Andy Burnham

One of the most valuable benefits of a second term in office is the ability to really root down important reforms.

This lesson was driven home this morning by headlines announcing that Andy Burnham, the beleaguered sometime favourite to succeed Ed Miliband as Labour leader, hopes to call time on school choice.

Describing what it terms “the centrepiece of his manifesto”, the Guardian reports:

“Burnham’s manifesto will advocate handing control over all schools admissions back to local education authorities as part of a reform process that would see the eventual phasing out of academies and free schools.

“In a move that goes further than the Labour election manifesto, Burnham will pledge to revitalise comprehensive education as he rejects “the growing market of free schools and academies”.”

It isn’t immediately clear what is meant by “revitalise” – it looks like a straight-up restoration of a system which failed generations of pupils and, by segregating school intakes by postcode, handed an enormous advantage to the wealthy and mobile.

That one of the front-runners in the Labour leadership election is hinging his case on a return to the days where children were forced into bad schools in order to keep them full is as damning an indictment of the current state of the Labour Party as any you’ll find on this site.

Along with the rest of Burnham’s offer, which Mark provided an overview of yesterday, it reveals a total poverty of ideas. His is a deeply reactionary leftism, whose policies pander to the prejudices of activists without offering any innovative solutions to policy problems.

Whether he has had to jettison a better thought-out programme after being blown off course by Hurricane Corbyn, or he genuinely lacks the coherent bedrock of personal convictions needed to build a coherent political programme, neither bodes well for his leadership.

But the problem faced by all reactionaries in opposition is that time beats on around them.

By the time of the next election we’ll be ten years in to the free school era and farther still into the age of academies, and there’s no reason to believe at present that Britain’s comprehensive jurisdictions in Scotland and Wales will have caught up to England on school outcomes.

If they continue to proliferate and drive up performance, Tory MPs and PPCs will leap at the chance to pose as defenders of popular local schools. By 2020 it will be Burnham and his revanchist allies in the blob, not the Tories and champions of school choice, who face the uphill slog of challenging the status quo.

History suggests that parties only win again when they adjust to how their opponents have changed the terrain whilst in Government. Trying to wish away the last two elections will serve Labour no better than it did the Tories in the early 2000s.

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