Tory candidate attempts to defuse state schools row in Eastleigh byelection

Maria Hutchings says she was not referring to Hampshire when she said schools not good enough for wannabe surgeon son

The Conservative candidate in the Eastleigh byelection has tried to defuse a row about education by claiming she was not talking about Hampshire when she suggested that state schools were not good enough for her son.

Maria Hutchings has been embroiled in controversy after she apparently claimed that her son's ambition to become a surgeon would be thwarted if he went to a state school. The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, said Hutchings had insulted "every pupil and teacher at our state schools", while a group of surgeons and GPs who had been state-educated wrote an open letter claiming they were living proof she was wrong.

But while out campaigning with the home secretary, Theresa May, on Monday, Hutchings insisted her comments had been misinterpreted.

She told the Guardian: "When I spoke about my son's education I was talking about when he was five years old and I was living in another area."

Hutchings, who lived in Essex before moving to Hampshire five years ago, said the child was "gifted" and she visited four local schools, none of which had measures in place to cater for such children. She said: "We have to find the right education for our children. The standard of schooling here is excellent. I believe we all have to make the right choice for our children."

The candidate added that she, her husband and two of her four children had all gone to state schools while her youngest daughter was on the waiting list for two state schools in Eastleigh.

It is not the first time during the campaign that Hutchings has claimed she has been misquoted or misinterpreted. She has already had to defend herself over alleged remarks made during the 2005 general election campaign about refugees, gay people and foxes. She has also created headlines by saying she would have voted against gay marriage and would vote for leaving the EU if there was a referendum now.

Asked about the state education row, May said: "Parents will always have to make decisions for themselves over what is right for their children. What we want to see across the whole state sector is ensuring we are providing the education that is right for every child."

When asked whether Hutchings was a "franchise candidate" – campaigning as a Tory but choosing which of the party's policies she supported – May said: "Maria is not a professional politician, she is somebody who has lived and campaigned for local people for a number of years. She will campaign for local people, she will fight for local people."

The home secretary added that a vote for Hutchings showed support for David Cameron's policies such as "controlling immigration, reforming welfare and standing up for Britain in Europe". Getting such messages over is important for the Tories in Eastleigh, where Ukip is campaigning strongly.

Hutchings' claim that she was misinterpreted came as Labour organised the first stunt of the campaign, dressing up two activists in surgeons' green scrubs, and handing out leaflets in which they claimed: "Cameron's rightwing candidate has sensationally revealed the Tories' true colours by attacking Eastleigh's local state schools."

The leaflet continued: "This is an insult to our young people and teachers who work so hard and to the parents and community who support them."

Passersby were encouraged to sign a letter to Hutchings that stated: "You seem to be saying that our state schools are good enough for our kids but not for yours."

Her remarks were described by Kevin Brennan, the shadow minister for schools, as "extraordinary".

The Labour's candidate, the writer and long-term activist John O'Farrell, said he had sent his children to a state school – and had been chair of the governors there for eight years.

The Liberal Democrats, meanwhile, were turning their attention to the Conservative-controlled Hampshire county council. Their candidate, Mike Thornton, presented the authority with an "invoice for wasteful spending", claiming it had frittered away millions on advertising, office furniture and consultancy fees.


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Tory Eastleigh candidate angers doctors with state school comment

Maria Hutchings criticised in letter for suggesting local state schools were not good enough for son with surgical ambitions

Patrick Wintour, political editor

18, Feb, 2013 @6:01 AM

Article image
Labour to address voters' immigration concerns after Eastleigh byelection
With party expecting to come fourth in byelection, Ed Miliband plans party political broadcast on issue as part of fresh initiative

Patrick Wintour and Steven Morris

28, Feb, 2013 @7:32 PM

Article image
Eastleigh welcomes the Hamiltons to town

Disgraced former Tory minister Neil Hamilton and his 'lovely' wife Christine spent the day campaigning on behalf of Ukip

John Harris

26, Feb, 2013 @8:05 PM

Article image
Eastleigh byelection: naked ambition for Lib Dems in Hampshire town
One of area's most famous residents is backing Nick Clegg's party, but it's the Tory candidate who's been in the spotlight

Steven Morris

24, Feb, 2013 @8:02 PM

Article image
Eastleigh byelection – the results in full

The Liberal Democrats have held Eastleigh, with Ukip coming second and the Conservatives third

01, Mar, 2013 @2:50 AM

Lib Dems hold off Ukip surge as Tories drop to third in Eastleigh byelection

Nick Clegg's party shrug off Lord Rennard scandal and resignation of former MP Chris Huhne to claim narrow victory

Patrick Wintour and Steven Morris

01, Mar, 2013 @3:52 AM

Article image
Eastleigh flop would be a crisis for David Cameron, top Tory warns

Rightwinger David Davis voices fears about party's byelection showing against Lib Dems and Ukip

Patrick Wintour and Steven Morris

27, Feb, 2013 @8:20 PM

Article image
10 things we've learned from the Eastleigh byelection

What does the Eastleigh byelection mean for British politics? Andrew Sparrow explains

Andrew Sparrow, senior political correspondent

01, Mar, 2013 @10:44 AM

Article image
Tory Twitter 'lemmings' backfire with Eastleigh byelection message
Spate of identical tweets on housing policy bring accusations that Tories still grappling with subtleties of digital campaigning

Matthew Taylor

17, Feb, 2013 @5:44 PM

Cameron not for turning despite Eastleigh byelection failure, says Gove
Tory lieutenant makes Thatcher analogy as he insists PM will not lurch further to right after Ukip takes second place in byelection

Nicholas Watt, Patrick Wintour, Steven Morris

01, Mar, 2013 @11:15 AM