The recent cabinet manoeuvres have produced some changes surprising to UKIP observers, not the least of which is the displacement of Michael Gove as education secretary. He had been seen to be successful in taking on the ‘blob’, that amorphous mass of self-appointed educationalists, teaching trade unions, and anti-education ideologues, which has so blighted the educational opportunities of whole generations. In doing so, and in giving many parents the right to gain high quality schooling for their children, he had somewhat blunted UKIP’s support for the return of grammar schools.
This acceptance that the Conservatives had policies consistent with UKIP views and which were also capable of achieving excellence in UK schools, was one of the few areas genuinely trumping UKIP policy. Now that its chief proponent and advocate has been unceremoniously dumped, it provides UKIP with a first class opportunity to take on the mantle of a party answering the needs of parents who despair at the poor standards unfortunately prevalent in schools.
In Suffolk we have seen the disturbingly low standard in force here through the GCSE results, where the county was placed 137th out of 151 local authorities across the country in 2013. Further, primary school education league tables placed Suffolk joint fourth-worst in the country, where 30% of primary school pupils failed to reach the required standard in maths and English exams. IpswichStar
There is a great deal of ideological venting against the notion of selective schools, typically along the lines of a study carried out by researchers from the University of Bristol, University of Bath and the Institute of Education, University of London, which apparently found the grammar school system ‘widens the gap between rich and poor’. EADT
If there is such a widened gap, it is because larger numbers of people have had the opportunity to earn more from a better grammar-style education. The other point that the ideologues miss is that for everyone going through a grammar education who comes from a disadvantaged background and who acquires a higher earning capability, one person is removed from the ranks of the ‘poor’. Therefore grammars schools have acted to reduce the number of people who would otherwise be classified as ‘poor’.
Further, the larger the number of grammar schools the quicker could be the elevation of the ‘poor’ to the higher income groups. Grammar schools are a means of achieving greater personal potential and also a method of drawing people out of the trap of low educational opportunity. Many pundits in the other parties rejoice in the fact that although fewer now go through to better educational fulfilment, most of them are in the category that they would label as having ‘equality of educational outcomes’. However, anyone concerned about standards would put it as ‘equally poor education’.
Another sacked minister, Damian Green, the former Home Office minister said that:
“…He is concerned that the topic of grammar schools has become “taboo” for the Conservatives. He told The Telegraph that he will enlist the support of fellow MPs in the run up to the General Election as he makes the case for building a new generation of grammar schools across Britain”
Given the state of education in Suffolk and the concerns of the parents, now might be the time to launch a campaign with school quality at the forefront. If the Conservatives have been seen to abandon a good cause, their natural resort should be UKIP with its emphasis on academic achievement and relevance in the curriculum. If selective academia is the goal, this implies that primary education has to be up to the standard required for streaming primary school children into the grammars or the free school equivalent. The necessary funding and focus for this would be a priority too, for UKIP.
It is to be seen whether Nicky Morgan’s appointment will enable further reform, or whether it is an admission that the Conservatives no longer have an interest in raising educational attainment for all, but were using the moves as political smoke and mirrors. Charles Moore of the Telegraph has his views:
“This week, Mr Cameron identified the two departmental ministers who had been most actively pursuing the important things, and then sacked one and demoted the other. Owen Paterson had been working flat-out to rescue environmental policy and rural life from control by politically correct NGOs and restore them to greater independence and prosperity. Michael Gove had bravely steered the Tories’ social-policy flagship of academies and free schools through many storms. Both men had won real trust and devotion from people in the field, and therefore enmity from vested interests.”
Environment and Rural
The other department head shuffled aside was Owen Paterson, who had earned himself a reputation amongst rural and farming communities as a person willing to sweep out NGO and green lobbyists, in matters related to the rural environment. Unfortunately for him this did not tick the correct boxes on the list of what Cameron believes should be the remit of a modern Conservative.
- was openly against industrial windturbines in all rural locations
- against the use of prime farmland for solar panel arrays
- opposed to opening up the planning laws for greenfield sites
- in favour of taking informed advice on bovine TB
- put homes and farm properties ahead of allowing farmland to revert to wetland
- openly contradicted Cameron over the cause of the January floods
Significantly, Mr Paterson believes that the decision to axe him will push rural voters into the hands of UKIP.
In a very revealing article in the Telegraph, Paterson feels free to give his views on the state of affairs of environmentalism in the UK and the extent of their lobbyist influence, with the phrase, the’ Green Blob’. (Or should that be the ‘Green Blobby’‘?)
“It has been a privilege to take on the challenges of the rural economy and environment. However, I leave the post with great misgivings about the power and irresponsibility of – to coin a phrase – the Green Blob.
By this I mean the mutually supportive network of environmental pressure groups, renewable energy companies and some public officials who keep each other well supplied with lavish funds, scare stories and green tape. This tangled triangle of unelected busybodies claims to have the interests of the planet and the countryside at heart, but it is increasingly clear that it is focusing on the wrong issues and doing real harm while profiting handsomely.”
He also reveals his understanding of the machinations of the EU, in this extract:
“The Green Blob sprouts especially vigorously in Brussels. The European Commission website reveals that a staggering 150 million euros (£119 million) was paid to the top nine green NGOs from 2007-13.
European Union officials give generous grants to green groups so that they will lobby it for regulations that then require large budgets to enforce. When I attended a council meeting of elected EU ministers on shale gas in Lithuania last year, we were lectured by a man using largely untrue clichés about the dangers of shale gas. We discovered that he was from the European Environment Bureau, an umbrella group for unelected, taxpayer-subsidised green lobby groups. Speaking of Europe, I remain proud to have achieved some renegotiations.”
Christopher Booker points out that:
“The respect Paterson had won in fighting for common sense and British interests, not just from millions of country folk but from his opposite numbers in Brussels, was far less important than what were perceived to be the electoral interests of his party.”
The question now is where do the voters go who had an affinity for the rural-friendly policies of Paterson? His successor, Liz Truss, is said not to have wanted the Environment job, and certainly knows little about it. UKIP however, has treated local decision making as being far more important than the other parties, is against building on greenfield sites, is opposed to the imposition of windturbines and solar arrays, and strongly opposes the further ingress of unnecessary EU environmental regulations and targets.
There is ample scope for UKIP to provide policies which give hope to parents looking for quality education for their offspring. There is also an opening for UKIP to provide a home for the wishes of those who want to protect the rural environment. Thanks to Cameron’s mis-shuffle, we can gain the trust of two whole new sections of the voting public.