Scrap private education!

Workers need the very best for our children. That means a completely free education system, the ending of privilege for the rich and the taking over of private schools under workers’ control

LABOUR earned a rare black mark from the British establishment at the beginning of 1995 after its education spokesman, David Blunkett, had stated on January 1 that the party might impose Vat on private school fees. Just two hours later, on the instructions of party leader Tony Blair, he was forced to backtrack and the possibility was “no longer in the frame”.

The Tories had complained furiously that daring to tax their school fees was “the politics of envy”. Of course slapping Vat on fuel bills, a measure which reduces many old and poor working class families to desperation, is considered perfectly acceptable. But Labour, not wishing to alienate the huge support it is recently enjoying from the rich and privileged, decided to rule out Vat on school fees “in order to avoid confusion”.

Similarly that other ‘leftwing’ stalwart, Margaret Beckett, the shadow health minister, dismissed the possibility of Vat on private healthcare.

The row follows Blair’s decision to send his son to a grant-maintained school and the Labour Party’s acceptance that capitalism can no longer afford a universally free education system. Once in government, the party is likely to make students pay at least part of their university fees either by imposing a graduate tax or by extending the Tory student loans scheme.

However Blunkett’s gaffe is unlikely to diminish Labour’s acceptability in the eyes of the ruling class. As The Independent’s editorial put it, “It is true that Conservative policies have been shamelessly plundered ... Yet ... Labour has demonstrated that it is setting a fresh agenda rather than simply stealing from and catching up with the Conservatives” (December 29).

Arch strike-breaker Rupert Murdoch, head of News International, appears likely to throw the full weight of his gutter press behind Tony Blair at the next election, and CBI president Bryan Nicholson has indicated that most of Britain’s capitalists would be perfectly happy with the new-look Labour Party. “They have shifted their ground very substantially,” he said, “and it would be churlish not to say so.”

Our rulers are delighted that Labour is so clearly meeting their needs and will not lift a finger against their privileges. The working class has no interest in elitist establishments which the mass of society is barred from using. Our interest lies in seizing control of these schools and putting the best facilities and teachers to use in educating the whole of society, not just the few privileged rich.

We need universal, free education, not elitist ‘centres of excellence’ for the bosses.