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 for the New Statesman.
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Tim Farron: Theresa May is "the prisoner of the Ukip wing of her party"

The Liberal Democrat leader on his faith, Blairism and his plan to replace Labour as the opposition. 

This is Tim Farron’s seventh general election. His first was in 1992, when his Tory opponent was a 36-year-old called Ther­esa May. He was just 21 and they were both unsuccessful candidates in the Labour fortress of North-West Durham. He recalls talking “to a bunch of ex-miners who weren’t best pleased to see either of us, some kid Liberal and some Tory”. Now he sees his former and current opponent as “the prisoner of the Ukip wing of her party . . . I think it has rendered Ukip almost pointless – she is Ukip now.”

May was elected to parliament in 1997, but it took Farron until 2005 to join her. She leads the dominant Conservatives while he heads a party of only nine Liberal Democrat MPs. Still, their reversal of fortunes gives him hope. “After the 1992 election, every­one said there’s no way for a non-Tory government, and it turned out there was. So let’s not assume it’s a given there’s a Tory government [for ever].”

In April, I accompanied Farron to Manchester Gorton, in the lead-up to a by-election that was cancelled by May’s decision to call a snap election on 8 June. Still, the 46-year-old’s party has been in campaign mode for months; Lib Dems spoke of using last December’s Richmond Park by-election to test their messaging. It clearly had an effect: the incumbent Conservative, Zac Goldsmith, lost to their candidate, Sarah Olney.

Brexit, to which the Liberal Democrats are vehemently opposed, will be a dominant theme of the election. Their party membership has just exceeded 100,000, close to an all-time high, and they have enjoyed much success in council by-elections, with more to come in the local elections of 4 May.

However, any feel-good factor swiftly evaporated when Farron appeared on Channel 4 News on 18 April. He was asked by the co-presenter Cathy Newman whether or not he believes that homosexuality is a sin, a question that he answered obliquely in 2015 by saying that Christianity started with acknowledging that “we’re all sinners”.

This time, he told Newman, he was “not in the position to make theological announcements over the next six weeks . . . as a Liberal, I’m passionate about equality”.

The Channel 4 interview divided opinion. One Liberal politician told me that Farron’s stance was “completely intolerable”. Stephen Pollard, the influential editor of the Jewish Chronicle, described it as
“a very liberal position: he holds certain personal views but does not wish to legislate around them”. Jennie Rigg, the acting chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, said it was “as plain as the nose on my face that Tim Farron is no homophobe”.

Farron declined the chance to clarify his views with us in a follow-up phone call, but told the BBC on 25 April: “I don’t believe that gay sex is a sin,” adding, “On reflection, it makes sense to actually answer this direct question since it’s become an issue.”

For his critics, Farron’s faith and politics are intertwined. He sees it differently, as he told Christian Today in 2015: “. . . the danger is sometimes that as a Christian in politics you think your job is to impose your morality on other people. It absolutely isn’t.”

Tim Farron joined the then Liberal Party at the age of 16 but didn’t become a Christian until he was 18. Between completing his A-levels in Lancashire and going to Newcastle University to read politics, he read the apologetics, a body of Christian writing that provides reasoned arguments for the gospel story. “I came to the conclusion that it was true,” he told me. “It wasn’t just a feel-good story.”

In speeches, Farron now takes on the mannerisms of a preacher, but he had a largely non-religious upbringing in Preston, Lancashire. “I don’t think I’d been to church once other than Christmas or the odd wedding,” he says. “I went once with my dad when I was 11, for all the good that did me.”

When we meet, it is Theresa May’s religion that is in the spotlight. She has condemned the National Trust for scrubbing the word “Easter” from its Easter egg hunt, a row it later emerged had been largely invented by the right-wing press in response to a press release from a religious-themed chocolate company.

“It’s worth observing there’s no mention of chocolate or bunny rabbits in the Bible,” Farron reminds me. “When people get cross about, in inverted commas, ‘us losing our Christian heritage’ they mean things which are safe and comfortable and nostalgic.” He pauses. “But the Christian message at Easter is shocking, actually, and very radical.”

British politics is tolerant of atheists (such as Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg) alongside those who, like David Cameron, are culturally Christian but whose faith is “a bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes”. But the reaction to Farron’s equivocation on homosexuality prompted many to wonder if a politician who talks openly about his faith is now seen as alarming. Nebulous wishes of peace and love at Christmas, yes; sincere discussions of the literal truth of the Resurrection? Hmm.

Tim Farron’s beliefs matter because he has a mission: to replace not only Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the opposition but Theresa May in Downing Street. Over lassis at the MyLahore curry house in Manchester, he tells me that Britain is facing two calamities. “One is Brexit, indeed hard Brexit . . . and the other is a Tory government for 25 years. We have to present a genuine, progressive alternative that can not only replace Labour as an opposition, it can replace the Tories as a government.” This is ambitious talk for a party with nine MPs. “I understand the ridicule that will be thrown at me for saying those things: but if you don’t want to run the country, why are you in politics?” He pauses. “That’s a question I would ask most people leading the Labour Party at present.”

What does he think of May, his one-time opponent in North-West Durham? “She strikes me as being very professional, very straightforward, somebody who is very conservative in every sense of the word, in her thought processes, her politics, in her style.” He recalls her 2002 conference speech in which she warned Tory activists: “Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us: the nasty party.”

“In many ways, she was the trailblazer for Cameron in being a softer-focused Tory,” he says. “It now looks like she’s been trapped by the very people she was berating as the nasty party all those years ago. I like to think that isn’t really her. But that means she isn’t really in control of the Conservative Party.”

Voters, however, seem to disagree. In recent polls, support for the Conservatives has hovered between 40 and 50 per cent. Isn’t a progressive alliance the only way to stop her: Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru all working together to beat the Tories?

“Let’s be really blunt,” he says. “Had Jeremy Corbyn stood down for us in Richmond Park [where Labour stood Christian Wolmar], we would not have won. I could have written Zac Goldsmith’s leaflets for you: Corbyn-backed Liberal Democrats.

“I’m a pluralist,” he adds. “But any progressive alliance has got to be at least equal to the sum of its parts. At the moment, it would be less than the sum of its parts. The only way the Tories are losing their majority is us gaining seats in Hazel Grove –” he ticks them off with his fingers, “– in Cheadle, in the West Country and west London. There’s no chance of us gaining those seats if we have a kind of arrangement with the current Labour Party in its current form.”

What about the SNP? “Most sensible people would look at that SNP manifesto and agree with 99 per cent of it,” Farron says. “But it’s that one thing: they want to wreck the country! How can you do a deal with people who want to wreck the country?”

There’s no other alternative, he says. Someone needs to step up and offer “something that can appeal to progressive younger voters, pro-Europeans and, you know, moderate-thinking Middle England”. He wants to champion a market economy, strong public services, action on climate change, internationalism and free trade.

That sounds like Blairism. “I’m a liberal, and I don’t think Blair was a liberal,” he replies. “But I admire Blair because he was somebody who was able to win elections . . . Iraq aside, my criticisms of Blair are what he didn’t do, rather than what he did do.”

Turning around the Tory tide – let alone with just nine MPs, and from third place – is one hell of a job. But Farron takes heart from the Liberal Party in Canada, where Justin Trudeau did just that. “I’m not Trudeau,” he concedes, “He was better-looking, and his dad was prime minister.”

There is a reason for his optimism. “I use the analogy of being in a maze,” he says, “You can’t see a way out of it, for a progressive party to form a majority against the Tories. But in every maze, there is a way out. We just haven’t found it yet.” 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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