Jacqui Smith returns to government as education minister

Former Labour home secretary expected to be handed responsibility for higher education and skills

July 7, 2024
Source: iStock / William Barton

Jacqui Smith, the former home secretary who went on to have a successful media career post-parliament, has been named as an education minister in the new Labour government.

In a surprise appointment, the former Labour MP, who served in the Blair and Brown administrations the last time the party was in power, was expected to take responsibility for higher education and skills, serving under new education secretary Bridget Phillipson.

A Department for Education spokesperson declined to confirm Ms Smith’s new role, only saying that a full list of briefs will be released in due course. 

Ms Smith is the latest heavyweight figure to be handed a position in the new government after Sir Patrick Vallance became science minister, having served as chief scientific adviser during the Covid pandemic.

Like Sir Patrick, Ms Smith will be given a peerage in the House of Lords in order to take up the role, as she has not been an MP since losing her seat in 2010.

Writing on X, she said she was “incredibly proud” to be returning to the Department for Education, having served as schools minister from 2005 until 2006.

She said the job was “crucial for ensuring opportunities for all and contributing to the government’s central mission to deliver growth”.

A graduate of Hertford College, Oxford, Ms Smith went on to study a postgraduate certificate in education from what was then the Worcester College of Higher Education, now the University of Worcester.

Ms Smith stepped down as home secretary in 2009 after becoming embroiled in the MP expenses scandal when she claimed for a telecoms bill that included two pornographic films that she said had been watched by her husband.

Since leaving parliament she has been a regular commentator on Good Morning Britain as well as hosting a weekly show on LBC radio and a podcast with political commentator Iain Dale, and chairing several NHS trusts.

She will be faced with calls for more funding for universities, many of which are in deficit due to spiralling costs and falling recruitment. Ms Smith will also have to consider what the party should do on tuition fees, knowing that any rise is likely to be deeply unpopular with the public.

Diana Beech, the chief executive of London Higher, which represents universities in the capital, said her appointment meant universities “finally have an experienced and ‘big hitting’ minister responsible for their future, raising hopes that she will make decisions and take action swiftly”.

She said that having a minister in the less political House of Lords could change the “tone of debate around universities”, promising an “end to culture war-esque attacks on our great educational institutions”.


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