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By Peter Hoskin
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Graham BradyIt
may not normally be part of your diet, but the latest issue of the New Statesman
contains some tasty morsels for the political glutton. There’s a useful analysis
of the Miliband and Balls axis
by Rafael Behr; a flat-out brilliant article
about political cartooning
by Helen Lewis; and an interview
with Graham Brady
by Caroline Crampton, which is what we’ll focus on here.
The subject of the interview — other than Mr Brady himself, of course — is
grammar schools. From the back garden of his home, a calm setting for a calm
and informative article, he casts back to the row that saw him resign from the
Tory front bench in 2007.

The
coverage
of this interview
appears to have picked up on the attacks that Mr Brady
makes against official Conservative grammar schools policy. And it’s true,
there are some caustic observations amongst what he says. For instance, this:

“Even though it seems Cameron has ruled out
the possibility of a return to grammar schools, public opinion appears to
differ. A poll for ICM in 2010 showed that 76 per cent would support the
opening of grammar schools in areas that don’t offer academic selection. Brady
expresses his frustration in mild terms — ‘it is certainly odd that politicians
should go to such extraordinary lengths to avoid doing something so popular’ —
but it is clear that the tension runs deep.”

Or this:

“Brady’s frustration with this inertia is palpable. ‘The
logic of what the government is doing with education – and I very strongly
endorse it – is actually to transfer the power and the choice away from the
government and give it far more genuinely to communities and parents to choose
the kind of schools they want.’ He pauses. ‘It’s in that context that it is
more perverse than ever that the government then prohibits [one of the
choices].’”

But, despite that, there have actually been some
signs of rapprochement between back benches and front benches over grammar
schools, and they pop up in this interview. For example, the piece starts with a
vignette of a parliamentary meeting earlier this year, hosted by Brady and
entitled “Friends of Grammar Schools”. He received “support” that evening, the
article notes, not just from David Davis and Michael Howard, but also from
Michael Gove. In fact, I remember him citing the Education Secretary’s “enthusiasm”
for the expansion of existing grammar schools at
the time
, although Mr Gove’s office did play that one down a little bit.

And then there is that same expansion of existing
grammar schools; a policy which is allowed under this government. As was demonstrated
in Kent
earlier this year, current grammars can set up selective “satellite”
schools, effectively increasing the number of grammar schools in the area.
This, as Brady notes in the interview (and, previously, on ConservativeHome),
does rely on a sort of postcode lottery: there has to be a grammar school in
the area to begin with. But it’s still a pressure valve for some of the steam
that might otherwise scald the party.

Even so, I doubt that a full rapprochement
between Mr Brady and the Tory leadership — perhaps in the form of a promotion
for the ‘22 chairman — is on the cards, not least because of the nature
of the split
five years ago. And the fundamental tension between those who
want to see truly new grammars and those who don’t remains. Indeed, I wonder
whether this tension might be aggravated again in coming months. If Lib Dem
ministers are allowed to vote
against the boundary proposals
and keep their jobs, then some might ask
questions about the etiquette of principled disagreement.

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