Sunday, August 30, 2009

1997 was not Year Zero

Understandably, the Conservative Party is sensing victory and preparing for government as of next spring. At present they seem to be engaged in the most important part of governance: blaming their predecessors for everything that is going wrong, will be going wrong and has gone wrong for the last fifty years.

But, I hear you cry, did we not have Conservative governments in that period? You will find that although we are blaming the present government for everything that has gone wrong for the last (did I say fifty?) sixty years, in actual fact, all of that can be telescoped into the last twelve. 1997, as far as our Conservative politicos, wannabes, media and activists are concerned, was Year Zero.

Everything that has gone wrong with our involvement in the EU, for example, is the fault of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and the government that is still more or less in existence and has been since 1997.

Ahem, say I, which government got us into this mess back in 1972? Which government signed up to the Single European Act, having been “misled” by the officials? Which government signed up to the Maastricht Treaty and pushed it through using methods that cannot bear too much scrutiny?

That, let me add, does not excuse the subsequent treaties (Amsterdam and Nice) or the shenanigans over the Constitutional Lisbon Treaty. But neither does it exonerate the Conservatives, especially as most of the problems we face in this country come out of the imposition of Single Market rules, not to mention the Common Fisheries Policy (written into the Maastricht Treaty but agreed to with dubious legality before).

Discussions (I am being polite) get this far when there is a metaphorical flap of a hand and a not so metaphorical instructions to stop bothering people with such silly details. Yes, yes, yes, we did things wrong as well but the real problems came with this government.

Then there is the dire state of our education, which lies at the bottom of many of this country’s problems: economic, social and political. It is, apparently, all Gordon Brown’s fault that our young people cannot get jobs though other young people arrive from Poland, France and Germany and walk into all kinds of employment, many of which have set wages so it is not a question of accepting lower pay.

I appreciate that the fact of our youngsters emerging with huge numbers of brilliant exam results but semi-literate and anumerate add to the many problems. In fact, let us go further. These facts create many problems. But is it really the fault of the post-1997 government alone?

Newspaper headlines have informed me that the exam results have been going up steadily for over twenty years while there is talk of schools adopting tougher forms of GCSE, which resemble the old O levels. Well, how interesting, I thought.

As someone who was educated in a fairly stringent way I can add up and subtract. Over twenty years means well beyond the life of this government. In other words that inexplicable rise in grades started before Year Zero, 1997.

So let us just examine who actually abolished O levels and started this destructive dumbing down of our education results. Would you believe it that the creation of GCSEs with all the attendant problems at that and at A level happened in 1986? Indeed, it did. Remind me, which government was in power?

While we are on the subject, who helped to destroy grammar schools? The process started under Harold Wilson’s government with the despicable Anthony Crosland as Secretary for Education but it was not only not reversed under Edward Heath (Education Secretary: Margaret Thatcher), it was speeded up.

Other developments such as the abolition of apprenticeship schemes or the transformation of perfectly reasonable and useful polytechnics into tenth rate universities took place during Conservative governments.

To be fair to Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister as opposed to the Secretary of State for Education, she did try to reform the system and to introduce some kind of standards but her efforts were comprehensively undermined by the teaching and educational establishment and her own Secretaries of State. Kenneth Baker and Gillian Shepherd spring to mind. Will it be any different next time round?

When we look at other issues we see the same pattern. The Boy-King is making much of wanting to abolish quangos. He will get nowhere until he abolishes the need for quangos that is gets government out of people’s lives. But let us not forget that quangos were invented during the Thatcher premiership as a way of curtailing the civil service.

Defence? Just ask the Boss over on EUReferendum. He has a list of mistakes, starting with the eurofighter for which we have to thank the Conservatives.

Of course, as Professor Antony Flew said a long time ago, however bad the Conservatives are, Labour is always worse. That still stands but it does assume that the Conservatives are bad.

It is also true that there is a serious problem with the way politicians cannot control civil servants and the more governments do, the less politicians will be able to exert that control. This has been so since at least the Second World War, if not before, that is long before Year Zero, 1997. Is there any evidence that the next Conservative government, should it be formed next year, be able to overcome this problem? Not that I have noticed.

We come back to the point many of us have made about certain countries like Russia. Until they face up to the past, they cannot move into the future. That applies to the Conservative Party. Pretending that nothing happened before 1997 bodes no good for that government, let alone the country that will have to put up with it.


  1. Yes, the fingerprints of the Tories are on much that has been damaged and destroyed in this country.

  2. The Civil Service is taking pre-emptive action against the Tories trying to control it, disguised as a complaint about how awful New Labour has been:

  3. This is an elegant way of saying the Tories are engaging in "Not us, guv, it was this lot." Most of them know it was Heath wot signed the European Communities Act. They know that Thatcher (as PM) built no grammar schools and centralised much power. Another thing that the Tories (Major?) started which we will surely regret more and more is PFI: it is a sleeping monster. (I wouldn't point it out otherwise but I will this time because of the sentence it's in: the word is "innumerate".) I like it here, sorry to be coy and choose a pseudonym.

  4. Very good explanation, as usual. The real problem with education started witrh the 1944 Education act.....yes, a conservative administration did that. I had just started at one of the numerous Grammar Schools we had in the town and in 1945 the local authorities zoned the Schools. Had I started one year later I would not have had the choice backed by results but would have been forced to attend an inferior school. I would not have been with pupils from all areas of the city but with only those I already knew. And no, I do not trust the present conservative party.

    Derek Buxton

  5. Ah, but the Boy-King hadn't been born in 1997. Politically speaking, of course. Since he was only elected to Parliament in 2001, he bears no responsibility for anything that happened before.

    Joking apart, it was of course the Tories who made a complete shambles of rail transport in the UK.


  6. I think you meant innumerate?

  7. Excellently put about quangos. Even if they had that philosophy, who do they have who would be capable of implementing it?

    But apparently they are suggesting they might need tax rises. The green wimp seems to assume continuance of big government.

    The only arguments for voting Tory seem to be Ed Ballsup and Harriet Harmus.

  8. I have just been through all my versions of the Oxford dictionary and they all seem to be out of date in that they do not acknowledge the existence of either anumerate or innumerate, except as an erroneous version of enumerate for the latter. I shall continue to search but I see no reason why we should not have anumerate. It means the same as innumerate and sounds better. That is all I have in its favour until I find something more definitive than the free dictionary on the web.