THE relationship between the UK government’s coalition parties faced fresh pressure tonight over Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove’s insistence that he has the final word on who should head the English schools watchdog Ofsted.
Mr Gove, originally from Aberdeen and one of the most senior Scots in the cabinet, was today forced to deny that he had been politically motivated or sexist in sacking Labour peer Baroness Morgan from the role.
Labour said her sacking was the latest occurence in a string of of high profile women being removed from key public roles by the coalition government and replaced with men.
But, on the day Mr Gove controversially announced he wanted state schools to be more like the private sector in England, the Tories’ Lib Dem coalition partners accused him of putting “yes men” into key roles in order to push through his reforms.
And Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg insisted that Lib Dem schools minister David Laws would decide who would replace Baroness Morgan – not Mr Gove. A Lib Dem spokesman highlighted Mr Clegg’s fury, stating: “Education policy is far more important than rewarding Tory cronies.
“The Lib Dems will not let our children’s education be dictated by some Tory donor ideologue.”
Mr Gove insisted that his department is “not filled with nodding heads” and he will make the final decision based on the recommendation of an independent body.
Asked if Mr Laws would be responsible for finding a replacement, he replied: “No. No politician will have responsibility for finding a replacement.
“That will be done by an independent group of individuals who, under the rules that have been set in place since John Major’s time, have the responsibility for interviewing candidates.
“They will make a recommendation about who is, or is not, appointable and then it is the relevant Secretary of State who makes the final decision whether or not to accept that independent recommendation.”
A list produced by Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman suggested there was a trend towards Tories dropping women from high profile jobs to replace them with men. The list incuded Liz Forgan, the chairwoman of the Scott Trust, who was replaced as chair of Arts Council England by Peter Bazalgette.
Also mentioned was Lady Andrews, a former adviser to Neil Kinnock, who was sacked as chair of English Heritage.
She was replaced by Sir Laurie Magnus, an Old Etonian banker and baronet. Dame Suzi Leather was recently replaced as chair of the Charities Commission by the Old Etonian William Shawcross, who also wrote the official biography of the Queen Mother.
Ms Harman said: “My concern is we have a cull of senior authoritative women and they are all being replaced by men.
“What is your problem in your government with women? It’s like raining men in the Tory party.” However, another Labour member and former Ofsted chairwoman Zenna Atkins defended Mr Gove over the sacking of Baroness Morgan.
She said that “most of us accept there is a need for a change and move on”, and it was unusual for someone to complain.