Sunday, December 18, 2005

Big Bad John

Tony Blair's proposed education reforms have been causing him some considerable trouble. Well, it's his own backbenchers who have actually been causing the trouble but you see what I mean. To be honest, I've not really been following this too closely. The reforms don't really have much relevance up here in Scotland, you see; we've got our very own wee politicians for our very own wee education system. Blair's new reforms will make approximately no difference at all to Scottish schools. As such, I struggle to pay as much attention to the situation as I might.

Today, for the first time, it really started to interest me. Big John (that's loyal, reliable, honest broker, deputy prime minister, John) has publicly, yes publicly, put the boot into Blair's plans.
Since I was an 11-plus failure, since I do believe that produced a 'first-class/second-class' education system, I fear this is a framework that may do the same. I'm somewhat critical.
Somewhat critical? He's a bit more than "somewhat critical". What he's saying is that he's opposed to the whole two tier shooting match. He thinks the reforms will mostly benefit middle class children and leave working class children to make do with a "second class" education system.

For the record, I think he's right. Even if the reforms do cause an increase in standards across the board (and that's by no means certain), I believe that middle class children would benefit disproportionately compared to those from the poorest working class families. These reforms would, I think, decrease social mobility. That's not really the point of this post though.

The point is that Big John making these concerns public is a serious breach of cabinet collective responsibility. (As I remember, there was a time when such a thing would have been a resigning matter. No chance of that here though, nor would I want there to be.) This is yet another significant indicator of Blair's slipping authority. It's increasingly looking like the education reforms could be that last straw we've all been waiting for. Blair showns no real willingness to compromise to any useful degree. If he was just facing opposition from Labour backbenchers that would be a problem. Now, he's also facing public opposition from his own deputy, and that's a problem on an entirely different scale. You could almost say it's a Big John mini-mutiny. Nice one.

The next Commons vote on these proposals is expected in February next year. Could it be that this will be Blair's last hurrah. Wishful thinking? I hope not. Go on Big John!

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