This has been a tragic, humiliating week for Britain. The latest murder in South London coincided with a UNICEF report which suggested our children have the lowest quality of life in the developed world. This has caused many commentators to pause, briefly, and take stock. We have an opportunity, before the stale debates resume, to take a new and better path.
I doubt it will be taken. I could have choked that hypocrite Roy Hattersley for example, when on Question Time he blamed these problems on the "heartlessness," he claimed was "brought in by" the Thatcher Government. Just minutes before he had angrily accused David Dimbleby of making a "cheap political point" when he asked if Labour, after 10 years in power, was in any way to blame.
His point was as irrelevant as it was cheap. Pre-Thatcher Britain might or might not have been "heartless." The economic situation was such that the bailiffs of the International Monetary Fund were at the nation's door. Kindness without resources is as useless as a kettle without water.
Not only do you need resources to do good, you must use them wisely. New Labour has "kindly" doubled expenditure on the NHS, yet hospitals are closing and doctors and nurses being fired. NuLab promised "joined-up" government, but by closing local hospitals they are causing patients and their families to travel thousands of additional miles, with all that entails for carbon emissions. They are going to bus children between schools in prosperous and poor areas in the name of "social inclusion" - to similar effect.
But this is really not a time for party points. All of us, political activists and bystanders, are to blame for the situation our children now face. While I would strongly argue that the educational and social policies at fault originated on the Left, they were neither seriously opposed nor ratcheted back when the Conservatives were in government. Education and training has never been a priority for either of the big Parties, when they should always have been at the head of the list.
We have destroyed the ladders out of poverty for working class children. I escaped, a little charred, as the rungs burned beneath me. I am 50 next month, and there is no-one from my background coming up behind me in my law firm, nor in any of the British businesses I deal with. No-one with my start in life has a realistic chance in modern Britain of achieving even my, very modest, success. It is more realistic for them to aim for pop stardom, modelling, mindless celebrity or drug-dealing.
No nation can prosper unless it identifies and uses most of its talent. I am lucky enough to have sent both my children to a superb private school. That's fine for them, but a modern nation cannot be led only by the brightest from those lucky enough to have such an education. A solid system of affordable education for all is a paramount necessity, and not just (perhaps even not most) for the academic children.
Our education system has been politicised and degraded in a 30 year experiment with egalitarianism. That is a catastrophe for the nation and a personal disaster for all who have missed the chance to develop their full potential, academic or otherwise. The politicians and educationalists who promoted and defended this experiment have done more harm than many a man executed as a traitor. Anthony Crosland's name, in particular, will live in infamy for as long as our nation is remembered.
But those who acquiesced are also to blame. I defer to no-one in my admiration for Margaret Thatcher's economic achievements as Prime Minister, but she was a poor Secretary of State for Education and paid it scant attention (except occasionally to denigrate and demoralise front line teachers) when in power.
The French would have burned their schools before they allowed them to be wrecked as ours have been. The Gemans would never have tolerated the degradation either of their selective academic schools or of their excellent technical education. The British gave up their Grammar Schools, Secondary Moderns and later their Polytechnics without resistance. We are all to blame.
Roy Hattersley offered a typically twisted thought on the subject, again on Question Time. Norman Tebbit made the obvious point that children in deprived areas may see drug dealing and other crimes as their only way to "get on" if they are denied any other way out of poverty. Hattersley jumped on this oblique reference to selective education, claiming that a "1 in 500 chance" of going to Grammar School is not what kept the youth of Sheffield well-behaved in his day.
Leave aside the implication that selective education only helped those identified as academic, and that those who were given technical education suitable to their abilities did not also benefit. If our Roy were to read the thought-provoking book, Freakonomics, he would find the chances of rising far enough in a drug gang as to earn more than minimum wage are probably less than 1 in 500. Yet many young people, sometimes the most enterprising and ambitious, go for it. This, though the risks are rather more serious than those of failing the 11-plus exam.
Even a rat does not need a guarantee of cheese to take the right path through a maze. He just needs to learn there is a chance. The cheese in a young Peckhamite's maze is currently the drug-dealer's bling and pimped-up BMW. See how he runs for it, though his path is blocked by heavily-armed rivals.
Read Frank Chalk's book It's Your Time You're Wasting (which my wife and all her former-teacher friends swear paints a fair picture) and you will understand, even if you are Roy Hattersley, that children of all abilities lose out in our schools. Parents, teachers, headmasters and governors have abdicated control to the lowest thugs. The most important lesson that many a child in a State School learns is that, while official authority is impotent and contemptible, the power of the street thugs must be respected.
Many of our children are forced to choose between being thugs or victims. I am no hoody-hugger, but the sad fact is that many of those who choose thuggery could have been respectable leaders. That London teenagers are dying in heavily-armed gang warfare is the fault of the left-leaning establishment in all our main political parties. They engineered, or submitted to the engineering of, the present system.
It is time to stop the political sniping and focus on saving our youth and with it our nation. Education reform is not the only way forward. It will also take a small revolution for parents to reclaim the rights stolen from them by successive governments, without which they can hardly take responsibility. But education is the best place to start if our youth are to have the chance of a decent future.