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"Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice" - Adam Smith

Riding the EU's gravy train

Written by Rebecca Greeves | Tuesday 16 November 2010

euMonday night’s Dispatches highlighted afresh the scandalous way in which the EU continues to haemorrhage taxpayers’ money. David Cameron has fought to bring down the budget rise to 2.9% (from a proposed 5.9%), but this still means an extra £400 million of UK taxpayers’ money will be going to Brussels next year. Particularly in this time of unprecedented cuts in state spending, we need to get radical in saying no to the EU.

700 MEPs oversee a budget of over £100 billion, and each of the UK’s 72 MEPs is paid around £80,000 per year – £15,00 more than the average MP. While there has rightly been uproar over MPs’ use of public funds, there are few requirements on MEPs to produce receipts for their expenses. Profits made from taking allowances that exceed their expenditure typically give each MEP an extra £7,000 per year, which they may choose to pocket. While they’re taking our money, Dispatches showed our elected representatives clocking in at the European Parliament, and promptly going home again.

We need an end to the EU’s legal superiority over its member countries: it is too expensive, too powerful, and undemocratic. These latest revelations simply serve to emphasise the need for the imposition of fundamental reforms.

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Big society reward points would undermine a small government agenda

Written by Rebecca Greeves | Sunday 07 November 2010

It’s disappointing that the coalition’s vision of the Big Society has largely failed to capture the public’s imagination. Whether this failure is down to genuine ideological resistance on the part of the public or to poor explanation by the implementers is a moot point. What’s for certain is that one recent development threatens to confuse matters even further.

Windsor and Maidenhead council is planning to issue “big society reward points” which would allow good citizens to cash in on their virtuous deeds: plant some trees or volunteer at a retirement home and you’ll be rewarded with discounts at high street shops, supermarkets and restaurants. Free marketeers are all in favour of people reaping rewards from their actions, but considerable problems arise when government interferes in stipulating what those actions should be. David Burbage, the council’s leader, said that the planned scheme might be extended to reward improved behaviour in areas such as healthy living and school attendance. Such a move would lead to further confusion amongst those who don’t understand what is meant by the Big Society, and disappoint those seeking an end to big government.

What’s appealing about the Big Society is its reminder to individuals that they should help themselves and those around them before looking to government: if councils were to start manipulating this idea for the purpose of social engineering, it would quickly lose its appeal.

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The liberalization of education needn't be about left and right

Written by Rebecca Greeves | Thursday 04 November 2010

arneduncanUS Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, met Michael Gove yesterday. His arrival in the UK should be a reminder to us all that if we care about what’s best for our education system, we can put aside the traditional divide between the political left and right.

Duncan is a devoted Democrat who grew up tutoring children at his mother’s after-school programme on the South Side of Chicago, an area not known for being populated by latte-swilling middle class parents. He wrote his undergraduate dissertation on the plight of the urban underclass and has called schooling “the civil rights issue of our generation”. In addition to this – shock horror – he supports policies to lessen state involvement in education.

Obama’s administration has overseen an investment of more than $4 billion in the ‘Race to the Top’ competition, designed to spur reforms in state and local district education. States must vie for federal money by submitting proposals that include reforms to expand charter schools, and the evaluation of teachers is based on their students’ exam performance. Duncan supports the coalition government’s proposals for free schools, which model themselves on the charter schools that he has given room to.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, school reform is facing considerable opposition from the left wing. Labourites continue to insist that ploughing yet more taxpayers’ money into comprehensive schools is what’s needed to raise standards, despite the fact that such tactics have been shown to be a comprehensive failure. The experiment into tight government control of education has lasted over four decades, and over 90% of those going through the school system have been subjected to it. And the result? Standards are woeful, teachers are demoralised, and parents who can’t afford private school fees or expensive houses find their options for educating their children severely limited.

The NUT is sending threatening letters to state heads asking them of their intentions with regard to free school status, and plans to create a list of individuals who support the free school scheme in a tactic more reminiscent of the Salem witch trials than a simple bid for freedom of information. Meanwhile the Anti Academies Alliance describes the Academies Bill as a ‘savage attack on the education system in this country’; ‘an attempt to destroy a democratic, planned, state education system and replace it with a two tier, market driven collection of independent schools at the mercy of education companies driven by profit’. It’s a shame that left-wingers in the UK seem to understand so little about free market economics. If they’d read Smith or Hayek they’d understand that an atmosphere of competition fosters high standards, and that planned societies are possible only in conjunction with totalitarian governments.

It is an obscenity to suggest that those backing the liberalisation of schooling don’t care about those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Indeed, the coalition’s plans for free schools promise to be of most benefit to the disadvantaged, since the wealthy will always have the option of shopping around. For the sake of our education system, let’s hope that we can put political bias aside and learn something from Duncan’s visit.

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