Politics: teach a man to fish

Several people have asked me what is Liberal or Democratic about this Government. I think I can finally articulate what my instincts have been screaming at me all along, it’s the fundamentals.

There is an old Chinese saying “Give a man a fish you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.” and I guess that sums it up really.

Throughout my lifetime I have been standing watching successive Labour and Conservative governments giving people fish (metaphorically speaking) and never really tackling the fundamental cause of poverty.

This is the first Government in my lifetime that is taking a long term approach to tackling poverty, by using the education system not just to educate but to edify.

My gran, the one who persuaded me to take her to the polls early on the great day when I was finally able to cast my first vote and then pointed out ‘We are Liberals’ as the only party political comment she ever made in my presence, used to tell me ‘Education’ tells you how to read a book, ‘Edification’ learns you how to use that knowledge. Yes, I thought it was bad grammar too, but actually learning is something you do to yourself, others can only teach, and edification is something you achieve for yourself, others can only guide you.

Only the edified appreciate the importance of education and learning from an early age to lifting people out of ignorance, poverty and conformity. Indeed in many ways edification, that personal journey, is the opposite of ignorance.

Back then to this Government, it’s 15 hours nursery education for two year olds, pupil premium to enable schools to provide extra care as needed for impoverished children, its ring fencing of the education budget, it’s funding of Youth Contract and Apprenticeships, its weighting subsidies in further education to the poorest 29%, its extension of loans and other support to mature students are not just about looking after children. The extra £400 million invested in our mental health services is not just about care for the vulnerable. The billions being spent on research into medicine, science and engineering are not just about knowledge for its own sake. These measures are about a long ball game to tackle poverty, ignorance and conformity.

The latest measures through which more than one-in-five pupils will receive small-group tuition and one-to-one help during lunchtimes and after school as part of a Government drive to boost English and maths results, is a further step in that quest.

Head teachers will receive £54.5m to run booster lessons in the first year of secondary school aimed at 11 and 12-year-olds who failed to reach the appropriate level at the end of primary education.

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said the so-called “catch-up premium” would stop pupils becoming frustrated in the classroom, leading to bad behaviour.

“The consequences for a pupil being left behind in the basics when they start secondary school can last for the rest of their education,” he said. “Every child should have the chance to succeed and get off on the right foot when they start their new school.”

The commitment of this Government to education that in turn fosters edification may well secure its place in history as one of the great reforming governments if all time.

When people ask how I can defend what the Lib Dems are doing in Government, my response is simple. This is the most Liberal government in my lifetime, and yes I want the next government to be even more Liberal.

If this government can achieve so much then how much more will be achieved by a Liberal government unfettered by the lust, greed and pride of the Tories; or the envy, gluttony, anger and sloth of the Labour Party?

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