Tuesday, May 22, 2007

David Cameron and grammars: the Tories' clause 4?

Peter Riddell thinks not. For one, he argues, it wasn't a premeditated confrontation with sections of the party that were perceived to represent unelectability in the way Blair's move to scrap clause 4 obviously was.

The other is that this is actually an issue of substance. Grammar schools actually exist - and many Tories would like to see more.

Clause 4, in contrast, was purely symbolic: only a fantasist could believe the party's retention of this arcane document meant a future Labour administration would be committed to the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange.

He's right about this, I think - as is Steve Richards, who points out that the advocates of grammars in the Tory party far outweigh those in the Labour party who ever seriously believed Clause 4 represented a template for a future government.

Yet it's more like Clause 4 than either of these allow. For while Cameron may not have deliberately chosen this as an issue on which to confront his party, this is what it has become nevertheless. And where the analogy holds is that while it may not be exactly essential, it would be nevertheless beneficial for Cameron to be seen to defeat the section within his own party that is rooted in the past.

The other reason is that while grammar schools do indeed exist, there are after all only 164 of them in the country: the idea that a future Tory government would extend the selection principle such as it operates in Buckinghamshire to the entire country really is a fantasy. Not one quite on the Arthur Scargill scale of delusion - but a fantasy nonetheless.

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