Rehashed, reheated and wrong

Three ways Jeremy Corbyn’s National Education Service fails on its own terms and lets the Tories off the hook

First published on Progressonline

Yesterday Jeremy Corbyn launched his National Education Service policy. Three things spring to mind.

First, this is not even a rehash of the policy of the same name launched last July with LabourList – it is the same policy on repeat. The real question is: why has it taken 13 months for it to be heard of again? Where was Corbyn’s big education speech as leader? Where is any analysis on why social mobility has stalled, why morale among teachers is low, why many of these problems are down to the Tories but others are not. It was not only that he tried it and it failed. It was not even attempted. He has had a year and over £5m of Short money to flesh this out and … nothing. Nothing.

Second, this is neither specific, nor costed. It is just a list of spending commitments paid for by … You guested it: tackling tax avoidance and evasion. That old chestnut. Not that there are any proposals for how you would practically do that either.

You can only spend money once. The public get that and fear Labour does not. John McDonnell’s never-ending shopping list only confirms this. But if the ‘anti-austerity’ lobby want, as I do, an investment-led alternative to Tory cuts, it is not hard-left McDonnell to whom they should look but moderate social democrat Justin Trudeau. In Canada, he won a general election, from a position as the underdog in a three-way fight, by promising specific and limited borrowing. It was the costed nature of his plan that meant the public endorsed higher spending and borrowing, not passionate speeches at rallies. Labour should internalise this lesson.

Third, when launching their National Education Service, rather than attack Theresa May’s fringe grammar school policy Labour’s leadership attacked the last government’s academies programme instead. This is yet further proof that Corbyn is just not up to the job of leader of the opposition. Grammar schools are an open goal if you can get a Guardian front page for an education story at the moment. But, like winning the next election, Corbyn does not even take a shot on goal, so lacklustre are the leadership’s attempts to replace the Tories. Instead they focus on making Labour ‘purer’ and in doing so take it further from the electorate. We might get the votes of every National Union of Teachers member – not, in any case, a union affiliated to Labour – but it makes no difference to the education if parents do not trust Labour.

In contrast, Owen Smith’s message was to do the frontbench’s job for it. A Tory attack story on cancer waiting times. If she were not touring rallies for Corbyn, this is what shadow health secretary Diane Abbott should be doing. The difference could not be more stark.

But it is in the Tory proposals on grammar schools that show the hard-left have got their priorities so wrong. The reason why Tory ideas of more grammar schools is met with indifference from voters is because of Labour’s academy programme. The vast improvement in state schools, especially for those in areas of historic deprivation and underachievement, has reduced the demand of middle-class parents across the country for grammar schools or private providers. This is how to truly defend the ‘comprehensive school ethos’ in state schools. Another thing Corbyn and his well-paid, Short money-funded team fail to grasp.

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Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets at @RichardAngell

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