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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 November, 2003, 16:20 GMT
Will Margaret Hodge survive?
By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Tony Blair is having to express his "full confidence" in his beleaguered children's minister Margaret Hodge on an almost daily basis.

Margaret Hodge
Hodge has apologised
Either in person, or through his official spokesmen, the prime minister has not once wavered in his public support for her.

But many in Westminster are asking whether Ms Hodge's position is now untenable.

It is an extraordinary, if not unprecedented, position to have a minister in post who has been forced to apologise, pay legal costs and what amounts to compensation after threats of legal action against her.

It is also hard to think of a recent similar example of where a minister has been forced into such a public position on a matter directly related to her own responsibilities.

Both the man at the centre of the row, child abuse victim Demetrious Panton, and Tory spokesman Tim Yeo have demanded her resignation.

Hounded out

Mr Blair's spokesman insisted again on Tuesday she retains the prime minister's confidence and that he believes she is the right woman for the job.

Mr Blair appears determined to stand by Ms Hodge while clearly believing it was a mistake for her to write the letter branding Mr Panton "extremely disturbed".

Often with these affairs, it is the affect they have on the minister's ability to do their job and the embarrassment being caused to the prime minister that becomes the deciding factor.
He also seems adamant that his minister is not going to be hounded out of office.

But these affairs often follow a familiar path which, more often than not, ends with the minister concerned finally resigning.

The most recent example was of former Transport Secretary Stephen Byers who initially refused to wield the axe or quit over the behaviour of his spin doctor, Jo Moore, who sent an e-mail as the twin towers burned suggesting 11 September was a good day to bury bad news.

The attacks on him from the media and demands for his resignation from the opposition and others persisted until he finally quit, months after the original "offence".

End the affair

And often with these affairs, it is the affect they have on the minister's ability to do their job and the embarrassment being caused to the prime minister that becomes the deciding factor.

At the moment there is no suggestion Ms Hodge is about to resign or be sacked, with her supporters insisting there is no case against her other than the bad judgement in writing the letter.

And it is quite possible her recent actions will put an end to the affair.

But it is also possible that those outraged by her behaviour will continue to snipe at her.

And if she puts another foot wrong, then the demands for her head may well become irresistible.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Margaret Hodge
"We're putting the child at the centre of everything we do"



SEE ALSO:
Hodge apologises to abuse victim
18 Nov 03  |  Politics
Profile: Margaret Hodge
13 Nov 03  |  Politics
Full text of Hodge's letter
14 Nov 03  |  Politics
Victim condemns Hodge's 'malice'
15 Nov 03  |  Politics


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