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The Trojan Horse affair illuminates a vital difference between the Tories and Labour.

10 June 2014

10:01 AM

10 June 2014

10:01 AM

The reaction to the Trojan Horse scandal has, in my view, been as interesting – and telling – as anything in the scandal itself. It is not, of course, surprising that opposition parties, including the Liberal Democrats, should seek to make capital from the drama in Birmingham but the manner in which they do so remains valuably illuminating.

Gove-bashing plays well with the loyal remnants of the Lib Dem base and given the choice between pandering to his base or defending liberalism Nick Clegg must these days pander to his base. So be it.

The case of Tristram Hunt is more interesting. The dismal thing about Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour party is the manner in which he appears determined to abandon the noblest parts of his inheritance.

Despite 2008 And All That, Miliband was bequeathed a workable, even in some respects admirable, legacy. On a number of fronts including, but not limited to, playing by the EU’s rules on free movement of labour and the establishment of Academy schools Labour had a record of which it could be proud. It seems drearily typical that Miliband’s instincts are to disown the better parts of Labour’s record in government.

Hence the evident suspicion with which he views Free Schools. Labour would, perhaps will, scrap them if they think they can get away with it.


In this sense the Trojan Horse scandal reminds us that for all that we talk about narrowing differences between the warring Tory and Labour tribes there remain significant – and significantly important – philosophical differences between the two parties.

In broad terms, the Conservatives will trust you and Labour won’t. Nowhere is it written, or even thought, that every Academy or Free School will be a great success. Giving schools the freedom to succeed necessarily means granting them the freedom to fail too. That’s the way of the market. But it is a view predicated on the belief that, in time and in general, giving schools greater freedom will produce many more winners than losers.

It does not mean eliminating failure. How could it? Free schools don’t fail because they are free; they fail because some schools fail. But we trust that fewer will do so if more schools are free.  It contrasts with a Labour tendency to excuse failure if that failure is state-approved. Many leftists will conclude that the problem in Birmingham is a lack of local authority control. What they mean, whether they mean to mean it or not, is that failure is fine if it is licensed by the state. Move along, heehaw to worry about here.

Which, naturally, is precisely the kind of attitude Blairism fought against. The Blairites are in retreat, however, and for proof of that we need cite no-one other than Tristram Hunt.

It would be best if no schools ran into trouble, best if all free schools were exemplary. It is the nature of things, however, that not all will be. But that’s the risk that comes from trust. Better that, though, than the alternative worldview which insists unaccountable local education authorities always know best. Better the freedom to fail – and be seen to fail – than maintaining the pretence there is no failure at all.

Sometimes those failures will prove embarrassing. Sometimes they will discredit the whole idea of free schools. But they are, forgive me, a necessary price. There will always, in any system, be troublesome or otherwise under-performing schools. What then matters is how those problems are addressed. For for too long the preferred approach was to pretend there were no problems at all. What, working with clay like this, could you expect anyway?

It’s that smug complacency that Blair (and Adonis) and now Michael Gove have tried to combat. The horrific fatalism that says improvement is impossible and probably hideously elitist too.

Which is why this controversy is actually an opportunity for the Conservatives. It can be used to remind voters that Labour’s instincts are once more to side with the bureaucracy against the individual. Its instincts are to prefer a bad school under local authority control to a good school that’s free of local authority control.

It’s a point of view, certainly, but not a noble one.

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Show comments
  • LucieCabrol

    Very good article Mr Massie……………not only is it healthier for failures to be allowed, but that they are seen, analysed and not covered up or allowed to fester on as they have done under the old triumvirate of unions, quangos(or their previous incarnations) and local authorities…all equally unqualified to run anything in general.

  • Max Tanner : Liars, Buggers and Thieves.

    Shahid Malik muslim labour MP wants Muslim PM — Islamisation of Britain :

  • tjamesjones

    “Labour’s instincts are once more to side with the bureaucracy against the individual”

    I think that is about right.

  • Lucy Sky Diamonds

    Bring back grammar schools!

  • jesseventura2

    Labour throwing public funds at muslim extremists and paying welfare benefits to multiple illegal wives?
    What other country could do this?

  • mattghg

    “a Labour tendency to excuse failure if that failure is state-approved”

    Alex, you’ve hit the nail on the head here.

  • Daidragon

    Free schools are a joke. They are an ideological experiment that is failing miserably. There’s only about 200 of them compared to 22000 state schools yet Gove continues to misuse public money to prop them up. Gove is without doubt the most incompetent Ed secretary we’ve seen in a long time. Any loon with an agenda can set up a school now and get taxpayers money to do it.

    • HFC

      How’s life up in the valleys, eh Dai?

      • Daidragon

        On the coast. Very nice.

    • Inverted Meniscus

      And comprehensive schools are not an ideological experiment. Hilarious. People can set up free schools in the interests of what is best for their children rather than the teachers and local authorities. We call it freedom of choice.

      • Daidragon

        I agree they think it’s what children need. Free schools are a magnet to any group that wants to impose their worldview on children. Islamism, creationism, any kind of ism you care to mention. Freedom of choice is about parents, not kids. As usual the right wing mistake freedom for free for all. Taxpayer funded schools should be accountable, not the preserve of individuals with heads full of dogmatic nonsense about freedom.

    • Lucy Sky Diamonds

      We need a grammar school in every town. As opposed to a mosque!

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    Note how Massie doesn’t mention the I word. As I’ve commented elsewhere, indeed as many have so commented, this is not a bubble story about competing schooling theories, it’s about alien culture becoming a problem and the problem being ignored by the people who are responsible. Lots of people living in communities whose culture has little regard for native culture and have a theology which rejects much of what it sees and reserves the right to impose religious codes on secular communities, That’s a problem.

    As long as Massie won’t deal with it he is being disingenuous. As usual.

    • Lucy Sky Diamonds

      Islam? Immigration? Independence? Indigenous?

      Plenty of I words he needs to consider!

  • you_kid

    I like Brad Pitt too. Very entertaining n’all.

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …and what do all your sockpuppets think of him, lad?

    • Inverted Meniscus

      Still spouting gibberish lad?

    • Lucy Sky Diamonds

      He has a small willy.

  • DWWolds

    So Labour’s record on playing by the EU’s ruling on the free movement of people was one of their success stories was it? I doubt whether a great many people, including those who were priced out of the labour market because of it, would agree.

  • Mynydd

    It is not Mr Tristram Hunt ‘s fault, that Mr Gove ignore warnings in 2010, as highlighted in Mrs May’s letter. It is not Labour’s fault that Mr Cameron’s Conservative party is in open civil war. It is down to Mr Cameron’s lack of leadership.

    • Inverted Meniscus

      More lies from the Labour Troll. There was a scuffle between Gove and May but the point is that the situation in certain Birmingham Schools is being addressed. Needless to say, this is yet another problem, like Mid Staffs etc, which started to fester under the last Labour regime. Predictably, Labour has sided with the vested interests of LEAs etc with no thought for the fate of the children involved. Nothing must be allowed to come in the way of Labour’s obsession with mediocrity, and failure as Massie suggests. Failure is fine provided it is directed by the state. The perfect epitaph for Labour the party of lies, lying, liars and fascists.

      • Mynydd

        Mrs May’s letter ask Mr Gove why had nobody acted on a 2010 warning. Where is the labour lie in that? Do you think Mr Hunt wrote that letter on behalf of Mrs May.

        • Inverted Meniscus

          This all started during the last Labour government and they chose to ignore it. Lies of omission as usual from a disgusting Labour Troll.

          • P_S_W

            It’s an example of yet another Labour mess that the Conservatives are trying to sort out and getting the blame for.

    • realfish

      But that letter also referred to concerns raised in 2008. Like your friends in the BBC* you chose to ignore that.

      As AM says, the reaction to this is telling. Like a litmus test, listen to the people, like you, who ignore ‘2008’ and the earlier warnings, or the people who, clutching at straws, tell us that the Trojan Horse letter is a ‘hoax’ – their reaction defines them as of the left and on the wrong side of this argument.

      *BTW: You don’t work for that stinking, dishonest organisation do you?

      • Inverted Meniscus

        Do you mean Labour the party of lies, lying, liars, failure and mediocrity?

      • Mynydd

        No I don’t work for the Conservative Party.

    • William Battersby

      He’s not ‘Mr Tristram Hunt’; he’s ‘The Honourable Tristram Hunt’. I mention this not because it matters (to me anyway), but because you Labour folks need to be reminded that TRISTRAM IS A TOFF! Michael Gove by contrast is an adopted child from a working class background. It is very noteworthy that in this debate of toff versus pleb, where the Toff is Labour and the pleb is Conservative, it seems that background is of absolutely no significance. Yet in Miliband’s debates with Cameron, where Miliband apparently believes thathe himself is somehow less privileged than Cameron, class is apparently the most important factor of all.

      • Kitty MLB

        Excellent points sir. And just shows the barefaced hypocrisy of
        Labour. And how utterly desperate they are to need some little
        class war to get the voters caterwauling. So therefore forget the
        Labour party have nothing to offer but a deceitful diversion away
        from the real issue.

  • bengeo

    The full text of the deleted letter from Theresa May to Michael Gove is available below.

    I am writing in response to your letter to the Prime Minister seeking approval to launch a public consultation on a voluntary Code of Practice for supplementary schools.

    The publication of a Code of Practice for supplementary schools was an agreed Extremism Task Force commitment and we agreed at the conclusion of the ETF’s work that the Code should be voluntary. However, since the publication of the ETF report in December there have been serious allegations of extremism in some Birmingham schools and accusations about the inability of local and central government to tackle the problem effectively. In this context, I am not convinced that a voluntary code is sufficient and I believe it would be sensible to include the option of developing a mandatory code in your consultation document.

    I understand and share your desire to include a clear and unambiguous definition of extremism and of Islamist extremism, and indeed I was pleased that we were able to agree the latter in the ETF report. It is important that having agreed these definitions we now stick to them in the Code of Practice to avoid any confusion.

    We know that extremists try to impose specific forms of dress on people and this includes the mandatory veiling of women. The consultation document should be clear that nobody should be forced to dress in a particular way. We do, however, need to recognise that many moderate Muslims, as well as people of other religions, believe that covering one’s hair is a religious requirement and some parents will therefore want their children to do so. The text on dress requirements should therefore not be part of the extremism definition but, consistent with the Government’s already-stated position on the burqa, we should state clearly that nobody should be forced to dress in a particular way.

    The allegations relating to schools in Birmingham raise serious questions about the quality of school governance and oversight arrangements in the maintained sector, not just the supplementary schools that would be signatories to this Code of Practice. How did it come to pass, for example, that one of the governors at Park View was the chairman of the education committee of the Muslim Council of Britain? Is it true that Birmingham City Council was warned about these allegations in 2008? Is it true that the Department for Education was warned in 2010? If so, why did nobody act? I am aware that several investigations are still ongoing and those investigations are yet to conclude.

    But it is clear to me that we will need to take clear action to improve the quality of staffing and governance if we are to prevent extremism in schools.

    I am copying this letter to other members of the Extremism Taskforce.

    The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

    • Mynydd

      Mrs May may have deleted the letter from the Home Office web site, but she is unable to deleted from the internet, and therefore will be available to the Labour party right up to the next general election. The killer point being, ‘why did nobody act’ I cad just see it now, the banners Why did nobody act ———, insert your own words.

      • Inverted Meniscus

        OK I will. Labour the party of lies, lying, lies and fascists and its devotion to mediocrity and failure.

      • Tony_E

        Why did no-one act in 2008. At what point in 2010 were more warnings taken? Before May?

        • Mynydd

          This Conservative Civil War with Mrs May leading one side, and Mr Gove the other, and Mr Cameron out on a rowing boat, has nothing to do with Labour. Our boats come in, a broken tory party, without a leader just before a general election, it’s great isn’t.

      • P_S_W

        And yet here we are with concerns raised in 2007 (although the headline says 2008 for some reason):

  • Grey Wolf

    1. In an article about the Birmingham Schools issue there is no mention of Islamic extremism.

    2. ”Despite 2008 And All That, Miliband was bequeathed a workable, even in some respects admirable, legacy.” Really?

    Two reasons, given above, why Alex Massie may be considered a T* W* A* T*

  • allymax bruce

    “for all that we talk about narrowing differences between the warring
    Tory and Labour tribes there remain significant – and significantly
    important – philosophical differences between the two parties.” (Alex Massie).
    Nah, there’s no ‘significant differences’ between the two Party’s; all Westminster Party’s are beholden to EU protocols that encompass the education of our children. The only differences between the two Party’s are that Tories Education Minister looks like a comedian, while being somewhat effective. While Labour’s Shadow Education Minister looks effective but is completely comedic!

  • Tom

    Labour’s reponse was pitiful. Pitching local control when the schools in question were under local council supervision. They had no vision for education at all and tried to jump on the Gove vs May issue. Made the actual events in Birmingham secondary in their response which would anger me if I was a parent in the area.

    Both parties missed the point though, the issue is faith in schools. The drive for British values in schools should be welcomed – the PC brigade ignored.

  • allymax bruce

    “The horrific fatalism that says improvement is impossible and probably hideously elitist too. (Alex Massie).
    Yes, Alex, correct. It reminds me of the USSR Education system where all schools were vocational; and streams only existed for the elites. It could be that a ‘lad o’ pairts’ could rise to the elitist echelons in USSR Education system, but it’s going to be very few and very far between!

  • anyfool

    People keep mentioning Tristram Hunt as though anything he says matters, if Labour are elected next year, he will be removed from Education in the autumn and will be replaced by someone the unions approve of.
    All schools including private schools will then come under local authority control, in reality union control.
    This will be the price of letting unions control almost all Labour candidate selection, something that appears to have slipped from the news agenda.

    • HookesLaw

      Yet so many people on here express a policy designed to get Labour elected by ignoring the good the good the tories are doing and splitting the right wing vote

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Hmmmmm, so if they vote with you Camerluvvie socialists, you think they’re alright, but if they don’t they’re “waaaaaycists”, is that it, lad?

        Do you ever wonder why we conservatives despise you hypocritical creatures?

      • Ooh!MePurse!

        Absolutely spot on.

      • Damon

        Quite so, Hookes.

  • PeteCW

    Shall we see how laissez-faire about sacrificing children to the free market principle of failure you are when your own child starts their education?

    • anyfool

      As opposed to the millions of children already sacrificed to the closed market principle of the local authority.

    • whs1954

      Because, of course, no schools in the state sector fail, ever.
      This is the odd thing I can’t get about those who snark and sneer at free schools and the potential one of them could fail without the guiding hand of the state. If a free school fails, we will all know about it because Labour will jump down Gove’s neck for it. Parents will know, and will move their children. Plenty of schools fail within local authority control, just that the local authority provides it with just enough support to bump along on the bottom, and no one knows.

    • Inverted Meniscus

      Oh yes because there has never been a failing school or a totally useless teacher in the public sector has there. We have the finest schools in the World in the private sector with people sending their children here to be educated from all over the World. Might not it be a good idea to try and spread some of those benefits around? No because that would mean sacrificing a bit of leftist dogma. Much better that children who rely on the state sector be allowed to fail than a leftist give up his or her right to whine about elitism. Idiot.

  • Mr Creosote

    I had a run-in with the Local Authority once – they insisted my staff “risk assess” puddles in the playground before the children went outside. Do we really want to go back to this sort of nonsense (I know Clegg and Labour would like us to)?!

  • mightymark

    “Its [the Conservatives’] instincts are to prefer a bad school under local authority control to a good school that’s free of local authority control.”

    I think Labour might just think that a bit of a gift if it means the Tories with their lamentable behaviour over the Trojan Horse affair end up effectively, having to excuse/ apologise for /explain away Islamist school takeovers .

  • paul rivers

    The real truth is Tristram Hunt is completely useless and made a mess of his response in the House yesterday. Like his predecessor he gets mauled by Gove and just looks opportunistic.

    • John Dalton

      What “The Trojan Horse Affair” illuminates is the shocking scale of the influence and infiltration of a hardline I*lamism which is completely antipathetic to British values and which seeks by any means to subvert and destroy those values.

      What it illuminates is how cowed and terrified our politicos and journalists are of this aggressive and violent ideology – so much so that they would rather shut down debate than tell it like it really is, lest it turn its ire on them.

      What it illuminates is how anyone who has warned of this – the massive scale groom-ing of our kids across all the major cities another prime example – has had hatred and scorn poured down upon them – usually by the likes of Alex Massie.

      And what it illuminates for those of us who will think and talk about these things is where this country is likely to be at a generation from now. A happy clappy multi culti bliss? I think not.

      • ButcombeMan

        “Hard line Islamism” is just normal special interest group behaviour, if they can get away with it.

        it is about time politicians accepted that basic truth.

  • toco10

    The real truth is Labour embrace failure,under achievement and poverty because they produce more votes for its State handouts and foster class division and jealousy.Red Ed gleaned all this from his comparatively wealthy and sheltered Marxist upbringing.

  • Kaiser Of Crisps

    It’s all very well to grant an organisation the ‘right to fail’ if that organisation is, for example, merely producing tinned beans. But when that organisation is a school and the cost of failure is ruining the education, and thus future prospects, of untold cohorts of children, then all I can say is that it is either a very blasé or a very confident writer (who almost certainly is also confident of not sending his children to such a school) who can write in such comforting, dare I say complacent, terms.

    • HJ777

      Better that it visibly fails and people choose to go elsewhere than it carry on just the same just because it is state-run.

      That is a characteristic of a market-based approach. Failure is relative to the best and is swiftly punished and corrected, whereas in state-run systems there is no such discipline.

    • DWWolds

      If any government presided over the “right to fail” it was Labour during the period from 2000 to 2010. That was the period when the achievement of our 15 years in the core subjects plummeted down the international comparison tables. It was also the period when hundreds of thousands of our 16 years were allowed to leave school without even a pass at the lower GCSE level in those core subjects.