Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Why is leaving things alone never an option?

Michael Gove has been sticking his oar in in recent days. He's decided that he wants children to start learning foreign languages from the age of 7. Also he's announced that he wants 5 year olds to recite poetry to each other in class.

I'm not going to dwell on the merits or demerits of these specific proposals. Except to say that if there was strong evidence that these things would increase the wellbeing of British children I suspect it would have been done a long time ago.

What I'm more interested in today is what this says about how governments approach governing.

Gove is an intelligent man. I know this because he used to sit on the Newsnight Review sofa regularly and intellectually spar with the likes of Germaine Greer and Paul Morley. And also I sometimes didn't know what he was on about. OK, maybe that just makes him more intelligent than me. We'll draw a veil over that.

But what makes him think that he knows best about how to micromanage the national curriculum for everyone in the country? The answer is quite simple. He is a politician.

Politicians have to do something. Anything. It's how they get elected. It's no good them standing for election and saying "Vote for me and I'll leave things pretty much as they are.". They'd be vilified by their opponents and would be a laughing stock. Politicians get elected by promising to change things.

But the consequence of this is that things keep getting changed all the time whether that's a good thing or not. Labour embarked on goodness knows how many sets of reforms of the NHS. I think it was at least 3 in 13 years. Now the coalition is at it all over again. Schools have had lots of fiddling in recent years too. Curriculum changes, Key Stages tweaked and meddled with, targets, league tables, new powers, powers taken away, Academies, Free Schools, tighter Ofsted regime, slackening of Ofsted regime etc. etc. etc. And that's just two departments in the last few years. The same pattern is repeated all over government.

Here's a thought. What if we just left things largely alone for a bit? Maybe if we allowed things to settle down, for doctors, nurses, teachers, managers etc. all to get used to the latest way of doing things for say 5 (or shock horror 10) years perhaps we might find performance improving. You know, because so much time and money wouldn't need to be spent reorganising everything every 3 years.

Of course this is fantasy land. But it is worth pondering why we demand politicians always have to campaign on a platform of major change. Because until we allow them to be more reasonable and sometimes say things like "In this area we're doing OK and we propose no major change" without shooting them down in flames we will keep getting these huge shake ups right across all departments.

But if we did this then Gove would have to go back to debating the work of Gilbert and George with Greer and Kirsty Wark.

That's a price I'd be willing to pay.....

This post was first published on Dale & Co.

1 comment:

martijn said...

I was having a discussion with some friends the other day, comparing the British political system with the Dutch. We realised that in the Netherlands (which uses a system of full PR) since WW2 there have never been two consecutive governments with not at least on party represented in both. It makes for smoother transitions between governments and makes new ministers less able (or willing?) to make radical changes.

There are many things in this country that I'd like to see changed and in some cases I'd like to see some radical changes. But it's also good to realise that, in general, things work reasonably well. I think it's in everyone's interest for changes to occur smoothly (and slowly). Ultimately, that may give such changes a better chance of having a lasting effect.