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.

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.