The 1970's were an exciting time in politics, because they were a turning point. The academics at my university were just as left-wing as today, of course, but they were despondent. "Progressive" thought was in retreat. Labour had trashed the economy and beggared the country. My lefty tutor praised me, miserably, when I had a letter published in the Times expressing Thatcherite views. He had the grace to say they were well expressed, but lamented that "all the new thinking" was from the Conservatives.
It's time to recapture that spirit. It's not enough to crow at Labour's intellectual bankruptcy. Conservatives (on a spectrum from libertarian to authoritarian) are going to take power next year in very difficult circumstances and new ideas are needed.
Paradoxically, the best place to start is with the public services, such as education. Libertarians may feel that the state should have nothing to do with it, but that's not going to happen in our lifetime, so let's set to work persuading the new government to move in the right direction. Let's see if we can't come up with ideas to help the poor, ripped-off taxpayers get better value for their money. This is not even a question of "cuts." A good education costs no more than a poor one, perhaps even less.
Education was the great failure of the Thatcher administration. Margaret focussed on the trade union gangsters and their restrictive practices and on privatisation of inefficient state enterprises. She believed that liberalising the economy was the most important thing and that all else would follow. It didn't. Indeed, by leaving the enemies of freedom in charge of education, she ensured a whole new generation of subservient statists. We are now back in 1978, but worse, and have no leader of her calibre in sight. We need to arm the nondescript leaders we have with some good ideas.
Ideas begin with analysis, and James Higham has published an excellent summary in the linked post of how education in Britain came to be in this mess. "Child-centred education" and such other nonsenses have a long and disreputable history. To quote Gordon Brown, the problem began in America; in the early 20th Century, in the faculties of education of its universities. There is now a cast-iron orthodoxy in education that is so rigid it just has to be wrong.
As the latest initiatives in sex education neatly demonstrate, just as nationalisation of "health" is really nationalisation of your body, so nationalisation of "education" is really nationalisation of your children. You may be a devout Catholic who believes contraception and homosexuality are sinful. I may (and do) think you're a fool in those respects and tell you so. But should the state education system be teaching your kids that your family's moral beliefs are wrong? Should it be compelling even Catholic schools to say so? Or just pointing out that there are other views and explaining what they are? The first two ways are wrong. The third is fine. The current argument is really as to whether the state is crossing that line. In many respects, and not just this one, I fear it is - and has been for a long time. The Left professes to love diversity, but it detests diversity of thought and wants a national curriculum of standard ideas.
The Tories to be fair are already making noises about taking control of education away from the centre and handing it back to local communities. The trouble is that the "education community" at every level has been indoctrinated with "progressive" ideas for over a century. If you want radical thinking on education, you need to listen to parents, not educators. The "professionals" have been divorced from their true "clients" (the parents) for so long, that they really don't think of their views as important. But ultimately it is the parents who have a responsibility to educate their children. State education began as a laudable attempt to ensure even the poorest could fulfil that responsibility. It has ended in the usurpation of their role. If parents were allowed to apply common sense to education, I guarantee it would be "learning-centred" not "child-centred" and that it would ask more of students than the educational establishment currently does.
Do go and read James's piece in full. If you have any interest in education, you will find it fascinating. Leave him comments. He loves comments (what blogger doesn't?) and will respond to them with his usual erudition and charm.