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I’m exposing Clegg’s gimmicks to stop him interfering with schools

15 March 2014

Simon Jenkins has written a bizarre piece in the Evening Standard. As well as answering that, I’ll explain a few others things about it. Unfortunately, he has completely misunderstood the basics of the universal free school meals fiasco. He writes:

‘Gove decided, by a deal with Nick Clegg, that running every school meant insisting every child have a “proper meal”. The order went out over Christmas. Gove would be first to admit he has never run a whelk stall and was surprised to discover that schools were having trouble becoming Jamie Oliver academies overnight… Comrade Stalin himself would have warmed to the tears of gratitude.’

Where to start?! Simon Jenkins clearly thinks that we did ‘a deal’ with Clegg because we wanted to do this universal free school meals gimmick. He must have missed the news all week. The whole point of what I’ve been saying is that the Department for Education was not told about the universal free school meals announcement by Clegg at his party conference (until hours before it became public) because it was a deal struck in the quad [David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and George Osborne — the coalition’s highest decision making body].

After the announcement we warned repeatedly that the way Clegg was trying to do the gimmick would cause big problems.

Also, his funding numbers were junk. His claims to the media of a Department for Education ‘underspend’ were fictitious since we actually had an overspend of hundreds of millions, and finding the money for the gimmick from our maintenance budget, as we were told to do, would mean fewer collapsing school roofs fixed. We told Clegg these things before he told the media his tale.

When the Select Committee looks at the email traffic between the offices, it will see – and publicly confirm – the accuracy of the above. It will also show that Clegg’s claims that what I have said were ’utterly, totally wrong’, and Laws’s claim that I am talking ‘utter balls’, were untrue. (I could prove it with 10 minutes effort now but it will be better to wait for the proper inquiry.)

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Also, some basic logic confirms the truth of what I’ve said. Why did Laws have to hand out the money for the universal free school meals gimmick on the basis of ‘numbers of pupils per LA’? Because there was no time to find out which schools have no kitchen and therefore need the money. Why has the Department for Education had to add to the £150 million? Because the original Clegg announcement was not enough, as we warned (e.g. on 4 December 2013). Why has Clegg had to drop his promise everyone will get a ‘hot’ meal? Because he made that promise without agreement with DfE then was told it was impossible to deliver by September 2014. (And why is David Laws in meetings about the effects on the Pupil Premium? Because they didn’t think before launching the gimmick about the knock-on effects, given the pupil premium uses free school meals as its eligibility criterion.)

Jenkins then writes:

‘Worse is the plethora of special advisers whom Cameron has allowed into government. These people have nothing to do except further their boss’s career. They leak and plot and lobby. In Gove’s case a “shadowy army” of schemers have done his reputation harm…’

If Jenkins knew what was going on in the parliamentary press lobby, he would know that I have consistently and repeatedly said the same thing on and off the record about Gove and the leadership – he would be a bad leader and nobody should encourage the idea. You will not find any journalist in the lobby who says I have pushed that silly idea to them – I have knocked it down hundreds of times since 2007. So has my former colleague Henry de Zoete.

Understandably, nobody understands what our jobs as special advisers involved. I spent less than 1 per cent of my time dealing with the media. My job was: what are our priorities, what policies can advance them, project manage them through the Department for Education, try to suppress the chaos-inducing entropic forces of Westminster/Whitehall. (One of the reasons our team could operate as we did was that MG did not want to be leader and we did not want to be MPs.)

Jenkins then writes:

‘Yet he wants to excuse “his” academies and so-called free schools from the same draconian inspection for discipline and curriculum that he imposes on local authority schools. This is a clear double standard.’

Completely wrong. Not just wrong – the opposite of the truth. The only ‘pressure’ we put on Ofsted was to reform itself quickly to avoid the many cockups. E.g. It is obviously bad for Ofsted to say ‘Outstanding’ then days later the school has a major sex scandal. Our ‘pressure’ on Ofsted was for Academies and Free Schools to be treated in the same way as others – not the opposite. Why? Nobody in their right mind would think that trying to cover up problems was a successful way to embed the policy. Our main concern about Ofsted from the beginning was the gap between stated policy and actual practice. I think this was a reasonable concern given the evidence. (I will write separately about the Ofsted issue because there are many misunderstandings about it after Wilshaw’s unfortunate interview.)

Does Simon Jenkins think that me raising this universal free school meals issue now helps Gove politically? It does not – it angers Clegg’s and Cameron’s team. Why did I do it? Because our team went to the DfE to improve schools. We did not go there to help politicians like Clegg try to buy his way into positions of power by bribing people with taxpayers’ money. We spent a huge amount of time trying to stop gimmicks from all over Whitehall, to limit Whitehall’s interference with schools, and to save taxpayers’ money. We tried to resist the widespread culture among ministers of – ‘I’m making a speech next week, I need a new announcement for the lobby, tell Gove to give me a hundred million for [summer schools, meals, nurseries, insert gimmick as appropriate].’ If Clegg gets a black eye on this gimmick, my hope is that it will be harder for them to push more silly gimmicks on schools over the next year. I will be similarly honest about gimmicks from the Conservatives if they come.

People tell me that Simon Jenkins is a nice man and the only time I spoke to him at length we had a pleasant chat, but he should do some research before writing his columns – even just reading the papers – to avoid spreading confusion. There are all sorts of legitimate reasons to disagree with what Gove’s team did or is doing. Jenkins should focus on those since he clearly does not like Academies.

Dominic Cummings is a former advisor to Michael Gove. This was originally posted on his personal blog – read more here.

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Show comments
  • evad666

    The Cleg is a blood sucking member of the family Tabanidae.

  • ohforheavensake

    Erm… Dominic: just thinking. Given you were the uber-troll behind the notoriously biased (and frequently downright nasty) @toryeducation twitter feed, d’you think you’re an altogether trustworthy source?

  • logdon

    ‘We did not go there to help politicians like Clegg try to buy his way
    into positions of power by bribing people with taxpayers’ money’.

    And thereby is the key to modern Leftist politics.

  • No Good Boyo

    My daughter likes having a pack lunch, because all her friends have pack lunches too. When we pay for her to have a school dinner, she’s disappointed, because she has to go to the cafeteria, instead of sitting outside with her friends. And she complains that the school food is horrible.

  • startledcod

    Keep plugging away at this one Dominic, it will be a long haul but, as I am sure you are aware, the Lib Dems generally (in a similar fashion to Tony Blair) don’t feel it necessary to stick to the truth because their motivation is so noble and their dissembling should be ruthlessly exposed.

    Good luck.

  • MrsDBliss

    We did not go there to help politicians like Clegg try to buy his way into positions of power by bribing people with taxpayers’ money.

    This was one of the reasons I was so opposed to this in the first instance. I remember Clegg saying HE wanted to give us something back, like he was a latter day a Robin Hood. However taxes would be used to do so, so he’s more if a Prince John.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Deranged Guardianista rants and raves dementedly about Gove’s education reforms. Go figure…..

  • Raw England

    If third world immigrants didn’t cost us £22 million a day, we’d be able to give our native children the best of everything.

  • Kitty MLB

    Heaven Forfend! Socialist yoghurt knitting tyrants with an obsession
    for eating suspicious mushrooms and sloppy vegetarian smelly stuff getting
    hold of our children’s food requirements.
    Run Kiddies, the goody two shoes child catcher is on the loose, they want you to
    eat this delicious sounding ‘ nutritious soup’ and they will tell you to think of the children in Africa and eat up…run little mites !!!

  • anyfool

    Because there was no time to find out which schools have no kitchen and therefore need the money
    Can this be true, Labour the party of the poor built schools with no kitchens, actually with nowhere to provide free school meals for the same poor, these bleeding hearts profess their devotion to societies disadvantaged, yet never seem to provide the wherewithal, typical socialist thinking they profess care in buckets, but will not let them have, a slice of the huge state cake they have snaffled for their clients in the public sector.

  • alabenn

    So this boils down to the chairman of the National Trust is a liar, do not beat around the bush talking politely about research, he lied because that is the price he pays for his rewards of public appointments granted to him by the last Labour governments hierarchy.

    • telemachus

      This is a masterpiece of self justification by Dominic Cummings

    • Makroon

      The National Trust under Jenkins has become the archetypal bloated nepotistic QUANGO. He should mind his own business.

  • michael

    I’m concerned that the author of this article used to advise on education policy. Dreadful grammar and syntax.

  • Daniel Maris

    “Big problems”? Having to provide canteens for primary schools that don’t have them doesn’t constitute a “big problem” in my view. In any case, there’s no reason why nutritious soups and other meals could not be prepared off site and brought to the school.

    All we are talking about is a little investment.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Why is there something so depressing about the phrase ‘nutritious soups’? Do you want a nutritious soup, little boy? Naw. I want a burger and chips.

      • Daniel Maris

        I think you’ll find most kids enjoy them. They can be full of fat and carbs if you wish. There’s nothing wrong with real burger (pressed minced beef) and chips. But soups are very easy to prepare for large numbers of people and are cheap. I just don’t like the look of the plastic “prison plates” with their dried up offerings.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Yes, the Fatherland should provide its kinder property with proper plates.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            Maybe they can have nice sayings inscribed on them.

            “Tomorrow belongs to me.”

            “Arbeit macht frei.”

            You know, things of that nature.

            • Daniel Maris

              Yep, looks that way.

          • Daniel Maris

            You off on one again?

          • Daniel Maris

            It might have escaped your notice that in most private schools they provide lunch for their charges.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              It might have escaped your notice that you’re a NSDAPer and believe in all NSDAPer means and ends.

      • andagain

        Perhaps Daniel Maris has never been a child. Or known one.

    • andagain

      Having to provide canteens for primary schools that don’t have them doesn’t constitute a “big problem” in my view.

      Oh good. You provide them all then. There are only a few thousand schools nationwide, after all. And you have months to arrange it all.

      • Daniel Maris

        Are you claiming there are thousands of primary schools without canteens? No – I didn’t think you were.

        • andagain

          No, I’m suggesting that you have a few months to identify which of several thousand schools are lacking canteens, and then also arrange for canteens to be built, or other provision made, with no budget or organisation to do the work.

          But it is an easy job you tell me, so you do it for them.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            NSDAPers don’t actually do work. They order others to do it, and then turn them in for any deviation from party orthodoxy.

  • Colonel Mustard

    The truth no longer matters, Mr Cummings. Political power and the political narrative in the UK now belong to those most prepared to lie publicly and blatantly – as long as they do so from the position of the left wing.

    You might have been in government with Mr Gove but you were, effectively, an insurrection, an underdog. Firstly against the opposition in government of the Lib Dems and secondly against the socialist shadow state – the public service unions, the public sector, the third sector and the media who are determined to prevail against any elected government, unless it is Labour.

    • BarkingAtTreehuggers

      Gawd! Truth! Why don’t we just declare ourselves a Socialist Democratic Republic of England once the Scots go, to reflect the reality of your POV?
      I mean, seriously – judging by your exacting standards based on Daily Mail-style morality, England is *the* dream state all socialists will flock to in droves to live their dream. Lavish shed with bed suburbia for all and beans on toast for 8p per head. Marvellous!

      What ‘socialism’???

      • Colonel Mustard

        There are none so blind that will not see. There is no conservative agenda in England. There is however a cod socialist agenda of ‘political correctness’ and corporate managerial style government by a predominantly unelected, unaccountable and privileged elite. Don’t confuse the reality of economics and the cynical number crunching with political ideology. Don’t just look at the window dressing. Look to China, a single party, supposedly communist state that has ’embraced’ capitalism and the concept of personal aggrandisement. Look at the leadership of all three main parties, but especially at Labour with its privileged, expense fiddling and home flipping millionaires, with their shares and partnerships in corporate UK.

        This is not about simplistic philanthropism for poor people, food banks or the march of the proletariat but about power, privilege and the feathering of nests. If that were not so the reality of Labour decades-dominated sinkholes in the UK would not exist. It is now more than 17 years since Blair, with an empowering parliamentary majority and the goodwill of the nation said “A new day has dawned has it not”. It had indeed but not in the way most imagined.

        The struggle is no longer between right and left but between the liberty and the rights of the individual and an ever encroaching state. Whether the collective, corporate “left” march under the banner of utopian socialism to take the majority of useful idiots with them or under the banner of “de-toxified” Tories the destination for our country is pretty much the same.

        • BarkingAtTreehuggers

          Largely agree, yet I attempted to highlight how the real feathering of nests plays out.
          You own a property in SW1? You will have enjoyed not a tax break, not a tax free mortgage payments funded by the taxpayer, no, you would have won the lottery last year – without even purchasing a ticket.
          The free handouts in form of completely out-of-this-world deliberate house price inflation (no, Help to Buy in the >600k segment has NOTHING to do with it at all) is a sick joke. Average SW1 property gains £300k in value in one year alone!
          Again, everyone understands what is going on, no one will do more than shrug.
          This it the last ditch attempt of those calling the shots to concentrate wealth. Wealth is ever more concentrated in an ever smaller section of ENGLISH society. The regions watch whilst the centre prepares its last supper. Scotland has had enough of this spectacle and will go.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            …no it won’t. The jocks love this socialist madness, and won’t let loose of the suckling teat.

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