crying: 'In the name of God, go'." But Brown clearly intends to fight on.