I see that the Labour party, and Labour’s shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt in particular, are trying to make political capital out of the ‘Trojan Horse’ Islamic schools scandal.
I’ll write more about this in the coming week, but for the meantime let me point out what a steaming pile of political opportunism and hypocrisy this all is. Tristram says that Michael Gove ‘chose not to act’ and is guilty of ‘gross negligence’ on Islamic extremism in schools. Let me remind Tristram of a very recent piece of Labour party history.
In 2009 it transpired that the Labour government was funding a school-running group called the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation (ISF). At that time several of the trustees of the charity which ran the schools were members of the extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), including the wife of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s UK spokesman. Hizb ut-Tahrir is a radical Islamist group which seeks the downfall of western democratic societies and their replacement with radical Islamic law. The group is banned in many countries around the world, is regarded as extreme here in the UK, and both Tony Blair and David Cameron have said that they would like to see the group banned in Britain.
So how did the Labour government and the then education minister – Ed Balls – respond when the then opposition leader David Cameron raised this rather significant failing at Prime Minister’s Questions? Well, as I recall Ed Balls and Gordon Brown immediately played political football with it. They claimed that the opposition had made a mistake over exactly which stream of taxpayer money they had sent to the ISF/HT. David Cameron said that the money had gone to the ISF from the ‘Pathfinder’ part of Prevent funds. The Labour government, meanwhile, said that the funds had actually come from part of a fund for nursery education also called ‘Pathfinder.’
I remember this episode rather clearly because it was one of those moments which almost makes you want to give up on all politicians. Here was a serious allegation and a serious problem. A group that the Labour government had tried to ban was actually being fed money by that same government. But Balls got his fingers onto it, and spun the story around. Suddenly it was Conservatives ‘not doing their homework’ and all that sort of thing and the fact that the government was funding an HT school was allowed to merrily drift away.
There is much to be done to solve the problems already evident in Birmingham. But the Labour party really ought to go easy on the lectures.