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Breakfast with Frost
A transcript of Breakfast With Frost's interview with Estelle Morris, MP, Minister for the Arts on Sunday 15 June 2003.

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used

Estelle Morris, MP, Minister for the Arts
"All politicians are tempted by being given the chance to make a difference"
Estelle Morris was a Cabinet Minister with passion and commitment. Formerly a teacher she appeared more dedicated to the teaching profession than being a professional politician. So it was a real shock when about a year ago she walked out of her post as Education Secretary, saying with extraordinary candour that she wasn't up to the job, she thought. Now she's back in government, as of Friday night she's the new Arts Minister. Estelle, welcome back.

ESTELLE MORRIS: Thank you David.

DAVID FROST: Welcome back to the government, welcome back to the couch, etc. Now how did this all come about, because you've been enjoying your year of freedom haven't you?

ESTELLE MORRIS: I have, very much so. I think it's been good for me. I think I've learned to think again, outside a very narrow brief and I think I've learned to get the balance of life and work better again. I've spent a bit more time with my friends and had a bit more sleep. So I feel rested and refreshed. But interestingly, when I stepped down I always knew I wasn't fed up with politics, nor education, which are two of the passions in my life. So when the Prime Minister phoned me on Friday and asked me to come back this was a job which I thought was quite a challenge and quite exciting and I certainly look forward to working with Tessa Jowell as a good friend and good political colleague of mine, so best take it on.

DAVID FROST: And as the new Arts Minister, what's the last film you saw?

ESTELLE MORRIS: I'm quite good on films, it was All About Schmidt but I've been told that that's one of the tests of anybody who's new to this job, that when you get to meet the journalists they say what's the last opera you've seen, what's the last play you've seen. So I think I've actually, I've decided not to fall into the that trap because I'm bound to make a mistake in the answer to those questions but I'm more likely to be seen at the cinema or at an art gallery than I am at the ballet or the opera, I know that. And I don't bring to it what I brought to education, which was an absolute, I think, a knowledge of what it was like to deliver the service, but I am a citizen, I am a person and we've all got that side of us that needs the art and creativity so I'm looking forward to learning a lot and hopefully bring you some of the skills I've developed over the years.

DAVID FROST: Yes, because of having been a teacher you really, you had a real passion for education and for the job and so on. It must have been a very difficult decision, deciding that you didn't think you were up to the job. Why did you think that?

ESTELLE MORRIS: It was like being in a tunnel where I couldn't see my way out of and it was three months of great difficulty and when I looked forward to the months ahead I just felt that everything I did from then on would be interpreted through the difficulties I'd had in the three months. And the minute you feel that in a job as important as that, I think you stop defining the job yourself and other factors are defining it for you. I thought it was right for me and I've been proved right. I also thought it was right for the Department, because it was becoming written as a department that was in trouble and when I went it lanced that boil for them in some ways, they're a good department, they're doing well under Charles and they'll go from strength to strength. So, it was the right thing to do because it didn't take away from the sorrow and the fact that I missed it but I've never regretted that decision, not once. I've learned a lot about myself, a lot about politics, a lot about life I think.

DAVID FROST: And would you, if the opportunity arose, would you want to go back one day into the Cabinet, if that arose?

ESTELLE MORRIS: Absolutely not, no.


ESTELLE MORRIS: No. I couldn't. This sounds awful, I don't mean it to sound like this. I could have managed without going back into government. I knew that, that's one of the things I've learned. I don't need to be a Minister to actually contribute to the world in which we live or to politics, or to things I care about. You learn that there are different ways. But this job is one where I, when I was in education I started what is known as creative partnerships, and that's getting children and more people who don't usually use the arts, getting them greater access. And I'm looking forward to developing that role, so I've come to this as excited but I'm not sure this is the right word, a bit more relaxed about this. I don't want to go in the Cabinet again. I'm going to look forward to learning about this portfolio, I think I've got something to offer, and enjoy working with Tessa and the rest of the team. And all politicians at the end of the day are tempted by being given the chance to make a difference. So on the latter scale and a narrower field I hope that's what I can do over the next few months.

DAVID FROST: I understand when you talk about the fact that in the past year you've had the opportunity to renew acquaintances with friends on a greater scale, and all of that, and get back to a more normal life than the frantic life you had when you were Minister for Education. That must have made Alan Milburn's words this week very understandable, perhaps more to you than anyone else.

ESTELLE MORRIS: I could understand exactly what he was saying and I think he's very brave because circumstances led to me giving up the job, even though I knew of those pressures. And one of the things I thought a lot about is the nature of politics and political life. I know Alan, I've met his wife, I've talked to him about the boys. It's a brave decision because he's an able young politician, but I do understand how he feels and, good for him, and good luck.

DAVID FROST: And, in fact, you're in fact for those who have passed over or leave the government, you are a message of hope. There's a way back!

ESTELLE MORRIS: My advice to anybody who is in that position is, don't wait for it, find another life, work out another way of making a contribution and then if the offer comes it comes as a surprise and a shock and you don't say yes straight away, you can think whether it's really what you want to do. Too often in this world, and especially in politics, we take the next promotion because we think it's what we've got to do. And I think one of the things I've learned is that promotion is great and ambition is great. I know I'm still ambitious but sometimes it's not just the line-up, sometimes it's the branch of a tree that goes to either side and I feel at the moment, it's maybe not a very good analogy though, I'm sort of on a branch out from the main trunk, sort of sitting there waiting for this new job. I no longer need to climb to the top of that pole.

DAVID FROST: Well I hope it's a very strong branch.

ESTELLE MORRIS: Thank you very much.

DAVID FROST: And it doesn't break off or do any of the things that branches sometimes do. Congratulations.


DAVID FROST: Great to have you back with us again - Estelle Morris. INTERVIEW ENDS.

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