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Parliament: Education Secretary Michael Gove laughs as Labour's feeble Tristram Hunt pussyfoots through question time

Timid shadow education secretary takes 45 minutes to stand up to opposite number

Labour's quintessentially feeble frontbencher Tristram Hunt allowed delinquent Education Secretary Michael Gove to get away without a scratch in the Commons yesterday.

Mr Gove was besieged with new evidence that his dogmatic schools policy is crumbling, but Mr Hunt failed to go on the attack during an hour-long session of Education Questions.

It took nearly 45 minutes for Mr Hunt even to get to his feet. Then he waffled so badly that Mr Gove was able to turn the tables and mock the Labour shadow education secretary.

Not one question was bowled about the vicious attack on Prime Minister David Cameron by Mr Gove’s former special adviser, who still visits him at the Department for Education.

In a vitriolic Times interview, former adviser Dominic Cummings accused Mr Cameron and his top Downing Street advisers of bumbling from one shambles to another on education policy.

The disgruntled Mr Cummings described the PM as “a sphinx without a riddle.”

Nor was Mr Gove challenged about demands from the Local Government Association (LGA) yesterday that powers to intervene in troubled schools must be returned to local authorities.

A jaunty Mr Gove jumped energetically to the despatch box to launch jibes at Labour’s “opaque and unclear” education policy.

He gloated that free schools were a Labour innovation, as confirmed by Tony Blair. 

And he told Mr Hunt: “At different times, the honourable gentleman has been in favour of free schools and greater autonomy — and against them.”

Tories chortled as Mr Gove sneered: “Inconsistency, thy name is Tristram.”

Mr Hunt politely asked: “Will the secretary of state accept that micro-managing schools from behind a desk in Whitehall does not work?”

He urged a new director of school standards, independent of local authorities, to ensure “a robust system of local oversight.”

Several Labour MPs referred to rebellious former adviser Mr Cummings — but they confined themselves to asking for information on his visits to the Department for Education.

Mr Gove told Wigan MP Lisa Nandy: “I’m not responsible for the allocation of passes to the department, but I am always happy to welcome constructive critics like the honourable lady for an enjoyable discussion over a cup of tea whenever she wants to come into the department.”

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