Yes, Nick Clegg’s son’s schooling is our business

by Stephen Tall on January 27, 2013

My Lib Dem Voice colleague Nick Thornsby has penned an interesting piece robustly arguing that it’s none of the public’s business if Nick Clegg and Miriam Gonzalez Durantez choose to send their eldest child to a private secondary school:

… the argument is that politicians are not just public figures but public figures with power, and the choices they make – even if they relate to the intimacies of their family life – are relevant to the ways in which they exercise that power. Not only do I think this is wrong, I think it is one of the things which corrodes the integrity and our politics.

Personally I have no problem if Nick and Miriam choose to send their children private. He has never argued that such schools should be closed down or decried those parents who make that choice, so there is no possible charge of double-standards.

Whether it’s actually necessary is up to them. The reality is that London schools have improved so much over the past decade it would take a lot to convince me it wasn’t a colossal waste of money to send my kids private. And in any case, home background is still by far the best predictor of academic success, so I don’t think the Clegg clan has much to fear.

But there are three reasons why I think the Clegg / Gonzalez Durantez decision is a legitimate one for the public to know about:

1. They are exercising a choice not all parents have and using it to opt out of the state sector. That suggests they see a failing in what the state is providing to other parents with lesser means. I don’t think it’s unfair to ask Nick to level with those who don’t have his options as to why he’s done that.

2. Politics works when it is representative, when leaders understand the lives lived by those they seek to lead. If too many of our politicians become too detached from the grind of everyday reality — if they don’t use state schools or travel by bus or use the NHS — how can we hope they will come up with solutions that help the majority?

3. There is a greater expectation now of transparency. The last London mayoral election was dominated by the issue of Ken Livingstone’s tax affairs, and whether he’d shirked paying his fair share even as he condemned others for tax-avoidance. It’s the hypocrisy, stupid. And the public has a right to know if a politician’s public stance tallies with their private actions.