Morris resigned because she feared Humphrys interview

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The Independent Online

The prospect of a grilling from John Humphrys over the Government's failure to meet targets for improving standards in primary schools tipped Estelle Morris into quitting the Cabinet. In a frank and revealing television interview to be shown next week, the former secretary of state for education gives full details for the first time of why she resigned.

The prospect of a grilling from John Humphrys over the Government's failure to meet targets for improving standards in primary schools tipped Estelle Morris into quitting the Cabinet. In a frank and revealing television interview to be shown next week, the former secretary of state for education gives full details for the first time of why she resigned.

In a speech to the Commons, when still a junior education minister, she had promised to resign if the targets - to get 80 per cent of 11-year-olds to reach the required standard in English and 75 per cent in maths by 2002 - were not met. They still have not been.

On the new satellite channel Teachers' TV, she says that if she had remained in office she would have had to face Humphrys saying to her on the BBC Radio Four Today programme: "How can anybody believe you again?" She adds: "Parents would say John Humphrys was right."

At the time, there was speculation that a series of controversies - including a fiasco over A-level marking that led to upgrading of results for 2,000 pupils, and a failure to make criminal record checks by the start of the new term - had pressured her to quit. In her resignation statement, she talked of "not being up to'' the job.

But in her interview, with Professor Ted Wragg of Exeter University, she says: "They weren't my policies. They were done before the election. I think I had sorted them out well." The former chief schools inspector, Sir Mike Tomlinson, had held an inquiry into the A-level affair, all necessary checks had been made on teachers, and schools were fully staffed a couple of weeks after term began.

She says that when she decided to resign she believed her former boss, David Blunkett, had also threatened to resign if the targets were not met. (He had moved on to the Home Office by 2002.) But she later learnt he had only said that, should the Government fail to meet the targets, then "my head would be on the block".

Ms Morris, now minister for the Arts, also talks of her battles with Downing Street over education policy, describing Andrew Adonis, Tony Blair's chief policy adviser on schools, as a "necessary aggravation", adding: "There were times that No 10 would want to do things we didn't want to do."

Ms Morris is also asked why she failed her A-levels and says she had been ill at the start of her time at grammar school. But she tried hard to catch up. "I revised and revised and revised and revised but couldn't write it down on paper in a way that got me many marks," she says.

Ms Morris is to resign as MP for Birmingham Yardley at the election. The interview will be shown on Tuesday at 9pm.

IN THE TODAY HOT SEAT

* With the ex-Nato secretary general, Lord Robertson, in February 2000 Humphrys, right, interrupted several times. Lord Robertson was also irritated by snorting noises. The BBC said: "The tone was inappropriate at times."

* Humphrys was criticised in March 1995 for interrupting Kenneth Clarke, then Chancellor, 32 times. Humphrys, said: "Of course, I interrupt sometimes.... Kenneth Clarke was not upset. He was back 10 days after that."

* The Labour Party threatened to withdraw co-operation with Today in 1997 after Humphrys' interview with the Social Security Secretary, Harriet Harman. The party said she was denied the chance to develop answers. Today rejected the charge.

* The BBC censured Mr Humphrys after a listener complained of his "hectoring" style with Hazel Blears, Home Office minister, in June 2004.

* In May 2001, Mr Humphrys grilled the Prime Minister on Labour ethics. Tony Blair used the expression "hang on" four times in a minute. Humphrys did not interview Mr Blair again until last year.

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