Labour’s Next Manifesto Will be Completely Bonkers
BY TOBY YOUNG
The Labour Party’s manifesto in 1983, when Michael Foot was leader, was famously described as “the longest suicide note in history”. But the next one looks to be an even bigger exercise in self-harm, judging from the last week’s conference.
The flurry of policy announcements was hard to keep up with, but included a second Brexit referendum, zero carbon emissions by 2030, and a fleet of new electric cars for government officials. Oh, and completely open borders, with brand new arrivals entitled to full citizenship, including the right to vote. Each proposal was more doolally than the last.
But the icing on the cake – the ornate signature at the foot of this new suicide note in a red, felt-tipped pen – was the pledge to scrap private schools and confiscate their “endowments, investments and properties”. So not just outlaw several hundred education charities, some of which date back to the 15th Century, but steal all their assets too.
It’s hard to know where to start with this one. First, there’s the hypocrisy. I’ve had this argument so many times with Labour’s supporters, I know it by heart:
Me: But didn’t Corbyn go to a private school?
Corbynista: Come on. You can’t hold Jeremy responsible for his parents’ choices.
Me: What about Diane Abbott? She sent her son to City of London boys’ school.
Corbynista: That was years ago. Are you really going to drag that up?
Me: But doesn’t Shami Chakrabarti send her child to a private school?
Corbynista: [Pause] FASCIST.
Then there’s the cost. I totted this up for the Telegraph, calculating the annual bill to the taxpayer, which comes to an eye-watering £7.5 billion. That breaks down as follows: £3.24 billion to educate the 615,000 children currently in the independent sector, £4.12 billion in lost tax revenues – the amount Oxford Economics estimates private schools and their suppliers currently contribute to the Exchequer – and £111,315,000 a year to maintain the schools needed for those extra bodies. I haven’t included the one-off sum of £6.7 billion to build thousands of new state schools since, presumably, Corbyn and his minions will recycle the buildings they pillage from the charities. (Or will they award them as grace-and-favour country estates to their union baron paymasters? John Prescott will be delighted. He’ll be able to play croquet on the playing fields of Eton.)
But would a Labour Government actually be able to do this? Not according to Graham Burns, one of England’s most experienced education lawyers. He says that any attempt to scrap independent schools would be a breach of charity law and to try and bring the policy into effect would require primary legislation that would face a rocky passage through the House of Lords. Even if it managed to get through both chambers unamended, the Anti-Toffs Act would then be challenged in the courts. Protocol 1, Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects the right of parents to choose where to educate their children. And the Supreme Court, emboldened by its recent assault on the Prime Minister, might have something to say about Labour’s proposed theft of charitable assets.
There’s also the fact that the writ of Her Majesty’s Government doesn’t extend to schools in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The bug-eyed socialists, in their zeal to attack the Prime Minister and his old school, appear to have forgotten that education in the United Kingdom is a devolved policy area. So if Corbyn abolishes private schools in England, institutions like Winchester – the alma mater of Seumas Milne, his Stalinist right-hand man – will simply relocate to Wales.
But, hey, this kind of class warfare is a vote-winner, right? Apparently not. A recent ComRes poll commissioned by the Independent Schools Council found that only one in 10 voters would be more likely to support a political party that pledged to abolish private schools, compared to one in five who declared themselves less likely. Given that more than half of British parents say they would send their children to independent schools if they could afford it, a proposal to remove this option was never going to be very popular.
So perhaps Tories like me shouldn’t try to discourage Labour from pursuing this policy – or, indeed, any of their other Loony Tunes ideas. If Corbyn, McDonnell, Milne, et al, want to write another suicide note that’s even longer and more depressing than Michael Foot’s, perhaps we should just grab the popcorn, kick back and enjoy it. Carry on Corbyn. As you were.
Toby Young is a broadcaster, writer and journalist. Follow him on twitter: @toadmeister