Rumbling schools extremism row raises tricky questions for Theresa May

Theresa May. Credit: Reuters.

By Tom Bradby: ITV News Political Editor

At the core of this story on extremism are two issues: One is about the battle against extremism itself, in which the only significant new development today is the Prime Minister's suggestion that schools submit to spot inspections, and the other is about politics.

The first is more important for most of us. But it is the second that is creating more heat at Westminster today.

It is basically comes down to two questions;

  • Did the Home Secretary know of her special adviser's decision to leak a letter last week that effectively attacked Michael Gove?

  • Did she in fact write that letter specifically to be leaked?

Timeline: May and Gove's row over Birmingham schools

The Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, asked both questions today. She didn't get much of an answer to either.

I think they are both very dangerous for Theresa May for the simple reason that she has accepted her special adviser's resignation. This obviously begs the question as to whether it would have been more honourable of her to have resigned herself.

More: Labour accuses May of breaking the ministerial code

Here is the full text of the letter Theresa May's office leaked. I have added my commentary in places, but I must say that it sounds dangerously like a letter written to be given to the media to me. It is addressed to Michael Gove.

But as far we understand it the letter she was 'responding' to was written last November (though the Department of Education will neither confirm or deny this today).

Bear in mind that this letter was written to Michael Gove on the afternoon of Tuesday 3rd June and published on the Home Office website only eight hours later.

Okay, fair enough, this is clearly on the issue itself, but surely Theresa May has already said these things to Michael Gove's face in Extremism Task Force meetings?

This does read like a paragraph written for the media by someone who understands exactly how the media works.

Its inclusion here, particularly with all the questions, seems really rather random unless the purpose was to alert the media to the fact that they were the questions the Home Secretary wanted answered.

My verdict; it looks, smells and reads like a letter written to be leaked.

Which leaves the Home Secretary with some very tricky questions to answer.