A reply to Iain Dale’s post, ‘Eastleigh by-election gets dirty’

by Stephen Tall on February 16, 2013

Here’s a quick response to Iain Dale’s blog-post Eastleigh by-election gets dirty, itself a response to my post earlier today, So this is why the Tories have been trying to keep their Eastleigh candidate quiet.

I like Iain, admire his blog: it’s incredibly readable, authentically honest.

His post today, though, is based on an inaccuracy: that the son about whom the Tories’ Eastleigh candidate Maria Hutchings said it would be “impossible” for him to get a good enough education in a state school is autistic. As a result, Iain has told me I “should now feel rather ashamed” of myself. If true, I would. But, to the best of my knowledge, it simply isn’t true.

Iain then goes on to say: “A child’s education … ought not to be a matter for political controversy.” If he means a child shouldn’t be the subject to any form of invasion of privacy (let alone personal abuse) he’s wholly right.

But the choices of a parent running for political office are a legitimate topic of debate. I said it two weeks ago when the story came out that Nick Clegg and Miriam Gonzalez Durantez are considering sending their eldest child to private school – Yes, Nick Clegg’s son’s schooling is our business:

They are exercising a choice not all parents have and using it to opt out of the state sector. That suggests they see a failing in what the state is providing to other parents with lesser means. I don’t think it’s unfair to ask Nick to level with those who don’t have his options as to why he’s done that.

There is a difference between what Nick Clegg has said, and the comment Maria Hutchings made, though. Nick Clegg has said he wants the best for his child; that best may mean opting out of the state education system. That’s not the same as saying it’s “impossible” for a gifted child to get a decent education in Eastleigh.

The most sane comment I’ve read this afternoon is this one from Eastleigh’s Lib Dem council leader Keith House:

“Although it’s down to every parent to choose the right school for their child, it’s simply not true to say that the education in Eastleigh is not good enough for our children.

“Ofsted have rated several local schools ‘excellent’, they were good enough for Liberal Democrat Candidate, Mike Thornton’s daughter to study medicine at Imperial College London, and they are good enough for the majority of Eastleigh parents who are proud to have such excellent schools to choose from.

“Maria’s claim that it’s ‘impossible’ to get a good state education in Eastleigh is an insult to the teachers who work hard to give our children the best start, and to the parents who are glad to have such good schools that are part of the local community.

“Liberal Democrats in the Coalition Government have put an extra £1.7m into Eastleigh’s schools through the Pupil Premium to help whole classes move forward faster together, and allocated £100,000 for catch-up classes for year 7 pupils in Eastleigh’s state secondary schools.”