Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/497/2676
Tories save New Labour skins
IN MAY the Tories announced they were abandoning their policy of re-introducing 'grammar schools in every town.' Their then education spokesperson, David Willetts, argued they could use New Labour's education 'reforms' instead to establish the selective education system they wanted.
Private company-sponsored 'Trust', 'Academy' or 'Foundation' schools - controlling their own staff, admission policies and school assets - could become grammar schools by another name. That was the unspoken argument.
The unity of Tory and New Labour education policy was shown in a debate at the 18 July council meeting in Lewisham over the plan for a new secondary school for the north of the borough.
Local parents fought tirelessly for a new school ever since New Labour's failed 'Fresh Start' policy led to Telegraph Hill school closing. Socialist Party councillor Ian Page first moved a council motion for a new school back in 2001.
New Labour councillors eventually agreed to a new school at Lewisham Bridge in north Lewisham after they lost their overall majority in last year's council elections. But throughout the long campaign there was never any suggestion that the new school would be anything other than a local authority run community comprehensive school. Until now.
New Labour's 2006 Education Act means councils can no longer just build and run a new school, they must hold a 'competition' to let trusts, foundations or academies 'bid' to run it.
Councils can also put in a 'bid' for a community school but Lewisham's New Labour mayor had decided not to, ensuring that the new school would not be under council control. So, five secondary schools in Lewisham would control their own admissions, widening the gap between the 'best' schools and the rest in, effectively, a new selective system.
At the meeting Socialist Party councillors Ian Page and Chris Flood moved a motion for Lewisham council to make a bid for a community school at Lewisham Bridge. While they criticised the whole damaging 'competition' legislation, they challenged Labour councillors to at least make the case for the new school to be a local authority comprehensive school. But they refused!
The mayor, Sir Steve Bullock, attacked the '1970s politics of futile gestures'. Other Labour councillors accused Ian and Chris of just trying to delay a new school. Ian responded that New Labour wanted to take us back to the 1870s, when education provision for working-class children was provided by charities or factory schools! And didn't New Labour's opposition to local parents' call for a new school for over four years delay things slightly more than bidding now for a community school?
Green and Liberal Democratic councillors supported the motion but, fittingly, Tory councillors' votes gave New Labour a majority. Tory councillors sit on the same side of the council chamber as New Labour.
When one Tory spoke he started by saying he was sympathetic to the motion and 'I wish I could support it'. A parent in the public gallery shouted, 'well, leave the Labour Party then', mistaking him for a Labour councillor. But then, what is the difference?
In The Socialist 26 July 2007:
Postal workers' strike
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Socialist Party news and analysis
Tales from the council chambers
Socialist Party Marxist analysis
Socialist Party reviews
Workplace news and analysis
International socialist news and analysis