The Lib Dems are coming in for a beating this morning from the Tories over Nick Clegg’s decision to go public with his thoughts on the flaws and limitations of the free schools programme. Rachel Sylvester and James Chapman both have very strong briefings from Conservative sources about the Deputy Prime Minister’s comments, while the Lib Dems are annoyed both that there is such a fuss about a new plank in the differentiation strategy and also that they have apparently held this policy for a long time. Sources close to Clegg are highlighting that the Lib Dem spring conference backed a motion supported by the leadership which called for all teachers to either have qualified teacher status or be working towards QTS, and for all schools to teach the National Curriculum.
One reason relations are particularly tense over this is that Clegg’s speech comes hot on the heels of the row over the Al-Madinah free school. The Tories feel Clegg is just being opportunist at the first, inevitable, rocky patch for the free schools project. But party strategists insist that this was a long-planned intervention. Amusingly, part of the plan was to re-assert the Lib Dems’ support of the free school and academy project, but that hasn’t quite been clear in the delivery. And they are now muttering that they don’t understand why it’s such a big deal to disagree with Michael Gove, anyway.
Still, the Lib Dems have grown used to optimism, and one senior Clegg aide tells me:
‘It’s all been very useful. On Saturday we were irrelevant to the education debate. By Monday we were at the centre of it. Win.’
Funnily enough, free schools were not discussed at this morning’s Cabinet meeting. But what is clear is that education has joined the list of issues, like immigration, human rights and Europe, where both parties not only see the benefit in public disagreement, but think that prolonging that disagreement benefits their own side more.Tags: Free schools, Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, UK politics