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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Nobody's bargaining chips: How EU citizens are fighting back against Theresa May

Immigration could spike after Brexit, the Home Affairs select committee warned. 

In early July, EU citizens living in Scotland received some post from the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. The letters stated: “The immediate status of EU nationals living in Scotland has not changed and you retain all the same rights to live and to work here. I believe those rights for the longer term should be guaranteed immediately.”

The letters were appreciated. One Polish woman living on a remote Scottish island posted on social media: “Scottish Government got me all emotional yesterday.”

In reality, though, Sturgeon does not have the power to let EU citizens stay. That rests with the UK Government. The new prime minister, Theresa May, stood out during the Tory leadership contest for her refusal to guarantee the rights of EU citizens. Instead, she told Robert Peston: “As part of the [Brexit] negotiation we will need to look at this question of people who are here in the UK from the EU.”

As Home secretary in an EU member state, May took a hard line on immigration.  As PM in Brexit Britain, she has more powers than ever. 

In theory, this kind of posturing could work. A steely May can use the spectre of mass deportations to force a hostile Spain and France to guarantee the rights of British expat retirees. Perhaps she can also batter in the now-locked door to the single market. 

But the attempt to use EU citizens as bargaining chips may backfire. The Home Affairs select committee warned that continued policy vagueness could lead to a surge in immigration – the last thing May wants. EU citizens, after all, are aware of how British immigration policy works and understand that it's easier to turn someone back at the border than deport them when they've set up roots.

The report noted: “Past experience has shown that previous attempts to tighten immigration rules have led to a spike in immigration prior to the rules coming into force.”

It recommended that if the Government wants to avoid a surge in applications, it must choose an effective cut-off date for the old rules, whether that is 23 June, the date Article 50 is triggered, or the date the UK finally leaves the EU.

Meanwhile, EU citizens, many of whom have spent decades in the UK, are pursuing tactics of their own. UK immigration forms are busy with chatter of UK-based EU citizens urging one another to "get your DCPR" - document certifying permanent residence - and other paperwork to protect their status. More than 1,000 have joined a Facebook group to discuss the impact of the referendum, with hot topics including dual nationality and petitions for a faster naturalisation process. British citizens with foreign spouses are trying to make the most of the "Surinder Singh" loophole, which allows foreign spouses to bypass usual immigration procedures if their British partner is based in another EU country. 

Jakub, a classical musician originally from Poland, is already thinking of how he can stay in the UK, where there are job opportunities for musicians. 

But he worries that although he has spent half a decade in the UK, a brief spell two years ago back in Poland may jeopardise his situation.“I feel a new fear,” he said. “I am not sure what will happen next.”