The story of austerity was key to last night’s election result – and the deep, biting funding cuts being experienced by schools played a big part in that campaign narrative.
The unlikely Conservative victory in 2015 proved that pretty much everyone has become used to the idea of austerity – and the near-constant background noise of NHS funding problems. But what was new about election 2017 was the story of school cuts.
The issue climbed incredibly quickly from relative obscurity to become the joint-third most important issue to voters.
Theresa May’s government completely lost control of the “story” when it came to schools – this was supposed to be the election in which she promoted the idea of social mobility through more selection.
Instead, May’s floundering operation found itself on the education backfoot. As parents, teachers and heads were mobilised to push the story of how cuts were biting and how they were going to affect them and their schools.
There were hundreds of parents’ marches and many thousands of letters from school leaders to their parents. Other credit must most certainly go to the teacher unions for pushing the issue through their wildly successful School Cuts website that successfully personalised the issue.
Parents knew what was happening – and the campaign groups left them in little doubt where they should vote if they wanted to mitigate the worst consequences of the cuts. It would seem likely that while Labour’s tuition fees pledge will have made a difference in the so-called university towns, the education cuts probably had a big impact in London battlegrounds.
Whether this campaign will make any difference and the worst of the cuts will be cancelled is yet to be seen – there’s a vast amount of political horsetrading to be undertaken before we get that kind of clarity. But it’s now clear that the story of education cuts is out there – and the fact that it’s become an electoral liability is very, very interesting, especially with talk of another general election by the end of the year.
The funding genie is out of the political bottle.