In an article for the New Statesman, reported here in The Guardian
Rowan Williams, The Archbishop of Canterbury, quite rightly criticises the government for forcing through "radical policies for which no one voted", challenges the "big society" project and shows some impatience with the government for continuing to blame the country's difficulties entirely on the deficit it inherited from Labour. Like it or not, The Archbishop of Canterbury has an important role to play in providing a framework for the ethics and morals of the country so his comments carry considerable weight.
The government has been very quick to go on the defensive, claiming that "this government was elected to tackle the UK's deep-rooted problems. Its clear policies on education, welfare, health and the economy are necessary to ensure we're on the right track."
Aside from the fact that government policy in all these departments has been muddled and implemented with no clear long term efficacy, the example of the NHS alone is enough to show that the current health reform policy was in neither party’s manifesto nor in the coalition agreement. The recent Panorama documentary, revealing the terrifying abuse in a care home in Bristol, run by a profit-making organization and cheaply staffed by unqualified thugs, showed up once again the very real damage that companies putting profits well before a duty of care to the public can do to both public services and the individuals who suffer real harm in their hands.
The private sector has been hovering over state education like vultures ready to feast on the remains of a wounded animal. They are not really interested in the bones but in the flesh of free schools and academies separated from the skeleton of LA maintained schools. How did this come about when, as in the NHS, neither Tories nor LibDems had in their mandate a desire to allow free market influences in schools?
The Archbishop complains that Michael Gove's free-school reforms passed through Parliament last summer with little debate, using a timetable previously reserved for emergency anti-terrorism laws. Presumably he is aware that the Admissions Code will be rammed through this summer, again with no time for debate. He challenges the government's approach to welfare reform, complaining of a "quiet resurgence of the seductive language of 'deserving' and 'undeserving' poor". An approach that has long been the mantra of grammars and now academies and free schools – the children of the deserving poor can sit alongside the offspring of the sharp-elbowed middle classes and the rest can rot in the gutter somewhere because the schools that actually catered for them and genuinely wanted to give everyone (yes even the chavviest of the chavs) a life chance will have been obliterated.
The coalition is quick to blame Labour rather than the collapse of the banks for leaving a deficit, but they are equally quick in cashing in on Labour’s Academies for a photo opportunity (Cameron at the Globe Academy anyone?) and claiming that Academy expansion is just a natural progression of what Labour were doing in setting them up in the first place. But the truth is, they have totally perverted Labour’s Academy vision, which was progressive and designed to ensure that the majority of disadvantaged children in a highly deprived area were given opportunities that had evaded them for a very long time. This is exactly why Hackney opened Academies under Labour and the borough now boasts many excellent schools, including high achieving maintained primary and secondary schools.
Under the Coalition, Academies are springing up like Triffids up and down the country, designed to go into open combat with community schools, swallowing everything in their path and with a mandate to divide and rule. But with no guarantee they will improve standards across the board or scoop up the “undeserving poor”. No wonder the Archbishop says the "anxiety and anger" felt by voters is a result of the coalition's failure to expose its policies to "proper public argument".
Morals are not the exclusive preserve of the religious but thank God or your lucky stars that the Archbishop’s comments have attracted so much publicity and such a churlish reaction from this morally bankrupt government. Anyone concerned about the future of schools – and indeed, the country – should back Rowan’s comments and build on them. And that includes Labour.