Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Gove triumphs..

Good morning. Michael Gove is basking in the glow of his GCSE reforms this morning. The emphasis on academic excellence, including an end to coursework in most subjects, more end-of-course exams and a new grading system, from 1 to 8, are part of his plans to "restore public confidence", as Mr Gove put it. And he even won the confidence of a most unlikely source: Diane Abbott praised the "emphasis on rigorous qualifications and on obtaining core academic subjects" as in the interests of working-class and ethnic minority children, prompting Mr Gove to declare: "Mr Speaker, I am in love!"
The hard work begins now to ensure a smooth transition when the first exams of the new syllabus are sat in 2017. Opposition to Gove won't go away - the general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers warned of the first cohort being "Mr Gove’s guinea pigs". But the degree to which Mr Gove has achieved a relative consensus (much more so than with some of his previous reforms) is remarkable; even David Blunkett described the reforms as "Not as bad as some of us may have feared."
Perhaps this is because the status quo, despite relentless grade inflation under Labour, was manifestly unsuited to purpose. As we note:
The current GCSE system does not benefit students in the long run: on the contrary, it makes it harder for them to secure university places and jobs. A report released in 2012 found that 42 per cent of employers have had to provide remedial training for school and college leavers
Mr Gove's former employers, The Times, are also enthusiastic - but believe that the reforms don't go far enough, complaining that "Rigour for those children who are academic is a fine thing. But so it is for those who are not." Even The Guardian are receptive to the changes. Well played, Sir.
The downside? Well, it has provoked new talk of whether Mr Gove is interested in challenging for the leadership, with the FT (£) noting that "The education secretary occupies a political space that simultaneously marks him out as a Cameroon moderniser – he is still regarded in Number 10 as a trusted loyalist – and as a neo-Conservative with strong links to the Tory right." Mr Gove always denies possessing any leadership ambitions, but I can't be the only one unconvinced.
Grant Shapps will today launch Let Britain Decide, a campaign for an EU referendum which aims to extend well beyond the Conservative Party. Mr Shapps said "People feel that the EU is heading in a direction that they never signed up to. We should let the British people have their say on that new settlement through an in-out referendum by the end of 2017." Evidently, Ed Miliband does not agree.
George Osborne has a new enemy in the Battle of the Comprehensive Review. Boris Johnson yesterday said he would fight Mr Osborne's proposed cuts to London's transport budget until he is "blue in the face", warning that they could "jeopardise" projects that benefit the whole of the UK economy. While the Treasury wants to reduce Transport for London’s £1.8 billion Government settlement by up to 20 per cent, they will have to overcome a Boris-shaped obstacle to do so.  
Dominic Grieve has entered the row over prisoners' voting rights, defending the blanket ban on prisoner voting amid legal challenges. Mr Grieve said the Supreme Court is "not bound" by the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, which has ruled against a blanket ban.As Philip Johnson points out, it is a question that goes to the issue of '"Who runs Britain?". He observes that there is a simple way for prisoners' votes to become a simple matter for the UK once again:
Sir David Nicholson, the head of the NHS, will today be called on to step down by Stephen Barclay, a member of the public accounts committee.As we report, figures obtained by Mr Barclay under the Freedom of Information Act show that at least 52 NHS staff have been silenced using gagging orders since 2008. While Sir Nicholson has already announced his intention to retire next year, Mr Barclay says he should stand aside immediately following the revelations: "he is either complicit in a systemic cover-up or has failed to ask questions."
An aspect of the economic slowdown that has long baffled economists is why aren't more people losing their jobs? A new IFS study, released today, claims to have the answer. Employers have shown greater flexibility, cutting wages instead of making redundancies, with the result that unemployment has risen far less than in previous recessions.
David Cameron, John Bercow and Andrew Lansley are pushing forward new rules for the heads of select committees, reports The Times (£). The proposals would ban them from holding financial interests that conflict with their parliamentary duties. But, as ever, politics isn't too far away, with some senior Conservatives warning of the dangers of Labour gaining political traction by proposing more radical political reforms than the Government. 
Nick Clegg will today announce a new ministerial "local growth committee" to try and spur regional growth. But the "pot" of money they will have will be several billion - rather than the £50 billion recommended by Michael Heseltine, as the FT (£) reports. Mr Clegg's stated aim to develop a culture that "devolution is good" will not sit well with all ministries, with Vince Cable keen to keep control of his budget centrally.
The SNP face grasping with another tricky dilemma after a report warned that the creation of a new Scottish welfare system at independence could threaten benefits both side of the border. The FT (£) notes that the working group, chaired by Darra Singh, an executive director at Ernst & Young, recommended that Scotland and the rest of the UK share welfare services for several years after independence - but this would make the SNP's previous promises on welfare impossible. The romantic vision of an independent Scotland is one thing; the nitty gritty is quite another.

Jesse Norman lauds Steve Barclay's work on the NHS:
@Jesse_Norman: Terrific achievement by @SteveBarclayMP to uncover secret NHS payments (and possible gags on whistleblowers).

In the Telegraph
It is, of course, always open to Parliament to reassert its sovereignty by repealing the 1972 European Communities Act and leaving the aegis of the ECHR.
Best of the rest
Daniel Finkelstein in The Times (£) - Labour's great surrender on public spending
Ai Weiwei in The Guardian - The US is as bad as China
Matthew Norman in The Independent - The War for Remembrance
Martin Wolf in The Financial Times (£) - The overstated inflation danger
Today: William Hague in Washington. The Foreign Secretary is meeting Secretary of State John Kerry.
0930: Latest unemployment figures published by office for National Statistics.
10:00 London: Lord Heseltine speech and discussion on policies for growth. Wilson Room, Portcullis House.
14:15 London: NHS chief executive David Nicholson gives evidence to Commons Public Accounts Committee on NHS IT system. Committee Room 15, House of Commons.
17:30 London: David Laws speech on low pay. Liberal Democrat minister will set out the party's approach to lifting living standards Resolution Foundation, 23 Savile Row.

19:30 London: Boris Johnson's annual State of London debate, in which the Mayor answers questions from the public. Methodist Central Hall, Westminster.