From education to employment

Cabinet Reshuffle Claims Ruth Kelly Following Local Election Trauma

The swift and far reaching reaction of the Prime Minister to possibly the most troubled period of his leadership has seen Ruth Kelly MP replaced as Education Secretary by Alan Johnson MP.

The move comes as part of a major cabinet reshuffle, seeing Charles Clarke MP leaving the Home Office, Jack Straw MP leaving the Foreign and Commonwealth Office after five years in place to be replaced by Margaret Beckett MP. Alan Johnson MP is moving from his position as Secretary of State for the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Also gone in the reshuffle is the multi ““ faceted Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) whose wide ranging remit is expected to be divided amongst other departments.

Troubled Times

Ruth Kelly MP has had a turbulent time in her posting to the Department for Education and Skills (DfES). The often derided Education White Paper caused a considerable headache to the Government, with major figures from the Labour Party such as Neil Kinnock promising a backbench revolt over proposals over school management and structural changes and the bill eventually relying on the support of David Cameron’s new look Conservative Party. Relying on the support of the opposition ““ especially one that now calls itself a “modern, compassionate Conservative Party ““ can hardly be described as a symbol of Party solidarity or of unity within the Government.

Ruth Kelly was held up for much ridicule in the House of Commons for this education bill, and indeed beyond the boundaries of Westminster. Perhaps the incident she will be most remembered for is the pelting with eggs, leaving political commentators the tricky task of trying to find new ways of stating the obvious “Minister With Egg on Face”.

The Challenge

As he has moved from the DTI, it is entirely possible that Mr. Johnson will bring with him a heightened awareness of the need for education to meet the demands of business and of the need to encourage employer participation in education development and course formulation. This is certain to be one of the toughest challenges in a difficult department to manage, given its extremely broad remit and the areas of overlap with departments such as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Undoubtedly Alan Johnson will face the same opposition from a number of different quarters, and will find it similarly difficult to force through the education reforms at the heart of Government policy. It is a difficult time to take up the post of Education Secretary; it will be seen in the weeks and months ahead whether Mr. Johnson’s appointment to the role is a brave and bold move by the Prime Minister or a manifestation of ministerial musical chairs.

Jethro Marsh

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