Nicky Morgan's pitch for the Tory leadership

The education secretary may join the race to become the next leader of the Conservative party

3 October 2015

9:00 AM

3 October 2015

9:00 AM

Nicky Morgan has been Education Secretary for 15 months now. Yet her office looks like she has just moved in. She has some family photos on the desk, a small collection of drinks bottles by the window and a rugby ball in her in-tray. But, unlike other cabinet ministers, she has made no attempt to make her office look like her study. This is not someone who sees their office as a home away from home.

When Morgan was made Michael Gove’s successor last year, it seemed an unusual appointment. She’d only been an MP for four years. She had a marginal seat — Loughborough — and the general election was fast approaching. How could she follow on from an operator as forceful as Gove? Morgan admits that when she took the job, ‘The focus was very much on preparing for the election.’ The general view then was that she had been sent to the department to calm things down after the intense pace of reform under Gove. Unkind souls said she had no particular interest in education beyond having a child at primary school. Even she concedes, ‘I had a lot to learn in terms of the education system.’

Today, however, Morgan is not just recognised as a talented minister; she’s tipped as a successor to David Cameron. She has developed her own style of politics. She may not talk about the ‘blob’ — Gove’s term for his opponents in the educational establishment — but she’s not afraid to tell the National Union of Teachers what she thinks. ‘What frustrates me particularly about the teaching unions is the fact that they seem so willing to point out all the problems as they see them, to talk down the profession when, actually, we have tens of thousands of amazing teachers in this country,’ she says. Schools, she adds, can be divided into ones that ‘want to talk about the students, the opportunities they offer, the excellence they are striving for in exams and everything else’ and the ones ‘where the teachers want to talk about themselves’.

To Morgan’s mind, what determines whether a school is good or not is its head-teacher. She tells me you can see ‘the quality of leadership in the first couple of minutes’ of a visit. Her test is simple: does ‘a head want to take you straight into lessons and show you great teaching’ or not? Morgan, though, is at pains to stress that academic results aren’t everything. She says approvingly, ‘Often parents will choose a school as much because they teach their child how to prepare for life in the 21st century, as they will on how good GCSE grades it gets.’

Morgan’s own life was transformed by her unexpectedly good A-level results. ‘I was working at the time as an office junior in a solicitors’ firm in Surrey and I was going to go to Reading University and the guy I was working for said, “Look, you have got these really good A-level results, why don’t you just have a go for Oxford?” So I phoned up the admissions tutor, who was actually the law tutor, at St Hugh’s and slightly badgered her. What happened was somebody in the second year had dropped out so they moved the place down and offered it to me.’

Morgan’s style is the opposite of flashy, but her decision to make that telephone call demonstrates her self-confidence. She believes she is worth a place at the top table. She hasn’t been overawed by her rapid ascent up the greasy pole. Morgan admits that her life would have been very different if she had gone to Reading. She muses that she still would have been a lawyer in the City and a Tory party member, but says that at Oxford ‘you are surrounded by lots of people who have a lot of self-belief. That does rub off.’

As if to make her point, Morgan happily wades into the most contentious debate in the Tory party today. When I ask her whether she would be for ‘in’ if there was a referendum on Britain’s EU membership tomorrow, she declares, without hesitation, ‘Personally, I absolutely would be.’ What would it take for her to vote to leave? ‘I think it would have to become quite extraordinary and I don’t think we’re anywhere near it yet.’

She describes herself as a feminist, but takes issue with the idea that it is hard to be a woman in the Tory party: ‘We so believe in a meritocracy, that you get taken totally at face value, and if you’re good, that gets respect and if you’re not, then it gets found out.’ By contrast, she claims, ‘The Labour party is full of dinosaurs. I think being a woman in the Labour party is much tougher from the conversations I’ve had with the female Labour MPs.’

And her next move? When I ask her if she will run for the leadership when David Cameron steps down, she confirms that she’s considering it. ‘A lot of it will depend on family,’ she says. ‘I’d be saying this if I was male or female — in the sense that being leader of the party is so all-consuming, putting such a pressure on family relationships.’ Whether she throws her hat in the ring, she says, will be a decision ‘made very much with family in mind’; she has a seven-year- old son and a husband. But to make her intent clear, she adds, ‘I hope that, in the not too distant future, there will be another female leader of a main Westminster political party.’ So there should be a woman in the race when Cameron steps down? ‘I would certainly hope there would be a female candidate, yes.’

Intrigued by her eagerness, I ask what her leadership pitch would be. Rather than batting the question away, she offers up a manifesto based on her experience in her own seat. ‘I represent a part of the country that I think is incredibly down-to-earth. It wants good schools, good hospitals, solid economy, support for those who have started businesses and wants to know that the government is on their side.’ In Loughborough, this formula has certainly worked. When she first fought the seat ten years ago, Labour won by close to 2,000 votes. Two elections later, the Tories have a majority of more than 9,000.

Many will scoff at the idea of Morgan as Tory leader and Prime Minister. But then nobody predicted that she would join the cabinet just four years after entering Parliament. She is making a habit of surprising people.


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Show comments
  • Sean Grainger

    Delusions of what is it again?

  • Dominic Stockford

    Talented minister?

    We have written to her several times over the issue of foul, abusive and offensive language which is prevalent in plays used at gcse level – that is, those under 16 are being forced to use, read and comment on such appalling language. No answer has been forthcoming. A ‘talented’ minister would see the problem is genuine, that it has major negative social ramifications, and deal with it – as well as actually answer.

    • Frank

      We must protect these delicate little flowers from language they use every day.

      • Dominic Stockford

        It is contrary to law, the Children Act, to use such language in the presence of children under the age of 18.

        • Frank

          Quote the act. I find no mention of it

        • Frank

          Still waiting for that act quoting. Almost as if you are wrong

    • Bonkim

      But all that is literature – reflection of society. Shakespeare is offensive to many but he is the greatest. Stop moaning. Take life as it is not how you would like it to be.

  • tenbelly

    ‘a woman should run to be the next Tory leader’

    Why not, the competition on the male side is pretty dire.
    Let’s stay with the programme, incompetent mediocrity.

  • MistyWeaveFishLosh

    Nicky Morgan is clearly a Sexist.

    The majority of UK voters do not give a toss whether it is a woman or a man as PM, they just want the best.

    Morgan’s focus on her genitalia, being an important reason why she should be PM, shows her limited understanding and the sexist nature of her views.

    She has now just ruled herself out of contention because of her sexist views.

  • kaymanaisle

    The “right person” for PM must not be chosen on the basis of gender. Morgan should focus less on gender and more on ability.

  • Frank

    There should be a woman running. To hell with such trivialities as competence, we should judge everyone by what they have between the legs

  • Bonkim

    Unlikely to succeed.

  • Fenman

    Even the Tories are not that dumb. The jury is still out that she can run a ministry.

  • Peter Stroud

    Needs to work harder to achieve her full potential.

  • Andrea

    Not only would I never vote for this woman but her proposal to introduce sex education to five years and over has me planning to emigrate next year. Something I had considered for a while, but this was the final straw as I have two under fives. That’s before we get to the creepy LGBT agenda that is also being designated to this age level. I’m not the only one outraged by this either.
    Oh and she would be an excellent heir to Cameron as she flip flopped on her morals just to get the post – like Cameron.

  • LoveMeIamALiberal

    Nicky Morgan launching her bid to be Tory leader? Is it April 1st already?

  • jeffersonian

    ‘When I ask her whether she would be for ‘in’ if there was a referendum on Britain’s EU membership tomorrow, she declares, without hesitation, ‘Personally, I absolutely would be.’ What would it take for her to vote to leave? ‘I think it would have to become quite extraordinary and I don’t think we’re anywhere near it yet.’’

    So the fact that the EU is economically moribound and has proven itself to be spectacularly inept at managing the migrant crisis, with hundreds of thousands of Arab Muslims flooding the continent – is not something hapless Nicky Morgan, future contender (??) for the Tory crown, think warrants a rethink on her part?

    Way to go Nicky – you’re almost there, detach yourself just a little bit more from reality and your political future with Cameron will be secure.

    • stuartMilan

      the reason she wants to be Tory leader is in order to advance her career as a professional politician first in the UK and then in the EU. it’s got very little to do with doing right by us, hence her otherwise inexplicable enthusiasm

  • CO Jones

    Nicky Morgan? As the leader of the Conservative party? Obviously someone wants to let the Labour supporters have their turn at laughing out loud …

  • Josh Smith

    I can’t bear this argument, if you think a woman should be leader, present a woman who can be, not one you feel ought to be.

  • upset

    Delusional – not a good recommendation for a party leader.
    Even Corbyn thought he was just making up the numbers.

  • Jingleballix

    This is a joke right………..?

    She’s vacuous.

    Tory Corbyn moment.

    • Heil Hitler

      You “chosen parasites” couldn’t give two shiites about the European border…

      1. UN chief of Migration, chairman at Goldman-Sachs bank.
      2. Sydney Blumenthal, not a Muslim, he works for Hillary.
      3. Rupert Murdoch: ‘Bloomberg would make a good president.’
      4. Bloomberg sells Sharia financial services.
      5. Syrian “rebel” terrorists met Keating 5 Senator McCain.

  • Partner

    She sounds truly ghastly in all respects

  • davidofkent

    In her dreams!

  • Terence Hale

    “Nicky Morgan’s pitch for the Tory leadership”. In my opinion Mrs. Morgan has no Fuzzy logic in which the truth values of variables may be any real event. Being the pillars of society is an alternative.

  • plainsdrifter

    Until I read the Speccie online, I had no idea that most of the posters here would be such a bunch of egregious plebs.

  • Blindsideflanker

    Delusional, when she should be pinching herself for lucking into a Ministerial position, she takes it as confirmation of her ‘talent’ and so thinks she has a chance of becoming PM.