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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 8 January, 2003, 22:14 GMT
Morris warns about political cynicism
Estelle Morris and John Prescott
Estelle Morris left to cheers from officials in October
Former education secretary Estelle Morris has warned that democracy is being put at risk by the confrontational relationship between politicians and the media.

In her first broadcast interview since she announced her resignation last October, she said politicians were afraid of being open with the public in case they were vilified by the media.

For the first time they had seen a politician as a human being

Estelle Morris
She told BBC One's Ten O'clock News that people were cynical about politicians and the next generation were so disillusioned they had no desire to go into politics.

"There's a cynicism about politicians which I think is dangerous for democracy," she said.

Ms Morris said her resignation made her realise how much the public wanted politicians to behave like real people and how much they wanted a proper debate on policies.

"I was stopped more in the street by people who wanted to thank me for what I did than I ever was before," she said.

"What people were saying was that for the first time they had seen a politician as a human being.

"Normally they are totally sceptical and cynical about politicians and politics."

Pressure

Estelle Morris resigned suddenly in October after a series of crises in education, saying she did not believe she was up to the job.

She had been under pressure in the row over A-level grades, and before that for the backlog in criminal checks on teachers which left some schools short of staff.

She said the problem with the relationship between the media and politicians was that the media only wanted to cover stories of conflict and not rounded debate or success stories.

This, she said, made politicians too scared of admitting that they did not have all the answers in case the media portrayed them as weak or doing U-turns.

I would like my colleagues to have greater confidence, that appearing human won't come over as weak

Estelle Morris
This narrowed the debate on important issues.

"We don't talk about things that are going wrong," she said.

"What this leaves us with is the most disillusioned electorate since people got the vote.

"I would like my colleagues to have greater confidence, that appearing human won't come over as weak. If the media interpret it as weak, the public don't."

She gave the example of the teacher shortages as one in which she had to watch her words - to avoid saying there was a crisis.

"I have played the game as well. There are more teachers than ever before but there are also more vacancies.

"The media always wanted me to say there was a crisis. They were more interested in that than in those two sides," she said.

Top-up fees

Estelle Morris would not be drawn far on her views on the imminent announcement of a shake-up in university fees.

At the time of her resignation, it was reported she was at loggerheads with Downing Street on the issue.

However, she gave a strong hint of her own view when she said it had been a "huge development" when Tony Blair announced that students would not have to pay big top-up fees up-front.

She said she did not want to hamper her successor Charles Clarke by giving her personal opinion on top-up fees.

While not keen to give away state secrets, Ms Morris did not mind admitting one thing she had kept from the public during her time as education secretary.

She said she had been unable to operate a computer.

Her three months away from the Department for Education and Skills had given her the time to learn how to be IT literate.

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  Former education secretary Estelle Morris
"For the first time they had seen a politician as a human being"

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See also:

05 Dec 02 | Education
19 Nov 02 | Education
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