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

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In defence of orientalism, the case against Twenty20, and why Ken should watch Son of Saul

My week, from Age Concern to anti-semitism.

Returning late from a party I never much wanted to go to, I leap up and down in the middle of the Harrow Road in the hope of flagging down a taxi, but the drivers don’t notice me. Either they’re haring down the fast lane or they’re too preoccupied cursing Uber to one another on their mobile phones. My father drove a black cab, so I have a deep loyalty to them. But there’s nothing like being left stranded in NW10 in the dead of night to make one reconsider one’s options. I just wish Uber wasn’t called Uber.

Just not cricket

Tired and irritable, I spend the next day watching sport on television – snooker, darts, cricket, anything I can find. But I won’t be following the Indian Premier League’s Twenty20 cricket again. It’s greedy, cynical, over-sponsored and naff. Whenever somebody hits a boundary, cheerleaders in cast-off gym kit previously worn by fourth-form Roedean girls wave tinsel mops.

Matches go to the final over where they’re decided in a thrashathon of sixes hit by mercenaries wielding bats as wide as shovels. Why, in that case, don’t both teams just play a final over each and dispense with the previous 19? I can’t wait for the elegant ennui of a five-day Test match.

Stop! Culture police!

I go to the Delacroix exhibition at the National Gallery to shake off the sensation of all-consuming kitsch. Immediately I realise I have always confused Delacroix with someone else but I can’t decide who. Maybe Jacques-Louis David. The show convincingly argues that Delacroix influenced every artist who came after him except Jeff Koons, who in that case must have been influenced by David. It’s turbulent, moody work, some of the best of it, again to my surprise, being religious painting with the religion taken out. Christ’s followers lamenting his death don’t appear to be expecting miracles. This is a man they loved, cruelly executed. The colours are the colours of insupportable grief.

I love the show but wish the curators hadn’t felt they must apologise for Delacroix finding the North Africans he painted “exotic”. Cultural studies jargon screams from the wall. You can hear the lecturer inveighing against the “appropriating colonial gaze” – John Berger and Edward Said taking all the fun out of marvelling at what’s foreign and desirable. I find myself wondering where they’d stand on the Roedean cheer-leaders of Mumbai.

Taking leave of the senses

My wife drags me to a play at Age Concern’s headquarters in Bloomsbury. When I see where she’s taking me I wonder if she plans to leave me there. The play is called Don’t Leave Me Now and is written by Brian Daniels. It is, to keep it simple, about the effects of dementia on the families and lovers of sufferers. I am not, in all honesty, expecting a good time. It is a reading only, the actors sitting in a long line like a board of examiners, and the audience hunched forward in the attitude of the professionally caring.  My wife is a therapist so this is her world.

Here, unlike in my study, an educated empathy prevails and no one is furious. I fear that art is going to get lost in good intention. But the play turns out to be subtly powerful, sympathetic and sharp, sad and funny; and hearing it read engages me as seeing it performed might not have done. Spared the spectacle of actors throwing their bodies around and singing about their dreams against a backdrop painted by a lesser, Les Mis version of Delacroix, you can concentrate on the words. And where dementia is the villain, words are priceless.

Mixing with the proles

In Bloomsbury again the next day for a bank holiday design and craft fair at Mary Ward House. I have a soft spot for craft fairs, having helped run a craft shop once, and I feel a kinship with the designers sitting bored behind their stalls, answering inane questions about kilns and receiving empty compliments. But it’s the venue that steals the show, a lovely Arts and Crafts house, founded in the 1890s by the novelist Mary Ward with the intention of enabling the wealthy and educated to live among the poor and introduce them to the consolations of beauty and knowledge. We’d call that patronising. We’re wrong. It’s a high ideal, to ease the burden of poverty and ignorance and, in Ward’s words, save us from “the darker, coarser temptations of our human road”.

An Oscar-winning argument for Zionism

Speaking of which, I am unable to empty my mind of Ken Livingstone and his apologists as I sit in the cinema and watch the just-released Academy Award-winning Son of Saul, a devastating film about one prisoner’s attempt to hold on to a vestige of humanity in a Nazi death camp. If you think you know of hell from Dante or Michelangelo, think again. The inferno bodied forth in Son of Saul is no theological apportioning of justice or deserts. It is the evisceration of meaning, the negation of every grand illusion about itself mankind has ever harboured. There has been a fashion, lately, to invoke Gaza as proof that the Holocaust is a lesson that Jews failed to learn – as though one cruelty drives out another, as though suffering is forfeit, and as though we, the observers, must choose between horrors.

I defy even Livingstone to watch this film, in which the Jews, once gassed, become “pieces” – Stücke – and not grasp the overwhelming case for a Jewish place of refuge. Zionism pre-dated the camps, and its fulfilment, if we can call it that, came too late for those millions reduced to the grey powder mountains the Sonderkommandos were tasked with sweeping away. It diminishes one’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause not a jot to recognise the arguments, in a world of dehumanising hate, for Zionism. Indeed, not to recognise those arguments is to embrace the moral insentience whose murderous consequence Son of Saul confronts with numbed horror. 

This article first appeared in the 05 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred