Tuesday, December 20, 2005

White Paper wedgie

Jackie Ashley argues that the Cameron effect, combined with Blair's insistence on pressing ahead with school reform, is putting intolerable stress on the Parliamentary Labour Party, which can only be cured by his departure:
"Blair is going, and cabinet discipline is beginning to slacken, as John Prescott demonstrated yesterday with a rare but deadly blast against the prime minister's education reforms. The Tories will make things as uncomfortable for Blair as possible, by embracing him and shaking their heads sadly at any concession he makes to the rest of the Labour party. The longer he remains, the easier it is to drive a wedge through the cabinet."
If it is true, and it seems likely, that Blair has gone into messianic mode over this, it is a reckless move that will probably end his political career - regardless of whether the bill passes or not. This feels like a confrontation too far and like a number of the fights Blair picks with his own party, an unnecessary one. A defeat of the Bill wouldn't be required to finish Blair, or even if the Bill passed only with the support of the Tories. I would have thought even a demonstration that the Education White Paper is more popular with the Conservatives than with Labour MPs in the division lobbies would be enough to fatally wound Blair.

Jackie Ashley's argument is easily the best from the Guardian's 'Blair should go' camp because in this the risk of serious internal damage to the Labour Party is great. Only dropping these reforms completely or diluting them beyond recognition can avert this and if Blair insists on pushing ahead with them and making his personal authority synonymous with supporting him in this, well, hell mend him.

It's strategically wrong to press ahead with this Education Bill, both for Blair and the Labour Party, even if it were a good idea. But it isn't - in as far as anyone can make any sense of what's being proposed. A pointless fight to introduce re-heated ideas that failed under the Tories - a heart-breaking waste of time, not least because long after we've all forgot what effect this all had on the careers of the key protagonists in this mini-drama, there will be legislation on the statute books that is bound to be a complete dog's breakfast, given the haste and the sloppy thinking involved. And it's this that will determine the future shape of our education system - until the next lot decide it's time for another educational Great Leap Forward.

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