Fracking bribes and grammar groupies…

THERESA May wishes to lead a government driven by the interests of the many – “ordinary families for whom life is harder than many people in politics realise”.

Turns out this involves waving wads of notes under the noses of residents affected by fracking and bunging a few more to anyone living near the site of an unpopular new housing estate. Oh, and she’d like to bring back grammar schools, too.

That’s quite a lot scribbled on the Post-it note she stuck on the front of David Cameron’s old Etonian exercise book.

So let’s look at those three proposals in that order, starting with using the £1 billion shale wealth fund, as set up by departed chancellor George Osborne, to give cash payments to households affected by fracking. The original idea had been to pass the money to local community groups, but Mrs May is said to favour a more direct approach – one that ordinary families of a cynical disposition might think of as a bribe.

This remoulded Tory party loves fracking, as did the now disbanded Cameron model. Mrs May has decided to poison the local well by instituting a weird postcode lottery where you can have a reported £10,000 or more if fracking is going to take place near to your property.

The arguments for and against fracking remain the same; what’s changed is that Mrs May wishes to circumvent local disputes by handing out government dosh, presumably in the hope that this will silence the dissenters.

Will this sum offset the drop in the value of a property potentially blighted by the ground being exploded underneath your house in the search for gas? Hard to say, as the only detail so far is that Mrs May has been going about the place with wads of notes under her smart blue coat, whispering “This’ll sweeten the blow, dearie.”

The thing is, this changes nothing – it just gives some people a random bribe from the state. If you ask me, fracking is an old-style bit of planet disruption, a final spin of the old oil and gas wheel: and this money represents a probably fairly measly bribe for accepting the damage to your community. Surely we should be looking at low-carbon energy, not bribing people to accept an unseemly dash for gas.

But others may be happy, as money seals the deal for some people, and years ago Mrs Thatcher ran a very successful side-line in flogging off cut-price council houses with little or no regard to future consequences (reducing housing stock and adding more fuel to the house-price bonfire).

Still with housing, some of the papers today report that the prime minister wishes to offer more state money to disgruntled locals if they live near to controversial new housing schemes. Is this the new May way: if you don’t like something, we’ll bung you some money to buy your silence? Once you begin to unwrap this new prime minister, she begins to look somewhat less scrupulous than you first imagined.

As for the suggestion to bring back grammar schools, that bit of tired old Tory ideology has been around for decades. Yesterday I wrote about the three Cole brothers, and here they are again (briefly this time, I promise). Two of us went to the local grammar school, a third failed the 11-plus and went to a secondary modern school; this started a much tougher and longer route to further education for the one of us who didn’t get through the grammar gates.

Those who love grammar schools tell you that they offer the best chance to less advantaged children, but they never tell you that the percentages are small, with most grammar schools favouring the already advantaged – and they always forget to mention that selective schools don’t only select, they reject too. The successful few who pass through those gates are vastly outnumbered by the many who are turned away.

Selection at 11 is a cruel way to run an education system, creating more problems than it solves, and fostering much less social mobility than the grammar groupies would have us believe. Or so says this old grammar school boy.

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