Yesterday Shadow Children, Schools and Families Secretary Michael Gove was granted an urgent question to challenge Ed Balls about his appointment of Maggie Atkinson as the new Children's Commissioner for England.
Her appointment was made by Balls despite the (Labour-dominated) departmental select committee refusing to endorse her on the grounds that she would not be independent enough "to challenge the status quo on children's behalf".
The select committee chairman, Labour MP Barry Sheerman, had also stoked the controversy by saying that Ed Balls was "a bit of a bully".
Michael Gove told the Commons:
"In his very first statement, the Prime Minister pledged
that major public appointments would be subject to scrutiny by this
House. He argued that the Executive had too much power and Parliament
too little. Why is the Secretary of State now rowing back from that
principle? Why is he overruling the unanimous view of a Labour
Committee with a Labour majority and a Labour Chairman? The Secretary
of State clearly wants to push one particular agenda. It is the
Committee’s job to provide independent scrutiny. Why exactly is this
Secretary of State a better judge than a Committee of this House of who
should be an independent scrutineer of the Government?
"The Secretary of State has already appointed Dr. Maggie
Atkinson to do his bidding in three patronage roles—as chair of a
national expert group, as chair of a multi-agency steering and
reference board and as chair of a new national work force partnership.
In each of those roles, she has consistently supported Government
policy in Department for Children, Schools and Families press releases.
She has never been in the lead of any critique of Government policy.
What evidence is there that she is not just another Labour
establishment choice? May I ask the Secretary of State whether Ms
Atkinson has ever been a member of any political party? Is it true that
every time she has been appointed to a post in local government, the
local authority was not Conservative controlled at the time?
"The Chairman of the Select Committee has identified a
pattern of behaviour from the Secretary of State. The Secretary of
State has got rid of those who disagree with him, such as Lord Adonis,
Cyril Taylor, Bruce Liddington, Ken Boston and Ralph Tabberer, while
appointing individuals who are either pliant or conformist. Does he
believe that that bolsters confidence in how he discharges his
responsibilities? Does he think that it reinforces confidence in his
belief in scrutiny when, instead of choosing to defend his decision in
this place, his first instinct was to justify himself in a letter
briefed out at 10.30 last night? What reassurances can he now give us
that when it comes to public appointments and the running of his
Department, there is no longer something of the night about the way in
which he operates?"