Boys make their way to classes at Eton College. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Only Labour has the will to tackle the private-state education divide

Unlike the Tories, we will confront the issue of a "two nation" education system. 

In February, the New Statesman ran a series of articles on what it called the "private schools conundrum". It claimed that the left had been silent for 40 years on the issue of private schools. I hope, then, that NS readers have heard news of Tristram Hunt’s plans for a new settlement between private and state schools.

And quite right too. Because Tristram's promise to confront the "corrosive divide" between state and private sectors shows that Labour is taking on what many on the left have seen as the elephant in the room.

All that we have had from the Tories is Michael Gove talking down success in state education and a commitment to more of the same. His speech in February revealed the unwillingness of the Tories to confront the historic divide. It is only Labour that has ever taken concrete measures: ending the assisted places scheme; requiring private schools to report on their public benefit; and promoting partnerships via the sponsor academy programme. But we need a step change. And it’s clear, only Labour will deliver this.

The dominance of the privately educated is well-documented. In the professions, in elite sport, in our leading universities, we have a disproportionate number of people making their way from private education to dominance in public life.

It’s not a fair reflection on the talent that is locked out, denied a real shot at the opportunities afforded on the basis of background not merit. Nor does it reflect the vision of the kind of society I want to see for my children and the future of Britain. Yesterday's announcement marked a symbolic intervention from a Labour Party not afraid to take on vested interests.

In his speech at Walthamstow Academy, Tristram vowed that under a future Labour government all private schools enjoying the benefits of a £700m taxpayer subsidy will have to join a meaningful partnership with a state school. Sharing qualified and specialist teachers where the state school requests support; providing university coaching for sixth-formers; and partnering for sport and extra-curricular activities with the state sector. This avoids the removal of charitable status that would see greater isolation of the private sector. Instead, Labour will bridge the gap so that both private and state can learn from each other.

Tristram was absolutely right when he said that neither sector has a monopoly on success. We are absolutely right to reject the Gove analysis that says excellence is exclusive to the private sector. And we are right to confront, head on, the issue of a "two nation" education system.

Jon Ashworth is Labour MP for Leicester South. 

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Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.