It is been painful to watch the contortions the Labour Party has inflicted on itself with regards to its education proposals. The Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg has sought to reconcile two irreconcilable positions – being in favour of free schools and being against them.
Still the media has a limited interest in policy – especially the policy pronouncements of the opposition. Labour will be hoping that they won't face too much in the way of forensic examination of what they would do on this or other issues.
However there is another difficulty for the Labour Party in how they respond to the policy at local level. An example of this cropped up in Parliiament yesterday at Education questions. The Labour MP for Vauxhall Kate Hoey wanted to know why a school in her constituency was facing delays getting academy status – the reason was that her Labour-run council, Lambeth, was looking around for ploys to scupper it:
Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): Lilian Baylis school, an outstanding secondary school in Kennington in my constituency, will this month receive the dubious award of taking the longest time to become an academy—it is now more than 22 months—because of a dispute between the local authority and the Department over the fact that it is a private finance initiative, along with legal costs. In the meantime, the school is suffering, as it wants to get on with becoming an academy. Will the Secretary of State try to get that sorted out? Only a small amount of money is needed from someone, but clearly we need to get it sorted.
Michael Gove: The hon. Lady is a brilliant campaigner for higher quality schools in her constituency, and we will do everything we can to help. I am afraid that her question lays bare the fact that there are some really good MPs on the Labour Benches who want their schools to become academies, but an insufficient number of Labour local authorities that are prepared to stand with us against the enemies of promise.
Already the school is working with the RSA which is proving a fantastic success. The school used to be a disaster.
Only a few years ago the Tory MP Oliver Letwin, who lives round the corner, said he would rather beg on the streets than send his children there. Cue lots of synthetic, hypocritical outrage – from papers like The Guardian whose editor sent his children to fee paying schools as did, of course, their columnist Polly Toynbee. But Mr Letwin's point was that while he had the money to choose other local parents did not. Mr Letwin wanted them to have the choice of a good school as well.
The school wants to be able to nurture it's success with the greater independence academy status would bring. But Lambeth Council has a proven record of hostility to school autonomy and opposing parental choice.
I suppose in other places we may find the Labour MP acting as a spokesman for the NUT and a Labour council taking a more open minded approach. The point is that Labour are split down the middle and Mr Twigg's recent speech has only served to highlight it.