As Westminster becomes more self-absorbed, the local press is becoming the unofficial opposition on behalf of readers

For anyone who believes politics is actually a serious business, and worthy of something better than the Punch and Judy show we get every week at Prime Minister’s Questions, the current state of affairs is pretty depressing.

A prime minister who rarely answers the questions put to her (nothing new there) but who fails to deliver pre-planned soundbites with any flair, and who struggles to present any logical thinking behind government policies.

A leader of the opposition who seems incapable of being able to turn the many, many issues affecting normal people into meaningful political ammunition against the lacklustre PM, and who, as was pointed out last week, sometimes even fails to ask questions.

If there was one theme at PMQs that the PM was trying to get across – repetition, repetition, repetition is the nearest things the PM has to a PMQ strategy which works – it was that education funding had been protected.

Here are some quotes from the PM:

The right hon. Gentleman talks about schools. What have we done? We have protected the core schools budget and introduced the pupil premium. This Budget delivers money for more than 100 new schools, ensuring good school places for every child.


The Budget delivers £500 million for technical education.


I welcome the measures in the spring Budget to ensure we put money into schools, skills and social care.


I want a good school place for every child. We have done it with free schools and academies, and with our changes to education—all opposed by the Labour party.

The message from the PM is clear: Education is fine under the Tories. Thank goodness then for the regional press to provide a bit of on-the-ground reality. First up, the Southport Visiter:

4 southport

According to the Visiter:

Sefton schools could be forced to axe staff or narrow the curriculum if government cuts are carried out, headteachers are warning.

More than 100 headteachers from across Sefton have signed an open letter over fears of “potentially devastating” cuts to school budgets.

Cuts? But I thought the schools budget had been protected? With £500m more available? Maybe it’s just Sefton having its budget adjusted based on a new formula? Wait, what’s this in Rossendale, Lancashire:

A high school headteacher has told parents they have been forced to drop two subjects after a reduction in national funding.

Haslingden High School says a £250,000 fall in its 2017/18 budget means they can no longer afford to offer sociology and child development options to pupils beginning GCSEs this September.

That’s from the Rossendale Free Press. One school losing £250k? That doesn’t chime with the PM’s claims about protecting education, does it?

In Stoke, the Sentinel reported yesterday on a protest march against cuts in Cheshire, the Bury Free Press revealed pre-schools were also being squeezed financially , the Malvern Gazette quotes experts talking of a schools funding crisis, the East London Advertiser says every school in Tower Hamlets has been told to expect less cash with similar news also being reported by the Thurrock Gazette.

In Colchester, the Lib Dems are fighting school cuts. In Chester, every pupil at a primary school went out on a protest against cuts. In Liverpool, around £20m a year is being removed from school budgets. In Staffordshire, even Tory MPs say the government has to do more to help schools with their funding.

There are similar warnings in Hartlepool, Luton, Wandsworth, South Shields, Southend and so on.

Indeed, one newspaper, the Basildon Echo, has gone so far as to launch a campaign to stop the cuts:

4 baslildon

Will it be successful? Who knows – for the first time in my memory we have a government which seems to bow to pressure whenever challenged on some issues while at the same time being stubborn to the point of ignorance on other issues. With little real political opposition in Parliament to hold them to account.

Which bring me to my point (645 words in). For all the political bubble watchers obsess over performance in PMQs, every week, the real political debate is taking place in local communities up and down the country, and being reflected on the websites of local newspapers as well as on their front pages each week.

Life is local – and surely democracy would be better served if those inside Westminster’s bubble took that mantra to heart. At the moment, it does look as though in doing its job, the local Press is becoming the unofficial opposition to the Government. A sad state of affairs in one respect, but given the standard of the political discourse dispatched at PMQs each week, the job of the local Press to reflect local opinion and confirm local fact has never been more important.





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