While the right-leaning part of the Fourth Estate sneers about the prospects for Mil The Younger succeeding Young Dave as Prime Minister, it appears to have taken its eye off the ball that is currently in play, that being local elections next week. And one of the authorities up for grabs is Lancashire County Council, which the Tories won during a period of Labour unpopularity in 2009.
Labour had controlled this authority for the previous 24 years, only to lose 28 seats out of 44 previously held, with the Tories adding 20 to give them 51 of the 84 available. The Lib Dems, who won ten in 2009, will be hoping to escape with some of their representation intact. But the Tories’ behaviour towards council leader Geoff Driver, and lack of big name visitors, suggests they have already given up.
The row between Education Secretary Michael “Oiky” Gove and Driver should have been resolved by a meeting, only for this to be called off by Gove’s staff, who excused the action as necessary due to the period of pre-election purdah. But the two should have met much earlier: it’s not as if there was both the opportunity, and the sign that all was not well with the relationship.
In fact, far from that relationship improving, Driver has now written to Gove effectively telling him to call off his “academy brokers” from any further activity in the county, as he asserts “the activities of your officials in Lancashire is having a detrimental and counterproductive effect on the education of our children”. And, in case “Oiky” doesn’t get the hint, he goes further.
“I have contacted all head teachers and offered support from county officers to attend any meetings that your officials arrange ... I should therefore be obliged if you would instruct your officials to suspend their activities in Lancashire until we have had the opportunity to meet to discuss how we can best move forward”. And the National Association of Head Teachers is equally unimpressed.
Its general secretary has noted “The activity of some academy brokers falls far short of any acceptable standard of conduct and has even been shown by Ofsted to stand in the way of school improvement”. If the Tories do really badly in Lancashire, one person who should take part of the rap, but who will not, is Michael Gove. In the meantime, Labour is encouraging supporters from outside the county to help out.
So folks from Greater Manchester, which has no local elections this time, are travelling north to help the party. Miliband himself has been campaigning in towns such as Chorley. But the Tory big guns are conspicuous by their absence. Not that you’ll see this in the national papers, though: they’re happily playing yah-boo at Miliband and thereby not looking at where the action is taking place.
And next week, they’re more than likely to get one very nasty shock.