Where were all the Morris maniacs when Estelle really needed them?

20th December 2002 at 00:00
AS Estelle Morris faces her first Christmas in five years without a ministerial red box and chauffeur-driven limo, the education world is still trying to work out why she is no longer its central figure.

No one expected her October resignation as Education Secretary. Accusations of political interference in A-level marking, criticism over the handling of Criminal Records Bureau checks and failure to hit test targets for 11-year-olds ended her honeymoon in the job and left some wondering whether she was up to it.

But having apparently ridden out the A-level storm, both friends and foes expected her to continue for a while yet.

Ms Morris was popular, enjoyed the support of Downing Street and had largely won over the teacher unions.

She stunned them all with a brutally honest resignation.

"I have not felt I have been as effective as I should be or as effective as you need me to be," Ms Morris wrote in her resignation letter to Tony Blair.

And within the space of 24 hours, the National Union of Teachers went from being "hugely disappointed" by her workload proposals, to distress at the departure of a woman whom they considered an ally against Downing Street "modernisers".

With Morris mania sweeping through the press and unions following her resignation, the outgoing Education Secretary must have wondered why she could not have had some of this support earlier.

What a contrast to ex-Transport Secretary Stephen Byers's grim struggle to hold on to his Cabinet post.

Ms Morris left political centre-stage at a crucial time. Her legacy will now depend upon her successor. If Charles Clarke manages to push through plans to remodel the teaching profession and put assistants in charge of classes, then Ms Morris will have her place in history.

If not, then she may comfort herself with the fact that at least she will not get the blame for whatever plans the Government comes up with in January to charge university students more for their courses.

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