When does a misrepresentation – a gentle tweak at an accepted truth – tip into something more serious: a deception, or a lie?
It’s hard to say precisely where the line should be drawn, particularly in the cut and thrust of political argument, where partial cases are routinely presented as fact, but Lynne Featherstone – MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and Government Minister – is pushing hard at the boundaries of honesty.
The problem is her repeated claim that the Pupil Premium represents ‘extra’ money for schools when, unfortunately for Featherstone, it doesn’t.
The stakes are high on this one. It will be critical for the Lib Dems, come election time, to identify their wins and their impact. Having nailed their colours to the mast of ‘social mobility’, the Pupil Premium will be their flagship. It will be plastered on election leaflets and churned out by keen canvassers – ‘extra, extra extra….read all about it.’
What goes unsaid is that the inappropriately named ‘Premium’ comes from within the existing spending pot. Leaving aside whether or not it is a welcome re-distribution of the schools budget, the fact (accepted by Michael Gove) is that it’s just that – a re-distribution; cutting up the cake differently, not baking a bigger cake.
And what makes things worse is that that she’s a repeat offender. Twice this week she has posted on her blog that the Premium gives £625 million ‘extra’ to schools, including £4.5 million ‘extra’ to schools in her constituency. Previously she has described this as ‘additional funding on top of the national funding settlement’. Similar claims pop up throughout her posts.
So, this is no slip of the tongue – it’s calculated and deliberate. The aim is to confuse and misrepresent the reality of what is happening to schools over the next few years (see Sunder Katwala’s comment for a comprehensive run-through).
Featherstone, of course, is following the party line – Clegg made similar erroneous claims about the Pupil Premium in interviews this week – but the tactic is an odd one. It would be credible and convincing for Lib-Dems to argue that they have secured a better settlement, within the existing pot, for children on free school meals. Why not leave it at that?
No doubt, the truth on this will out when schools are faced with the reality of shrinking budgets over the next few years. The Lib Dems, if they stick to their current line of ‘extra money for schools’, will find this impossible to explain. Come election time, they may well realise a simple truth: honesty is the best policy.