Wednesday, September 24, 2008 

Kelly's gang.

Few tears will have been shed at the departure of Ruth Kelly, one of those government ministers that never came across as anything other than grimly approaching competent in all of the jobs she did. The only really remarkable thing about her time in the government was that she was thought to be an appropriate choice by Tony Blair to be equalities and women minister, despite having never voted in favour of gay rights, almost certainly down to her staunch Catholic beliefs. Her disingenuousness, both regarding her membership of Opus Dei, which she never actually confirmed, and her views on homosexuality, where she also refused to answer whether she regarded homosexuality as a sin, were hardly likely to have been tolerated had she been of any faith other than Christianity. One of the other alleged reasons why she has left government is that she would have been required to vote for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill, something that the ideological dogma of her faith would not have allowed her to do, leaving no room for rationality or the genuine scientific considerations involved.

Kelly's stated reason for departing, to spend more time with her family, is also always seen as instantly suspect. Alan Milburn claimed he was leaving the government to spend more time with his family back in 2003, but this desire to be with his family more didn't stop from him taking up directorships with companies or fatefully becoming Labour's 2005 election supremo, before the party was forced to turn to Gordon Brown for help after it initially floundered. While Kelly has 4 children, all of them are of school age; far be it from me to suggest to someone else how to bring up their family, but one would have thought that more time and effort would have been required when they were youngest, rather than now, although she may well be making up for lost time.

None of this though really matters; what's more important now is the apparent leaking by someone, possibly disgruntled over Kelly's lack of support for Gordon Brown, of her immient decision to go. Accusations have been flying between the two camps of Blairites and Brownites, like cats squabbling in a sack. They're all going to drown, it's just a matter of when. The most likely explanation is that a junior official appears to have been indiscreet, possibly while tired and emotional, and in the vicinity of a Newsnight reporter, who swiftly speculated that Kelly was leaving and that Geoff Hoon was off to Europe in place of Peter Mandelson.

The Blairites claim this all of a piece with the Downing Street stategy of late, with flushing out Siobhan McDonagh and David Cairns because of their disloyalty, while leaking to the News of the Screws Ivan Lewis's mid-life crisis, which involved him leaving his wife and sending indiscreet text messages to a civil servant, who complained. This is denied categorically by Brown's supporters, and at least this time round their explanation is rather more convincing. After all, why would Downing Street carry out a purge on the night after Brown's big speech, denting the overwhelmingly good coverage it received? The Tories also seem to have been acting mischeviously at best, and downright underhand at worst.

That such a breakdown of relationship between the different factions has now undoubtedly taken place is hardly good news for the party as a whole, especially considering a YouGuv poll for the Sun which shows that the bounce given by the Labour conference has narrowed the gap to the Conservatives to 10 points. Whilst hardly a ringing endorsement of the party, so grim have the polls and news been that it's probably the best news for Labour in ages, and suggests that it could still be possible for the difference to be made up. There will surely be no chance of that however if Brown is still to be forced out, which the Kelly debacle seems to have again raised to the fore. Labour has to decide whether it wants to lose the next election to a landslide and leave the Conservatives to make the running for the next ten years, or whether it actually wants to at least go down fighting. The attitude of some gives the impression that they don't seem to care what the new Blairite Conservative party will force through - and that ought to make every single one of us concerned.

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Friday, January 12, 2007 

What about my privacy, cries the hounded Ms Kelly....

Congratulations then to Ruth Kelly, who has somehow decided that taking the Mirror to the supine and servile Press Complaints Commission is a good idea:

Ruth Kelly, the communities secretary, is taking the Daily Mirror to the Press Complaints Commission for revealing that her son goes to a private school.

The Mail on Sunday broke the story, but did not use names.

"My sole concern throughout has been the welfare of my young son. I believe his right to privacy has been breached," she said in a statement.

Richard Wallace, the Mirror's editor, said: "We are confident that it was entirely right that we identify Miss Kelly so the public could decide whether her action was appropriate, given that they were clearly at odds with government policy."

She might have a case if her son had actually been identified, but he hasn't. All we know is that he has learning difficulties, that he used to attend a school in the Tower Hamlets borough of London, and that he is now going to attend a private school somewhere in Oxfordshire. It might be argued that he will have suffered as a result, even though he hasn't been identified, but the Mirror can also fight back, knowing that their revelation has resulted in a public debate, both about those who suffer from learning disabilities and the provision for them in standard state schools.

Ruth Kelly herself instead looks as if she's trying to close the door after the horse has bolted. We haven't had an explanation as to why 6 special schools rated either good or excellent by Ofsted with Tower Hamlets were rejected as not good enough for her son's needs. Instead she's trying to hide behind her decision by claiming that her son's privacy has been breached, ignoring the apparent double standards of being a piss-poor education secretary who did nothing to help those who have the same problems as her own son. Censorship, as ever, is the last resort of a scoundrel.

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Monday, January 08, 2007 

The pros and cons of Ruth Kelly's privates.

On the surface, Ruth Kelly's decision to send her son to a private, fee-paying school should be an easy enough one to denounce. It's only been a few months since her own piss-poor reign as education secretary came to an end, where she tried and failed to convince her own party to support Blair's pet trust schools project. That a government minister, one who only recently was in charge of improving school standards nationwide, should decide that her local schools are so poor that she needs to send her own children to a private school, is a smack in the face to all those who pay their taxes to fund their own children's education, not to mention the children themselves who have to suffer the conditions that aren't good enough for a government minister's child.

The issue itself though may not have come to light if the Mirror hadn't made the decision to actually name the minister. The Grauniad this morning reported that a cabinet minister had sent their son to a fee-paying school, but didn't name who we now know to be Ruth Kelly as to "protect the identity of the child". One also has to wonder whether that with Ruth Kelly also being a former Grauniad hack if that came into the equation. Justifying their decision in a leader column for plastering Kelly's decision over the front page, the Mirror makes a pretty compelling case. It might be argued it was a private matter if Kelly hadn't previously occupied the education hot-seat, or if she hadn't made any public pronouncements on state schooling, but this was plainly not the case.

What the makes the issue more complicated, personal and more difficult to comment firmly on is that the child, has "substantial learning difficulties", to quoth the BBC. To say that the quality of teaching and general provision for those with learning difficulties in state schools is controversial would be an understatement on the scale of saying that Iraq is a bit of a blunder. Some continue to call for separate schools for those with special needs, claiming that the policy of one size fits all that occurs in the state sector fails them, while the Labour government has been at the forefront of promoting inclusiveness, partly out of the belief that such schools only promote difference and fail to prepare their pupils for "normal" life as adequately as comprehensive schooling does. Both sides of the argument have merit, and as it falls to local authorities and councils to provide school provision, central government generally keeps out of the decisions that are made.

Yet the decision by Kelly is still by no-means clear cut, whether the child has learning difficulties or not. Even going private on the basis of professional advice, it's still a vote of no confidence in the schooling which he has had up to know. This is remember a government that claimed its first three priorities were "education, education, education", yet only just more than half leave school at 16 with five A-C GCSE grades. Top-up fees were introduced, despite claiming that they would do no such thing. It has been effectively 9 years of meddling; we've had city academies, giving control over the curriculum to evangelical Christians and oleangenious businessmen who've also donated money to Labour, and now trust schools introduced, along with "specialisms", yet there's been few measurable achievements apart from driving down class sizes and increasing the pass-rate a little, but by nowhere near enough.

Kelly's justifications and the coincidences involving the picked school are also far from clean:

She said it was not uncommon for pupils with substantial learning difficulties to spend some time outside the state sector to help them progress.

"Sometimes this is paid for by the local authority. In my case, I have not and will not seek the help of the local authority in meeting these costs," Ms Kelly said.

As much as this is true, most who do spend time outside the state sector tend to rely on tutors, and this is outside of school hours. Her choosing of the following school will also raise questions about whether she's being truthful when she says she intends to send him to a state secondary:

The private school which Ms Kelly is believed to have chosen charges £15,000 a year, and grooms children with a particular, relatively common condition for entry into elite public schools such as Harrow and Winchester.

Even if we dismiss Labour tribalism for a second, listen to the likes of Guido when he says that state schooling is collapsing in the Tower Hamlets area, and recognise that the hypocrisy here doesn't come close to approaching the levels of Diane Abbot sending her son to a private school, the decision is still suspect. It shows the limitations of education under Labour, yet the solution which Kelly and other middle class families choose is doing nothing to help the situation, rather instead demoralising teachers who recognise that not even ministers believe their own rhetoric, damns the proles to schools which the more affluent can avoid, and perpetuates the cycle of defeatism. That there are seven special schools within Tower Hamlets, including one specialist centre, additionally makes her look using it more as an excuse rather than a necessity.

The response from her political opponents has been less than condemnatory. It's more than apparent that the muted reaction is down to the fact that her son has special needs, with David Cameron unlikely to capitalise on something that he may yet have to do himself, not to mention his own privileged education. Sarah Teather, finding time out from her search for sex to comment on her actual position (is this right? Ed.), took much the same approach.

Personally, it's just another stroke against Kelly and her far from dazzling ministerial career. Hopeless at education, moved into a position where she finds herself, a member of Opus Dei, supposedly having to defend outlawing discrimination against homosexuals, and apparently doing the exact opposite, she should do the decent thing and resign.

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