Education Bill, the worst of both worlds

Ruth Kelly and, to a greater extent, Tony Blair have managed to create the worst possible outcome for their flagship education policy.

The basic idea is sound and was supported by the Conservatives. It strived to give greater freedom to schools and parents, encouraging the expansion of good schools and provides more autonomy for head teachers.

This was very much the backbone of the Conservative policy going into the last general election. Most Conservatives that I have spoken to about this felt that it was a bit timid but was at least moving in the right direction and for this reason it was entirely appropriate for us to support it.

The main problem with the smooth passage of this bill is that the Labour front bench would rather have a fight with the Conservatives and placate their own looney left backbenchers than get good legislation through the house. Consequently Kelly and Blair have hacked, chopped and distorted their own policy to win over the out of date hardliners when they already had a guaranteed majority for the vote.

I have made the point before that either they think that the bill is the right move or they don’t. If they do they should have accepted the Conservative offer of support and left the bill unchanged. If they thought that the bill was wrong they should not be putting it through at all.

What they have done is distort the bill, cutting out some of its most important elements and replacing them with clauses that actively prevent good schools from expanding. Despite these last minute bodged changes their backbenchers still refused to support them.

Blair and Kelly started the education debate with two options, either a good bill with a backbench rebellion or no rebellion but a weakened bill. In traditional Nu Labour style they chose a “Third Way”, a weakened bill and a backbench rebellion.

They are too clueless to be in government.

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