Leader: Hunt for a government with ethics goes on
WHAT threatened to be a scathing sanction by parliament on Prime Minister David Cameron turned out in the end to fall well short. MPs rejected a call for an inquiry into whether Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt broke ministerial rules in his handling of Rupert Murdoch’s bid to acquire BskyB.
It was, however, a noisy and at times angry debate. It has opened up further fissures in the coalition, with Conservative MPS seething over Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg directing that his party’s MPs not vote with the government but abstain. Conservative backbenchers were further displeased over Speaker John Bercow who permitted the use of the unparliamentary word “liar”.
It might now seem, that, on this at times narrow and baffling issue, the dogs have barked and the caravan moves on. But there is one question left hanging. What now is the point of Sir Alex Allen, the Prime Minister’s adviser on the ministerial code? Mr Cameron may have thought that a letter he produced from Sir Alex saying there was nothing an investigation by him could usefully add to what has already been brought out by the Leveson Inquiry and in preceding questions and debates in the Commons provided an impenetrable protective shield. But many will feel that it raises more questions than answers, and one question in particular: what is Sir Alex Allan for?
When the coalition came to office in May of 2010, the Prime Minister made much of the creation of such an adviser. The appointment was presented to the public as evidence of his commitment to show zero tolerance towards sleaze and sharp practice and to mark the onset of a more honourable and trustworthy style of administration. Who could disagree with such a high-minded and laudable appointment?
But at the heart of the government’s defence yesterday was an insistence that it was the Prime Minister who should do the inquiring and to decide who should, and who should not, remain in his cabinet. To demand that the matter be passed to an official adviser, particularly when, on Sir Alex’s own words, there was little that any investigation could add to the judicial inquiry under Lord Leveson, was, to Mr Cameron’s defenders, little more than party political posturing designed to cause maximum discomfort to the Prime Minister.
But this was a piece of government machinery put in place by Mr Cameron for just such an occasion as this. Only recently he has found it appropriate to use it in the matter of Baroness Warsi and her expenses. In the case of Mr Hunt, however, it is not used. This would seem to treat Leveson as an excuse, even though the matter of the Culture Secretary’s sympathetic e-mails to News Corporation officials leaves searching questions as to his judgment and to the candour of his previous statements to parliament. What should have been a strengthening of ethical government may now have been materially weakened.
M Russell: Must do better
Consider this: If you found that a vital public service had been officially rated as “satisfactory” on a scale of six ratings – excellent, very good, good, satisfactory, weak and unsatisfactory, would that be acceptable? Most people would answer “no, this is not good enough”.
Now consider the report from Education Scotland, the body which took over from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate, which found 72 per cent of state primary schools were evaluated as “good or better” on the six-point scale, with 64 per cent of secondaries in the same category. Sounds good but this means more than a quarter of primaries are in the lower half of the evaluations and more than a third of secondaries. Again, we have to ask is a acceptable? The answer must be “no”.
Responding to these figures, which also show a continuing gap between schools in better off and deprived areas, education secretary Michael Russell said the new Curriculum for Excellence was driving up attainment and would help close the gap between the lowest and highest achievers. But if this is so, and we hope it is, how will we know? In these pages a distinguished member of the Royal Society’s education committee points out the Scottish Government has not commissioned independent research to assess the new curriculum.
There are many good state schools in Scotland, staffed by dedicated, hard-working teachers. The problem, as the report shows, is there are not enough of them. After five years in power the SNP government has not done enough to recognise this. We might, therefore, classify Mr Russell and his colleagues’ performance as “satisfactory” but that is simply not good enough.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 17 C
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Temperature: 10 C to 20 C
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