KATE HOEY was sacked despite being considered the best sports minister since Denis Howell, who held the post in the Labour Government of the early Seventies.
Her crime was to fall foul of the higher reaches of football administration, and her battles with Sport England created enemies who were glad to stick the knife in.
Squeezed out: Kate Hoey was sacked as sports minister despite 'doing a good job'. The bell tolled for Hoey at 1pm on Monday when Tony Blair rang her at home to tell her that, although she had done a good job, he wanted her to move aside for Sheffield MP Richard Caborn. She emerged later to say: "I was very disappointed. I felt there was a lot more to achieve, but in the scale of things, having lost my father five weeks ago, I can put this disappointment in perspective."
Blair could plausibly argue that he had changed all the faces at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, starting with Hoey's boss Chris Smith, who has been replaced by Tessa Jowell, and continuing with a new minister for the arts, Baroness Tessa Blackstone, who replaces Alan Howard. A Government official whose work involves sport told me: "Some of the people who she did not get on with and people in Sport England will be cheering, but this is a sad day for sport."These views were echoed by Elsa Davis, director of the National Playing Fields Association, who said: "She is arguably the best sports minister since Denis Howell. No minister of sport has been close to drawing together all the problems of sport." However, those who run football were always more sceptical about Hoey's virtues and their doubts began the moment she succeeded Tony Banks in July 1999. Two months before her arrival Banks had pressurised Manchester United into dropping out of the FA Cup and playing instead in the World Club Championship in Brazil because, as he put it, if United had not done so it would have angered the world football establishment and England could have lost votes in their bid to host the 2006 World Cup.
In her first interview, given to The Daily Telegraph hours after she had been appointed, Hoey expressed the view that United should not have been abandoning the FA Cup to go to Brazil. This echoed the view of many football fans and has since been vindicated - this year's World Club Championship has had to be abandoned and it may never be played again - but Hoey did not make herself popular with the football hierarchy, and the Football Association in particular, who allowed United to opt out. Her view incensed Martin Edwards, the United chairman. That early row was mirrored by others Hoey had when she often found herself closer to the supporters than to the hierarchy. This was especially true over the establishment of the Independent Football Commission, and the possible return of terracing for the Premiership and First Division, an issue over which she clashed with Smith and Premier League officials...
...Hoey was frozen out and it was clear that Downing Street and the FA did not want anything to do with her, a view which grew stronger with Blair's second landslide. Hoey was always a maverick in Labour ranks for her support for unionism in Ulster - being a Protestant farmer's girl - and for fox hunting. She returns to the back benches comforted by the thought that was always willing to be unpopular even within her own party.