Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Ideology Over Ideas

Let's face it, whether we consider ourselves to be a political animal or not, we all have an ideology we follow. A way of doing things that we believe to be "the right way".

In my case, I'm a socialist and a liberal (note the small "l").

I happen to believe that a good society is one that looks after those who are unable to look after themselves, and which gives its citizens the right to go about their business equally irrespective of gender, sexuality, race or religion.

Where it needs to be, my ideology is flexible enough that I can still object to things that I consider to be bad ideas - irrespective of what colour political coat they happen to be dressed in.

For some people though, the pull of their ideology is just so strong that it blinkers them to seeing what absolute crackpot nonsense their ideas are. One such case has reared its head from the government this week.

The Department for Education (DfE) has seen one of its internal reports leaked to the press. The report was commissioned to look at where a further £260m of savings could be made by the Department from its budget.

One of the suggestions related to the forced conversion of schools to Academy status. Academies are the pet project of the Education Secretary Michael Gove. Schools which are deemed to be "failing" will have their governors removed and forced to convert to Academy status, irrespective of the wishes of parents, pupils or staff and even where they are already showing signs of improvement.

Often the Academy will be run in association with a private sector "sponsor". It is funded directly by central government and therefore taken out of local authority control,.

Forcing a school to convert to an Academy is a resource intensive process. It takes a lot of time and money out of the DfE budget,, for what in some cases can be very little in terms of positive outcomes. So the report suggested that value for money be taken into account when deciding whether to force a conversion to Academy status. A pretty reasonable suggestion, given the way the Tories bang on about keeping public spending under control you would think.

It was immediately ruled out by Michael Gove as "totally wrong". Leaving the potential grammatical inaccuracies in that statement aside, how can something which takes account of value for money and the potential benefits to a school be "wrong"?

Simple. Getting schools out of local authority control and increasing private sector involvement in education is Gove's ideology. It's an ideology which he will not be swayed from, even when civil servants in his own department come up with ideas that will save money from his budget. It's the same reason the DfE sat on reports of £80,000 of financial "irregularities" at a flagship Academy in Bradford for months. Nothing must be said or done which makes the ideology look bad.

This isn't an isolated example either. Take the sell-off of £12bn worth of the NHS, for no other reason than the ideology that private sector = good, public sector = bad. Or the re-privatisation of the East Coast Main Line rail franchise, which has returned a surplus to the taxpayer since it has been back in public hands but must now be franchised, because apparently only the private sector knows how to properly run a railway.

Two separate studies from University College London this week have shown that immigrants make a significant net contribution to the Treasury. They are more likely to pay more in than they take out when compared to those of a similar age and gender born in the UK. The studies consider that the government's targets to reduce net migration substantially are neither a "useful tool nor measure of policy effectiveness".

The government's response? To continue to insist that the country is overrun with "benefit tourists" who are a drain on society, despite all the evidence that flies in the face of that statement.

I actually feel a little sorry for David Cameron. He seems like a reasonably decent sort of bloke trying to do his best, but he's painted into a corner by the frothing lunatics that form the basis of his core support. A cadre that was brought up in a post-war, mainly white Britain with a rigid class system where the poor made things that the rich could sell and keep all the money from.

Any attempt to modernise or move away from their ideology will see them desert the Tories for the even loonier fringes of UKIP, which is itself splitting at the seams.

So for now, expect to see more ideology over ideas. The good news is that in 18 months, we can all do something about it and start putting some common sense back into Britain. Don't waste your chance.

No comments: