Friday, June 01, 2007

Tory Troubles


It had to come, of course - a genuine Tory dispute after months of being in thrall to David Cameron's bewitching media performances. The shame of this current spat over grammar schools is that it was so unnecessary. David Willetts didn't need to condemn the favoured state system of much of the Tory Party when he introduced his 'new' education policy. It was sheer tactical incompetence that blundered the party into this row, and Willetts may ultimately pay the price. There never had to be a debate on grammar schools, and after two or three weeks of party naval gazing the party leadership has been left returning to its de facto original position - if they wish to expand where they exist, let them do so. Actually, this is a slightly more pro-grammar position than they had before Mr. Willetts' ill-judged speech, as Tory MP's all voted for the 2006 education Act which has specifically forbidden further selection in England without primary legislation.

We have Dominic Grieve to thank for the Tory reversal on the best school system this country has ever devised. An able, competent and credible front bench hitter, he made it clear, as an MP for a seat with selective schools (Beaconsfield) that he believed grammar schools should be able to expand if they need to. Cameron and co. could not afford to lose someone of Grieve's calibre, and after weeks of discontent on the backbenches about Willetts' faux pas they finally caved in - one Old Etonian to another, so to speak.

Hardly their finest hour, but now may not be a bad time for Cameron to review his front bench team, and his inner circle. He's been fire-fighting on this issue where he needs to be leading. He had also just completed his two days as a'teaching assistant' when this blew up, thus neutering what might have otherwise been rather good publicity. Sadly, one announcement today does not offer a great deal of hope about any re-think. The Tories have announced that ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson is to become their communications chief. They obviously hope they're getting their own Alastair Campbell (another former tabloid journalist), but Coulson comes to them as the editor who allowed his Royal Correspondent, now serving at Her Majesty's Pleasure, to tap phones for one of his stories. Great pedigree.

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