Donald Brind on the Ed Sec’s big gamble
Nicky Morgan reckons she has what it takes to be Tory leader. She put her name on the board last October and followed it up with a declaration in February that it would be â€œa big mistake if Tory members were offered a choice between â€œtwo white menâ€, when David Cameron steps down.
Her dream is in desperate need of a boost. In last monthâ€™s Conservative Home survey of leadership contenders she narrowly avoided being the back-marker. The Education Secretary registered just 2% — one better than her hapless colleague, Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.
Ms Morgan clearly hopes her big project — the plan to force all England’s state schools to convert to academies, being funded directly from Whitehall rather through local councils â€“ will appeal to the Tory grassroots. If it does she could emerge as a serious contender when the dust has settled after the EU referendum. Itâ€™s just as likely that it will kill her hopes stone dead.
Although she told members of the NASUWT at their conference that there was â€œno reverse gearâ€Â there is every chance she will be forced into a humiliating retreat by Tory rebels in the Commons or by the House of Lords. In the Upper House the government does not, of course, have a majority and since the measure wasnâ€™t in the Tory election manifesto there will be little to inhibit Labour, Lib Dem and crossbench peers from filleting the measure
Key issues are likely to be the scrapping of the role of parent governors, the transfer of land in what is essentially a privatisation process â€“ and the price tag â€“ put at more than a billion pounds by Labourâ€™s Shadow secretary Lucy Powell.
Tory councillors in heartland counties are angry too, according to the Guardian. One Cabinet member is said to have called the plan â€œbonkersâ€.
In the latest and what could be the most serious move Graham Brady, chair of the Tory backbenchers 1922 committee, signalsthat the threat of a rebellion is real. He said the plan risked the creation of â€œnew and distant bureaucraciesâ€ rather than delivering greater freedom and autonomy for schools. He also said they could have the unwelcome effect of removing parents from governing bodies and reducing accountability.
If sheâ€™s not worried about that Ms Morgan might like to look at the governmentâ€™s recent defeats and retreats, gleefully chronicled by the activists website Labour List. The most notable were on Sunday Trading and the Trade Union Bill, where the Lords have delayed the introduction of the legislation and have recommended that the opt-in provision for political funds applies only to new members. That would ease the likely damage to Labour funds.
Reverse gear or not the Education Secretary faces a rough ride. Perhaps she should have smelt a rat â€“ the academies plan was, of course, announced by Chancellor George Osborne as part of his â€œmegashamblesâ€ March Budget.