Transcript of Barry Sheerman on Ed Balls: Today
Barry Sheerman: "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 loves to get his own way. I mean, you know, most of us know that Ed Balls is a bit of a bully and he likes his own way and we've seen a track record of, you know, we saw the problems over Ken Boston QCA, we saw Sir Bruce Liddington the schools commissioner who was very independent: he's gone, the schools commission has been abolished. Time after time, we see the Secretary of State wanting to have people that will do his bidding."
James Naughtie (Presenter): Well that's a pretty strong way of describing the Secretary of State. I mean, you think he's a bully who wants to get his own way all the time?
Barry Sheerman: I think he's a bit of a bully who likes to get his own way.
James Naughtie: Come on. He's either a bully or he isn't. You say he's a bully.
Barry Sheerman: Well yes, if you push me, yes. He's more of an executive man rather than a parliamentary man. And I think it's a bad day for parliamentary democracy when, if we're having these pre-appointment hearings, the very first committee to say that it didn't agree with the appointment, to get it over-ridden. I think that's a bad day for parliamentary democracy.
James Naughtie: Well, you say you have competence in this matter. Of course you don't, technically, do you? I mean there's no - you know, we're in a parliamentary system, not an American-style system, the committee doesn't put forward appointees. All you're asked for is your opinion. So it's competence, but only up to a point.
Barry Sheerman: Of course, and we're - it's early days and, you know, all eight of us - there were eight of us that hearing - all agreed. We didn't have a vote, we agreed..
James Naughtie: Cross-party.
Barry Sheerman: Cross-party, all three parties.. er, that we thought someone who was keener on the campaigning role, someone who would be feistier in standing up to the Secretary of State.. I mean, he does have form in this area. You know, Ofsted is at its weakest that I've known it under six Secretaries of State.
James Naughtie: And that's partly, or perhaps wholly, in your view, because of the Secretary of State and his way of doing things?
Barry Sheerman: I think he does not like strong, independent-minded people who stand up to him and that's why Sir Bruce Liddington went and why we had all the trouble with Ken Boston, the QCA last year..
James Naughtie: So there’s a pattern?
Barry Sheerman: There is a pattern and we as a Select Committee see that pattern. I've been chair of the Committee for six Secretaries of State and I know how each of them have behaved in that time.
James Naughtie: So, I mean, this issue is not simply about Maggie Atkinson, it's about the Secretary of State?
Barry Sheerman: It's about choosing people who have got the feistiness and the independence to actually take on the Secretary of State and say: "We have the weakest Children's Commissioner in the UK. Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have more powers and more strength. It's the weakest in Europe."
James Naughtie: What can you do about it? I mean, Mr Balls is going to go ahead. No doubt you would say that's an indication of the way he does things, so he's going to do it. What do you then do?
Barry Sheerman: He's going to do it. He's in front of my committee - our committee - on Wednesday..
James Naughtie: Well, that'll be fun!
Barry Sheerman: It'll be fun, but we'll tell.. Look. Our job is to keep track of this Secretary of State. We try to do it robustly and we try to do it well.
James Naughtie: You know what people who are listening to you who may not agree with you will say? They'll say: "Ah, here's old Sheerman. He's going for the Chairmanship of the LP. Good bit of campaigning."
Barry Sheerman: Well, first of all I haven't decided to do that.
James Naughtie: But you might?
Barry Sheerman: Yes, but this is nothing to do with it. Everyone knows that I have been chair of this committee for nearly ten years. I take it very seriously. My job is to scrutinise this department and to scrutinise it robustly is my duty to Parliament.
James Naughtie: But you'd rather you weren't dealing with a bully?
Barry Sheerman: Well - someone who always wants his own way. Let's be politer about it. But the fact is: even this commissioner, set up by Ed Balls, actually report to Ed Balls as Secretary of State not to Parliament through my committee.
James Naughtie: Barry Sheerman, thank you.