The Sketch: Kelly at one with the roots of corruption, or is it perversion?

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The Independent Online

I was idly wondering what the difference between "corruption" and "perversion" was. There must be a difference, they've got different roots. Ruth Kelly could tell us. She could instinctively recite the principal parts of ripio or rupio or rumpo or whatever the underlying Latin is. She's been properly educated. That's a bonus in a minister of education. You don't expect that. She was at one of our five major public schools, one of the cleverest schools in the world.

But cleverness isn't everything, even at public school. Dr Arnold of Rugby put scholarship third in his hierarchy of virtues. Christian character was the first followed by gentlemanly conduct. You mock, don't you? Well, that may shortly be illegal so make the most of it.

If clever Ms Kelly were on her back benches she'd be wondering about vouchers and phonics and liberating schools from the Department of Education. In opposition, she would be passionately denouncing the Government which is failing generations of young people. If she were in private life she'd be putting her children down for the best private schools she could find (probably her own).

But she is in government. She is the government minister. As a result, she says: "We have the best ever primary school results." Corrupt or perverse? Half of all boys leave primary school unable to read and write properly. The Office of National Statistics denounced ministers for grossly overstating school achievements. Professor Tymms at Durham who's been saying there's been no real literacy improvement to speak of has been vindicated. Yet here she is, this pleasant-looking young woman, with her strange, deep voice saying things have never been better.

I think the linguistic answer is this: it's corrupt if she doesn't believe what she's saying but perverse if she does.

A fellow got up to report that just 45 per cent of young people in his constituency got five good GCSEs. What a burning example of the minister's dictum: "Historically, our education system produces a high-achieving elite while failing the majority." I was furious for him. Then I was furious at him. "Will the minister join with me in ..." Go on, complete the sentence yourself with the familiar words "shameful", "betrayal" and "generations of young people". He said: "... congratulating them."

Their figures represented an enormous improvement: only 33 per cent had managed these results eight years ago. Our statisticians must have improved enormously.

In reply, the minister said she was going to make GCSEs much harder. When more people fail them it will show how well her policy's working.

Peter Hain: Quick. Corrupt or perverse? Apply the Kelly test. Imagine Mr Hain's position on detention without trial if he were a) on his own back benches, b) in opposition, c) upside down in an overnight cell with a police interrogator shoving his protest banner down his throat.