31 March 2007

Conservative Party Reptile

I have long been a fan of Tim J's site, which strikes me as one of the best-written in the UK blogosphere.

Tim has kindly mentioned my 'campaign' and raised some interesting points. So I'm taking the liberty of reproducing his post and my response.

Fabian over at Mediocracy is justifiably enraged by the Government proposal to raise the school leaving age to 18. Perhaps the reasons people are finding it hard to get too worked up over this proposal are two fold. The first is that this is wholly typical of this Government: it's a bureaucratic response to a non-bureaucratic problem. The ne plus ultra of this approach is the drive to expand take-up of higher education. The reasoning, more or less, was 'Graduates earn much more than non-graduates. Therefore, if everyone was a graduate, everyone would earn much more.' It looks lovely and neat on paper, and ignores the laws of supply and demand.

In this case the problem is that too many children leave school unable to read or to write to the required standard. The solution is 'People who stay at school for A-levels read and write much better than those who leave at 16. If everyone stayed on then everyone would read and write better.' It is as though the Government were tinkering with the data inputs of a programme to achieve the 'correct' output, when the problem is that the programme itself is in need of reform.

The other reason most of us can't muster up the requisite outrage (and the proposal is outrageous - it's a massive infringement of liberty, will be entirely counter-productive and should be squashed at once) is that we don't believe it will happen. It's a consultation document at the moment, out of the office of one of the candidates for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. Five will get you ten that this is just a case of running a policy up a flagpole to see who'll salute it.
I know in a way it’s just typical of NuLab, but I think there’s a risk here of being worn down to the point of tolerating the outrageous. Yes, in one sense it’s simply another day in NuLab la-la land. But it’s getting more serious when people’s entire lives are being orchestrated. I see this as far more menacing than ID cards, because I don’t think my life would be screwed up by an ID card (it would be annoying, and I strongly disapprove) but my life could easily be screwed up as a 17-year-old by being forced to spend two years doing something I didn’t want to do. I don’t understand why those who get worked up about ID cards don’t seem to see that. In my mind it’s little better than conscription.

Of course the grey area comes in because the individuals affected are not considered full adults in current law, and it’s that grey area which Labour is exploiting. But I don’t think this compulsion-for-the-common-good theme (which strikes me as relatively new; that’s why I’m alarmed) will stop here. It is being floated, for example, in the case of voting.

Tim implies he doesn’t believe it will happen. I hope he's right. I find it hard to believe myself, because if they cannot afford current pensions or NHS, how are they going to afford 10% extra state education? Perhaps they are just running it up the flagpole, but that’s no reason not to react strongly. Maybe they’re gauging the mood to see how much resistance they’d encounter for other types of coercion.

One of Tim's readers comments:
If it's a "massive infringement of civil liberty" to be forced to stay on at school till the age of eighteen, is it the same infringement to be forced to stay on till sixteen, fourteen, or indeed any other compulsory length of time? Are you suggesting that there should be no compulsory educational attendance in the UK?
I happen to think compulsory education is dodgy in general, but that seems to me a separate issue. The question that should be asked is, should people who are currently considered old enough to lead conventional lives (have jobs, rent lodgings, get married, drive, etc.) be considered young and irresponsible enough to have their liberty taken away from them? In Scotland, apart from voting, you seem to be considered an adult at 16, so it’s lucky for the Scots that (so I’m told) devolution means their education policy is independent of ours.

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