Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Playing politics with the law

Michael Gove has been on Today bemoaning the level of 'electioneering' in today's Queen's Speech, suggesting that such tactics would have been beyond previous Prime Ministers. I presume Michael was having a laugh. Otherwise, I must have been dreaming when John Major invented 'a grammar school in every town' just ahead of the 1997 election - the policy Michael and David Willetts have wisely binned - and extended assisted places in their last legislation as a way of creating silly dividing lines with Labour on education (which we managed to turn to our advantage with a policy of cutting infant class sizes instead).

In fact, today's measures are surprisingly strong for a government that is supposed to have run out of steam. The new national care service blueprint is a long overdue way of addressing a major concern for many families. The earlier guarantee of an 18-week waiting time for treatment shows how far the NHS has come since 1997, and matters hugely to patients, but it does challenge the BMA spokesman and part-time shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley who would happily see waiting times back at eighteen months, if it kept his consultant chums happy. The parent and pupil guarantees may be more reflective of what already exists, but they are an important statement of measures that matter. And the commitments on fiscal responsibility answer the charge that the Government is not ready to cut the deficit. There is no reason why the Tories should oppose any of them - or object to their introduction.

However, when Michael Gove told us what crucial legislation he was planning, the best he could do was to declare more powers of confiscation for headteachers. Since heads have had significantly extended powers in this area under Labour, it is doubtful these are quite as crucial as he pretends. The measures he wants could probably be introduced through secondary legislation or ministerial guidance. But then if he is elected, he will want to have a first education bill to give the impression that he is 'changing' things 'radically'. How shocking it would be to see such blatant politicking with legislation and Her Majesty's precious time.

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