Michael Gove

David Cameron, PM (Polite Minister)


angry cameronIn all the furore over the Eastleigh by-election, there was a lot of punditry going on, and a lot of interviews. But it was this little gem which caught my eye, on Friday morning’s Today Programme. In an interview with Education Secretary and child-catcher impersonator Michael Gove, I heard this exchange:

Justin Webb: “Do you need to be as rude as the Prime Minister has been [about UKIP] in the past…?

Michael Gove: “Firstly, the Prime Minister is one of the politest people I know. Secondly, I think there should be less rudeness in politics overall.

Interesting, no? What was being referred to here was David Cameron’s description of UKIP as:

“[UKIP are] a bunch of fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists.

Now regular readers will know that Mr Cameron doesn’t say a great deal that I agree with, but here I think he’s right on the money. The description seems cuttingly accurate about Nigel Farage’s cult of personality, and if you think I’m wrong I’d suggest you give this a read.

But far more interesting than what Cameron thinks of UKIP, is Mr Gove’s assertion that the Prime Minister is one of the politest people he knows. Presumably he then thinks that Mr Cameron is a force for the reduction of rudeness in politics which he says he wants.

Which is a little confusing, to say the least. Surely the Education Secretary cannot be referring to the same Rt Hon David Cameron MP who resorted to sexist put-downs at Prime Minister’s Questions, aimed at a female Labour MP:

…he’s now a GP. [To Angela Eagle] Calm down dear, calm down, calm down. Listen to the doctor!

Perish the thought. Equally, Michael couldn’t have been referring to the same David Cameron who turned that sexism-tinged patronisation towards one of his own party members:

I know the honourable lady [Nadine Dorries, then-Tory MP for Mid-Bedfordshire] is extremely frustrated… [raucous laughter] I’m going to give up on this one!

No, that can’t be the man Mr Gove refers to. Similarly, “one of the politest men” that Mr Gove knows couldn’t be the person who told veteran MP Dennis Skinnerone of the sharpest MPs in the house — that he was too old and should retire:

Well, the honourable gentleman [Dennis Skinner, MP for Bolsover] has the right at any time to take his pension, and I advise him to do so.

If that is what passes for polite these days, then maybe the Daily Mail is right, and we are seeing the death of manners in our society. Then again, given that Michael Gove has been summoned before the Education Select Committee to answer questions over what he knew about bullying allegations levelled at — and apparently covered up — one of his key advisors, maybe Mr Gove’s interpretation should not be taken at face value.

Straw men, straw men everywhere


Witness the strength of the newspaper lobby as it brings it’s full might to bear. Even if you didn’t know that Lord Justice Leveson’s report is due out on Thursday (actually, since David Cameron finds out on Wednesday, we’ll probably know by the afternoon on previous performances), you could make an educated guess purely from how loudly certain elements are pushing the concept of “press freedom”.

See, for example, this advert in The Sun recently:

Terrifying, no? I certainly don’t want to live in a world where the British press is controlled by Assad. Perish the thought!

On a slightly more serious note, I don’t want the British press controlled by David Cameron. Or even, actually, Ed Miliband. But actually, I haven’t heard anyone suggesting that.

In fact, the most common suggestions I’ve heard for a new regulation regime are:

  1. The Press Complaints Commission, again. More self-regulation, but it failed last time because it had no power, and because the likes of Richard Desmond refused to take part.
  2. An independent regulator, backed by statute, and thus able to enforce it’s judgements. Along the same lines as Ofcom.

Neither of those gives politicians control of the press, and indeed the broadcast press are currently regulated by the statute-backed Ofcom. And that doesn’t seem to be politically interfered with.

I’m pretty certain that we need the second option. The press had systematically failed to regulate itself, and the Leveson Inquiry was set up because phone hacking and other infringements on rights by the press were rampant. And, actually, they had gotten away with it in party thanks to the interference of politicians.

And yet, the press is kicking back on this under the guise that they are somehow innocent and can be trusted to sort the mess out. Michael Gove — perhaps looking for press support for a future party leadership and Prime Ministerial bid — has talked about “a chilling atmosphere towards freedom of expression“. Boris Johnson told the audience at the Spectator Awards:

MPs, members of parliament and all the rest of it, don’t you for one moment think about regulating a press that has been free in this city for more than 300 years, and whose very feral fearlessness and ferocity ensures that we have one of the cleanest systems of government anywhere in the world.

This is the same Boris Johnson who met numerous times with News International bigwigs at the height of the hacking scandal — and tried to cover it up — and said of the emerging phone hacking controversy:

In other words, this is a load of codswallop cooked up by the Labour Party and that we do not intend to get involved with it.

I can understand why certain powerful elements of the press are keen to retain the cushy regime of unaccountable independence which has allowed them to get away with so much for so long. But why are senior politicians willingly participating in the construction of straw man arguments?

A cynic might think that they want to hang onto the previous arrangement, where they turned a blind eye to the sins of newspapers. A cynic might think that they want to still be able to curry favour in the courts of media kings, buying support for themselves and their parties in exchange for influence over key policies. A cynic might wonder why those politicians are so against an independent regulator actually able to regulate.

I don’t know, but I am always suspicious about over-the-top, hyperbolic, foaming-at-the-mouth arguments in favour of the status quo. I like to ask why they are so desperate for things to remain the same. I wonder if maybe they are simply trying to protect their own privilege.

David Cameron: Schoolboy Prime Minister


One of the criticisms most frequently levelled at David Cameron and the little cabal of ministers he surrounds himself with is that the overwhelming majority are from wealthy, public school backgrounds. I’m not sure that this is a real issue with the Conservative frontbench — though the decisions that they have made in office, favouring people of their own circumstances far above the vulnerable and needy definitely are.

But as the ideological wheels have been falling off the Cameroon bandwagon on a seemingly daily basis, what strikes me as most alarming is that the politicians running Britain seem to act like they are still a gang of over-privileged schoolboys.

It’s been something I’ve thought for a long time. The crowded House of Commons at Prime Minister’s Questions on a Wednesday afternoon has something of an air of a rowdy classroom, and the braying MPs certainly don’t help the overall image.

But looking at the actions of government ministers, and it seems that in their own heads they’ve never actually left school. Andrew Mitchell, swearing like a yob at the police. George Osborne, sitting in first class without a ticket and thinking he should get away with it because he’s head boy.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, when Chris Bryant asked about texts and emails David Cameron had refused to release to the Leveson Inquiry, we were treated to this bizarre display:

Which basically amounts to David Cameron saying:

I’m not answering his question because he’s mean to me!

Mental. Leaving aside that Bryant had apologised to the House, and what Cameron was looking for was some extra grovelling  to him personally, there’s something very distasteful about someone holding high public office flat-out refusing to answer a question from an elected representative simply because he doesn’t like him.

And not only that, but yesterday I saw this story on BBC News:

A man who shouted ‘no public sector cuts’ at David Cameron during a speech in Glasgow has been ordered to carry out 100 hours of community service.

He shouted at the Prime Minister. He shouted at him, and he got 100 hours of community service. I expect there are a lot of MPs feeling very worried at the moment, in case David Cameron should run to teacher with the refrain “He shouted at me!” and point at them.

Honestly, this is absurd. Our government is made up of schoolboys. And not the competent, high-achieving “gifted and talented” students. No, this lot have already proved themselves incompetent.

I’m afraid, people of Britain, we’re being governed by the Inbetweeners.

Heckling schoolgirls (or how one person ruined it for everyone)


It was all going so well — but of course someone had to do something to spoil it.

Last year a small contingent at the Labour conference heckled the mention of Tony Blair. This year they managed to go one step better, heckling a year 11 schoolgirl who was making a speech about her school: Paddington Academy.

I was there, in the hall, so I can comment on exactly what happened. Firstly, it was one person amongst the thousands attending conference. Secondly, the heckle was hostile to academies and supportive of comprehensive. Thirdly, the mood in the hall was overwhelmingly hostile to the heckler.

The academies scheme is contentious, as education policy goes, and a large part of that is the confusion between the academies scheme of the last Labour government and Michael Gove’s academies. The former was a radical solution to the worst failing schools. The latter is a sweeping policy to centralise education.

Paddington Academy is one of the first category (it replaced North Westminster Community School in 2006), and Joan Al-Assam’s speech should have been seen by the heckler for what it was: the complete turn-around of a failing school.

But this goes beyond policy. The fact is that this was a teenager, who stood up at a party conference and made an extremely eloquent speech to a teeming hall. I’ve already mentioned on this blog that I had been hoping to speak, and when I was trying to get the attention of the chair I was a jittering bag of nerves. I’m twenty two. I can only imagine what a fifteen/sixteen year old would be feeling.

But as I said, this was one person, and the feeling in the hall was one of hostility to the heckler. Ed Miliband has already condemned the remarks, and it seems pretty clear to me that this action, though disgusting, reflects only on that one person.

Not that it’s stopped Michael Gove from trying to capitalise on it. According to the Education Secretary, it “shows the real face of Labour“. He also thinks that “the culprit must be expelled from the party“.

Of course, since his party still permits membership for a a councillor who thought it was okay to joke about two police officers killed in the line of duty, the Nazi-partying MP Aidan Burley, and Andrew “learn your f**king place” Mitchell, I don’t think I’ll be taking any lectures from Mr Gove on this. Especially after he told the Leveson Inquiry:

Freedom of speech doesn’t mean anything unless some people are going to be offended some of the time.

And when Walter Wolfgang was ejected from the 2005 Labour conference, for heckling, David Cameron said that it:

lays bare the full absurdity of the Orwellian New Labour project

Quite.

But Conservative hypocrisy doesn’t change the fact that heckling a teenage schoolgirl who has plucked up the courage to talk to conference, about what is a Labour government success story, is disgusting. It was a sour note on which to end the conference, it’s utterly unrepresentative of Labour Party attitude as a whole, and it’s given Michael Gove the opportunity to go on the attack.

Whoever you are, I hope you’re proud of yourself.

Non-political Politics


Scenes like these, which have marred the cities of England the past few days, are disgraceful. But as well as stopping these riots, we need to find out why they have happened, if we are to prevent them from happening again

Last November, I took part in a mass-march in London, organised by the NUS, against the Tory-led coalition government’s plans to treble tuition fees. I left before they turned into the violent disorder which came to define them, but when the rage of thousands of students crashed like a wave against Millbank (containing Conservative Party HQ), it was clearly politically driven.

Over the last few days, I’ve been watching violent riots and looting, which started in North London and spread across the country. It started because the police communicated poorly after a man was shot and killed in Tottenham, and stemmed from a general deep mistrust of the police in the area. Very quickly it moved beyond that, and young people across London and other cities were rioting, looting and destroying things. And yet, the government’s line is that this isn’t political.

Now, I don’t follow that. I absolutely deplore the destruction that has been rolling across English cities, and if any of them try it here they’ll have to go through me (and, I suspect, a fair number of other Wargrave residents). But calling it “criminality pure and simple”, whilst not being inaccurate, seems to miss the point.

What these young people are doing is criminal, and should be punished, but simply saying that and ignoring any deeper causes seems at best foolish, and at worst catastrophic. Simply put, if the reasons why this has happened aren’t explored and dealt with, then it will just happen again, and in a year or maybe two the shops of London, Manchester, Birmingham and more will be aflame again.

I don’t know the answers to this. However, I have my suspicions. These riots have started, and progressed, in particularly poor areas. Branding the people who live there as “chavs” and “scum” is simplistic. They’re still people, and people who for the most part have had to live all their lives in extreme poverty, and in a materialistic society which prizes products above people. It seems clear to me that when their frustration boils over, it would take the form of such looting as we’ve been seeing.

The fact is that most of these people feel that the world, and specifically the government, don’t care about them. This is underlined by a cabinet full of millionaires, and a Prime Minister whose primary source of irritation at yesterday’s press conference seemed to be that he’d had to cut his holiday short to run the country he is paradoxically leader of. I know that I take very badly to lectures about poverty from people who have never so much as seen it. I can only imagine how angry it makes people who live in that poverty.

I agree that these riots need to stop. They are hurting a lot of people, and are an exercise in selfishness. I’m uneasy about water cannons, rubber bullets and martial law, but a police surge in London seemed to do the trick last night. But what must not happen is for this to be allowed to be labelled “non-political” and left at that.

Politics is not something that happens once every four/five years. Just because the rioters aren’t carrying placards doesn’t mean that this has nothing to do with politics. Politics includes most things in life, and the fact that these people have very little, and what they do have is being slowly taken away through government cuts and disinterest, whilst not even beginning to justify their actions, goes some way to explain the feeling behind them.

What needs to happen is an honest, open debate about why this has happened. And government refusal to engage, as hinted by Cameron’s speech, and more explicitly shown by Michael Gove trying to shout down Harriet Harman making that point on last night’s Newsnight, shows the kind of “brush it under the carpet” philosophy which could tear British society apart before this parliament is finished.

 

Defending Picket Lines


Michael Gove on the picket lines in his journalist days - yes, the same Michael Gove who would have you believe that striking is evil and abhorrent. Go figure.

Now, let me begin this post with a disclaimer: I am not some sort of raving hard-left anarchist, or any of the other frequently-misused terms for those on the fringe left. Reading this blog, and my writings in general, should reassure you of that.

But having said that, I am a supporter of the unions, and of the right to strike. I don’t support every strike, but rather base my judgements on the matter over which industrial action is being taken. So I can say now that I do indeed support tomorrow’s strike, by teachers and other public sector unions, over changes to pensions.

It’s not that I don’t think pensions should be looked at and reformed. Even the unions don’t take that line: Mark Serwotka of the PCS has said that his union is “prepared to accept Hutton’s recommendation for a public service pension scheme based on career-average earnings rather than final salaries”. This doesn’t sound like obstanant unions intent on striking and bringing down the economy to me.

In fact, what public sector workers are largely striking over is their treatment by the government- which has been shocking. Despite the fact that negotiations have been ongoing, government ministers (I’m looking at you, Danny Alexander) have made announcements about unilateral changes to the system, such as increasing the retirement age. This can only show that the government has no intention of being influenced by the negotiations, and has already made up its mind about what it will do in advance of the conclusion of the talks.

And besides, the government is continually pushing the myth that reform is essential, as public sector pensions are on the verge of spiralling out of control. At the same time, David Cameron is relying on the report by former Labour minister Will Hutton on public sector pensions. It’s a little long, but page 22 is particularly interesting. “[The Government Actuary’s Department] projected benefit payments to fall gradually to around 1.4 percent of GDP in 2059-60, after peaking at 1.9 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2010-2011.” That doesn’t sound like it’s spiralling out of control to me.

When one considers all of this in the light of the demonisation of public sector workers by the government and it’s supporting newspapers, I certainly find it difficult to see the unions as the bad guys. As I write this, there is a chain-status going around facebook which is particularly pertinent: “Remember when teachers, nurses, doctors, nursery education officers, school support staff, librarians, social workers, care assistants, bin men and lollipop ladies crashed the stock market, wiped out banks, took billions in bonuses and paid no tax? No, me neither. Please copy and paste to your status for 24 hours to show your support!” I think that sums it up. It was the private banking sector which caused the financial crash- and have they had to pay for it?

There’s been the usual Tory PR campaigning against it. Particularly Michael Gove coming out and saying that parents should volunteer to teach and keep schools over. Leaving aside that most parents wouldn’t have the time for such rubbish, most wouldn’t be qualified to teach, and none of them would have been CRB-checked for it. And then there’s the embarrassing picture of Gove on an NUJ picket line.

So, when tomorrow you’re feeling annoyed at the inconvenience caused by the strikes, stop and think a minute. Regardless of how you feel about public sector workers, they do work hard, and their treatment at the hands of the government has been horrendous. The Tories are simply looking for a scapegoat to deflect public anger away from the bankers who caused the crisis, and their economic policies which are stunting the recovery. Have a little think about whose fault your inconvenience really is.

On High Horses, and Getting Down from Them


 

I don't believe that Michael Gove and Katharine Birbalsingh are evil. I just think that they're fundamentally wrong.

Yesterday, I read an article in the Guardian. Specifically, it was in the G2 section. It was entitled “Katharine Birbalsingh: ‘I spoke at the Tory Conference, so I must be evil'”. Upon seeing the title, I made a joke that my biggest problem with her was that I couldn’t pronounce her name. Then I read the article, and realised how wrong that statement was.

 

For those of you who don’t know her, Katharine Babalsingh is the state school deputy-head who gave a speech (to standing ovation) at the 2010 Conservative Party Conference, basically saying how awful the state school she worked at was, and how right Education Secretary Michael Gove’s changes to the education system were. She was then sacked from her post by the school for bringing negative publicity on them, and the school will now be closing, largely due to lack of pupils applying.

The G2 article was published in anticipation of her book, soon to be released, which as far as I can gather is meant to be a fictionalised account of her life in teaching which will persuade all of us how awful state schools are. Except, judging from the interview, she has some of the most contemptuous views I’ve seen.

Now, let me nail my colours to the wall here. I was educated in the state school system. I attended a state primary school. I attended a state secondary school. I got good GCSEs (three A*s, seven As). I attended a state sixth-form college, and studied the International Baccalaureate. I am now in the third year of a Law degree, at the end of which I expect to get either a 2:1 or a first. I can only assume that I’m not the failing student Ms Barbalsingh is talking about.

Which is fine, I’m not saying that there aren’t state school children who are failing, of course there are. But Birbalsingh’s conclusions seem to be based on broad, sweeping, and at times rather insulting generalisations. Take this gem, for example:

…she claims that whereas private school kids read five or six novels in a year, “In a state school they might read two chapters, and then watch the film,”

Now I can tell you from the start that this is a) a generalisation, and b) an untrue one. Private school children may read more novels, I can’t testify to this; I never have, and never would, attend a private school. But to make a blanket claim that state school children don’t read is thoroughly insulting to the vast majority of us who do. When I was in year 7, I was reading the novels of Anne McCaffrey. At that point I was the exception. A year, two years later, the vast majority of my classmates would be reading for their own pleasure and personal advancement.

And I’m by no means holding up my secondary school as a shining example of what a state school should be. In many ways it was a shithole. But it wasn’t as bad (and I suspect very few in this country are as bad) as the picture Ms Birbalsingh painted.

Another thing I take objection to, is passages like this:

…inspectors are “now obsessed with making lessons ‘fun’ and ‘interactive’, through endless games and group work and the use of flashy technology”, traditional teaching methods are penalised, even if they engage the pupils and get good results.

Again, I’m sorry, but that is fundamentally rubbish. “Traditional” teaching methods (by which I can only assume she means the teacher lecturing to the class, and the class taking notes, unless she’s actually and rather slyly advocating a return to corporal punishment) are still used. They’re used where they’re appropriate, which is for the most part in heavily fact-based subjects. But even where new “fun” and “interactive” methods are used, I don’t see the downside. If they engage the children, if they get them interested in learning, then what’s the problem?

Michael Gove has, with his English Baccalaureate and other such measures, been trying to move the country back to a 1950s model of education. I realise that the 1950s are a glowing model of what the world should be like for the Tories, but the world has moved on. What was true then, is not necessarily any more. And what worked then, is not necessarily appropriate now. Privileging “academic” subjects like science, maths and history looks very nice, but on the flip-side penalises other subjects like the arts (which, honestly, this government seems to have it in for).

In the end, I just disagree with the lie that Katharine Birbalsingh is perpetuating. There are problems in state schools. Reform is needed. But this is not the right direction. I’m offended by the sweeping generalisations she makes, which as the author of the article points out serve only to demonstrate that her experience stems from a very limited base. Birbalsingh wants to be painted as a martyr, but so far as I can see, she did draw (perhaps undue, certainly inappropriate) negative attention to the school she worked at, and is likely responsible for its subsequent closure. So her dismissal, from where I’m sat, doesn’t seem unjustified.

I don’t think Michael Gove is evil, Katharine. I just think he’s wrong. And likewise, I don’t think you’re evil. I just think that you’re every bit as wrong on this subject as he is. So get off your sodding high horse woman.

The Fight to Save EMA


EMA is the latest target in the government's ongoing war on the poor and students

As I write this, a debate is going on in the House of Commons. It might not at first seem an important debate in the same way that, say, the debate on raising tuition fees was. But in this writer’s opinion, it absolutely is. The debate I’m referring to is, of course, the debate on the future of EMAs.

EMAs, for the uninitiated, are Education Maintenance Allowances. This is a payment of up to £30  per week given to further education students from poor backgrounds, to encourage and assist them in studying further. A fairly simple measure, I think, and one of the best policies that the last Labour government instigated.

The current issue being debated is the scrapping of that scheme. The government seems to be continuing its war on students. So many of the cuts that have so far been announced are going to hit young people the hardest. From the headline measures such as tuition fee rises and the cancellation of the BSF programme, to more behind the scenes cuts like the closure of the hugely successful Connexions centres. All of this whilst the bankers, who caused the economic woes that we’ve suffered recently and are still feeling the effects of, get off scott free.

I’ve seen a lot of misinformation bandied around lately by Tory supporters about EMAs. The most common seems to be that it bribes 16-18 year olds to go to school. My suspicion is that this comes from relatively well-off people.

I attended the Henley College, in Henley-on-Thames, which sounds a lot posher than it actually is. I myself didn’t qualify for EMA, but plenty of my fellow students did, and for those students it was less about bribery than it was about enabling them to attend. For a college with the wide geographic range of students like Henley College, transport was an issue. At further education level, there is no free provision of transport. And it can get damned expensive (God knows that mine was). For many students, EMAs were a lifeline which enabled them to actually get to college in order to study.

Aside from that, there are other costs in associated with studying beyond GCSE, which are difficult to meet if your family cannot foot the bill. Food, stationary, equipment. All of it costs money, which EMAs were designed to meet and help with. Taking that away, restricting it in order to save money at the expense of the poorest sectors of society, cannot be justified as anything other than a regressive move.

I could write about this all day, but instead I’ll finish with a couple of quotes:

Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping the EMA. I have never said this. We won’t.‘ -Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, in an interview with the Guardian in March 2o10.

I said we don’t have any plans to get rid of them … it’s one of those things the Labour Party keep putting out that we are but we’re not.‘ -David Cameron, Prime Minister, at a “Cameron Direct” event in January 2010.

The Lib Dems betrayed students and broke their pledge on tuition fees. Now the Tories are doing the same with EMAs. There is no difference, it’s just as regressive, just as harmful to the futures of students, and should be resisted just as hard.

Chasing Shadows


So, after much anticipation, and a fair amount of spectacle, Mr (E.) Miliband has announced his Shadow Cabinet. And the commentators and speculators had it largely wrong (that’ll teach them). So here, fresh from my first Law & Politics in Britain and North America seminar, is my after-the-fact and probably under-informed view on the choices. This isn’t, by the way, going to be a full analysis, just a bit of comment on the bits I find interesting.

The obvious starting place is the place where all the speculation and rumour seemed to congeal- the Shadow Chancellorship. Of particular importance at the moment given the amount of attention being given to the economy, many had expected (and I had personally hoped) leadership candidate Ed Balls would get the job, given his political ferocity and economic understanding. Throughout the leadership campaign he had been noteworthy as particularly informed on the economy (just see his phenomenal There Is An Alternative speech), and has been supported by a number of key economists. Failing that, it was thought that his wife Yvette Cooper might be placed opposite Osborne, drawing on her experience as Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

 

Alan Johnson MP, Shadow Chancellor and Nicest Guy in Politics

 

Well we were all wrong. In the event, Mr Miliband has lumped for former Home Secretary Alan Johnson. Johnson, winner of my personal and very unofficial Nicest Guy in Politics Award, wasn’t much touted for the job, and is a bit of an odd appointment. Part of the reason might be that he’ll be more likely to tread the new leader’s line on the economy, being a slower reduction of the deficit rather than Balls’ radical investment and economic growth beliefs. It’s a bit early to comment on Johnson’s appointment, but whilst he’s a bit of a shock, he’s quite a diplomatic choice- probably designed to placate David Miliband’s supporters.

So consequently, Mr Balls has ended up as Shadow Home Secretary. I’m quite glad of this, to be

 

Ed Balls MP, Shadow Home Secretary

 

honest. As I said above, Ed is a fiery opponent, and I look forward to seeing him take on Theresa May and her one jacket (which is actually of particular interest, as one of Ms May’s constituents). I’m hoping that Ed will take the same hard line against cuts to the police, and policies on immigration which could potentially be disastrous to the recovering economy.

Yvette Cooper, meanwhile, sits herself down in the newly-vacated seat of David Miliband, as Shadow Foreign Secretary. This might seem an odd choice, but makes perfect sense, I think. William Hague (the Foreign Secretary) is famed as particularly talented orator, and whilst Ms Cooper may not have the same profile as the former Conservative Leader, I can assure you that she is a very talented politician. Iain Duncan Smith will be breathing a sigh of relief that he won’t be facing her across the dispatch box.

 

Andy Burnham MP, Shadow Education Secretary

 

The only other leadership candidate (aside from the two Eds) to make it into the cabinet is Andy Burnham, who has been given Balls’ old brief in Education. This appointment I can genuinely say I am thrilled with. Just as Gove is poking his head out from behind the barricade and wondering if it’s safe to come out now that the nasty Mr Balls has moved on, here comes another heavyweight. In particular, Andy’s line on fairness and equality throughout the leadership campaign fits perfectly here, and with Balls having moved to the Home Office, I can’t think of anyone better to fight the inequality and foolishness of Gove’s education policies.

Sadiq Kahn, the man who ran Ed Miliband’s successful leadership campaign, is rewarded with a brief opposite Ken Clarke in the Ministry of Justice. This is quite a promotion, for the man who was formerly Minister for Transport, and no doubt reflects his loyal service to the new leader. It’s also going to be a fairly difficult task, standing opposite one of the few men who I will laud as a “sensible” Conservative.

To finish, I’m glad to see that Shaun Woodward and Peter Hain have been worked into the cabinet, despite not qualifying through the election. Counter-democratic as it may be argued, I think that the election of the shadow cabinet is daft, and Peter Hain needed to be included so that a Welshman could be placed shadowing the Welsh Secretary. As for Shaun Woodward, I genuinely like the guy. He had the strength of character to follow his principles, and cross the floor from the Tories to Labour, which deserves respect, and I am thoroughly glad to see him as Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary.

That’s just a taste of the new Shadow Cabinet, and if you want to see the whole list then the BBC News Website has helpfully got them all listed for you. As for how effective the various members will be in their new roles remains to be seen. But the fact is that with the results of the spending review being announced in a fortnight, they’re going to have to hit the ground running. This should make for good politics, and exciting watching.

I’m Backing Balls


Ed Balls is the man with the passion, oratory skill, and technical understanding to best stand up to the unfair Con-Dem coalition, and make Labour values and principles effective in opposition

So here it is. On 1st September 2010, the ballots will start to go out to Party members for the voting stage of the Leadership contest. And in anticipation of this, I’m declaring my support, and my first preference vote for Ed Balls, MP for Morley and Outwood.

When the candidates were announced, I’ll admit that I didn’t expect Ed to be my first choice. I didn’t know all that much about him then, he was a figure in the Labour cabinet, Minister for Education, and that was about all I knew.

Since the election, however, he has proved himself to me as a gifted politician, and a man dedicated to the ideals of social justice upon which Labour is founded. After fighting tooth and nail in the General Election almost five months ago to win a difficult seat, and after choosing to fight for the leadership, he has thrown himself into opposition.

Ed understands the dangers of the coalition policies. He understands the terrible risks that Cameron, Osborne and Clegg are taking with the economy, placing an unfair burden on the very poorest in society. He recognises the need not to simply focus on his leadership campaign, but that the the fight back has to begin immediately.

In the five short months since the Coalition entered government, Ed has fought them on all the important issues. He has embarrassed and exposed the elitist hypocrisy of the Coalition education policies. On BBC Question Time, he outshone Business Secretary Vince Cable. And he has come out swinging against the cuts that risk our fragile economic recovery. He has put the fear of Labour and of the people into the Coalition front bench already- imagine what he could do as party leader.

This leadership election is massively important, and I would not presume to tell anyone how to vote. All members of the party should take equal responsibility, and take the time to research the candidates to make their own judgements on who is best. We are in a fortunate position, in that all of the candidates are fine politicians, who would bring their own advantages to the party. This puts the party members in an unenviable position of trying to decide which of them is best.

As I’ve already said, I think that is Ed Balls. He has the fire in his belly to fight for the people of this country, who now more than ever need Labour to be standing up for them. He has the economic understanding to be able to outmatch the Coalition’s atrocious ideological mishandling of the economy. I’d highly recommend to anyone considering how to cast their vote, that they read his “There is an Alternative” speech from earlier today. Ed knows what he’s talking about, and is ready to stand up for what is right.

If you’re not yet a Labour Party member, but care about this country and the future we face, then you can still join and cast a vote in the Leadership election, up to September 8th. I urge you to consider this. The importance of a strong opposition cannot be overstated, particularly given the contradictory alliance of Tory and Lib Dem that is currently doling out injustices and irresponsibilities. That strength starts with a strong leader.

If you’re interested in joining the party, then take a look at the Labour Homepage. If I’ve caught your interest in regards to Ed Balls, then please take a look at his campaign page, and see first hand what I’m talking about.