Farewell to Michael Gove, the Education Secretary who repeatedly attacked North East schools

The demotion of Michael Gove could mark a turning point in relations between the Department of Education and North East schools, says Jonathan Walker

Michael Gove
Michael Gove

Depending on who they were, Ministers in David Cameron’s Government were either celebrating promotions or mourning the end of their political career after being invited in to Downing Street to hear their fate in yesterday’s re-shuffle.

With a ruling Coalition that has only four North East MPs - all on them on the backbenches - any re-shuffle is not likely to have an obvious immediate impact on the region.

Yet Mr Cameron’s various moves on the chessboard, widely seen as part of his strategy to try and win the next election, will have been followed by many in the region.

It is a fair bet that many a champagne cork will have been popping in school staffrooms at the re-shuffle’s largest casualty, the Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Being unpopular with teachers is almost a job requirement for Education Secretary, but Mr Gove seems to gone above and beyond that brief, not least with teachers in part of the North East after he attacked schools in County Durham with the slightly odd comment that “when you go into those schools, you can smell the sense of defeatism.”

The re-shuffle effectively saw Mr Gove sacked from his Education job. Instead he will become Chief Whip, responsible for imposing discipline on Conservative MPs, and will represent the Government on television, according to the Prime Minister’s official spokesman - which led to him being dubbed “Minister for TV” at Westminster.

Although Mr Gove is popular with sections of his party, and hailed as a hero by supporters of his school reforms, his departure from the education brief is likely to please some North East teachers and heads.

The new Education Secretary is Nicky Morgan, who became in MP in 2010 and was previously a Treasury Minister. After making it into the Commons in 2010 at the second attempt, the former corporate lawyer was quickly earmarked by Mr Cameron as a potential star and was made a ministerial aide within months, a whip in 2012 and a junior Treasury minister last October.

Her promotion was part of an effort by David Cameron to increase the number of women in high-profile roles, which also sees Liz Truss, who also entered the Commons in 2010, is the new Environment Secretary, replacing another man, Owen Paterson. (Mr Paterson was a Northerner - sort of - by marriage, being married to Rose Ridley, the sister of Viscount Matt Ridley, whose family estate is at Blagon in Northumberland). Also part of the 2010 intake and just 38, Ms Truss is a Northern state school-educated woman and her promotion marks not only the strong impression she has made in just a few years at Westminster but also Mr Cameron’s determination to shake off the perception that he has surrounded himself with a coterie of middle-class, middle-aged white men from public school backgrounds in the home counties.

Esther McVey - Northern woman number three - will continue as Minister for Employment and Disabilities but will now attend Cabinet.

After Mr Gove, one of the main losers in the re-shuffle was William Hague - as MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire, about as Northern as the Tories get - who steps down from being Foreign Secretary and will move to become Leader of the Commons ahead of his retirement from frontline politics at the next election.

Mr Hague’s role was taken by Philip Hammond, the former Defence Secretary, while the Defence role was filled by Michael Fallon, previously a Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Mr Fallon was MP for Darlington from 1983 to 1992 before losing his seat to Alan Milburn.

Middlesbrough-born Cities Minister Greg Clark, who has worked closely with North East councils over the creation of a combined authority and the region’s various bids for funding, stays on in that role but will now be Minister for Universities and Science as well.

Business Minister Matthew Hancock was named the new Minister of State for Portsmouth. Portsmouth continues to be the only town or city with its own dedicated Minister.

The North East had a dedicated Minister under Labour, when the post was held by Newcastle East MP Nick Brown, but Mr Cameron has ignored calls to reinstate the position.

It emerged that former defence secretary Liam Fox turned down the offer of a return to Government as a Foreign Office minister.

Dr Fox said: “The issues that matter most to me and my constituents in North Somerset are the economy, immigration and Europe.

“I do not want to be distracted from what needs to be said on these matters at such an important time politically.”

Kenneth Clarke, previously of the most pro-EU members of the Cabinet, left the Government.

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