Tony Blair’s three priorities were ‘education, education, education’. But I’m not so sure he or anyone else has managed to achieve even the first one.
I know that’s enormously pessimistic. And I’m sorry if it offends the great many hard-working teachers in schools and colleges that have made strides in terms of exam results. It's the politicians I'm talking about.
The problem I have is that in 2014 we still don’t seem to have grasped what it is we’re meant to be teaching our kids.
Dudley North MP Ian Austin brought the shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt to his patch. Mr Hunt, incidentally, is the historian and broadcaster turned politician who occasionally gets tipped as a possible replacement for Ed Miliband.
While they were touring the gleaming and impressive Dudley College, talking to some fantastically enthusiastic young people learning everything from art to how to run the hospitality on aeroplanes, they were also speaking about the need to boost skills.
“We’ve lost many of our traditional industrial jobs and I think the biggest question we face is how we bring new, well-paid and secure jobs to the Black Country to replace them,” Mr Austin said.
He’s right, of course, to bring this up.
So is Tristram Hunt when he says young people needed to accept that the days of well-paid, low skilled jobs were over.
“We cannot compete with other countries on low labour costs,” he said. “We have to focus on the skills of young people.”
Digby, Lord Jones of Birmingham, has already given the stark warning that if we expect to compete with other countries on cost alone, that ‘China will have your lunch and India will have your dinner’.
The problem is this is not a new thing.
Bilston steelworks shut in 1979. People had tried with all their might to save it but the Thatcher government would not intervene in the decision of the British Steel Corporation.
That was the biggest blow the town ever suffered.
But here’s where I start to despair about the situation today.
I stumbled across the one and only article in the Express & Star’s digital archive written by a young Boris Johnson, now the Mayor of London, when he was a trainee reporter sent by The Times to cut his teeth in the real world.
In it, Boris reports on a rising number of vacancies in the Black Country in 1988 and a lack of applicants to fill them.
“To a great extent the bosses are frustrated because the unemployed who come to them for jobs are short of essential skills,” he wrote. “Many skills, such as those required in steel manufacture, have become outdated with the decline of heavy industry.”
In those 26 years we have been had five Prime Ministers, an overhaul of schools to create thousands of academies, the longest recession since the Second World War and we don’t seem to be any further on.
Boris Johnson could have been writing about 2014 as much as about 1988.
But then the political elite are almost all Oxbridge educated and these days the route to Westminster is trod by researchers and special advisers.
About 90 MPs have only ever worked in politics.
We can’t expect them to know what kids need to learn to get a proper job in the real world, when so MPs many have never had one themselves.Subscribe to our Newsletter