Alex Massie

Liberal Democrat Misanthropes

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Bagehot had the misfortune to attend a Liberal Democrat fringe meeting on education reform. But I'm glad he did because he's produced a righteous post that demands to be read in full. Here's a taste of it:

The title of the meeting was blunt: "Will Schools Have Too Much Freedom in a Big Society?"

Mr Hames tried pluckily to defend the idea of radical, permissive reforms to British education policy. Such change might be messy, he conceded, as different sorts of schools and academies sprang up. But his audience—well-meaning and "progressive" local councillors, school heads and school governors—appeared convinced that changes to education policy (and certainly any changes to the powers of local councils over schools) spelled misery and disaster [...] The assembled Lib Dems chomped mirthlessly on limp sandwiches and harrumphed their support for the status quo. They seemed blissfully unaware how wildly reactionary they sounded, and how jaundiced about human nature. Give parents and school heads more autonomy, they argued, and they would inevitably use it for ill.

[T]his room was packed with people who are (I am sure) brimming with the milk of human kindness, but who simultaneously seem to believe that individuals are wicked and selfish if they are not constrained by collective, communitarian oversight. I must admit, this is a brand of liberalism I had not come across before. It was also novel to find myself surrounded by people who think Britain's current education system is such a howling success that it should be preserved from serious reform.

This was not a representative gathering of the whole party, of course. One MEP I know told me the free schools debate was horribly "illiberal". At the fringe meeting, Mr Hames seemed equally taken aback, meekly arguing at one point that: "it is not as if the government is coming in to mess up something that is working perfectly."

But it was a powerful introduction to a tribe I had not met before: reactionary, special interest Lib Dems, whose laudable concern to defend fairness for all is tainted by a sour whiff of misanthropy.

Do read the whole thing and allow yourself to be enraged by it. The Liberal Democrats might be a smaller party without these people but they'd surely be a better one too. And one that didn't disgrace both parts of their name.

In their own way these people are Clegg's version of the Militant Tendency Neil Kinnock had to fight in the 1980s. Just as Labour couldn't compromise with Militant so it's hard to see how education reformers - in any party - can sensibly treat with the kind of people Bagehot describes. (This isn't a problem confined to Britain: American teaching unions are just as dreadful.) They're wreckers.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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