Staff will struggle under meticulous Brown

24th February 2006 at 00:00
I hope teachers are not expecting an easier ride once Gordon Brown succeeds to the premiership. I warned in new Labour's early days that teachers faced a harder time than under the Tories; I fear I must issue a similar warning now. In doing so, I take it as a given that, while teachers want education spending to be a budgetary priority, they would prefer governments to let them get on with their own business unmolested.

The policy differences between the two men are small and will narrow during what we must call (though the term has an unfortunate Marxian ring to it) the transitional period. Mr Brown, like Tony Blair before him, is getting his betrayal in first. As a Scotsman who was brought up Scottish, sounds Scottish, looks Scottish and sits for a Scottish seat, he feels an even greater need than the Prime Minister to reassure middle England.

Scotland, even more than Wales, still believes in collectivism. A third of the population lives in public housing. The schools are solidly comprehensive. Mr Brown does not want anybody to think he will bring this way of life south of the border. He will not suddenly reverse, or even halt, Mr Blair's education reforms. Certainly, he has given little encouragement to the education white paper rebels.

The significant differences between the two men lie elsewhere. First, Mr Brown's priorities are different. He does not wish to cut a dashing figure on the world stage. He does not greatly care for foreigners who speak in strange tongues and are apt to get over-excited. He loves and admires America, where people helpfully speak English, and spends his holidays there. Otherwise, he would prefer to stay at home. I would guess (though nobody can ever be sure) that, if Mr Brown had been premier at the time of the Iraq war, he would have had many kind and supportive words for President George W Bush, but nothing more.

That is bad news for teachers. A prime minister who keeps out of foreign affairs will have more time for public services. After all, it was Mr Brown who, as Chancellor, poured money into health and education. According to media pundits, it has all been wasted on pay rises and bureaucrats, without significant increase in what is mysteriously called productivity.

I think myself that this view is mistaken. The effects of Tory neglect took years to work through the system; it will take as long to feel the benefits of Labour funding increases. But Mr Brown will want quick results.

That brings me to a second difference between him and Mr Blair. Mr Brown is not a man for quick-fix initiatives. He will not propose, for example, to march delinquents to cashpoints to pay instant fines. He prefers to make policy on a methodical basis, building evidence and then scrutinising alternatives. Mr Blair likes footballers and pop stars at Number 10; Mr Brown invites academics and social thinkers to Number 11. The Brownite think-tank, the Smith Institute (named after John, not Adam), holds regular seminars there, at which professors show graphs and charts to an audience with enough combined brainpower to fuse the National Grid. Encouragingly, many sessions focus on inequality.

I therefore have some hope that the first question Mr Brown will ask of policy proposals will be the one that Labour governments should always ask: what will this do to reduce inequality? But I fear Mr Brown, for all his merits, is at heart a control freak with an eye for detail.

Mr Blair came up with irritating and impracticable ideas, but there was a fair chance nothing would come of them. Mr Brown will push things through with stoic determination.

Do not expect a revival of local education authorities. And do not expect a revival of the days when teachers could do what they thought best for the children in their care.

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