Of all the sackings in September’s reshuffle, two of the most surprising came from the Education department. So it was fascinating to hear those two victims of the purge, Tim Loughton and Nick Gibb, give their verdict on the department and their boss at the Education Select Committee this morning. Lib Dem Sarah Teather, who departed to fight to retain her constituency, also had her say, but the most striking comments came from Loughton.
It’s worth bearing in mind that Loughton was not happy to have lost his job. He apparently stayed silent for almost the entire duration of his reshuffle meeting with the Prime Minister, and has become a vocal backbencher since returning from his departmental office. So his contributions could, to a certain extent, have been coloured by his dismay at being asked to leave a position he was enjoying, and where he was popular.
Nonetheless, the former children’s minister made a clear and deliberate attack on the priorities of the department, arguing to the committee that his brief ‘was a declining priority within the department’ and that ‘the children and families agenda has been greatly downgraded since the reshuffle’, adding that while he understood the need for Michael Gove to focus on radical schools reform, ‘my fear is it needn’t have been mutually exclusive and there has been some neglect with children and families’. The new minister responsible for this area had a huge portfolio and a declining number of officials to help him, Loughton claimed.
The government’s adoption adviser Sir Martin Narey has since argued that Gove was ‘committed to adoption and care reforms’ and that it was a ‘No 10 top priority’.
The Education department is often lauded as an example of efficient and effective leadership, but Loughton wasn’t quite so glowing in his assessment of the way the ministerial team functioned.