“Plus ça change”, say the French, “plus c’est la même chose”. It’s all go on the front benches, isn’t it?
I have been engaging with politics more in middle age then when I was a young student (though admittedly we were all lefties in those days because protesting and perceived social injustice was the fashion).
But at the age of 50 I still remain unconvinced that I am a sufficiently strong adherent to either ‘left’ or ‘right’ to call myself a proper Conservative or Labour supporter.
This is not because I am ignorant, but simply because over the years the two parties have become quite muddled in what I can only describe as their fight for the centre ground. During my 20 year career as a teacher I saw governments come and go and yet children were still children, and they still needed caring for and educating whichever education secretary was in the DfE (DfES, DFS, etc.)
Ultimately it seems to me that as people we admire not only clarity of vision, but also the ability to spell it out. Thatcher, Smith, Blair, Cameron, were all admired whether or not people agreed with their politics, because they stood for something bigger than themselves, and were able to explain it well enough for people to understand. Of course ego is bound to play a part, but what irritates me beyond measure is that even now people reading this will bring their ‘confirmation bias’ to bear. Those whose views are to the left will instantly recall how bad Thatcher and Cameron were, while those on the right will instantly recall the economic errors made by the Labour politicians.
As Churchill said, this two-party democracy (aka bickering) is the worst possible system of government apart from all the others. I have grown up to appreciate this and am always cross with any of my friends who do not vote, even if I know their vote will cancel out mine. Over the years I have voted red, blue and even yellow but always on what seemed important at the time.
So having explained my political and philosophical hinterland, here is where I am at. I believe in a country which values the vulnerable and the poor – which looks at everyone, whatever their background, treats them with compassion, gives them free healthcare and education, and encourages them to excel despite their surroundings. This I guess makes me a socialist, and I respect Jeremy Corbyn for putting these beliefs above personal gain.
BUT – I can’t get away from the fact that this costs money! As the owner of a small business I also want to earn money, pay taxes, so that the NHS, schools etc. can be properly funded without spending money we simply don’t have. This I guess makes me a Tory.
Where is the middle ground here? I am starting to believe that it is the furnace of education. Nothing original in this view, of course, but at least we can all get an education. Over-archingly though, it must be good quality and ASPIRATIONAL. If your parents and grandparents never had a job, why would it occur to you to work? Because at school you learn about the wonderful opportunities available to you. Not just to the entitled, or the Oxbridge crew.
Today the new Education secretary, Justine Greening, says she is open-minded about grammar schools. So am I – I simply do not share the belief that we should all be educated in the same way – we’re all different, for goodness sake – but if we get it right at the pre-school and primary level, everyone will be good enough anyway. And yet this is not just about teachers; parents and communities have a responsibility to send young people a message; YES YOU DO DESERVE more than this, but only if you work for it. You are NO LESS IMPORTANT than the better-off families in the next road along.
So when I rule the DfE (no offence Justine but I was gutted not to get the call from Theresa last week) I will start by putting ‘aspiration and goal-setting’ on the curriculum. Because I am coming round to the fact that NOTHING else will have as much impact as the intrinsic motivation that comes from knowing what you want to give and get from life.
Back in my box.