Monday, 6 June 2016

When the referendum's finally over, the important questions will still be with us


Not the real question...
With the referendum sitting on a knife-edge, it is increasingly pointless to speculate on an outcome that will be known in a little over a fortnight. In any case, that result will solve nothing. The only satisfaction likely to come from it is the schadenfreude (if that's your thing) of watching one or other group of self-serving Tories squirm. (Sounds like a win-win?)

Meanwhile, the big questions will still be with us. Those questions are: the economy, housing and education. If you're wondering why health (or immigration) aren't included it's because they're in the "economy" box. Health policy is essentially about paying for it; immigration is an issue because people blame it for their economic circumstances. Creating a fair, more equal, more productive economy will fix a lot of things.

Housing looks like an economic question, but there's a cultural issue that needs to be tackled first - something to do with our nimby-ist tendency to fetishise house ownership and house prices, while restricting access to building land.

Education might seem, like the health service, to be an economic question, but it's actually much more than that. Our education system dictates the sort of society we are, and whereas governments do not, in general, try to tell people what it means to be well or ill, they have an almost dictatorial approach to what in means to be educated. Even a single day of state-directed schooling missed, they tell you, can have a lasting effect on a child's life chances.

Real education is formed in a close relationship between pupil, parent and teacher. In any other such relationship we would not tolerate such government interference, and yet we take it for granted that politicians get to decide what children should learn and how they should learn it.

This is symptomatic of a deeper problem that pervades our politics, which the referendum campaign typifies. So focused have we become on personalities, soundbites and petty feuds that the question of values - social, ethical, economic - is largely ignored.

That's convenient for the powerful few, but ruinous for the rest of us. For, only by taking a hard look at the values that have been foisted on to us can the conditions be created for fundamental change.

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