You may think that curmudgeonly Dr Grumble celebrated the New Year by staying at home with Mrs Grumble and drinking a cup of hot cocoa. But no. Dr Grumble has actually got a few friends and he went for a New Year's Eve supper with Mr and Mrs Short who live across the road. They are both teachers. Both are scientists: one a chemist, the other a physicist. One of their children, state educated, is a medical student at Cambridge. Dr Grumble likes the Shorts. They are nice hard-working people who have no airs or graces. One of them was born on an estate - a council estate.
Teachers are a bit like doctors. Like most doctors most teachers work in the state system. And, like doctors, through their work, they engage with all strata of society. They know what life is about and their politics tend to reflect this. In short they have a better feel for the world that many of today's politicians.
When the Grumbles visit the Shorts inevitably the conversation eventually drifts towards politics. Last night was no different. The Shorts are well informed. They know about the NHS and what threatens it and they know about state schools and what threatens them. Like the Grumbles they didn't much like New Labour and like the Grumbles their suspicions of the ConDems are growing. The Shorts pointed out that:
- the economic crisis is being exploited to make it appear that when it comes to unpalatable policies the ConDems have no choice
- that the Lib Dems had reneged on their tuition fees promises
- that the Cons had promised no more top down reorganisation of the NHS and that Andrew Lansley was coming over as a lone loose cannon.
Things seem to be going wrong quite quickly for the ConDems who are beginning to look like a folie à deux.
There's trouble at Mrs Shorts' work. They are trying to charitise part of the service. This is, of course, a ConDem policy but it was around with New Labour and the Witch Doctor's and her Black Cat have been warning for some time of its creeping progress. The details of the changes at Mrs Shorts' work are interesting because Grumble has heard it all before. The managers think that they do not need teachers to do the work. Somebody less than a teacher will do. Mrs Short is quite sure that the work is so difficult that this is definitely not the case and the plans are inevitably doomed. But nobody listens. In any case the charitisation process will distance the misguided managers from the consequences of their decisions. Distancing government from the delivery of services was a New Labour aim as well. Modern governments don't want to have to take responsibility for services. They just want to dole out our tax money to independent organisations and blame them if things aren't right. Better still they will get the public to pay for the services directly. We are all to give our small change to charities to bolster the public services we will no longer get. It's not very British. We don't give much to charity compared with other countries. It is not because we are not nice. It is because we want the vulnerable in our population to be looked after by the state and we want to pay for this fairly with our taxes.
Changes are afoot. Perhaps this is what Cameron's Big Society is about. But, as Dr Jest's friend has quipped, the difference between the Big Society and the Big Issue is that nobody buys the Big Society. With jokes like this circulating, the honeymoon may be over for the ConDems. Certainly they are beginning to cause annoyance in the Grumble household where these are the questions being asked:
- Just who are these people in charge who think that the common man has enough money to give away to well-meaning amateurs and faith groups for them to plug the gaps in services that should be provided by government?
- Just who are these people who think that the only option is for students to pay their own university fees?
- Just who are these people who, with no public discussion, think that virtually the whole of the NHS can be run from GPs' surgeries?
Unfortunately very few of them live in the real world, few of them have had real lives outside politics and few are acquainted with the problems of the common man. The debating society at Eton may have taught Dave to talk confidently without notes but can anybody remember anything meaningful he has ever said? And neither Nick or Gideon with their top public school credentials are quite your average man next door. These people may have been born on estates but they were certainly not council estates.
But Grumble is going to reserve his teacher friends' vitriol for the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. He too, in case you haven't already guessed, went to a top public school: Charterhouse no less where he was head boy. Now Grumble doesn't particularly object to that. But what he does object to is Jeremy Hunt's views on state schools. This is what he said in an email to a constituent:
Michael Gove's vision is for state schools to have the same ethos as independent schools where the children are proud of what they do.Now remember that Grumble's children were entirely educated in the state system and are now all doctors or medical students. And the Shorts children were also state educated and have done well with one at Cambridge. Our children were proud of what they did. And we are proud of what they did. How out of touch do you have to be to have such an unsavoury view of state schooling?
According to this clip, making Jeremy Hunt Culture Secretary was reckless in the extreme. Dr Grumble is inclined to agree.