Brady's stance on Grammar Schools

Read the newstatesman.com article that led to Tory frontbencher Graham Brady quitting as shadow Euro

Graham Brady has quit the Conservative frontbench over his opposition to David Cameron's policy on Grammar Schools. Below you can read the article that the Altrincham and Sale West MP wrote for newstatesman.com two weeks ago in which he set out his views. It was subsequently picked up elsewhere in the media and subsequently led to his resignation.

Explaining his decision on 29 May Mr Brady said: "Faced with a choice between a front bench position that I have loved and doing what I believe to be right for my constituents and for the many hundreds of thousands of families who are ill-served by state education in this country, there is in conscience only one option open to me."

Brady's original article on Grammar Schools:

I am a product of Trafford’s outstanding selective education system. The fact is that if Altrincham Grammar School had been a comprehensive, my parents would not have been able to afford to buy a house in the catchment area.

In his book with Stephen Pollard, A Class Act (1998), Andrew Adonis (later to become Tony Blair’s Education Minister) says: "The comprehensive revolution, tragically, destroyed much of the excellent without improving the rest. Comprehensive schools have largely replaced selection by ability with selection by class and house price. Middle class children now go to middle class comprehensives, whose catchment areas comprise middle-class neighbourhoods, while working class children are mostly left to fester in inner-city comprehensives their parents cannot afford to move away from."

Social mobility has declined since the introduction of comprehensives; if we had tried to invent a system to entrench social inequality I cannot think of anything which would achieve it quite so effectively as the so-called comprehensive revolution.

It is certainly not a charge which can be aimed at the remaining grammar schools. Grammar schools were abolished in inner city areas where a high proportion of pupils qualify for free schools meals, so the fact that a relatively low proportion of pupils at grammar schools qualify for free school meals is not all that surprising.

The point is that where children from poorer backgrounds do attend grammar school they do extremely well. Indeed, where selection survives, the evidence is that it works best for all children – in high schools as well as in grammar schools - that is why selective authorities top the league tables. In the Greater Manchester borough of Trafford over 70% of children get five or more good GCSEs, in Bury, with a similar socio-economic profile the figure is 59%, in leafier Cheshire it is 61.9%.

According to DfES figures, selective systems also deliver better results for every ethnic group with some doing extremely well; the percentage of Indian children getting 5A* - C grades at GCSE in comprehensive areas is an impressive 68.9%; in selective areas the figure is 81.2%. For Bangladeshi children the numbers are 55.8% in comprehensives, 70.9% in selective areas.

In a really effective selective system such as that in Trafford where 40% of children go to grammar schools and those who do not, go to an excellent high school; the effect of the exam at 11 means that the standards across the primary schools are high.

It means that at the age of 11, standards in Trafford are at the top of the league tables, on a par with leafy Richmond-upon-Thames. The difference is that by GCSE Richmond has slid down the achievement tables whereas Trafford remains at the top and is at the top again for A level. At Wellington School in my constituency, last year 72% of pupils got 5A* - C GCSEs; the national average was 59%. Is it a grammar? No, a high school, with rigorous teaching and high standards, where the top 40% of the ability band has gone to the local grammar school.

People have said that grammars are dominated by the middle class. The fact is that because so many grammars were closed, those that remain in pockets like Sutton or Kingston are hugely oversubscribed and fought for by desperate parents who want a decent education but cannot afford school fees. It is still a fairer system to select by ability than by the price of your house. There are no grammars left in our inner cities and I agree that, of the schools currently available in our inner cities, the academies are probably the best way forward for raising standards. However I believe that if grammar schools were available in our inner cities it would have a major impact in raising standards and on the number of bright pupils from poor backgrounds going on to university. Those who argue that grammar schools are somehow irrelevant to the debate would do well to come and examine the way selection works for all pupils, across the board, in Trafford.

Graham Brady is shadow minister for Europe and MP for Altrincham and Sale West

Ralph Steadman for the New Statesman.
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Tim Farron: Theresa May is "the prisoner of the Ukip wing of her party"

The Liberal Democrat leader on his faith, Blairism and his plan to replace Labour as the opposition. 

This is Tim Farron’s seventh general election. His first was in 1992, when his Tory opponent was a 36-year-old called Ther­esa May. He was just 21 and they were both unsuccessful candidates in the Labour fortress of North-West Durham. He recalls talking “to a bunch of ex-miners who weren’t best pleased to see either of us, some kid Liberal and some Tory”. Now he sees his former and current opponent as “the prisoner of the Ukip wing of her party . . . I think it has rendered Ukip almost pointless – she is Ukip now.”

May was elected to parliament in 1997, but it took Farron until 2005 to join her. She leads the dominant Conservatives while he heads a party of only nine Liberal Democrat MPs. Still, their reversal of fortunes gives him hope. “After the 1992 election, every­one said there’s no way for a non-Tory government, and it turned out there was. So let’s not assume it’s a given there’s a Tory government [for ever].”

In April, I accompanied Farron to Manchester Gorton, in the lead-up to a by-election that was cancelled by May’s decision to call a snap election on 8 June. Still, the 46-year-old’s party has been in campaign mode for months; Lib Dems spoke of using last December’s Richmond Park by-election to test their messaging. It clearly had an effect: the incumbent Conservative, Zac Goldsmith, lost to their candidate, Sarah Olney.

Brexit, to which the Liberal Democrats are vehemently opposed, will be a dominant theme of the election. Their party membership has just exceeded 100,000, close to an all-time high, and they have enjoyed much success in council by-elections, with more to come in the local elections of 4 May.

However, any feel-good factor swiftly evaporated when Farron appeared on Channel 4 News on 18 April. He was asked by the co-presenter Cathy Newman whether or not he believes that homosexuality is a sin, a question that he answered obliquely in 2015 by saying that Christianity started with acknowledging that “we’re all sinners”.

This time, he told Newman, he was “not in the position to make theological announcements over the next six weeks . . . as a Liberal, I’m passionate about equality”.

The Channel 4 interview divided opinion. One Liberal politician told me that Farron’s stance was “completely intolerable”. Stephen Pollard, the influential editor of the Jewish Chronicle, described it as
“a very liberal position: he holds certain personal views but does not wish to legislate around them”. Jennie Rigg, the acting chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, said it was “as plain as the nose on my face that Tim Farron is no homophobe”.

Farron declined the chance to clarify his views with us in a follow-up phone call, but told the BBC on 25 April: “I don’t believe that gay sex is a sin,” adding, “On reflection, it makes sense to actually answer this direct question since it’s become an issue.”

For his critics, Farron’s faith and politics are intertwined. He sees it differently, as he told Christian Today in 2015: “. . . the danger is sometimes that as a Christian in politics you think your job is to impose your morality on other people. It absolutely isn’t.”

Tim Farron joined the then Liberal Party at the age of 16 but didn’t become a Christian until he was 18. Between completing his A-levels in Lancashire and going to Newcastle University to read politics, he read the apologetics, a body of Christian writing that provides reasoned arguments for the gospel story. “I came to the conclusion that it was true,” he told me. “It wasn’t just a feel-good story.”

In speeches, Farron now takes on the mannerisms of a preacher, but he had a largely non-religious upbringing in Preston, Lancashire. “I don’t think I’d been to church once other than Christmas or the odd wedding,” he says. “I went once with my dad when I was 11, for all the good that did me.”

When we meet, it is Theresa May’s religion that is in the spotlight. She has condemned the National Trust for scrubbing the word “Easter” from its Easter egg hunt, a row it later emerged had been largely invented by the right-wing press in response to a press release from a religious-themed chocolate company.

“It’s worth observing there’s no mention of chocolate or bunny rabbits in the Bible,” Farron reminds me. “When people get cross about, in inverted commas, ‘us losing our Christian heritage’ they mean things which are safe and comfortable and nostalgic.” He pauses. “But the Christian message at Easter is shocking, actually, and very radical.”

British politics is tolerant of atheists (such as Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg) alongside those who, like David Cameron, are culturally Christian but whose faith is “a bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes”. But the reaction to Farron’s equivocation on homosexuality prompted many to wonder if a politician who talks openly about his faith is now seen as alarming. Nebulous wishes of peace and love at Christmas, yes; sincere discussions of the literal truth of the Resurrection? Hmm.

Tim Farron’s beliefs matter because he has a mission: to replace not only Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the opposition but Theresa May in Downing Street. Over lassis at the MyLahore curry house in Manchester, he tells me that Britain is facing two calamities. “One is Brexit, indeed hard Brexit . . . and the other is a Tory government for 25 years. We have to present a genuine, progressive alternative that can not only replace Labour as an opposition, it can replace the Tories as a government.” This is ambitious talk for a party with nine MPs. “I understand the ridicule that will be thrown at me for saying those things: but if you don’t want to run the country, why are you in politics?” He pauses. “That’s a question I would ask most people leading the Labour Party at present.”

What does he think of May, his one-time opponent in North-West Durham? “She strikes me as being very professional, very straightforward, somebody who is very conservative in every sense of the word, in her thought processes, her politics, in her style.” He recalls her 2002 conference speech in which she warned Tory activists: “Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us: the nasty party.”

“In many ways, she was the trailblazer for Cameron in being a softer-focused Tory,” he says. “It now looks like she’s been trapped by the very people she was berating as the nasty party all those years ago. I like to think that isn’t really her. But that means she isn’t really in control of the Conservative Party.”

Voters, however, seem to disagree. In recent polls, support for the Conservatives has hovered between 40 and 50 per cent. Isn’t a progressive alliance the only way to stop her: Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru all working together to beat the Tories?

“Let’s be really blunt,” he says. “Had Jeremy Corbyn stood down for us in Richmond Park [where Labour stood Christian Wolmar], we would not have won. I could have written Zac Goldsmith’s leaflets for you: Corbyn-backed Liberal Democrats.

“I’m a pluralist,” he adds. “But any progressive alliance has got to be at least equal to the sum of its parts. At the moment, it would be less than the sum of its parts. The only way the Tories are losing their majority is us gaining seats in Hazel Grove –” he ticks them off with his fingers, “– in Cheadle, in the West Country and west London. There’s no chance of us gaining those seats if we have a kind of arrangement with the current Labour Party in its current form.”

What about the SNP? “Most sensible people would look at that SNP manifesto and agree with 99 per cent of it,” Farron says. “But it’s that one thing: they want to wreck the country! How can you do a deal with people who want to wreck the country?”

There’s no other alternative, he says. Someone needs to step up and offer “something that can appeal to progressive younger voters, pro-Europeans and, you know, moderate-thinking Middle England”. He wants to champion a market economy, strong public services, action on climate change, internationalism and free trade.

That sounds like Blairism. “I’m a liberal, and I don’t think Blair was a liberal,” he replies. “But I admire Blair because he was somebody who was able to win elections . . . Iraq aside, my criticisms of Blair are what he didn’t do, rather than what he did do.”

Turning around the Tory tide – let alone with just nine MPs, and from third place – is one hell of a job. But Farron takes heart from the Liberal Party in Canada, where Justin Trudeau did just that. “I’m not Trudeau,” he concedes, “He was better-looking, and his dad was prime minister.”

There is a reason for his optimism. “I use the analogy of being in a maze,” he says, “You can’t see a way out of it, for a progressive party to form a majority against the Tories. But in every maze, there is a way out. We just haven’t found it yet.” 

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

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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