QUENTIN LETTS on why Nicky Morgan, known as 'Ms U-Turn', is out of her depth

QUENTIN LETTS on why Nicky Morgan, known as 'Ms U-Turn', is out of her depth

QUENTIN LETTS on why Nicky Morgan, known as 'Ms U-Turn', is out of her depth

  • Nicky Morgan took a personal swipe at the PM for wearing the leather trousers
  • The comments came from the former minister who has been called Ms U-Turn
  • Ms Morgan has been pictured carrying a £950 bag from upmarket Mulberry

Quentin Letts For Daily Mail

Nicky Morgan, the former Education Secretary, with her £950 bag

Nicky Morgan, the former Education Secretary, with her £950 bag

Which politician recently said: ‘One of the golden rules of politics is that if your opponent is attacking you personally, then they are rattled’?

And which politician took a personal swipe at Theresa May for wearing a £995 pair of leather trousers and suggested they were the height of political vulgarity?

Surely, the answers couldn’t have been the same person?

But yes. Step forward Nicky Morgan, the former Education Secretary. And another classic example of the behaviour of the woman who has been nicknamed ‘Ms U-Turn’.

Her tetchy comment about Mrs May came after the PM was photographed at home wearing her favourite weekend trousers.

Designed by Amanda Wakeley, they are brown (or, if you are a fashionista, ‘bitter chocolate’). Mrs May, who is keen on clothes, also wore a pair of Burberry trainers and a loose jumper with a cowl top. The photograph was intended to show our workaholic PM in relaxation mode.

Mrs Morgan, not much of a fashion model herself, took a dim view. ‘I don’t have leather trousers,’ she shuddered in an interview. ‘I don’t think I’ve spent that much on anything apart from my wedding dress.

‘My barometer is always: ‘How am I going to explain this in Loughborough market?’ (That’s the town in Mrs Morgan’s Leicestershire constituency.)’

As a cat might say: ‘Miaow’!

It is rare for any woman publicly to diss another’s dress sense. For a recently-sacked Cabinet minister to do so about the leader who gave her the heave-ho was remarkable. Fight! Fight!

Nicky Morgan claims to be both a modern churchgoer and an ardent feminist. Her remarks were hardly evangelical or sisterly.

More to the point, they were rather hypocritical, too, as she herself has been seen carrying a £950 bag from upmarket Mulberry.

The photograph of the PM with her leather trousers was meant to show her in relaxation mode

The photograph of the PM with her leather trousers was meant to show her in relaxation mode

In her days as Minister for Women in the Cameron government, she deprecated the media’s interest in women’s appearances, claiming it was sexist.

How can she square that with her denunciation of Mrs May’s clothes sense? Maybe it is not just the PM’s trousers that have a hint of ‘bitter chocolate’ about them.

But then consistency and grace have seldom been much discernible in Nicky Morgan since this ambitious but clumsily duplicitous politician first entered the Commons as an eager Cameroon in 2010.

She has been an MP for just six years yet already poses as some sort of grandee. If nothing else, Mrs Morgan is an example of the hazards of promoting novices to high office.

Just over a year ago she was even, absurdly, talking up her chances of succeeding Cameron as Tory leader.

When she was elected an MP in 2010, she was little known outside her marginal constituency. Born in 1972, she had been reared in comfortable Surrey, the daughter of a Tory councillor.

Nicky Morgan claims to be both a modern churchgoer and an ardent feminist

Nicky Morgan claims to be both a modern churchgoer and an ardent feminist

She was head girl at her minor public school, Surbiton High, but an English teacher, Marilyn Mason, recalled she was ‘reasonably able’ rather than an exceptional talent.

She was a ‘very polite, good girl’ who worked hard and was a ‘perfectly competent’ actor in the school play, her former teacher told Radio 4’s Profile. At that, the older woman’s voice trailed away.

Young Nicola had plainly not been one of those razor-sharp pupils teachers love to remember.

Even so, she went on to study law at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, where she twice failed to be chosen as chairman of the university’s Conservative association.

In the second contest, she was beaten by Dan Hannan, the brilliant politician who went on to become became a Eurosceptic MEP and one of the philosophical forces behind the Leave campaign.

Morgan had to content herself with a vaguely Sloane Rangerish college life, bouncing around Oxfordshire parties and honking away about local and Young Conservative politics rather than loftier concepts of liberty and aspiration.

After qualifying as a solicitor in 1994, she worked in corporate law and helped run Battersea Conservatives before the Party’s poor performance in the 1997 election. She went part-time to have a baby after marrying architect Jonathan Morgan. Their wedding was held at Inner Temple’s chapel, a redoubt of the legal establishment. Jonathan is now a local politician in Leicestershire.

Her election to the Commons was her second stab at that marginal seat. Celebrating, she said ‘the political system has been shattered’ and ‘the time for a new politics is here’. What a radical she sounded. It did not last.

New MPs divide broadly into three categories. There are those who say little and sink to obscurity. There are those who say what they think and are rebuked by the Whips for being too independent-minded. Then there are the shameless stooges who do what the Whips want and keep spouting the party line.

During the first months of the Coalition — when Theresa May was Home Secretary — it became clear Nicky Morgan was one of those incorrigible greasers.

Up she kept bouncing in the House, to utter the approved slogan of the day. Downing Street was clearly delighted to have such malleable clay at its disposal.

Within three months she had been made Parliamentary Private Secretary to universities minister David Willetts, a sometime Thatcherite who had become as wet as a duck’s rump. Though Mrs Morgan was MP for a university town, she managed to swallow any reservations about Willetts’ plans to raise college fees.

The dutiful ink monitor was once more doing Sir’s bidding. Her devotion to the Government saw her made a junior Whip in 2012. The following year she became a Treasury minister — a heady ascent for so green a parliamentarian.

Mrs Morgan’s inexperience showed at the despatch box, where she responded to tricky questions with shouty slogans and bulgy-eyed stares of crossness. The Chancellor, George Osborne, had identified her as a reliable gofer, but I understand he did not regard her as a grade A intellect.

During the first months of the Coalition ¿ when Theresa May was Home Secretary ¿ it became clear Nicky Morgan was one of those incorrigible greasers

During the first months of the Coalition — when Theresa May was Home Secretary — it became clear Nicky Morgan was one of those incorrigible greasers

The one policy on which she departed from Tory modernisers was gay marriage. In 2013, before a free vote, she said marriage should be only between a man and woman. She cited her church beliefs and noted that her constituents had made plain their disagreement with the idea.

However, a year later she changed her mind. But by then, you see, she had become Education Secretary, with responsibility for ‘equalities’.

It is worth quoting the explanation she gave for her volte-face.

From her comfortable new ministry, she said: ‘I had a lot of constituents who asked me to vote in a particular way and I listened to them and it was an issue of conscience, too, but I have certainly learned an awful lot doing this job.

‘I wish people had come forward earlier to say ‘actually, we’d like you to support gay marriage’. Actually, I think it was something we needed to discuss and debate.’

She also told her local newspaper: ‘I think we could have handled the whole thing differently and taken more time to have more of a public debate about it instead of just ploughing on.’

An ‘issue of conscience’ had been relegated to merely a matter of ‘just ploughing on’, had it?

Morgan was talking up her chances of succeeding Cameron as Tory leader

Morgan was talking up her chances of succeeding Cameron as Tory leader

Does not that, along with her waffle about ‘debate’ and her blustering repetition of ‘actually’, suggest a certain elasticity of view, a tendency to procrastination until she knew which way the wind is blowing?

Her predecessor as Education Secretary, Michael Gove, had been quite different. Bravely, and with mischievous elan, the low-born Gove wrestled with the ‘blob’ of the Education establishment — the teaching unions, Left-wing think tanks, educationalists and their dumbed-down consensus.

Gove made enemies, as a bold minister always will. Cameron took fright and replaced him with bland Mrs Morgan.

On taking over, she claimed there would ‘certainly be no back- pedalling on reforms’, but her words were soon demonstrably untrue.

She set about dismantling some of Gove’s policies, for instance on snap inspections of schools and on giving head teachers the right to punish pupils by sending them for a run (the Left thought this an affront to their human rights and Mrs Morgan agreed).

Gove had insisted that parents should not take their children out of school in term-time to go on foreign holidays. Mrs Morgan thought that too strict, even though there were serious principles at stake about school discipline and children missing vital lessons. But perhaps principles, like conscience, counted as ‘just ploughing on’.

Mrs Morgan said that she would ‘tone down the rhetoric and have a reasoned debate based on what works’. There was that word ‘debate’ popping up again. She uses it as a synonym for delay preceding surrender.

She added: ‘For those looking for an ideological sparring partner to do battle with, quite simply I’m not your woman.’

You could say that again! This one has all the ideology of a limp strand of spaghetti. And come the Tory leadership battle, who did she support? Michael Gove!

It was little wonder, then, that when chillaxed David Cameron was succeeded as Prime Minister by the rigorously bookish Mrs May, Nicky Morgan was fired.

Mrs May, after all, had less need for token women in the Cabinet.

Mrs Morgan took her dismissal badly, soon mocking Mrs May for, she claimed, having found it difficult to look her in the eye and cough out the bad news when dismissing her. ‘I had to help her utter the phrase: ‘So you’d like to let me go,’ ‘ she told Robert Peston on ITV.

It was quite something to hear the serially indecisive Nicky Morgan criticise Mrs May for dithering. She also broke Cabinet protocols by disclosing that she had clashed with Mrs May over immigration policies.

(Leaked Cabinet letters suggested that the Home Office under Mrs May had wanted the children of illegal immigrants to go to the bottom of the list for school places.)

This helped Mrs Morgan to polish her own reputation, but it did rather less for Tory unity.

Most sacked ministers have the modesty to accept that politics is a team game and no one has a personal right to remain in office. Most sacked ministers have the nous not to deride a new Prime Minister.

Not so the clunky Nicky Morgan. No wonder that her old boss, George Osborne, looked a bit uneasy when his former subordinate plonked herself down next to him on the Commons back benches. He has since been seen in different parts of the Chamber.

She was soon taking to social media to criticise the new Government’s policy on expanding grammar schools. She blurted that this was ‘weird’ and ‘at best, a distraction, and at worst risk actively undermining six years of progressive education reforms’.

The same Nicky Morgan, as Education Secretary, had just a few months earlier approved the expansion of a grammar school in Kent. What a hypocrite.

Inevitably, she has also been belly-aching about Brexit.

Last week she could be seen twitching like a hen in the Article 50 debate in the Commons, taking the view that the Government should yield to greater parliamentary scrutiny.

Yet at the same time she said it was vital to ‘heal the rife between Parliament and the people’.

Not for the first time, she was trying to straddle opposing ends of one argument.

She also chided ‘ministers — from the Prime Minister downwards — to inspire as well as engage on these issues’.

Such lofty scorn might have been easier to take from someone with a more original turn of phrase, a better record of innovative thinking, than the prosaic, lumpen, cliched Morgan.

She has tried to ally herself to Remainers Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke but they — both long-term pro-Europeans with distinctive voices and mercurial flair — are a class apart.

When you hear Nicky Morgan drearily trotting out the anti-Brexit line, it is hard to conclude that this is anything but a second-rater coughing up received views like a garden bird regurgitating worms.

It is likely that the Loughborough seat will disappear in the coming constituency boundary reviews. We must hope sincerely that no new Conservative association is foolish enough to adopt Ms U-Turn as its candidate.


Published at Mon, 12 Dec 2016 02:48:59 +0000