Reasons to be Cheerful, Part 1
Just when I think I'm getting too jaded to read serious newspapers I find this week's Observer is full of very good stuff, and thank goodness that we still have writers and thinkers of the calibre of Will Hutton and co.
Andrew Rawnsley's column focused on the clear blue water that's reappearing between Labour and the Tories, since last week's Tory conference so clearly moved their party back to the Thatcherite right, having flirted briefly with the middle ground in the past couple of years.
Labour loves the state; the Tories loathe it. So far, so simple.
Last autumn, the world's banks came within days of a cascading collapse so apocalyptic that money would literally have disappeared overnight. The banks had not become so reckless because of too much regulation, but because of too little state intervention. And when the banks went bust, and the markets could not save themselves from meltdown, only government was big enough to step in and avert catastrophe. History will likely credit the crucial decisions to rescue the banks as the greatest positive of Gordon Brown's premiership.
The Tory leader betrayed extraordinary blind spots. Incredibly, he managed to talk about the financial crisis without once mentioning the market failures that would have had even more catastrophic consequences without government intervention. His account was riddled with confusion and contradiction which suggests his theory of the state is at best half-formed.http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/oct/11/andrew-rawnsley-conservative-conference-election
Cameron made the audacious claim that the Tories would do a better job than Labour of helping the poor. In neither case did he explain how reducing inequality and protecting vulnerable families are going to be possible without forms of government intervention.
The state is going to be slimmer, but it will remain large. A crude clash between Big Government and Small State misses the more sophisticated and important challenge. That is how to make government smarter. Labour is likely to have time in opposition to rue that it did not do more with power to modernise public services. The Tories will probably find themselves in office when they try to work out how to fashion an intelligent state. They will not find the answer in the sound and fury of empty conference slogans.
This final point is really key. Governments and civil service bureaucracies are fucking dumb. They're full of intellectually able individuals who are retarded by their lack of emotional intelligence and social intelligence, lack of a decent values system, lack of an intelligent ideology, and most of all lack of spiritual intelligence.
They're full of careerists, hyper-competitive power-crazed hustlers, complacent elitists and people who know fuck-all about the realities of life in the communities they're meant to be serving but which they imagine they're leading, and directing.
These people were summed up brilliantly in the wonderful writing of The Thick of It. According to Wikipedia a new series is to be broadcast on BBC Two, in late October, 2009.
The Observer's editorial says this:
Mr Cameron should have been intellectually prepared for the extraordinary events of the last two years. The credit crunch had many causes, but chief among them was market failure. The aggregate power of individual greed was not adequately balanced by government regulation or social restraint.
But in his keynote address, the Tory leader offered a different explanation. The causes of Britain's economic problems, he said, are "Gordon Brown, who designed the system of financial regulation" and "government, [which] got too big, did too much and undermined responsibility". So the problem was too little political interference in a market-driven society, and also too much.
There was not a single social, economic or cultural problem in Britain that did not, according to Mr Cameron, have its roots in "Big Government". And every solution, it seems, should begin with a cull of those fabled profligate bureaucrats.
That is a big intellectual retreat from the position he held not so long ago.
No one expects a Conservative leader to reject the market and nor should they. Britain is hardly lusting after central planning and price controls. But for Mr Cameron, in a speech designed to flesh out a mature political philosophy, not to mention market forces was an extraordinary omission.
More peculiar still, Mr Cameron has witnessed a global crisis produced by inherent flaws in a system governed by laissez-faire economics and yet somehow he has emerged with an anti-government creed that sounds closer to the conservatism of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s than to his own conservatism of three years ago.
Perhaps Mr Cameron has simply missed the point of the credit crunch. Or perhaps he is calculating that brash anti-government rhetoric is a way to turn public disenchantment with politics in general into Tory votes.
Whichever it is, if his speech reflects the final destination of Mr Cameron's intellectual journey in opposition, the whole exercise, in retrospect, looks immensely naive or hugely cynical or both.http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/oct/11/david-cameron-conservative-party-editorial
Early starts for the children desperate to pass their 11-plus
Private tutors are now dedicating themselves to ensuring that children win a grammar school place. The result is a widening class divide and some children studying for up to six hours a day
This is a comprehensive 2-page article by Anushka Asthana
All over the country, parents are pouring thousands of pounds into private tutoring in a desperate attempt to help their children secure a place at one of the 164 grammar schools in England and 69 in Northern Ireland.
Fiona Millar, chair of Comprehensive Futures that campaigns against selective education, said she was "amazed" by the stories she heard about the way parents behaved. "It has got out of control," she said. "What sort of kids have to be up at five in the morning to be tutored? It is tragic. I think there are issues about pupils' well-being. I have heard of tutors for children who are pre-primary. It has become a sort of panic among parents."
Millar said parents were driven by the fact they faced an "awful alternative". In areas where grammar schools took the brightest pupils, other schools suffered from deflated results. The obvious solution, according to Millar, was to ban the 11-plus. "You can't make the argument that grammar schools are ladders up for the working classes if who gets into them is determined by the amount of tuition their parents can afford," she said.
Others argued that children felt under pressure because they knew their parents had spent so much money on tutors. One primary school teacher from Kent, which has an 11-plus system and multiple grammar schools, said the stress on children was so high that in the weeks leading up to the exam and immediately afterwards, some suffered sleep problems, became weepy and aggressive, or fell ill. There was also bullying and name calling, as children felt the strain of the "dog-eat-dog attitude".
An editorial on education says this -
A free society allows parents to employ tutors for their children. Usually, that is a rational, targeted response to local weaknesses in school departments. But as a whole it contributes to a picture of Britain's education system where an under-acknowledged engine is at work: selection by wealth. That could be payment of fees to a private school or tutors. It could be paying a premium on a house in the catchment area of a desirable school. Either way, rich children get a better education than poor ones.
In recent years, policy-makers have addressed this issue by looking at school structures, their status and funding, but with only modest effect. Perhaps, then, it is time to consider the bigger picture: that the uneven distribution of educational chances is a symptom and a cause of wealth disparities. Address directly the plain fact of vast income inequality, and educational equity may follow.http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/oct/11/inequality-source-of-schools-gap
Will Hutton, as ever, is excellent:
Sorry, David, if you roll back the state, you invite disaster
David Cameron is wrong to declare we need a more hands-off approach. That's what got us into this recession in the first place
It wasn't the government that got us into this mess – if what you mean by mess is an ugly recession, an unbalanced economy, profound uncertainty over recovery, grossly indebted consumers, disadvantaged communities hit hard again and a budget deficit of £175bn. What got us into this mess above all was the 30-year rise of Big Finance before which governments unfurled the white flag. Bankers used their power to bend the rules at home and abroad, to lend ever more riskily and supported by less capital, until, finally, a vastly overextended banking system backed by very little capital collapsed. The result is today's economic calamity.
There were many culprits in this story, but the damage stemmed from an obsession to keep government small and markets big. Thus, mergers that created banks that were too big to fail went ahead and their daffy mathematical models went unchallenged. We need to reform our financial system from top to bottom, but neither shadow chancellor George Osborne nor shadow business secretary Ken Clarke began to address this question. Their twin attack was on the state – Osborne's because it was borrowing too much, Clarke's because it was regulating too much.
The public now knows that markets fail. Without the injections of capital, liquidity and guarantees for both sides of the banks' balance sheets worth some £1.3 trillion, Britain would now be in the middle of a depression more shocking than the 1930s. To argue that government is the problem just a year after an event like that is intellectually bewildering. The charge against Brown is not that he did too much, but that he did too little. What was he doing allowing bankers to write the Financial Services Authority's constitution so that it did not "discourage the launch of new financial products" and avoided "erecting regulatory barriers" and "damaging the UK's competitiveness"?
The truth is that, as finance has proved, markets need governments.*