Thursday, 23 December 2010

Fact-check for Sarah Teather - now the leading LibDem Coalition loyalist

Education minister Sarah Teather is perhaps an unlikely winner of the Coalition loyalist award among the ten LibDem Ministers targetted by the Daily Telegraph.

In the latest installment, the rather Cleggite Europe Minister Jeremy Browne makes some pretty accurate comments about the Tory eurosceptics being neutered by the Coalition - as I am sure his adversaries might confirm.

Though Teather was widely reported to be not entirely gruntled over tuition fees, she stuck to her public script when talking to reporters posing as constituents:

Miss Teather was the only one of the 10 ministers visited by this newspaper whose private views largely reflected her public comments.

(LibDems will be relieved to hear that the sting report has therefore concluded, since we have now had 10 ministers - Cable; Davey, Moore, Webb; Burstow, Heath, Stunnell, Baker; Browne and Teather).

That Sarah Teather is chirpy about the Coalition in private as well as in public reflects well on Teather - in terms of her personal relationships with colleagues. That the only female minister targetted in the sting proved less susceptible to this investigative technique of the somewhat giggly interrogators than her male colleagues may be another reason for the LibDems to regret the lack of LibDem women in government and Parliament.

But it might possibly be less useful to the Brent MP's electoral prospects. Teather could lose if just 3.5% of her Brent May 2010 LibDem voters switched to Labour. One in three May 2010 LibDems (nationally) currently tell pollsters they will vote Labour - and tactical support from Tories would not nearly be enough if that happened.

What is surprising that the LibDems minister in the department of education doesn't seem to know - or, at least, doesn't want to acknowledge - that schools funding is falling.

She tells The Telegraph:

"I think Michael Gove is deeply relieved to be in Coalition, because it meant that we got an extra slug of money for schools and that was work that I did with Nick Clegg behind the scenes," she said.

"We had an absolute fight to get that extra money into schools, and he would never have had that if he had just been a Secretary of State in a Conservative government."

Yes, Clegg and Teather had a fight alright - but they lost it.

Clegg even publicly declared victory in his battle to get the Coalition Agreement pledge honoured, namely that ""we will fund a significant premium for disadvantaged pupils from outside the schools budget by reductions in spending elsewhere".

A senior No 10 aide said: "The money for this will come from outside the education budget. We're not just rearranging furniture – this is real new money from elsewhere in Whitehall."

Unfortunately, this proved inaccurate - and so the Coalition Agreement promise has been broken.

George Osborne did give Clegg permission to make the speech - but didn't provide the additional funding Clegg claimed to have.

So they are rearranging furniture - funding the pupil 'premium' by redistributing existing funding within a shrinking schools budget, where funding per pupil on current spending is falling in real terms by 2.25% on average, according to IFS research.

Teather might want to argue it would have been worse still without the LibDems.

But the specific proof of influence she does cite is factually inaccurate.

Even when the deputy Prime Minister put his reputation on the line for his flagship policy, he wasn't able to achieve the outcome Teather cites.

The pupil premium remains a good idea. The task now is to find the additional funding that it requires.

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