The Sketch: It's a real education to see how far Miliband resembles his master

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The Independent Online

As you look along the front bench and see £50bn of tax-payers' money concentrated in the hands of these individuals - one or two able, one or two nonentities, one or two able nonentities (it's a Venn diagram) - you have to wonder, how have they managed to keep up the bluff?

As you look along the front bench and see £50bn of tax-payers' money concentrated in the hands of these individuals - one or two able, one or two nonentities, one or two able nonentities (it's a Venn diagram) - you have to wonder, how have they managed to keep up the bluff?

Illiteracy flourishes under the government system to such an extent that the national 14-year-old reading level is reached by the vast majority of privately educated 10-year-olds. Only under a state monopoly is this possible in the modern world.

One of Labour's Yorkshire MPs revealed that 49 per cent of school leavers in his constituency had no qualifications at all. He wanted to "enhance education provision". Half of his over-18s with no qualifications! When a maths GCSE has a pass mark of 18 per cent! When you can get 82 per cent of your paper wrong and still pass - they still don't pass! What is the Government doing about it? Oh, lots. It is making sure every child matters (pause for mass puking). The minister's ensuring the system meets the needs (and he said this with great emphasis) of "every single person". This is so bent a proposition, not just philosophically but ethically, that we would be morally wrong not to despair.

David Miliband, the Government's morning star, bears many important similarities to Tony Blair. Only some are to his credit. Let's not bother with those ones. Fresh-faced, sincere, honest, open as the sky, these are the qualities he deploys in the most ingenious ways. Andrew Selous asked about the so-called "surplus places" rule. This rule stipulates that schools may not expand while other schools in the area have spare capacity. A good school that everyone wants to send their children to can't expand if there's a lousy school next door with empty places (because no one wants to send their children there). It's why only four schools, Tim Collins said, have been allowed to expand to the demand. Only under a state monopoly does such an onerous, impoverishing, life-denying, quasi-criminal racket work.

Mr Selous claimed that some 70,000 parents had bought a house in a more favourable catchment area. He asked therefore whether this surplus places rule could be abolished.

David Miliband beamed his fresh and open face at us and triumphantly declared that no such rule existed. "There IS no surplus places rule!"

This is true. Although there is a committee (which he chairs) that issues guidelines (not rules) that schools should not expand while there are places available in the same area.

In a decade, Mr Miliband may be telling the House about his passionate belief that weapons of mass destruction held by some piffling dictatorship constitute a real, current threat to British national security and that we must invade them. We must remember, at that remove, what we heard yesterday in the House of Commons when he said the accurate and absolutely misleading thing: "There IS no surplus places rule!"

simoncarr75@hotmail.com

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