Times front page: Gove/May extremism row

Rivalry between Theresa May and Michael Gove has exploded into the open once again — with the pair bitterly briefing against each other on the issue of extremism in schools.

With Gove attempting to outsource the blame for claims of Islamist entryism to the education system in Birmingham, May has hit back by releasing a letter with barbed questions to the education secretary (IN FULL BELOW). Meanwhile a “Home Office source” — a phrase regularly used as a euphemism for special advisers — told the Times:

“Why is the DfE wanting to blame other people for information they had in 2010? Lord knows what more they have overlooked on the subject of the protection of kids in state schools? It scares me.”

While sniping on terror began in April the public enmity between the pair can be traced back much further. In March 2013, Gove slapped May down at the Tories’ political cabinet meeting for a wide-raging speech viewed to be staking out a party leadership claim as a “realist”.

The ‘tipsy’ education secretary followed this up on 5 December when he told guests at Rupert Murdoch’s Mayfair home that Theresa May ‘had no friends’ on the Conservative benches — a claim which was briefed to the Mail on Sunday three months later.

With visitors to the Murdoch dinner table not in the habit of briefing exchanges for reasons which are perfectly obvious, Scrapbook wonders which guest could possibly have a vested interest in ensuring the discussion was leaked — and whether they had the nod from old Rupe’?

UPDATE: May’s letter to Gove in full …

I am writing in response to your letter to the Prime Minister seeking approval to launch a public consultation on a voluntary Code of Practice for supplementary schools.

The publication of a Code of Practice for supplementary schools was an agreed Extremism Task Force commitment and we agreed at the conclusion of the ETF’s work that the Code should be voluntary. However, since the publication of the ETF report in December there have been serious allegations of extremism in some Birmingham schools and accusations about the inability of local and central government to tackle the problem effectively. In this context, I am not convinced that a voluntary code is sufficient and I believe it would be sensible to include the option of developing a mandatory code in your consultation document.

I understand and share your desire to include a clear and unambiguous definition of extremism and of Islamist extremism, and indeed I was pleased that we were able to agree the latter in the ETF report. It is important that having agreed these definitions we now stick to them in the Code of Practice to avoid any confusion.

We know that extremists try to impose specific forms of dress on people and this includes the mandatory veiling of women. The consultation document should be clear that nobody should be forced to dress in a particular way. We do, however, need to recognise that many moderate Muslims, as well as people of other religions, believe that covering one’s hair is a religious requirement and some parents will therefore want their children to do so. The text on dress requirements should therefore not be part of the extremism definition but, consistent with the Government’s already-stated position on the burqa, we should state clearly that nobody should be forced to dress in a particular way.

The allegations relating to schools in Birmingham raise serious questions about the quality of school governance and oversight arrangements in the maintained sector, not just the supplementary schools that would be signatories to this Code of Practice. How did it come to pass, for example, that one of the governors at Park View was the chairman of the education committee of the Muslim Council of Britain? 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? I am aware that several investigations are still ongoing and those investigations are yet to conclude. But it is clear to me that we will need to take clear action to improve the quality of staffing and governance if we are to prevent extremism in schools.

I am copying this letter to other members of the Extremism Taskforce.

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

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