Those who are usually not backward in coming forward in support of Education Secretary Michael “Oiky” Gove, and their press cheerleaders, have today taken cover and kept schtum, and for one very good reason: there is bad news in store for them and their hero. As both the deeply subversive Guardian and left-leaning Mirror have noted, this is all about information.
Yes, like the central character in The Prisoner, Gove is being harried by hostile forces telling him “we want information”. And, as with the response of Number Six, he is snapping back “you won’t get it”. But on this occasion, when the sentiment comes back to him that “by hook, or by crook, we will”, it isn’t a scarf-wearing Leo McKern, but the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), speaking.
The subject of the argument, to no surprise at all, is Free Schools, and the request by Laura McInerney for a sight of “the application forms sent in by people applying to run free schools, and the letters later sent back explaining whether or not they were successful”. This would inform her quest to discover the criteria the Government was applying in the allocation and spending of taxpayer funds.
The costs are well-known: around £1.1 billion has already been spent on Free Schools, with £241 million of that on schools opening in areas where there is no shortage of places. And unlike all those Astroturf lobby groups who keep their funding streams secret, this is money that has come from the tax-paying public, and passed on whether they like it or not.
Such spending is now subject to Freedom of Information (FoI) rules, but Gove has personally resisted Ms McInerney’s request, despite his appeals thus far failing. The impression is given that the Government is trying to make the process sufficiently expensive to frighten her off. However, and in such cases there is inevitably a however, there are others seeking the same information.
Under questioning from Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Gove told that it was “important we protect those individuals who made proposals for schools that were not accepted, from the programme of intimidation that has been directed at many brave teachers by the National Union of Teachers and other extreme left-wing organisations. I make no apologies for protecting from intimidation those public-spirited people who wish to establish new schools”.
But “Oiky’s” strange parallel world of rotten lefty intimidation is no less a fantasy than The Prisoner’s village. There hasn’t been any, the reality is that it’s our money, and we’re entitled to know how he and his pals – silent today – decide to spend it. So let’s have that information freely offered up, so we can see what’s going on.
One might ask: whose side is Gove on? Ah, but that would be telling.