Tories are on the defensive again over the school concrete crisis - time is running out for them, says Andrew Marr

6 September 2023, 18:13 | Updated: 7 September 2023, 10:58

Tonight With Andrew Marr Monologue 06/09/23

By Will Taylor

Andrew Marr believes time is running out for the Tories who will have hoped to start the new political season on the offensive.

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As they engage in rear-guard action over the school concrete crisis, he said at the start of Tonight with Andrew Marr: "Lots of back and forth at Prime Minister's Questions today about the crumbling aero-bar concrete schools, and who's to blame. Well, you'd expect that - the government's list published today shows more than 40 unable to start the term as normal. But let me start by trying to keep the big politics really simple.

"If you are the government, at the start of a new political season, probably about a year away from the next election, you really need to begin on the offensive, front foot, swinging back at the opposition, changing voters’ minds. Why? For months now, since the early summer, Labour's lead has barely changed, somewhere between 20 and 18 points ahead. Some Tory MPs are giving up hope. Political journalists - we do tend to have the individuality of sheep - are starting to treat Labour with deference of a new government in waiting.

"And yet, because of the crumbling schools crisis, the government starts the new season, again, on the defensive. And let's look at why.

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"Yes, of course, this is a complicated story. But it isn't that complicated. It's about a part of the public realm, schools, and the interests of ordinary families all over England - the list of schools published today covers almost everywhere from Southend and London, through Chelmsford, Ipswich, Colchester, through the Midlands and Birmingham, to Durham, Chester le Street, Gateshead and Sunderland in the north.

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"All of them damaged by years of under investment. On this, at least, I know what I'm talking about - back in 2016, I remember the former education secretary Michael Gove telling me that ditching the £55 billion schools for the future scheme was one of his "worst mistakes" ever.

"It all takes us right back to that political choice, austerity. Rishi Sunak's government isn't just crouching on the defensive, it's on the defensive over the Tories’ biggest single problem, their economic and social record. The summer is lasting for longer than expected. But in politics, time is running out.

"So that's that to be honest today I'm much more interested in what's really happening in schools, how kids whose education has already been disrupted by the pandemic are fareing, and how widespread the building problems are."

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