NEWS: Why Major should have delivered a good hiding to The Ridings

John Major, in the classic tradition of defensive PR, urges us not to draw too many conclusions from The Ridings school fiasco in my native Halifax. This is understandable in a Prime Minister who is seeking re- election after his party has been in office for nearly 18 years. There are few hiding places when you have been ordering the nation’s affairs for nearly two decades.

John Major, in the classic tradition of defensive PR, urges us not to

draw too many conclusions from The Ridings school fiasco in my native

Halifax. This is understandable in a Prime Minister who is seeking re-

election after his party has been in office for nearly 18 years. There

are few hiding places when you have been ordering the nation’s affairs

for nearly two decades.



But Mr Major is wrong to pass up the political PR opportunity which The

Ridings offers on a plate - just as he was wrong to take public fright

over Education Secretary Gillian Shephard’s enthusiasm for the return of

the cane, especially when the Sunday newspapers confirmed that two-

thirds of us want it back.



First, The Ridings is a clear, if extreme, example of Tory policy at

work. The aim of introducing greater parental choice in schools was to

put pressure on the unpopularly bad to improve. I do not overlook the

difficulties of melding two schools together to form The Ridings. Nor

are teachers ever going to have an easy time where parental support is

so weak that unruly girls of 13 have babies and 14 year-old boys are

allowed to keep condoms in their bedroom. But the headmistress and staff

cannot escape responsibility for The Ridings’ anarchy which caused the

school to be shut. Raiding a good opted-out school for its headmaster to

take over underlines their inadequacy.



Second, if The Ridings had opted out, it is a pound to a penny that

things would never have got to this sad state. Parents would have

prevented it. I accept that this implies that they would have had more

ambition for their children - and more gumption - than is apparent

among The Ridings’ parents. But that again demonstrates the virtues of

Tory policy: it reinforces caring families. Of course, it leaves a

problem with the inadequate. So what’s new, except perhaps its scale?

This leads to the third positive Tory PR point: the sheer incompetence

of the local Labour-controlled education authority in discharging its

responsibilities to the culturally deprived. Frankly, I often wonder

what the Labour Party has got against the working classes. But why

should we expect more of it when the chairman of Halifax education

committee is an identikit activist with studs in ears who lives off the

taxpayer?



Fourth, virtually every single educational reform brought forward by the

Government - especially opting out and the toughening up of standards -

was, until recently, fought by Labour. The fact that Mr Blair now

espouses Tory ideas - while Labour councils such as Halifax are left

stranded on the tide of their failed social engineering - is another

fifth positive Tory PR point. Conservative PR is clearly no longer red

in tooth and claw.



Sir Bernard Ingham writes for the Daily Express



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