The United Kingdom is facing the same issues and same battles that we face in New Zealand. Likewise the Labour party struggling in the same manner as the Labour party in the UK…where the tories are hoovering up support by fighting for the people Labour has abandoned.
Where Labour opposed a gang patch ban bill in the parliament, National says gangs are scum. Where Labour visits career criminals in prison to get ideas for their Justice policy, Judith Collins says criminals are scum. Labour has ceded the middle ground by cuddling and out-bidding the Greens on the left. John Key and National are laughing at them.
Ed Miliband suffers the same fate in the UK. Out of touch, out of luck and out of time. David Shearer and Miliband are as much the same as they are different.
You don’t have to be a socialist to loathe the English education system, but it helps. The children of the rich are educated best and the poor worst – and that’s just the state sector. The private schools offer the best education on the planet to parents with the cash. Education there almost guarantees entrance into Oxbridge. The children of the poor can apply to those ancient universities too but they will be competing, as Alan Bennett put it in The History Boys, with teenagers who have been “groomed like thoroughbreds for this one particular race”. It’s hard to think of a more effective way of keeping the poor down.
So how to smash this system? The model can be found in a Bedford secondary located in one of the nation’s most deprived wards – yet its reputation is such that it steals pupils from nearby private schools. Not that it’s colonised by the rich: a fifth of its intake are poor enough to qualify for free school meals. The children of the wealthy and less fortunate sit together in identical uniforms, knowing little about each other’s circumstances and caring less. The Bedford Free School ought to be a pin-up for anyone who cares about social cohesion. Yet this week, the Labour Party made clear it would strangle this experiment at birth.
Labour opposes Charter Schools…National is implementing them.
Stephen Twigg, the shadow education secretary, didn’t mention the Bedford Free School by name, but he didn’t need to. It was set up by Mark Lehain, a former teacher, in the teeth of opposition from the council, which ran seven other schools of varying quality. There is no need for an eighth, the council said, as some of these schools still have vacancies. But Mr Lehain took a different view: parents should decide if a new school was needed. He has now filled all 200 of his places, leaving his furious rivals to nurse more “surplus” spaces than ever.
This is the battle line that now runs through the heart of British politics: who to support? The parents or the bureaucrats? On Monday, Mr Twigg made his choice. It is a “scandal”, he declared, that pesky education entrepreneurs have been “opening schools in areas with a surplus of places”. And if Labour is re-elected, councils will “oversee” people like Mr Lehain – in effect, be given powers to menace the new, rival schools. Future teachers who want to set up schools would certainly find “no vacancy” signs plonked above town halls nationwide.
We are hearing these same words and seeing the same reactions. The more things change the more things stay the same.
This is an important juncture in the evolution of the Labour Party. It gives us a far clearer idea of what Ed Miliband is about, showing that he is neither a cipher nor an epigone. He has the self-confidence to break free of the Blair/Brown era. He dislikes the Blairite talk about “choice” and prefers the unions’ language about “collaboration” (usually code for stifling rivals).
Party leaders are defined not by theories that emanate from conference platforms, but the battles they fight.
David Shearer doesn’t have any fight in him. You can see it in his eyes…and his actions and his scripted speeches…he no more believes in those words than the rest of the public. It is no wonder their polling is showing numbers with a two in front of them.
It is the Tories who are now fighting the battles that Labour have given up on – but, more importantly, they are fighting for the people Labour have given up on. Welfare reform is the toughest, the most radical and hardest-hitting of all government policies. It is also the most popular. Strange as it may sound, the Tories can claim to be the new workers’ party. Miliband’s Labour is becoming the party of a bureaucratic empire, impatient to strike back. This chimes with the priorities of its trade union paymasters. But it makes Labour the party of the ancient regime, an apologist for the very system which produces the inequality.
My oh my, aren’t they similar.
All this has raised the stakes for the next general election. It won’t be the rich who have most to lose from a Miliband victory: they can always buy their way out of whatever problems government throws in their way. The losers will be parents who want a better school, but can’t afford to move closer to one. Or the unemployed, who might be judged beyond help.
Every time Mr Miliband offers more definition for the Labour Party, the clearer it becomes that Labour has pretty much given up on the working class. There is a huge opportunity here, should the Tories have the wit to take it.