New shadow health secretary Liam Fox is sure to make a colourful contribution to William Hague's re-shuffled front bench.

Who would have thought the Conservative Party could come up with a shadow health secretary more colourful than Ann Widdecombe?

In Dr Liam Fox, a self-styled right-wing 'ideologue', it has found a man as at home on the floor of the Commons as the dance floor of Stringfellows, and seen nearly as often in the gossip columns as in the political pages.

The 37-year-old rising star of the Conservative front bench is, by his own admission, a 'heavy drinker and active skirt chaser' who likes 'to have a good time, to go out to the pub and have a few pints, to have friends staying and go to parties'.

Reportedly spotted at one of the favourite nightclub haunts of minor celebrities and their hangers-on 'boogying down with the bimbos', he has also been 'linked' with pop singer and Home and Away soap star Natalie Imbruglia.

Last year, Dr Fox hit the headlines when he said he would like to see thieves who stole part of his CD collection and his video recorder flogged. But he is by no means a fool, having risen rapidly to the Tory front bench, where his constitutional affairs brief put him in the front-line for battles over devolution, electoral reform and the abolition of hereditary peers.

Born in 1961 in Lanarkshire, the son of a schoolteacher and the grandson of coal miners, his family, despite Labour leanings was 'not really political'.

The young Liam Fox became interested in politics at school, studied medicine at Glasgow University while working his way up the Young Conservatives' organisation, and was selected to fight his first parliamentary election at 25.

He recalls how as a medical student in the early 1980s during a health workers' strike 'organised by caring NUPE and COHSE and supported by the caring Labour Party', he ferried blood samples by taxi through picket lines.

He worked as a junior doctor at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Billshill Maternity Hospital and Hairmyres Hospital in East Kildbride.

But when his 1987 attempt to unseat Roxburgh and Berwickshire's sitting Liberal Democrat MP, Archie Kirkwood, fell flat, he was 'quite keen to change area, so I literally set out with most of my things in the car to come south'.

The move coincided with the Conservatives' Thatcherite review of the NHS and the subsequent Working for Patients reforms. Dr Fox was an enthusiast.

'I spoke up quite a lot on behalf of the health service reforms then because at that time not that many people were sticking their heads above the parapet,' he says.

It did his political ambitions little harm. While working as a GP in Beaconsfield, he was selected to fight the Conservative-held seat of Woodspring in Avon, populated largely by Bristol's better-off commuters.

Elected to Parliament in 1992, Dr Fox became chair of the Conservative backbench health committee. Within a year his Euro-scepticism had won him a first promotion, as parliamentary private secretary to Michael Howard. In contrast to Ms Widdecombe, he calls him 'a particularly generous person to work for'.

Never one to pull his punches, he gained notoriety in May 1994 by forcing a vote which killed off Dr Roger Berry's Civil Rights (Disabled People) Bill while many Labour MPs were in Edinburgh at party leader John Smith's funeral.

Preferment followed. He became an assistant whip and then whip, before moving to the Foreign Office as a junior minister, where he dismayed the mandarins by flaunting a Union Jack in his office.

In the Conservative wipe-out of 1997, Dr Fox survived, and went on to back Mr Howard for the leadership, picking up the constitutional affairs brief thrust on his party by the loss of all its Scottish and Welsh seats.

As an anti-devolutionist and anti-abortionist, he nonetheless argued for control of the issue to be given to the Scottish Parliament, since this would embarrass Labour in areas where many of its voters are Catholic.

But quite how Dr Fox will adapt to his new role remains to be seen - his appointment is unlikely to herald a shift to the centre ground.

He describes himself as 'very much a Thatcherite' and cites GP fundholding as 'the most important revolution in healthcare' since the inception of the NHS.

As the only member of the shadow cabinet younger than William Hague, he can afford to play the long game. See politics, page 17.