'It was my job not their job'

27th February 2004 at 00:00
Former education secretary hits out at interfering 'Andrew Adonises'. William Stewart reports

Estelle Morris, the former education secretary, whose sudden resignation left politics in shock, has revealed her annoyance at interference from Downing Street's policy advisers.

In a candid BBC Radio 4 interview at the weekend, she also talked about her doubts about university tuition fees and exactly why she felt she had to quit. Ms Morris, now arts minister, spoke of the need she felt to win policy arguments with "the Andrew Andonises of this world", referring to the Prime Minister's education policy adviser.

To some extent, such advisers were a "necessary irritant" that pushed her department into moving more quickly.

"But sometimes they were just plain wrong and that would infuriate me," she said. "It was my job, not their job. I was elected, they were not elected.

'Get out' - that was the way I would yell to myself in the office.

"Number 10 are not deliverers, they don't deliver a damn thing. They think of an idea and then buzz off and think of another and I always used to say to them, 'Hang on, I am busy delivering the last set of proposals'."

In her memorable resignation statement 16 months ago, taken as admission that she was not up to the job, Ms Morris spoke generally of her difficulties in running a huge department and dealing with the media.

But she said it was her pledge to resign if numeracy and literacy targets were not met in 2002 that had specifically prompted her decision.

When officials showed her the promise , made in March 1999 as schools minister, she felt a cloud settle on her shoulders.

"I thought if I go on the Today programme tomorrow, which I was due to do, how do I answer the question: 'You said you would resign, why didn't you?'

"What I decided was that I couldn't answer that question and be the sort of politician I wanted to be."

She had "not a shadow of a doubt" about her decision, even when Prime Minister Tony Blair asked her to reconsider, but it was not an easy one. "I felt that Monday evening was a tragedy," she said. "I loved that job. I had been there for six years. I loved that department."

Difficulties over the A-level marking scandal, criminal record checks and her intervention in the case of pupils who made death threats to a teacher, during the previous "three bad months", had also taken their toll.

She woke up every Monday morning to "another educational disaster" and found that sections of her department had taken to sending her "crisis chocolates" and flowers.

While Downing Street's decision to press ahead with university top-up fees was not the reason she resigned, it was a "sub-clause". She said: "I do think if you are leading the policy, it's got to be your policy. You've got to own it, you've got to live, sleep, eat, breathe it. You've got to be 110 per cent behind it and I wasn't."

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