Mehdi's Morning Memo: British Values For British Kids

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MICHAEL GOVE
File photo dated 21/3/2014 of Michael Gove. Education hit squads are being sent into schools to root out conservative Islamic practices, according to reports. | Joe Giddens/PA Wire

Here are the five things you need to know on Tuesday 10 June 2014...

1) BRITISH VALUES FOR BRITISH KIDS

Most of the papers lead with coverage of the controversy in Birmingham's schools and the education secretary's recommendations in the Commons yesterday afternoon. Everyone it seems, shock, horror, wants us to have 'British values'. You don't say, eh?

"All schools must promote 'British values', says Gove," is the splash in the Guardian

"British values in British schools, demands Gove," is the headline on the front of the Independent.

"All schools must teach what is is to be British," is the Times splash.

"Trojan Horse schools: the damning verdict," screams the headline on the Mail front page.

It's worth pointing out that while Ofsted accuses some of the schools at the centre of this scandal of, among other things, 'cancelling Christmas' and raffles, taking Muslim kids only on trips to Saudi Arabia and making disparaging remarks about 'white prostitutes' - all of which, if true, is unacceptable, discriminatory and needs to be stamped down on - it doesn't quite amount to a 'damning verdict'. Remember: the original accusation was that Islamist groups were trying to infiltrate and take over schools (hence the inflammatory phrase 'Operation Trojan Horse') and that schools were promoting extremism and Islamism. As far as I can see, Ofsted has found little evidence for these original, 'damning' claims.

As Shabana Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood, said: "The contents of the Ofsted reports make distressing reading for any resident of Birmingham. But what these reports do not prove is the central charge being levelled, which was that there was an organised effort to import extremism."

In fact, writing in the Guardian, a senior teacher at Park View, one of the schools accused of being part of an Islamist 'plot', accuses Ofsted inspectors of bias and prejudice:

"The inspectors' conduct during that second visit left pupils and staff feeling like suspects in a criminal investigation. From female pupils asked whether they were forced to wear the hijab (despite girls in the same class clearly not doing so) to one staff member being asked "Are you homophobic?", we were subjected to inappropriate and bizarre lines of questioning, designed to elicit the evidence required to damn us. This culminated on the second day in an inspector making a quip about there being "so many members of staff with beards" – a clearly Islamophobic comment."

Meanwhile, is a new row developing between Michael Gove and, this time, Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw? The latter told Newsnight yesterday that Gove had opposed snap inspections of schools two years ago and had only changed his mind in recent weeks in response to the so-called Trojan Horse allegations. The Department of Education disputes Wilshaw's claim.

Finally - I've been asking myself this question for a while: where are the Lib Dems? Until this morning, we hadn't heard a peep from them, with all the rhetoric on alleged extremism in Birmingham coming from the (Tory) home and education secretaries and the prime minister, of course. On the Today programme, however, at 8.10am, Lib Dem leader and deputy PM Nick Clegg weighed in by saying "everyone wants our schools to be places of education not indoctrination". He added: "The greatest antidote to extremism in any community is moderation in that community." He also threw his weight behind Ofsted's plans for new, no-notice inspections of 'suspect' schools: "One need to be able to act quickly," he said.

2) SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?

Clegg was also pretty frank about his own future, at an event yesterday - from the Times:

"Nick Clegg has said that he would consider standing down as Liberal Democrat leader if it would improve his party's electoral prospects... Speaking after an address aimed at drawing a line under his party's disastrous performance in this month's local and European elections, Mr Clegg acknowledged that being in coalition had lost his party support, particularly among young people. He said that the Lib Dems had made some 'very gory, pretty gritty, often downright unappealing decisions' on spending cuts while in government, as well as the 'notorious' decision to increase tuition fees... Asked why he had refused to stand down, Mr Clegg said: 'If I thought a year before the general election all the issues that face us could be solved magically and could float off like the morning mist by just changing personnel at the top and spending several months talking to ourselves, of course I'd think [about it]. But obviously I don't think that is sensible for the party.'"

3) THE GREAT BRUSSELS 'STITCH UP'

The PM's campaign against Jean-Claude Juncker continues. But will it work? Will he be left with egg on his face? From the Independent:

"David Cameron warned last night that the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker to the top job in Brussels would be a “stitch-up” and the “complete opposite” of democracy. At a meeting in Sweden, Mr Cameron appealed to three centre-right leaders including Germany’s Angela Merkel to block the veteran former Prime Minister of Luxembourg’s bid to land the job of European Commission president. He is the lead candidate of the mainstream centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest group in the European Parliament after last month’s elections. But Mr Cameron told a working dinner that Mr Juncker did not have a democratic mandate and that leaders from EU nations should not accept a “backdoor power-shift” to the Strasbourg parliament that would set a 'dangerous precedent for the future.' Mr Cameron urged the other leaders, who also included Sweden’s Frederik Reinfeld and Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, to 'stand up and be counted.'"

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of 16 construction workers trying to stop a rogue concrete mixer.

4) 'BLOODY UNHELPFUL' BROWN

Yesterday morning Gordon Brown had a go at David Cameron for playing into Alex Salmond's hands in the Scottish independence debate, which I reported on in this Memo. By lunchtime, he was encouraging Dave to... er... um... play into Salmond's hands - from the Telegraph front page:

"David Cameron should take on Alex Salmond head-to-head in a debate over Scottish independence, Gordon Brown has said. The former prime minister’s call was immediately rejected by the campaign against Scottish independence. Mr Brown said the Prime Minister should accept a challenge from Mr Salmond, the SNP leader, to take part in televised debates before the Scottish referendum in September. 'The Prime Minister has got to be part of this debate,' the former Labour leader said."

No campaigners, including senior Labour figures, aren't happy with the former PM's latest intervention:

"One senior Labour figure described the former prime minister’s intervention as 'bloody unhelpful'. He accused Mr Brown of trying to wreck Mr Darling’s campaign because he was unhappy not have a bigger role. 'Everything has to be done his way or he tries to dismantle it,' the Labour source said."

5) HERE COMES WANGELINA...

Forget Brangelina, it's time for Wangelina. From the Sun:

"William Hague will vow to "remove warzone rape from the world’s arsenal of cruelty” as he opens a landmark summit with crusading Hollywood star Angelina Jolie. The Foreign Secretary will stand alongside the Oscar-winning actress to kick off the four-day gathering in London – the first ever global summit to end sexual violence in conflict."

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From today's Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 37
Conservatives 31
Ukip 15
Lib Dems 7

That would give Labour a majority of 76.

900 WORDS OR MORE

John Harris, writing in the Guardian, says: "The lesson of Birmingham? State education is in chaos."

Rachel Sylvester, writing in the Times, says: "One side at Westminster believes in tackling extremism at its root; the other prefers to muddle through."

Steve Richards, writing in the Independent, says: "Trojan Horse squabble masks a major flaw in Tory policy – how can we shrink the state and maintain standards?"

Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com), Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com) or Asa Bennett (asa.bennett@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons, @asabenn and @huffpostukpol