Opposition Day — [15th Allotted Day] — Sure Start Children’s Centres

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:47 pm on 27th April 2011.

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Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State (Education and Election Co-ordinator) 12:47 pm, 27th April 2011

Well, there was a plan to close 28 children’s centres. I was led to believe that the council was considering the plan and consulting on it. I do not know when it had a change of heart. Perhaps it was because of the force of the representations of the right hon. Member for Eastleigh. We will have to find out. I am tempted to ask the Liberal Democrats to relay back to their colleague that rather than sign the petition, it might have been better for him to speak up in Cabinet to oppose the Secretary of State for Education and his cuts to the early intervention grant. Would that not have been a quicker way of resolving the matter, whether or not the local authority has had a last-minute change of heart with the local elections looming?

I do not know what to make of the behaviour of the right hon. Member for Eastleigh. Am I alone in finding his behaviour increasingly strange and Cable-esque? For the past 11 months, he has sat with his Lib Dem colleagues in Cabinet as the Tories have put various questions before them. They were asked, “How about trebling tuition fees and creating a market in higher education?” They said, “Why of course, be our guest, go and do it.” The Secretary of State for Education asked, “How about scrapping EMA?” “Please do,” said the right hon. Member for Eastleigh, “and why not decimate the careers service while you’re at it?” They were asked, “Shall we cut Sure Start?” “Please do,” said the right hon. Member for Eastleigh, “it will give me a good campaign at local level. Please get on and do it.” However, when the Tories ask, “Won’t AV mean we spend a little more on counting machines and the cost of elections?” all of a sudden, there is talk of resignation, legal challenges and Lord knows what. I struggle to understand that response from the right hon. Member for Eastleigh.

Does that synthetic rage not expose once and for all the absolute moral bankruptcy of today’s Liberal Democrats? When the interests of millions of young people were at stake in Cabinet discussions, they sat on their hands, but when their self-interest is challenged because they might not win a vote on a change to the voting system, it is time to bring down the coalition. That tells people everything they need to know about the Liberal Democrats: their politics are flaky, unprincipled and cynical, and their disloyal Ministers are preparing for life beyond the coalition.

There have been increasingly desperate statements from the Deputy Prime Minister. What has he said about Sure Start? At the Lib Dem spring conference he said:

“I cannot tell you how proud I am that not a single Liberal Democrat-led council is closing a single Sure Start children’s centre.”

Liberal Democrat Members have gone quiet. Are any of them prepared to back up that statement today? Stand up now. Does anyone hold to that statement?