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Yvonne Ridley and private education

Andy Newman


This article was written a week before the Leicester South by-election, but Socialist Unity decided to hold it back, with the author's agreement, until after the votes were cast. Although debate should be encouraged on the left, there have been several occasions during recent elections where right wing columnists have exploited material they have picked up from socialist publications and used it as ammunition for attacks that damage all the left.  For this reason Socialist Unity did not want to publish any criticism of Respect's candidate before the election. 
 

 

 

Yvonne Ridley and Private Education.
 
 When a by-election was called for Leicester South I was enthusiastic that this was a lucky break for Respect, who had done very well there in the Euro elections, and could expect a creditable by-election vote.

As reported in the Socialist (http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/TheSocialistContents.htm) there is also an independent left campaigner, Patrick Kennedy standing for the local Save our Schools campaign, who are campaigning to defend 6 special needs schools. Many on the left in Leicester are supporting this candidate.

However, I think this electoral intervention by the SOS campaign is misguided because in the very brief space of time for a by-election, and given the huge financial and personal resources that the main parties will throw into the election, the SOS campaign are very likely to be lost from sight.

What is more, at least some of the support for the SOS campaign seems to be based upon the misconception that Respect's vote amongst Moslem's is not progressive. This was therefore an opportunity for Respect to make these local issues central to its campaign, and therefore link up the big anti-war vote from the Moslem community with the working class issues in Leicester.

They got off to a good start, and the leaflet from local Euro candidate, Fayyaz Suleman, in the immediate aftermath of good June 10th result raised the following excellent points:

http://www.respectcoalition.org/?ite=353

    • The PFI scheme for Leicester hospitals is a way of privatising by stealth, and we are opposed to it. We want a truly National Health Service.
    • The proposed closure of special schools in Leicester, opposed by the parents and children involved, should not go ahead.  
    • The transfer of Leicester council housing from local authority control is wrong. More council housing is the answer, not privatisation.  
    • The occupation of Iraq should be ended immediately - bring the troops home.   
    •  The cuts in funding for the voluntary sector forced through by the Lib Dems in Leicester should be reversed. 
       
Given that Respect had already indicated that it would be campaigning on defending the special schools, and had received 7300 votes across Leicester on June 10th, then the subsequent selection of the Save Our Schools candidate does strike me as mischievous. Especially as at that stage they didn't know who Respect's candidate would be.

However, Respect then managed to score a massive own goal by selecting minor celebrity Yvonne Ridley as candidate. (Quite possibly, Fayyaz Suleman was unwilling to stand again). My objection is quite simple, that Yvonne Ridley sends her 11 year old daughter Daisy to a private boarding school (Windermere St Annes) where the fees are up to 16380 per year. (for comparison, top drawer schools Eton and Marlborough charge 19000, and 20000)

Let us be quite clear what Respect's policy is on education:

      An education system that is not dependent on the ability to pay, that is comprehensive and gives an equal chance in life to every child no matter how wealthy or poor their parents, from nursery to university.

In my innocence I would have interpreted that as opposition to private education, and I would expect Respect candidates to send their own children to state schools. I do not believe that even Blair's Labour party - in a by-election where education cuts are an issue - would pick someone who sent their kid to a private school as candidate.

Yvonne Ridley's private school scandal was revealed in the March 2004 edition of Harper's & Queen.

      "Things changed when Ridley had her daughter, Daisy - the result, as she bitterly regrets admitting, of a burst condom. Suddenly, she couldn't do the after-work drinks where all the networking was done and deals were struck. For her, motherhood was "like being in a three-legged race with a ball and chain on the legs". Her solution to the problem was to send Daisy, now 11, to boarding school in the Lake District. (Daisy's father and grandparents live close by and provide a stable home life for her.) In the holidays, Daisy often flies out to join her mother and the two of them take off on travel expeditions.

      "As we wander back to Ridley's villa, with its airy rooms and marble floor, I comment that private education doesn't come cheap. She gives me a semi-smile. "In my bleakest, blackest moments I look at Daisy and I think: 'Porsche Boxster!' "

There is only one school in the world that fits the description: Link

Harper's and Queen are not putting up a smoke screen, because Yvonne's mother, Joyce, does indeed live in West Pelton, not that far from that school.

Ironically, although it is not a special needs school, Windemere St Anne's actually does specialise in special needs provision. So the parents for the 6  Leicester schools under closure need not worry - there is an alternative as long as they can afford 17000 a year fees. This is of course why socialists demand that elected representatives share the same average wage as their constituents, so that they share the same day to day worries and concerns.

Now, Yvonne is a single mother and perhaps, as she often works abroad a boarding school is appropriate - that is a personal choice, although not one that many working class families would make. But significantly there is also a state boarding school only a few miles away that Yvonne could have used, so Daisy could still have been near her family and at a boarding school, although it may be the case that ther are significant waiting list issues. Dallam School, a member of the State Boarding School Association, is in the Lake District as well: http://www.dallam.cumbria.sch.uk

Yvonne's Ridley's choice of an exclusive  boarding school set on the bank of  Lake Windemere for her own child means I could only read with a wry smile her criticism of the government's  recent plans for education as "an homage to Hogwarts". RESPECT This is the description of her own daughter's school from their web-page: "From 8-16 years, girls and boys board in single sex boarding houses, under the supervision of a Housemaster or Housemistress, who is ably supported by their assistant and academic tutors. The Deputy Head (Pastoral) oversees all boarders in her role as Head of boarding."  Hogwarts indeed. Surely Respect needs to be different from the mainstream parties, not fall into the same trap of making statements for public consumption while the candidates contradict party policy with rank hypocrisy in their lifestyle choices

Yvonne Ridley's selection as candidate is therefore a terrible misjudgement.  Nor is this the first terrible misjudgement that the leaders of Respect have made - remember the frankly silly idea of campaigning to put the Independent out of business because they wouldn't print a letter by George Galloway? (Posted on the Respect web page on 11th June, but subsequently air-brushed out of history)

The selection of a candidate with a child at private school for Respect underlines two points to me.

Firstly, that the lack of democracy in Respect, combined with the arrogant poor judgement of its leading members, is a serous problem that threatens to undermine the whole project.  As a new political organisation it would perhaps be forgivable for decisions to be made in a less than transparent way, but why are the choices made by the leadership so perverse and damaging? This needs to be addressed, and addressed quickly.

Secondly, that if Respect is to succeed it needs to realise its potential as a left unity project. Respect needed to make a more publicly visible attempt to accommodate the SOS campaign, even if this still ultimately resulted in two candidates. Instead Respect have chosen a candidate who can almost be read as a calculated insult to the rest of the left.

 

July 2004

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