The Tories are all in a lather over grammar schools (again). David Willetts has publicly acknowledged what those of us in selective areas already know – that eleven plus selection is fundamentally unfair. But like his policy-light leader, he stops short of being willing to do anything about it.
Of course, it’s easy to see why – rank and file Tories are by and large in favour of grammar schools. I’m an ex-grammar school boy myself, but I now see why the system is iniquitous. The theory is that bright kids have a chance to better themselves, regardless of their social background. The reality is not hard to see – just scan my local paper classifieds and you’ll see that if you have a little money, you can have your child coached privately to ensure they pass the exam. The grammar school system is too often a way for middle-class families to obtain an elite school for their child for a minimal outlay. If selection was abolished, they would have to fork out for a private education or, perish the thought, their child might have to go to an ‘ordinary’ school.
That Cameron, and now Willetts acknowledge that selection is unfair is progress indeed for the Tory Party. Unfortunately, they lack the balls to stand up to their party. The have not the courage to make the case for the abolition of selection – so their opposition won’t mean a thing. Our local MP can continue to campaign as ‘pro-selection’ because his leadership have given him a loophole (existing grammars are exempt).
It is, in my opinion, the role of a leader to lead. It is the role of a leader to modernise policies which are out of date – and to make the case for the new policies. People are turned off politics because they can’t tell the difference between the parties – and I think one of the reasons for this is that we have the politics of the focus group. No-one is brave enough to champion a policy wildly different from that of ‘steady as she goes’.
Simon Jenkins recently asked what the Liberal Democrats were for. Nick Clegg wants us to develop a narrative. We are at our best when we are boldest. Time and again we have been respected when we have been willing to make the case for something even though it is not universally popular. Think Paddy’s Penny, for example.
Let us remember that liberals are radicals, that liberalism is a clear philosophy – and that in many ways we are the exact opposite of New Labour. If the public cannot see that – it is our fault, not theirs. Blair’s Britain is a nanny state, weighed down by a huge central bureaucracy. They have eroded our liberty and our freedom, yet they have done nothing to put right the fundamental inequalities in our society.
We should be bold while all around is bland.