Worried Will Young

The best of the politics blogs as brought to you by Paul Evans

Too schooled for cool

When faced with the dilemma of my education, my parents poured over the prospectuses for Poshington College and Gasworks Comprehensive. After much anguished hand-wringing, they came to the right decision. David Cameron has been similarly wrestling with the knotty issue - and has now decided to send his sprogs to London comps (“pathetic!” barked the rather mean Labour Boy).

While the headlines focussed on Cameron's announcement regarding his own offspring, he and Michael Gove were also unveiling policy of substance – most eye-catchingly, encouraging the institutions of civil society to establish schools. Will Rhodes felt that a cross-party consensus on the future of state education is necessary to make any long-term reforms effective – and that local authorities are a malign force in the governance of comprehensive schools, explaining: “I don’t care what the LEAs say - they are as politically motivated as the parties who are kicking them around”.

Letters from a Tory was impressed by the idea of “state funding supporting independent public service providers in the name of social justice,” but concerned that Dave was creating a rod for his own back.

“You turned your nose up at around 15 primaries near your West London home to send your five-year-old daughter to an Anglican state school because you wanted to do what’s best for your children,” he recalled.

But while Cameron's pledge might be interpreted as an act of expedient solidarity with the increasingly hard-up middle classes, the role of his wife Samantha should not be underestimated. As Sam Coates noted some weeks ago on his Red Box blog – she is something of an enthusiast for state education.

In the same week, the Lib Dems unveiled their own education proposals, including a commitment to cut class sizes to 15 and more detail on the party's plans for a Pupil Premium to help disadvantaged children. Islington candidate Bridget Fox joined her party leader for the policy launch at a North London school. She later blogged that Clegg had cracked “that'll put them off,” in response to learning that pupils were to visit Westminster to learn more about politics. Never a truer word said in jest...

What have we learned this week?

On Facebook, Nick Clegg shows his yoof cred by embracing the '25 random things' meme. We learn that his great-great aunt dated HG Wells and that he once wrote a (“terrible”) novel. It couldn't have been worse than Iain Duncan Smith's 'The Devil's Tune,' surely.

Around the World

To New Zealand, where Jafapete on the left of centre Kiwipolitico has been reflecting on Waitangi, the national holiday marking the conclusion of the treaty which made the Maori people British subjects.

Jafapete expressed concern that the idea of national unity is: “often used to conceal the very real differences between the haves and the have nots in society,” while the Green Party's frogblog was impressed by the tone in which the day was observed, citing a: “civil debate about the appropriateness of our national anthem, our flag and our other national symbols without any of the polarising name calling I would have expected in the past”.

Videos of the Week

M.I.A remains pretty hot stuff and she got more records than the KGB. Heavily pregnant (indeed, actually due), her 'Paper Planes' (which samples the Clash's 'Straight to Hell') was nominated for Record of the Year at the Grammys.

M.I.A's father was a pro-Tamil independence activist and she has not been shy in using Tiger imagery – prompting one of the more interesting pop rows of last year, when Sri Lankan-American rapper DeLon accused her (through the medium of the “diss video”) of supporting terrorism - allegations which drew an angry rejection of the charge.

Quote of the Week

“You always know when someone is struggling because they say they are "worried". Will Young was "worried" about every issue, it seemed.”

Iain Dale blogging on the week's BBC Question Time.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
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Theresa May "indifferent" towards Northern Ireland, says Alliance leader Naomi Long

The non-sectarian leader questioned whether the prime minister and James Brokenshire have the “sensitivity and neutrality” required to resolve the impasse at Stormont.

Theresa May’s decision to call an early election reflects her “indifference” towards the Northern Ireland peace process, according to Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, who has accused both the prime minister and her Northern Ireland secretary James Brokenshire of lacking the “sensitivity and neutrality” required to resolve the political impasse at Stormont.

In a wide-ranging interview with the New Statesman, Long – who is running to regain her former Belfast East seat from the DUP for her non-sectarian party in June – accused the Conservatives of “double messaging” over its commitment to Northern Ireland’s fragile devolution settlement. The future of power-sharing province remains in doubt as parties gear up for the province’s fourth election campaign in twelve months.

Asked whether she believed the prime minister – who has been roundly criticised at Stormont for her decision to go to the country early – truly cared about Northern Ireland, Long’s assessment was blunt. “We have had no sense at any time, even when she was home secretary, that she has any sensitivity towards the Northern Ireland process or any interest in engaging with it at all... It speaks volumes that, when she did her initial tour when she was prime minister, Northern Ireland was fairly low down on her list.”

The timing of the snap election has forced Brokenshire to extend the deadline for talks for a fourth time – until the end of June – which Long said was proof “Northern Ireland and its problems were not even considered” in the prime minister’s calculations. “I think that’s increasingly a trend we’ve seen with this government,” she said, arguing May’s narrow focus on Brexit and pursuing electoral gains in England had made progress “essentially almost impossible”.

“They really lack sensitivity – and appear to be tone deaf to the needs of Scotland and Northern Ireland,” she said. “They are increasingly driven by an English agenda in terms of what they want to do. That makes it very challenging for those of us who are trying to restore devolution, which is arguably in the worst position it’s been in [since the Assembly was suspended for four years] in 2003.”

The decisive three weeks of post-election talks will now take place in the weeks running up to Northern Ireland’s loyalist parade season in July, which Long said was “indicative of [May’s] indifference” and would make compromise “almost too big an ask for anyone”. “The gaps between parties are relatively small but the depth of mistrust is significant. If we have a very fractious election, then obviously that timing’s a major concern,” she said. “Those three weeks will be very intense for us all. But I never say never.”

But in a further sign that trust in Brokenshire’s ability to mediate a settlement among the Northern Irish parties is deteriorating, she added: “Unless we get devolution over the line by that deadline, I don’t think it can be credibly further extended without hitting James Brokenshire’s credibility. If you continue to draw lines in the sand and let people just walk over them then that credibility doesn’t really exist.”

The secretary of state, she said, “needs to think very carefully about what his next steps are going to be”, and suggested appointing an independent mediator could provide a solution to the current impasse given the criticism of Brokenshire’s handling of Troubles legacy issues and perceived partisan closeness to the DUP. “We’re in the bizarre situation where we meet a secretary of state who says he and his party are completely committed to devolution when they ran a campaign, in which he participated, with the slogan ‘Peace Process? Fleece Process!’ We’re getting double messages from the Conservatives on just how committed to devolution they actually are.”

Long, who this week refused to enter into an anti-Brexit electoral pact with Sinn Fein and the SDLP, also criticised the government’s push for a hard Brexit – a decision which she said had been taken with little heed for the potentially disastrous impact on Northern Ireland - and said the collapse of power-sharing at Stormont was ultimately a direct consequence of the destabilisation brought about by Brexit.

 Arguing that anything other than retaining current border arrangements and a special status for the province within the EU would “rewind the clock” to the days before the Good Friday agreement, she said: “Without a soft Brexit, our future becomes increasingly precarious and divided. You need as Prime Minister, if you’re going to be truly concerned about the whole of the UK, to acknowledge and reflect that both in terms of tone and policy. I don’t think we’ve seen that yet from Theresa May.”

She added that the government had no answers to the “really tough questions” on Ireland’s post-Brexit border. “This imaginary vision of a seamless, frictionless border where nobody is aware that it exists...for now that seems to me pie in the sky.”

However, despite Long attacking the government of lacking the “sensitivity and neutrality” to handle the situation in Northern Ireland effectively, she added that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn had similarly failed to inspire confidence.

“Corbyn has no more sensitivity to what’s going on in Northern Ireland at the moment than Theresa May,” she said, adding that his links to Sinn Fein and alleged support for IRA violence had made him “unpalatable” to much of the Northern Irish public. “He is trying to repackage that as him being in some sort of advance guard for the peace process, but I don’t think that’s the position from which he and John McDonnell were coming – and Northern Irish people know that was the case.” 

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.

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