The Shadow Education Secretary Andy Burnham gets himself into ever more painful contortions on the subject of free schools. But there are some whose opposition to any free school opening anywhere at any time is clear. There is Christine Blower, the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers and former Socialist Alliance candidate for London Assembly. This "alliance" consisted of rag bag of Trotskyist fringe groups.
There is Fiona Millar, partner of Alastair Campbell and Chairman of the Governors of William Ellis School, Toby Young's old school. (Under her chairmanship it has had a distinctly bog standard Ofsted verdict of "satisfactory.")
Then there is Melissa Benn, daughter of Tony. Interviewed in The Guardian she defends employing private tutors for her daughter. “Ah, I woke up this morning and thought: he’ll ask me about private tutoring. Well, a bit of help a couple of times when exams were coming up, but we’re not running a complete parallel system. There’s no denying that parents like ourselves can help our children, but I also bring that helpful practice to the school, running workshops and so on,” she says.
Yet in the past she has said: "Entrance to grammar schools is often accompanied by an active private tuition industry, as parents seek to buy their children competitive advantage in the 11-plus. This sort of extra coaching can cost several thousand pounds a year and is therefore beyond the reach of the average family." The principles objection to private tutors evidently is suspended at exam time.
Unlike Blower, Benn and Millar choose to operate within the Labour Party. But they are happy to consort with extremist elements outside. Last year they spoke at the Socialist Workers Party conference Marxism 2010.
A co founder with Benn and Millar of the Local Schools Network is Henry Stewart who used to be involved in the revolutionary Socialist group Big Flame. He writes nostalgically about their failed News on Sunday project. Among the causes Big Flame championed in 1980 was "unconditional support of all anti imperialist Republican activity to defeat the British military occupation of six counties." Stewart shows not the slightest hint of contrition at his association with these odious sentiments.
In formulating their policy on free schools will the Labour Party defer to this crew? Or will they support the increasing number of decent people like Peter Hyman and Toby Young who are making a positive difference extending choice to the many and not just the few. Choice to those parents who, unlike Melissa Benn, can't afford private tutors for their children?