Theresa May and Michael Gove at the Conservative conference in Manchester last year. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

May takes round one in battle with Gove

A leaked Ofsted report says that pupils were not protected from "the risks associated with extremist views".

The Tories have done their best today to gloss over the Whitehall war between Michael Gove and Theresa May, which so overshadowed the Queen's Speech. As he left home this morning, Gove said: "Theresa May is doing a fantastic job. There's a lot going on...She's doing a very fine job." Chris Grayling told the Today programmme: "Tensions and debates within Whitehall are not unusual; the fact is that we are pussycats in comparison with the last government if you remember the battles between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown."

But the truth is that the multi-layered feud has been one of the most damaging since the formation of the coalition. A day after it was leaked, May's abrasive letter to Gove (which now appears to have been taken off the government's website) on his alleged failure to prevent the infilitration of Birmingham schools by Islamist extremists still makes remarkable reading. In the manner of a shadow secretary of state, she demanded of the Education Secretary: "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? 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."

And after an Ofsted investigation into one of the schools involved in the affair was leaked, it is the Home Secretary who has taken round one. The report, one of 21 due to be published next week, found that too little had been done to protect pupils at Golden Hillock School in Sparkhill from "the risks associated with extremist views". It concluded that leaders and governors were "not doing enough to mitigate against cultural isolation" and that this "could leave students vulnerable to the risk of marginalisation from wider British society and the associated risks which could include radicalisation." It also warns that "Sex and relationships education has not been delivered through a carefully planned curriculum."

Labour, unsurprisingly, has brandished the report as the political gift that it is. Tristram Hunt said in response:

Gender discrimination, undue influence of extremist views, the school curriculum influenced by hard-line beliefs. This report confirms that Michael Gove can no longer seek to distance himself from this episode. He is responsible.

In 2010, Michael Gove was warned by a highly respected Birmingham head teacher that this was going on. Four years on, he has failed to act and has not explained why. Rightly, his record is now being called into question. Rather than rowing with Theresa May, he needs to answer why he has refused to act.

The Tory education programme has created a vacuum in the local oversight of schools which Labour has warned about for years. It is inconceivable that ministers can oversee half of our country’s secondary schools from a desk in Whitehall. Labour will introduce local Directors of School Standards to oversee all schools and end this exposure to risk that is damaging school standards.

For years, Labour has found itself on the backfoot on education as Gove has defined the terms of debate and claimed political ownership of the academies programme. But the lack of oversight revealed by this episode and others, such as the Al-Madinah case, means that the tide has finally turned in its favour. It will now be harder than ever for Gove to justify his belief that it is possible to run an education system on the basis that thousands of schools should be directly accountable to the Secretary of State.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496