The next resident of Number 10?

8th December 2000 at 00:00
As election fever creeps up on the country, Sarah Cassidy reports on what the future may hold for the Education Secretary.

WITHIN days of becoming Education Secretary, David Blunkett had already put his job on the line by promising to resign if ambitious targets for 11-year olds were not met by 2002.

With the political wind again blowing in Labour's favour and the general election looking winnable next spring, it seems unlikely Mr Blunkett's pledge will ever be put to the test.

He is hotly-tipped to become the next Home Secretary in the Cabinet reshuffle insiders expect to follow a Labour victory.

Jack Straw is expected either to succeed Mr Prescott at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions or take over as Foreign Secretary.

In the longer term, Mr Blunkett has also been touted in some quarters as a possible future party leader after a strong performance in charge of education.

He recently had a falling out with Chancellor Gordon Brown, the strongest contender to succeed Tony Blair.

Like all ministers, he has endured the indignity of being ridden over rough shod by the Treasury and accepting that no money comes without strings attached.

His colleagues get particularly annoyed when Gordon Brown gets the credit for increasing spending when they feel their boss has battled hard to force the Chancellor toinvest in education.

Mr Blunkett has gained a reputation for being "a safe pair of hands" as well for being one of the Government's toughest traditionalists. He is among ministers who believe that marriage should be promoted as an ideal and that drug laws must not be relaxed.

Mr Blunkett has himself reportedly said that, as Home Secretary, he would make Jack Straw look like a liberal.

Stephen Byers, the former school standards minister who famously forgot his times tables during a live radio interview, is said to be in the running for Mr Blunkett's job.

During an interview to promote a numeracy initiative, Mr Byers surprised listeners by pronouncing that seven eights were equal to 54. The Prime Minister's office later described the error as a "character-forming" event. Mr Byers has since survived a difficult time at the helm of the Department of Trade and Industry.

Education minister Estelle Morris is also tipped for a promotion.

Mr Blair is looking for rising female stars to replace several women ministers who have fallen from favour and is said to rate her performance so far.

Ms Morris, a former teacher, was named as the "minister to watch" at the Spectator magazine's parliamentarian awards last month. She was praised for her "love of her subject" as well as "her refusal to wear horrid New Labour chiffon scarves".


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