Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hodge Hauled in for Summit with Her Boss; CHILD MINISTER'S POLITICAL LIFE ON THE LINE

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hodge Hauled in for Summit with Her Boss; CHILD MINISTER'S POLITICAL LIFE ON THE LINE

Article excerpt


MARGARET Hodge's job as Minister for Children was hanging by a thread today as she was hauled into her Whitehall department for crisis talks with her boss.

Mrs Hodge cancelled a planned public engagement in Birmingham to return to London for a summit with Education Secretary Charles Clarke, key officials and political advisers.

The sole item on the agenda was her political future amid the continuing furore over the child abuse scandals at Islington council, which she led from 1982-92.

Mr Clarke was said to have "cleared the decks" and recognised the force of claims that threats of legal action from two former abuse victims meant it was now impossible for Mrs Hodge to do her job.

Downing Street was aware of today's crisis talks and is said to be sympathetic to moves to resolve the crisis one way or another. A source close to Tony Blair said: "It is fair to say today is D-day for Margaret Hodge."

The Prime Minister and Mr Clarke were said to be anxious not to lose her because she is regarded as a competent minister.

But they were also said to recognise that the row over Islington, which was showing no sign of abating, was overshadowing key initiatives on children's rights planned by the department.

Mrs Hodge was said to be discussing a number of possible courses of action, including making a personal apology for trying to gag a BBC report on the affair and for describing a former abuse victim, Demetrious Panton, as an "extremely disturbed person".

Another was for her to resign with hopes of making a swift return to government, in a less controversial post, in a reshuffle expected in the New Year following Lord Hutton's report into the death of scientist David Kelly.

She could use the face-saving formula of standing down to contest legal actions against her.

A Whitehall source said: " Margaret got away with it the first time this row surfaced, some months ago, by claiming she had learned her lesson.

"The trouble is her outburst with the BBC and Demetrious Panton suggests that she hasn't."

Details of today's crisis talks emerged as the Standard learned that senior Cabinet members have rounded on Mrs Hodge and are urging the Prime Minister to remove her because the furore is so damaging to the Government. …

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