Well done to Fiona Millar – I shall declare an interest shortly – in her just televised debate with Toby Young, who wants to set up his own school in West London.
Ah yes, it was that Fiona, the one I have lived with for 30 years? As readers of The Blair Years will know, those 30 years have had their fair share of arguments, and in case Toby finds himself in the position of arguing with her again, I can give him a bit of advice.
First off, be sure of your ground, and don’t leave room for factual correction. She’s lethal when you get your facts wrong.
Also, don’t shift your ground, because she will spot it quickly, and seize on it. It was blatantly obvious to anyone who read your original articles on this idea that you have indeed shifted your ground to try – unsuccessfully I fear – to deal with the charge that taking State money for your project will require funding to be shifted from other schools which happen to be improving while serving a broader catchment that the Tories’ planned ‘free schools’ will.
And come on Toby, I know it is Sunday morning, and you probably want to be out with the kids somewhere on a nice autumn London day like this rather than talking to Adam Boulton on Sky, but it was a bit embarrassing that Fiona was so evidently more familiar with the Ofsted reports on your local schools than you are. I can indeed vouch for the fact that she was up at 7 am reading them.
Nor was your case helped by the innuendo suggesting that hers was weakened by the use for her own children of Camden School for Girls. If you’re going to play the (wo)man, not the ball, then for heaven’s sake do a bit of research.
For 66.6 recurring per cent of our kids, Camden School for Girls would have been an odd and difficult choice for their secondary education, as they are boys. For the remaining 33.3 per cent, our daughter, though there would be nothing wrong with her going to Camden, as it happens she doesn’t, because as the boys did before going to university, she attends the comprehensive school nearest to home. These are choices none of us have ever regretted, despite the swirls of middle class angst about (vastly improved) State schools that so pollute this debate, so dominated in the media by editors and journalists who have chosen the private sector for their own kids, and distort their coverage to justify their choice.
So whilst freely accepting I am biased, I have to say I felt she won the debate easily, because she was sure of her ground, passionate about her beliefs, and unwilling to let either Toby or Boulton misrepresent her views.
I was not alone. In pinged an immediate text from my former Mirror colleague Alastair McQueen. Subtle as ever, he said ‘Fiona is so much better on TV than you. And all of your wanked out politico pals. She would also run Question Time much better than the cretinous Dimbleby.’ Like I say, he was always prone to hiding what he really thought behind diplomacy.
And then another, this time from someone in the News International high command who said ‘Fiona was great on schools on Boulton. She rocks.’ Something tells me they are not universally signed up to the ‘Vote Dave’ strategy down Wapping way!