THE Canonbury Primary School in Islington encapsulates inner-London’s educational apartheid. Half the parents are upper-middle class and half working class or plain poor. The talk of my neighbourhood is what happened when the wealthy parents ran a fund-raising auction.
Boris Johnson, a Canonbury parent, was the celebrity auctioneer. The children of Coldplay’s business manager Paul Makin also go to the school, and he offered the star lot: a promise that Chris Martin would play in the living room of the highest bidder. Then there were bids for a tour of the House of Lords with the education minister, Lord Adonis, a signed Arsenal football and many more prizes until, finally, the parents handed over a staggering £43,000.
The cheap thing to say would be that a school in a uniformly poor area wouldn’t begin to be able to match that. It’s true, but it implies that it is wrong for people with money to help out. Clearly it isn’t– not least in this case because the working class pupils at Canonbury will benefit from the richer families’ generosity.
The real problem is what happens next. If past form is a guide, the wealthy parents will buy their children the best secondary education they can. They will pay for them to go private at 11. And if their children can’t pass the private school exams, they will select by house price. The report in the yesterday’s Standard that rich families were prepared to pay a premium of £300,000 for homes in the catchment areas of good state schools shows as clearly as any study of Britain’s declining social mobility how the quality of children’s education now depends on parental wealth.
Meanwhile bright working class kids from places such as Islington are stuck. Their parents can’t afford to spend £30,000, let alone £300,000 on their education. They have no choice but to send them to bog-standard comprehensives.
The English are famed for their hypocrisy, and there is no greater humbug in modern public debate than the assertion that ‘we abolished state selection’ when we abolished the grammar schools. We abolished selection by ability, certainly, but replaced it with selection by money.
Lord Adonis knows this. Before Tony Blair came to power, he co-authored a powerful book called A Class Act, which said Labour had done the rich an enormous favour in the Sixties by keeping the private schools and taking out the competition from the grammars. But Adonis holds his tongue because, bizarrely, Labour MPs insist on maintaining the status quo. David Willetts, the Tory’s education spokesman, knows it too. But he keep quiet because funky Dave Cameron doesn’t want his party to sound ‘elitist,’ even though the status quo suits elite Old Etonians such as Mr Cameron to a tee.
There is a crying need to stop the British class system becoming ever more rigid by talent-spotting clever children from modest backgrounds. But no politician dare say so.
We are all just prisoners here…
When I first trudged round IKEA’s endless corridors – my temper fraying, my claustrophobia growing, my marriage collapsing – some wag in customer services played Hotel California through the speakers. As the Eagles crooned, “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave,” I swore that if ever did leave this hell, I would never go back.
Then the catalogue for the new, bigger Wembley IKEA arrived, with just the bed I want at a very reasonable price. No problem, I thought. I’ll pay online and get it delivered. I checked my computer and found that IKEA was the only major store in London, possibly the world, not to do Net shopping. Never mind, I thought, I’ll pay with my card by phone. After waiting in a long queue, a nice woman told me I couldn’t. “You have to come here.” Why, when it won’t fit in my car and you’ll have to deliver it anyway? “I don’t know,” she said. “You just do.”
The Eagles were right. There’s no escape.
The future is red
IN JANUARY 2000, Vodafone and its financial advisers, UBS Warburg and Goldman Sachs, threw the biggest party of the dotcom bubble at Hampton Court. Its lavishness matched the banquets of Henry VIII. Five hundred financiers feasted until dawn to celebrate Vodafone’s buyout of its German rival Mannesmann in ‘the deal of the decade.’
This week Vodafone recorded the biggest loss ever by a British company because the Mannesmann deal turned out to be a turkey. I’m not the best financial adviser. My only tip is don’t give your money to capitalists who waste it on parties. Give it to capitalists who work hard then go home to bed.
To the Euston Station
The other day I went to the vast Union Chapel in Islington for the launch of the Euston Manifesto, which is an attempt to shake the Left out of its blind anti-Americanism.
Alas, I found my task as chairman was not to make high intellectual arguments. No, it turned out we had got the chapel at a reduced rate on condition the Lefties spent their money at its bar afterwards.
And so it came to pass, that I stood in front of the pews of London’s ‘non-conformist cathedral’ and bellowed to the congregation, ‘I command you to go to the bar and drink it dry.’ And they did, praise the Lord.