He has been touted as a future Labour leader and “the new Blair”. So you can imagine a future chronicler of the Tristram Hunt premiership devoting a page or two to his first big debate as shadow Education Secretary. If the author is as professional a historian as Hunt himself is, he’s unlikely to describe it as an unalloyed triumph.
To borrow from boxing, it was like watching a promising new Great White Hope having his first try-out against a weathered prize-fighter. A shameless Michael Gove showed off to the crowd, used lots of fancy footwork and hit his opponent more than once below the belt. He secured a clear win on points.
Attacking the use of unqualified teachers in free schools and academies, Hunt dealt with interventions largely by not answering them. “Today we are focusing on the future,” he said a little primly to ribald laughter from the benches opposite when the Tory Andrew Percy, a teacher, asked about an increase in unqualified teachers under Labour. Clearly having done his homework, Mel Stride, another Tory, challenged him on whether Terry Morris, Hunt’s old history teacher at the private University College School was “a qualified teacher, or simply an inspiration”. “The great thing about qualified teachers is that they can be both qualified and an inspiration,” said Hunt. It was a feint, but didn’t avoid the punch.
There was also a jargon issue. No more “going up the value chain rather than deskilling”, Shadow Secretary! Nor is it advisable to say so soon in your new post: “As Secretary of state for Education I am not going to… [allow failures like that at the Al-Madinah academy].”
Gove mercilessly mocked Hunt’s over-erudite references to “TH Green and LT Hobhouse” (and Keynes) in his attack on the Liberal Democrats. He then took apart Hunt’s pronouncements on free schools, saying that as a civil war historian Hunt knew all “about a body politic being racked by internal division. What a pity that it is his body politic that is being so racked”.
Hunt will learn. But he needs to work on his technique in the gym. With a punchball.