Theresa May addresses The College of Policing Conference on October 24, 2013 in Bramshill. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Gove-May spat is a gift for Labour

The Home Secretary is now echoing the concerns raised for months by the opposition. 

The Queen's Speech is a moment when the government seeks to resonate unity and competence. In their joint statement on the occasion, David Cameron and Nick Clegg declare: "It is easy to forget when we first came together in the national interest just how sceptical people were about how long the Coalition could last and how much change we could effect. Four years on, our parties are still governing together and still taking bold steps. Four years on, no one can deny the progress we have made. The deficit down by a third; our economy one of the fastest-growing in the developed world; more than 1.5 million more people in work – and more people in work than ever before; a welfare system that ensures work pays; more than 1 million new apprentices; taxes cut; inequality declining and fewer children attending failing schools."

But while the Tories and the Lib Dems are at one today, it's a blue-on-blue skirmish that has spoiled Cameron's morning. Today's Times reveals that Theresa May has accused Michael Gove of failing to act on warnings that Islamist extremists were infiltrating schools in Birmingham (the alleged "Trojan Horse" plot). In a letter leaked to the paper (and now published in full by the government), May asks of Gove: 

How did it come to pass, for example, that one of the governors at Park View was the chairman of the education committee of the Muslim Council of Britain?” she wrote.

Is it true that Birmingham City Council was warned about these allegations in 2008? Is it true that the Department for Education was warned in 2010? If so, why did nobody act?

I am aware that several investigations are still ongoing and those investigations are yet to conclude. But it is clear to me that we will need to take clear action to improve the quality of staffing and governance if we are to prevent extremism in schools.

A Home Office source adds: "Why is the DfE wanting to blame other people for information they had in 2010? Lord knows what more they have overlooked on the subject of the protection of kids in state schools? It scares me."

It is, to put it mildly, a gift to Labour. Not just because public infighting between ministers is never healthy for a government, but because shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has been asking precisely these questions of Gove for months. In his most recent letter to the Education Secretary, he wrote:

"I write following reports that the highly respected headteacher of Queensbridge School, Tim Boyes, warned a member of your ministerial team in December 2010 about efforts by radical Muslim hardliners to take control of schools in Birmingham."

And added: "If no action was taken and you were not informed can you explain why not?

  • What assurances can you give that other warnings have not been ignored?
  • Do you now accept that there is a lack of local oversight in our school system that means an increasing number of problems are going unnoticed?
  • What actions will you be taking to monitor and respond to fragile schools, whether in relation to governance, standards or financial probity?

"These are very serious allegations coming from a senior and highly respected headteacher. The failure to act will undermine the confidence of other heads to raise concerns with ministers. It is not acceptable for headteachers in schools in our country to become the target for radical hardliners wanting to infiltrate our school system."

That May's identical warnings have now been made public means Gove, whose star has waned in the last year, now faces a war on two fronts. 

Here's Hunt's statement from this morning: 

"Instead of ministers rowing, we need leadership on how we confront the very serious and worrying reports about Birmingham schools.

"Michael Gove has failed to act on the early warning signs to prevent the sort of situation we are seeing in schools in Birmingham. Labour will introduce new Directors of School Standards to monitor weak governance and under-performance in our schools.

"But by refusing to act, Michael Gove is paving the way for more fragile schools to run into trouble."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The internet dictionary: what is a Milkshake Duck?

Milkshake ducking is now more common than ever.

The whole internet loves Milkshake Duck, a lovely duck that drinks milkshakes! Oh, apologies. We regret to inform you that the duck is a racist.

This is the gist of a joke tweet that first went viral in June 2016. It parodies a common occurrence online – of someone becoming wildly popular before being exposed as capital-B Bad. Milkshake Ducks are internet stars who quickly fall out of favour because of their offensive actions. There is no actual milkshake-drinking duck, but there are plenty of Milkshake Ducks. Ken Bone was one, and so was the Chewbacca Mask Lady. You become a Milkshake Duck (noun) after you are milkshake ducked (verb) by the internet.

Bone, who went viral for asking a question in a 2016 US presidential debate, was shunned after five days of fame when sleuths discovered his old comments on the forum Reddit. In them, he seemed to express approval for the 2014 leak of the actress Jennifer Lawrence’s nude photos and suggested that the shooting of the unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012 had been “justified”. The Chewbacca Mask Lady – a woman who went viral for a sweet video in which she laughingly wore a mask of the Star Wars character – was maligned after she began earning money for her fame while claiming God had made her go viral for “His glory”.

Milkshake ducking is now more common than ever. It embodies the ephemerality of internet fame and, like “fake news”, reveals our propensity to share things without scrutinising them first.

But the trend also exposes the internet’s inherent Schadenfreude. It is one thing for an online star to expose themselves as unworthy of attention because of their present-day actions and another for people to trawl through their online comments to find something they said in 2007, which they may no longer agree with in 2017.

For now, the whole internet loves milkshake ducking. We regret to inform you that it still doesn’t involve milkshakes. Or ducks.

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear