Lessons to be learnt from Morris's exit
SELDOM does Tony Blair agree to a resignation without a long and damaging struggle. Rarely does a minister go without a gun to their head. And hardly ever does one quit saying they were simply out of their depth.
In this, at least, Estelle Morris has broken new ground. After the A-level fiasco, where students were marked down to hit government targets, she has taken out her red biro and done the job on herself.
The irony is that Ms Morris was out of the woods. The exams fiasco which happened on her watch was a relatively minor affair. Compared to the Scottish disaster two years ago, it was a blip.
Yet, it seems, such a blip was enough to trigger Ms Morris’s resignation. Compare this to Sam Galbraith, who clung to his job as education minister for months - junking the ideal of ministerial responsibility. Still, to resign on a basic issue of competence is deeply damaging. Ms Morris is suggesting that, since she took up the brief 17 months ago, she has not been up to the job.
Her resignation has produced a fourth rarity: a direct hit for Iain Duncan Smith’s Conservative Party. Ms Morris went to see Mr Blair hours after the Tories unearthed her promise to resign if literacy and maths targets were not met.
Her skin, she says, was not thick enough to fend off the poison darts being blowpiped at her from across the debating chamber and the media.
While one can feel for Ms Morris, the implications of her departure run deeper than scandal. The public can forgive adulterers and gaffsters - even Mandelson-style duplicity can be overlooked if ministers carry out their duties with confidence and style.
But competence is the one prerequisite for any minister. Parents of the children whose education has been under Ms Morris’s remit will be entitled to ask why such a crucial job was given to someone who was, by her own admission, not up to the job.
Still, she leaves with a track record which Cathy Jamieson, her Scottish counterpart, cannot hope to match. Ms Morris’s honesty in diagnosing failure has taken English education further in a few months than Holyrood has taken Scotland’s schools since devolution.
She admitted the one-size-fits-all ideal of comprehensive education is no longer working and brought other types of state-run schools, like city academies, to replace the 1945 ideal where the system pursued uniformity, rather than excellence.
As a result of her frankness, England’s education system is taking great strides in reform while a stagnant Scotland looks on. Also, Ms Morris may be more media-savvy than her contrite resignation letter suggested. The identity of the man alleged to have raped Ulrika Jonsson means Ms Morris will not monopolise front pages. Yesterday was a very good day to bury bad news.
If competence is such a key issue, Ms Morris’s departure is instructive for the Scottish Parliament. Mike Watson has learnt from the Sam Galbraith school of responsibility, still in place after denouncing government policy in private.
Voters expect their ministers to make hard choices, not to mark time. Yesterday, Westminster gave Scotland a lesson in the art of resignation.
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