It is often hard to understand how Radio 4 puts together its group of speakers for the Any Questions? programmes. To be fair I have written about this before on several occasions such as here. However last night they involved Michelle Donelan who is the Conservative MP for Chippenham and also the Minister of State for Universities which perhaps set the scene for what was going to take place. Because they had invited a Conservative MP, their reasonable desire to balance the group meant that a Labour MP needed to be invited and so Stella Creasy who is the Shadow Minister for Business Innovation and Skills took part. Given that the opening element was a focus on exams and where students could go in a few days, they should have sensibly involved some professional people from education, either from Schools or in Universities or perhaps Businesses or to be really radical they could have involved a young person. Equally they could have invited some educational politicians from other parties and from locations like Scotland with say John Swinney (SNP) or from Wales such as Kirsty Williams (Lib Dems). Nevertheless they decided to play it ‘safe’ and involve people who they knew very well, even though these people are not involved in what is currently happening in our educational provision.
What is uncertain is who was the third person on their invitation list? One of the people who attended was Charles Clarke who as a Labour Party Minister for 13 years from 1997 to 2010 was the Secretary of State for Education and Skills from 2002-04. Now I have met Charles Clarke albeit very briefly in the entrance to a Government Building where we were both trying to get in for different reasons. He was a very friendly person at that time and I usually enjoy listening to his views. However given that Stella was already on representing Labour educational policies, it is very strange that they chose to invite Charles unless of course it was to balance up the third person who was a Tory. So Toby Young who is certainly a Tory has also interfered a great deal in education although unlike Charles, Stella and Michelle he has never been elected to do so. However the damage he has done is significant and many people including myself would suggest he should not be given the platforms he got yet again. Indeed I wrote about him a few days ago when he and Daniel Hannan were claiming that COVID was no longer a threat to our nation and indeed he was given a platform to write about that by the Daily Telegraph at the time.
The comments that Young made last night for as long as I felt able to listen was clearly very poor. I did not agree with his views about exams being the only way of assessing people accurately, however much more disturbingly he argued that the Schools should never have been closed by the Government. Now of course the Government did ask parents not to send their children unless they were key workers which is not quite the same as closing Schools. However he explained that only 2 children aged between 5-15 died due to COVID-19 and so therefore he argued that the removal of children was a mistake. Now of course it may well have been that had more children gone to Schools without face masks between the end of March and early June and given that they could not have been distanced in the Schools that the number of deaths may well have increased. In any case our Government is responding to peaks (which Young claimed would never happen again) by introducing quarantining for people who have travelled outside of the UK. Indeed the current argument about Croatia is that it is young people being too close together that has raised the number of COVID-19 cases. Our Government is closing down certain locations and so if they do so, and once Schools are opened at the end of the holiday period, these will presumably have to be closed down too? The point is that Toby Young is not competent on this subject or indeed on a number of other issues and should not be given space on the Radio in my view, especially as there are many other much better informed people!