Supermarkets, schools and Daniel Hannan

For me, Daniel Hannan is an easy target. He lives in a rarefied world of privilege and sees the world through the distorted lens of ‘libertarian’ self-interest.  It is instructive how he uses supermarkets to illustrate how Gove’s education proposals are a good thing; how they will produce ‘winners’. Here’s Hannan in his Daily Telegraph blog.

Think of, say, supermarkets. No LEAs regulate them, no one sets their prices. And yet a Tesco in Northampton sells roughly the same things, at roughly the same prices, as a Tesco in Southampton. Why? Because competition ensures standards, in a way that legislation can’t. Shoppers like me, who have little idea of what they should be buying, and only the haziest notion of prices, are guaranteed a certain level of service by the discernment of more demanding customers.

Hannan seems to be on another planet here; schools aren’t supermarkets nor can they really be compared in any way to supermarkets. If schools are like supermarkets, then Hannan went to Fortnum and Mason or Harrods Food Hall.  Like most politicians of his type, he sees only private sector solutions to public sector problems; some of those problems are phantasms. The key questions of Britain’s education system are sidestepped by Hannan and his chums. For instance, what is school for? Is there a better and more effective way to assess students that doesn’t subject them to constant testing?

The way in which mainstream politicians – that is to say, politicians from the capitalist parties – will reach for the word “choice” as though it was some sort of word of power in order to gain access to the hidden quarters of our psyches – this is dog whistle’ politics, but “Chasmodai”  it isn’t. Choice is a myth and as Dick Hebdige reminds us in his book Subculture: The Meaning of Style, “you can only want what is available” (1989).

So some schools will fail, opines Hannan. So what will happen to those pupils who find themselves at a failed school that has been closed? What is this ‘survival of the fittest’ nonsense? Blaming the failure on the LEA is a little too one-dimensional. There are many reasons why some schools perform worse than others, yet this is presented as the failure of local government (this is just a coded way of claiming it’s the fault of the ‘other’ party who controls the council).

No system is perfect. Freedom includes the freedom to fail. But at least, under Michael Gove’s proposals, parents could do something about it. A failed school would be allowed to close. Perhaps a visionary deputy head from nearby, or a Toby Young-style parental posse, might take over the premises. But it is surely better that poor schools should be allowed to fold than that they should remain open, blighting the life chances of successive generations.

Toby Young in charge of a school? Young is not, to my knowledge, a professional educator and there is a substantive difference between a concerned parent and a teacher: the parent knows the child (or claims to) and the teacher is the one who often has to pick up the pieces when the effects of a turbulent domestic life impact on the pupil’s performance and behaviour at school. Young, Hannan notes, was educated at a comprehensive school but what Hannan failed to mention was the fact that Young went to Oxford.

Hannan crows:

There will be winners, Ed. Lots and lots of winners.

Maybe but there will lots of losers too; loads of them, in fact.

Hannan once praised Iceland’s ‘economic miracle’….then Iceland’s banks went down the khazi and took billions of people’s money with them. His Spectator blog from 2004 is here.

Even when it was clear that all wasn’t going according to plan in Iceland, Hannan was steadfast; framing his discourse in terms of ‘independence’ and ‘freedom’ (another illusion).

Iceland would be mad to join the EU? Anyone would be mad to take you seriously, Daniel!

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