Education and Health

Part of Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:02 pm on 19th November 2009.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove Shadow Secretary of State (Children, Schools and Families) 12:02 pm, 19th November 2009

It is always a pleasure to follow the Secretary of State in the debate on the Queen's Speech, not least because the Gracious Speech had his fingerprints all over it. It was, in every sense of the word, pure Balls.

Before the Gracious Speech was delivered, we were told by one Cabinet Minister that it would be the most political Queen's Speech for 12 years. Instead of that statement being a shamefaced confession, it was actually a boast. The Cabinet Minister concerned appeared to think that there was a virtue in using the Government's entire legislative programme for narrowly partisan purposes.

Whoever that anonymous briefer might be, he certainly will not come in for any criticism from the Secretary of State. After all, the right hon. Gentleman was the man who told the New Statesman that his predecessor, Ruth Kelly, was absolutely wrong to pursue consensus over schools policy. What we needed, the Secretary of State said, was

"to get back to a clear dividing line between us and the Conservatives on education policy."

Note his priority: in the very first interview he gave on education, his priority was not raising pupil attainment, extending parental choice, freeing teachers from bureaucracy, improving discipline, enhancing literacy or closing the widening gap between the richest and the poorest. No, his priorities were not our priorities. His priority was simple: creating dividing lines-putting political positioning over principle, with partisan politics instead of national renewal.

Where there was harmony, the Secretary of State promised to bring discord. That is one promise he has certainly fulfilled. As my hon. Friend Peter Bottomley pointed out earlier when discussing subatomic particles, we all know that atoms, whether fluoride or otherwise, are made up of protons, neutrons and electrons. The way to transform an atom into an ion is by adding or taking away an electron. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the type of ion the Secretary of State is probably responsible for producing is one that is relentlessly negative. However, one of the problems with the right hon. Gentleman is that if subatomic particles are handled insensitively they can sometimes create nuclear explosions.

Talking of nuclear explosions brings me to relations between the Secretary of State and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. One thing has not changed in the last 12 years. The Secretary of State still thinks he is running the Treasury. He will not rest until he is in No. 11. For him, "Move Over, Darling" is not a film starring Doris Day, it is an operation he has probably subcontracted to Damian McBride. In the battle between the Secretary of State and Mr. Darling-between the man the Prime Minister wanted to be Chancellor and the man he was too weak to move-things have not quite gone the Secretary of State's way.

Let us look at the tangled story of Mr. Balls and the public spending commitments. Early in the morning of 15 June this year, on Radio Five Live, the Secretary of State promised a real-terms increase in spending on health and in his Department after 2011. Later that same morning, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury told journalists that there would be no such rises, and that the Secretary of State could not make that promise. At lunchtime, however, the Secretary of State was back, this time on Radio 4-moving upmarket. He again promised those same real-terms rises, but when he was told what the Treasury had said the Balls balloon quickly became deflated.

"We want to see spending rising", he offered, but

"we can't make those commitments now."

From a firm promise of a better future to a faint hope in just a few minutes: the story of the Secretary of State's life.

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