As they claim credit for the fall of one Government “czar”, the obedient hackery of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre has decided to renew its assault on another: Emma Harrison, whose lifestyle was not in accordance with the dictates of the Vagina Monologue, has stepped down to general rejoicing in the Mail newsroom, with the assault now being turned on Les Ebdon.
Who he? Well, Ebdon, who was awarded the CBE in the 2009 New Year’s honours list, has been working in higher education for over 40 years. He is at present Vice Chancellor of Bedfordshire University. And that might have been the extent of public knowledge, but for his appointment by Business Secretary Vince Cable as Director of the Office of Fair Access, the university fair access regulator.
This was despite the Parliamentary Committee overseeing the appointment recommending he not be given the job. I make no comment on this, other than to observe the educational record of a majority of that committee: Adrian Bailey (chairman) (Cheltenham GS and University of Exeter), Margot James (Millfield School and LSE), Nadhim Zahawi (King’s College School and UCL), Simon Kirby (Hastings GS and LSE), David Ward (Boston GS and University of Bradford), and Katy Clark (Kyle Academy and University of Aberdeen).
So adverse comment was inevitable from the sniffier end of the Fourth Estate, not least at the Maily Telegraph, where Charles Moore (Eton and Trinity College Cambridge) dubbed Ebdon “this epitome of educational mediocrity”.
But it was the Mail that went into this particular tackle with both feet, telling readers that “Vince Cable’s attempt to give a key universities post to an academic who champions ‘Mickey Mouse’ degrees will today be humiliatingly rejected by Parliament”. Ebdon was given the job anyway, so pundit Hywel Williams was sent after him: “were Professor Leslie (‘Les’) Ebdon of Bedfordshire University to have his way our finest universities would slide their way irreversibly down the international league tables”.
Also going over the top in support was Melanie “not just Barking but halfway to Upminster” Phillips (Putney High School and St Anne’s College, Oxford), with “Professor Ebdon is a fully signed-up member of the ‘education as social engineering’ school that has brought British education to its knees” and the magnificent “Orwellian persecution of excellence”.
But that didn’t work either, so veteran hack Chris Moncrieff was ordered into action, talking of “The Prime Minister’s abject surrender ... over the appointment of the deeply unpopular Les Ebdon”, which also had no effect. So today the effort has continued, with “The man who wants to dumb down Britain”. I suspect Les Ebdon is made of sterner stuff than to bend to Paul Dacre’s will. So there’ll be more to come.