Gove’s attack on public education is purely ideological

There has always been one asset the Conservative party has had over Labour since Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979, and that is the sheer ruthlessness of their convictions.

James Elliott is a journalist who also writes for the Huffington Post

There has always been one asset the Conservative party has had over Labour since Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979, and that is the sheer ruthlessness of their convictions.

While political determination is often an offshoot of ugly ideological zeal, it has served the Tories well in achieving their goals when in government.

The increasing evisceration of the British state under David Cameron may be halted in 2015, but should the Tories win another election the most fervent ideologue of them all knows exactly what trick to pull next.

A string of memos and leaks have revealed Michael Gove’s plan to convert all of Britain’s 30,000 state schools into academies, and then to allow ‘sponsors’ to operate them as for-profit commercial enterprises.

Hedge funds and venture capitalists would be able to invest into schools, supposedly to boost their performance. Schools would then compete for pupils, raising the educational standards in Gove’s libertarian panacea.

When you hear Michael Gove eventually come to defend these policies, as they are made public, he will cite Sweden as his model.

However the Institute for Public Policy Research concludes:

“In Sweden, the not-for-profit free schools performed better overall than the for-profit free schools.’ Outside of Sweden, the same IPPR report found, ‘Within many countries, schools that compete more for students tend to have higher performance, but this is often accounted for by the higher socioeconomic status of students in these schools.”

The evidence is against Gove.

Resting our copy of F.A.Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom aside for one moment, assuming we have not already graduated onto Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Michael Gove is living in a fiction. Far from being a free-market utopia of outstanding education, Gove’s plan would see standards fall and ability to pay determining quality of education. It would take Britain another step on the path to being a scarred and divided society.

It does not matter to Gove that his policies are deeply unpopular, with three quarters of those polled believing academies should not make profits. Anyone who doubts the Tories wouldn’t privatise a vital public service in the face of public opposition only needs to be reminded of three words: National Health Service.

What Jeremy Hunt is doing for our health system, Michael Gove will do to schools, but with the caveat that running schools for profit will further entrench people into the class they were born into.

If education becomes something only money can buy, then only money will buy the best, and only the richest will have access to the top-performing schools and universities.

Gove is a product of the Thatcherite revolution. The free-market ideals he opines are a product of neo-liberal think tanks such as the Institute for Economic Affairs, the Taxpayers’ Alliance and the Adam Smith Institute, which the excellent site WhoFundsYou? has found to be the least transparent of such operations.

In other words, they do not want to concede they are bankrolled by big business and the City; much like the Conservative party are. Gove himself is a darling of the Tory donors, and receives more in donations than any other Tory cabinet member.

The rise of neo-liberal Toryism has relied on the intellectually shoddy arguments about free-markets that these think-tanks peddle. They and their wealthy backers have succeeded over the years in hollowing-out the Tories to the point where they are now mostly funded by the City.

It should come as no surprise that 21 academies are now under the control of the Harris Foundation, owned by Lord Harris, one of the Tories’ biggest donors, who will no doubt be able to donate more to the party if Gove lets him run the schools for profit.

Such are the results when political philosophy is replaced with electoral philanthropy, and evidence-based policy replaced with free-market ideology.

If Michael Gove wants to position himself as a future party leader, as some are suggesting, it is this sort of dogma that will impress.

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