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Monday, December 19, 2005 

Same old nasty Conservatives attack John Prescott.

Well, the new nice and cuddly Conservative party lasted for just over a week. When John Prescott yesterday made a principled and commendable stand over Blair 'n' Adonis's disastrous education white paper, both William Hague and David "No Brains" Willetts jumped all over him:

Speaking on BBC1's Sunday AM programme, shadow foreign secretary William Hague said the prime minister should take up Mr Cameron's offer.

"He (Tony Blair) knows that the only way to get results in say education, is to give greater freedom to schools at the local level. He knows that is the right thing to do.

"The question is, is he going to carry on and do the right thing, even if it means relying on the support of the Conservative Party, or is he going to give in to these old prejudices of John Prescott and others?"

Shadow education secretary David Willetts said Mr Prescott was fighting old "class war" battles and ignoring young people already denied a good education because of selection by house price.

He told BBC News 24: "The crucial question for Ruth Kelly will be 'is it full speed ahead with reforms as set out by the prime minister or is it lots of clever little manoeuvres to water down some proposals, and back-tracking?'"

He added: "We shall see whether she is serious about reform or engaging in a retreat under pressure from Labour's left wing."

"The question is, is he going to carry on and do the right thing, even if it means relying on the support of the Conservative Party, or is he going to give in to these old prejudices of John Prescott and others?"

What John Prescott has articulated and is right to fear is a return to selection. Prescott experienced the humiliation of failing the 11-plus - yet he later went on to go to Oxford, and then got a degree from the University of Hull. William Hague went to a comprehensive. I can't find any information on where David Willetts went to school, but he was born in 1956. The 11-plus was on its way to being abolished in most schools by 1968, so he may well have been one of the last to take it, or he could have of course have been privately educated. Either way, his comments are cowardly and ring hollow. Surprise surprise, both Hague and Willetts went to Oxford.

John Prescott was a working class boy. The 11-plus was notoriously biased and discriminatory, with the results that middle class children were overwhelming those who filled the grammar schools. Those who failed the 11-plus were sent to the secondary moderns, where many experienced a self-fulfilling prophecy. They were made to feel as if they were failures, and many settled into that role, especially at a time when parents were less encouraging of their children and when aspiration was not as high as it is today.

Both Hague and Willetts accuse Prescott of being essentially prejudiced and fighting "old class war battles". The reality is that it is the Tories who are fighting the class war. They wish to reintroduce selection, as David Cameron has been exposed as supporting. John Prescott is defending the right of children not to be judged at such a tender age, for them not to be deemed failures, and for them not to give up on themselves. No one is suggesting that Prescott is condoning the middle class practice of moving into areas close to sought after schools. He obviously does not, and the alternative white paper from Labour backbenchers last week has measures to tackle this. The Tories real plan is to make Tony Blair depend on them to get his downright wrong education plans through - then when they have done so, to win the next election and make the plans even worse, and properly reintroducing selection.

This is David Cameron's supposed new liberal policies laid bare. They wish to abolish comprehensives, just as Labour's education reforms are finally bearing fruit. They are still many improvements to be made, and the alternative white paper is just what is needed. Can Blair not see that and see that Cameron is pushing him into a corner? There is not a more despicable policy that one that will condemn children into a life they can avoid. There is a huge majority both in the Labour party and the public for keeping comprehensives, and they need to make their voices heard now before Blair with the connivance of the Tories reintroduces a failed policy.

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