No to high tuition fees, yes to abstinence

The public is divided on the coalition government's approach to education, according to the results of a New Statesman/ ICD poll. While most members of the public (79 per cent) support Michael Gove's plan to introduce Swedish-style "free schools", there is overwhelming opposition to universities being allowed to charge students as much as £9,000 a year. The poll also found surprising support for the Conservative MP Nadine Dorries's demand that schools teach children about the benefits of sexual abstinence.

Would you send your child to a private school if you could afford to do so?
Asked if they would choose to send their child to private school if it were financially viable, 49 per cent of respondents said yes and 51 per cent
said no. The number of privately educated pupils has fallen since the recession, although by fewer than many expected.

The Independent Schools Council's annual survey showed a 1 per cent fall in pupil numbers, down from 511,886 in January 2010 to 506,500 in January 2011.

Do you think that faith schools should be abolished?
Faith schools have had the support of both Labour and Conservative governments in recent times, but our poll found that the public is split over
their merits. Asked if faith schools should be abolished, 41 per cent of respondents said yes and 59 per cent said no. At present, roughly 7,000 of the 20,000 state schools in England are religious, a figure that David Cameron has pledged to increase. The vast majority (6,944) are Christian; there are also 38 Jewish, 11 Muslim and three Sikh schools.

Do you think that children should be taught sexual abstinence at school?
Dorries recently tabled a ten-minute rule bill that called for schools to provide abstinence lessons for teenage girls. Our poll shows that the public appears to agree with her. Asked whether children should be taught abstinence at school, 53 per cent said yes and 47 per cent said no. Dorries's bill will receive its second reading debate in January 2012.

Do you think that the policy of free schools is a good idea for education in the UK?
In a boost to Gove, the poll found that 79 per cent of people believe that his flagship policy of free schools is a “good idea for education in the UK". The schools will be state-funded but run by parents, charities, religious groups and childcare providers. Last June, the Education Secretary suggested that as many as 700 of the schools could be established, but just four will open their doors this September.

Should universities be allowed to charge students £9,000 a year?
The poll showed that just 26 per cent of people believe that universities should be allowed to charge students £9,000 a year; 74 per cent oppose the idea. When the tuition fees legislation was passed by a majority of just 21 in December 2010, ministers pledged that universities would only charge the maximum amount in "exceptional circumstances". However, of the 98 institutions that have announced their plans, 67 intend to charge £9,000 for some or all degree courses.

This exclusive poll for the New Statesman was carried out by ICD Research, powered by ID Factor, from 21-22 May 2011 and is based on a sample of 1,010 responses.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 30 May 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Hands up who knows how to fix our schools

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times