Tristram Hunt was granted an Urgent Question based on something he’d read in the Observer. A row in the Coalition. An incipient split. It must have seemed a good idea but it all blew up in his lovely face.
He really does have the most brilliant name, with the luxurious extra R. Handsome, hereditary, metrosexual. There’s no-one else on the Labour front bench you can imagine in bed with Liz Hurley, Graham Norton and the winner of the Eurovision Song Contest.
It was Gove’s only mistake to suggest that he’s had “more contorted positions on Free Schools than an Indian sex manual.” That’s the fellow’s strong point! Pointing that out draws attention to Gove’s factory inspector look c. 1955.
Listening to Hunt, we heard, or half-heard him saying that the Coalition had “raided the schools budget to pay for pet political projects in expensive, under-performing, half-empty Free Schools.”
Are any of those accusations correct? They’re so highly educated, the minister and his shadow, you don’t know what to believe.
Expensive. Underperforming. Half-empty.
Gove said that Free Schools were half the cost of schools under Labour, that they were three times over-subscribed, they were academically above the national average and that 85 per cent of them were being opened in areas of greatest need.
Hunt quoted an NAO report which said two-thirds of places had been created outside areas of high and severe need.
You need an Oxford education to make contradictory statements that are correct. You have to assume their propositions were couched in terms that would stand up in court.
Hunt sat down to Tory jeers of “Is that it?
Labour critics got pummeled with spending figures. Labour had spent £25m in Eltham and Tories were spending £125m. Or £17m in Croydon compared with £142m now. And £25m in Lewisham under Labour where Tories were putting in £78m.
It was a bit of a slaughter, in fact. If Tristram was trying to show “spending was out of control” he’d have been better off in bed with Liz and Co.
The only really surprising contribution came from Ian Austin – sometime “boot boy of Gordon Brown”, as Cameron once called him. He told the House about a Free School in his constituency so popular that parents couldn’t get their children in to it. You may have expected him to demand it be closed, the staff prosecuted and the children taken into care.
No, he argued to give them the financial freedom to borrow in the market to create extra capacity and service the debt with their increased per capita revenues.
There’s probably no chance of Ian Austin being made shadow Education secretary, but it might be worth having a word with Liz.