JOHNSON had never thought that his habit of lying would prompt Labour Party to abolish private schools. Fed up with lies of ruling elite, including the sitting Prime Minister, Party delegates voted in the latest Labour conference to abolish private schools from where majority of them are educated. Of the 55 PMs to date, 28 were educated at Oxford, 14 Cambridge and 20 attended Eton. Only nine PMs to date have been educated at non-fee-paying schools. Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament, which has already been deemed as illegal by one court while the case is in Supreme Court which is also expected to call it unlawful and immoral, has reinforced the perception in public that political elite including PMs and their Cabinet colleagues coming from private institution take themselves as above the law. They do not consider themselves accountable to rule of law and only use it to their advantage. By suspending Parliament, Johnson has shown pure disdain for democracy, fellow lawmakers and moral up righteousness.
Tories want Brexit to liberate UK from the “shackles” of the EU. They are using nationalism to win support of their right wing base which is mostly affluent and nostalgic about the race (Windrush Scandal) and ethnicity of the country. But at the same time Johnson is blocking Parliament just like Theresa May who also tried to deny role of Parliament in Brexit but failed. He is not ready to allow members of parliament to have their say on the matter. And Johnson is pushing for Brexit despite warnings by the economists and traders that it will harm country’s economy, trade and in turn increase unemployment and poverty. The passage of fixed-term Parliament 2011 has allowed governments’ to impose unpopular policies due to lack of democratic accountability, dissolution of government and early election. Successive Tory governments have imposed austerity plans which have weakened services including health, education, social welfare, transport, policing and utilities and imposed predatory banking system and tax cuts to appease the rich and the powerful. It has left single mothers, elderly, pensioners and low wage workers highly vulnerable to exploitation and indignity. May’s Government has left more than 7 million children below poverty line.
If Johnson gets his way, Brexit will leave already fractured UK deeply divided, more intolerant, economically crippled and largely undemocratic. It rightly lends credence to the fear that populism and authoritarianism will undermine democracy in which final authority rests with people. To a certain extent, British Parliament is also responsible for its prorogation because its inaction on Brexit left it unpopular and Johnson, a shrewd politicians used it to suspend it to achieve his strategic aims for self and the party. Johnson has succeeded in securing 10-12 points lead for the Conservative Party against the Labour. If and when UK goes for (early) election it will help the Party. Affluent donors have given Party record donations. Similarly, it has improved Johnson’s standing in the party and despite being a non-elected PM he has secured his nomination as PM candidate for the next election. However, things could change for him in the near future both on domestic and international fronts depending on the Court’s decision, reaction of the public, unions, workers, policies of the Labour Party, the EU, Farage’s promise of 100% support and details of UK-US trade deal amidst stumbling block of chlorinated chicken (food safety standards). Labour’s big ticket policies on education-people before privileges- have been unveiled in the Party conference which shows that UK could be heading for general election. It has started with private schools, removing (their) charitable status, redistribution of properties, endowments and investments to state sector. In the approved motion, it was also said that such a commitment should be included in the Party’s next general election manifesto. The motion added universities would be limited to admitting the same proportion of private school students as in the wider population, currently 7%.
The Party’s shadow Education Secretary, Rayner, said future Labour Government would scrap the “tax loopholes” that benefit private schools in its first budget and announced to overhaul school inspections in England by abolishing Ofsted. Rayner in an interview said that England’s school inspectors were fueling a crisis in teacher recruitment and failing to give parents an accurate account of school standards. “I want parents to have confidence that regardless of where your child is educated or what your child’s abilities are, they will get the best possible education. And at the moment the current Ofsted system does not measure that”. She pledged to roll out a program under National Education Service to help improve country’s secondary schools. She added that tax loopholes used by elite schools will be closed and use that money to improve lives of all children.
Labour Party’s efforts to support people not privileges in education is a positive move to help create equal society, unified nation and strong democracy to help successfully challenge rogues like Johnson. In Pakistan, the decision to fix medical and dental education fees in private institutions is a step in the right direction. There is an urgent need to make quality education free in Pakistan to allow all children equal chance to succeed in life under one education, one nation and no child is left behind because of his or her social class. This is the true hallmark of democracy be it Pakistan or the UK.
—The writer is senior political analyst based in Islamabad.