Opinion: We have let neoliberals devastate state education, we must not let them do the same to the NHS

To believe the Government’s hype, we are currently experiencing a liberal revolution in England’s education system – powers are being decentralised, with schools given more autonomy to innovate, while new education providers are adding further diversity to the state funded system by joining it through Academy sponsorship.

The uninitiated could be forgiven for believing Michael Gove’s claim that the evidence base shows the structure of the state funded school system is holding education back, as well as his recent assertion that opponents of Academies are “ideologues”, who uphold a “bigoted backward bankrupt ideology of a leftwing establishment that perpetuates division and denies opportunity”.

However, Gove’s analysis is highly dubious. He used to commend Swedish styled Free Schools, until opinion in Sweden swung against them, because they were found to increase segregation; benefit children from more educated families; cut corners; create inefficiency in the public school system, and did not improve overall standards. Perhaps the Government will also jettison charter schools in the US, which they currently applaud, once data and evidence catches up with them.

Gove’s routine dismissal of opponents as merely representing producer interests is indicative of a bunker mentally, where opponents are not engaged with, and his claim that they are the ideologues demonstrates precisely the kind of chutzpa of someone who has decided to write a foreword to the Bible.

In truth, the Government reforms are not grounded on a balanced overview of evidence, but are instead pervaded by naked anti-state neo-liberal ideological conviction, including a profound suspicion and lack of understanding of local authority maintained schools.

In law, Academies are private schools and so enjoy a range of freedoms over their curriculum, staff employment and opening times. But if such freedoms are so important then we should question with suspicion why the Government is not extending them to all state funded schools.

Meanwhile, we must altogether do away with the fallacy that Academies decentralise power. They do not empower parents or classroom teachers, but rather present a mass quangoisation of schools.

In most Academies, existing Governors become life Trustees, electing all future governors, a bizarre and unnecessary enfranchisement. Meanwhile, management is supposed to take attention away from classrooms to become experts in procurement to buy-in services that previously their local authority provided for free – emaciating local authorities and creating a market for the services that they previously offered. If the lessons of private finance initiatives taught us anything, it is that the private sector can and will try to run rings around well meaning public sector workers.

Academies are increasingly now work together and Academy chains growing in order to find greater efficiencies – ever more mirroring the structure of local authorities responsible for education, but without the local accountability.

The freedoms that Academies offer could be achieved for all schools in much less disruptive and expensive ways, through some relatively straightforward changes to the law and fewer commandments from central Government. However, while in power the Coalition has replaced Labour’s dictats with their own: see the English Baccalaureate.

Instead, by viewing Academies as a Blairite Trojan horse, the Government have sought to massively expand Labour’s naive programme. In May 2010, Academies numbered around 200; there are now almost 1,600.

So desperate has the Government been to entrench Academies that they have given Academy Trusts, as standard, 125 year leases with “pepper corn rents” on the publically owned properties that their schools occupy. Meanwhile, Academy funding agreements, which are the primary means for government to influence what happens in Academies, are inconsistent documents that can only be modified once the provider is first given seven years notice of any change.

Furthermore, Academy faith schools enjoy powers that some state maintained faith schools do not, such as to discriminate against children in admissions on religious grounds, as well as to only teach about the school’s faith – these powers are insidious and go against the spirit and letter of Lib Dem policy.

Worse still, this ‘revolution’ is being misleadingly sold to the public using liberal vocabulary and is happening in our name.

We campaigned in 2010 for Academies to be replaced by schools accountable to local authorities and subsequently our conference affirmed its opposition to free schools. Yet the foreword to the education paper that preceded the 2011 Education Act was signed by Nick Clegg and Lib Dems in Government allowed the use of Parliamentary timetabling, normally reserved for emergency legislation, to ensure the 2010 Academies Act was not properly scrutinised, but rushed through. So having let the country down in this area, it becomes all the more important that we do not let them down in others.

As Lib Dems we lack the ideological baggage of other parties – we can judge public sector reform on a pragmatic case by case basis. However, public health care, like education, is a natural monopoly.

Nick Clegg had no mandate to offer a Lib Dem sign off to the Health and Social Care Bill. The Bill, which has been put forward outside of the coalition agreement, looks set to poison the NHS, a cherished institution and one of the most efficient health care systems in the world, with an injection of destabilizing marketisation. Lib Dem parliamentarians should vote against it.

You can sign the “Drop the Health Bill” petition at http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/22670

* Paul Pettinger is a member in Westminster Borough and sits on the Council of the Social Liberal Forum.

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  • Chris Nicholson 28th Jan '12 - 12:40pm

    You state that “the Government reforms are not grounded on a balanced overview of evidence, but are instead pervaded by naked anti-state neo-liberal ideological conviction” but then present no evidence to support the points you are makings. The evidence, as I set out in https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-before-the-debate-whats-the-evidence-26602. html is far from clear in supporting the case which you make. It indicates that there have been benefits so far from introducing choice and competition in health and that the academies programme prior to the recent expansion did have beneficial effects.
    So yes let’s “judge public sector reform on a pragmatic case by case basis” and not engage in denunciation of opponents as ‘neo-liberals’

  • Ha – got distracted halfway through composing a reply asking for Lib Dems to ditch the “neoliberal” term and see Jock got there before me.

    Really, it’s a totally meaningless and lazy way to tar anyone a smidgeon to the right of whoever is applying it and isn’t a term anyone would identify themselves as.

    I think the dialogue between the type of Lib Dems who vote for Mark Littlewood as voice of the year, and the SLF, and everyone in between is really vital and interesting but it does mean we need to do more to understand each other without using the kind of “us vs them” collectivist labels beloved of the SWP etc.

  • To be fair, he doesn’t use the term in the article at all, and the LDV editors *are* fond of writing your article headlines for you; but it doesn’t sound quite like a Mark Pack or Stephen Tall headline to me …

  • “As Lib Dems we lack the ideological baggage of other parties – we can judge public sector reform on a pragmatic case by case basis.”

    Yes! I could not agree more.

    I’m not sure of the answers for education and healthcare but I do worry that there’s a misplaced ideological assumption that the benefits of markets and choice – that work so well with, say, sofas – can be replicated with schools. This doesn’t seem to be in touch with the reality on the ground where there’s usually a distinctly and unavoidably limited number of schools to choose from in one’s area. You’re living in a dream world if you think, for example, that all the parents who send their children to faith schools do so because they had an unconstrained choice and decided they wanted a faith community over a similar, nearby, but non-faith school.

    And to quote myself from another post:

    “…if the evidence isn’t immediately unambiguous that means we need to put a greater emphasis on running trials, collecting data, analysing results from around the world and auditing ministers’ pick-and-choosing of evidence. A unit within Government (and our party?) to make sure these things are done or done properly would be a phenomenal investment. And if we can’t show that policies have any benefits, that rather suggests all these reorganisations aren’t worth the hassle; or that we should therefore go with ‘the most liberal’ approach; or that there are other limiting factors (e.g. parenting, early years).”

  • William Pimm 28th Jan '12 - 1:58pm

    Well said Paul. By the way did you read the article by Steve Richards in the Independent in which he reveals that Nick Clegg confessed to Shirley Williams that he had not read the NHS Bill before he and his party voted in favour of it? Equivalent action by a doctor who failed to keep up to date in clinical practice would almost certainly result in him or her being struck off by the GMC. Very depressing but even more depressing was the behaviour of those who read the Bill and still voted for it.

  • To believe the Government’s hype, we are currently experiencing a liberal revolution in England’s education system

    And the Liberal Democrats are adamantly opposed to it. Perhaps the party should consider a change of name. Because whenever I hear of someone wanting a liberal revolution in something, it always seems to be a Tory.

    And whenever I hear someone in government wanting everything to be run by a government monopoly, it turns out to be a Liberal Democrat.

  • Stephen Donnelly 28th Jan '12 - 5:09pm

    Right form the fifth word ‘devastate’ this opinion piece resorts to the kind of knees jerk resistance to new ideas that we expect from the Labour Party, but should not be part of a more balanced debate within the Liberal Democrats.

    Philip says “In law, Academies are private schools and so enjoy a range of freedoms over their curriculum, staff employment and opening times. But if such freedoms are so important then we should question with suspicion why the Government is not extending them to all state funded schools”

    This is a good question. Why not ? There must at least room for some debate.

    But Philip concludes “Meanwhile, we must altogether do away with the fallacy that Academies decentralise power. They do not empower parents or classroom teachers, but rather present a mass quangoisation of schools.”

    As a liberal, I think we should at least try to give freedom a chance.

  • david thorpe 28th Jan '12 - 5:40pm

    Lots of people use words like neo-Liberal and No-Conservative to describe views they dont agree with, without actually knowing what a neo-liberal believes.
    There are not many true neo-liberals in the conservative party, because neo-liberals would be pro-single market etc. and tories are not…..there is a case for saying that Ken Clarke is a neo-Liberal, and he is deeply unpopular in his party…then of course there is his attitude to gay riughts which isnt quite neo-liberal…….
    are there neo-liberals in the Lib Denms? Im not sure among the parlaimenatry party who could be so described…most of them are classical liberals and like intervening in markets far too much to interevene…
    the true neo-liberals in british polictis are the blairites….and if you perceive that neo-liberalism exists in the NHS and education and health it may be because of their reforms..but there is nothing neo-liberal about interfering in markets to the extent that the Coalition’s NHS bill does…..its simply impossible to have an NHS free at the point of Use and run in a neo-liberal way…..and thats why the reforms, whether they are good or bad are not neo-libveral…
    now for schools……….Its an interesting point of debate whether creating academies and free schools is neo-liberal…the latter originate in Sweden which is not known as a bastian of neo-liberalism..indeed the idea that the power to create schools be partly divested from the state to the citizen is inherently social democratic, which perhaops expalins why it originated in Sweden a nation known for the Social Democracy.
    As for academies, well it certainly introduces another element of the market, to an area which has always had the market(education) ut is it neo-liberal? Thazts an interetsing point of debate, again academies origianted with the blairites and they are neo-liberals…but since the schools remain with the state system it could be argued that academies are just liberal rather than neo-liberal.
    It should also be pointed out that the intitial results show academies are being effective….and thats most important of all.
    I dont write any of this as a neo-liberal, it quite simply doesnt work, the neo-liberalism of clinton and blair has been shown to be flawed……Im a classical liberal. and thats whay Im in the Lib Dems, rather than neo-liberal labour or traditionalist conservatives

  • John Carlisle 28th Jan '12 - 6:04pm

    Some good analysis in the article; but I turned off big time when I read “the kind of chutzpa of someone who has decided to write a foreword to the Bible.” What the f*** has that to do with anything? As a practising Christian I am sick to death of these pejorative throw-away lines about religion in general and Christianity in general. You want my support you respect my faith!

  • Chris Nicholson 28th Jan '12 - 6:05pm

    Alex Marsh simply asserts that there is a “larger pile of evidence against the benefits of marketisation” against which to assess the recent research findings about the pro-market reforms in health and education without quoting a single bit of that “pile of evidence”. As I said in the post on choice and competition in public services the research evidence of the benefits in health are clearer than in education, and even in health it is clear that choice and competition does not have benefits in all cases – A&E being a prime example

  • Paul Pettinger 28th Jan '12 - 7:07pm

    Dane Clouston – I share the sentiment behind what you suggest.

    Jock – I am not trying to describe all those who support Academies as neoliberal, but do use it to describe Michael Gove.

    Chris Nicholson – there is evidence that suggests different things. However, Gove speaks as if the evidence base is conclusive, which it is not. He did this with Swedish free schools, but I am assuming no longer because the evidence has now more conclusively swung against him.

    In your recent LDV piece that you link to (https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-before-the-debate-whats-the-evidence-26602.html) you wrote that:

    “My conclusion in the CentreForum paper, based on the research evidence and liberal principles, is that greater choice, competition and a level playing field between public, private and voluntary sectors in service provision does generally lead to improved services. But we should proceed incrementally and regulation is key to ensuring that in the development of these public service markets the service users’ interests are always paramount. Let the debate commence…”

    I agree reforms should generally proceed in incremental steps and that regulation is very important. However, the Govt has created an uneven playing field. Maintained schools operate under an enormous body of law, unlike Academies, and so they are not able to cut corners in the ways academies can.

    My view is that Academy Schools (excluding free schools, which are a type of Academy) as currently constituted will, through incremental improvements over time, raise standards, but these improvements will occur because of the freedoms they enjoy compared to other schools, not because of their governing arrangements.

    In particular, I think the freedom they have in the employment of teachers will allow them to get more from their wage bill than maintained schools. However, I then fully expect such efficiency to be misused to justify the Academies programme/ more Academies, including their governing arrangements, serving an anti—state narrative, and so support the further erosion of maintained schools, rather than them being given more of Academy’s freedoms.

    As I wrote to Jock, I am not suggesting that all supporters of the Academies programme are neo-Liberals, but do contend that Lib Dems that support it are misguided, and fear that some have been won round with liberal language, when they don’t really understand the detail, and that this speaks powerfully against Lib Dem parliamentarians supporting the Health and Social Care Bill.

    Take free schools for example, they have been cleverly branded, and Lib Dems well-disposed towards things like free trade or the free churches could get easily sucked in, not appreciating that free schools are not a product of these traditions. Academies are sold as empowering parents and decentralising power, when they do neither of these things.

    Ed – The title was mine, and as above, I do not describe all proponents of Academies as neoliberal.

    Adam – I agree with your earlier quote.

    William Pimm – I had previously read that Nick Clegg had not read the Health and Social Care Bill before offering his Party’s support for it, and think this speaks very powerfully against Lib Dem parliamentarians supporting it. The Health and Social Care Bill is a lot more complicated than the two Education Acts that have been introduced by the current Government.

    Stephen W – school management at schools that convert to become an Academy may become much better at procuring support services, but it is not something they currently do at maintained schools. Some schools are also not being given a choice over Academy status; some have and are having Academy status and an outside sponsor imposed on them.

    Meanwhile, as the very experienced and knowledgeable Cllr Peter Downs has observed, a great many schools have opted for Academy status because of a short term boost to their funding, or as a cynic might argue, a bribe: http://kingshedgesfocus.blogspot.com/2011/07/opinion-academies-overspend-revealed-by.html.

    I wrote ‘anti-state neo-liberal ideological conviction’ because I think it accurate, though certainly also consider it pejorative.

    Alex Marsh – I agree with you entirely. I am no expert on Health policy, but our leadership has been won over with many headline arguments in favour of much of the Government’s education reform agenda, without really understanding the detail, or the possible damaging long term consequences.

    If Liberal Democrats who are expert in Health policy were offering us reassurances about the H & S C Bill, then I would be much more comfortable. But generally they are not.

    This should ring an alarm bell, especially when our leader dismissively wrote with David Cameron in the ‘Open Public Services’ white paper last year that ‘… those who resist reform, put the producer interest before the citizens’ needs’.

  • Paul Pettinger 28th Jan '12 - 7:11pm

    John Carlisle – Gove is the only one not showing proper respect to Christianity here – why do you assume I am not an adherent?

  • Paul Pettinger 28th Jan '12 - 7:18pm

    Chris – doesn’t the fact that we having this debate after reforms have been enacted tell you something is wrong? You politely write ‘let the debate commence’, but in education the decisions and direction has long been set.

  • Alex Meredith 28th Jan '12 - 7:32pm

    Provocative post and good discussion. I agree that liberal minds should support the opening up of more choice in education provided there is no disadvantage to other schools. Every proposal will be different in that regard. Lib Dems should focus locally on looking at each proposal carefully, scrutinising, challenging and where the case is not made, fighting. Meanwhile at Westminster our MPs need to get after Gove. HIs procession of botches (BSF cancellation), cronyism (New Schools Network grant), and conflicts of interest (Community Security Trust) should be better exploited. Whether his policies work, a politician who has such a disregard for due process and runs his department like a sixteenth century monarch is extremely dangerous. We need to start attacking Gove on these issues, and looking at free schools and academies on a local case-by-case basis. Some will work, some, like the proposal in Tooting, will be another shocking extension of Gove’s power of patronage.

  • John Carlisle 28th Jan '12 - 8:28pm

    Let me play this back to you: “Gove’s . . . . claim that they are the ideologues demonstrates precisely the kind of chutzpa of someone who has decided to write a foreword to the Bible.” NOT the chutzpah of someone who arbitrarily emasculated the brilliant Partnership for Schools programme and cancelled the School for Sports programme with lying statistics.
    I do not assume that you are or are not an adherent. What I do assume is that you have diluted your argument with a number of (other) religious adherents. Why do it?

  • Paul Pettinger 29th Jan '12 - 2:59am

    Stephen – Academy schools are not state schools, but state funded private schools. They provide school places for the Department for Education because they have a contract to do so.

    You don’t need to convert schools into Academies for schools to have greater freedom, so why create Academies in the first place? For Gove it is based in part on an assumption that generally the less state involvement in the provision of schooling the better, which is neoliberal.

  • John Carlisle 29th Jan '12 - 1:02pm

    Paul, I agree 100% that you do not need academies to give a good education. In fact all, like most re-structurings, it only gets in the way and takes the eye off the ball. Robert Pirsig of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance fame said it most clearly: “But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible.
    The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory.
    If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.”

  • Paul Pettinger 29th Jan '12 - 3:26pm

    Matthew – an Academy is a state funded private school, not de facto, but de jure. Sub-section 5a) of section one of the Academies Act 2010:
    “The undertakings are – to establish and maintain an independent school in England”
    An independent school and a private school are the same.

    You write that an Academy can’t go bankrupt, but why not? These are precisely the kind of questions that we should already have answers for. Academies operate in a completely different legal framework to maintained schools, as I fear will become more obvious for the wrong reasons over time. I don’t see a reason why an Academy could not be declared bankrupt, and nothing to stop an Academy Trust just dissolving itself, like any Trust.

    Admissions and exclusions are a big worry, as Academy schools are their own admissions authority. Most Academies have to adhere to the whole of the school admissions code, but some have exemptions from parts of it in their funding agreement on an ad hoc basis.

    John – you make a good point quoting Robert Pirsig. Upon closure inspection, many of the Government’s education reforms are not motivated by liberal, but right wing Conservative thought, but sadly lots are being incorrectly presented as such. I think it important to acknowledge this, and for many reasons, but one being so that the Party is not hamstrung by trying to defend a lot of the current Government’s record and actions in education when debating education policy in future. We have largely sub-contracted out education policy to the Tories, but at least this is to a large degree a consequence of the coalition agreement and the way ministerial portfolios have been handed out.

    Our support for the H and S C Bill seems to have been given freely, and not only offered outside of the coalition agreement that we voted upon in the Birmingham special conference, but in opposition to it: “We will stop the top-down reorganisations of the NHS” (p24).

    Having signed up to the Tories deficit reduction plan, when we campaigned against it, and then reneging on our signature commitment on tuitions fees, I struggle to work out why our leadership then thought to support NHS top down reorganisation and marketisation.

  • Posts above concerning the changes in education are very interesting and cover a number of ideas. However, in terms of academies, there are a number of issues which seem to be unclear in coalition thinking?

    If academies are meant to be freed of direct state intervention, then why did the 2010 bill give Gove a large number of additional powers which seem to focus on concentrating direct control of the system on him, hardly a form of localism.

    Secondly, if the idea is to raise standards, why do I come across an increasing number of academies where unqualified individuals are employed, sometimes with degrees which do not match up with their teaching responsibilities? By giving such a freedom, it effectively debased the teaching profession, emphasising a view of teachers as a mere ‘technical’ workforce.

    Thirdly, claims are often made that academies are raising standards, but in the league tables this week, along with a number of academic research projects, there is no statistical evidence that they make a significant difference. Also, with those which have returned very low attainment, what will happen? The only policy would be to turn them from an academy into an academy.

    Finally, I think it is very worrying that reports this weekend of bringing in ways of paying private providers profits by the back door shows that yet again, as with many other policies from the coalition, the Liberal Democrats seem to be constantly outflanked by the Tories. If anyone is relaxed about stepped privatisation and making the case for a free market experiment, you only need to look at the one country which has attempted it, Chile. And this has led to rapidly widening socio-economic disparity, corruption in gaining places in HE, and large scale demonstrations by school children (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-14487555). Any large scale private sector involvement in education must move in this direction as the raison d’être of private activity is to make profits. The outcome of this in Chile is asset stripping of schools, and the loss of social mobility. In addition, we might want to consider what happens if this experiment goes wrong. Having handed over state land, buildings and funding to the private sector for free, we would then be in a position of having to pay market rates to buy back our own social assets, something we could not afford to do. Hence, would it not be wiser to go at a much slower speed, to have a full national debate and be transparent about the positives and negatives of any such move. Indeed, are we not asking if we want a system which is centred on social good or a system based on profit motive? The reforms are occurring quickly, with very little public debate, and I am afraid it is yet another nail in the coffin of the Liberal Democrats (a party I have voted for my entire adult life, but can no longer think of doing) as they appear supine in much of their dealings in social policy change in relation to the Tories, particularly in education.

  • Jock, Ivan Illich and others were certainly libertarian (if of a left variety). I know we have some libertarians in Lib Dem ranks, but they are not very common. Three key issues for many many Lib Dems, however, are 1 Tostop privatisation of public assets, both centrally and locally held and run, 2 To stop centralisation, and 3 To maintain democratic control and accountability in key features of our lives. Whether or not we call those who oppose these key issues “neoliberals” is surely not directly relevant to those important aims.

    It seems rather strange to me that you and others who say they are liberals seem to see public ownership and control as being an evil rather than a good, and that you do not generally have anything negative to say about wealthy private owners, who are not even nominally accountable to the people.

  • Geoffrey – Thanks for reminding us of the toweringly ambitious and radical preamble. Looking back, it’s no wonder many of us had to think several times before committing to merger!!

  • Paul Pettinger 29th Jan '12 - 11:02pm

    Stephen – parents of children at Academies do not pay fees, like at most private schools, and you might argue that a state funded independent school is very similar to a state maintained school. However, most proponents and opponents will argue otherwise, and as I have just proven above, Academies are independent schools.

    This might appear dull, but it means that locally maintained and Academy schools operate in different legal frameworks, which has very significant practical (and unintended) consequences. David Wolfe, a leading legal expert on Academies, has produced a blog for those concerned about Academies and the law aptly titled ‘a can of worms’: http://davidwolfe.org.uk/wordpress/.

    The Academy programme is pervaded by an ambition to reduce state involvement, which in the absence of compelling evidence to do so, is a hall mark of neoliberal philosophy. The assumption that services provided by the state are inherently worse than non-state providers is not held by the vast majority of Lib Dems.

    Phil – the Government’s reforms are riddled with contradictions and give power to some people and take it from others, generally the kinds of people the Conservatives don’t like – its tradional Toryism!

    Mainstream thinking in the Lib Dems has certainly been overlooked.

    Jock – I didn’t write that believing less state involvement to be inherently better is ONLY neoliberal – think I’ve now used the term enough for one weekend!

  • “Ditch the “neoliberal” term …. it’s a totally meaningless and lazy way to tar anyone a smidgeon to the right of whoever is applying it …. we need to do more to understand each other without using the kind of “us vs them” collectivist labels beloved of the SWP.”

    Well, Ed, if you think people shouldn’t use rude words, like “neoliberal”, I don’t think you help your case by using ruder words, like “collectivist” and “SWP”, yourself!

    But there’s more to it than that, and I think it helps to look at Labour for a parallel example on factional conflict. Now, of course, the different factions within Labour have always had their fair share of acrimony, while we have tended to pride ourselves on how civilised we are in our internal discussions – sometimes rightly, sometimes not. But when it came to the Militant Tendency, Labour shifted up a gear in excoriation. And quite fairly so. The Militants were “a party within the party”, determined to seize power by stealth. Quite reasonably, Kinnock killed them off before they killed him. Militant had put themselves beyond the pale.

    Now, within our own party, we have witnessed what its supporters have called the “Clegg coup”. A process whereby a party within our party have plotted in secret to seize the leadership, have done so through duplicity, and have then acted to put our party at the service, beck and call of our Conservative opponents.

    Frankly, I don’t see a huge difference between the tactics of the Clegg coupsters and the tactics and morality of the Militant Tendency. And one day, I hope to see our coupsters exiled beyond the pale.

    To be clear on this, I as a social liberal would be happy to agree that there are many “economic liberals” and “Orange Bookers” who very much belong in the party, have useful things to say, sometimes deservedly win the arguments, etc etc. I might be sometimes be a bit robust with them when arguing on LDV, but I respect their views.

    But as to Clegg, Laws, Alexander, Browne? I treat them with contempt. That’s what they deserve.

  • David Allen,

    “Frankly, I don’t see a huge difference between the tactics of the Clegg coupsters and the tactics and morality of the Militant Tendency. And one day, I hope to see our coupsters exiled beyond the pale.”

    To be fair to Nick Clegg and his friends, I think there is. Militant was the Revolutionary Socialist League, a Trotskyite sect that entered the Labour Party in order to build up its own organisation and recruit cadres. Nick Clegg and his friends are a collection of free marketeers and centre-rightists who joined the Liberal Democrats and have been successful within the party because of the naivety and incohesiveness of the mainstream wing. Also, Militant exploited and abused its own activists, operating much like a cult. I don’t think the Clegg people are into anything of that kind.

    The Liberal Party was the subject of entryism of the Militant kind, when in 1970 it was targeted by the School of Economic Science, a secret (and highly illiberal) religious cult. The response of the then Liberal leadership was to welcome them, only to see the chickens come home to roost many years later with damaging press coverage. Similarly, Mike Thomas (anyone remember him?) very nearly allowed Exigesis (a kind of self-improvement cult) to take over the campaigning work of the SDP, only to be stopped in his tracks by David Owen at the 11th hour.

    If social liberals functioned as a caucus within the Liberal Democrats (just as Tribune does in the Labour Party), then it would be possible to prevent the right taking (or retaining) control of the leadership. The Social Liberal Forum may well presage a move in that direction.

    “But as to Clegg, Laws, Alexander, Browne? I treat them with contempt. That’s what they deserve.”

    I think it is dangerous to focus on individuals, because it gives the impression that if we got rid of a few bad people we would solve the problem, when the underlying issues are much deeper. What would happen if we got rid of Clegg, Laws, Alexander, Browne, and replaced them with, say, Huhne, Cable, Hughes, Webb? Nothing, I say. There might be a superficial change of emphasis, but we would still be propping up a Tory government committed to mass unemployment and the destruction of the health service. It is the “coalition” that is the root of the problem, not the leadership, and we need to remember that. The entire Parliamentary Party and almost everyone at the Special Conference in Birmingham supported the “coalition”, and no significant figure in the party has called for it to end, yet. At the next general election we cannot go and tell voters that only Nick Clegg and his friends supported this stuff, because they know that we all did. That’s why I think the party is (probably) sunk for a generation.

    I am horrified, but not surprised, to hear that Nick Clegg didn’t even bother to read the Health and Social Care Bill (and presumably also the preceding white paper, “Equity and Excellence”) before recommending it. I am even more disgusted by Paul Burstow who has behaved with extreme weakness throughout. There is still time for Liberal Democrats to go into the lobbies and vote this terrible bill down, and they should do so.

  • “As Lib Dems we lack the ideological baggage of other parties – we can judge public sector reform on a pragmatic case by case basis. However, public health care, like education, is a natural monopoly”

    Your presumption that health care and education should be public (and therefore a monopoly is inevitable) is an assumption based on ideology. Looks like baggage to me.

    You can’t, of course, remove ideology (for want of a better, less clunky word) from policymaking. It determines our priorities, and helps us sift through the evidence to determine a solution. But Lib Dems could do with being a bit more honest about their own prejudices, rather than claiming some mythical neutrality from which to judge others as displaying “naked anti-state neo-liberal ideological conviction” while they themselves display naked pro-state liberal ideological conviction.

  • David Allen 30th Jan '12 - 5:34pm

    “I turned off big time when I read “the kind of chutzpa of someone who has decided to write a foreword to the Bible.””

    Actually, I thought Gove was being unusually modest when describing his vital contribution to the Bible as a mere Foreword. I would have expected an Executive Summary and an Action List…

  • Paul Pettinger 30th Jan '12 - 9:09pm

    Ben – I don’t for a moment claim mythical neutrality, and certainly hold many assumptions. However, a lot of the Government’s education policy is being misold and evidence misused, and for ends that most Lib Dems won’t agree with. Members should be made aware of this, so we can learn from it and avoid mistakes in the future, such as relating to the H and S C Bill.

  • Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.

    State education was devastated by the (public-school educated) wrecker Crosland and his socialist bretheren, and then given the coup de grace by the Tories. Prior to Crosland, public schools were in decline. Ever since he smashed the grammar schools they’ve been in the ascendant. Privelege has been fuirther entrenched by the farcical “selection by property prices” system we have at our so-called “comprehensive” schools. But even these so-called “good” schools do not compete with the competitive and selective independent schools in the way that the grammr schools did.

    We need to return to selection, and fast.

  • Sesenco,

    I’ve only just found your posting, suspect it got stuck a while in moderation, pity, posts tend to get lost without trace when that happens!

    OK, I’m not really claiming that the Cleggies are quite the same evil quasi-religious cultists as Militant or Scientology. I am merely saying that there are similarities. I do think that there is a much greater degree of behind-the-scenes scheming that you typically see with most other lobby groups within parties, such as (for example) Compass within Labour. You say they succeeded because of the naivety of the mainstream, and I wouldn’t disagree. However, I would add that they benefited hugely from being bankrolled by the hedge fund industry who sponsored the Orange Book, set up Centre Forum, and generally demonstrated whose side you wanted to be on if you were seeking career success.

    You also have a point, I fear, when you comment that changing the cast would not solve all the problems. The Cleggies plotted to form the Greater Conservative Movement for ideological reasons. Their Cabinet colleagues allowed Osborne to “pay the top price for the Turkish carpet” and sold out for the sake of the trappings of power and influence. The public at large know it, and they may very well condemn the sell-outs with greater contempt than they condemn the ideologues. It has been a terrible failure of character.

    Yes, we did all support the coalition, though in my own case, only for a very short while. If my recall of history is right, the Special Conference was held while it was still possible to believe that the Coalition Agreement was actually going to bear a real relationship to the way we would actually govern. However, it was only a few months in when Lansley plopped onto the table, as the first of many demonstrations that if we thought Blair was good at writing a dodgy dossier, we hadn’t seen nothing yet! That, of course, is when the Cables and Hugheses should first have jumped up in horror and demanded a rethink. (The Cleggies, of course, wouldn’t have been horrified, as they obviously knew all along what Lansley, Gove and Osborne were going to do. Until we came to the AV vote, where Clegg got his first real unpleasant surprise, and didn’t that show!) But they didn’t. Now they have until 2015 to earn ministerial salaries, line up future jobs outside politics if still wishing to earn, and prepare to retire from politics, along with the probable demise of the Liberal Democrats as anything other than a tiny fixed-orbit satellite of the Tory party..

    And that’s the problem. Even a ten-per-cent party, if linked umbilically to the Tories, can swing elections to the Right. That’s why it is still worth fighting to get our Party back.

  • David Allen 31st Jan '12 - 6:03pm


    I must have been dreaming, then. Obviously we never said “penny in the pound on income tax”, or opposed an illegal war, or said that Britain didn’t need three conservative parties, or called for a big switch to green taxation. Or, talked about an alliance of liberals and social democrats in which the liberals (poor saps) thought they were the ones who were further to the left…

  • David Allen 1st Feb '12 - 4:47pm

    “Maybe I can suggest there are more productive ways of contributing.”

    Pots and kettles!

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