Shephard in limelight for excess cordiality

14th June 1996 at 01:00
The hard men have got it in for Gillian Shephard. According to the Daily Telegraph, Dr Brian Mawhinney, Conservative chairman, is urging the Prime Minister to appoint an aggressive right-winger to the Department for Education and Employment.

The problem appears to be that Mrs Shephard lacks the Rottweiller instinct. That same day in its leader column, the Telegraph attacked the Education and Employment Secretary for failing to capitalise on what it calls the evident hypocrisy of Labour's Tony Blair and Harriet Harman in sending their children to, respectively, an opted-out school and a selective one, while embracing policies which would deny other parents these opportunities.

Not only is she allowing Labour to take the initiative on education, she is being far too cordial to those headteachers who are planning to thwart Government policy by withholding exam results.

It has taken arm-twisting from Downing Street to get Mrs Shephard to accept league tables and selection. And, she has given only lukewarm support to Chris Woodhead, "the outstandingly brave chief inspector of schools", according to the Telegraph.

The next day's news revealed the name of the woman really to blame for the failings of Mrs Shephard. According to the Telegraph, Dr Elizabeth Cottrell, special adviser to the Education Secretary and former speech-writer to Mrs Thatcher, bars the doors to right-wingers and radical ideas. She is apparently viewed with a mixture of awe and suspicion by right-wingers and she makes no secret of the fact that she regards the "lunatic Right" as the top priority educational problem.

The Independent on Sunday followed up Mrs Shephard's misfortunes with an anonymous quote that the woman was "not scoring runs". In Cabinet, she was being duffed up by the big boys, Kenneth Clarke and Michael Heseltine. First, she had been made to accept vouchers for nursery places and she was about to be made to agree to vouchers for post-16 education.

This vitriol from the Conservative Right appeared to be not unconnected with the drafting of the final stages of the White Paper on schools. The sub-text was that Conservative Central Office had not won the day with its plan for a grand return to grammar schools and its head was taking revenge on Mrs Shephard.

The real victors of course, as Tessa Keswick, former special adviser to Kenneth Clarke, told us in Monday's Telegraph, are the senior officials in the DFEE. On arrival, Mrs Keswick discovered "the prevailing culture evasive, if not outrightly hostile to ministers' publicly announced and democratically endorsed intentions".

"It was impossible not to be aware of a determination to obstruct the Government's agenda," she wrote. Even Mr Mawhinney is no match for those faceless bureaucrats.

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