Editors’ choices on education and health care

We asked Britain’s newspaper and news magazine editors, as well as some senior broadcasters, about t

The questions

1 If you have children, do you (or did you) send them to private

or state school?

2 Did you yourself attend private or state school?

3 Do you use private health care?

4 What is your view of our public services, especially our education system and the health service?

The answers

John Witherow at the Sunday Times

My three kids all went or go to private school. I attended both state and private schools and my wife, who is naturally influential in our children’s education, went only to state school. I use both NHS and private health care, and my view of state secondary schools is that some of them are excellent but generally they underperform and a minority of them are letting down children.

Will Lewis at the Daily Telegraph

1 State school
2 State school
3 When I have to – eg, too long to wait for an operation/treatment
4 There are some brilliant state schools, and great hospitals, but the
overall quality is not good enough given the money that has been
invested by taxpayers.

Roger Alton (below) at the Independent

1 Yes, one, sent, private . . .
2 Yes, private
3 Yes, though it’s absurdly expensive and doesn’t really deliver . . . get early access to a doctor for check-up, hand up the arse and all that . . .
4 Health service seems pretty wonderful, though difficult to get in, and infrastructure awful – rubbish carpet tiles kind of thing; but my parents were very well cared for in their last days . . . education seems absolutely ghastly most of the time, especially in London, God knows why . . . partly awful parents, the dreadful random violence and yobbery of a lot of people, hostility to thought and study, poor teachers . . . very very sad that of the western world we haven’t built a free education system that people are proud of . . . also, fucking around with the syllabus awful, no games and sports, and dismal recreation stuff . . . theatre etc . . . it’s a miracle people do so well . . . personally I would advise people to flog their widescreens and try to send their kids private.

Gareth Morgan at the Daily Star Sunday

Most of what you ask is public record: yes, I have two children and they are both in state education; I went to a state school and my family has used a mixture of both NHS and private health care in the past year.
Along with the army of Daily Star Sunday readers and millions of ordinary Britons, I have huge respect for the doctors, nurses and teachers working on the front line.
But, in equal measure, I distrust the bad management and wasteful bureaucracy that puts a brake on those people, preventing them from doing their jobs to the best of their abilities. Modern-day lions led by donkeys.

John Ryley, head of Sky News

1 Both state and private
2 Both state and private
3 No
4 The NHS is very good when the chips are down.

Alan Rusbridger at the Guardian

1 Mixture of the two
2 State primary then private
3 Generally NHS. Have health insurance
4 I would guess the Guardian would generally be perceived as the paper most supportive of investment in public services in general and which devotes the most space towards education and the health service in particular.

Michael Grade at ITV

1 All three have been or are at a private school.
2 Private
3 Yes
4 Education: underinvested, overpoliticised and under-delivering. Class sizes and schools too big. I feel for teachers having to implement endless streams of directives coming from central government. There should be an all-party consensus on the way forward. Education is too important to be a political football.
Health: brilliant service despite political classes believing they can actually run it, which results in too much investment being poured into management systems.

Mark Thompson at the BBC

Thank you very much for asking
Mark to take part in a survey of editors. I’m afraid Mark doesn’t think it appropriate to take part in this as he does not answer questions on his family or private life and as editor-in-chief cannot express personal views about public policy matters. Sorry not to be able to help on this occasion.

Matthew d’Ancona at the Spectator

Will pass on this. Many thanks for asking me.

John Mullin at the Independent on Sunday

1 We have three kids, and they all go to state schools. That, though, is not quite the full story: when we moved from Edinburgh, we did so midterm and at short notice, and our eldest went to an (excellent) prep school. He’s back in the non-private sector now, but only because we managed to get him a place at the London Oratory. If we hadn’t managed that, he’d still be private. Our two daughters are much younger, and have better state options locally.
2 I was at Seafar Primary in Cumbernauld – and have very happy memories of it. Then, my parents made a big
sacrifice for me to go to private school in Glasgow. My elder siblings had a tough time at the local comprehensive, and have fewer glowing memories. I do feel something of a hypocrite, though.
3 I do have private health care. But I have only used it for physio when my creaking body gives out.
4 The NHS has been brilliant any time I have dealt with it – like when our youngest, aged two, swallowed a pile of a visitor’s sleeping tablets. It is perhaps less so when matters are less acute. As far as London is concerned, I don’t have too much faith in state secondary education, though such a responsibility leaves me feeling nauseous.

John Mulholland at the Observer
1 State
2 State
3 Have private health insurance through work
4 The quality of NHS care will surely vary depending on which part of the service you look at. But the health service is still free at the point of care, which is wonderful.
It seems that high-technology care and acute care of adults and children are generally excellent, but care that involves collaboration with other parts of the health service or social services, the community part of medicine and some mental health services are not as sleek or well funded. Cancer services have improved dramatically. It is so hard to deal with inequalities in health.
I think the picture in education is equally complex: tremendous advances in some areas – spending on labour and capital projects has been impressive – but has this resulted in a better standard of teaching inside Britain’s schools? I don’t know. My limited experience has been generally good, but I’m sure there is variance.
It’s beyond doubt, though, that the majority of people who work in Britain’s schools and hospitals are wonderfully committed and carry out hugely demanding tasks in extremely difficult circumstances. There are times when we present an unremittingly negative image of the UK’s health and education systems – because they ought to be scrutinised – and you have to wonder whether it has a corrosive effect on the people who work there. Perhaps all of us could spend a day in an inner-city classroom, or a night in an A&E unit.

Geordie Greig at the Evening Standard

1 Three children: all at private school
2 Private school
3 I use the National Health Service but also have Bupa
4 It is an indictment of government that so many people
in Britain would choose to use private health and private education rather than rely solely on the state systems.
For decades there has been general consensus that a good school and national health system are two pretty basic goals.

Peter Wright at the Mail on Sunday
1 Private
2 Both state and private, but predominantly private
3 Occasionally, but predominantly I use the NHS
4 Where do I start? I am sure Alastair will find the answers he is looking for in the pages of the Mail on Sunday.

Jason Cowley at the New Statesman
2 State school
3 I was a member of the company health-care scheme at each of my last two jobs – at the Observer and at Granta.
It’s wonderful that our health service is free at the point of use, but I believe wealthier people should be charged a small fee for seeing a GP as they do a dentist.
4 I would prefer to send my children to state school; fortunately, our local state school is one of the best in Britain. I profoundly disapprove of our culture of educational apartheid, of the way the richest 8 per cent or so buy themselves out of the system. I believe in streaming rather than in mixed-ability teaching, but within the state system.
Members of my family have been wonderfully well served by the health service in recent years. But it also needs urgent reform: too much money has been spent and wasted during the New Labour years.

Paul Dacre at the Daily Mail

When several days of silence followed the initial request to the Mail supremo Paul Dacre (below), Alastair Campbell followed up with an email:
“I was wondering whether you had received the questions I have put to all national paper editors about their education choices for the New Statesman issue of [23] March, which I will be editing, and when, given your stated interest in freedom of information, you might be deigning to reply.”

Dacre replied the following day:

“Thank you for your (ungrammatical) email. My secretary has been away recently and I am unaware of the questions you refer to. Perhaps you’d be kind enough to reissue them.”

Having done so, and having added a question about whether Dacre felt his personal choices influenced his papers’ coverage of public services, Campbell wrote again, twice, first thanking him for his reminder about grammar, and offering him a day’s work as proofreader at the New Statesman, then saying:

“I hope you have had time to look at the questions for my guest-edited New Statesman. I know how busy you must be but hope you find the minute or under it will take to answer.”

He also posted a public request for the information on his website:

“Come on, Mr Dacre, it won’t take long. I read somewhere the other day that you were a great believer in freedom of information, or does that only apply to people deemed by you to be in ‘public life’, not people of vast wealth and some influence who peddle prejudice and poison into public life on a daily basis?”

Finally, Dacre answered (see below), followed soon afterwards by Peter Wright, editor of the Mail on Sunday. Campbell sent a further email asking Dacre to confirm that the independent school in question was Eton and asking at what point the children of public figures did become “fair game” for the media. Then the trail went quiet . . . Campbell did, however, post a message on his Facebook page that he still loathed the Mail but was grateful for the answers. This led to angry messages suggesting Campbell was being far too nice, and a debate about who would play Dacre in a film.

1 While I am fair game to be written about, my children aren’t, which is why I never talk about them. It is, however, in the public domain that they attended the same independent school to which one of them won
a scholarship. Both boys also spent some years at state primary schools.
2 I took the eleven-plus and won an assisted place to a direct-grant independent school, which took
a third of its pupils on similar scholarships paid for by the local authority. The assisted places scheme – which had given so many children from homes that couldn’t afford fees the chance of a top education – was killed by this Labour government.
3 I have used and use both the NHS and – as a member of the company’s health insurance scheme – private medicine. I am inordinately grateful to both sectors.
4 The Mail’s views of Britain’s
public services are fully outlined in our leader columns.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Campbell guest edit

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The lost magic of England

The great conservative journalist Peregrine Worsthorne reflects on a long life at the heart of the establishment.

In a recent editorial meeting, our subscriptions manager happened to mention that Peregrine Worsthorne was still a New Statesman subscriber. A former editor of the Sunday Telegraph and, during a long Fleet Street career, a self-styled “romantic reactionary” scourge of liberals and liberalism, Worsthorne used to be something of a pantomime villain for the left, a role he delighted in. He had close friends among the “Peterhouse right”, the group of High Tory intellectuals who gathered around Maurice Cowling at the small, conspiratorial Cambridge college. He was a frequent contributor to Encounter (which turned out to be funded by the CIA) and an ardent cold warrior. His social conservatism and lofty affectations offended lefty Islingtonian sensibilities. On several occasions he was the Guardian’s reviewer of choice for its annual collection of journalism, The Bedside Guardian, and he invariably delivered the required scornful appraisal while praising its witty television critic, Nancy Banks-Smith. There is no suggestion, he wrote in 1981, that the “Guardian ever sees itself as part of the problem; itself as having some responsibility for the evils its writers described so well”.

His prose style was Oxbridge high table, more Walter Pater than George Orwell. It was essential not to take Worsthorne too seriously, because he delighted in mischief-making and wilful provocation – one of his targets for remorseless ridicule was Andrew Neil, when Neil edited the abrasively Thatcherite Sunday Times. He ended up suing Worsthorne, who was famous for his silk shirts and Garrick Club lunches, for libel; he was awarded damages of £1, the then cover price of the Sunday Times.

“I wrote that in the old days editors of distinguished Sunday papers could be found dining at All Souls, and something must have changed when they’re caught with their trousers down in a nightclub,” Worsthorne told me when we met recently. “I had no idea he was going to sue. I was teasing. I occasionally run into him and we smile at each other, so it’s all forgotten and forgiven.”

After his retirement in 1989, Worsthorne, although he remained a resolute defender of aristocracy, seemed to mellow, and even mischievously suggested that the Guardian had replaced the Times as the newspaper of record. In the 1990s he began writing occasionally for the New Statesman – the then literary editor, Peter Wilby, commissioned book reviews from him, as I did after I succeeded Wilby. Like most journalists of his generation, Worsthorne was a joy to work with; he wrote to length, delivered his copy on time and was never precious about being edited. (Bill Deedes and Tony Howard were the same.) He might have had the mannerisms of an old-style toff but he was also a tradesman, who understood that journalism was a craft.

Shortly before Christmas, I rang Wors­thorne at the home in Buckinghamshire he shares with his second wife, Lucinda Lambton, the charming architectural writer. I asked how he was. “I’m like a squeezed lemon: all used up,” he said. Lucy described him as being “frail but not ill”. I told him that I would visit, so one recent morning I did. Home is a Grade II-listed old rectory in the village of Hedgerley. It is grand but dishevelled and eccentrically furnished. A sign on the main gates warns you to “Beware of the Dog”. But the dog turns out to be blind and moves around the house uneasily, poignantly bumping into objects and walls. At lunch, a small replica mosque in the dining room issues repeated mechanised calls to prayer. “Why does it keep doing that?” Perry asks. “Isn’t it fun,” Lucy says. She then turns to me: “Have some more duck pâté.”

As a student, I used to read Worsthorne’s columns and essays with pleasure. I did not share his positions and prejudices but I admired the style in which he articulated them. “The job of journalism is not to be scholarly,” he wrote in 1989. “The most that can be achieved by an individual newspaper or journalist is the articulation of an intelligent, well-thought-out, coherent set of prejudices – ie, a moral position.”

His Sunday Telegraph, which he edited from 1986 to 1989, was like no other newspaper. The recondite and reactionary comment pages (the focus of his energies) were unapologetically High Tory, contrary to the prevailing Thatcherite orthodoxies of the time, but were mostly well written and historically literate. Bruce Anderson was one of the columnists. “You never knew what you were going to get when you opened the paper,” he told me. “Perry was a dandy, a popinjay, and of course he didn’t lack self-esteem. He had a nostalgia for Young England. In all the time I wrote for him, however, I never took his approval for granted. I always felt a tightening of the stomach muscles when I showed him something.”

***

Worsthorne is 92 now and, though his memory is failing, he remains a lucid and engaging conversationalist. Moving slowly, in short, shuffling steps, he has a long beard and retains a certain dandyish glamour. His silver hair is swept back from a high, smooth forehead. He remains a stubborn defender of the aristocracy – “Superiority is a dread word, but we are in very short supply of superiority because no one likes the word” – but the old hauteur has gone, replaced by humility and a kind of wonder and bafflement that he has endured so long and seen so much: a journalistic Lear, but one who is not raging against the dying of the light.

On arrival, I am shown through to the drawing room, where Perry sits quietly near an open fire, a copy of that morning’s Times before him. He moves to a corner armchair and passes me a copy of his book Democracy Needs Aristocracy (2005). “It’s all in there,” he says. “I’ve always thought the English aristocracy so marvellous compared to other ruling classes. It seemed to me that we had got a ruling class of such extraordinary historical excellence, which is rooted in England
almost since the Norman Conquest.

“Just read the 18th-century speeches – the great period – they’re all Whig or Tory, but all come from that [the aristocracy]. If they didn’t come directly from the aristocracy, they turned themselves very quickly into people who talk in its language. Poetic. If you read Burke, who’s the best in my view, it’s difficult not to be tempted to think what he says has a lot of truth in it . . .”

His voice fades. He has lost his way and asks what we were talking about. “Oh, yes,” he says. “It survived when others – the French and Russians and so on – were having revolutions. It was absolutely crazy to set about destroying that. There was something magical . . . the parliamentary speeches made by Burke and so on – this is a miracle! No other country has it apart from America in the early days. And I thought to get rid of it, to undermine it, was a mistake.”

I ask how exactly the aristocracy was undermined. Even today, because of the concentration of the ownership of so much land among so few and because of the enduring influence of the old families, the great schools and Oxbridge, Britain remains a peculiar hybrid: part populist hyper-democracy and part quasi-feudal state. The Tory benches are no longer filled by aristocrats but the old class structures remain.

“Equality was the order of the day after the war,” Worsthorne replies. “And in a way it did a lot of good, equalising people’s chances in the world. But it didn’t really get anywhere; the ruling class went happily on. But slowly, and I think unnecessarily dangerously, it was destroyed – and now there are no superior people around [in politics]. The Cecil family – Lord Salisbury, he was chucked out of politics. The Cecil family is being told they are not wanted. The institutions are falling apart . . .

“But there were people who had natural authority, like Denis Healey. I’m not saying it’s only aristocrats – a lot of Labour people had it. But now we haven’t got any Denis Healeys.”

Born in 1923, the younger son of Alexander Koch de Gooreynd, a Belgian banker, Worsthorne (the family anglicised its name) was educated at Stowe and was an undergraduate at both Cambridge (Peterhouse, where he studied under the historian Herbert Butterfield, the author of The Whig Interpretation of History) and Oxford (Magdalen College). “I have always felt slightly underprivileged and de-classed by having gone to Stowe, unlike my father who went to Eton,” Worsthorne wrote in 1985.

Yet his memories of Stowe remain pellucid. There he fell under the influence of the belle-lettrist John Davenport, who later became a close friend of Dylan Thomas. “He was a marvellous man, a famous intellectual of the 1930s, an ex-boxer, too. But in the war he came to Stowe and he was preparing me for a scholarship to Cambridge. He told me to read three books, and find something to alleviate the boredom of an examiner, some little thing you’ll pick up. And I duly did and got the scholarship.”

Can you remember which three books he recommended?

“Tawney. Something by Connolly, um . . . that’s the terrible thing about getting old, extremely old – you forget. And by the time you die you can’t remember your brother’s name. It’s a terrible shock. I used to think old age could be a joy because you’d have more time to read. But if you push your luck and get too far, and last too long, you start finding reading really quite difficult. The connections go, I suppose.”

Was the Connolly book Enemies of Promise (1938)?

“Yes, that’s right. It was. And the other one was . . . Hang on, the writer of the book . . . What’s the country invaded by Russia, next to Russia?

Finland, I say. Edmund Wilson’s To the Finland Station (1940)?

“Yes. Wilson. How did you get that?”

We both laugh.

***

Worsthorne is saddened but not surprised that so many Scots voted for independence and his preference is for Britain to remain a member of the European Union. “What’s happening is part of the hopelessness of English politics. It’s horrible. I can’t think why the Scots would want to be on their own but it might happen. The youth will vote [for independence]. This is part of my central theme: the Scots no longer think it’s worthwhile belonging to England. The magic of England has gone – and it’s the perversity of the Tory party to want to get us out of the European Union when of course we’re much more than ever unlikely to be able to look after ourselves as an independent state because of the quality of our political system.

“The people who want to get us out are obviously of an undesirable kind. That the future should depend on [Nigel] Farage is part of the sickness. I mean the real horror is for him to have any influence at all. And when you think of the great days of the Labour Party, the giants who strode the stage – famous, lasting historical figures, some of them: Healey, Attlee, who was probably the greatest, [Ernest] Bevin. I’m well aware that Labour in the good days produced people who were superior.”

He digresses to reflect on his wartime experience as a soldier – he served in Phantom, the special reconnaissance unit, alongside Michael Oakeshott, the philosopher of English conservatism who became a close friend, and the actor David Niven, our “prize colleague”.

“I remember Harold Macmillan saying to me, after the Second World War, the British people needed their belt enlarged; they’d done their job and they deserved a reward. And that’s what he set about doing. And he wasn’t a right-wing, unsympathetic man at all. But he didn’t – and this is what is good about conservatism – he didn’t turn it into an ‘ism’. It was a sympathetic feel, an instinctive feel, and of course people in the trenches felt it, too: solidarity with the rest of England and not just their own brotherhood. Of course he didn’t get on with Margaret Thatcher at all.”

Worsthorne admired Thatcher and believed that the “Conservatives required a dictator woman” to shake things up, though he was not a Thatcherite and denounced what he called her “bourgeois triumphalism”. He expresses regret at how the miners were treated during the bitter strike of 1984-85. “I quarrelled with her about the miners’ strike, and the people she got around her to conduct it were a pretty ropey lot.

“I liked her as a person. I was with her that last night when she wasn’t prime minister any more, but she was still in Downing Street and had everything cut off. The pressman [Bernard Ingham] got several of us to try to take her mind off her miseries that night. There’s a photograph of me standing at the top of the stairs.”

In the summer of 1989, Peregrine Wors­thorne was sacked as the editor of the Sunday Telegraph by Andrew Knight, a former journalist-turned-management enforcer, over breakfast at Claridge’s. He wrote about the experience in an elegant diary for the Spectator: “I remember well the exact moment when this thunderbolt, coming out of a blue sky, hit me. It was when the waiter had just served two perfectly poached eggs on buttered toast . . . In my mind I knew that the information just imparted was a paralysingly painful blow: pretty well a professional death sentence.”

He no longer reads the Telegraph.

“Politically they don’t have much to say of interest. But I can’t put the finger on exactly what it is I don’t like about it. Boredom, I think!”

You must read Charles Moore?

“He is my favourite. Interesting fellow. He converted to Catholicism and started riding to hounds in the same week.”

He has no regrets about pursuing a long career in journalism rather than, say, as a full-time writer or academic, like his friends Cowling and Oakeshott. “I was incredibly lucky to do journalism. What people don’t realise – and perhaps you don’t agree – but it’s really a very easy life, compared to many others. And you have good company in other journalists and so on. I was an apprentice on the Times, after working [as a sub-editor] on the Glasgow Herald.”

How does he spend the days?

“Living, I suppose. It takes an hour to get dressed because all the muscles go. Then I read the Times and get bored with it halfway through. Then there’s a meal to eat. The ­answer is, the days go. I used to go for walks but I can’t do that now. But Lucy’s getting me all kinds of instruments to facilitate people with no muscles, to help you walk. I’m very sceptical about it working, but then again, better than the alternative.”

He does not read as much as he would wish. He takes the Statesman, the Spectator and the Times but no longer the Guardian. He is reading Niall Ferguson’s biography of Kissinger, The Maisky Diaries by Ivan Maisky, Stalin’s ambassador to London from 1932 to 1943, and Living on Paper, a selection of letters by Iris Murdoch, whom he knew. “I get these massive books, thinking of a rainy day, but once I pick them up they are too heavy, physically, so they’re stacked up, begging to be read.”

He watches television – the news (we speak about Isis and the Syrian tragedy), the Marr show on Sunday mornings, and he has been enjoying War and Peace on BBC1. “Andrew Marr gave my book a very good review. He’s come back. He’s survived [a stroke] through a degree of hard willpower to get back to that job, almost as soon as he came out of surgery. But I don’t know him; he was a Guardian man.” (In fact, Marr is more closely associated with the Independent.)

Of the celebrated Peterhouse historians, both Herbert Butterfield (who was a Methodist) and Maurice Cowling were devout Christians. For High Tories, who believe in and accept natural inequalities and the organic theory of society, Christianity was a binding force that held together all social classes, as some believe was the order in late-Victorian England.

“I was a very hardened Catholic,” Worsthorne says, when I mention Cowling’s book Religion and Public Doctrine in Modern England. “My mother was divorced [her second marriage was to Montagu Norman, then the governor of the Bank of England] and she didn’t want my brother and me to be Catholic, so she sent us to Stowe. And I used to annoy her because I read [Hilaire] Belloc. I tried to annoy the history master teaching us Queen Elizabeth I. I said to him: ‘Are you covering up on her behalf: don’t you know she had syphilis?’

“Once I felt very angry about not being made Catholic. But then I went to Cambridge and there was a very Catholic chaplain and he was very snobbish. And in confession I had to tell him I masturbated twice that morning or something, and so it embarrassed me when half an hour later I had to sit next to him at breakfast. I literally gave up going to Mass to get out of this embarrassing situation. But recently I’ve started again. I haven’t actually gone to church but I’ve made my confessions, to a friendly bishop who came to the house.”

So you are a believer?

“Yes. I don’t know which bit I believe. But as Voltaire said: ‘Don’t take a risk.’”

He smiles and lowers his head. We are ready for lunch. 

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

This article first appeared in the 11 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle