Friday, 9 September 2011

A Degree in Soundbite-ism?

The weather is grey, and there is the sound of thunder in the distance; my outside activities are temporarily on hold. I have been watching television and caught a speech by David Cameron, given at the start of the school year at a new Free School.

I remember that great star of the programme Opportunity Knocks, Hughie Green. We all used to sit down as a family to watch him presenting his unknown talent. But the phrase I remember him for the most was this; “…and I mean that most sincerely, folks!” We all knew, of course, that with his adopted transatlantic accent and smooth flow of talk, the one thing he was not was sincere! So when I listen to a political speech in which the most frequently occurring word is ‘frankly’ – I am inclined to be less than completely trusting.

I am not against the concept of free schools – the jury is still out. I do think that teachers should have more autonomy, and I believe that a free education is a right that should be available to all, in the national interest. But when I see the size of the school that my grandchildren go to, and when I see that the less bright pupils are left largely to ‘catch up if they can’, I am convinced that the real solution to our education problems is to double the number of teachers and halve the size of classes. Smaller rural schools should be kept open so that numbers of schools should increase rather than decreasing through mergers and closures. Of course it costs money – it’s what is called ‘an investment for the future’!

But I despair when I hear David Cameron describing as ‘powerful’ Michael Gove’s sound-bite; “You have to learn to read before you can read to learn!”

The over-use of sound-bites is, I believe, directly associated with the present state of the party political system, which appears to me to have outlived its usefulness. I remember a time when a Party would state its beliefs and principles, and voters would decide which set of principles they wanted to support. Now, though, politicians take a straw poll (by one means or another) to discover which policies are the ones which voters like, and then say, ‘That’s what we will promise to do!’ The trouble is that the main parties are therefore all heading in broadly the same direction! So we have ended up with a marginally bluer version of that gifted self-publicist Tony Blair – David Cameron, who used to have a career in PR! I am completely confident that my own MP will slavishly follow the party line while paying brief lip-service to what her constituents say; probably in the hope of a place in Government.

So I am afraid that while I listened to David Cameron being very frank at the Norwich Free School, my eyes were inexorably drawn to the sign in the screen behind him which displayed what must be the ultimate in meaningless sound-bites, ‘The Future Is Here!’