Friday, 10 December 2010

A Word on the Economy...

After the heat and anguish of yesterday's tuition fees vote, a thoughful piece on the economy this morning from Allister Heath in City AM. Heath is on much firmer ground than airing his ludicrous political views - he is an unreconstructed Thatcherite.

Heath has long been on the side of those looking to reduce the size of the State and indeed I suspect Heath would have the Coalition go much further. However, his most convincing arguments were not when quoting the size of the public sector as a share of GDP but when looking at what all the new State spending has actually achieved. The OCED ranks England 25th in reading (down from 7th), 27th in maths (down from 8th) and 16th in science (down from 4th). The decay in Britain's primary and secondary education system has accelerated despite a vast infusion of investment and is far more of a scandal than University tuition fees.

The other eye-opening statistic from Heath is the true figure of unemployment based on those not only on the dole but on those living off one of the four main benefits including incapacity benefits. Heath claims 5,870,000 adults (or a shade under one sixth of the adult workforce) is not working. Compare that with the "official" figure of 2.47 million unemployed and it's obvious why the welfare bill has rocketed and that something needs to be done.

An underclass now clearly exists of families who have never worked and whole areas on estates with small numbers in work and majorities not working and never having worked. This is a damning statistic for any society and any Government.

To be honest, set against challenges such as these, arguing over tuition fees seems trivial in the extreme. Those Liberal Democrat activists who have closen publically to flounce from the Party in a huff over the tuition fees issue could do a lot worse than reconsider, stay in the party and argue for new solutions to the twin problems of our failing education and welfare systems.

The Conservative solutions on offer seem poorly defined and it's a pity an all-party concensus led by such radical thinkers as Iain Duncan-Smith, Steve Webb and Frank Field can't begin to move toward a genuinely liberal response to these problems. In education, too, the solution just can't be left to Michael Gove - it needs some serious liberal thinking as to howe we pull our educational standards back up.

It seems for some activists protecting the status quo and appeasing small groups of voters has become more important than arguing for and supporting liberal thinking and policy.

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