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

RALPH STEADMAN
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The age of outrage

Why are we so quick to take offence? The Private Eye editor on Orwell, Trump and the death of debate in post-truth politics.

Anyone who thinks that “post-truth politics” is anything new needs to be reminded that George Orwell was writing about this phenomenon 70 years before Donald Trump.

Audiences listening to President-Elect Trump’s extraordinary disregard for anything resembling objective truth – and his astonishing ability to proclaim the absolute opposite today of what he said yesterday – will be forcibly reminded of the slogans that George Orwell gave to his political ­dictators: Black is White, War is Peace, ­Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength (the last of which turned out to be true in the US election). But any journalist trying to work out what the speeches actually mean, amidst the mad syntax and all the repetition (“gonna happen, gonna happen”), cannot help but fall back on Orwell’s contention that “political chaos is connected with the decay of language”. And the sight of Trump praising Secretary Clinton for her years of public service in his post-election victory speech while the crowd was still chanting his campaign catchphrase of “Lock her up” was surely a perfect example of Doublethink.

No wonder Trump is an admirer of Vladimir Putin, who is an admirer of the Soviet strongmen whom Orwell satirised so well. These echoes from the past are very strong in America at present but there are plenty of them reverberating through British and European politics as well. Our Foreign Secretary managed to accuse other European leaders of a “whinge-o-rama” when they issued qualified statements of congratulation to the new president-elect, even though he himself had previously accused Trump of being “nuts”. Black is White, Remain is Leave, a Wall is a Fence, two plus two equals five: but Brexit means Brexit.

You may find this reassuring, in that we have been here before and survived – or distressing to think that we are regressing to a grimmer Orwellian age. But one of the worrying developments attached to these “post-truth” political figures is the increasing intolerance in public debate of dissent – or even disagreement – about what objective truth might be.

A great deal has been written recently about the influence of social media in helping people to become trapped in their own echo chambers, talking only to those who reinforce their views and dismissing not only other opinions, but also facts offered by those who disagree with them. When confronted by a dissenting voice, people get offended and then angry. They do not want to argue, they want the debate to be shut down. Trump supporters are furious with anyone who expresses reservations about their candidate. Pro-Brexit supporters are furious with anyone who expresses doubts about the way the process of leaving the European Union is going.

I edit the magazine Private Eye, which I sometimes think Orwell would have dismissed as “a tuppeny boys’ fortnightly”, and after the recent legal challenge to the government about Article 50 being put before parliament, we published the cover reproduced on page 25.

It was a fairly obvious joke, a variant of the “wheels coming off” gag. But it led to a large postbag of complaints, including a letter from a man who said he thought the cover was “repulsive”. He also said he wanted to come around and smash up the office and then shove our smug opinions so far up our arses that we choked our guts out.

There was one from a vicar, too, who told me that it was time to accept the victory of the majority of the people and to stop complaining. Acceptance was a virtue, he said. I wrote back and told him that this argument was a bit much, coming from a church that had begun with a minority of 12. (Or, on Good Friday, a minority of one.)

This has become a trend in those who complain: the magazine should be shouted down or, better still, closed down. In the light of this it was interesting to read again what Orwell said in his diary long before internet trolls had been invented:

 

We are all drowning in filth. When I talk to anyone or read the writings of anyone who has any axe to grind, I feel that intellectual honesty and balanced judgement have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. Everyone’s thought is forensic, everyone is simply putting a “case” with deliberate suppression of his opponent’s point of view, and, what is more, with complete insensitiveness to any sufferings except those of himself and his friends.

 

This was in 1942, when the arguments were about war and peace, life and death, and there were real fascists and Stalinists around rather than, say, people who disagree with you about the possibility of reconciling freedom of movement with access to the single European market.

Orwell also made clear, in an essay called “As I Please” in Tribune in 1944, that what we think of as the new online tendency to call everyone who disagrees with you a fascist is nothing new. He wrote then:

 

It will be seen that, as used, the word “Fascism” is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee [a Tory group], the 1941 Committee [a left-liberal group], Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else.

 

When Orwell writes like this about the level of public debate, one is unsure whether to feel relieved at the sense of déjà vu or worried about the possibility of history repeating itself, not as farce, but as tragedy again.

The mood and tone of public opinion is an important force in the way our society and our media function. Orwell wrote about this in an essay called “Freedom of the Park”, published in Tribune in December 1945. Five people had been arrested outside Hyde Park for selling pacifist and anarchist publications. Orwell was worried that, though they had been allowed to publish and sell these periodicals throughout the entire Second World War, there had been a shift in public opinion that meant that the police felt confident to arrest these people for “obstruction” and no one seemed to mind this curtailment of freedom of speech except him. He wrote:

 

The relative freedom which we enjoy depends on public opinion. The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.

 

This is certainly true for the press today, whose reputation in the past few years has swung violently between the lows of phone-hacking and the highs of exposing MPs’ expenses. In 2011 I remember at one point a football crowd shouting out the name of Ryan Giggs, who had a so-called superinjunction in place forbidding anyone to mention that he was cheating on his wife and also forbidding anyone to mention the fact that he had taken out a superinjunction. He was named on Twitter 75,000 times. It seemed clear that public opinion had decided that his private life should be made public. The freedom of the press was briefly popular. Later the same year it was revealed that the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler’s phone had been hacked by the News of the World, along with those of a number of high-profile celebrities, and the public decided that actually journalists were all scumbags and the government should get Lord Leveson to sort them out. Those who maintained that the problem was that the existing laws (on trespass, contempt, etc) were not enforced because of an unhealthy relationship between the police, the press and the politicians were not given much credence.

In a proposed preface to his 1945 novel, Animal Farm, Orwell wrote: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

This is the quotation that will accompany the new statue of Orwell that has now been commissioned by the BBC and which will stand as a sort of rebuke to the corporation whenever it fails to live up to it. The BBC show on which I appear regularly, Have I Got News for You, has been described simultaneously in the online comments section as “overprivileged, right-wing Tory boys sneering at the working class ” and “lefty, metropolitan liberal elite having a Labour luvvie whinge-fest”. Disturbing numbers of complainants feel that making jokes about the new president-elect should not be allowed, since he has won the election. Humour is not meant to be political, assert the would-be censors – unless it attacks the people who lost the vote: then it is impartial and neutral. This role for comedy would have surprised Orwell, who was keen on jokes. He wrote of Charles Dickens:

 

A joke worth laughing at always has an idea behind it, and usually a subversive idea. Dickens is able to go on being funny because he is in revolt against authority, and authority is always there to be laughed at. There is always room for one more custard pie.

 

I think there is also room for a custard pie or two to be thrown against those who claim to be outsiders, against authority and “the system”, and use this as a way to take power. The American billionaire property developer who is the champion of those dispossessed by global capitalism seems a reasonable target for a joke. Just like his British friend, the ex-public-school boy City trader-turned-critic of the Home Counties elite.

The emblematic quotation on liberty is from a preface that was not published until 1972 in the Times Literary Supplement. A preface about freedom of speech that was censored? It is almost too neatly Orwellian to be true, and in fact no one seems to know exactly why it did not appear. Suffice to say that it is fascinating to read Orwell complaining that a novel which we all now assume to be a masterpiece – accurate about the nature of revolution and dictatorship and perfect for teaching to children in schools – was once considered to be unacceptably, offensively satirical.

The target of the satire was deemed to be our wartime allies the Russians. It is difficult to imagine a time, pre-Putin, pre-Cold War, when they were not seen as the enemy. But of course the Trump presidency may change all that. Oceania may not be at war with Eurasia any more. Or it may always have been at war with Eastasia. It is difficult to guess, but in those days the prevailing opinion was that it was “not done” to be rude about the Russians.

Interestingly there is now a significant faction on the British left, allied with the current leader of the Labour Party, who share this view.

 

The right to tell people what they do not want to hear is still the basis of freedom of expression. If that sounds like I am stating the obvious – I am. But, in my defence, Orwell once wrote in a review of a book by Bertrand Russell published in the Adelphi magazine in January 1939:

 

. . . we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.

 

Orwell himself managed to come round to a position of accepting that an author could write well and truthfully about a subject even if one disapproved of the author’s politics: both Kipling and Swift were allowed to be right even though they were not left enough. So I am hoping that we can allow Orwell to be right about the principles of freedom of expression.

In the unpublished preface to Animal Farm he writes:

 

The issue involved here is quite a simple one: Is every opinion, however unpopular – however foolish, even – entitled to a hearing? Put it in that form and nearly any English intellectual will feel that he ought to say “Yes”. But give it a concrete shape, and ask, “How about an attack on Stalin? Is that entitled to a hearing?”, and the answer more often than not will be “No”. In that case the current orthodoxy happens to be challenged, and so the principle of free speech lapses.

 

One can test oneself by substituting contemporary names for Stalin and seeing how you feel. Putin? Assange? Mandela? Obama? Snowden? Hillary Clinton? Angela Merkel? Prince Harry? Mother Teresa? Camila Batmanghelidjh? The Pope? David Bowie? Martin Luther King? The Queen?

Orwell was always confident that the populist response would be in favour of everyone being allowed their own views. That might be different now. If you were to substitute the name “Trump” or “Farage” and ask the question, you might not get such a liberal response. You might get a version of: “Get over it! Suck it up! You lost the vote! What bit of ‘democracy’ do you not understand?”

Orwell quotes from Voltaire (the attribution is now contested): “I detest what you say; I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Most of us would agree with the sentiment, but there is a worrying trend in universities that is filtering through into the media and the rest of society. Wanting a “safe space” in which you do not have to hear views that might upset you and demanding trigger warnings about works of art that might display attitudes which you find offensive are both part of an attempt to redefine as complex and negotiable what Orwell thought was simple and non-negotiable. And this creates problems.

Cartoon: "Voltaire goes to uni", by Russell and originally published in Private Eye.

We ran a guide in Private Eye as to what a formal debate in future universities might look like.

 

The proposer puts forward a motion to the House.

The opposer agrees with the proposer’s motion.

The proposer wholeheartedly agrees that the opposer was right to support the motion.

The opposer agrees that the proposer couldn’t be more right about agreeing that they were both right to support the motion.

When the debate is opened up to the floor, the audience puts it to the proposer and the opposer that it isn’t really a debate if everyone is just agreeing with each other.

The proposer and the opposer immediately agree to call security and have the audience ejected from the debating hall.

And so it goes on, until the motion is carried unanimously.

 

This was dismissed as “sneering” and, inevitably, “fascist” by a number of student commentators. Yet it was only a restatement of something that Orwell wrote in the unpublished preface:

 

. . . everyone shall have the right to say and to print what he believes to be the truth, provided only that it does not harm the rest of the community in some quite unmistakable way. Both capitalist democracy and the western versions of socialism have till recently taken that principle for granted. Our Government, as I have already pointed out, still makes some show of respecting it.

 

This is not always the case nowadays. It is always worth a comparison with the attitudes of other countries that we do not wish to emulate. The EU’s failure to confront President Erdogan’s closure of newspapers and arrests of journalists in Turkey because it wants his help to solve the refugee crisis is one such obvious example. An old German law to prosecute those making fun of foreign leaders was invoked by Erdogan and backed by Mrs Merkel. This led Private Eye to run a competition for Turkish jokes. My favourites were:

 

“Knock knock!”

“Who’s there.”

“The secret police.”

 

What do you call a satirist in Turkey?

An ambulance.

 

As Orwell wrote in even more dangerous times, again in the proposed preface:

 

. . . the chief danger to freedom of thought and speech at this moment is not the direct interference of the [Ministry of Information] or any official body. If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion.

 

I return to stating the obvious, because it seems to be less and less obvious to some of the current generation. This is particularly true for those who have recently become politically engaged for the first time. Voters energised by Ukip and the EU referendum debate, or by the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party, or by the resurgence of Scottish nationalism or by the triumph of Trump, have the zeal of the newly converted. This is all very admirable, and a wake-up call to their opponents – the Tartan Tories and the Remoaners and the NeoBlairites and the Washington Liberal Elite – but it is not admirable when it is accompanied by an overpowering desire to silence any criticism of their ideas, policies and leading personalities. Perhaps the supporters of the mainstream parties have simply become accustomed to the idea over the decades, but I have found in Private Eye that there is not much fury from the Tory, New Labour or Liberal camps when their leaders or policies are criticised, often in much harsher ways than the newer, populist movements.

 

 

So, when Private Eye suggested that some of the claims that the Scottish National Party was making for the future of an independent Scotland might be exaggerated, there were one or two readers who quoted Orwell’s distinction between patriotism being the love of one’s country and nationalism being the hatred of others – but on the whole it was mostly: “When if ever will you ignorant pricks on the Eye be sharp enough to burst your smug London bubble?”

Those who disagreed with the SNP were beneath contempt if English and traitors if Scottish. This was matched by the sheer fury of the Corbyn loyalists at coverage of his problems with opposition in his own party. When we suggested that there might be something a bit fishy about his video on the lack of seats on the train to Newcastle, responses included: “I had hoped Private Eye was outside the media matrix. Have you handed over control to Rupert Murdoch?”

Their anger was a match for that of the Ukippers when we briefly ran a strip called At Home With the Ukippers and then made a few jokes about their leader Mr Farage: “Leave it out, will you? Just how much of grant/top up/dole payment do you lot get from the EU anyway? Are you even a British publication?”

In 1948, in an essay in the Socialist Leader, Orwell wrote:

 

Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action, though often trivial in isolation, are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen.

 

In other words, the defence of freedom of speech and expression is not just special pleading by journalists, writers, commentators and satirists, but a more widespread conviction that it protects “the intellectual liberty which without a doubt has been one of the distinguishing marks of Western civilisation”.

In gloomy times, there was one letter to Private Eye that I found offered some cheer – a willingness to accept opposing viewpoints and some confirmation of a belief in the common sense of Orwell’s common man or woman. In response to the cartoon below, our correspondent wrote:

 

Dear sir,

I suffer from a bipolar condition and when I saw your cartoon I was absolutely disgusted. I looked at it a few days later and thought it was hilarious.

 

Ian Hislop is the editor of Private Eye. This is an edited version of his 2016 Orwell Lecture. For more details, visit: theorwellprize.co.uk

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage