It’s that time of a campaign, when the parties publish their manifestos. In response, I have published my own Open Manifesto: comments welcome.
Over the last few elections, it’s been hard to tell the parties apart 0n policies, but some differences do seem to be emerging between Labour and Tory, and basically it’s the old one about the size of the state. Labour do seem to be beginning to get the point that they don’t need to echo Tory anti-statist sentiment, and that quite a lot of us want an efficient state doing things that the state does best.
Reading between the lines on the Tory position, it seems it goes something like this, “Well our sort never needed the state for health or education, and we did OK by it, so it’s obviously the state that’s causing the problems in the public sector…” They don’t quite go so far as to advocate privatising health and education, but there are lots on their side who would argue for exactly that. The idea, for example, that parents who are dissatisfied with a school should be able to get money from the state to set up one in competition…. This ignores the fact the the main reason (middle-class) parents are dissatisfied with state schools is mostly because their intake is challenging, from the wrong side of the tracks. It almost always comes down to resources. There’s a difficult school, with discipline problems and – possibly – inadequate leadership. So the Tory plan is to let the middle-class parents divert resources from the troubled school to their own new school. Actually, this only begins to show what a terrible idea this is. Suppose the Tories do get in. If, in the next parliament, a single new school is funded by these proposals, I will eat my hat.
In the last thirty years, the Tories have had one blockbuster idea that kept them in power from 1979 to 1997: the right-to-buy. Thousands of traditional Labour supporters switched sides because of that bribe. The “start-your-own-school” promise is a feeble attempt to find something that will have the same sort of appeal; and ten seconds’ reflection shows that it does not.