Very much in ‘partner of’ role, I went the other evening to the launch of School Wars, a book on the current battle for the future of education policy, written by Fiona’s fellow campaigner for comprehensive schools, Melissa Benn.
Melissa is a good writer and thoroughly nice person, so I overcame my general reluctance to attend Soho book launches, and went along. Her Dad Tony was there, looking a little bit more frail than the last time I saw him, but still pin-sharp when we sat in a corner to muse about diary writing.
The reception took place as the government was busy promoting the first tranche of so-called free schools. The numbers are small, well short of the hundreds Michael Gove had promised for the first wave of his revolution. The vast bulk of children will continue to go to good comprehensive schools, including the many academies introduced by the last government. But in part because free schools are new, in part because they are Gove’s baby, and in part because the vast majority of top media people opt for private education, it has been a doodle for them to get tame coverage, as it can all be used to run down the schools used by the many not the few.
It is also clear Gove feels rather defensive about it all. He took to the Evening Standard to write about the launch of free schools, but rather than promote what he believed in, he indulged in a somewhat petty, rather sexist, and hugely ironic dig at Melissa and Fiona. They must be doing something right to penetrate his skin.
His charge was that their criticism of free schools was somehow rendered illegitimate because they were well-connected and part of the media elite. Oh, and Melissa is entitled to call herself ‘The Hon…’. Let’s stop and wonder at the straightness of his face in saying this – that woud be Michael Gove, ex of The Times, the man who met Murdoch more often than Cameron. On the eve of Boris Johnson, he of Telegraphland, opening a school to be run by Toby Young, for whom no media appearance can be turned down so long as it allows him to show how much a part he is of the media elite.
The only thing I will say in defence of Gove is that the article was so bad he clearly didn’t write it himself. I may have disagreed with some of the things he wrote when at The Times, but he was a better writer than the one who appeared in The Standard. I fear he needs a new special adviser.
But the good news for those campaigning for the schools used by the many not the few was that it showed the extraordinary defensiveness of Gove’s team as they take forward their plans.
Finally on this subject, the right like to pray in aid the fact that Peter Hyman, a former colleague of mine in TB’s team, is also starting up a free school. A couple of points on that – Peter does so without feeling he has to run down and denigrate others. And he has, post politics, a record in education to build on.
Sorry not to be able to put up the link either to Melissa’s book or the article Gove ‘wrote’. I am working on the iPad and have yet to learn how to go backwards and forwards between different things on the screen. But hey, until a few years ago I couldn’t send an email. Education, education, education.