There was plenty of panto on the conference floor this week in Manchester. Ed Miliband encouraged delegates to boo several villains in his speech, and one of them was Michael Gove. In fact, Michael Gove popped up as the villain on Tuesday and in the Labour leader’s question-and-answer session yesterday, too, and again when Stephen Twigg spoke just before the close of the conference today. This is odd: of all the reforms that the coalition government has introduced so far, Gove’s have been the least surprising to Labour members given he’s pushing ahead with what Tony Blair and Andrew Adonis started.
There was one baffling moment when a delegate started heckling a year 11 academy pupil who was delivering quite a lovely speech about her own schooling. The woman shouted about comprehensive schools doing the same things as academies. The pupil carried on speaking remarkably calmly, but even if the heckler doesn’t represent the rest of Labour members, she did highlight the continuing antipathy of sections of the party towards academies, one of Labour’s most radical reforms.
But as much as Twigg and Miliband like to boo and hiss about the Education Secretary, they continue to be inspired by his ideas. In fact, Twigg’s New Deal for Teachers could have been introduced by Gove himself (possibly with Twigg criticising it in a press release, too), given many of its new ideas are actually ones Gove is already promoting.
Twigg’s pledge that a Labour government would double the size of the Teach First programme follows Gove’s announcement in June that he would triple it. And incentivising trainee teachers to work in schools with large numbers of children on free school meals is another government policy: in June Gove announced extra bursaries for those teachers. As I mentioned yesterday, sacking incompetent teachers is a policy that Twigg and Gove see eye-to-eye on, as the Education Secretary already has his own plans to help schools sack weak teachers in a term.
In true panto style, Gove is behind Twigg and Miliband, no matter how much they protest that he isn’t.