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Artillery Row

Foxy old Labour

Going after private schools would be an act of pointless institutional vandalism

It’s a measure of the man’s true value, that when he first entered parliament as Prime Minister in 1997, faced with daunting international and national challenges, Tony Blair seized his historic moment in British history and immediately dedicated many hours of precious parliamentary time and mobilised hugely expensive civil servant resources against something. He stopped people hunting foxes. 

Unemployment that month in the UK stood at 14.3 per cent and researchers at Sheffield Hallam University estimated that there were “2.5 million people of working age claiming sickness-related benefits… a three-fold increase in the number of long-term sickness claimants of working age” since 1991, and that “some 1.2 million men and women have been diverted from ‘unemployment’ to ‘permanent sickness’ by the operation of the social security system.”  Blair’s own constituency in Durham, figured in the top 10 counties with the worst unemployment rates. 

In 1997 real genocide in Rwanda led to the First Congo War, which added another quarter of a million deaths to the around 800,000 innocents who had already been slaughtered. In 1997 Boris Yeltsin signed a treaty between Russia and Ukraine, to recognise their new borders and prevent war between the two nations. 

Meanwhile, Tony Blair’s Labour Party banned fox hunting. 

History is in real danger of repeating itself and Blair’s Labour Party appears intent on dedicating similar energy and costly public resources to making private schools pay VAT, whilst allowing all other educational service providers, including universities, to remain exempt. I say “Blair’s Labour Party” not just because Starmer is so wincingly Blair’s creature but the only reason Blair set up The Tony Blair Institute of course, is so that he could continue to wield power and exert his personal will over millions. Starmer has already announced his intent to pass this legislation as soon as possible, should he become Prime Minister. 

I remember vividly the first time I heard the name Keir Starmer. It was an interview with John Humphrys on the Today programme in those long gone days when I still listened to the BBC on my daily commute, and he had just been appointed Director of Public Prosecutions by Blair. In spite of Humphry’s insistence, Starmer repeatedly denied having any political ambitions. If the BBC had any real journalists left, that startling interview would have been re-aired numerous times since he became the leader of the Labour Party in 2020. 

The only difference between Corbyn’s version of the Labour Party and Starmer’s is Tony Blair. So while cult Corbyn rushed gleefully into the 2019 election looking for barricades to woman, behind an “Abolish Eton” banner, Starmer has had the sense to at least dilute the Labour Party’s fluorescent hatred of the English public school, and try and disguise it behind the flimsy deceit that taxing private schools will raise money for the State sector. 

Of course it won’t. The financial reality is that there are currently 554,000 children educated in UK private schools. The cost of educating one of them in the State sector is £7,690, saving the State £4.2 billion. Only the most diehard, commercially naive socialist could engineer a way not to see private education as an extraordinary national benefit. And that’s before we even start talking about the quality of schooling these places actually deliver or why the world’s wealthiest uniquely seek Britain’s private schools out for their own children. No other country has schools so highly valued, they have been able to export their brands successfully.   

Yet that hasn’t stopped shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson from selling the deceit as energetically as a market trader who still has a van full of Christmas trees on December 24th.  This week she Tweeted that, The Tories want tax breaks for private schools. This is of course what Shakespeare’s witty jester Touchstone would call, A lie direct. The truth is that Labour wants to uniquely target private schools for additional, entirely punitive, taxation. 

Yet what fascinates me about all this is just how exquisitely it exposes the Labour Party and what really drives its faithful. 

I could try and describe what it feels like to gallop across the English countryside on New Year’s Day, or attend a genuinely transformative school, bu  the English literary world is full of authors who would easily outshine me. And indeed there would be no point in trying to convey the exhilaration or the privilege, because it’s precisely these things that provokes them. 

Just as banning fox hunting had nothing to do with cruelty: charging independent schools VAT has nothing whatsoever to do with education. What the Labour faithful detest so much that they abandon all reason and rationality, is purely and simply the fact that others delight in these things. 

Blair, Starmer and indeed Corbyn all share the same binding instinct, a deeply unpleasant human flaw they all skilfully exploit in others. They are passionately amateur cosmetic surgeons, willing to slice entire limbs off the body politic, if by self-mutilation they can ensure the more fortunate are denied the benefits of their individual good fortune. 

They are the nation’s sickest egotistical malcontents

The phrase “politics of envy” doesn’t begin to capture the instinctive turmoil, the internal, emotional nausea these people feel when they are confronted with what they regard as pure delight or unadulterated privilege. They are the nation’s sickest egotistical malcontents. People so eaten up by constantly looking elsewhere, they will happily ignore the most pressing societal problems, if only they can suffocate the advantages enjoyed by others. 

In the education world this has had some very striking consequences. Whether Labour like it or not, education, like almost every other quintessentially human endeavour, is a market. In spite of governments and trade unions behaving as though it isn’t true, all teachers work in a market, and have differing value. The more the State determines to take control of your children, to indoctrinate them, the more that market is stimulated and widened. Ask the CCP. 

Blair’s now infamously malign claim that his priority was “education, education, education” merely hid the inherent desire of all socialists to control the young as soon as possible. The appalling results of what his claim really delivered, have been polluting the streets of London and some university campuses since October 7th

Under both Labour and the most recent “Conservative” governments, the State has demonstrated beyond any doubt its inability to deliver good, never mind great schooling at any scale. When I left teaching almost a quarter of a century ago, there were probably less than a handful of tutoring businesses in the whole country. And they were the kind of concern one saw only in a St Trinian’s film or an Evelyn Waugh novel, with names like Dickensian law firms.  

Today Companies House lists 1,326 tutoring businesses with far more mundane names like Tutor Hunt, My Tutor or Keystone Tutors. The Tutors’ Association, founded as recently as 2013, tellingly by an IT professional, now has over 50,000 individual, and over 450 corporate members. Home schooling has also exploded in the last few decades and far from private education now being the privilege of the very few that Starmer and Phillipson would have you believe, it is more common than at any time in the nation’s history. 

Labour’s policy, should they actually succeed in introducing it, will only throw petrol on this already blazing market

What the faithful cannot stomach is the reality that many people care passionately about how their children are schooled and more and more of them are willing to pay for that privilege. Tutoring is a thriving market, covering a wide range of activities Ms Phillipson is self-evidently ignorant of. Go to any Russell Group university and you will find numerous undergraduates earning around £30-£40 an hour who are on the books of one of hundreds of online tutoring companies, something unheard of only twenty years ago. At the other end of the market, if you are that rarest of creatures, a genuinely youthful polymath able to travel, then one of the international tutoring companies that regularly contacts me will find you a role at around €180,000 a year. Labour’s policy, should they actually succeed in introducing it, will only throw petrol on this already blazing market. 

However, there are sound reasons to think they may well not succeed. The preferential right of parents to choose how their children are educated is enshrined in the very same international human rights legislation Labour’s faithful are so fond of worshipping, whenever they want to belittle Great Britain. Any attempt to single out private schools as the only educational service providers not exempt from VAT, will in practice quickly look not just vindictive but legally unjust. And envy isn’t a particularly convincing card to play in front of any judge I’ve encountered.

I suspect Starmer’s instinctive hatred of the English public school will quite soon come back to haunt him; most dramatically so, every time that image of himself and Angela Rayner “taking the knee” reminds less bendy people, what kinds of ignoble instincts rule them, and all those they inspire.

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