Labour can afford to lose teacher vote

4th March 2005 at 00:00
Many teachers celebrated the Labour party's 1997 landslide election victory as if it were VE Day. Eighteen years of Conservative rule had ended and all things seemed possible. Wordsworth's ecstatic response to the French Revolution summed up the mood in many staffrooms: "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive."

Eight years on, as the latest TES opinion poll shows, teachers' attitudes are very different. Yes, there has been significant progress (rising pupil attainment, investment in school buildings and huge expansion of early-years services and higher education) but there has also been pain (inspections, longer working hours, excessive pupil assessment and endless "initiatives"). No wonder Labour is now backed by only 29 per cent of teachers.

That support may decline further now that thousands of teachers face pay cuts because of the overhaul of management allowances. The raising of the teacher pension age from 60 to 65 could turn many others against Labour, although all other political parties would pursue the same policy. But will Labour's leaders be worried by such poll findings? Perhaps not.

Welsh Assembly ministers, who have been merrily pursuing "old Labour" education policies, will be unhappy that Plaid Cymru's stock is rising.

They will, however, be heartened by the confirmation that they have a better rapport with teachers than their Westminster colleagues do. Tony Blair and his education ministers are also likely to be sanguine about such poll ratings, especially as only one in 11 teachers supports the Conservatives. The Government has tried to cosy up to teachers at various times over the past eight years - Charles Clarke's workforce agreement love-in with union leaders was the most notable example. But now it is the parent's vote, rather than the teacher's, that is being sought. Hence the recent announcements from Education Secretary Ruth Kelly about the quality of school meals and classroom indiscipline.

There are, after all, fewer than 500,000 schoolteachers, whereas almost 2.5 million people buy the Daily Mail every day. And a government that has promoted the numeracy strategy so successfully can do its sums.

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