Private schools have warned that Labour’s bid to abolish them is illegal – as a poll found voters oppose the move by a margin of two to one.
A motion passed by party activists last night calls for the assets of independent schools to be ‘redistributed democratically and fairly across the country’s educational institutions’.
It effectively commits Labour to crushing the private sector and caused a furious backlash with even shadow chancellor John McDonnell appearing to distance himself from the plan, telling campaigners asset-stripping was ‘draconian’.
The Independent Schools Council said the plan would be an ‘act of national self-harm’, pointing out that foreign students bring in billions to the economy.
The ISC also claimed it would breach the European Convention on Human Rights, which includes the freedom to choose education.
Meanwhile, a YouGov poll suggested the proposal has gone down badly with the public. Some 50 per cent are against it, compared to 22 per cent who are in favour.
Mr McDonnell insisted schools would be ‘integrated’ but tried to play down fears of an asset strip this morning at the Labour Party conference in Brighton (pictured)
The move brought forward by Labour Against Private Schools, also known as the Abolish Eton campaign, has made the college in Berkshire famously attended by Boris Johnson its rallying point
Earlier, Mr McDonnell appeared to row back from a central aspect of the controversial Labour plan to axe private schools, putting himself on a potential collision course with the hard Left.
The shadow chancellor said that a proposal to seize property and other assets of independent learning centres was ‘draconian’, after publicly backing the Abolish Eton campaign.
Mr McDonnell is believed to have told the campaigners that this aspect of the motion could be illegal and he would not do it, the Times reported.
This morning he insisted schools would be ‘integrated’ but tried to play down fears of an asset strip, speaking at the Labour Party conference in Brighton.
‘What we will look at is the process in which we integrate them in. I can’t see the situation in which – this is draconian measures – everything will be done on the basis of consultation,’ he told the BBC after being asked whether assets would be seized.
‘Often this isn’t about seizing property, it’s about having access to services and facilities and making sure that in the future all children have access to the best quality education they can.’
Julie Robinson, chief executive of the Independent Schools Council, said: ‘The move is an attack on the rights and freedoms of parents to make choices over the education of their children.
‘Abolition would represent an act of national self-harm. Tearing down excellent schools does not improve our education system. The repercussions would be irreversible and far-reaching, damaging educational opportunities and limiting life chances. Moreover, Labour’s plan would breach the European Convention on Human Rights on the right to choose education.’
General view of Lupton’s Tower at Eton College from the school yard – MrMcDonnell previously publicly backed the Abolish Eton campaign
However, he is believed to have told campaigners that the asset-stripping aspect of the motion could be illegal and he would not do it
Activists at Labour’s annual conference in Brighton voted yesterday afternoon to commit the party to integrating the private education sector into the state sector.
If Labour gets into power at the next election and pursues the policy it would represent a major shake up of education provision in the UK and a significant escalation in the party’s nationalisation agenda.
It is unclear whether Mr Corbyn is in favour of the move with sources close to the Labour leader refusing to be drawn on the matter this morning.
But a senior party source made clear this evening that the leader would abide by policy decisions made by conference.
The policy was brought forward by the Labour Against Private Schools campaign and had already won the backing of a number of senior party figures including Ed Milliband.
Assuming Labour does move ahead with the push, it will almost certainly spark accusations of hypocrisy given that a number of senior party figures, including Diane Abbott and Shami Chakrabarti, have educated children privately.
Jeremy Corbyn, pictured in Brighton today, will now have to add a pledge to integrate private schools into the state sector in his next manifesto after delegates voted in favour of the move
The motion calling for private schools to be abolished was approved by an overwhelming majority of Labour delegates who raised their hands to show their support
Labour MP Paul Sweeney, a member of the Abolish Eton campaign, defended his party’s conference policy of integrating private schools into the state education system if it wins the next election.
The Glasgow North East representative told the BBC: ‘We should take the grubby pound sign out of British education altogether and open it up to everyone to have access because at the moment it is not available to 95% of people.’
But Matthew Adshead from the Independent Schools Association, said it was a ‘worrying proposition’.
The private school headmaster told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘For me it seems quite incredulous that in 2019 I’m discussing whether my private land will be seized and redistributed.
‘It doesn’t feel like I’m living in the UK anymore.’
One shadow cabinet minister told MailOnline that scrapping private schools would only be beneficial if the government could rake in some of the money better-off people would have spent on educating their children – suggesting taxes could rise under a Labour government.
‘Often the reason people turn to independent schools is because they want children to have more support,’ they said.
‘If the state system did not get some of those resources, then getting rid of those schools would not help. We want to lift the overall standard, not bring everyone down to the same level.’
Ms Abbott, the shadow home secretary, said before the vote took place that she would back the policy if it was adopted by the party.
‘As you well know, I sent my son to private school some years ago but if the party takes that position I would support it,’ she told Sky News.
Told that many people would view that as hypocrisy, Ms Abbott said: ‘I did what I did and I talked about it at the time and you can’t keep rehearsing those arguments.’
The campaign’s motion calls for Labour to commit to ‘integrating’ private schools into the state sector in its next manifesto.
The grassroots campaign to ‘end the class segregation of our schools’ has made Eton College, the school attended by numerous senior Tories including Boris Johnson, its rallying point.
The campaign has enjoyed a broad range of support from across the Labour Party, including from the sizeable pro-Corbyn Momentum group.
Laura Parker, the group’s national coordinator, said adopting the proposal was a ‘huge step forward in dismantling the privilege of a tiny, Eton educated elite who are running our country into the ground’.
Holly Rigby, a spokeswoman for the Abolish Eton campaign, said: ‘This is what a democratic Labour Party look like. We will dismantle systems of privilege and inequality and build a society that works for the millions and not the millionaires.’
The motion passed today calls for private schools to be stripped of their charitable status, to have limits placed on the number of their pupils who can attend certain universities and for their endowments and assets to be distributed in the state education sector.
It states: ‘The on-going existence of private schools is incompatible with Labour’s pledge to promote social justice, not social mobility in education.’
Tory MP Ben Bradley said campaigning to abolish private schools when members of the shadow cabinet have sent their children to them would amount to ‘blind hypocrisy’.
‘It’s one rule for the Corbyn few and another rule for the many,’ he said.
Mr McDonnell threw his backing behind the ‘Abolish Eton’ campaign last week as he said private schools ‘should not exist’.
The shadow chancellor recorded a video message for Labour Against Private Schools and said he hoped that the campaign would ‘eventually become Labour party policy’ because ‘people think that everyone should have a fair start in life’.
‘We know that our society is grotesquely unequal, and part of the reason for that is because of the inequalities in education, particularly in private schools, where large amounts of money are spent on a privileged few,’ he said.
‘That’s why I support the campaign now for us to talk about how we ensure an integrated education system, where private schools don’t need to exist and should not exist where we have equality of education… to give all our children the education they deserve, no matter what their background.’