The congratulations have been flowing in from across the Labour party for Tristram Hunt as the new Shadow Education Secretary. But there is no praise higher for the newly promoted MP than to get a detailed letter from Michael Gove testing his mettle just a few days into the job. Gove saw Stephen Twigg as someone he didn't need to worry about a great deal, more of a distraction from his daily hobby of provoking the teaching unions than a mighty threat. But Hunt, while still possibly in danger of proving too Blairite for his party's tastes, appears a mightier candidate. Education Questions in the Commons will certainly be an entertaining festival of rhetoric from now on.
The letter, which you can read in full here, says:
'Congratulations on your promotion to the Shadow Cabinet. I know how passionate you are about education and I look forward to working with you to help improve opportunities for all children. I very much hope that your previous support for reform will inform your approach in future.'
Gove clearly wants to use Hunt's 'previous support for reform' to make the new Education shadow appear as tortured in his frontbench role as his predecessor did: good intentions constrained by a stick-in-the-mud party. He then questions Hunt's intentions on a series of policy issues, starting with grade inflation, and asking:
'Can we now agree that the system was afflicted by grade inflation between 1997 and 2010?'
Then Gove asks whether Hunt still sticks by his previous expressions of support for the government's A-level reforms, and on the Ebacc, asking:
'You have also expressed support for the EBacc – the government’s league table measure to encourage core academic subjects at GCSE. As a backbench MP, you told the House of Commons ‘I support the English Baccalaureate’. That was far-sighted: thanks to the Ebacc, the number of pupils sitting GCSEs in languages is at a five-year-high, with entries to history at a 16-year-high, to geography at a nine-year-high, and the number entering the separate sciences at record levels.
'Until now Labour’s policy has been to oppose the EBacc, with your predecessor promising to “scrap” it. Can I take it that, with your appointment, Labour has changed its mind and there is now a cross-party consensus on the EBacc? Given that we both want more children to study these academic subjects, your credibility on raising standards is at risk if Labour continues to oppose the EBacc.'
Gove clearly wants to get in early with the attack as Hunt will be equally keen to appear a robust opponent of the Education Secretary. Hunt's response can't be far away, surely.
UPDATE, 15.00: Hunt tells me that 'I receive a lot of correspondence and prioritise it accordingly'. We shall have to live in hope of a fabulously bitchy letter exchange between the two men.