The truth about Brian Paddick

Sian asks just what direction the Lib Dem candidate for mayor, Brian Paddick, thinks he's cantering

The Guardian scored a bit of a coup this week, with three candidates for Mayor – including me - getting out their laptops over the weekend to take part in what can only be described as a stonking row on the Comment is Free website.

It all started when Ken Livingstone published a piece pointing out the uncanny similarities between Boris Johnson and Brian Paddick in the area of transport policy, and denouncing Paddick for announcing a policy to privatise the tube, something he called a “sharp change in Liberal Democrat policy in London”.

Brian is not one to take criticism lightly, and is also often to be found commenting on blogs in the small hours. (I’m almost positive the BrianPaddickDelivers who commented on my blog here is the candidate himself). So, it was no surprise to find one ‘BrianforMayor’ posting a long comment in response,standing up for himself and his transport plans.

Unfortunately, as I have written about here before (Porsche, Bozza and Paddick, 22/02/08, Ken’s accusations are spot on. However much he denies it, the fact is Brian IS in favour of privatising the tube. To be precise, taking it out of Transport for London’s control and running it on a ‘concession model’, the same way as the privatised buses, Docklands Light Railway and - until Livingstone bought it out recently - the Croydon Tram. Brian is proposing putting more of London’s transport systems out to tender, while Ken Livingstone is bringing more of them in-house, and this is a clear difference of policy, as well as a difference from LibDem views expressed in the past, and so is well worth pointing out in the course of an election.

Brian also stood up for his policy of opposing the new emissions-related congestion charge, in very similar vein toBrianPaddickDelivers on this site before. On Comment is Free, however, he was even less convincing, asking "why not graduate the charge like road tax?" despite this being precisely the plan: a zero rate at the bottom, with a large hike at the band G threshold of carbon emissions at 225 g/km. After many paragraphs of blog comments and several hustings, I still can honestly say I have no idea why he thinks the CO2 Charge is a bad idea.

But the most damaging accusation is that he is not pursuing the policies one might expect of a LibDem candidate leading an election campaign in London. It’s also the one where BrianforMayor has the flimsiest defence. His argument that "unlike the other two main candidates neither I or my partner have a car" is no kind of evidence of being a true LibDem on this issue.

Although I rarely dish out praise for people from other parties, the truth is that, on the £25 congestion charge, LibDem politicians were some of my 4x4 campaign’s earliest supporters, and LibDems along with Greens in local councils have been pioneering the same approach to parking charges around the country as well. With BrianforMayor calling these kinds of measures ‘playing politics with the planet’, there must be very many LibDem supporters out there - not to mention councillors and Assembly Members - wondering what happened to their candidate.

The to-and-fro of comments between Paddick and Livingstone continued for several very entertaining posts and that’s why I now owe newstatesman.com an apology. Because, I confess, I did succumb to temptation and get involved in the debate as well. In the end, I simply had to point out my own disappointment in Brian Paddick’s distinctly un-LibDem performance, and eventually took to my keyboard on Easter Sunday; what would otherwise have been a welcome day off (or at least a day spent reading the papers and generally catching up). I’m quite far down the page at 14.26 on March 23 if you’d like to have a read.
I do have a new development to report here as well. Today, while I was at a breakfast hustings with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones (our two Green London Assembly Members) delivered an open letter to LibDem leader Nick Clegg, lamenting Brian Paddick’s desertion of LibDem positions on the environment. Without a move from Brian to change his mind on the Low Emission Zone, tubeprivatisation or the CO2 charge, environmentally concernedLibDem supporters may find themselves with no option but to vote for me, they argue.

I’m very far from being a LibDem candidate (although I was described by the Daily Mail as a ‘chain-smoking libertarian who supports licensed brothels’, so my liberal credentials are pretty strong) but, with Brian Paddick moving increasingly far from his party in a different direction, I do think they have a point.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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"Michael Gove is a nasty bit of work": A Thatcherite's lonely crusade for technical colleges

Kenneth Baker, Margaret Thatcher's education secretary, has been in a war of words with one of his successors. 

When I meet Kenneth Baker, once Margaret Thatcher’s reforming education secretary, conversation quickly turns to an unexpected coincidence. We are old boys of the same school: a sixth-form college in Southport that was, in Baker’s day, the local grammar. Fittingly for a man enraged by the exclusion of technical subjects from the modern curriculum, he can only recall one lesson: carpentry.

Seven decades on, Lord Baker – who counts Sats, the national curriculum, league tables, and student loans among his innovations – is still preoccupied with technical education. His charity, the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, oversees university technical colleges (UTCs), the specialist free schools that work with businesses and higher education institutions to provide a vocational curriculum for students aged 14-19. He is also a working peer, and a doughty evangelist for technical education and apprenticeships in the upper chamber. 

But when we meet at the charity’s glass-panelled Westminster office at 4 Millbank, he is on the defensive – and with good reason. Recent weeks have been particularly unkind to the project that, aged 82, he still works full-time to promote. First, a technical college in Oldham, Greater Manchester, became the seventh to close its doors since 2015. In three years, not one of its pupils passed a single GCSE, and locals complained it had become a “dumping ground” for the most troubled and disruptive children from Oldham’s other schools (Baker agrees, and puts the closure down to “bad governorship and bad headship”). 

Then, with customary chutzpah, came Michael Gove. In the week of the closure, the former education secretary declared in his Times column that the UTCs project had failed. "The commonest error in politics," he wrote, quoting Lord Salisbury, "is sticking to the carcasses of dead policies". Baker is now embroiled in a remarkable – and increasingly bitter – war of words with his successor and one-time colleague.

It wasn't always this way. In 2013, with UTCs still in their infancy, he told the New Statesman the then education secretary was “a friend”, despite their disagreements on the curriculum. The bonhomie has not lasted. In the course of our hour-long conversation, Gove is derided as “a nasty bit of work”, “very vindictive”, “completely out of touch”, and “Brutus Gove and all the rest of it”. (Three days after we speak, Baker renews their animus with a blistering op-ed for The Telegraph, claiming Gove embraced UTCs about as warmly as “an undertaker”.)

In all of this, Gove, who speaks warmly of Baker, has presented himself as having been initially supportive of the project. He was, after all, the education secretary who gave them the green light. Not so, his one-time colleague says. While David Cameron (Baker's former PA) and George Osborne showed pragmatic enthusiasm, Gove “was pretty reluctant from the word go”.

“Gove has his own theory of education,” Baker tells me. He believes Gove is in thrall to the American educationalist E.D. Hirsch, who believes in focusing on offering children a core academic diet of subjects, whatever their background. "He doesn’t think that schools should worry about employability at all," Baker says. "He thinks as long as you get the basic education right, everything will be fine. That isn’t going to happen – it isn’t how life works!" 

Baker is fond of comparing Gove’s heavily academic English baccalaureate to the similarly narrow School Certificate he sat in 1951, as well as the curriculum of 1904 (there is seldom an interview with Baker that doesn’t feature this comparison). He believes his junior's divisive tenure changed the state sector for the worse: “It’s appalling what’s happening in our schools! The squeezing out of not only design and technology, but drama, music, art – they’re all going down at GCSE, year by year. Now children are just studying a basic eight subjects. I think that’s completely wrong.” 

UTCs, with their university sponsors, workplace ethos (teaching hours coincide with the standard 9-5 working day and pupils wear business dress), and specialist curricula, are Baker's solution. The 46 existing institutions teach 11,500 children, and there are several notable success stories. GCHQ has opened a cyber-security suite at the UTC in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, as part of a bid to diversify its workforce. Just 0.5 per cent of UTC graduates are unemployed, compared to 11.5 per cent of all 18-year-olds. 

But they are not without their critics. Teaching unions have complained that their presence fragments education provision and funding, and others point out that hard-up schools in disadvantaged areas have little desire or incentive to give up children – and the funding they bring – at 14. Ofsted rate twice as many UTCs as inadequate as they do outstanding. Gove doubts that the vocational qualifications on offer are as robust as their academic equivalents, or anywhere near as attractive for middle-class parents. He also considers 14 is too young an age for pupils to pursue a specialist course of vocational study.

Baker accepts that many of his colleges are seen as “useless, wastes of money, monuments to Baker’s vanity and all the rest of it”, but maintains the project is only just finding its legs. He is more hopeful about the current education secretary, Justine Greening, who he believes is an admirer. Indeed, UTCs could provide Greening with a trump card in the vexed debate over grammar schools – last year’s green paper suggested pupils would be able to join new selective institutions at 14, and Baker has long believed specialist academic institutions should complement UTCs.

Discussion of Theresa May’s education policy has tended to start and finish at grammar schools. But Baker believes the conversation could soon be dominated by a much more pressing issue: the financial collapse of multi-academy trusts and the prospect of an NHS-style funding crisis blighting the nation’s schools. Although his city technology colleges may have paved the way for the removal of more and more schools from the control of local authorities, he, perhaps surprisingly, defends a connection to the state.

“What is missing now in the whole education system is that broker in the middle, to balance the demands of education with the funds available," he says. "I think by 2020 all these multi-academy trusts will be like the hospitals... If MATs get into trouble, their immediate cry will be: ‘We need more money!’ We need more teachers, we need more resources, and all the rest of it!’."

It is clear that he is more alert to coming challenges, such as automation, than many politicians half his age. Halfway through our conversation, he leaves the room and returns enthusiastically toting a picture of an driverless lorry. It transpires that this Thatcherite is even increasingly receptive to the idea of the ultimate state handout: a universal basic income. “There’s one part of me that says: ‘How awful to give someone a sum for doing nothing! What are they going to do, for heaven’s sake, for Christ’s sake!’" he says. "But on the other hand, I think the drawback to the four-day working week or four-hour working day... I think it’s going to happen in your lifetime. If people are only working for a very short space of time, they will have to have some sort of basic income.” 

Predictably, the upshot of this vignette is that his beloved UTCs and their multi-skilled graduates are part of the solution. Friend and foe alike praise Baker’s indefatigable dedication to the cause. But, with the ranks of doubters growing and the axe likely to fall on at least one of its institutions again, it remains to be seen in what form the programme will survive.

Despite the ignominy of the last few weeks, however, Baker is typically forthright: “I sense a turning of the tide in our way now. But I still fight. I fight for every bloody one.”