‘…never rule out governments making outrageous moves to pass their favoured pet policy.’ That’s the warning from Schools Week editor Laura Mcinerney.
A favourite pet policy of the Prime Minister is ending the ban on selection.
When May became PM I thought she was a safe pair of hands able to negotiate a steady line between leave and remain.
I was wrong.
Far from being a ‘bloody difficult woman’, May relied too much on her close advisers, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill. Timothy was believed to be behind the push for new grammars. Timothy took charge of the ill-fated Tory manifesto. According to Kate Perrior, former Number Ten director of communications between July 2016 and April 2017, Timothy and Hill ruled Downing Street with arrogance, abuse and rudeness (p9, The Times, 10 June 2017, behind paywall). Perrior couldn’t decipher whether May turned a blind eye or didn’t recognise how toxic they were.
Deliberately blind or unconsciously naïve, no leader should be so easily persuaded by advisors to take foolish action.
May’s first major announcement weeks after her One Nation speech wasn’t about how she proposed to deal with the greatest upheaval faced by the UK since the end of WWII. It was about setting up more grammar schools. This announcement was the first sign that May didn’t have her priorities in the right place.
The Education Select Committee politely told May her grammar school idea was a ‘distraction’. But May had already established a Selective Education Team to discuss how to overturn the ban on new grammars. It was widely believed to be headed by Timothy*.
Timothy and Hill have now resigned. But the damage they have done remains. And, as McInerney warns, a Bill to reintroduce selection could still make it through Parliament.
May has a majority in England. Education is a devolved policy. Reintroducing selection is in the manifesto – Tory MPs would be bound to vote for manifesto policies. And ‘The Salisbury Convention’ prohibits the Lords from rejecting manifesto policies.
There’s a danger, then, that May could shove a Bill to reintroduce grammars in England through Parliament with the support, real or forced, from English Tory MPs.
Many Tory MPs are sceptical about grammars. But others, including Graham Brady the chair of the influential Tory party backbench 1922 Committee, are ardent advocates of selection. Brady says he backs May’s continued leadership. May could feel his support should be rewarded by pushing ahead with new grammars.
There’s a glimmer of hope. May, freed from the malign influence of her advisers, could decide she has far more pressing concerns than introducing a controversial measure. And The Times (p6, 10 June 2017, behind paywall) says a Bill passed by English MPs concerning only England would still be put to the whole Commons. The English majority could be overturned.
The other alternative is that May won’t last long enough as leader to promote her pet policy.
*POSTSCRIPT I submitted a Freedom of Information request to find the names of advisers who attended meetings of the Selective Education Team. The DfE gave me only the names of civil servants over a certain grade. I was warned that giving the name of anyone else on the Team using information I may have found elsewhere would be a breach of Data Protection laws. I was being warned off.