WHEN the UCL Academy officially opened last week, it was interesting to see which local politicians were there in the front rows of the celebratory assembly… and which weren’t. As you can see above – a picture of UCL vice-provost Michael Worton giving a speech, the one where he claimed to have been vilified as an ‘elitist’ for working on the project – the Mayor Heather sat next to council leader Sarah Hayward near the front. You can see Labour cabinet councillor Nash Ali, one row back, listening intently too.
But there was no Andrew Mennear, the leader of the borough’s Conservatives who was Camden’s head of education way back when the idea was first approved at the Town Hall. And there was no John Bryant, the Liberal Democrat who worked with Cllr Mennear during those tense negotiations. During the haggling, the pair were accused by Labour of being ‘starstruck’ by the offer from UCL Academy to run a new school as they pushed ahead with the scheme, ignoring calls for an open competition to determine how the school would be organised. It is forgotten that UCL really did play hardball, telling the council that they would only accept being the preferred bidder and would not enter their plans into an open competition where they would be compared to the idea of a Church of England secondary school or even, shock horror, a traditional secondary school answering to a locally-elected local authority.
For a moment, the issue of the school was the main political story at the Town Hall and there were long debates where it was not clear whether people in the same party agreed with each other. Labour members certainly quarrelled about the wisdom of academy sponsorship, even in the guise of a world famous universities. One of Cllr Mennear’s Tory colleagues – Mike Greene – told a council meeting: “I am certainly not convinced that we have been playing on a level playing field. The discussions have been going on for some time with UCL. There can be the appearance of a back room deal.”
He and Cllr Bryant took a lot of flack and had to be stubborn to get what they wanted. When Mr Worton claimed he was vilified, maybe the pair feel they suffered something similar. Yet when the doors opened last week, they were nowhere to be seen. Maybe they should honour them in some way, perhaps they could name one of the philosophy bean bag rooms after them. The Mennear-Bryant superstudio…
UPDATED: Worth reading John Bryant’s comments below.