Monday, June 04, 2007

Will Ming Survive the Summer?

Gordon's Cabinet

I've been having substantial fun today with the BBC's football squad predictor-style Gordon Brown Cabinet predictor. I'll outline my predictions:

Hewitt - has been simply quite dreadful on the recent junior doctors' scandal and her seemingly patronising style does not and can not appeal to the public

Kelly - the sorry state of HIPs says it all. Goodbye. She'll lose her seat at the next GE as well.

Reid (already known) - Blair's 'tough man' has not had an easy time of it since he took over from Charles Clarke. Splitting the Home Office in two is not going to have the desired effect. Reid must know this and has decided to go before it all goes wrong.

Prescott (already known) - a tactless politician whose policy implementation record has been so abysmal he had all his responsibilities taken off him.

Beckett - how she survived the farm repayments fiasco at DEFRA I will never know. She'll be leaving politics to spend more time with her caravan, much to the dismay of the motoring public.

Jowell - I cannot see her staying at DCMS unless Gordon wants her specifically to stay until the 2012 Olympics.

Browne - he may not go, but should be demoted after the row over the navy ex-internees selling their stories. It was a PR disaster from a government whose policies were founded on good PR.


Charlie Falconer - a close friend of Blair, but is already in position to parachute into the new Department of Justice.

Alan Johnson - has been a safe pair of hands so far after Ruth Kelly's disastrous 2006 saw her demoted, and is the most likely Deputy Prime Minister.

Jack Straw - after his surprise demotion to Leader of the House, Straw will be expecting one of the top three jobs, possibly Chancellor.

David Miliband - a rising star, and is likely to be rewarded for not standing against the Chancellor.

Alistair Darling - has been kept at arm's length by Blair but it likely to get a top job with Brown. A leading Brownite, his only stumbling block is the fact that he's Scottish, and therefore may have to let No. 11 go.

Peter Hain - a good showing in the DPM race may see him rewarded with any number of jobs - having done well seeing through the return of power sharing in Northern Ireland, he's likely to be promoted.

Douglas Alexander - Brownite rising star. He should expect something more challenging than his current brief.

Hazel Blears - for the moment, Hazel will be focusing on her deputy leadership campaign (which isn't going well) but she could be squeezed by Brownite cabinet contenders. DCMS, perhaps.

John Hutton - pensions is a notoriously detailed brief and Hutton may well survive and stay in his job despite the fact that he's known as a Blairite.


Stephen Timms - currently Chief Sec, he's been close to Gordon for some time and is a competent performer in the Commons. He could surprise everyone and be given something difficult.

Ed Balls - always a favourite for the BBC's Politics Show and Question Time, this capable media performer has been tipped for the Chancellorship before but surely Gordon couldn't be this audacious!

Grammar Schools and Academic Selection: Problems in the Party

Why the Conservative Party should bother itself with this internal disagreement about grammar schools at this stage of a parliament is beyond me. There was absolutely no need for David Willetts (will it or won't it?) to reignite the debate by reannouncing the Party's established position. There was also no need for David Cameron to use such dramatic language in response to concerns from backbenchers and Party grassroots.

The real issue buried amongst the debris here is academic selection. The question posed is: can it be fair for schools to hand-pick the cleverest children at the age of eleven? We then must ask: why is it that schools want to choose the brightest children? They want to achieve the best results, do they not? Of course, that question can also be answered simply: because less intelligent children exist. For those of us who believe that children are NOT born with the same aptitude, it seems natural that those who are the brightest should be helped to reach their full potential. This is not to say that those who are less intelligent are academic cul-de-sacs who should be taught in classes of 40 by ill-equipped supply teachers in a makeshift shelter; it is to point out that the cleverest children thrive in the company of their similarly intelligent peers. It promotes academic competition between pupils and provides social cohesion within a school.

Those kids who are not as bright, many of whom attend comprehensives, might well receive teaching which is just as good but it cannot have the same effect as with a group of brighter children. Neither is this to say that the best teaching should be reserved for the most intelligent. It is, however, a fact of life that kids, at whatever age, are not similarly gifted, talented, intelligent; however you want to put it; and they cannot be taught the same cirriculum simultaneously in one classroom by the same teacher. Clever kids who attend comprehensives are always going to feel alienated at some point because, ridiculously, in this day and age, it is still frowned upon by the left wing establishment for some children to excel in certain areas whilst others lag behind. It is seen as the fault of the intelligent pupil.

One cannot describe academic selection in the terms 'fair' and 'unfair' - because life isn't fair. Phrases like 'everyone in the classroom is capable of doing well' are wrong because, unfortunate as it is, not everyone is capable of doing well academically. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. All pupils should experience competition, which is why one cannot group the kids in the lowest brackets with those in the top because they cannot compete! Over many decades, children of similar aptitude have been streamed within subjects so that they can get the most from the teaching they receive in their particular groups. The situation is made all the more ridiculous by the fact that many school sports events have been made non-competitive - should it not be the case that pupils less inclined to academic success should be given a chance to shine?

This is the first time I have seriously disagreed with the Cameron team on a matter of policy. It has been very unwise of him, if it has been the case, that he has felt the need to pick a fight with his Party so that he achieves a 'Clause Four' moment. The Conservative Party does not have a 'Clause 4'. He bases his reasons for withdrawing support for grammar schools on the basis that they don't serve the community and are no longer 'relevant'. Mr Cameron, I ask you this: is it not relevant that the most gifted children, from whatever background they come, to receive the best education they can?