10 July 2024

Our new government is of, by and for the Blob


It was obvious for some time that if and when Labour got into power, many future battles would involve not Left and Right, but the Blob vs the rest. The first skirmish has already broken out, over education; and one suspects that it tells us a good deal about the guerrilla warfare to come and about our politics in the next couple of years or so.

The new Reform MP for Great Yarmouth, ex-Southampton FC chairman Rupert Lowe, has already made his presence known. This week, he drew attention to a number of parents’ complaints over what they saw as widespread pre-election political position-taking by teachers in constituency schools. Following school visits from Yarmouth Labour candidate Keir Cozens, teachers, he had understood, told children in their classes fairly bluntly to get their parents to vote for him. Pupils mentioning Reform, by contrast, had been told that teachers ‘did not wish to hear that name’, and that Reform’s immigration policies were ‘racist’ and ‘divisive’.

As MP for the town, he wrote to the schools concerned. What happened? A senior member of the Labour group on the county council, which runs the schools, immediately launched into a diatribe, accusing him of threatening hard-working head teachers in a ‘confrontational Big Brother manner’. He added that the whole affair amounted to an ‘unsubstantiated public witch-hunt’ violating ‘professional and confidentiality codes’, and that education managers would ‘make better use of their time running their institutions rather than being held to account by the naive personal grievances of a political newbie’. The leader of the teachers’ union added his voice, excoriating Rupert Lowe for ‘stoking up division’ and saying that teachers took their responsibilities seriously.

Not to be outdone, Steve Chalke, the very progressive founder of the Oasis group of academies (a group of schools which, while it serves some seriously deprived areas, does not seem to have any schools in Yarmouth or other connection with the place) chimed in with his own statement, saying that teachers were dedicated professionals who wouldn’t dream of engaging in indoctrination but bore a responsibility to teach the ‘core values’ of EDI.

We don’t yet know the truth of the rumours passed on by Mr Lowe, and he has decently declined to name any of the schools involved pending further clarification. What is interesting, however, is the nature of the reaction to them.

The first point is that there has been a concerted attempt to suppress the whole argument. These allegations matter: if true, they suggest a pretty high-handed breach of the schools’ legal duty under s.406 of the Education Act 1996 to avoid political partisanship. Yet rather than say the episode needs investigating, and certainly before we know what the truth is, it is distinctly worrying that the establishment’s first reaction should be to deny the whole thing.

It has clearly chosen to shield all involved, produce some cliché about being under professional obligations which they’re not allowed to break and say ‘move on, nothing to see here’. Parents who, not being comfortably-off bourgeois Londoners with the ability to take their children elsewhere, have a right to feel that their very real concerns are being cynically betrayed in the interests of preserving the amour-propre of teachers, education managers and the Labour-supporting establishment.

Indeed, it gets worse. The suggestion from Alex Chalke that schools are actually obliged to promote EDI as part of the curriculum, and therefore presumably that backward parents need to be told to suck it up, is distinctly insulting to decent parents who may have their own ideas about what is best for their children. And the attempt to vilify Mr Lowe by portraying him as a bully and his investigation of the affair as a witch-hunt is little short of scandalous.

It also shows what one suspects is a remarkably selective view of political morality. Suppose the allegation had concerned parents’ complaints that some Yarmouth schools practised, say, racism or Islamophobia. Would the reaction from politicians and unions be the same, with suggestions that teachers would never do that and even to suggest so amounted to unacceptable bullying of hard-working and dedicated professionals? Don’t hold your breath.

Furthermore, at one point the mask seriously slips. Remember the throwaway line that education chiefs would ‘make better use of their time running their institutions rather than being held to account by the naive personal grievances of a political newbie’? It’s not often that people complain straight out that it’s wrong for public officials to be held to account by elected politicians taking up the grievances of their constituents, but I suppose there always has to be a first time.

Unfortunately, all this neatly reflects the attitudes of the new Labour establishment; managerialist, technocratic and very unhappy at those who choose to suggest that civil servants, local authority apparatchiks and a tetchy teaching profession could do a great deal better. We have to fear that this is something we can expect to see a great deal more of in the next few years.

The Conservatives did precious little about the problem of surrender to the Blob in their years of power and for the foreseeable future won’t have the moral authority to do much about it. That an upstart Reform, untarred with the Tory brush, has taken up the challenge of calling out a complacent establishment, is one small mercy we should be grateful for.

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Andrew Tettenborn is a professor of law at Swansea Law School.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.