Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The bizarre world of nuanced language

What exactly is going on in the Shadow Cabinet? A junior shadow minister leaps before - if the anonymous briefing are anything to go by - he was pushed, over a matter in which he was defending his consitituency. Irrespective of whether one considers what Graham Brady said to be correct or false, he did do what most would consider to be the role of an MP. To represent the views of his constituents.

What confuses me however is not, as some commentators have suggested, the difference between how Boris Johnson is treated when he speaks out of turn, but rather what doesn't happen when other frontbenchers defend their constituency on the same issue. Take for example, the MP for Aylesbury Vale, David Lidington. Currently he's the Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and represents a constituency in Buckinghamshire, a place with lots of grammar schools.

He told the local press that he "always supported the present system in Bucks and continue to do so". Now some may argue that because he hasn't directly questioned the single line about grammar schools not aiding social mobility as Brady did he's OK. However, surely by openly supporting and continuing to support the Buckinghamshire system of 12+ selection he is, in fact, tacitly saying the same thing as Brady, only not in such strong terms?

Asdmittedly the problem for the leadership seemed to be that it has backed itself into a corner on the subject, it doesn't want to be seen to U-turn because that would be weak, so its better to ride out the storm. Also, as has been correctly pointed out by so many, the policy hasn't really changed from previous announcements, the only difference this time was the single line which critics say undermined the existing grammar schools.

Arguably they actually have a point. It's perfectly reasonable to say that you support the existing grammar schools and won't close them, but you no longer believe the best way forward is to build lots of new ones. That is quite in keeping with conservative principles around the approach to change. However, to say that you support the existing grammar schools whilst also effectively saying they don't work isn't consistent at all, is it?

What this has resulted in is the leadership having a perceived showdown in a "row". Was it a master strategy to create a showdown with the Right? Or was it just a cock-up where a proof reading of a speech failed to spot a clanger? Who knows? But what we now have is a situation where different senior people are effectively say the same thing, but thanks to the bizzare world of nuanced language their punishment is handed out in startlingly different ways.


Praguetory said...

It's an absolute clanger. The evidence supporting the arguments (all that free school meals bunkum) was hardly overwhelming and the premise that education is only about social mobility doesn't resonate with the country at large never mind the Conservative Party. To then follow through on a weak argument with an internally inconsistent conclusion invites dissent. If would make such a weak argument here on this blog, you'd be crucified.

Anonymous said...

"...he did do what most would consider to be the role of an MP. To represent the views of his constituents."

Ah, but that's not what the Boy Dave considers to be the role of an MP, obviously...

Anonymous said...

Isn't the point about Brady that he started the briefing by distributing a bunch of statistics to the national press - I think it was the Times - to support Grammar schools in the same week that the leadership was trying to convey a different message.