Barwell quits Croydon Conservatives WhatsApp group, saying “I have had enough” of attacks on the Prime Minister

May’s Chief of Staff objected strongly to seeing Tory activists subject his boss to criticism “of the kind I would expect from our worst opponents”.

Anyone who has read Gavin Barwell’s book on fighting marginal seats knows how deeply embedded in Croydon politics he is. Having grown up there, he was a local councillor in the borough from 1998 until 2010, when he became MP for Croydon Central. His local knowledge and enthusiasm for the area were fundamental to his seven years representing Croydon in Parliament, and he has retained his local links since losing his seat and becoming Chief of Staff at 10 Downing Street.

As his book makes clear, his campaigning was always founded firmly on working closely with the activist base of the local Conservative federation. It contains a range of advice on raising morale and being sure to thank volunteers, and it’s clear he went out of his way to get to know Croydon Conservatives in vast personal detail. He even thanks many of them by name in the process of telling his story.

Given that Croydon Tories have been the firm foundation and certain constant in Barwell’s political life for more than 20 years, I was surprised to see an anonymous Twitter account post what purported to be evidence of angry words from the former MP to a group of local activists.

However, I’ve since been able to verify that the following comment was indeed recently sent by Barwell to the Croydon Conservatives WhatsApp group:

We don’t have the full conversation, or the ins and outs of what was said by whom to whom and about whom, including the particular individual whom it appears provoked this message. No doubt readers will have all sorts of views on the Prime Minister, her Chief of Staff, and the question of whether a Conservative member’s loyalty to party should equate to loyalty to its leader or not.

But that’s really beside the point. Rather, this is a vivid illustration of quite how the tensions and frustrations of the current situation are severely testing relationships between different elements of the Conservative Party.

Local elections 2) The contest with Labour. Net losses of seats, and only one council gained so far.

It’s a bad night for the Offical Opposition, which as we write has gained Trafford – and lost control of three other authorities.

10.15 am We’re only a portion of the way through the results, but the classic trend of an election count is for some traditionally Labour areas to report their results first (often as a symptom of low turnout). That distorts the early impressions of how it’s going, but does give us some early insight into the situation in some heartland Labour councils. As the day goes by we’ll get more of an idea if there’s a different trend for the Opposition in more Tory-leaning councils.

Here are some of the early points to note:

  • So far, Labour is suffering net losses. The current running total, according to the BBC, is -79 council seats. That isn’t as large as Conservative losses, but it is at odds with the expectations before polling day of Labour gains somewhere in the low hundreds. If that is replicated elsewhere in the country, then they appear to be losing ground on their 2015 position – when they lost a general election on the same day.
  • They’re hurting in some core areas. Four seats – and overall control – lost in the Wirral. Twelve seats lost – four to the Tories, four to the Lib Dems, three to UKIP and one to an independent – in Sunderland. Five seats – and overall control – lost in Hartlepool. A massive 14 seats lost – mostly to independents – in Bolsover, along with overall control of the council. Seven seats lost in Bolton. In Middlesborough, they lost the mayoralty by a thumping margin to an independent candidate. This isn’t a straight switch to one other party; in several places their vote is fragmenting, with seats falling to small parties and independents as well as bigger competitors. Results like this should be troubling for a party that has been calling for a General Election ASAP.
  • And falling short in some targets. Swindon, for example, was a great hope for Labour – particularly given the difficult news its car industry has had in recent months. And yet Labour went backwards, with their Parliamentary candidate losing a seat to the Conservatives.
  • Having lost three councils, they have so far gained only one: Trafford. This was a result more like the story Labour hoped to be telling nationally: nine Tory losses, and six Labour gains. Even then, the total vote share for the borough reveals it was more about Conservative problems (-14.5%) than Labour gaining ground (their vote grew +1.4%). There are some more modest advances elsewhere – gains in Peterborough and Southend, for example – but Corbyn’s party is not so far the main beneficiary of Tory losses.
  • The row over why this has happened is only just beginning. The Labour leader in Sunderland has blamed national Labour figures demanding a second referendum. Ian Lavery, the Labour Party Chairman, says anger about the failure to fulfil Brexit outweighs anger over austerity. In response, we’re starting to see a counter-argument emerge pointing to Lib Dem and Green gains as evidence that really Labour was insufficiently Remain. This is all complicated, of course, by the likelihood that, like the Conservatives, Labour may be being punished from two different directions in different parts of the country. Which they opt to resolve is the big question.

Risking our security. Risking our alliances. Opening our infrastructure up to China is a risk too far.

There are no certainties – at least, until it’s too late – so the UK should err on the side of caution.

Whether you think Gavin Williamson leaked or not; whether you think such a leak (by Williamson or anyone else) was justified or no;  whether you think May was right to sack Williamson for allegedly leaking or not, the Huawei question remains unsettled.

If, as is reported, the Prime Minister hoped to “draw a line” under both the leak and the wider policy dispute by acting so firmly, that has evidently failed. Not only because the former Defence Secretary is vocally protesting his innocence while the Government is unwilling to release its evidence, but because the underlying issue which the leaker was concerned about retains its importance.

It is three and a half years since Nick Timothy warned on this site that the UK was placing itself at risk of espionage and hostile action by allowing China to gain access to its essential infrastructure, from energy generation to telecommunications. His concern went unheeded then, as the Prime Minister has ignored it from many other voices now.

So is there an issue with Huawei? Should the UK be concerned about the company?

First, let’s not make the mistake of treating this as just another private sector provider. After all, China is not just another country. Despite a degree of marketisation and the toleration of the profit motive, it remains a fundamentally authoritarian state, a rising superpower which holds that its own citizens are first and foremost bound to be obedient to the collective interest. It holds no free elections, it tolerates no internal opposition, and it operates vast abuses of human rights – most recently in the huge repression targeted at Uighurs, which includes mass detention in concentration camps for the purposes of ‘re-education’. Domestically and internationally, China is notable in viewing modern communications technology as a threat to be controlled by the state and an opportunity to pry into and restrict its citizens and rivals.

It would be naive not to recognise that any organisation flourishing in these conditions does so only because it is allowed to exist and grow by the consent of the Chinese state. The exact nature of the relationship is a chicken and egg question; what matters is the fact that major Chinese telecoms companies are based in a totalitarian state which requires obedience and is known to run extensive cyber-spying operations around the world. It is an unavoidable fact that the state in question could snuff out such companies if it wished.

So in a simple assessment of risk on a common sense basis, allowing any such provider into sensitive UK infrastructure would appear unwise. What’s more, there are reports of specific concerns about Huawei-provided devices. Bloomberg reports that Vodafone found 26 security issues with equipment from Huawei, including six “critical” and nine “major” security holes, and that these problems were found in several Western countries.

Huawei deny those claims on the basis that these are not backdoors – intentional ways in – but innocent mistakes, a mixture of oversights and legitimate diagnostic tools accidentally not removed after installation. This should be treated with some scepticism. For obvious reasons, deliberate backdoors are designed to appear inadvertent, innocent and therefore deniable – that’s far from unusual in espionage. Furthermore, the report Bloomberg has had access to includes a claim by Vodafone’s then-Chief Information Security Officer at the time that Huawei failed to honestly resolve the issues when they were discovered:

“What is of most concern here is that actions of Huawei in agreeing to remove the code, then trying to hide it, and now refusing to remove it as they need it to remain for ‘quality’ purposes…”

A third and final consideration for the UK should be the position of our closest allies on Huawei. The company is banned from government work in the US and Australia, Canada is considering such a ban, and New Zealand’s security services have forbidden Huawei components from being imported for use in 5G networks. Those four countries, along with the UK, make up the essential Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance. If our trusted allies are acting on these concerns, we should take note. What’s more, the US is so concerned about China penetrating UK communications networks via Huawei that they are threatening to withdraw intelligence-sharing if London allows the Chinese firm to take part in 5G.

This is blunt stuff, but hard to ignore. There are sensible reasons to be wary of Huawei, and China’s cyber operations, in principle and, it appears, in practice. By definition there is no way to be certain except to take a severe risk and suffer as a result – it is in the nature of managing risks that we should err on the side of caution.

Even if you are not bothered by the evidence, or by the nature and circumstance of the company in question, and think it a risk worth taking in itself, then the views of our allies should still settle the question. This is a risk too far.

In the final, decisive, ultimate meeting about Labour’s Brexit policy, Corbyn has successfully fudged it again

And as much as it infuriates Brexiteers and Remainers, the strategy appears to be working for him.

Today’s Labour NEC meeting was the latest skirmish in the ongoing conflict between hardcore Remainers and the Labour leadership – a struggle between specificity and vagueness. They met to agree the contents of the Labour Party’s European election manifesto, right down to the exact wording of the second referendum position. This was anticipated in some circles to be the moment at which the Opposition would unequivocally commit itself to a second referendum in any circumstances.

Writing in The Observer, Will Hutton declared it “a battle…that will settle the future of the Labour party – and arguably the country” and described the referendum question as an “issue that cannot be fudged”. This being the Labour Party in 2019, of course, one of the decisive choices on offer was itself a fudge – the leadership’s existing position of continued ambiguity.

It was perhaps inevitable that Jeremy Corbyn, the political Willy Wonka himself, has duly supplied more fudge. After a marathon meeting, Labour’s new position is unequivocally to allow further equivocation. The BBC reports a Labour spokesman as defining it thus:

“The NEC agreed the manifesto which will be fully in line with Labour’s existing policy to support Labour’s alternative plan and if we can’t get the necessary changes to the government’s deal, or a general election, to back the option of a public vote.”

The key words are “if” and “option”. Tom Watson and others wanted a guarantee of a second referendum, with Remain on the ballot paper, in any circumstance. But this text disappoints them, making only the option of a referendum a mere consideration in a third-place scenario.

That will cause some ructions for the Labour leader. So why has he forced through the decision?

For one thing, the would-be Remain challenge in the European elections is flopping. ‘Change UK – The Independent Group’, AKA ‘Keep The UK The Same – The Forgettable Mouthful’, are currently struggling in the polls so badly that they are even behind the Brexit Party in London. That reduces the perceived need to woo Remainers.

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage is openly gunning for Labour voters after chalking up early success among Conservatives. That increases the possible price of pandering to Remainers.

What’s more, Labour believes its strategy of ambiguity to be working – not for the EU, necessarily, which is not its priority, but for itself. It has held together its embattled coalition better than Theresa May, and the polls show that while 42 per cent of voters believe it to be an anti-Brexit party, 25 per cent don’t know its position, 13 per cent believe it to be pro-Brexit and 20 per cent believe it to be neither pro- nor anti-. If Corbyn’s hope is to not talk about Brexit and instead talk about other topics, his strategy appears to be muddying the water sufficiently to allow him to do so.

Candidate applications open in seven more seats, including two extremely close marginals

Six of the seven constituencies in the new tranche voted Leave in the referendum.

Seven more parliamentary seats are currently open for candidate applications. Following what appears to be a deliberate pattern – possibly to offer opportunities to candidates with different aims and plans – the tranche ranges from two hyper-marginal seats (Barrow in Furness and Keighley), via four with majorities of a few thousand, up to one (Sefton Central) which has a pretty huge Labour majority. Two (Barrow, and Bury South) were won by Labour in 2017 but have incumbent MPs who have since departed to sit as independents.

Notably, all but one (Sefton Central) are estimated by Chris Hanretty to have voted Leave in the referendum. Given this fact, and the mood of the Conservative grassroots about the Government’s Brexit delay, it will be interesting to see if that has any bearing on the eventual selections.

Here are the seven seats:

Barrow in Furness: Incumbent: John Woodcock (sitting as an independent since 2018). Labour majority: 209.

Bassetlaw: Incumbent: John Mann. Labour majority: 4,852.

Bolton North East: Incumbent: David Crausby. Labour majority: 3,797.

Bury South: Incumbent: Ivan Lewis (sitting as an independent since 2018). Labour majority: 5,965.

Gedling: Incumbent: Vernon Coaker. Labour majority: 4,694.

Keighley: Incumbent: John Grogan. Labour majority: 249.

Sefton Central: Incumbent: Bill Esterson. Labour majority: 15,618.

Applications close on Friday 10th May.

Adonis encouraged his fans to hate Brexiteers. And now they hate him.

For some reason he appears to be surprised at the reaction to his switch of position.

Mark Francois is standing in the European Elections. In a shock decision, he has put out a statement explaining that his position is now that the UK ought to Remain in the EU.

Since the news broke, he has been accused by his former allies of selling out, of betraying his principles and making a mockery of all his previous campaigning.

He seems taken aback by this criticism, and is protesting that actually his view is exactly what it was before. Understandably, nobody seems to buy it.

It’s an implausible thing to happen, and even more ludicrous to imagine that someone performing such a switch would be surprised at the backlash. And yet, of course, it has happened – albeit in the opposite direction.

Of that cringeworthy class of influential men who have been driven to an unappealing and extreme fury by Brexit – AC Grayling, Gavin Esler at al – Andrew Adonis has distinguished himself by the depths to which he has been willing to stoop.

His denunciations and proclamations since the referendum have routinely gone so far as to intensely embarrass other Remainers.

Holding hard to the principle that extremism in pursuit of Eurofederalism is no vice, he has compared Brexit to the Spanish Inquisition and the Japanese capture of Singapore, and threatened to purge civil servants from Whitehall for the sin of doing their jobs in preparing to leave the EU.

As intended, this has made him a cult figure among the pro-EU hardliners who are his target audience, just as it has made him a laughing stock for many other people. To his fans, he is the epitome of a no-compromise, no-surrender, Remain-at-all-costs campaigner. Even his own party has been the target of utter contempt for, in his view, being “complicit” in Brexit.

It does rather trash his brand, therefore, that he has decided to stand for Labour and released a statement apparently backing the Spanish Inquisition.

“Labour has always been clear that it respects the result of the referendum…,” the Brexiteer-Finder-General wrote, “Labour has put forward a sensible alternative plan that would ensure a close economic relationship with the EU after Brexit.” If you were still wavering, never fear: “A vote for Labour is a vote for so much more than just Brexit.”

So much more, but evidently in his view a vote for Brexit nonetheless. Leavers perusing Labour’s confused policy might doubt that, but it appears that on his own terms Adonis must now purge himself from public life for supporting the thing he spent the last three years saying he opposed with every fibre of his being.

It’s such a strange thing to say that if it was a video I would have been looking out for a fake tic, or his fingers tapping out H-E-L-P-K-I-D-N-A-P-P-ED in morse code.

Adonis isn’t the first person to subjugate their beliefs to the insistence of Team Corbyn and he won’t be the last, but he is one of the most stark examples. Jeremy gets what he wants, and it seems that what he wants is obedience in all things.

The benefit to Labour’s leadership is limited but tangible – a battle won in the eternal civil war in which Remainers seek to woo Corbynites away from their Leader. They seem to care more about this than about their actual performance in the Euro elections, and therefore don’t mind too much that the issue might drive some ardently Remain voters to the Greens or Lib Dems.

The benefit to Adonis, however, is hard to see. His standing has plummeted in the eyes of his former fans, and he is now the target of outright ire and disdain from various prominent figures in the Continuity Remain world. Other Remain parties are using him as proof that Labour can’t be trusted to oppose Brexit, with all the bile he once used against Brexiteers himself.

Maybe he feels that he can recant later on, and thereby return to the fold with more influence as an MEP, but he has burned his bridges and it’s unlikely they will trust him again.

He taught his followers to be utterly intolerant of any backsliding or compromise, and told them that Brexit and Brexiteers must to hated at all costs. He now finds himself the victim of that very contempt which he so energetically encouraged.

May breaks the record for most unpopular Conservative minister ever in our Cabinet League Table.

The only worse scores we can find were awarded to Vince Cable and Chris Huhne at their lowest points in the Coalition.

We didn’t publish the Cabinet League Table from the end of March at the time, so this post serves to release the data for that month and for our latest survey of 1,119 Party members, which was carried out last week. Indeed, they function quite well as a pair, showing the trend in members’ opinion of those at the top table first just before the Brexit postponement, and then a couple of weeks after.

Here are the key points to note:

  • The Brexit delay has been disastrous for the Cabinet as a group. At the end of February, the Cabinet’s net approval rating was -1.2 – essentially neutral, though almost 1000 points down on a year before. By the end of March that had fallen to -159.6, and it has now deteriorated even further to -325. That is a whole lot of disapproval.
  • It has been particularly disastrous for Theresa May. For obvious reasons, the Prime Minister is bearing particular blame from Party members – both, one suspects, for her Brexit failure in particular and for the more general problems her continued leadership brings with it. Her rating wasn’t fantastic in February, when it sat at -40.8, but the prospect of postponement pushed it down to -51.2 in March, and the reality of that broken promise has pushed her numbers off a cliff, plummeting to -73.5 in April. I’ve searched our archives and so far as I can see this is the worst rating awarded to any Conservative ever in this question. The only Cabinet League Table numbers I can find which were worse were Vince Cable and Chris Huhne at their respective nadirs during the Coalition years, which are not people a Tory Prime Minister would want to rival in the grassroots popularity stakes.
  • Chris Grayling is down again. Having plumbed new depths in February, the Transport Secretary fell again in March, down to -71.6, then held at that undesirable level in April. Ordinarily that would be the major story, but the Prime Minister has stolen both his thunder and his record by being even more unpopular. Cold comfort, but it does at least keep him off the bottom of the table.
  • Liz Truss rises to second place (by maintaining her score). As most of the table are dragged down by the general malaise, just about the best any Cabinet member can hope for is to maintain their score. This is exactly what Truss has managed to do. Back in February she was in sixth place with an approval rating of +39.9. Two months later that is at +38, but is sufficient to take second place. Those who were above her have fared far worse: in two months, Hunt lost 9.3 points, Leadsom 14 points, Mordaunt 18.4 points, Cox 23.4 points and Javid 30.7 points. It seems her energetic campaigning on small-state ideas has helped to shelter her from the wider conditions.
  • The Cox bandwagon has stalled. Having gained a lot of publicity following his conference speech, the Attorney General became a repository for Brexiteer hopes early in the year, as he refused to varnish the realities of May’s deal. Some even saw him as someone who might manage to hold the Government to its No Deal promise, or fix the backstop via ‘Cox’s Codpiece’. Sadly those dreams came to nought, as the decline in his rating from +44.7 in February to +21.3 today reflects.

Exclusive. The full list of Conservative MEP candidates.

ConservativeHome reveals the full slate of 71 candidates, standing in every region and nation of the UK.

Having broken the news last week that the Conservative Party was preparing to contest EU elections, a few days ago I published the list of Conservative candidates standing in Scotland in the European elections. Today, ConservativeHome can reveal the full list of 71 Conservative MEP candidates, in every region and nation of the UK.

As ever, it remains the case that the formal position of the Party and the Government is that Brexit ought to be concluded before these elections must be held, but that looks vanishingly unlikely at this stage.

Each list is in order, and those incumbent MEPs standing again (who were automatically placed at the top of each list) are highlighted in bold.

Scotland

1. Nosheena Mobarik

2. Iain McGill

3. Cllr Shona Haslam

4. Cllr Iain Whyte

5. Andrea Gee

6. Michael Kusznir

 

East of England

1. Geoffrey Van Orden CBE

2. John Flack

3. Joe Rich

4. Thomas McLaren

5. Joel Charles

6. Wassim Mughal

7. Thomas Smith

 

East Midlands

1. Emma McClarkin

2. Rupert Matthews

3. Anthony Harper

4. Brendan Clarke-Smith

5. Thomas Randall

 

London

1. Syed Kamall

2. Dr Charles Tannock

3. Joy Morrissey

4. Timothy Barnes

5. Scott Pattenden

6. Attic Rahman

7. Kirsty Finlayson

8. Luke Parker

 

North East

1. Richard Lawrie

2. Chris Galley

3. Duncan Crute

 

North West

1. Sajjid Karim

2. Kevin Beaty

3. Jane Howard

4. Arnold Saunders

5. Wendy Maisey

6. Thomas Lord

7. Anthony Pickles

8. Attika Choudhary

 

South East

1. Daniel Hannan

2. Nirj Deva DL

3. Richard Robinson

4. Michael Whiting

5. Juliette Ash

6. Anna Firth

7. Adrian Pepper

8. Clarence Mitchell

9. Neva Sadikoglu-Novaky

10. Caroline Newton

 

South West

1. Ashley Fox

2. James Mustoe

3. Faye Purbrick

4. Claire Hiscott

5. James Taghdissian

6. Emmeline Owens

 

Wales

1. Dan Boucher

2. Craig Lawton

3. Fay Jones

4. Tomos Davies

 

West Midlands

1. Anthea McIntyre

2. Daniel Dalton

3. Suzanne Webb

4. Meirion Jenkins

5. Alexander Phillips

6. Mary Noone

7. Ahmed Ejaz

 

Yorkshire and the Humber

1. John Procter

2. Amjad Bashir

3. Michael Naughton

4. Andrew Lee

5. Matthew Freckleton

6. Susan Pascoe

 

Northern Ireland

1. Amandeep Singh Bhogal

TIG picks up two MEPs – and walks straight into a left/right argument as a result

It’s the classic small party dilemma – do you accept recruits and defectors, even when they come with baggage?

One of the interesting challenges for small and new parties is whether to accept every offer of support. Often the very sight of a small pond will attract people who are keen on being big fish, and the characters who find the prospect particularly attractive sometimes bring costly baggage. At the same time, a small party wants above all to grow, and to show that it is a desirable destination for defectors.

That makes for some trade-offs. UKIP had plenty of those – from Robert Kilroy-Silk who brought publicity at the price of ambitious in-fighting, Arron Banks who brought money at the price of being Arron Banks, and, more recently Tommy Robinson, who brought a hardcore of followers to sustain a party in crisis at the cost of tarring its reputation with that of a convicted thug.

The Independent Group – or ‘Change UK – The Independent Group’ as it now is – is still only a few weeks old. Even so, its first week of existence involved some trade-offs – it’s certainly true that Tory whips felt that it was not entirely a loss to no longer have to manage three of their more disorderly and publicity-eager former colleagues.

Another example has now come up with CHUK-TIG’s first MEP supporters. Richard Ashworth and Julie Girling, former Conservative MEPs who lost the whip after they bizarrely voted against the UK being allowed to discuss trade with the EU, have joined up. Both are broadly in sympathy with their new party’s EU-enthusiast worldview, but it’s also fair to say that joining up is the only chance either has of continuing in elected office.

It’s somewhat less clear what CHUK-TIG has to gain from accepting them. Even committed supporters of Euro-integration surely know that almost entirely anonymous MEPs are unlikely to be great assets on the campaign trail or in the media air war, but perhaps the prospect of showing themselves to be growing was sufficient impetus.

It duly comes with a price. When Ashworth and Girling ceased to Conservatives, they both elected to join the pan-EU EPP – a somewhat odd choice to sit alongside the party of Viktor Orban, but that was their choice nonetheless.

Now that they are CHUK-TIG’s first MEPs, that EPP alignment is causing a bit of a storm in the fractious world of hardcore Remainers. Rivals and critics on the left – in Labour, the Greens, the Liberal Democrats and elsewhere – are pointing to the fact the new party sits as part of the EPP in the European Parliament as evidence that they are of the right, essentially Tories or Blairites at best. This hits a particular weak spot for a party founded by Chuka Umunna and others, and touches on existing concerns about their agenda among many of their target vote.

If this all seems obscure, frankly that’s because it is. But it does matter. CHUK-TIG are trying to define themselves for the first time, to carve out a niche and recruit a core of activists and voters. Many of those they want on board are on the left, and are likely to be deterred by signs that they would be joining a soft Tory outfit. I’m not sure the price they’re paying is really worth their new acquisitions.

If you doubt that it is an issue, it’s worth noting that Chris Leslie, one of the party’s former Labour MPs, has felt the need to publicly deny it. Apparently their Euro alignment will be decided after the European elections, which seems unlikely to resolve confusion which arose in the first place from a lack of clarity.

Abolishing SATs is a policy designed to please teaching unions, not help school pupils

The evidence suggests it would be a damaging mistake, but Labour is pressing on regardless.

Jeremy Corbyn’s supposed basis for abolishing SATs is that the new policy would improve fairness and equality in schools. This is bogus, and is demolished in detail by Katharine Birbalsingh, the headmistress of the Michaela Community School:

‘He says they are unfair, but the very opposite is true as they are set by an independent organisation, creating a level playing field for all pupils, regardless of race or privilege. SATs see no colour or class, but only the test performance.

But with teacher assessment, the position was very different. Individual teachers could not help but bring their own expectations of the child to the process, as was clearly proved in a study carried out in the 1990s by the National Union of Teachers (NUT), which revealed how such assessments were riddled with bias.

Mr Corbyn frequently highlights his commitment to equality and diversity, but ironically the biggest losers from his abolition of SATs will be pupils with special educational needs and those from working-class or ethnic minority households.’

Quite what replacement Labour are proposing is unclear – they won’t say what it would be, only that it would be better, which isn’t quite a convincing case. Given that Corbyn’s speech attacked the concept of such testing, it seems unlikely to be a new examination just benchmarked or carried out in a different way.

But if the supposed fairness justification doesn’t stack up, and there appears to be no actual alternative plan beyond ‘do something else’, why exactly would the Opposition leader adopt this new policy?

The answer lies not at the podium during his speech, but in the audience. His speech was delivered at the annual conference of the National Education Union, and it is the teaching unions, not school pupils, whom the policy has been designed for.

What is the purpose of SATs? Obviously the function of the tests is to measure a child’s educational level. But the reason to do so is not to assess a pupil’s ability, achievement or effort – unlike, say, GCSEs. Rather it is to measure the performance of teachers and schools, in order to identify where there are problems.

Despite their efforts to cast themselves as the champions simply of education for its own sake, it remains the case that teaching unions’ primary purpose is to promote and defend the interests of their members. Often that has gone hand in hand with the promotion of educational standards, but sometimes it finds itself in conflict.

The idea of abolishing SATs is a good example of such a clash. The unions have at times opposed the very idea of sub-par teachers even existing (remember the horror at the idea of performance-based rewards?), so a measure which threatens to identify and challenge them to do better is not very popular.

As Birbalsingh and others have pointed out, experiments with teacher assessment – not judging performance on a balanced, benchmarked and independent basis – not only brings further bias into the system but lowers standards, by removing a mechanism to demand improvement. In Scotland and Wales, SATs were removed after devolution only to be reintroduced once the mistake became clear. But that practical evidence – all gleaned at the expense of pupils whose education suffered as a result – does not appear to have deterred Labour for a moment from simply repeating the error.

In short, Corbyn’s idea prioritises the demands of teaching unions over the needs of schoolchildren.