Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt pictured in Stoke On Trent during the 2010 general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Tristram Hunt calls the Tories' bluff on profit-making free schools

The shadow education secretary pushes Gove to say whether a Conservative government would allow for-profit schools to be established. 

Were it not for the Lib Dems, profit-making free schools would likely have already been introduced by Michael Gove. The Education Secretary has long made his attraction to the idea clear, stating in May 2012 that they could be established under a Conservative majority government. He said then: "There are some of my colleagues in the coalition who are very sceptical of the benefits of profit. I have an open mind. I believe that it may be the case that we can augment the quality of state education by extending the range of people involved in its provision." Many of Gove's allies believe that it is only once the profit motive is introduced to the system (as it was in Sweden) that free schools will be able to open at the rate required to deal with the school places crisis. 

This raises the question of whether the Conservative manifesto will endorse the idea. In his speech at the Fabian Society today, Tristram Hunt will call the Tories' bluff, declaring that "Beyond 2015, whether it admits it or not, the Conservative Party intends to introduce the profit motive into English education". He will attack "the aggressively competitive,  fly-or-fail ethos that the Conservative Party aspires to bring to our school system" and warn that "There is almost no public policy… with more capacity to damage the fabric of our society – let alone the educational values we cherish."

It's a strong dividing line for Labour. As I've noted before, the existing free schools are hugely unpopular with voters and would be even more so were they allowed to be run for profit. The most recent YouGov poll found that just 23 per cent of voters support the schools compared to 53 per cent who oppose them. Whether the weakened Education Secretary will now run shy of the idea (or be forced to by David Cameron) is one of the big questions over the Tories' election programme. 

Update: Team Gove have been in touch to point out that the Education Secretary has more ruled out the introduction of for-profit free schools. Asked by Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh last year "Do you think that you will ever see tax-funded schools run for profit?", he replied: "No". They also noted that, contrary to Clegg's protestations, it was Lib Dems - Julian Astle, Richard Reeves, Jeremy Browne - who were cheerleading for profit-making schools. An Education Department source told me: "If Labour want to campaign against profit in schools, they should direct their fire at the Liberal Democrats, not us."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The SNP thinks it knows how to kill hard Brexit

The Supreme Court ruled MPs must have a say in triggering Article 50. But the opposition must unite to succeed. 

For a few minutes on Tuesday morning, the crowd in the Supreme Court listened as the verdict was read out. Parliament must have the right to authorise the triggering of Article 50. The devolved nations would not get a veto. 

There was a moment of silence. And then the opponents of hard Brexit hit the phones. 

For the Scottish government, the pro-Remain members of the Welsh Assembly and Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, the victory was bittersweet. 

The ruling prompted Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to ask: “Is it better that we take our future into our own hands?”

Ever the pragmatist, though, Sturgeon has simultaneously released her Westminster attack dogs. 

Within minutes of the ruling, the SNP had vowed to put forward 50 amendments (see what they did there) to UK government legislation before Article 50 is enacted. 

This includes the demand for a Brexit white paper – shared by MPs from all parties – to a clause designed to prevent the UK reverting to World Trade Organisation rules if a deal is not agreed. 

But with Labour planning to approve the triggering of Article 50, can the SNP cause havoc with the government’s plans, or will it simply be a chorus of disapproval in the rest of Parliament’s ear?

The SNP can expect some support. Individual SNP MPs have already successfully worked with Labour MPs on issues such as benefit cuts. Pro-Remain Labour backbenchers opposed to Article 50 will not rule out “holding hands with the devil to cross the bridge”, as one insider put it. The sole Green MP, Caroline Lucas, will consider backing SNP amendments she agrees with as well as tabling her own. 

But meanwhile, other opposition parties are seeking their own amendments. Jeremy Corbyn said Labour will seek amendments to stop the Conservatives turning the UK “into a bargain basement tax haven” and is demanding tariff-free access to the EU. 

Separately, the Liberal Democrats are seeking three main amendments – single market membership, rights for EU nationals and a referendum on the deal, which is a “red line”.

Meanwhile, pro-Remain Tory backbenchers are watching their leadership closely to decide how far to stray from the party line. 

But if the Article 50 ruling has woken Parliament up, the initial reaction has been chaotic rather than collaborative. Despite the Lib Dems’ position as the most UK-wide anti-Brexit voice, neither the SNP nor Labour managed to co-ordinate with them. 

Indeed, the Lib Dems look set to vote against Labour’s tariff-free amendment on the grounds it is not good enough, while expecting Labour to vote against their demand of membership of the single market. 

The question for all opposition parties is whether they can find enough amendments to agree on to force the government onto the defensive. Otherwise, this defeat for the government is hardly a defeat at all. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.