change and choice in education · Denis Healey

Our craven politicians

What we can’t seem expect from today’s politicians is for them to take anything remotely like a radical or even a necessary decision. Why? Because they are such a pusillanimous lot: they are terrified that if they do anything other than tweak or tinker with the education system as it stands, they’ll lose the votes of one or another constituency! Most of them have never done a job in their lives in which hard decisions have had to be made, and certainly nothing one could describe as having tested them.
Now, I was never one of Dennis Healey’s greatest fans but I’ve always admired him for the courage of his convictions. He was with the Royal Engineers in North Africa, and was a Landing Officer at Anzio during the Second World War. Like many of his generation who were tried and tested through their wartime and post-war experiences, he wasn’t afraid to make tough and sometimes very unpopular decisions if he thought he was right.
I remember when Labour lost the election to Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and Healey was recalled to Cabinet on the morning of the defeat. As he walked up Downing Street, he was cat-called by a large group of Tory supporters. It was a bad day for him but he turned, smiled and stuck up two fingers – and it wasn’t to indicate victory!
The radical change we need in education today is choice! And the only way we’ll get it is when parents find out that it is possible to teach every child to become literate and decide to take matters into their own hands and campaign for it.