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What’s 104 pages long, will cost you £21, and I claim should not be supported by the Conservatives? The Education White Paper of course! Entitled "Higher Standards, Better Schools for All" the paper was launched by the Government in October, and, (oh oh) re-launched last week due to the hopeless confusion it created.
It was interesting that Tony Blair referenced the schooling system in Sweden as an example of where his proposals are a success. Except the Swedes don’t operate the system he is proposing. The private sector in Sweden can run state funded schools that are free to pupils, without daily interaction with a state education authority. The White Paper is a watered down version of the Swedish system that takes many of the difficulties with the current system such as LEA control, without the advantages of allowing the private sector to run schools. So, one wonders, what the point in all this is. Schools currently control most of their budget, can opt for Foundation status if they want to own their assets, and many obtain external funding from sponsors.
Well there is a point to it all, but not a very honourable one. Blair’s ‘middle way’ politics might seem like a joke, but it’s deadly to opposition parties. Blair does not treat politics as a vehicle for change, to him, its a vehicle for manoeuvring to a point of advantage. Usually over the Conservative Party, or sometimes it can be powerful figures in his own party. Perhaps this White Paper is an opportunity to do both?
The ‘middle way’ Tony Blair invented is based on a game called Boiling the frog, with the opposition being the frog. This goes back to the story where one puts a frog in a pot of water and heats it up so slowly that each incremental change is barely noticeable to the poor wee thing. Eventually the frog is boiling away without understanding how it happened. Tony Blair’s version goes something like this: Firstly he comes up with a proposal that the opposition like and his own back benchers don’t. If the opposition don’t take the bait, they are exposed as hopelessly compromised. If they get on board, the trap is sprung. Concessions are made again and again to Labour back-benchers until the frog is at boiling point, the PM literally cooks us with everyone else looking on. It’s a stage-managed battle of conviction for Tony Blair, and he acts his part brilliantly. He is left looking like the good guy and everybody else nasty trouble makers. The unfortunate side-effect of this is that the Country suffers as a result. It’s inevitable with these proposals. Everyone will, at best, be right back where they started, but with schools in a mess and nobody thanking the Conservative Party for voting it through Parliament.
David Cameron, in support of the Education White Paper, said;
"If the Labour Party puts forward proposals which we agree with, then we should support them and not just oppose for opposition’s sake. That is the sort of Punch and Judy politics that people in Britain are tired of and which we must end."
The trouble is, with Blair, one is guaranteed "Punch and Judy" politics, but before the curtains are swished shut, we should be rushing across the stage with the bat, not the other way round.
The cold reality is this: If the electorate want change, they can get the proper version, by voting Conservative at the next election. They cannot and should not expect us to support a perverse version of Conservatism and Socialism, with ‘them’ in power, and ‘us’ perpetually in opposition.