Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Senior Cabinet Figures Want Hodge Dropped; PRESSURE MOUNTS ON CHILDREN'S MINISTER SENIOR

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Senior Cabinet Figures Want Hodge Dropped; PRESSURE MOUNTS ON CHILDREN'S MINISTER SENIOR

Article excerpt

Byline: PATRICK HENNESSY

Cabinet members have rounded on children's minister Margaret Hodge and are urging Tony Blair to remove her from her controversial post.

Some of Labour's leading heavyweights claim the continuing furore surrounding child abuse scandals at Islington Council - where Mrs Hodge was leader - are damaging the government.

The Prime Minister is being urged to shift Mrs Hodge into a less contentious post in a government reshuffle which is expected to follow Lord Hutton's report into the death of David Kelly early next year.

Mrs Hodge has shrugged aside calls to quit even though she faces two threats of legal action from former victims of abusers in children's homes run by Islington council.

One senior Cabinet minister has privately told colleagues: "She cannot survive while all this goes on."

Another has warned that the row surrounding Mrs Hodge is now a "nightmare issue" for the Government which is overshadowing all attempts to move forward-on children's policy. The fact that her most senior colleagues are beginning to turn on her is a bad sign for Mrs Hodge, who has already faced calls to quit from the Tories and some Islington abuse victims.

Downing Street was yesterday less than wholehearted in its support for her, with Mr Blair's official spokesman merely saying: "She remains a member of the Government."

The Tories kept up the political pressure on her with leading backbencher Andrew Mackay demanding a Commons statement.

He hit out after she described one Islington victim as an "extremely disturbed person".

Her rebuff was to Demetrious Panton, who had tried to protest about the ordeal he went through as a young boy.

Mr Mackay demanded to know why Mrs Hodge had sent a "threatening letter" to BBC chairman Gavyn Davies in which she tried to prevent Radio 4's Today programme from broadcasting Mr Panton's testimony.

The letter contained a thinly veiled threat of legal action.

But the tables were turned when Mr Panton, 35, now a consultant to John Prescott's Whitehall department, started legal proceedings against Mrs Hodge.

His barrister, Korieh Duodo of David Price Solicitors and Advocates, confirmed he had written to the minister demanding an explanation of her actions. …

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