Yvonne Ridley and private education
This article was written a week before the Leicester South
by-election, but Socialist Unity decided to hold it back, with the
author's agreement, until after the votes were cast. Although debate
should be encouraged on the left, there have been several occasions
during recent elections where right wing columnists have exploited
material they have picked up from socialist
publications and used it as ammunition for attacks that
damage all the left.
For this reason Socialist Unity did not want to publish any
criticism of Respect's candidate before the election.
Yvonne Ridley and Private
a by-election was called for Leicester South I was enthusiastic that
this was a lucky break for Respect, who had done very well there in
the Euro elections, and could expect a creditable by-election vote.
As reported in the Socialist (http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/TheSocialistContents.htm)
there is also an independent left campaigner, Patrick Kennedy standing
for the local Save our Schools campaign, who are campaigning to defend
6 special needs schools. Many on the left in Leicester are supporting
However, I think this electoral
intervention by the SOS campaign is misguided because in the very
brief space of time for a by-election, and given the huge financial
and personal resources that the main parties will throw into the
election, the SOS campaign are very likely to be lost from sight.
What is more, at least some of the
support for the SOS campaign seems to be based upon the misconception
that Respect's vote amongst Moslem's is not progressive. This was
therefore an opportunity for Respect to make these local issues
central to its campaign, and therefore link up the big anti-war vote
from the Moslem community with the working class issues in Leicester.
They got off to a good start, and the
leaflet from local Euro candidate, Fayyaz Suleman, in the immediate
aftermath of good June 10th result raised the following
Given that Respect had already indicated
that it would be campaigning on defending the special schools, and
had received 7300 votes across Leicester on June 10th,
then the subsequent selection of the Save Our Schools candidate does
strike me as mischievous. Especially as at that stage they didn't
know who Respect's candidate would be.
However, Respect then managed to score
a massive own goal by selecting minor
celebrity Yvonne Ridley as candidate. (Quite possibly, Fayyaz
Suleman was unwilling to stand again). My objection is quite simple,
that Yvonne Ridley sends her 11 year old daughter Daisy to a private
boarding school (Windermere St Annes) where the fees are up to £16380
per year. (for comparison, top drawer
schools Eton and Marlborough charge £19000, and £20000)
Let us be quite clear what Respect's
policy is on education:
An education system that is not
dependent on the ability to pay, that is comprehensive and gives
an equal chance in life to every child no matter how wealthy or
poor their parents, from nursery to university.
In my innocence I would have
interpreted that as opposition to private education, and I would
expect Respect candidates to send their own children to state schools.
I do not believe that even Blair's Labour party - in a by-election
where education cuts are an issue - would pick someone who sent
their kid to a private school as candidate.
Yvonne Ridley's private school scandal
was revealed in the March 2004 edition of Harper's
"Things changed when Ridley had
her daughter, Daisy - the result, as she bitterly regrets
admitting, of a burst condom. Suddenly, she couldn't do the
after-work drinks where all the networking was done and deals were
struck. For her, motherhood was "like being in a three-legged race
with a ball and chain on the legs". Her solution to the problem
was to send Daisy, now 11, to boarding school in the Lake
District. (Daisy's father and grandparents live close by and
provide a stable home life for her.) In the holidays, Daisy often
flies out to join her mother and the two of them take off on
"As we wander back to Ridley's
villa, with its airy rooms and marble floor, I comment that
private education doesn't come cheap. She gives me a
semi-smile. "In my bleakest, blackest moments I look at Daisy and
I think: 'Porsche Boxster!' "
There is only one school in the world
that fits the description:
and Queen are not putting up a smoke screen, because Yvonne's mother,
Joyce, does indeed live in West Pelton, not that far from that school.
Ironically, although it is not a
special needs school, Windemere St Anne's actually does specialise in
special needs provision. So the parents for the 6 Leicester
schools under closure need not worry - there is an alternative
as long as they can afford £17000 a year fees. This is of course why
socialists demand that elected representatives share the same average
wage as their constituents, so that they share the same day to day
worries and concerns.
Now, Yvonne is a single mother and
perhaps, as she often works abroad a boarding school is appropriate -
that is a personal choice, although not one that many working class
families would make. But
significantly there is also a state boarding school only a few miles
away that Yvonne could have used, so Daisy could still have been near
her family and at a boarding school, although it may be the case that
ther are significant waiting list issues. Dallam School, a member of the
State Boarding School Association, is in the Lake District as well:
Yvonne's Ridley's choice of an exclusive boarding school set on the
bank of Lake Windemere for
her own child means I could only read with a wry smile her criticism
of the government's recent
plans for education as "an homage to Hogwarts".
is the description of her own daughter's school from their web-page:
"From 8-16 years, girls and boys board in single sex boarding houses,
under the supervision of a Housemaster or Housemistress, who is ably
supported by their assistant and academic tutors. The Deputy Head
(Pastoral) oversees all boarders in her role as Head of boarding." Hogwarts
Surely Respect needs to be different from the
mainstream parties, not fall into the same trap of making statements
for public consumption while the candidates contradict party policy
with rank hypocrisy in their
Yvonne Ridley's selection as candidate
is therefore a terrible misjudgement. Nor
is this the first terrible misjudgement that the leaders of
Respect have made - remember the frankly silly idea of campaigning to
put the Independent out of business because they wouldn't print a
letter by George Galloway? (Posted on the Respect web page on 11th
June, but subsequently air-brushed out of history)
The selection of a candidate with a child at private school
underlines two points to me.
Firstly, that the lack of democracy in
Respect, combined with the arrogant poor judgement of its leading
members, is a serous problem that threatens to undermine the whole
project. As a new
political organisation it would perhaps be forgivable for decisions to
be made in a less than transparent way, but why are the choices made
by the leadership so perverse and damaging? This needs to be
addressed, and addressed quickly.
Secondly, that if Respect is to succeed
it needs to realise its potential as a left unity project. Respect
needed to make a more publicly visible attempt to accommodate the SOS
campaign, even if this still ultimately resulted in two candidates.
Instead Respect have chosen a candidate who can almost be read as a
calculated insult to the rest of the left.