Just when you thought it was safe to turn on the TV without seeing a Blairite taking control of some part of government policy… the Coalition Government once again disappoint.
Prime Minister David Cameron has recently been playing a steady public relations game of trying to appear tough and Thatcherite on the deficit but also as reasonable and caring in regard to public servants. However the guile and PR wizardry shown in offsetting bribes to those who give their lives for an unnecessary war, against cutting £105 million in the regeneration of jobs in Sheffield this week, is already wearing thin. George Osborne not to be outdone by Cameron has performed even greater political sorcery by raising back from the political grave some of the worst elements of the late New Labour government. Arch-Blairite, the former Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton, has been announced by the Chancellor today, as the head of a new public sector pensions commission, thereby showing once again New Labour’s efforts in helping to legitimise the Coalition Government’s attacks on British public sector workers and pensions.
In truth, there is a woeful disparity between private sector pensions and public sector ones. Osborne states that it is unacceptable for nurses, teachers, low paid workers in local government and in other sectors of the state enjoy their above meagre pensions whilst many low paid workers in the private sector workers don’t even get meagre pensions. His cunning solution is to resolve this imbalance is by further impoverishing public sector workers in their retirement, leaving it to Clegg to announce an ambiguous axe to Members of Parliament pensions though they will probably remain gold plated with their generous golden goodbyes in this parliament. We’re all in this together then.
The New Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair once said that his priorities were “Education, Education and Education”, from that espousal brought the UK’s answer to Charter Schools in America, the city academy. Publicly funded, but privately owned and controlled with a powerful budget involving virtually no regulation or external oversight, making it ripe for corruption (paying services to your mate’s businesses) and vulnerable to economic mismanagement. This was the previous Labour government’s flagship scheme, it involved almost 200 schools in England and had taken them out of control from local democratic institutions into private hands with less accountability and exemption from the Freedom of Information Act. In many cases it brought poor schools into exceptionally bad schools with nicer (but educationally inappropriate) buildings, coupled with a drive towards higher exclusion rates particularly for children on “free school meals” and a narrowing of the curriculum available for children.
With that in mind, we have just witnessed an unholy matrimony between another Conservative Education Minister, Michael Gove, and journalist Toby Young on unleashing “free schools” on English society. Every parent wants a good local school, even teaching unions are united on that aspect. Gove and Young put their faith in untrained middle class parents to run their own schools (it’s the big society, stupid). Though the unions, particularly the National Union of Teachers, advocate that all schools should be not just publicly funded, but also owned and controlled by the local community including parents and by trusting teaching professionals to take ownership of the curriculum. Trust teaching staff? That isn’t the New Labour or evidently the Conservative way, instead they trust business, middle class do-gooders, and teaching management as they can do no wrong.
The “Free schools” policy is the Blairite Academies policy with “rocket boosters on” to quote Gove, whilst academies were initially aimed at deprived communities and transforming struggling schools; free schools are state-funded academic institutions that like Academies, are also unaccountable to local authorities but are new schools, set-up by individuals that will compete for resources against existing schools. There is no new money planned to support these free schools and they must attempt to attract children from other schools if there are to be economically viable. Rather than giving parents and communities more power and control over existing schools, the Conservative Education Secretary wants to use the New Labour argument of “parental choice” to generate oversupply of schools and school places to create a market system in Education. Meanwhile Toby Young wants “Classics” to be a defining feature of the free school he wants to setup, a school where 10% of the intake may be selected (he hasn’t decided yet) on their aptitude to Latin at the ripe old age of 11. Bolder than Ed Balls’ pumped up Academy programme yet still true to New Labour’s ideology of the marketisation of state education.
Elsewhere in Education, the Coalition government commitment to New Labour was reinforced with the trotting out of the David “Two Brains” Willetts, a Cabinet Minister with responsibility for Higher Education. Willetts attempted to bewitch the British public by advocating that a “fair” form of taxation to pay for Universities is to saddle mostly working class students with mounting and unsustainable debt; whilst arguing that it is definitely not fair to place higher taxation, especially on those with higher incomes, to provide higher education for all. Never-mind the hypocrisy of these politicians being the beneficiaries of not only free education but receiving maintenance grants whilst they were educated; the irony is that at least 75% of the Cabinet are millionaires and they could have paid for their own education but instead claimed the free money, like they did with their tax-funded expenses.
There is no refuge from New Labour in foreign policy either, whilst there is turmoil and injustice in the Middle East, Tony Blair is positioned as the saviour of the Palestinians, his broad appeal, honesty and plain speaking makes him the West’s best hope for peace in the Middle East. The free Gaza movement flotillas expose the hatred and contempt the Israeli government has for the Palestinian people and those who attempt to alleviate their grinding poverty, Tony receives millions of dollars a year to “jaw, jaw”. Though he moonlights as an Middle East peace envoy, according to the Syrian leader recently the Middle East is edging closer and closer to “war, war”.
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