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Doing the Starmer shuffle

ROBERT POOLE reflects on the appointment of a new shadow education secretary and what this tells us about the current state of the Labour Party

IN AN act of what seems like desperation, Keir Starmer has once again shuffled the shadow cabinet. Why he chose this week for the shuffle is unknown, maybe as a way to detract from Tory sleaze or to distract the country from the woeful mishandling of Covid by capitalist nations which has led to the rise of yet another variant?  

Out with the old and in with the Blairites seems to be the mandate of the day. One of the “victims” of this reshuffle is Kate Green the, now former, shadow education secretary. 

Green, it must be said, did not set the world on fire in her role and she earned the resentment of many when she took on the role after Rebecca Long Bailey was shamefully fired. 

Despite this, Green did hold a place in my heart for her support of the Abolish Eton campaign — in fact she helped to organise the historic launch event in Parliament that saw the start of Labour Against Private Schools. 

Once in a position to perhaps influence opinion, unfortunately, the honourable member for Stretford and Urmston did a swift U-turn, going so far as to publicly state that abolishing private schools has “never been a big priority for me or for the Labour Party. Only 6 per cent of children are in private education.” 

Only 6 per cent, yet 6 per cent who are able to go on to disproportionately influence every level of our society.

So who is next for the top job? For a terrifying moment the education community held its breath as rumours surfaced that it was to be Wes Streeting. Thankfully not. 

Instead Bridget Phillipson MP is set to take on the role. No, I’d never heard of her either and we are not alone — YouGov states that only 16 per cent of people have. But, fear not, dear reader, I have done some Googling so you don’t have to! 

Phillipson has a pretty ordinary past for the new breed of Labour MP, daughter of a Labour Party official, Oxford educated and one of the first to call for a “People’s Vote.” 

Apparently Starmer was looking to mould a shadow cabinet in his own image. Looking through her voting record, she did consistently vote against academies and tuition fees, so that’s a tick in her favour, though she also voted for renewing Trident and sending British troops overseas.   

Somehow the career of Bridget Phillipson has passed me by, despite her being an MP since 2010 and, it would appear, being a prolific writer for the New Statesman and other organs of the Establishment. 

Writing for the Times after the disastrous 2019 election, she was quick to pin the blame for Labour’s defeat, not on the doomed Brexit stance but on “community organising.” 

The community organising unit that claimed it wanted to follow the Labour tradition of “struggling together for better workplaces, better neighbourhoods and for a better world” didn’t last long under the new Starmer regime and the whole unit was sacked in 2020.

Phillipson is all for listening to voters, that is by aping the Tories and holding “focus groups and commissioned polling” — this is from the People’s Vote advocate in a majority Leave-voting seat. 

She states that “there are no routes to victory that don’t involve having a good leader, a believable policy offer, and a competent campaign.” 

I’m not sure how she squares this with supporting Starmer, who is very much none of the above. 

The MP in the same article made a point that voters don’t care about backstories or where their elected officials come from — they care about “whether people look as if they can do the job.” 

This may explain why she voted for David “Extraordinary Rendition” Miliband, Owen “Chicken Coup” Smith and Keir “Captain Hindsight” Starmer.   

Despite decrying backstories, the Labour MP for Houghton and Sunderland South nonetheless does like to let us know hers. 

In her articles she makes numerous references to the fact that she was brought up “in poverty” as the child of a single mother, even having her piggy bank stolen at one point and in her first tweet in the role she made sure to mention that she was state-school educated: “I had a wonderful education at my local state schools — and every child deserves that.” 

On this I completely agree. Every child deserves a state education at their local school. Let’s hope the new shadow education secretary will strive for an education system free from hierarchy and selection, though as she has shown little interest previously I’m not holding my breath.  

Robert Poole is a teacher and NEU activist.

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