News is just coming in from Westminster that Education Secretary Alan Johnson has done a last-minute u-turn on his plan to insist that faith schools take 25% of their intake from other faiths or none.
A large-scale campaign organised by Catholic churches in marginal seats, together with a feeling among some Labour MPs that Catholics had been singled out by the legislation, led many to voice doubts. They were joined by secularist backbenchers who oppose faith schools but objected to Johnson’s proposed solution.
Between these two groups, Johnson faced a stormy meeting with Labour backbenchers this afternoon and it became clear that the strength of feeling was such that he risked losing the government’s majority altogether.
In the last hour he has written to all Labour MPs explaining that he no longer plans to move such an amendment to the Education and Inspection Bill. Instead, he has “exchanged letters” and reached an agreement with both the Catholic Church and Church of England that “up to 25% of places in new [faith] schools would be additional to the demand for faith places.”
The climbdown will represent a blow to Johnson’s leadership hopes, simultaneously antagonising the large contingent of Catholic Labour MPs as well as those who oppose faith schools altogether.
Last weekend Johnson told a Labour Students audience that he personally opposed both selection and faith schools but that abolishing them would be a vote loser. His flagship Bill will now be seen by many as failing on both issues.
Update: BBC now running this story.