As far as Guido can tell this whole “new” grammar school policy row is bogus. The policy hasn’t changed since a speech on education Dave delivered a year ago. What is new is Willetts – he’s simply not up to front line political combat. He framed the debate in a way that created confusion and maximised opposition – and pulled Dave into a fight he wasn’t particularly looking for.
Sources assure Guido that those speculating that this is a faux-row to get Gordon off the front-page are mistaken, it is cack-handed presentation of the policy which has given irreconcilable activists a stick to beat Dave with. This is no carefully contrived Clause-4 moment.
Nevertheless it has still, amazingly, given Team Cameron some benefits. Three in fact:
Dave appears strong and willing to stick to a position that angers some people, (think Kinnock taking on Militant, so not a slimy pleaser).
The “Tories have changed” narrative is reinforced.
Rather amazingly, the Tories, rather than Brown, are dominating the political agenda less than a week after he became PM-elect.
“The task is simple – to create more good school places. I intend to lead the debate on improving quality and standards in all our schools. That’s why I won’t be distracted by calls to create a few new grammar schools. My focus is on the need to develop good local schools.”
Willets, for all his supposed brains, is really not up to selling policy change to the Conservative activist base. Something that will no doubt be remembered come the reshuffle…
Gordon intervening in the row would never have happened under the old Alastair Campbell media grid regime. It means the Tories are setting the news agenda to which the PM-in-waiting has responded, with Cameron getting an opportunity to emphasise the changing nature of the Tories to middle class LibDem voters.