Coffee House

Tory MPs hunt new Labour education shadow

22 April 2013

5:09 PM

22 April 2013

5:09 PM

The other interesting thing about Ed Miliband’s personnel ‘lurch to the left’ last week was that he appointed Tristram Hunt to Labour’s shadow education team to replace Karen Buck. If CCHQ was excited about Buck becoming the Labour leader’s PPS, then Tory MPs were just as energised today by Hunt’s presence on the frontbench at departmental question time.

Andrew Rosindell asked a question about the history curriculum. As Michael Gove came to the end of his answer and Rosindell rose to ask his supplementary question, Tory backbencher David Ruffley started to shout ‘come on, Tristram!’ He repeated his heckling, wiggling his hands in a ‘stand-up-for-yourself’ gesture. Hunt, naturally, didn’t respond, and Liz Truss later quipped that it was a shame the House hadn’t heard Hunt’s view on the history curriculum.


Why the fuss? Well, Hunt is a renowned historian, but he’s also on the Blairite wing of the party (as is his boss Stephen Twigg), and Tory MPs think he’ll bring what they cheerily describe as ‘debate’ to the Labour team. That ‘debate’ might include his support for the Education Secretary’s plans for history. In March, he wrote a piece for The Times which said the proposals were flawed but important:

‘What is more, he is right to put British history at the forefront of teaching. The extraordinarily aggressive response by teachers and professionals to the Gove plans misreads history’s place in the education system.’

Hunt has criticised Gove’s approach to the subject before. In 2011 he argued that ministers ‘need to stop interfering; headteachers need to be braver about league tables and the type of education they are offering’: in other words, he thinks teachers should be trusted to teach history well. He praised academies in particular, which do not have to follow the national curriculum.

This is of course the great irony of Gove’s curriculum reforms. He is particularly passionate about the history element – those who work with him say he carries the relevant documents around with him like a newborn baby, and that prising them from him requires quite some skill – yet it will not apply to the models of school that he loves best.

Other Tory MPs think Hunt’s belief that free schools are a ‘vanity project for yummy mummies in West London’ will cause tensions in the party just as Stephen Twigg appears to be formalising some sort of role for these schools by giving local authorities some oversight of them. Education questions, which is always a lively affair, might be about to get even more interesting.

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Show comments
  • Norman Pratt

    China in the 16th century and Spain in the 17th began to downgrade other people’s culture and history: it was one of the first signs that their empires were in decline. The extraordinary reaction of the History teaching establishment is because the proposed History syllabus is so deeply flawed that there has been no opportunity to engage with it on a rational basis. Here’s the syllabus:
    If you read the ‘topics’ for 11-14 year-olds they form an undifferentiated list, with absolutely no indication of how much ‘weight’ each topic requires. However, just do the Maths: there are something like 135 topics requiring an hour or more of teaching time, with, say, 120 hours available. It is possible, I suppose, that politicians have understood the role of History in the curriculum and History teachers haven’t, but at least teachers can count.

  • BuBBleBus

    Ah yes, Hunt: the lardy-dar Socialist parachuted in as the Stoke-on-Trent candidate ahead of local Labour candidates in 2010. Makes you sick it does. Get back to the Great Wen, you Engels-loving twerp.

  • Chris Woolley

    just struggling with Twigg being anyone’s boss. Can’t be true can it?

  • John Moss

    I am not 100% sure, but I recall that in 2001, Tristram Hunt came along to do a bit of campaigning for his old college chum Nicholas Boys-Smith who was standing as the Conservative candidate in Walthamstow. As I say, not 100% sure, but he does look familiar.

    • telemachus

      we are thankfully past the times when antagonistic political positions needed to be adopted, and now most MPs, whether Conservative or Socialist, have more or less the same views. This can only be a good thing going forward. The convergence of political views will bring about greater cohesion and national unity.

      • HookesLaw

        Yes. Speaking personally I Love Big Brother.

        • telemachus

          with Global Warming, and increasing population and reducing resources, it makes sense more and more for us all to submit to a global organising authority so that everything is shared out fairly. The age of confrontation politics must come to an end. I bet that by 2030 there will be a Government of National Unity and we will not need or want any more General Elections.


          • Chris Morriss

            Are you thinking of writing your life story and calling it ‘My Struggle’ as well?

          • Fergus Pickering

            Come in, Startreck. Or Adolf of course.

      • Sue Ward

        Please don’t use the dreadful management cliche “going forward”. It’s bad enough hearing it 30000 times a day at work!