Ed Miliband backs open primaries

Climate Change Secretary says the "tide of history" is with primaries

From the Labour conference

Ed Miliband has become the latest leading Labour figure to come out in support of open primaries for Westminster constituencies. At a fringe meeting this evening, I asked the Climate Change Secretary whether he backed the proposal, which would allow non-party members to select parliamentary candidates.

Miliband replied that while he had some anxieties about the idea, he now believed the "tide of history" was with primaries.

He said: "If you put a gun to my head and asked where I'd land I'd say with open primaries."

Others who have backed open primaries include James Purnell, David Miliband and Tessa Jowell. Until now the idea has largely been seen as one favoured by the "Blairite" wing of the party but Miliband's response proves it's gaining ground on the centre left, too.

At a time when all the major parties are haemorrhaging members, I'm sceptical of anything that further dilutes the status of those who remain. It's very hard to point to any direct influence, aside from selecting election candidates, that members enjoy. The introduction of primaries would provide another excuse for thousands of people to leave the Labour Party.

I'm also concerned that primaries would lead to a big increase in the influence of money on election contests. Candidates competing to win the support of thousands of voters would be required to spend substantially more on their campaigns.

The influence of money on US congressional primaries is well evidenced by the fact that 40 of the country's 100 senators are millionaires. A cap on spending could remedy this problem but it's another question mark over an idea that doesn't deserve the status it's acquired.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Children from "just managing" families most excluded from grammar schools

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said grammar schools "offer nothing to most kids".

Children from "just about managing" families are unlikely to benefit from an expansion of grammar schools because they don't get accepted in the first place, research from the Sutton Trust has found.

The educational charity also found that disadvantaged white British pupils were the least likely among a range of ethnic groups to get access to elite state school education. 

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said: “The Tories are failing our children. They should be delivering a country that works for everyone but all they have to offer is a plan to build an education system that only helps a handful of already privileged children.

"The evidence is clear - grammar schools reinforce advantage and offer nothing to most kids."

Theresa May launched her premiership with both a pledge to make Britain work for the "just managing" families (consequently termed Jams), and a promise to consider expanding grammar schools. 

The Sutton Trust researchers used the Income Deprivation Affecting Children index to compare access rates to those defined "just about managing" by the Resolution Foundation. 

They found that even non-disadvantaged pupils living in deprived neighbourhoods are barely more likely to attend grammar schools than those in the poorest. The report stated: "This is a strong indication that the ‘just managing’ families are not being catered for by the current grammar school system."

The Sutton Trust also found different ethnic groups benefited differently from grammar schools.

Disadvantaged Black pupils made up just 0.8 per cent of pupils in 2016, while disadvantaged white British pupils made up roughly 0.7 per cent, although disadvantaged white non-British children fared slightly better. Among disadvantaged groups, Asian pupils made up a substantial proportion of grammar school pupils. 

Sutton Trust chairman Sir Peter Lampl said: “Today’s research raises concerns about the government’s plans to use new grammars as a vehicle for social mobility. We need to get existing grammars moving in the right direction before we consider expanding their number.”

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.