Why Cameron is wrong about "Indian dance" classes

The PM has again displayed his ignorance.

After Boris Johnson called for the reinstatement of the two-hours-a-week school sports target (indeed, he suggested that children do two hours of sport a day), David Cameron has again taken to the airwaves to defend its abolition. This time, he complained that "a lot of schools were meeting that [the target] by doing things like Indian dance or whatever, that you and I probably wouldn't think of as sport, so there's a danger of thinking all you need is money and a target."

But this Daily Mail-style argument from anecdote (does Cameron actually know of any schools that teach Indian dance? And what if they did? For the sport averse, dance is an excellent form of exercise)  is unsupported by evidence. As Philip Collins notes in his typically excellent Times column (£):

The school sport survey, carried out by the Department for Education, shows that in 2009-10 nine out of ten children were doing at least two hours of sport a week. The vast majority of this activity was competitive. Half of all pupils played for their school against another school. Of course, the more competitive that sport truly is, the more it excludes people who are no good. The objective that sport should be competitive cuts across the objective that all should join in. But, in any case, for the slower, weaker and lower, 99 per cent of all schools had a sports day.

In other words, there is no evidence that the two-hours-a-week target was having unintended consequences. To the contrary, it ensured that the majority of children enjoyed a reasonable level of activity. As so often, Cameron's decision to scrap the target was not based on evidence but ideological prejudice.

David Cameron complained that a lot of schools were "doing things like Indian dance or whatever". Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Michel Barnier is Britain's best friend, but the Brexiteers are too shallow to notice

The right's obsession with humilating a man who should be a great British asset is part of why negotiations are in a mess. 

Sam Coates of the Times has the inside track on what Theresa May is planning to say in her big speech in Florence tomorrow: a direct appeal to the leaders of the European Union’s member states over the head of Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator.

I explained some of the problems with this approach in my morning briefing earlier today, but just to reiterate: the major difficulty is that Barnier’s mandate as a negotiator hasn’t emerged fully formed from the mind of some scheming bureaucrat in the European Commissio, but after discussion and agreement by the heads of member states. There are problems with the EU approach to sequencing talks, but the chances of changing it by appealing to the people who set it in the first place seems unlikely, to put it mildly.  

Barnier seems to occupy a strange position in the demonology of right-wing Brexiteers, I suspect largely due to ignorance about how the EU works, and in some cases Francophobia. The reality is that Barnier is the single politician outside of the United Kingdom with the most to lose from a bad Brexit deal.

If the Brexit talks end badly, then that will be the first line of Barnier’s obituary. Back in his native France, the centre-right is in opposition and none of the candidates vying to lead the Republicans are are going to give him a big domestic job to save his reputation.

His dream of parlaying a successful turn as the EU27’s chief negotiator into running the Commission relies not only on the talks succeeding, but him cultivating a good relationship with the heads of government across the EU27. In other words: for Barnier to get what he wants, he needs both to secure a good deal and to keep to the objectives set for him by the heads of member states. A good deal for all sides is a great deal for Barnier. 

As a result, the Brexit elite ought to see Barnier as what he really is: their best friend on the other side of the table. Instead, they are indulging in fantasies about tricking Barnier, undermining Barnier, and overcoming Barnier. In short, once again, they are bungling Brexit because they don’t want to think about it or approach it seriously. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.