Sunday, 20 September 2009

Secrets, lies and grown-up politics

George Osborne has a rather shabby piece in today's Mail on Sunday accusing Gordon Brown of lying over planned spending cuts. Yet the economically illiterate Osborne has been caught by the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies - so often cited by David Cameron - either telling massive porkies of his own or being asleep on the job, as he tried to claim that figures in the public domain about projected tax receipts as a result of growth were a secret plan to put 3p on taxation.

Meanwhile, having expressed a relish for savage cuts, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was impressively evasive on this morning's Andrew Marr show about what it would all mean. He couldn't even bring himself to pledge to keep tuition fees, one of the most progressive changes introduced by the Labour government, because as Charles Kennedy effectively admitted on the same show, it had been useful in hoodwinking student voters in some university seats.

But perhaps the most remarkable intervention of the day is from the schools secretary Ed Balls, who has been thinking imaginatively about using federations and sharing senior staff, as well as keeping teachers' pay in check, to drive down costs. While the Sunday Times suggests this is about secondary schools, it is particularly valuable in small rural primaries, which cannot sustain or often cannot find a head for each school. Whether this is easy to introduce given the relative independence of state schools remains to be seen, and its desirability will be questioned in some cases, but at least it has the merit of honesty in a debate that has been characterised by people shouting 'liar' at the opponents whilst claiming honesty for their own imprecision.

Yet, when this idea is put to Honest Nick Clegg, who surely knows exactly what Balls means, all he can do is throw about silly accusations about damaging children's lives. What people want from Clegg and Osborne is a sense of where they believe savings could be made. And they then want those things debated on their merits. The yah-booh-sucks politics of previous elections - of which I know Balls was an advocate until some months ago and from which Vince Cable is often impressively immune - has little place in these straitened times. It is time that all those engaged in the political debate realised it and treated us all like grown-ups.

1 comment:

Richard T said...

Just in passing on the sharing of head teachers in rural primary schools, this is the practice here in Orkney where there are 3 sets of linked schools with the saving of three Head Teachers' pay. The Union wasn't keen but the Council got it through; of course here we keep the dreadful hide-bound local councils in charge of schools. There isn't much further scope since the remaining small schools are all on islands and short of a set of council helicopters, travel is the insurmountable difficulty.