That grating Labour contest and a lesson in bad grammar…

THE Labour leadership contest grinds on with the two contenders grating against each other like rocks put in a spin drier in the spirit of dull mischief. Meanwhile the winner of the Tories’ no-contest leadership race confirms that she wants to bring back grammar schools – and allow more faith schools.

I have only seen a few highlights from last night’s Question Time debate between Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith. Well, I say highlights but they looked more like low-lights.

Corbyn continues to tread his quietly stubborn furrow, displaying the sort of oddly understated arrogance that seems to be his style; Smith continues to go red-faced with discomfort as he staggers under the weight of his own personal cross: the knowledge that he cannot win.

All in all, I am with the audience member who asked why they didn’t both step aside and let someone else take over. Although Labour seems to be in such a mess at the moment you wouldn’t give the ghost of Nye Bevan much of a chance of turning matters around.

Maybe political parties occasionally have to endure these dark nights of their tired souls; maybe something positive will come from this contest, a sort of non-contact wrestling match between two men who are trying not to lay into each other; or maybe we are stuck with the Tories for the next ten years.

You see the Conservative Party is good at survival; good at pulling itself round; good at getting on with things while their opponents indulge in an internecine scrap. Sometimes it seems that the best hope for those who dislike the Tories is that, emboldened by Labour’s deep troubles, they will end up splitting into their own bloody factions.

No love was ever lost between the inhabitant of this ledge and the last prime minister. The mocked-up front page I was given on leaving the Press featured a strap at the bottom of the page saying: “Julian’s David Cameron tribute column: Page…”

The joke being that in my long-running column I would never have written such a thing. A good joke and a true one. That view is not about to be softened now either, but at least Cameron represented a modern style of Tory. Theresa May seems dipped in darker ink.

Her rapid announcement that she plans to end the ban on new grammar schools and make the country “a new meritocracy” shows two traits: one is a leaning to the right-wing side of her party; and two – a more personal one, this – a steely determination to push ahead with something, with or without the evidence to hand.

Mrs May is about to overturn decades of cross-party consensus on education policy almost at a whim – and certainly without anything new to back up this change. Where is the evidence or the evaluation? It’s not there, as she has none. All she has is that big stick she is using to scratch an old party itch.

She is also boldly stating something that is surely a contradiction: she talks about a “country that works for everyone” and in the same breath wants to reintroduce selection by ability at the age of 11. No amount of social tinkering will avoid the fact that her “new meritocracy” is based on old-fashioned slicing away of the few.

In 2007, David Cameron dismissed talk of bringing back grammars, saying that the debate was “pointless” because “parents fundamentally don’t want their children divided into sheep and goats at the age of 11”. Now Theresa May is in charge and she is counting out those sheep and goats.

As for creating more faith schools, in particular more Catholic schools, that will seem like a retrograde step to the sensibly agnostic among us. Far better to separate religion and schools altogether, but sadly that argument seems to have been lost.

And all of these proposed changes are being introduced by a prime minister none of us has yet voted for.

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