What would I do if I woke up tomorrow morning and were Prime Minister? Well...

The instant solution to social inequality is to ban public schools

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The Independent Online

Ahead of appearing on any Question Time-type panel, I’m sent the likely questions. The last one is: “If you woke up tomorrow morning and magically you were Prime Minister, what would be the first thing which you do?” It’s an old chestnut of course, but as opposed to ruminating late at night, having consumed several glasses of wine, there’s something about answering it in front of a live audience that sharpens the brain.

What would I do? I run though some possible answers, such as removing beer duty for a day, scrapping parking charges, imposing fines on anyone using a mobile phone in public, jailing people who fail to pick up their dog’s poo, introducing a bank holiday every month, ordering the BBC to give Gary Lineker and Alan Hansen fashion makeovers, requiring young people to spend an hour a day helping a pensioner who lives on their own…

Then I boil them down. The first is a flat-rate tax. I’ve long been an advocate of a single income tax rate of, say, 27 per cent. At a stroke it would put all those tax advisers out of business, and put paid to their convoluted schemes and structures. The economic uplift would be instant – and I don’t believe we would see a fall in the overall tax take just because the high-rollers were paying less. But it’s a dry subject for any gathering to absorb. That’s not to say it would not be on my things-to-do list, however.

Legalise drugs? Let’s face it; the war on drugs is lost. We’ve spent untold millions combatting them and achieved… precisely nothing. Drugs are more readily available than ever. Worse, prisons are filled with people who should not be there; some of whom started out buying a “gateway” drug such as cannabis from a dealer who introduced them to the harder stuff. A jail sentence and ruined lives is the end result. Then there are the addicts who must use dirty needles, and buy contaminated drugs, and run the daily risk of infection or death.

In Afghanistan, the farmers continued to grow and harvest opium poppies right under the noses of our troops. The troops did nothing for fear of denying the farmers cash and pushing them into the arms of the Taliban. In truth, it’s not so much a war on drugs at all, but a skirmish. So yes, I would legalise drugs. But would that really make the profound change in our society that I as PM would want to go down in history for? Would it really transform Britain?

We need to make our country less divided, to remove entitlement and privilege for a few not the many. So what would be the first thing I did  if I were PM? I’d abolish public schools.

Why should children have a better education, and enjoy higher-class facilities, leading to greater opportunities, than others, merely because their parents are wealthy? It is unfair and insidious, and goes to the heart of so much that is wrong with our nation today.

Of course, the fee-paying schools provide scholarships but there are not enough of them and they’re usually only for a fraction of their charges. They never will be able to supply a sufficient number – to do so would erode their business model.

As someone who went to a state grammar school I was fortunate enough to be afforded a glimpse of what the independent schools offer. I acquired an education and a level of confidence that I could not have acquired elsewhere – not back then, not in my northern industrial town.

No sooner did I leave than the grammar school was shut, turned into a comprehensive. This occurred all over the country. As the new occupant of Number 10,  I could order my Education Secretary to restore the grammar school system. But why stop there? He or she should go the whole hog and end private schools. We’re the only country in the world to have a private system on such a scale. We ought to follow the example of others, and reserve a minority of boarding and day schools for those with special needs and disabilities. But otherwise, get rid of them.

The counter-arguments are that ours is a free country. I’d be breaking centuries of tradition. Public schools are charities, and they cater only for a very small proportion of the population. To which I respond: it’s a freer country if you happened to have been to one of these schools; many of them are charities in name only and they do the bare minimum to qualify for that status; and the tiny percentage of pupils who attend them also happen to be the same grouping who dominate our top jobs.

Since four of my five children have been to private schools I might be accused of hypocrisy. To which I would reply that they went there precisely to obtain a quality of education that was not available in the local state sector.

On my way to the forum, I test my answer out on friends. Their children also go to fee-paying schools. I’m expecting a counter-blast. Not at all: they would far rather not have to pay, but because they feel duty-bound to give the kids the best chance in life, they do.

There you are. If I was Prime Minister, that’s what I’d do. Eton, Harrow, Westminster… you’ve been warned.