Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Out of the Shadows

Diane Abbott will presumably stand for Shadow Cabinet, and will presumably get on. As late as the eve of the 1997 Election, Michael Meacher, Gavin Strang and Clare Short were all securing election to that body. The Very Hard Left wasn't. But Abbott has not been the Very Hard Left since, for example, David Blunkett was. Indeed, she was arguably never were he was, and she was certainly never either a Communist (John Reid, Peter Mandelson) or a Trotskyist (Alan Milburn of this Government, Stephen Byers, and numerous others).

So, which portfolio should Abbott be allocated? Numerous possibilities are presented by her consistent opposition to European federalism, by her role as a voice of her ethnic community on immigration by people who cannot speak English or who come from countries with no historic ties to Britain, by her support for action against such things as not giving up seats to elderly people on public transport, by her opposition to the New Labour assault on civil liberties, by her support for the renationalisation of the railways, by her stand against wars of which Enoch Powell would not have approved, and by her call to discard weapons that he denounced.

But the big one is presented by her sympathy for the 11-plus, for single-sex schools, for Oxbridge as academically elitist, for universities' flexible approach to entry grades if they see potential in the applicant, for the prevention of social rather than academic elitism by improving the schools attended by the poor, for raising poor pupils' aspirations so that they actually apply to the top universities, and for reinstating full grants so that they can afford to go. On that programme, Diane Abbott for Shadow, and then actual, Secretary of State for Education.

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