Was Cameron playing a little too freely with Balls quote?

John Rentoul

EdBallsmain415 300x237 Was Cameron playing a little too freely with Balls quote?Never mind the innuendo, this, asked by Michael Crick, Newsnight’s political editor, is number 395 in my series of Questions to Which the Answer is No. I must admit that I assumed, when David Cameron in his conference speech today quoted Ed Balls, that he had distorted the shadow shadow chancellor’s meaning:

Ed Balls, the man who used to be in charge of education in our country, said one of the dangers of our schools policy was that it would create “winners”.

Winners? I mean we can’t possibly have winners. The danger that your child might go to school and turn out to be a winner.

Anti-aspiration. Anti-success. Anti-parents who just want the best for their children. What an unbelievable attitude from this Labour generation.

Crick has found the Newsnight discussion on 25 May between Ed Balls and Toby Young, which Cameron’s office claims is its source for the quotation, and cites Balls’s words about the Conservative free schools policy:

The danger is that there will be winners in this policy, but it is dishonest not to say that there will be losers as well.

Crick says that this is very different from what Cameron said he said. I disagree; Balls said precisely what Cameron alleged. The word “danger” attached to the existence of “winners”, not to the fact that there would also be losers.

There was no difference in substance between what Ed Balls said then and what John Prescott said in 2005:

If you set up a school and it becomes a good school, the great danger is that everyone wants to go there.

Photograph: Rebecca Reid

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  • AlanGiles

    Yes it is very easy to stumble over a word or two in a live interview. Even the wonderful Rentoul himself has done it on live radio programmes like P.M., when I have had the dubious honour of hearing him, but most people wouldn’t be small-minded enough to highlight it.

  • Geraint Dawe

    I blame it on a lack on basic education. Cameron does not know how to punctuate a sentence properly, Loser.

  • Geraint Dawe

    read the article again, it is obvious Ed Balls is not anti competition

  • gpsang

    Geraint, proof before you post. Surely you mean “…of basic education.”; nor do you capitalise after a comma.The irony.

  • gpsang

    No, he was just being disingenuous. After years of tinkering with the education system, and lying about the standard of the final result, Mr Balls was simply repeating the simple mantra of the simple minded; let’s do nothing because you might be wrong.

  • gpsang

    It’s unfortunate that a sensible discussion of the state of state education in the UK is near impossible.It is broken! The UK now has post graduates unable to match my 5-y-o in math, granted he has an unbelievably good grasp of mathematical concepts, and are about on par with grammar.When did the mindset that there must be no losers become so entrenched in the UK? As an immigrant educated in the third-world, here because the UK is unable to provide enough of its own high skilled labour, I find this fascinating.No wonder we immigrants are sending our children back to the third-world to be educated. Shame really.

  • AlexSabine

    Clearly, it would be bizarre if Balls meant that there was a danger in there being winners from the policy, but that creating losers was absolutely fine by him.

    So to that extent I think he merely expressed himself poorly. The “danger” he sees is the losers that will be created, which he argues are a consequence, or inevitable corollary, of there being winners.

    It doesn’t seem to occur to him that competition and choice could drive up standards; to him, there is simply a fixed level of educational output/attainment that must be shared equally among the population.

    And if, as a result of educational reforms, there are some losers, that is not an acceptable price to pay for raising overall standards.

    Never mind the evidence from charter schools in the US that suggests that some of those who gain the most are disadvantaged children; or that a pupil premium could help ensure there is a strong incentive for successful schools to take children from poor backgrounds.

    This mindset exemplifies Churchill’s charge that socialism was “a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy” that preached “the equal sharing of misery”.

    As John says, in substance the attitude is exactly the same as that revealed by the Prescott quote. ‘Winners’ from the reforms (good schools independent from state control) are wrong in principle because they *create* losers (schools that parents decide to leave in favour of new schools).

    Whereas I would contend that, if such an exodus indeed occurs, it would merely *reveal* the extent to which failure in existing schools is tolerated because parents have no alternative – unless, of course, they have the means to pay private school fees or live in leafy neighbourhoods.

    Of course there are some risks – dangers, if you like – with radical school reform. But the larger danger is putting up with the status quo and continuing to squander human potential.

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