Grammar School fury won't go away

I have yet to find a Conservative MP, London Assembly member, Councillor, or activist who thinks Mr

I recently spent a very pleasant evening dining with that most charming and elegant hostess, Raine, Countess Spencer who rather like her late Mother Dame Barbara Cartland, is fast becoming a National treasure.

In her day Raine was a formidable presence on the London Political scene serving on the London County Council and the GLC and has lost none of her insight or indeed her strong Conservative beliefs. I felt rather sorry for one of my fellow guests, the equally charming and very smooth Italian Ambassador Giancarlo Aragona, with his attractive English wife (why do so many Ambassadors have foreign wives?) who, when the Ladies withdrew after dinner, (Raine does these things properly) was forced to defend our retiring Prime Minister Tony Blair from the rest of the male guests.

Next month in Hampstead Garden Suburb a blue plaque will be unveiled to Harold Wilson, now an almost entirely forgotten prime minster whom most Tesco shoppers would struggle to name. My theory was that in 20 year's time Blair will join Wilson in the remainder bin of political biographies.

Another of my fellow guests, the Oscar-winning screenwriter and actor Julian Fellows assured the Ambassador that David Cameron would win the next General Election and was doing a marvellous job however it was a shame that even Mr Cameron could not muster a decent candidate to run for Mayor of London.

I managed to brush off Raine's suggestion that I should run and suggested to Julian that he would be a credible candidate to which his wife, the beautiful Emma said "but darling you have got three Hollywood scripts to write!"

However a week is a long time in Politics, as Wilson once said, and along comes "Dave" Willetts and his statement about Grammar Schools.

As my stomach endured another rather fine dinner, this time given by the outgoing Mayor of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea ("We always expect the Mayor to upgrade the wines in the Royal Borough," the Chief Executive told me), there was only one topic of conversation amongst the London political elite.

The three Conservative front benchers present appeared very sheepish having come hot foot from the explosive meeting of 1922 Committee described in some detail by an outraged backbencher.

Meanwhile the Labour Mayor of Lewisham, the very reasonable Steve Bullock, told me he would never have achieved anything if it was not for his Grammar School education.

The following day, at Westminster Cathedral (attending that other staple event for Politicians , the Memorial Service), one former Lord Mayor of Westminster told me he thought Cameron was going all out to annoy the middle classes and one City Academy Governor told me it was far to early to judge the success or otherwise of Academies.

Certainly that evening as I attended a meeting of the governing Body of my old Grammar School the headmaster, staff and governors (Tory voters to the core) thought Mr Cameron had lost the plot.

I felt rather sorry for my local Member of Parliament and Shadow Cabinet high flyer Theresa Villiers whose excellent speech later that same evening at her Conservative Association AGM before 100 plus Councillors and activists was overshadowed by the overwhelming opposition to Mr Willettts. The ever loyal Theresa did her best to defend her Shadow Cabinet colleague but realised she was on a sticky wicket especially as later on the Agenda was a motion to readopt her as the candidate for the next general election.

I have yet to find a Conservative MP, London Assembly member, Councillor, activist, or Party member who thinks Mr Willetts needed to make the remarks he did or anyone who has forgiven the then Labour Government for abolishing hundreds of inner City Grammar Schools in the 60s and 70s . Now who was prime minister at the time?

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
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Richmond is a victory for hope - now let's bring change across the country

The regressives are building their armies. 

Last night a regressive alliance was toppled. Despite being backed by both Ukip and the Conservative Party, Zac Goldsmith was rejected by the voters of Richmond Park.

Make no mistake, this result will rock the Conservative party – and in particularly dent their plans for a hard and painful Brexit. They may shrug off this vote in public, but their majority is thin and their management of the post-referendum process is becoming more chaotic by the day. This is a real moment, and those of us opposing their post-truth plans must seize it.

I’m really proud of the role that the Green party played in this election. Our local parties decided to show leadership by not standing this time and urging supporters to vote instead for the candidate that stood the best chance of winning for those of us that oppose Brexit. Greens’ votes could very well be "what made the difference" in this election (we received just over 3,500 votes in 2015 and Sarah Olney’s majority is 1,872) - though we’ll never know exactly where they went. Just as importantly though, I believe that the brave decision by the local Green party fundamentally changed the tone of the election.

When I went to Richmond last weekend, I met scores of people motivated to campaign for a "progressive alliance" because they recognised that something bigger than just one by election is at stake. We made a decision to demonstrate you can do politics differently, and I think we can fairly say that was vindicated. 

There are some already attacking me for helping get one more Liberal Democrat into Parliament. Let me be very clear: the Lib Dems' role in the Coalition was appalling – propping up a Conservative government hell bent on attacking our public services and overseeing a hike in child poverty. But Labour’s record of their last time in office isn't immune from criticism either – not just because of the illegal war in Iraq but also their introduction of tuition fees, privatisation of our health service and slavish worship of the City of London. They, like the Liberal Democrats, stood at the last election on an austerity manifesto. There is a reason that we remain different parties, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn't also seize opportunities like this to unite behind what we have in common. Olney is no perfect candidate but she has pledged to fight a hard Brexit, campaign against airport expansion and push for a fair voting system – surely progressives can agree that her win takes us forward rather than backwards?

Ultimately, last night was not just defeat of a regressive alliance but a victory for hope - a victory that's sorely needed on the back of of the division, loss and insecurity that seems to have marked much of the rest of this year. The truth is that getting to this point hasn’t been an easy process – and some people, including local Green party members have had criticisms which, as a democrat, I certainly take seriously. The old politics dies hard, and a new politics is not easy to forge in the short time we have. But standing still is not an option, nor is repeating the same mistakes of the past. The regressives are building their armies and we either make our alternative work or risk the left being out of power for a generation. 

With our NHS under sustained attack, our climate change laws threatened and the increasing risk of us becoming a tax haven floating on the edge of the Atlantic, the urgent need to think differently about how we win has never been greater. 

An anti-establishment wave is washing over Britain. History teaches us that can go one of two ways. For the many people who are utterly sick of politics as usual, perhaps the idea of politicians occasionally putting aside their differences for the good of the country is likely to appeal, and might help us rebuild trust among those who feel abandoned. So it's vital that we use this moment not just to talk among ourselves about how to work together but also as another spark to start doing things differently, in every community in Britain. That means listening to people, especially those who voted for Britain to leave the EU, hearing what they’re saying and working with them to affect change. Giving people real power, not just the illusion of it.

It means looking at ways to redistribute power and money in this country like never before, and knowing that a by-election in a leafy London suburb changes nothing for the vast majority of our country.

Today let us celebrate that the government's majority is smaller, and that people have voted for a candidate who used her victory speech to say that she would "stand up for an open, tolerant, united Britain".  But tomorrow let’s get started on something far bigger - because the new politics is not just about moments it's about movements, and it will only work if nobody is left behind.

 

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.