Alan Johnson has recently spun much of his opposition to selection in an attempt to get his leadership campaign off the ground.
But The Daily can exclusively reveal his full thoughts on the matter, as expressed to a Labour Students gathering at Stoke Rochford this weekend.
When one of the young hacks put to him David Blunkett’s famous promise of “no more selection” and asked about progress, Johnson started by denying that Blunkett had ever said this.
In case Johnson has been having problems with his memory – Blunkett told the 1995 Labour Party Conference “Read my lips – no selection, either by examination or interview, under a Labour government.” Just in case he doesn’t believe us, he can ask the House of Commons Library. Blunkett subsequently said that he meant no more selection on top of the existing grammar schools.
Johnson, of course, has made a similar statement, telling the Observer that, “I’m against selection, full stop.”
But Johnson clarified this weekend that, although he personally doesn’t like selection, he did not of course mean that he was going to do anything about it. On the contrary, attacking selection would “lose us middle class votes in places like Slough” and, while he’s Education Secretary, it “isn’t on the agenda”.
(Slough, of course, is where Johnson brought up his children, one of whom failed the Eleven Plus, which he said left him “bitter” about selection.)
Johnson went on to say that he also personally disagrees with faith schools, but that do anything about them would also be a vote loser and seen as an attack on Muslims. Being seen to attack Muslims hasn’t seemed to be a big problem for government ministers lately, but that isn’t Johnson’s point.
We are told that even amongst the ferociously Blairite hordes in Labour Students, including people who stayed up in the bar until the small hours chanting “ten more years for Blair”, these comments did not go down too well, particularly coming from the minister who was quite happy to introduce top-up fees without pause for concern at their impact on middle-class voters in Slough or anywhere else.
Update: Latest news on this here.