Don’t dismiss this Tory feud – it’s protecting a swamp full of medieval Islam fanatics: TOBY YOUNG gives parents a stark warning of the threat facing our children
Education Secretary Michael Gove is one of the few front-rank politicians to have given the issue of tackling extremism serious thought
The row over the plot by Islamic extremists to take over state schools in Birmingham has forced an apology out of Education Secretary Michael Gove and led to the resignation of the Home Secretary Theresa May’s closest adviser. And it looks set to intensify even further tomorrow when Ofsted publishes its critical report into the affair.
Early indications are that the education watchdog will recommend five schools be placed in ‘special measures’, accused of ‘not doing enough to mitigate against cultural isolation’ and exposing children to ‘the risk of marginalisation from wider British society’ and ‘radicalisation’.
Ofsted is expected to be particularly critical of Park View Academy, the school at the centre of the ‘Trojan Horse’ plot. According to inspectors, non-Muslim members of staff there feel ‘intimidated’, Islamic fundamentalist speakers at assemblies aren’t properly vetted and the students’ understanding of music, the arts and other cultures and beliefs is limited.
Among Muslim hardliners, most forms of art are considered idolatrous and listening to music is forbidden.
As the Mail on Sunday reveals today, in one of the schools under investigation the phrase ‘white prostitute’ was used during an assembly, with children as young as six present.
The fact such fundamentalist views have entered state schools and are influencing what children are being taught is a national scandal. If these were faith schools, parents would know what to expect, but these schools are all secular. At least, they were.
Tristram Hunt, Labour’s education spokesman, has already accused Mr Gove of ‘gross negligence’ and demanded he answer questions in the Commons.
Meanwhile, more radical elements on the Left, such as the former Birmingham City Councillor Salma Yaqoob, have disputed Ofsted’s findings and claim the staff and governors of these schools are the victims of a ‘witch hunt’ because they are Muslims.
They will argue that the independent schools attended by the Prime Minister and Mr Gove could equally well be accused of ‘not doing enough to mitigate against cultural isolation’ with the result that these ex-public schoolboys have been ‘marginalised’ from ‘wider British society’.
I have never made any secret of the fact I’m a huge admirer of Mr Gove and believe he’s done more to improve England’s schools in four years than his predecessors did in four decades. But the Education Secretary will find himself in an even more difficult position when this scandal achieves maximum velocity.
Ofsted inspectors are expected to be particularly critical of Park View School in Birmingham, one of the schools at the centre of the alleged ‘Trojan Horse’ plot
His natural inclination will be to blame Home Office officials for not doing enough to combat Islamic extremism, a long-running bone of contention between him and Mrs May. He will want to claim it’s her department at fault, not his. But he won’t be able to say that without incurring the wrath of Mr Cameron.
Mr Gove’s problem is that he made some remarks about one of Mrs May’s officials earlier last week and she hit back in such a public, aggressive way that it produced a tsunami of bad publicity.
Mr Gove told journalists at a lunch that the person responsible for failing to detect the Trojan Horse plot is Charles Farr, the former intelligence chief who now runs the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism in the Home Office.
According to Mr Gove, Mr Farr’s response to this Islamic extremism has been neutered by his fear of being accused of ‘Islamophobia’ – the same reason the last Labour Government did nothing to tackle it. In essence, the Home Office has allowed a pernicious and medieval strand of Islamism to be imported into Britain from Pakistan – and we are reaping the consequences.
There’s no doubt the Home Office does bear the lion’s share of blame – but Mr Gove should have kept his powder dry until after Ofsted publishes its findings.
When Mrs May got wind of Mr Gove’s remarks she immediately published a private letter in which she accused him of failing to tackle extremism in Birmingham’s schools.
How to combat Islamic extremism is a long-running bone of contention between Mr Gove and Home Secretary Theresa May, as witnessed this week
She wrote: ‘Is it true that Birmingham City Council was warned about these allegations in 2008? Is it true that the Department for Education was warned in 2010? If so, why did nobody act?”
This response was partly prompted by the fact that Mr Farr, the man Mr Gove singled out for criticism, is the boyfriend of Fiona Cunningham, the adviser forced to resign.
But Mrs May’s reaction should also be seen within the context of her ambitions. She’d like to succeed Mr Cameron and, because of that, is determined to avoid the charge she’s been soft on Muslim extremism. She knows if her opponents can make that stick, her chances will be damaged.
The Home Secretary’s main rival in the leadership stakes is George Osborne and when she got wind of Mr Gove’s briefing against Mr Farr on Tuesday she will have detected the Machiavellian hand of the Chancellor. No doubt that, too, contributed to the ferocity of her response. Whatever the reason, Cameron was embarrassed by two senior Cabinet members falling out.
Wednesday was supposed to be a day of triumph for the Government with the Queen’s Speech. But that was completely overshadowed by the Gove-May spat, as was Thursday’s Tory triumph in the Newark by-election.
Mr Cameron has done what he can to close down the row, forcing Mr Gove and Mrs May to issue a joint statement. For now Mr Gove has been given the equivalent of a double detention. That means he won’t be able to draw attention to the Home Office’s role in the Birmingham schools fiasco in the coming days. Even an off-the-record briefing will be seized on by a press pack anxious to talk up ‘Tory splits’.
Mr Gove will be kicking himself because the last thing he wants is for the question of what to do about the Islamist infiltration of England’s schools to be seen through the lens of some distant leadership battle.
How we tackle extremism and prevent young men from becoming radicalised is one of the most important political issues of the day and Mr Gove is one of the few front-rank politicians to have given it serious thought. He is right when he accuses the Establishment of having swept this problem under the carpet for fear of being accused of racism.
It’s time we had a proper debate about what religious practices we are prepared to tolerate in schools and other state-funded institutions – and if we need to ‘drain the swamp’ we should get on with it before the crocodile population gets out of control.
It is not ‘Islamophobic’ to want to protect young people from being brainwashed by medieval fanatics. But because of some throwaway remarks at a lunch and the Home Secretary’s absurd overreaction, this debate has been reduced to a sub-plot in Game of Thrones, with Mr Gove cast as the Imp and Mrs May doing a good impression of Daenerys Targaryen.
It’s difficult not to laugh, but the Islamist takeover of state schools is no laughing matter.
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