Saturday, July 10, 2010

'Miserable pipsqueak' won't rescue Balls

Ever since the new coalition came into office, the consensus has been that its political honeymoon would last only as long as it took for real cuts in public services to start happening.

While people seem happy for ministers to talk about efficiency savings and even 25pc cuts to government departments, they become rather less so when that starts to impact on local schools, hospitals and police.

So this week's announcement of the scrapping of the Building Schools for the Future programme, aimed at refurbishing every school in England, was one announcement the government needed to get right.

And as we all now know, Education Secretary Michael Gove managed to get it totally and spectacularly wrong, producing at least four different lists of the schools affected each of which contained inaccuracies.

In this region alone, the original announcement led to building work being halted at 46 schools including five in South Tyneside.

However it later emerged that all five of these schools had been mistakenly included on the list and that the work would, after all, be continuing as planned, although other areas were not so lucky.

Those who long to see a bit of passion restored to the political arena will have loved Labour MP Tom Watson's Commons attack on Mr Gove after the minister was forced to make one of several apologies for the blunders.

Former whip Mr Watson concluded his onslaught with the words "You're a miserable pipsqueak of a man, Gove!" – incurring the wrath of Speaker John Bercow who swiftly ordered him to withdraw.

Ultimately, though, it is not the chaotic presentation of this announcement which is the real issue. It is the fact that cuts to school building projects should be happening at all.

Once again, the government has tried to pin the blame on Labour, arguing that the Building Schools for the Future programme was wasteful and bureaucratic.

This would be all very well, had Mr Gove outlined how the new government proposes to refurbish our dilapidated school buildings in a more cost-effective and less bureaucratic fashion.

His failure to do so leads one to assume there is no such plan, and that they will consequently be left to rot.

One consequence of this week's fiasco has been talk of an upturn in the fortunes of Labour leadership contender Ed Balls, who has led the attack on Mr Gove.

The Shadow Education Secretary is currently trailing in, at best, third place behind the Miliband brothers in the race, but with voting not due to happen until the end of August, much could theoretically change before then.

For my part, I don't think it will. While accepting that Mr Gove's hapless performance this week has given Mr Balls a chance to shine, I think the party has by and large made up its mind about him.

Sure, they want to see his combative political skills used to good effect in a senior role - almost certainly Shadow Chancellor – but my hunch is they want someone more emollient as leader.

The longer-term impact of the week's events is likely to be less on Labour and more on public perceptions of the coalition.

Even within the North-East, the scrapping of the rebuilding programme runs the risk of creating a postcode lottery between areas such as Newcastle, where all the projects had already been approved, and Durham, where 14 have had to be cancelled.

It is invariably going to create a huge sense of injustice in those areas unlucky enough to miss the cut-off point and which now face an indefinite wait for new facilities.

And at some point, that sense of injustice is something the coalition will need to address.

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Anonymous said...

Only in England can this coalition make cuts in schools, hospitals and police, you have been out of politics for too long or are being economical with the actualite.
The Scottish Parliament will decide on cuts in Scotland.
The Welsh Assembley will decide on cuts in Wales,
Stormont will decide upon cuts to be made in Northern Ireland.
In England the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish elected MPs will decide which cuts are to be made.

Paul Linford said...

Read the third par matey - it makes it clear we're only talking about England.

Anonymous said...

With the news to-day that a head teacher of a primary school in Lewisham get £270,000,there is clearly plenty to cut.

Seems New Labour had no limits in the successful mission to p$ss away taxpayers money.

John Zims

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