September 28, 2012
Memorandum on the eve of the Labour Party Conference to Stephen Twigg, shadow spokesperson for education
by Robin Richardson
As you and colleagues prepare for speeches, debates and conversations at this year’s conference, I am writing to suggest some of the principal themes and ideas that I hope you bear in mind.
For convenience, though at the risk of over-simplifying, I will set out the themes as three separate messages, each with its own title. In reality, as you know, themes such as these are tied
together in a package. They are not separate from each other. Each gives strength and resonance to each of the others, and by the same token each is reinforced and amplified by each of the others.
1 Think Danny Boyle, not Daily Mail
Between 1997 and 2010, when Labour was in power, there was an understandable but regrettable desire amongst education ministers and their advisers to avoid negative coverage in the Daily Mail, and other papers with similar agendas and outlooks. The consequence was that many good things in education were not celebrated or even publicised to the extent that would have been appropriate – things like the progress in early years education, the increasing success of girls and young women, the greater access to higher education, the national strategies for literacy and mathematics, better provision for disabled children, projects such as the London Challenge, the invaluable role played at local levels by school governors, the energy with which bullying was addressed, particularly prejudice-related bullying, the major advances in the achievement of most minority ethnic communities.
In the absence of such things being publicised and celebrated, the Labour education ministers seemed all too often to be mean, ungenerous, narrow, fearful, controlling.
You cannot, I appreciate, ignore the Daily Mail. You can, however, defy it, challenge it, say no to it, say robustly that by and large schools in this country are doing a very good job. Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony at the Olympics this summer was saluted right across the political spectrum, and in the full range of national newspapers. So, more generally, were the Olympics and Paralympics. A cabinet minister said in the Daily Telegraph that ‘we must pass the Danny Boyle test’, meaning the Tories should show themselves to be up-to-date, lively, creative, generous, open-minded, self-critical, spirited, full of good cheer. The Labour Party too, of course, must and can show it is all these things, particularly (though not only) in its education policies.
A columnist in The Times said the Olympics and Paralympics this summer ‘have made us nicer people’. Well, that may be a bit over-optimistic. More accurately and modestly, they reminded us that we are nicer – more generous, more imaginative, more caring, more public-spirited – than we are inclined to suppose, and than we are portrayed most of the time by most of the media. Think Danny Boyle, Stephen, not the Daily Mail. Read more of this post