Cameron must back Gove for the sake of Britain’s children

Allister Heath
FOR the first time in living memory, Britain has a government that is on the brink of delivering huge improvements to the state education system. Michael Gove, the secretary of state, has a masterplan: he wants to axe GCSEs, replace them with much tougher O-Levels, introduce an alternative vocational qualification and sweep away the national curriculum. Yet once again the coalition could be about to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, courtesy of the Liberal Democrats.

Let us hope Gove is able to see off his enemies. Primary and secondary education is the only real success story that this otherwise shambolic government can boast of. Reversing 40 years of failed dogma by reintroducing proper exams and ending dumbing down and grade inflation is exactly the kind of change this country needs if it wants to be able to provide opportunities for its citizens in a globalised world. Children in Singapore already take British O-Levels; if it works for them it should for us.

It is a scandal that Nick Clegg is up in arms over the plans; and it is deeply depressing that some of Cameron’s advisers, desperate to keep their man in power at any cost, are trying to scupper such a radical improvement. It is time for the Tories to put the country first – and stop worrying about the Lib Dems, who are merely the junior partners in the coalition. The shake-up doesn’t require any legislation; so unless Cameron orders Gove not to implement the change – tragically, a real possibility – there is nothing the Lib Dems can really do to stop it.

Gove, unlike many in politics, truly cares about the poor, about building a meritocratic society and about reversing the economic and cultural decline that is crippling this country. Employers know that millions can’t spell or write properly. Mass educational failure is one of the great tragedies of modern Britain; it is the biggest reason for insufficient social mobility and the scourge of inherited poverty. There are tens of thousands of hard-working, brilliant teachers in this country – but they stand no chance against the ideological nonsense, the bureaucratic incompetence and the self-interest of the educational establishment. If Cameron genuinely wants to be remembered as a reformer, he must back Gove.

There are unhealthy as well as positive reasons for the banking credit downgrade. The Eurozone crisis and global slowdown means that banks are more likely to make losses, may find it harder to raise funds and are therefore riskier. This is entirely bad.

But the fact that some countries are reducing their guarantees towards their banking sector is excellent news – even though that means that bank bonds are more likely to lose some of their value, and are therefore now deemed riskier.

In both cases, there may be an impact on funding costs – but such costs would reflect real risks, not some Alice-in Wonderland fantasy that nothing can ever go wrong. It is vital that governments sever their ties to their banking systems, which must become entirely private once more. That is the only way to prevent bank failures from dragging down entire countries, as happened in Ireland. Just as importantly, getting rid of implicit guarantees is vital to re-establishing confidence in capitalism: the idea that high-paid financial jobs are dependent on the taxpayers’ largesse, with gains privatised and losses nationalised, has helped fuel hatred towards the City. Last night’s banking downgrade is a major story – but it is not an unmitigated catastrophe.