Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Bridget Phillipson and EMA

Like me, Bridget Phillipson was also eligible for the pilot EMA scheme. Unlike me, she took it up, and in this video claims that without it, whether she would have become an MP 'remains to be seen'.  

This is an incredible claim, and deserves further investigation.  Bridget Phillipson is one of the youngest MPs – not just in this Parliament but ever. She has clearly not achieved this without being extremely hard working, dedicated and intelligent.  According to her website, she joined the Labour party at age 15, well before she had ever heard of EMA.  She must have got exceptionally good results at GCSE, again before she would have been eligible for EMA.  She must have got very good A-level results because she then went to Oxford to study Modern History, so she must have had a lot of innate talent and drive even on top of the EMA. And she is seriously trying to claim that all this talent, all this dedication, all this hard work, could possibly have been cancelled out by the absence of a £20 a week subsidy for two years at age 16? If she hadn’t got that subsidy, she’d have dropped out, waited tables and stopped attending Labour party meetings in order to smoke crack at the local drug den? Utter, utter rubbish. She would have succeeded with or without it, there's no 'remaining to be seen' at all and if she thinks about it I think she knows that too. She’s insulting herself by suggesting her success is mechanistically dependent upon a government programme. She’s insulting her parents – I don’t believe however poor they were that they’d have let her drop out of college for the sake of £20 a week. And she’s insulting all those brave people – from the north east and elsewhere – who struggled successfully against far greater poverty and inequality than she has ever had to confront.

Worse than these insulting implications, however, is the damage this idea does to society.  It suggests that if you don’t succeed in life, it is entirely down to the fact that the state didn’t give you enough money when you were young. This is exactly the attitude I see again and again in the classroom.  Teachers across the country try and give their kids a ‘no excuses’ attitude to get them to overcome petty and sometimes more serious difficulties.  Nothing worthwhile was ever achieved without effort, we say.  We do all this because for very many of our kids, they will use any excuse whatsoever to try and hide the fact that they can’t be bothered.

 But what’s the point in us struggling to get our kids to work hard when the message coming from politicians is: if you fail or drop out, it’s not your fault. It’s the fault of the nasty government for not giving you enough money. If you doubt that the attitudes of politicians and intellectuals influence kids, take a look at the EMA website where a whole gaggle of pupils essentially restate Bridget Phillipson’s argument – if you don’t give me this money, I will be a failure and it will all be your fault. Ever since I started teaching, I became more and more aware of how out-of-touch most politicians are with what actually happens in the public services.  Bridget Phillipson, of course, would never have let the absence of this subsidy deter her from getting a good education. But the idea that she and others like her spread - that their success is down to the munificent bounty of the generous state, and not their own ability - is genuinely believed by many kids out there, those I teach and those all over the EMA website. 

As well as this, the whole thing just reinforces the belief that Labour got us into this mess with ill-judged government giveaways, and are now completely refusing to even consider abolishing any of them. As one of their saner members said, 'we look like we want to die in the ditch for every last Sea Harrier, millionaire’s child benefit payment and pint of student snakebite.' Well quite. The religion of socialism was once the language of priorities, and I can’t imagine any of the 1945 cabinet prioritising giving semi-literate 17 year olds beer money and Apple Macs. 

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