Come On, England!

We used to say during the indyref that we had no argument with the English people. That was, and is, true. Our case is for reform of the British state by taking sovereign control of our country and maintaining normal friendly relations – like the Republic. I have to say though that I’ve grown exasperated by the apparent indifference of voters in the South to the systematic erosion of social provision.

Can you imagine the reaction across Scotland if the government announced the end of parental choice in education and the rapid conversion of local authority schools to privately-run but taxpayer-funded academies? Groups of religious zealots and profit-seeking investors taking control of all school education? Even, it appears, being handed, free of charge, the title deeds to billions of pounds of buildings and land with no long-term prohibition on selling and developing…

Picture the apoplexy at BBC Scotland if hospitals here had debts of £2billion like health trusts in England. Many foundation trusts are failing to meet NHS waiting times for A&E care, cancer treatment, non-urgent operations in hospital and vital diagnostic tests.

The NHS can no longer afford operationally and financially to deliver the cuts required by the government and ensure patients get the services they need. The medical director of the NHS in England says it may no longer be able to maintain a free service.

The Britain we thought we belonged to is being steadily dismantled from within by Westminster politicians whose tenure will be judged historically as more transformative than Thatcher’s. The Royal Mail sold off at bargain basement prices. The government no longer legally responsible for running health services. It’s devolved to regional groups with a legal requirement only to provide emergency care and ambulances. The rest is optional. Of nearly £10bn of NHS contracts in England last year, 40 per cent went to private companies.

Groups of hedge fund managers and financial spivs are now running schools having been given taxpayers’ money to help them and, it seems, the property rights to dispose of – up to and including selling to investment companies in tax havens and renting them back at exorbitant rates. Look at the people Michael Gove brought into act as advisers at the Education Department. Anthony Salz, corporate lawyer on the board at Rothschild, the bankers. Theodore Agnew of right-wing think-tank Policy Exchange, Tory donor and trustee of the New Schools Network, given £500,000 of public money to advise anyone who wanted to set up a free school. Paul Marshall, hedge fund manager. Jim O’Neil, formerly of  Goldman Sachs Asset Management. John Nash venture capitalist, Tory donor and sponsor of Pimlico Academy. He was put in the Lords and made a schools minister…Get the idea?

The barrister and campaigner David Wolfe writes: Academy status is being presented to parents, teachers and governors across England as benign, a way of taking back control of money being wasted by lazy local authorities. Then before you can shout Land Grab! school buildings, land and other assets are handed over to philanthropic-sounding trusts with links to private equity and hedge funds.

The education of England isn’t just being privatized, it’s assets are being ripped off by ministers in cahoots with their financial friends. Members of trust boards are paid huge salaries while contracts for services are handed out to each other’s companies in a glut of self-serving redistribution of public money. The same hard-noses carpetbaggers will negotiate teacher salaries. How do you think that will go? The way schools are run, parents’ right to know and management accountability are being thrown on a bonfire of the social consensus that has sustained the UK for 70 years. A select few who see an opportunity for profit and self-aggrandisement are the inheritors of the state school system devised for community betterment and paid for by generations of British taxpayers.

Education and health are the corner stones of public service but in England are now being turned outside in with barely a nod to any democratic mandate. And yet, where is the anger?

Labour’s reponse so far is muted (they having started the whole academies nonsense) and confined to the practicalities and timing. Thus far, it’s left to the teachers themselves to sound the warning to parents and voters. Yet the academies have been largely accepted, the uncoupling of school from local control agreed by parents and the longer-term potential for educational decline and fad interference without accountability ignored. The regulator in England currently rates 85 per cent of state schools good or outstanding while question marks hang over the performance of hyped academies.

Are English parents working in the belief that these are just like private schools and therefore to be aspired to in the British game of class consciousness? Is there some underlying concept that ‘private health’ and ‘private schools’ are what middle class families should aim for? Or is the political culture in England generally less well-informed. Is ignorance of the real revolution in the schools and in hospitals passing them by? Certainly the BBC reports lacked any historical perspective that this was a generational change in how education operated and even the Guardian didn’t include the schools story in its online headlines.

It’s sounding patronising, isn’t it? As if they don’t get it. But I just feel it is unthinkable that these reforms could be proposed here without a shocked and utterly implacable opposition. Look at the persistent media attacks on education and health in Scotland when the comparative reality is that we live in a welfare haven where services are protected and budgets, where resources allow, chase the need. Yet there is no sign of that in England. I want to shout at them to wake up and realize what they’re losing and in whose interests this is being done. One thing we do have to thank the politicians for – the devolution of valuable public services to Holyrood without which we’d be trapped in the Tory fire sale.







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6 thoughts on “Come On, England!

  1. I think one reason why there is a lack of mass protests in England against the changes there is that there has been a gradual change in similar directions (e.g. NHS Trusts, school “automony”, etc) since the 1980s. There is seems the “norm” that there is “competition” and so-called “choice” in both the NHS and Schools. This started with Thatcher/Major and was ongoing during the Blair/Brown years – so there are whole generations that know of no other way of seeing how public services are delivered.

    On a personal note I was brought up in England, but have lived in Scotland for 18 years. When I go back and visit, the changes are very visible. E.g. bin trucks in a lot of council areas are run by private companies, Some NHS clinics have a company name underneath the NHS logo, patient transport vehicles are sometimes also run by private companies, etc – and schools (even those still nominally under council control) are basically free-standing corporations (apart from the Acadamy chains) which compete against one another and whose only goal is to achieve good places in the league tables. Examples include only letting pupils stay on in sixth form who they think will do well in A-levels, etc. Staff even in local authority schools are directly employed by the schools and so when rolls and budgets change excess staff are made redundant rather than being deployed to another school who have vacancies.

    All in all its a creaking mess than when further spending cuts come in is likely to come crumbling down.

    • As someone who spent around sixteen years living and working in London I would certainly argue that the seeds of the current political economy of England were sown at least as far back as the 1970s and -80s. Certainly as far as the Tory heartlands are concerned, the populace of Middle England have been raised on a diet of right wing pseudo-economics and political intolerance to equate the financial well being and interests of that region with those of the U.K. as a whole. To view personal self-interest as the predominant motivator in society and to view any concern with the communal as the province of the foolish, lazy or ignorant.
      Therefore it comes as no surprise to me to see that the upshot of this is the destruction of all that I considered best and enviable about the U.K.

  2. Trouble with the comments above is that Scotland has been exposed to exactly the same narrative, for exactly the same length of time, by the same people. It didn’t take. So why did it take in England?

    I am genuinely fed up with a tale which says that the english have been misled, do not understand, are not responsible. They have had the governments they voted for. They are responsible, they are not victims. It is certainly true that many there do not support these changes: but nothing like enough people make any form of challenge. That is not true in Scotland.

    Certainly one can say the SNP offer an alternative: but it was not always so. It is so now because Scottish people voted for them. Corbyn has shown that there is a constituency looking for change, yet we are told they do not represent the majority: we shall see.

    But there comes a point when we have to face up to the fact that the english electorate as a whole actually want this. And that is their choice. It should not be imposed upon us, because it is not ours. That is the reason we need to be independent. Good neighbours often think the folk next door are a little strange: but live and let live.

    Lets stop pretending our neighbours are just like us. They quite clearly are not. They are all grown up. They do actually want these things.

  3. As someone who travels through England a lot, it jumps out at you just how overcrowded the country is, infrastructures such as roads, transport, housing, urban regeneration in all its major towns and cities are at breaking point.

    England simply does not have the resources or money to maintain and support its huge public services anymore, what we see happening to the NHS and Schools is further expansion into the private sector already brought into run their Universities, postal service, and local government services.

    Its a crying shame, but i have never seen any signs that the general English public have any real sense of what is happening to their fine country. Everybody seems to be hypnotized, chasing the buck, driving the nice car, buying the new house, even those with relatively nothing in life seem content to work in what sometimes feels like one big human processing plant.

    I too wish they would wake up and take their country back….better together? I dont think we have ever been so far apart.

  4. Hmmm…. sobering.

    Excellent article Derek and great to have you back!

    My theory is that the English, the ones who vote, that is, are too comfortable, too wealthy, too complacent.

    The ones who don’t vote, the ever growing underclass, couldn’t give a monkeys.

  5. Steve Asaneilean

    It merely confirms we no longer live in a true democracy and the UK per second grows closer and closer to becoming a quasi oligarchy.

    Scary stuff.

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