Simon Carr: Ed Balls did a Gordon Brown impression – minus the light touch

Sketch: The two-tier system he fears could only be an improvement on the multiple tiers of deprivation and failure we currently have
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The Independent Online

Yesterday was a black day, we were told. After a torrid two weeks, the backlash had only just begun. The Education Secretary had gone from embattled to beleaguered. What he is this morning you will know better than I.

Ed Balls was giving us his all on the Tory academies Bill. To decode his remarks – he was against it. When he said "It is a total and utter perversion", he wasn't saying that like it was a good thing. He wasn't referring to the Latin mistress in a basque and a two-foot ruler and a test on the principal parts of subfero ("Ow, Miss! It's sustuli, I promise! Ow! Suffere, sustuli, sublatum! Ow, ow, ow!").

No, Ed Balls couldn't find a kind word to say but this didn't stop him talking at length.

Michael Gove was going to make everything much worse, he told the House. By allowing parents to set up schools it would cut parents out of the system altogether. His Bill was going to rip apart the community-based system in order to create falling standards, gross unfairness, the biggest centralisation in education and the greatest threat to comprehensive education since World War Two.

For those with eyes to see, he couldn't completely conceal his pleasure at the prospect of this.

Some of us saw Balls on Newsnight arguing the merits of these new schools with the author Toby Young. "There will be winners in this," Balls said, as a final critique. How to lose friends and alienate people: Balls has written the book on it.

Michael Gove gave us sunshine – he offered permissive legislation, he fielded objections politely, he teased his opponents. On an intervention about giving more power to teachers he pulled a shadow minister's nose: "There are teachers such as yourself, Vernon, I'd be a little reluctant to hand power back to." This made a number of Labour members smile, and not for the first time.

He dealt with interesting interventions from Stephen Pound, Stephen Twigg, Karen Buck, Jim Cunningham and Chris Bryant with grace and good humour.

This made Ed Balls's manner all the darker. For his leadership bid he is recreating an impression of the last Prime Minister, if lacking perhaps a little of the Scottish lightness of touch. He relies on an enemy that is dedicated to the forceful disadvantage of the poor.

But to Gove's statistic that only 45 out of 81,000 poor students got to Oxbridge he has no answer. The two-tier system he fears could only be an improvement on the multiple tiers of deprivation and failure we currently have.

PS: Compare and contrast the Speaker's reaction to Labour points of order and Tory ones. To Labour: "While that is not exactly a point of order, the Hon Gentleman has put his view firmly on the record for the benefit of his constituents." And to Tobias the Tory Ellwood: "That is not a point of order; it is utterly specious and a waste of time." Good bullying; especially as Tobias Ellwood has a suite of special needs.