KEY CABINET POST FOR MRS. THATCHER
Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, M.P. for Finchley and Friern Barnet for over 10 years, became Minister of Education when the Conservatives swept into power at the General Election last week.
Mrs. Thatcher, who was watching television at the Savoy Hotel, London, when the Tory victory began to become reality, was summoned to Downing Street on Saturday morning and asked to take over the post, formerly held by Edward Short, of Secretary of State for Education and Science.
She accepted the job and set to work straight away, reading papers over the week-end. She was in her office at the ministry early on Monday morning. On Tuesday she told the Finchley Press she had not been surprised by the Conservative victory—it was only the opinion polls which had led to confusion.
“I would have been happy with a majority of 20 seats,” she said. “Most of the marginal seats I visited were won.”
On polling day Mrs. Thatcher toured every polling station in the constituency, and later had a get-together with party workers at the Conservative Hall, North Finchley. She also spent some time at the Conservative Central Office, where she described the atmosphere as “terrific.”
After visiting a party at the Daily Telegraph offices she went on to the Savoy, returning for the Finchley count on Friday morning. “I got only one and a half hours' sleep,” she said, “but it was worth it.”
As Minister of Education Mrs. Thatcher—who is said to have “one of the best brains in the Commons” —holds a key position in the Cabinet.
Would she like to become the first woman Prime Minister? “No,” she answered emphatically, “there will not be a woman Prime Minister in my lifetime—the male population is too prejudiced.” [end p1]
New moves in school row
PLAN C: IT'S UP TO THE COUNCIL
The ball of Plan C is back in Barnet Council's court. This is the effect of the move made this week by Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, M.P., the new Education Minister, in withdrawing the compulsion on local authorities to make their schools comprehensive.
She followed this announcement by inviting representatives of the Barnet Borough Council rebels to meet her, and on Tuesday she told the Finchley Press that this withdrawal of compulsion, coupled with the continuing protests from teachers and parents, could not be ignored by the council.
“I continue to be bombarded by ordinary people about the present plan, and it seems to me that, on ordinary democratic grounds, the protests are getting so great that I would hope the local education authority would reconsider the plan.”
The last position with Plan C before the Conservatives took over, was that it had been approved in principle by the then Education Minister, Mr. Edward Short, but final permission had been delayed pending a review of educational legislation: “If Plan C is submitted, I cannot say what my position would be because I would then be in a judicial capacity,” said Mrs. Thatcher.
The need to draw up a comprehensive scheme for Barnet came when the Labour Government issued a circular compelling all local education authorities to do so.
Now this has been withdrawn: “We can go forward once again without compulsion, and will expect plans to be based on educational considerations rather than on the comprehensive principle.”
Furthermore, at a meeting in Finchley last month Mrs. Thatcher said: “I feel very strongly you should not destroy the best in order to improve the worst” —a comment which gives a ray of hope to those who feared for the abolition of some of Finchley's oldest established and successful schools.
This evening (Friday), Cr. Jimmy Sapsted and Cr. Frank Gibson will be going to the Ministry of Education as representatives of the 19 Tory councillors who openly rebelled against Plan C. As promised a few months ago, they will present a resolution to her asking for a withdrawal of Plan C, so that unsuitable school linkings can be delayed until suitable buildings and equipment are available.
“We have been invited to see Mrs. Thatcher,” said Cr. Gibson, “and we shall be discussing the position. I think that Barnet Council will think again about the plan now that they no longer have a pistol held to their heads—which was one of the main reasons they fell in with the Labour Government's demand.”
Cr. Vic Usher, who decided to accept Plan C because he felt the rest of the council were in favour, said that, as chairman of the education committee, he hoped the new position would give rise to rational discussion and not hot-headed argument: “We are also a bit stuck, because we don't know exactly what the Department of Education and Science are going to give us in building and equipment.”
But time for discussion is getting short. The scheme, planned to start in September, 1971, must be settled by the end of this year at the latest, said Cr. Usher. Otherwise it will not allow sufficient time for parents to know what schools their children are going to.
Closure notices have already been put up in some local schools, including Finchley County, Manorside and Hillside, stating the changes. This does not mean that the changeover is necessarily going ahead, but the notices must be posted to allow time for objections.
Discussion on the latest move in the Plan C row may come up at Tuesday's meeting of Barnet Council in Hendon Town Hall, and there is also a meeting of the education committee, which is open to the public, at Hendon Town Hall, on Wednesday evening.