Most viewers probably found Tristram Hunt’s appearance on The Andy Marr Show (tm) yesterday unremarkable, right down to his restating Labour Party education policy. But one self-appointed expert in the field, the loathsome Toby Young (that’s the Hon Toby Daniel Moorsom Young, folks) has decided that Hunt is involved in a dastardly plot to sabotage his beloved Free Schools.
Tobes begins not by considering what Hunt actually said, or reflecting that a relatively short interview may not have covered the whole of Labour’s policy on education, but by accusing him of lying, thus showing the understanding and tolerant nature of modern Tories. He bases his accusation on an alleged conversation he had with someone who had spoken to Hunt.
What Hunt certainly did say was that Labour favours a concept called “Parent-led Academies”, as Hunt’s predecessor Stephen Twigg pointed out on the same show in June – also provoking Tobes into action, on that occasion to claim that the opposition had performed a U-turn, thereby ignoring Labour policy not to favour any more such schools, and to give local authorities an oversight role.
Ignoring such pesky facts, he told his Tory pals “they should welcome the shadow education secretary's success in persuading his party to drop its opposition to free schools and taunt Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and the leaders of the teaching unions about this at every opportunity: ‘So you're opposed to free schools, but in favour of parent-led academies. Can you tell me what the difference is, please?’”
And, having got it wrong last time by forgetting about that council oversight, he is now truly aghast: “Labour will grant councils the power of veto over free schools in their boroughs. That is, it will be up to the local authority to decide whether a free school is allowed to open in its bailiwick and, if so, what type of school it will be”. Yes Tobes, that is what power of oversight looks like.
That would stop the current waste of taxpayers’ money opening Free Schools where there is already adequate provision, no lack of good schools, or both. Tobes asserts that the majority of projects are in areas with a shortage of places, but that means a lot of money is still being poured into new start-ups of debateable utility. He wouldn’t defend that kind of waste if it was Labour doing it.
But he is prepared for a slice of projection: “where local authorities aren't worried about the impact of new free schools on their less successful schools, the sorts of schools they approve will likely be identical to the existing ones”. Why, if a need has been identified? This is just more knocking copy designed to frighten parents and polish the turd that is Michael “Oiky” Gove’s education policy.
So expect plenty of that in the next eighteen months. Keeps him out of trouble.