Shuffle without a shake-up

6th August 1999 at 01:00
Three new ministers, but the old guard has stood its ground. Frances Rafferty reports on a moderate reshuffle for education

SO THERE is no change at the top at the Department for Education and Employment following the summer reshuffle.

David Blunkett remains as Secretary of State and although Estelle Morris had been tipped for a move, it was Charles Clarke, the junior minister, who was promoted and sent to combat crime in the Home Office.

As predicted by The TES, George Mudie, the minister responsible for lifelong learning, lost his job and has been replaced by education select committee chair Malcolm Wicks.

Jacqui Smith, MP for Redditch, will take over the main bulk of Mr Clarke's brief, and a new post in the department has been created for Michael Wills. The former TV producer who is MP for Swindon North will take over technology issues, including computers in schools and the University of Industry.

Baroness Blackstone and Andrew Smith remain as ministers of state and junior minister Margaret Hodge will also be staying where she is.

Ms Morris is seen by Mr Blunkett as his trusty lieutenant, and he is said to have told Prime Minister Tony Blair he did not want her to move. She will now carry on with the implementation of teachers' pay reform proposed in the Green Paper.

Earlier this year, the Westminster rumour mill suggested Mr Blunkett was in line for a change. But following Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's "good war", a shake-up of the top posts was put on hold. In the event, Mr Blair's main changes were among middle and junior rank ministers.

Malcolm Wicks, MP for Croydon North, follows his predecessor Margaret Hodge at the select committee to the Department for Education and Employment.

It was Ms Hodge who left him with the political hot potato of the inquiry into the Office for Standards in Education.

The committee's report criticised Chris Woodhead, chief inspector, for taking a "polemical" stance on some inspection reports and said he should base his remarks on evidence, not conjecture. The charge has been rejected by Mr Woodhead.

As chair, Malcom Wicks won the respect of his colleagues. Gordon Marsden, Labour MP for Blackpool South, said: "His style of questioning was probing, but courteous. "He didn't try to do a Paxman on those giving evidence. It's a very good appointment. Malcolm will be able to bring social and educational policy together."

The House of Commons education select committee has launched inquiries into early years education and higher education. The terms of reference will be published in October and public evidence sessions will take place in the new year. The education sub-group of the education and employment select committee will need a new chairman, following Malcolm Wicks's promotion.


Malcolm Wicks, MP for Croydon North, is former director of the Family Policy Studies Centre and vice-president of the Carers National Association. His Private Member's Bill won carers more rights and help from local authorities when it became law.

He was an opposition spokesman on social security and served on the social security select committee. And his critical view of the Government's proposed welfare reforms have shown him not to be a toadie.

His failure to win a Government post earlier had caused surprise. But with his opposition colleague and ally Frank Field, who shares his outlook on welfare and family issues, now languishing on the backbenchers, the delay seems to have been to his


Mr Wicks is a former social policy lecturer at Brunel University and was a fellow at York University from 1968-70. He has two sons and a daughter in their twenties and his wife, Margaret, is a scientist.

Jacqui Smith, MP for Redditch, comes from a family of teachers and became an economics teacher after reading politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford and doing a PGCE at Worcester College. She was a political researcher for Terry Davis MP before winning her seat in the last election.

Ms Smith has pursued an interest in education debates and served on the committee on the School Standards and Framework Act. She is described in Roth's Parliamentary guide as a "Blairite moderniser".

Her first political victory was at the age of seven, when she forced a local councillor to back down on a decision to prevent children riding their bicycles on the pavement. She was active in the National Association of Labour Students and was elected to Redditch borough council. She has a young son and is an Aston Villa supporter.

Michael Wills, MP for Swindon North, has a media background and joins the Department for Education and Employment from the Department for Trade and Industry, where he was junior minister.

A former TV producer, he was Peter Mandelson's boss at London Weekend Television. He was also adviser to Gordon Brown when Mr Brown was shadow councellor Gordon Brown. Mr Wills went to Haberdashers' Aske's school, Elstree and Clare College, Cambridge. He has three sons and two daughters.

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