Is there anything more depressing in an age of prosperity, choice and freedom than the spectacle of an old fashioned public sector rationing system doing its bleak work? The criticisms levelled by Jim Knight, the schools minister, at the best schools over the implementation of the statutory admissions code are a horrible revival of the language of a bygone era when public goods were controlled by rigorously enforced queuing. And, in keeping with Fraser’s warnings, this is another example of the Brown government undoing the public service reforms of the Blair years (such as they were).
The decision to make the admissions code statutory rather than advisory was a sop to the Left during the trust schools controversy. Now we have a Government that actually believes in the central regulation of school places and the crushing of diversity. Mr Knight says in his letter to town halls:
"I am very concerned that formal complaints and other anecdotal evidence suggest that some local authorities and schools are not complying with the law. No ifs or buts - there is absolutely no excuse not to comply with the law to stamp out unfair and covert admission practices, which penalise low-income families and increase social segregation.”
The “covert admission practices” he refers to include such supposed horrors as parental interviews, allegedly expensive uniforms or daring to ask parents which order of preference they have placed schools in. This is a Government that talks about “aspiration” and the “personalisation” of services but still prefers the pseudo-egalitarian gesture and the Whitehall diktat. It is amazing that, as the PM heads off to China and India, where he will doubtless talk at length about the new challenges of the global economy and the need to prepare young Britons for an era of unprecedented economic competition, his ministers are using the language of the 1960s. Tony Crosland would agree with every word that Mr Knight used.
All the evidence from around the world shows that schools prosper when they are left alone and struggle when they are subjected to the dead hand of the state. Cameron and Gove get this. Brown doesn’t. That’s the difference.