Stephen Twigg’s comments on free schools created something of a firestorm amongst party members last night, with many feeling that the party had completed a policy u-turn in a matter of days. The anger wasn’t confined to “ordinary members” either – several MPs I spoke to were vehemently opposed to free schools too.
Twigg argued in his interview with the Liverpool Post that he is not changing Labour’s policy. We know that Stephen is a LabourList reader so we extend an offer to him to outline his views on free schools in detail. But when Andy Burnham was shadow education secretary he described free schools as a “free-for-all, where good schools can be destabilised and where teachers can be employed without teaching qualifications”. That is patently not Twigg’s position.
The debate over free schools will no doubt rage on LabourList over the coming days. But this episode does beg a very important question of Ed Miliband:
Is Labour policy now determined by reshuffle?
There will be those who will argue that it was ever thus, and – though cynical – they’re right. But then what’s the point of party reform, the NPF and Liam Byrne’s complex multi-tiered policy review, if members of the shadow cabinet can change party policy in newspaper interviews…?