Consistency, debates and education

Our politicians think they can get away with deceiving us because they dont think we remember the recent past and cant be bothered to check it.

If avoiding a television leaders’ debate is a sin, then there are a lot of sinners.

Ed Miliband’s righteous indignation about David Cameron’s attempts to avoid a one-to-one debate has echoes of 2001 when Tony Blair refused to debate with William Hague; Alastair .Campbell insisted then that “the UK is not electing a president and our political and constitutional positions are entirely different.” Entertainingly the walking inconsistency that is Campbell now sees refusing to have a debate as “morally cowardly and democratically wrong.”

Today’s politicians cant even bothered to think up new words or arguments – they nick the ones their opponents used 14 years ago. In 2001 Hague said Blair was “a real chicken” who did not dare face a debate. Last week Miliband told Cameron that he could try “to chicken out of the debates,” In 2001, Blair said that he debated with Hague every week at Prime Minister’s questions. Last week Cameron used the same defence for not having a debate with Miliband.

But we should not  be surprised that neither party has a consistent view on debates. Party leaders only want them when they think they have something to gain – the rarity of the 2010 election was that all three leaders thought a debate was in their interests.

Harold Wilson wanted to debate Alec Douglas-Home in 1964 but refused to have one with Ted Heath in 1970. Margaret Thatcher turned down Jim Callaghan in 1979 and Neil Kinnock in 1987, while John Major refused to debate with Kinnock in 1992 and was himself turned down by Blair in 1997.

Discover the real moral high ground out of that if you can.

And while I was checking this saga in the archives, I was reminded of the way the major parties deceived us about student loans -its been out of the headlines for a couple of weeks, but remember the history when it comes up again, as it is sure to.

After reminding myself of this story, I eneded up feeling quite sorry for the Liberal Democrats because they were the only party to find themselves in government having made a specific promise. Labour and Tory were clever – or lucky – enough to escape this.

Major and Gordon Brown used classic evasion tactics. Before the 1997 election Major asked Lord Dearing to produce a report on tuition fees, conveniently delaying publication until after the 1997 election. Some 13 years later, Brown appointed Lord Browne to look at the issue and he too was not to report until after the election.

Of course Blair and Cameron, who had refused to comment during the elections, were damned for implementing most of the reports by the very people who had commissioned the reports.

At the 2001 election, Labour said “we will not introduce top-up fees and have legislated against them,” only to introduce legislation in 2003, insisting that its election promise only lasted for one parliament.

In both the 2001 and 2005 elections, the Tories and Liberal Democrats promised to scrap all tuition fees, safe in the knowledge they had little chance of being elected. In 2010 the Lib Dems didn’t expect to be part of a coalition because they made the same promise.

The Tories, like Labour, hid behind the Browne report, both knowing full well that they would have raise tuition fees significantly.

Now Miliband is promising to reduce the fees to £6,000. It is not for this blog to debate the merits of the policy – I will just be looking at the small print to see how many ways you can interpret what Labour actually says in its manifesto. In fairness, I expect the other parties to be just as ambiguous on the subject!!

And I am equally sure that all of them will try to con us into thinking they deserve the moral high ground on education, just as they are doing on the debates.


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