Ed Balls defies MPs over children’s commissioner, brushing off ‘bully’ claim
The children’s secretary Ed Balls today brushed off being labelled “a bully” by a senior backbencher to drive through a controversial appointee to the role of children’s commissioner.
In the first instance of a clash of opinion between a parliamentary select committee and the secretary of state since Brown pledged Westminster watchdogs could have a say on key appointments, the children’s secretary Ed Balls said he would be appointing Maggie Atkinson to the role of children’s commissioner despite the children schools and family select committee’s eight MPs from all political parties unanimously agreeing to recommend Atkinson did not have sufficient “independence of mind”.
This morning, the chair of the committee Barry Sheerman personalised his committee’s disapproval by explaining that he regarded Balls to be “a bit of a bully” who required more outspoken appointments to stand up to him.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Sheerman said: “Maggie Atkinson is a very competent woman but we just didn’t think she had the independence of mind to stand up to a secretary of state who likes to get his own way”.
“Most of us know that Ed Balls is a bit of a bully and he likes his own way … Time after time, we see the secretary of state wanting to have people who will do his bidding. He is more of an executive man, rather than a parliamentary man, and I think it is a bad day for parliamentary democracy when – if we are having these pre-appointment hearings – the very first one to say it didn’t agree with the appointment gets overridden.”
This afternoon in an emergency debate on the appointment tabled by the Tories, the children’s secretary Ed Balls announced he would be appointing Atkinson regardless since she was chosen by an independent panel, was “fearless” and “tough” and no “patsy”. Balls described Atkinson as “best qualified to be the strong, effective, and independent voice for children”.
The battle is the latest example of Sheerman’s anger at how the party has been run since he came out in June against Brown’s leadership and called for a secret ballot of Labour MPs to establish whether the PM still enjoyed his party’s support. The select committee chairman is considering using an election to the post of chair of the parliamentary Labour party – due to be held after the Queen’s Speech on 16 November – to simulate a referendum on Brown. Balls has been called a “bully” before, with interviewees for Antony Seldon’s 2007 biography of Tony Blair reporting Balls to have used a four-letter word to the face of the former prime minister.
Speaking about the relationship between the chairman and the secretary of state he monitors, a Tory member of the committee said: “Barry has been frustrated with [Balls] … and irritated that Ed is more interested in positioning himself for the position of the Labour party. When he appeared before us he was abrasive, cocky and unimpressive.”
The fight between Sheerman on behalf of his cross-party committee and Balls surprised those in the social care sector with the respected Martin Narey, chief executive at Barnados, saying he was “astonished” that the childrens’ committee had not endorsed Atkinson.
John Coughlan, director of children’s services at Hampshire county council, and a senior figure in the sector, said of Atkinson: “She’s hugely respected and nobody’s pushover. I think she’ll bring great credibility and energy to the role”.