The carrot and the thick.

tereas may.jpg

Maslow’s hammer – if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

I don’t believe in a market for healthcare. I don’t believe in a market for schools. And I don’t believe in trickledown economics, the belief that giving money to the rich helps the poor.

When I see the innocence of children I can believe in God. As Dr Benjamin Spock wrote for post- Second World War baby-boomers: ‘Each child is retracing the whole history of mankind, physically and spiritually, step by step’.

‘We believe that the person with a stigma is not quite human’, Ervin Goffman.

We can build more schools or more prisons and follow the lines and lies of the American model as we’ve been doing. This isn’t Trump talk but propaganda and ideology in action.

I sometimes watch The Chase on ITV with Bradley Walsh. It’s a quiz programme, general-knowledge quiz on around dinner-time, or tea-time depending on what you call it and whether you are a bit of a nob. Contestants play against a quiz master, the Chaser, someone like Shaun Wallace who is a barrister and has won Mastermind. Amateur again professional is a mis-match, but in the final round there can be a maximum of four amateurs again one professional answering similar quiz questions. The Chaser attempts to knock contestants out in earlier rounds, which are easier multiple-choice questions than the cash-build up. All contestants start with a one point advantage. That means that if they get a question wrong and the Chaser gets it right, they don’t get caught right away. Contestants get a second chance. Most contestants win usually between three and six thousand pounds in an earlier question-and-answer format called the cash-build up. If they want to play against the Chaser for that amount they can get two questions wrong before they can be caught by the Chaser. The Chaser tries to entice the contestant to give up a potential life by offering vastly inflated sums greater than the money they have won. Usually this is a multiple and ranges from £20 000 to £60 000. The maximum number of lives a contestant can opt for is three. That gives them a three point and three question start on the Chaser. In effect they’d need to get three questions wrong out of seven before the Chaser could catch them. But here’s the rub, when a team is doing well, and has for example, £30 000 in the collective pot and two contestants have made it to the final Chase, the Chaser often offers a negative amount.  If the contestant has won, for example, £3000 in the cash-build up, in order to qualify for the three extra lives the Chaser will usually offer a negative amount of, for example, £5000.  If the contestant qualifies the team receives less money than they would where the contestant be put out by the Chaser (£30 000 – £5000 divided by 4 and not 3).

Let’s look at grammar schools. There are around 57 different types of state sponsored schools in England and Wales with shrinking budgets, growing teacher shortages and calls for an additional 750 000 pupil places projected for the next ten years. An increasing gap between expected funds and expected delivery.  Teresa May envisions spending around £50 million a year on grammar schools out of a total educational budget of £80 billion. The pitch is the same one made by the contestant taking money out of the pot, making is smaller (adding a negative amount) that by doing so they make the collective team, our countries, stronger and benefit everyone as we face further tests. Not funding grammar schools puts the nation at risk.

That’s true in the same way that the contestant going for the negative pot in The Chaser is true. It denies money in the public purse with cuts to services such as Sure Start that benefited the poor to help the rich and it denies the majority of children life chances. Sainted Margaret Thatcher as education secretary in the 1979 recognised this and shut more grammar schools than any other minister, Labour or Conservative. But she didn’t need to shut them, just no longer fund them with public money, taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich and out of 315, 139 public schools became comprehensives. Post war the gap between rich and poor had narrowed and not enough parents could afford to send their children to such schools. There is an interesting cameo of how the world was viewed in 1964 in a Granada series 7UP directed by Michael Apsted. The three upper class boys attended a preparatory school, then they said they’d attend Westminster Public School then they’d attend Oxford or Cambridge. The idea of attending any other university was snorted and laughed down (later one of them attended a northern University, but went on to work for the BBC, and was, of course, headhunted by Channel 4). Out of the mouths of babes was a keen understanding of how the world worked. The middle-class banner against comprehensive schools and the mingling of the the poor with the rich wasn’t because the latter were smelly and noisy as the Apsted’s Public school boys loudly intoned to the camera, but because, then as now, standards were seen to be slipping. Only the upper and middle-classes knew how to behave, speak properly and write properly, the first Black Paper was prophetical, ‘The Fight for Education’ in defiance of the Government’s White Paper announcing changes needed to modernise schools. This was a war that poor people and their children lost.

A 2009 OECD report showed that Britain routinely diverted the largest share of education spending, 23%, for any comparable modern nation from poor people to a small group, 7%, of privately educated children with rich parents.  Teresa May’s decision to continue with this trend is a reassurance to her Conservative backbenchers and Select- 22 Committee that nothing has changed. Britain is a good country to be rich.

Margaret Thatcher before donning the garb of Prime Minister and bastardising the words of St Francis of Assisi shared her thoughts with a rapt American audience. She utilised a poppy analogy, ‘we value all individuals…not because they’re all the same, but because they are all different…I say let our children grow tall and let some children grow taller than others if they have the ability in them to do so’.

The message is clear, some children (the 93% majority of poor children) are holding back other children (7% rich children). Coal miners were an industry-sized example of greedy workers that were holding the country back. They were ‘holding the county to ransom’ and getting paid as much as twice as much as the average worker. There’s a moral in that story of what happened to them. Thomas Piketty, Capital, and more recently The London School of Economics’ paper, have shown how money is moved from the poor to the rich. Mark Townsend quotes from a TUC report that shows that the average remuneration of a FTSE 100 boss in Britain is 123 times that of a full time worker. An example of this is advertising executive of WPP, Sir Marin Sorrell whose annual package is worth £70 million. He has grown into a very tall poppy indeed and earns in 45 minutes of his precious time the annual salary of a non-unionised full-time worker that has the same rights as a plastic spoon.

But the story is an old one of Gothic horror and the fear of contagion and contamination with the rich being a different breed of human, with children in particular needing to be kept apart, for their own good. Think tank, Policy Exchange, the Notting Hill sect, prior to Cameron’s election, suggested that city’s outside the rich South were beyond revival, full of Lamarckian chavs, feral and promiscuous youths, bent on destruction and unwilling to work. Stereotypes that proved hugely popular as had the fear of the Irish in Scotland, and the fear of the Jews in London’s East End in the late nineteenth century. Both were seen as threat to our nation’s stock.

The issue was one of control, not education. Theresa May is playing to a gallery, and singing from an old hymn sheet, build more prisons and less local authority schools, less public anything. Talk about weaning ourselves away from the nanny state while filling her friends’ pockets with loot from the nanny state. It’s a great trick when they pull it off.  Poor people deserve what they get, because they are different. Their children are different. They are Goffman’s ‘other’.

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