What Europe can teach us all

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The Independent Online
Election campaigns can, of course, be fun - as John Major said. But they are only fun for voters when the best laid plans of politicians are hopelessly diverted or dramatically derailed. So the campaign could not have got off to a better start. The revelations leaked from Sir Gordon Downey's inquiry have introduced the unpredictable at exactly the right moment: the beginning.

Unfortunately, however, there remain crucial issues that are as likely to get an airing as Wormwood Scrubs blankets, but about which others have much to teach us. For instance, education, undisputedly one of the main battlegrounds. Our near and dear rivals and neighbours, France and Germany, both provide their children with a far better education than we do. And the way they do it is so obvious a dunce could see it. They don't bother in any serious way with private schooling. The middle classes trust their little treasures to the state. As a result, state schools are well funded, attract good teachers, discourage disastrous experiments, and make a good fist of deterring the few from disrupting the many.

In Britain, by contrast, the middle classes are so terrified of what their children would suffer in the state system that they pay for their education twice over: in fees and taxes. Meanwhile parents of children in the state system either buy property near the best schools, or tolerate - with or without complaint - standards well below what they know their children deserve. No one, it seems, is willing to think through how to abolish the need for public schools.

No smoke ...

Up until a couple of days ago, it looked as if another deafening campaign silence would be over the way we persist in allowing our children to hook themselves on nicotine, to the benefit of the executives, shareholders and workers of the likes of BAT. In the United States, robust public hostility has combined with smart lawyers to put the tobacco industry on the ropes. Here the industry's fat cats have fostered such close links with the government that they retained a respectability that, for dealers in cancer, is positively eerie. Thank God for the latest banana skin - accusations that the Tories did a deal with the fag cartels that allowed the companies to put around 600 additives in cigarettes that had the effect of keeping smokers hooked. The links between a grubby industry and money-grubbing members of our ruling party could yet be forced into daylight.

Up the republic!

And a third region of silence? Well, one in three people in the country would like to see the back of the monarchy - or at least have its grandeur dimmed by parliament's hand as well as its own. But there will be few voices indeed calling for Charles to go Dutch and get on his bike, or Her Majesty to do her own shopping.