Michael Gove is a very, very clever politician - probably the most dangerous person in government at the moment from my point of view, despite the odd spot of entertaining hypocrisy in his past. (yes, there's a reason for the dodgy photo - follow the link).
I think he is dangerous because he is the one who seems to have properly thought through how to dismantle the support for - as oppose to simple cut - a basic state funded service. I suspect him of being one of those right wingers who have read their Gramsci and really understood the concept of 'hegemony'. If his educational policies are successful he will have moved education out of the 'health' box - where there remains strong public support for an universalist service - into the 'housing' box -where private satisfaction of our needs is seen as normal and 'social' housing is seen as residual, welfare provision.
His plans focus on two main points: 'enabling' parents to set up so called free schools, and 'liberating' high performing state schools to become Academies. Note the language of freedom implicit in the presentation: both polices are suppose to give consumers (parents) and staff (well, managers) powers now held by town halls. This was once the language of the left. The danger for the left is that in opposing them they sound as if they're defending bureaucrats and stuffy procedures against the wishes of ordinary people. What's more, New Labour - not a group I consider co-terminus with 'the left' - has the not inconsiderable problem that Academies were their idea in the first place.
Let's get one thing clear however: there is nothing to stop Toby Young and co going off to start a school for their children as it is. But what they're actually asking for is the right to take large chunks of public money and set up a school which they can run as they like, more or less - or rather appoint any private sector provider they might like. &, here's the rub, they'd be taking this public money from the national government, not the town hall, riding rough shod over the local educational ecology. Contrast this with the local partnership approach of Britain's first parent promoted school. It's a different world view.
Similarly, the so-called freedoms of Academies should be carefully picked apart by the left. The freedom to ignore large parts of the National Curriculum? Bring it on - but do it for all schools, and let's have some backstops to prevent nutty creationists taking over the show. Given these caveats there is nothing to oppose here. Nor is there any in principle reason to get too hot under the collar about devolving currently centralised budgets to schools - and even introducing some flexibility into nationally negotiated pay scales is a pill which, after careful union negotiation, the left might be able to swallow. The key issue is admissions. Who controls who gets to go to which school? Again, this is about the local educational ecology.
All schools have what economists call 'externalities': by virtue of their very existence they don't just affect the children who attend the particular school they also affect the choices open to children who don't.
So let's try the Gove trick: let's try and put the case against his reforms in the language of our opponents. To take a favourite Daily Mail theme, schools are like leylandi: they don't just affect your own garden when you plant them. They can bring your neighbours' pleasure and appreciated privacy, sure - but they can also block out the sun. It really ain't a private matter when you put them in the soil - it's a community matter. It's a matter of local social ecology.
Education is a community garden and Toby Young or prospective Academy Heads shouldn't be able to plant just what they like without some say for the rest of us.