Friday, 9 October 2009

The state of the state

In a series of bold and radical initiatives, a Conservative government will allow ordinary citizens to set up and run the kind of local services that they have always expected the state to provide for them. Gone will be the days where parents spend endless evenings in autumn queuing outside the best state schools in the borough or crowding into the pews at the local church, desperate for a place at the 'faith school'.

Every parent in the land will now spend their evenings negotiating with the private firms who will help them run their own schools and arguing with other parents about educational policy. Under Conservative plans all schools will be allowed to opt out of state control and be run independently by sponsors such as parent groups. Private companies will be allowed to charge a 'management fee' for running these schools.

Whilst the aims are laudable in terms of offering greater control over their childrens' education and less dependency upon the state, it is hard to see them helping the lot of these already hard pressed parents. Most do indeed expect the state to be answerable to them (as opposed to the other way round) but they simply want what government has promised them all along, as it grabs their taxes: Better schools. Do they really want DIY instead?

The Conservatives are currently faced with the dilemma of reducing the role of the state whilst holding on to the sacred cows that the state established in the first place. They intend to guarantee the NHS and Sure Start, the 50p income tax rate and the minimum wage. The approach to education is well-intentioned but then... Ah! If only every school could be like Eton.

Many would agree that 'statism' and big government have become an issue over recent years, even that the state has become far too intrusive. But quite how one handles the issue is really the question. If they fail to comprehend the ramifications of their new political 'cross-dressing' then - to borrow from PJ O' Rourke - the Conservatives will end up the party that says that the state doesn't work and then get elected and prove it.