I used to hate private schools - but abolishing them is not the answer

PUBLISHED: 10:15 28 September 2019 | UPDATED: 10:15 28 September 2019

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is joined by the shadow cabinet on stage. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is joined by the shadow cabinet on stage. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

STEVEN DOWNES says the Labour leader is not living in the real world trying to put an end to private education.

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I used to hate - really, viscerally hate - independent schools.

I'd kick the Jolly Julians on the football field, sledge the Arrogant Archibalds during cricket, and harangue the Prissy Peregrines on the streets.

My view was that independent schools should be scrapped for being unfair, promoting inequality - and just because I was spiteful, and wanted the posh nobs to have to deal with the mean corridors of Cromer High in Norfolk.

But then I grew up.

I still don't instinctively like independent schools, but I know that they provide a service and are a fundamental part of living in a free society. Remove them and you remove parents' right to choose. Good luck with that.

Unfortunately the Labour Party hasn't grown up, it has regressed to its silly, squealing 1970s days of toddler tantrums.

The Labour Party Conference vote to integrate private schools into the state sector shows that Wolfie Smith is alive and knocking about with the ghost of Michael Foot.

While the UK is paralysed by the Brexit yes-no interlude, and led by a dishevelled and dangerous nincompoop, Her Majesty's opposition is opposing... private education.

Get a grip!

I'm a Labour voter at heart, and I want to see a strong, coherent plan for post-Brexit recovery. I want to know how Labour will tackle homelessness and street-sleeping, stop people having to use foodbanks, and give my children and grandchildren hope of a clean climate.

I can't vote for these tinpot Marxists, though - not while they are putting Communism ahead of commonsense.

I'm not even convinced that the plan to erase independent schools comes from pure motives. I think it's more about jealousy and spite.

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It's about hating the rich and privileged: the Bullingdon Club; Oxbridge; Eton; The Boat Race; Henley; Footlights; prep school; long scarves; Chelsea Tractors; jumpers around shoulders; boat shoes.

These people are smug, supercilious and have more money than me, so let's revive the Peasants' Revolt, channel the French Revolution, and raise the red flag over Rugby School.

Or not. Because there are strong reasons why it is pure and simple idiocy.

First, the abolition of independent schools will not happen.

Parents have a legal right to choose how to educate their children, subject to scrutiny. Take away that right and there'll be a court battle lasting years.

Also, private schools are businesses, operating in a free-market, capitalist economy. They cannot be stifled - unless you want to launch a war on privilege, taking out shops that sell expensive goods, rich football clubs and boutique hotels.

Second, it should not happen.

The answer to society's divisions is not to pull private school pupils down to everybody else's level. It would just stifle creativity and ambition, and deny freedom.

The real answer is to create a state school system that challenges the independent sector and makes parents wonder whether they really need to spend thousands on schooling for their children.

Many state schools are already at that level, but the government - Conservative or Labour - should provide the funding and support that makes them all places of high achievement, rounded education, strong discipline and with opportunities for everyone to succeed.

That is their job, not engaging in childish Russian role-play.

When Usain Bolt was dominating the 100m and 200m, nobody suggested he be made to run in slippers to make things more equal. Instead, the challenge is to the chasing pack to get better.

That's called the real world.

I'm not convinced that Jeremy Corbyn and his Politburo have ever lived in it.

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