Tristram Hunt hasn’t lost much time using the Birmingham Islamist schools scandal to call for an end to the autonomy of free schools and Academies. It’s a bizarre non-sequitur. The ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal happened in schools run by the appalling Birmingham City Council (whose defects I’ve already written about). Yet Labour is using this scandal as its own Trojan horse – to take power out of the hands of parents, and give it back to the local bureaucrats whom the party (sadly) now represents:
‘Cameron’s schools policy has delivered a vacuum in the local oversight of our schools, leaving children exposed to falling standards and vulnerable to risks posed by extremists…. Labour has pledged to introduce new local Directors of School Standards to root-out problems before they set in’
The real job of these new bureaucrats would be to end school freedom. If Hunt sounds a little desperate, it’s with good reason – the apology drawn from Michael Gove and the sacking of Theresa May’s special adviser has not really exposed a scandal. Instead, we see two hardy and effective fighters having turned fire on each other. It’s an embarrassment, certainly. But Ed Miliband will not be able to benefit much from this – for a number of good reasons.
Lazy ministers don’t get into the kind of trouble that Michael Gove and Theresa May have found themselves in this weekend. If they became perhaps too battle hardened and over the last few years, it’s because both have been fighting wars on behalf of the voters. They’ve been off fighting teaching unions who put adults before children, or ambulance-chasing lawyers wielding the Human Rights Act. Hunt, an orphaned Blairite, knows that May and Gove are fighting the good fight. But he has to pretend otherwise because Ed Miliband wants to side with these vested interests and govern from Labour’s comfort zone.
The moral of the Gove vs May battle is simple: discipline is required from the Tories – ministers and advisers – in the 12 months before an election. Penalties will be paid by ministers who forget this, no matter how senior.
But the conclusion from the Gove and May achievements is simple: conservatism works, where properly applied. Even the Guardian’s Martin Kettle recently hailed Theresa May as “the most radical and effective police reformer to have occupied the home secretary’s chair in at least half a century”. Gove is the most effective school reformer to sit on the Education Secretary’s chair.
Woody Allen once said that, if sex is not dirty, you’re not doing it right. The same is true of reform.