This won’t hurt Boris more than it hurts you
I trust you’ve brought enough of that public spending for everyone?
You never forget a good teacher, someone who believes in you even when no one else does, who wants you to seize the day and suck the marrow out of life.
Sir Kevan Collins was, the Sketch suspects, a teacher like that. He recently resigned from his role advising Boris Johnson on how to help children catch up after the pandemic, because it was clear that the Treasury wasn’t going to get close to providing the level of funding he thought necessary. When he appeared before the Education Committee on Tuesday, we might have expected a furious venting of frustration and settling of scores.
Instead, we got a determined belief, grimly clung onto in the face of harsh experience, that young Johnson could yet turn things around and deliver on the promise that the whole staff room saw in him.
“I was very disappointed that I had to resign,” Sir Kevan explained. Not angry, just disappointed. The Sketch hoped he’d go on to say that the prime minister had let him down, and had let the government down, but most of all had let himself down.
Instead, he was keen to point out the positives in what the government was doing, qualifying each point by explaining that it was “not quite enough”. There was a lot of good work in there, he seemed to be saying, but it really wouldn’t be enough to get a passing grade.
Even so, Sir Kevan isn’t one to leave a pupil behind, and he hasn’t given up on either Johnson or his fellow mischief-maker, master Sunak. “I’m a total optimist in this,” he said. He’d heard recent promises from Johnson of more money for schools, and had taken them “in total good faith”. Nothing will knock him from this path. “I’m very worried about complacency,” he said at one point, urging the sixth form to knuckle down, because A-Levels come sooner than anyone expects. But fundamentally, even when he finds that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has covered his car in flour and eggs, Sir Kevan isn’t going to give up on the prime minister.
For every hippy telling kids to tear up their books and stand on their desks, there’s a headteacher who knows that the entire school is one poetry club away from anarchy
Of course, for every hippy telling kids to tear up their books and stand on their desks, there’s a headteacher who knows that the entire school is one poetry club away from anarchy. Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker of the Commons, does not feel that the prime minister just needs to be loved and encouraged. Quite the opposite.
Sir Lindsay is seething about the habit of ministers making announcements in places other than parliament, and he’s getting his revenge by forcing them to turn up and answer urgent questions. He granted two on Monday, and three on Tuesday. When Tory Fay Jones complained that the questions were a waste of time, Sir Lindsay slapped her down. “You are now questioning my judgment,” he barked. “And I am not going to have my judgment questioned. When statements continue to be made outside the House, I will continue to grant UQs, so let’s get used to it.”
The government response is to send junior ministers. There have been questions on two successive days for Michael Gove, and each time he has been absent. It turns out that he is in Stornoway. Fleeing to the Outer Hebrides in order to avoid awkward questions is very much on-brand behaviour for members of this government.
So once again we had Julia Lopez in his place. Last week, the Sketch would have been hard-pressed to identify Lopez at all – she spent much of 2020 on maternity leave – but Gove’s absence is pushing her into the spotlight. She was elected in 2017 and has made almost a quarter of her contributions in the Chamber in the past two days.
It wasn’t an especially difficult session for her. Tory MPs were keen to offer support, perhaps on the grounds that she was answering questions about things that had been agreed by senior people while she was out of the room. Although the SNP’s Ian Blackford did his best to get expelled from the chamber, accusing her of lying, Sir Lindsay was determined not to give him the satisfaction.
Blackford’s question related to whether Gove had used money allocated for research into public opinion around Covid to instead research attitudes to Scottish independence. There is always something marvellous about SNP MPs expressing outrage that the government in London might use some event or other to push people against independence, especially when they’ve spent three days arguing that Matt Hancock’s affair makes the case for secession.
After Lopez had finished, Hoyle had a longer go at the government. “This Chamber is being ridden over roughshod,” he said. “I will continue to make sure that this House gets an opportunity to scrutinise the government, but it would be better for all concerned if the government simply followed their own ministerial code and made important announcements to this House.”
Sir Kevan Collins may still have hopes for Johnson, but Sir Lindsay is reaching for his cane. A sight sufficiently familiar for the prime minister that one fears he positively welcomes and enjoys the prospect.
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