Blair relishes ‘radical’ image on reforms

Almost ten years since Tony Blair uttered his memorable soundbite – ‘education, education, education’ – the PM is still struggling to make much impact on schools, as evidenced by the latest shake-up, promoted so heavily this week.

As usual with Blair, it's not as simple as coming up with a 'radical' policy and getting parliament to vote it through. He must be seen to battle with the forces of reaction: the unions, Labour backbenchers and lily-livered cabinet members. 

To prove a point, consider the Labour Party conference. Here Blair responded to Gordon Brown's speech by telling us that every time he had done something radical he wished in retrospect he had gone even further. Just in case we hadn't got the message, loyal Blairites were sent out to brief the media that what he really meant was Brown may have blocked things in the past, but no more.

That same weekend, Blairites were telling friendly hacks that education was to be an important battleground and that Number 10 was looking at the Swedish education system. Schools are funded by the state but can be run privately – a system so far to the right that even some Tories rejected it.

So where is this radical new education policy?  Not surprisingly the Swedish idea has been dumped and you can't blame Brown for that. Even the faithful Ruth Kelly couldn't back a policy so far removed from Labour's traditional support of state-funded and run education.

Inevitably though, John Prescott – or that 'useful idiot' as Number 10 privately calls him – came to Blair's rescue. It is well documented that the Deputy PM failed his 11-plus and hates with a passion any education policy that reverts to selection. 

It emerges that Prescott spoke out against the proposed bill in
cabinet. So who leaked this row to the media? Number 10, of course. And what great headlines they made, too. Now we have our brave leader fighting for his 'radical education policies' with old Labour. The unions will do their job and be followed by some backbenchers. Blair triumphs again.

This time, though, the Prime Minister has the Tories' shadow education spokesman, a certain David Cameron, to contend with. Blair, who went to public school himself, can't simply dismiss Cameron as an old Etonian. No, he will need to attack Cameron's alternative policies.  But that could be a little difficult. because the likely next Tory leader has followed Blair's own example of not having any. In fact, if it's possible, Cameron seems to be even more Blairite than Blair.

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