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Margaret Hodge Defends PAC From Michael Gove's 'Forces Of Conservatism' Attack

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Margaret Hodge has defended the PAC from Michael Gove | Getty Images

Margaret Hodge has defended the role of the powerful Commons public accounts committee, which she chairs, after Michael Gove said it was one of the country's "fiercest forces of conservatism".

In a speech given today to the Politeia think-tank, the education secretary said Hodge's committee, whose job it is to scrutinise public spending, was preventing ministers from taking risks and making radical changes.

"Far too often the Whitehall machine is risk averse," he said. "Media commentary rarely allows early errors to be seen in context as experiments which will generate improvements.

"And the National Audit Office (NAO) and the publica account committee (PAC), the most influential watchdogs in the country, are some of our fiercest forces of conservatism.

He added: "Time after time the NAO and PAC report in a way which treats any mistake in the implementation of any innovation as a scandalous waste of public money which prudent decision-making should have avoided.

"And yet at the same time it treats the faults of current provision as unalterable facts of nature – like the location of oceans and mountains – which should be accepted as the design of a benign Providence."

But Hodge, the Labour MP for Barking and former minister, told The Huffington Post UK that the PAC would not hold back when it came to ensuring the public got value for money.

"Innovation is hugely important, but ideological decisions taken in haste can lead to unacceptable waste of taxpayers' money and we will continue to hold the government to account on taxpayers' behalf," she said.

Since taking over the chairmanship of the PAC in 2010, Hodge has gained a reputation for her aggressive questioning of ministers and civil servants - even forcing one to swear on the Bible that he was telling the truth to MPs.

Gove's "forces of conservatism" line echos a speech made by Tony Blair in the late 1990s. Ironically Hodge was considered to be a Blairite during her time as a Labour minister.

In his speech Gove also said Ed Miliband was one of the "forces of conservatism" he was battling against.

"Where Tony Blair used his speeches to identify the forces of conservatism and declare war on them, Ed Miliband has used his speech to celebrate the forces of conservatism and declare he wants to become their leader," he said of the Labour leader's 'One Nation' conference address.

"It was an explicit disavowal of the centrism practised under Tony Blair and a celebration of an older, more solidaristic socialism of the kind which would have found favour with Tony Crosland or even Tony Benn."

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