The Sketch: Balls toys with the House

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The trouble with Balls. He knows too much. It makes him think he knows everything and omniscience is the first stage of madness. He may be in to the second stage already.

He used to tell us, and with more sincerity each time he did, that he knew where we were in the economic cycle. There's no space to go into the full absurdity of that; suffice it to say that if you believe you know where we are in the economic cycle you can believe anything.

So he believes he's going to transform the lives of children with his 10-year children's strategy. Yes, he believes he can turn our failing and decaying system into "world class education for every child". We are dropping down the international league tables fast enough to leave a sonic boom behind us, incidentally, and British children are among the unhappiest and least literate children in the developed world but, according to Balls, children have never had it so good.

And he seems to believe it. That's one of the danger signs, of course.

Notwithstanding the rip-roaring success of the past 10 years, there's to be a root-and-branch review. And consultations. Support will given, barriers removed. Yes, there'll be more Behaviour Partnerships and Parents' Councils and a Play Strategy and transformed youth services. Talent will be unlocked and the happiness of all children will be promoted. And there'll be a police presence in every primary school.

Balls puts all this across with impressive solidity. It pains me to say that. He has an impregnable earnestness that carries the House more effectively than Michael Gove's perky, Radio 4 debating style. So, Gove's amusing lines about the 574 targets and instructions for bringing up baby, just don't carry the conviction the Tories' need to win the battle of what they call "values". It's why they're not 20 points ahead in the polls, because there's a sense this is a game played between professional politicians.

My advice to Gove is to get drunk and practise speaking in a darkened room. He and younger Tories all need to be more involved. Viscerally, emotionally, intellectually. Many still suffer from a born-to-rule ease that doesn't play very well out there among us plebs.

What I want is to hear a blistering defence of liberty in education, and an unanswerable case that more Balls means more pain, poverty and educational failure for children.