Is Gove’s O-Levels proposal a calculated distraction?
photo © UK Home Office, used under Creative Commons License
Yesterday evening Tim Shipman, deputy political editor of the Daily Mail, announced their exclusive story that GCSEs were to be scrapped in secondary schools in favour of the return of ‘O-Level’ qualifications. The news was met with fierce opposition by many, including the president of the Liberal Democrats who branded the plan as ’madness’.
The move took many in Westminster by surprise. A Liberal Democrat staffer Martin Shapland has now claimed publicly that ‘the first any Lib Dem knew about his proposal was last night when Tim Shipman tweeted it’ and, most remarkably, says ‘it’s something that Gove doesn’t have clearance for and which hasn’t been discussed in government – not at cabinet and not even at a departmental level with his Lib Dem ministerial colleague Sarah Teather’.
It seems Gove’s policy was unauthorised by anyone in government, a policy proposal leaked to a friendly newspaper while the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister are away. Perhaps just a minister going beyond his brief for his own ends. But then it’s interesting to look at what else was in the political news that day.
As it happens, the home secretary Theresa May was found guilty of Contempt of Court for ignoring a legal agreement to release an Algerian robber from immigration detention, with a judge describing her actions as ‘unacceptable and regrettable’. This is only the second time in British legal history that a Home Secretary has been found guilty of contempt of court.
There was no penalty imposed for the contempt, she doesn’t face imprisonment or even a fine, but this is major news. With the Telegraph’s article going online under an hour after Gove’s O-Levels leak was made public by the Mail, it was too late for most newspapers to change their print editions much to report on either story for the next day. However news expands far beyond just the papers, with news websites, broadcasts, social media and more keeping the public informed all hours of the day.
Unfortunately, the Theresa May story gained incredibly little coverage considering the seriousness, with the leak of Gove’s controversial and unexpected proposal taking over the news agenda for the day ahead. Now that we know the full extent to which the policy leak was unexpected and unathorised, we can say it’s much less likely to actually be implemented.
Yet the idea is popular to almost all of the Conservative party’s vote share, despite controversy in the education sector and wider public. Not to mention, the proposal gave the Lib Dem coalition partners a great opportunity to voice principled sounding opposition to it, allowing both parties in government to not alienate their voters any more than normal.
So, it’s worth asking:
- Is this policy ever going to actually be implemented? If so, why was it seemingly unauthorised and from nowhere?
- Would the current government have a motive to push a particular story that gives both parties opportunities to appeal to their voters (Gove’s policy is loved by conservatives, Clegg’s opposition gives lib dems hope of moderating govt policies) and dominates the news agenda over another, altogether more damaging, news story?
Bearing this in mind, was the Gove O-Levels policy leak a cynical (and impressively successful) attempt to divert attention from the conviction of the home secretary?
If so, i’m strangely impressed but unfortunately wouldn’t be surprised.