EDITORIAL: Morris didn't fight her corner and paid the price

She was 'The Pupils' Princess.' This was not Tony Blair's view, of course, but that of Rory Bremner. These three words summed up everything written and said about Estelle Morris since her surprise resignation last week.

The sort of accolade that Morris got from colleagues and media alike was not that of a failed politician resigning, but of a politician who had died. I remember people who on one day told me that John Smith was a complete disaster, and the day after his tragic death told the world he was the greatest leader the Labour Party had ever had.

When someone dies I suppose that sort of hypocrisy is expected, but all Morris did was to tell us what we already knew: she wasn't up to the job.

It was probably this rare outburst of honesty from an MP that temporarily blinded everyone to the fact that she isn't a very good politician. The most embarrassing moment was the sight of John Prescott leading her out of her office into her car. The last person in the world I would want near me on resigning is the Deputy Prime Minister, especially one who, on the Morris test, would have resigned years ago.

For me the most interesting part of her resigna-tion statement was the admission that she couldn't handle the modern media. This is an astonishing admission, given the importance that New Labour attaches to the press.

There is no doubt that dealing with the media in politics these days is almost a full-time job, but it is an integral part of being a minister.

I think that what she couldn't handle was the pressure from Number 10 forcing her to make media interventions on a daily basis. All cabinet ministers have to put up with constant pressure from Downing Street to 'drive the media', but none more so than in education.

I was lucky in having Gordon Brown as my boss. A call from next door telling me to do something the Chancellor didn't agree with would be politely turned down. Well, not that politely! I still have a letter written to me from Blair's ex-adviser Anji Hunter, complaining about my refusal to put Gordon Brown on the Today programme. 'When I tell you to do something, I am Tony Blair,' she claimed. That's the problem with the staff in Downing Street: they are far too self-important, and Morris didn't have the bottle to tell them to f*** off.

The idea of 'faith schools' came from Number 10 and Morris considered it to be bonkers. She should have told Blair. What would he do? Sack her?

I think not. She was left defending something she didn't agree with and the media knew it, making her even more of a target. It was Downing Street who forced her to intervene over the two expelled kids, even though she had no power to do anything about it. Her instincts to stay silent were right.

At least Morris wasn't stupid enough to claim she had been 'hounded' out of office, as Robin Cook did. He was just fighting old battles concerning his own private life. It is true that some papers were chasing her family over educational issues, but the hard reality is that in 'modern' politics this is all part of the game and comes with the job.

Morris is a decent human being who, as an ex-teacher, was respected by the teaching profession. You would have thought Blair could have persuaded her to stay on in the job. He probably wanted her out anyway. The new man in Education, Charles Clark, is much more the kind of politician that Downing Street likes. That he made a complete mess of being Party Chairman doesn't matter. He relishes fights with the media, and that's what Blair wants.

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