Great public distraction

Sir Humphrey Appleby, right, played by Nigel Hawthorne, and Prime Minister Jim Hacker, played by Paul Eddington, in a scene from the classic BBC comedy series Yes, Prime Minister.
Sir Humphrey Appleby, right, played by Nigel Hawthorne, and Prime Minister Jim Hacker, played by Paul Eddington, in a scene from the classic BBC comedy series Yes, Prime Minister.
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The news that the government is considering introducing grammar schools for all has prompted Mike Tilling to write an opinion piece this week in the format of a possible script for the classic TV series Yes, Prime Minister.

“Miss Abercrombie, will you ask Sir Humphrey to step in, please. He has sent me a most bizarre memo.”

“Certainly Prime Minister, he is waiting in the outer office…”

“Ah, Humphrey, this memo, are you serious?”

“Perfectly serious, Prime Minister. You asked for some ideas about how to distract the public and the press from complaining about the government’s failure to do anything about stemming the flow of immigrants, leaving the EU and so on. This is the perfect topic.”

“Really, Humphrey? Grammar Schools? Isn’t it a bit, well … old hat?”

“It’s perfect Prime Minister. Red in tooth and claw lefties will be slavering with disgust and the braying donkeys of the right will be dripping 1950s vintage port down their smoking jackets in celebration. It may even calm the Daily Mail.”

“I agree that we can sell grammar schools, but how do we sell the secondary moderns that will inevitably result? Surely some parents will see that not all children can go to the grammar? Many of those parents will be Conservative party voters, too.”

“Choice, Prime Minister. We sell it under your banner of choice.”

“Well, there is choice if little Johnnie passes the 11-plus, but not for the rest. And anyway, didn’t we try that with the NHS and find that people did not want choice. They wanted a decent local hospital that could start their ticker again if it stopped…”

“Yes, true, but …”

“... won’t it be the same arguments again? All the teachers will want to work in the Grammar Schools; inevitably, those schools will get most of the resources; there will be clever children who don’t develop until well after eleven. Really, the list of arguments against Grammars could go on and on.”

“You miss the point Prime Minister. It will never happen, it won’t even get past the House of Lords.”

“Then what is the point?”

“People will be so preoccupied with the Grammar School issue they will lose track of things like … well, like the EU.”

“Ah yes …. Miss Abercrombie, get me the Secretary of State for Education on the phone and please organise a lunch with that nice journalist from the Daily Telegraph. Thank you Sir Humphrey.”