All posts tagged 'Ed-Miliband'

Will voters be charged by Labour's energy pledge?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, September 26 2013

After its 2010 meltdown, where it lost all its MPs in Kent, Labour has been pondering just how it can overcome the "Southern Discomfort" phenomenon that has seen voters desert the party in droves.

Ed Miliband's pledge to freeze energy prices is one designed to encourage voters to think that Labour understands the pain of "hard-working" families.

Superficially, it looks attractive and is likely to appeal to those who open their monthly bills with their hands over their eyes.

It also plays into the perception Labour is keen to create that the Conservatives are more on the side of big companies and that it is the party that is standing up for ordinary families.(If you are looking for a parallel Conservative policy, the council tax freeze has the same aim).

On the other hand, there is the charge that the plan represents some kind of return to old-style Labour politics and greater state regulation of the kind that led to anti-competitive price controls.

The faultline with this line of attack is that many feel the lack of regulation and intervention by the government was one of the prime reason for the banking crisis and the current state of the economy.

Alarmist talk from the industry that the plan risks power cuts and the artificial inflation of fuel prices before a freeze has taken some of the shine of the announcement.

But Labour will calculate the public antipathy to the vested interests of big corporate organisations and the feeling  there are market monopolies will help its efforts to woo back disaffected voters.

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Why would you be interested in a report titled "Constitutional Amendments To Reflect The Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings And Access To Information) (England) Regulations 2012 - unless, of course, you are a fan of brackets?

Well, one reason might be that within it is a recommendation that just might make it more difficult for the opposition parties at County Hall to challenge and hold to account the ruling Conservative administration.

Why? Because under rule changes voted through last week, if a county councillor wants to "call in" a decision taken by the cabinet, or an individual cabinet member, they will no longer be able to do so on their own.

Instead, they will have to get another councillor to support the request to call in the decision - and that second person cannot be from the same party.

According to KCC, the change is required because the current rules are not clear and "does not provide sufficient guidance for members as to when and why a call-in might be used".

Now, in reality it probably won't be too difficult for a councillor to persuade a colleague to support a call in request - and it shouldn't be forgotten that Conservative backbenchers also like to call in decisions to scrutinise.

Nevertheless, it adds to the impression that sometimes KCC is not as keen on being held to account as perhaps it should be.

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And on that theme, it looks as though KCC has been rather heavy-handed in responding to criticism from one of its public health managers who had the temerity to speak out over the authority's pension investments in tobacco companies.

The individual has now been threatened with disciplinary action after making the comments - the council contending on rather thin and Orwellian grounds that she had made "unauthorised statements" to the media.

Talk about over the top. Why is the council so fearful of people expressing opinions?

A shocking example of the control-freakery sadly all too prevalent at County Hall where any "on message" deviation seems to result in a North Korean style crackdown.

No wonder some staff say they work for a paranoid organisation.

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A sea change: is the political tide really turning UKIP's way?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Sunday, May 5 2013

UKIP did not win control of any councils and three quarters of people who turned out did not actually vote for them. But it is a measure of the impact it had on the political landscape on Thursday that it has succeeded  in becoming the talking point in the debate about whether the the political map of Britain has been radically redrawn.

No mean achievement for a party dismissed as clowns, loonies and fruitcakes by their opponents.

The Kent County Council election  results and reaction>>>>

Nowhere was their success more shocking or stunning than Kent where against even the most optimistic predictions they came tantalisingly close to depriving the Conservatives of securing control of County Hall for the first time in two decades. From a standing start, they took seat after seat from the Conservatives, who were paralysed with anxiety that their grip on KCC was being loosened. To end up with more seats than Labour and the Liberal Democrats and become the formal opposition was truly staggering.

There are lots of reasons why UKIP did well and it may be that in Kent, sensitivities around issues like immigration and asylum seekers were more pronounced and resonated more with voters than elsewhere. It is telling that the areas where they did particularly well - Thanet and Shepway - are both places which have had deep rooted problems with economic deprivation and have also been areas where the impact of new communities have been seen and felt at first hand.

In fact, while the party did target Thanet, it did not have a concerted campaign in Shepway yet nearly pulled off a clean sweep of all five seats with very little canvassing. Gains in Swale - another area where the recession has hit - were also notable.The exception is the affluent west Kent town of Tunbridge Wells, where it also won seats.

More than that, UKIP has tapped into widespread voter antipathy and disenchantment with mainstream politics and mainstream political parties: its success has a lot to do with people regarding it as anti-establishment; anti-elite and somehow outside the system - a perfect repository for protest votes. But it has also tapped into a major issue that the big parties have spent too long pussy-foting around - Britain's role and future in the EU. The unwilllingnes of the main parties to be explicit (particularly in terms of time scale) about when people might be given a say has been devastating for them.

But after the euphoria of Thursday's results, there comes the cold reality of the consequences of suddenly finding yourself elected to office.

UKIP county councillors will troop into County Hall next week for an induction programme that will remind them that as locally-elected representatives, they will not be able - much as they like -  to spend the next four years banging on about an EU referendum and immigration. They will all be receiving allowances of around £13,000 to represent constituents whose interests may well be rather more parochial but no less important  - the state of their roads, school places, families dealing with difficult social services issues and planning.

The ability of UKIP to build on the momentum that it has will not be based on how loudly local councillors shout about the need for a referendum on Europe. If they want to be more than a flash in the pan and establish a secure position as a genuine political alternative, voters will need to be convinced they can tackle and influence policy in ways that affect - for the better - the 300 different services that Kent County Council provides. It will also be interesting to see how and if the 17-strong group, all newcomers with one or two exceptions, to the world of local government, remain a cohesive unit.

Parties that achieve success quickly and unexpectedly can sometimes find it awkward adjusting to the demands of being elected to public office and it was intriguing hearing in private how some Conservatives at KCC are already speculating over the prospects of "turning" some of the new UKIP councillors and returning them to the Tory fold.

The other challenge, allied to this, is that UKIP's USP - a movement outside the political system - has actually been undermined by their stunning success. They are, in a sense, no longer outsiders looking in at mainstream politics. If they believe the hype and really do consider they are part of a four-party system, then the consequence is that people will at a council level particularly be judging them on what they actually do rather than on what they say.

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For the Conservatives in Kent, the election was a sobering moment. Only once in its history have the Conservatives lost control of County Hall, back in 1993. That they came within a whisker of losing outright control last Thursday was a discomfiting experience, to put it mildy. In one sense, they were not being punished because of their track record over the last four years but were being punished for the perceived failings of the coalition, which is what they had expected.

But I do think that the party has to do more than blame the dismal results on mid-term blues. Senior Conservatives in Kent have been quick to turn their fire on the national leadership, with KCC leader Paul Carter being particularly damning - accusing some in his party at Westminster of acting more like Lib Dems than Conservatives.

Implicit in this is the idea that the party's woes can be dealt with by a lurch to the right. I am not so sure. The received wisdom so far as general elections are concerned is that they are won and lost in the middle ground. Tony Blair won three because he realised that in places like Kent, classic middle England territory, you had to appeal to the centre ground to deliver victory. 

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Labour has insisted that it is satisfied with the progress it has made in Kent but it fell short of its key objective: recapturing all the seats it had lost back in 2009.

For it to have shown it was making real advances, it should have won more and the fact that it has secured too few to even be the official opposition at County Hall is not where it wants or needs to be. Ed Miliband staked a lot by coming to traditional Tory heartland during the campaign but on these results, it seems the party still has a Southern Discomfort issue.

Their one hope may be that over the next four years, there will inevitably be  a handful of by-elections. The Tories need only lose a few seats for the arithmetic to be changed in a way that just might lead to the authority having a different rainbow coalition.

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We expect the jungle drums at County Hall to be beating with news of a Conservative cabinet reshuffle within a few days. The defeat of the well-regarded cabinet member for schools Mike Whiting means there will have to be changes. Education remains one of the key roles and there are many awkward issues looming, not least trying to persuade Michael Gove to back the KCC plans for a new grammar school.

The other gossip surrounds the future of the deputy leader Alex King, who was unable to be at his count after breaking his leg. It could be that his tenure as the reliable second-in-command could be coming to an end. If it is, perhaps the role could go to the Sevenoaks councillor Roger Gough - well-thought of, intelligent and potentially a good foil to the rather direct style of the current leader.

But I also think he'd make a good education cabinet member. And whenever I make these predictions, they usually turn out to be well wide of the mark so you might be advised to disregard them...

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Precept

Miliband makes a pitch for the middle ground but will it remedy the party's southern discomfort

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, October 3 2012

Ever since Labour was wiped off the electoral map in Kent at the last general election, party members and activists have spent much of their time pondering their "southern discomfort" and what they needed to do to win back the voters that deserted them in their droves. 

Ed Miliband, like other Labour leaders, is well aware that unless he can capture seats in places like Kent, he can give up any aspiration to take the keys to 10 Downing Street off David Cameron.

Which is why his pitch to position the party on the centre ground in his conference speech was important, encapsulated by the comment that Labour needed to be the party of the south as much as the north.

Whether swing voters in Kent's key marginal seats who became disenchanted by Blair and New Labour will be won round by the One Nation philosophy is another matter.

I've always thought that Blair's skill was not to present sceptical voters in key target areas like the south east with a list of electoral goodies (despite the well-publicised "pledge" card back in 1997) but to ensure they understood what he wouldn't do.

Miliband has astutely shown he understands this but voters will not go into the polls in 2015 with warm feelings about his "One Nation" exhortations or pledge to take on vested interests.

Where they put their cross on the ballot paper will depend on the state of the economy, the security of their jobs and what parties say they will do about spiralling household and fuel bills, all of which have blighted families in the region arguably more so than elsewhere.

The speech was short on substance in terms of policy detail and you could say Labour is right not to create hostages to fortune two years away from an election.

But the battle for middle England will require Labour to put rather more flesh on the bones of its policies than there is just now.

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It was intriguing to hear Ed Miliband extol the virtues of his comprehensive education in north London. But he steered well clear of any comment about his views on grammar schools and selection.

It may have been "smart politics" as one Labour activist put it to me but it seems that Miliband has, like Tony Blair, adopted the Italian code of omerta when it comes to this rather awkward topic for his party.

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Categories: Politics

Will Miliband's pledges restore Labour's fortunes in Kent? Plus: Is the leadership battle at County Hall already over?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, September 28 2011

A couple of months ago, former Labour minister John Denham told party activists in Kent: "Labour’s values and traditions put us in the best position to respond to southern voters’ fears and aspirations."

The conundrum of how to restore the party's fortunes in a county where the Conservatives took every single seat in 2010 and wiped out seven Labour MPs in the process has been testing party minds ever since that catastrophic night.

Ed Miliband knows as well as anyone that if he is to become the next PM, he has to win seats in Kent. His speech - as most leaders' speeches are - was more about striking the right mood and pushing the right buttons not just for activists but for those in key 'middle England' seats.

Acknowledging that the party lost trust on the economy and saying a future Labour government would only spend what it could afford were important, although it's worth pointing out that it was under Blair, the ultimate middle England seducer, that the government responded to the apparent desire among voters for more investment in public services by ploughing more money into the public sector at a time when - with hindsight - we ought not to have been.

An interesting poll of Conservative marginal seats by Lord Ashcroft this week indicated that voters'  top concerns are the economy and jobs; the NHS and immigration - the latter being a real touchstone issue in Kent and the south east but a subject Miliband ignored altogether.

On the economy and jobs, the Conservatives are 7 points behind Labour in those seats where Labour is the main challenger; tackling the deficit and debt are not seen as important.

So Miliband is right to focus on that but the concept of a new 'bargain' for the country struck me as odd. I didn't really know what he meant and I'm not sure voters will either. Some of the rhetoric was actually resonant of Cameron but his refrain that the wrong people with the wrong values were being rewarded above those with the right values was strong and likely to strike a chord with families losing tax credits, facing uncertainty about their jobs and struggling to pay rising fuel, food and transport bills.

Perhaps Labour's biggest hope come the next election is that they will be going to the polls against a likely backdrop of four years of fairly relentless cutbacks in all public services and an economy still in the doldrums.  Whether that is enough to recover any of the ground lost in 2010 is another matter altogether.

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It depends on who you talk to but the whispers at County Hall are that the current leader Paul Carter will not be sorely tested by the threat of a leadership challenge in mid October.

His rival candidates - who appear to have taken a Trappist vow of silence (at least in so far as public pronouncements are concerned) - are said to be struggling to get any momentum. An insider suggested that one was actually yet to find either a proposer or a seconder although both have another week to go before nominations have to be in.

There is universal support for Cllr Carter among his cabinet colleagues and none are said to be contemplating entering the contest. All this has left some gloomy backbenchers rather restless but resigned to the outcome. But as one said: "At least there will have to be change of emphasis because he will have to take account of the fact that he was not elected unopposed for the first time."

 

 

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Categories: Precept

Kent's political map: the real story of the election results so far

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, May 6 2011

Ed Miliband urged voters ahead of the polls to use their vote to register their dissatisfaction with the government - a tactical ploy commonly used by parties in opposition. So what did they do in Kent? So far, the messages are rather mixed. Ed, who is heading to Gravesham this morning to congratulate his party's candidates on their success in north Kent, has not in truth really made a huge breakthrough in the county.

Kent's election results - read all our up-to-date coverage here>>

Yes, it has won Gravesham but not because it wiped out a huge majority - it grabbed a handful of seats that were enough to tip the balance of power their way. Labour also made enough gains in Thanet to claim a sort of victory even if the council is hung.

But Mr Miliband will need to ask himself why it was that voters in Gravesham appeared to hear his plea while those in neighbouring Dartford were deaf to it, as they were in Medway. If voters were prepared to back the ruling Conservative administrations at some town halls in Kent, why not in others?

In fact, the results in Medway strike me as particularly concerning for Labour. I'd expected them to make some significant gains at the expense of the Tories but they failed to do so - the Conservative vote held up strongly and Labour's inroads were largely at the expense of the Lib Dems, who look to be imploding in Kent and will have hardly any councillors here by the end of  the day.

Medway has become totemic for both the Labour party and the Conservatives. In the endless battle to win over the squeezed middle, both know that at a general election that unless they win seats there, they are unlikely to form the next government. Of coures, we are only one year into the coalition government and the impact of the spending cuts are still filtering through, so voters may have been disinclined to give the Conservatives a bloody nose.

But even so, not to claim any scalps from the Conservatives will be a major disappointment.

It is not a good day to be a Lib Dem in Kent. They are clearly paying a price for the unpopularity of the national party and its role in the coalition and their desperate efforts to distance themselves from national policies have proved a failure. It will take some time for them to regroup - look at the wipeout of their councillors in Shepway. I expect something similar could be on the cards in Canterbury where traditionally, the city has been something of a stronghold for the party.

Conservative activists will be pretty happy with how things are going so far. I doubt they'll be troubled too much elsewhere in Kent, with the possible exception of Dover. They will hold sway in the bulk of town halls for the next four years - which, if things are going to get as bad as everyone expects in the public sector, may prove to be something of a mixed blessing.

The map of Kent may no longer completely blue but there needs to be rather more shades of red if Labour is to claim that it is back as a political force in the county.



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Categories: election

Is the cost of FOI really too high? Plus: Why Labour are cautious about the elections

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, April 21 2011

Politicians are prone to grumble that Freedom of Information requests cost too much time and money councils and others spend dealing with them - particularly from the media - might be better put to other uses.

But how much of a burden is it? And are the costs really making a significant dent in the finances of public bodies?

Kent County Council produces some interesting data on the issue which suggest that some of the assertions from politicians might be over-stated.

In 2010, KCC dealt with 1,539 separate requests - about three times as many as when the Act first came into force in 2005. It estimates that the hours spent dealing with these requests was 4,779 and the average cost of dealing with a request was £78 - compared to £71 the previous year.

But the bulk of requests did not come from journalists. The media accounted for 16 per cent of all requests; private individuals accounted for 58 per cent and companies 18 per cent. The costs of dealing with 246 requests from the media were £19,188. In the context of KCC's annual £2.4billion budget, that represents 0.00007995 per cent of its total spend. Now, to me that's pretty small beer.

It's far less, for example, than the £1.7m KCC has to spend on members allowances and expenses each year which, we are usually reminded, accounts for 0.07 per cent of its budget.

But the issue is not just about costs, it is about value. It strikes me that a lot of the information that is elicited by journalists has brought into the public domain data and information of bona fide public interest. That our politicians grumble about it rather reinforces this point.

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Ed Miliband was cautious to  play down Labour's prospects in Kent at the council elections on May 5. You can understand why. Although there are some hopes the party may wrest control of two or three councils - Dover, Thanet and Gravesham are being targeted - the party is starting from a very low base after being wiped off the county's political map over recent years, culminating in the catastrophic general election last year when they lost all their remaining MPs.

The view is that despite the cutbacks and continuing recession, the disaffection with the coalition government has not yet reached a point where people are out to give it a serious bloody nose. More like a gentle reproach. The Conservatives have also been fortunate that the backlash has been more pronounced against the Liberal Democrats over what the public perceive as broken pledges.

So I don't see major upheaval in Kent happening in a fortnight. What will be interesting to see is how the Lib Dems fare. Candidates appear desperate to detach themselves both from the leader Nick Clegg and in some cases, even the party. I'm told that election literature from some candidates in north Kent carefully avoid mentioning who they are standing for. 

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Categories: ema | Local Politics

More on how your money is spent - including a £4.50 taxi ride

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, October 1 2010

We've reported more on how County Hall has spent public money through its corporate credit cards today, along with some other interesting details about how the taxpayer has picked up the tab for a £4.50 taxi ride made by former chief executive Peter Gilroy.

The County Hall Spending Files>>>

There are some who think we have been wrong to present our disclosures in the way we have; some who think we are being too critical and sensationalising the subject and some who think (wrongly) that there is some other reason for our coverage - which has been based purely on our judgement that it is very much in the public interest and a subject our readers will find interesting to read about - whatever their views.

Others believe that if a public body is embracing transparency, then it cannot pick and choose which transactions it would prefer to be transparent about. One point worth making here is that many of the transactions that we have detailed fall below the £500 threshold set by the government at which all councils will be required to put into the public domain data on all invoices above that sum.

So, had the information not been gathered by a concerned resident and passed to us, a considerable amount of it would never have seen the light of day. KCC has rightly come round to the view that being open is a virtue and one that ultimately will be good for it and the residents it is there to serve.

As its own report unveiling its plans for a new transparency regime says, it is important that residents are able to make judgements about not just the costs they, as taxpayers, are bearing but that they can also make judgments about the value of what is being done with their money.

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Interestingly, the new Labour group leader on the Local Government Association has hit out at the government's transparency plans, asserting that they are a waste of time and councils have better things to do. You can read about it here Some of the comments are illuminating.

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I've blogged a couple of times about how Ed Miliband might play with the voters of Kent - especially the 80,000+ that deserted the party between 2005 and 2010. I've suggested he might become the Iain Duncan Smith of the party. But I was talking to a colleague who suggested a better comparison might be with William Hague, who had an ill-fated attempt to lead the party out of the wilderness after its nightmare of a defeat in 1997.  Just steer clear of the baseball cap, Ed. 


 

How Ed's election will go down in the business community

by The Business Blog, with Trevor Sturgess Thursday, September 30 2010

The election of the “wrong” brother to lead the Labour Party is unlikely to be good news for business.

That Ed Miliband owes his position so much to the trade unions will be a running sore. If activists threaten a winter of discontent, he may try to restrain them but they will always be able to retort “we put you there - keep quiet.”

Employers may find a revival in union militancy insufficiently curbed by a new leadership that is likely to be more pro-union than New Labour.

I read a lot about the end of New Labour and getting back to core support under a “new generation.” But surely it was Tony Blair’s creation of New Labour and its shift to the centre ground of British politics that ensured those election victories. It engaged Middle England and that engagement is vital to Labour if it wants to get back into power.

I’m sure that most Middle England voters in Kent would have preferred David Miliband, and it is strange that Labour rejects a man with so much experience at senior level in favour of someone with so little. I suppose it’s a bit like businesses that turn their back on an experienced employee in favour of an outsider with shiny-new appeal. But that lustre often fades as the organisation has second thoughts about their choice.

It is curious to think that had David been more ruthless about deposing Gordon Brown, he may well have been PM today, rather than playing second fiddle to his kid brother and quitting frontline politics.

I interviewed him at the Thames Gateway forum a few years ago and even then he seemed a leader-in-waiting, with an accessible personality, lots of intelligence and popular support.

Ed may surprise us, but he has a lot of obstacles to surmount if he is to win the wholehearted support of business  and a majority of Kent voters.

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Categories: Business | National Politics

Will Ed do it for Labour in Kent?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Monday, September 27 2010

What does Ed Miliband need to do to restore his party's fortunes sufficiently for Labour to be in with a chance of recapturing the seats it relinquished to the Conservatives in May?

I've been trying to ask some former Kent Labour MPs this question. One I contacted this morning said rather cryptically that he wasn't making any public comment on party politics.

But Paul Clark, the former Gillingham MP and Labour MEP Peter Skinner who I have spoken to both identified immigration as ther party's achilles heel - both at the election and now. Their analysis is that the government was not direct enough about telling voters what it was doing to tackle the issue and introduced measures - such as the points system - too late.

Read my latest story on Ed Miliband

Both also said that the recession had made the subject even more combustible - unlike 2005, when it was still there but because there was no economic downturn and people were not losing their jobs.

They also complained that the government had somehow managed to think  that it had got its message out when all the experiences they were having while canvassing and talking to voters on the doorstep was that no-one thought enough was being done. A classic communications breakdown and a surprising one given the party's supposed reputation for being able to spin.

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I must admit to predicting the wrong result while watching the live coverage of the event on the BBC on Saturday. David Miliband positively radiated optimism while Ed looked like he'd swallowed a wasp and washed it down with neat lemon juice.

Still, I was in good company thinking that Dave had got it. So did the BBC's Nick Robinson, who also called it for the elder brother.

 

 

 

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Categories: Local Politics | National Politics

The academy revolution's slow start

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Thursday, September 2 2010

There's not exactly been a huge rush among Kent’s schools to become one of Michael Gove’s new-fangled academies.

In fact, only one of the county’s 600-odd schools is in the academy vanguard of about 120 that was established this week.

A handful more in Kent will join the bandwagon in October.

Critics have suggested that all this points to a less than ringing endorsement of the programme. (At County Hall, I daresay politicians and officials will no doubt be secretly relieved they have been spared a wholesale defection)

I think they could be wrong. Most schools will have decided to wait and see what the programme has to offer and how others fare before jumping in with two feet into an initiative that has promised much but in a rather imprecise and intangible way.

I don’t expect the initial trickle to become a flood but we have been here before. When Margaret Thatcher offered schools the chance to opt out of council control and become grant maintained, many governors stayed their hand but were eventually won over – not least by the promise of extra cash. It took time for the policy to become popular.

If schools see others reaping benefits and enjoying their new-found freedoms, particularly as budget cuts hit home, we will soon be seeing a splintering of the system in Kent and elsewhere.

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Mind you, it's interesting to see Michael Gove set out plans for failing primary schools to become academies. I'm confused. nder the government's proposals, I thought it was - at least in the first instance - only "outstanding" schools that could join the scheme.

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NEW Labour’s temerity over grammar schools was powerfully illustrated by the fiendishly complicated ballot legislation it devised to supposedly offer parents a chance to vote on scrapping them.

The legislation introduced in 1998 was so skewed against grammar opponents, it was used just once. Which was precisely what Tony Blair wanted.

So, what do those vying for the party leadership think of the issue of selection?

Step forward contender Ed Miliband who says in an interview that as leader he would take a look at the legislation.

He’s couched his promise in a rather safe way, mind you, as you can tell:

"I think that an issue has been raised about the system of ballots for grammar schools and whether the right people get a chance to vote in the ballots. I'm not giving you a definitive answer, I'm saying it is an issue to be looked at."

A politician not giving a definitive answer? Whatever next?

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A politician not giving a definitive answer? Whatever next?

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Categories: Local Politics | National Politics | Education

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