The sky has fallen, the End Times have come, the Rapture is upon us: Paul Uppal MP, after a mere 3 and a half months, has answered a letter. More than that, he's sort of answered two letters.
Now, I don't want to get your hopes up. This isn't one of those 'answer all your questions in a spirit of openness and debate letters'. It's more a 'this is my legal duty letters and I'm not going to talk policy letters'. But it's a letter. From a Tory MP. So I put on my gloves.
What does he say?
Thank you for contacting me to congratulate me on my election as a new Member of Parliament. I cannot emphasise how sorry I am for the delay in getting back to you. I understand your frustration at not receiving a response sooner.
Odd. I've never mentioned to him that I was frustrated. Looks like Paul - despite not having any kind of online presence more recent than May 2009 - is a Plashing Vole reader. Stick with us matey, it'll be educational. Still, at least he hasn't claimed pressure of work.
I have been having fortnightly surgeries at the Civic Centre which have proved to be popular and constructive. I have now set up a constituency office and will be advertising upcoming surgeries through a new website which will be launched in the near future.
Surgeries were held in the basement, behind a locked door marked 'beware of the leopard'. And oh yes, the lights and stairs have gone (to steal from Douglas Adams). Obviously I await the website with bated (yes, that's how you spell it) breath and will bring it to Vole-readers' attention.
I further appreciate your concerns about the Government extending the Academies Programme. The purpose of the legislation is to end the culture where politicians and bureaucrats tells schools what to do and instead we put the teachers and heads in the driving seat. It will be for heads to decide whether or not they want to take up these freedoms and to liberate themselves from some of the bureaucracy that's held them back in the past.
Ah. We're into the meat, from my second letter. And oh dear, Paul and I are going to have a little falling out over this. Firstly, I didn't ask him to spout the Party line. I asked him a very specific question, which was why he voted against allowing the parents at schools to have a referendum or consultation about whether or not their schools should declare independence from local authorities, and another about how democratic, empowering or 'Big Society' it is to allow 2 people to make the decision: the Head and the Secretary of State for Education. You'll notice Paul's played the classic politician's trick of answering a question I didn't ask, while ignoring the one that I did ask (it's a good one for essay-writing too: if you don't know the answer, redefine the question as one to which you do know the solution).
Now listen up, Pauly. It's a bit embarrassing that I'm having to lecture an MP about democracy, but this is the position in which I find myself. You're a politician. So's the Secretary of State. Are you proposing to abolish yourself? I don't think so. What you mean by 'politicians' is the other lot: the opposition, and especially local government. Which kind of disappoints me, because local government is a lot more democratic than you. We have a lot of elected councillors, and they represent very small areas - a few streets, a few hundred people at most - so if they arse things up, it doesn't take much to get rid of them. They're also much, much more closely informed about the situation on the ground.
What you're trying to do is remove any local, democratic and informed decisions about local schools provision. Instead, you've got this vision of an unelected headteacher making decisions entirely on his or her own without reference to what the local community needs or wants. Perhaps the principal is a fundamentalist of some kind, or not religious enough for the community: under your system, he's the King of the Hill and everyone else, including the pupils' parents can sod off. Is that right? I don't think so. Perhaps I'll apply to start my own 'free' school: the Peter Kropotkin Academy of Atheist Anarchist-Marxism and we'll see how 'hands-off' this government really is.
More prosaically, dumping local government oversight means that he has to acquire the skills and time to hire his own staff, his own lawyers, his own kitchen crew, his own lollipop ladies, negotiate supply contracts, engage builders and architects and maintenance workers etc. etc. etc., whereas a local education authority can do all this professionally, honestly and efficiently, thanks to economies of scale. But of course, to you, these people are just bureaucrats, not hardworking, dedicated and locally accountable civil servants doing their best for the communities in which they live. And let's not forget that these teachers you want to liberate are the communist subversives you spent the 80s trying to crush. Where's the evidence that local government - and not central planning from the Department for Education has 'held them back'?
Unless, of course, your dirty little plan is just to get corporations to run schools under contract, and therefore divert taxpayers' money into the shareholders pockets: shareholders based anywhere around the globe, who have no concern for the good of the local community. It is, isn't it? Ooh Paul, you are naughty, but we like you. There's always an angle, isn't there?
Anyway, moving on:
Regarding your request for biographical details; I was started my education at Harborne Hill state School
Careful now. Syntax and capitalisation are starting to fray a little. I'd avoid Harborne if I were you, readers.
then moving on to Matthew Boulton Technical College and finishing my studies at Warwick University.
Does that mean you graduated Paul? It's a little opaque to me.
After leaving University I have run my own businesses involved in managing, constructing and investing in commercial property. These businesses operated in the UK, US and India.
Now that's more like it. It sounds very impressive, if a little vague. It's a shame you haven't felt able to name these businesses, because that makes it much harder to check them out, but I'm sure I'll manage. There's certainly a rich seam to be mined there. I wonder how successful they were, whether the accounts were filed properly and so on, and whether they're still going. The Register of Members' Interests is going to be fascinating.
I own a house in the constituency but I have lived in Halesowen for over twenty years. Currently my children are at school there and I hope you can understand I do not wish to disturb this crucial time in their development.
I have been a keen supporter of Wolverhampton Wanderers visiting to the Molineux regularly since 2002 and I have been a season ticket holder since 2007 Finally I have only been a member of the Conservative Part nor have I held any other political positions.
Seems reasonable not to move the kids, especially as Wolverhampton was only his second choice of seat - he lost a Birmingham seat in the previous election - and a marginal one at that. I wonder why he owns a house here then: perhaps it's an investment property, and I'm sure he'll declare it fully when the time comes. Wolves season ticket holder since 2007: I wonder if that's the same 2007 during which he sought to become a Conservative Party candidate here. Finally, I do worry about Mr U's secretarial skills - prepositions and full stops are a bit awry here. Perhaps Warwick University isn't all it's cracked up to be.
So there we have it. A real-life, honest-to-goodness letter from a Tory MP, only 14 weeks after he received mine. A treasure-trove of evasiveness and party-line nonsense, but a reply nonetheless.
Paul Uppal MP: I salute you and reward you the Order of the Vole, 3rd Class.