Analysis: Will Hodge keep her job for long?

Margaret Hodge

Like a football manager who has just received the chairman’s
proverbial vote of confidence, Margaret Hodge must be wondering if
she is living on borrowed time, writes Mark

With the prime minister expressing “full confidence” in his
beleaguered children’s minister, Hodge’s immediate future is
probably secure. But she needs only to cast her eye over the back
benches and junior ministerial ranks for a reminder of how quickly
fortunes can change.

Stephen Byers and Clare Short received Tony Blair’s full support
shortly before casting themselves into the political

Certainly the conservative press and Tory health and education
spokesperson Tim Yeo are unlikely to halt their calls for Hodge’s
resignation just yet. Friendly fire from the likes of former Labour
deputy leader Roy Hattersley, who told GMTV that Hodge would be
better off returning to the backbenches, will also add to her

Nevertheless, as long as Hodge can avoid any further mishaps and
has the political mettle to tough it out, the worst is probably
over. Her humiliating apology in open court and £10,000
donation to charity appear to have halted the threat of a libel
action from Demetrious Panton, the man she branded “extremely
disturbed” in a letter to BBC chairman, Gavyn Davies.

Nor should Hodge be unduly troubled by the original allegations,
that during her leadership of Islington Council between 1982 and
1992 she failed to act on warnings that children in the council’s
care were being abused. These claims have been well aired and
rebuffed long before this most recent crisis.  

Hodge will also be keen to get back to the important work that
is to be done within her ministry. Pushing through the reforms
contained in the green paper ‘Every Child Matters’ and battling for
funds in the next comprehensive spending review will require a
strong hand on the tiller. If Hodge is to provide that leadership,
it is important that she quickly begins to regain her political

If she is looking for clues to the secret of political survival,
then Hodge could do worse than examine how some of her colleagues
have recently fared when the press pack came barking at their

* Geoff Hoon – probably the only politician currently above
Hodge in the ‘whose-for-the-chop-next’ stakes. As defence secretary
Hoon’s political future will depend on the conclusion of the Hutton
Inquiry into the death of Dr David Kelly.

Hoon’s survival up to now has probably been due to his
unflinching loyalty and ability to attract flak that might
otherwise have been destined for Tony Blair. 

* Stephen Byers – hung on desperately to his
job as transport secretary after his spin doctor Jo Moore caused a
furore by sending an e-mail suggesting 11 September was a good day
to bury bad news. He finally quit in May last year, after months of
damaging leaks from his department and a high profile spat with its
communications director Martin Sixsmith. The Byers affair is an
abject lesson in the importance of keeping your civil servants

* Estelle Morris – resigned as education
secretary in October last year, admitting she wasn’t really up to
the job. Media intrusion finally took its toll on Morris after a
succession of education crises including the A-level fiasco and the
failure of literacy and numeracy standards to reach government
targets. Morris’ experience shows that ministerial office is not
for the faint-hearted. Nevertheless, the dignity and honesty of her
departure probably hastened her return to government earlier this
year as minister for the arts.  

* Robin Cook and Clare Short – if you are going
to resign on principle, it’s not a good idea to change your mind.
Foreign secretary Cook’s swift rejection of the Iraq war as
“without international agreement or domestic support” has left him
well placed for a political comeback should there be a shift of
power away from the Blairite camp. Short’s on-off-on-again
prevarications simply made her look foolish. 

* Peter Mandelson – the undisputed king of the
political comeback. After not one but two humiliating resignations
Mandelson once again finds himself back within Tony Blair’s inner
circle as the chief strategist planning the next election. The
secret of Mandelson’s resilience is something of a mystery,
although sheer front may have something to do with it. Both of
Mandelson’s resignation letters deny doing anything “wrong or

According to political analyst John McTernan, who writes a
column for ‘Community Care’, neither Tony Blair nor Margaret Hodge
looks likely to yield to the media pressure for Hodge to quit. 

“The prime minister has made it very clear that he picks and
chooses his ministers and Hodge has, by all accounts, been an
excellent minister for children. There’s absolutely no doubt that
she retains the confidence of the prime minister. So if your boss
is not going to sack you and you’re not going to quit, then there
is no reason for you to go.” 

The likelihood of Hodge succumbing to the baying of a hostile
media, also looks slim in the short term. She has a reputation as a
hard-nosed, confident and determined minister who has impeccable
Blairite credentials at a time when the prime minister needs all
the friends he can get. In a government where the key to survival
is loyalty and an understanding “not to embarrass Tony”, she should
be well placed to keep her job for now. Nevertheless, we await the
next reshuffle with interest.  

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