The Remain campaign lost the referendum on British membership of the European Union because it was unable to articulate a single positive reason why voters should continue to support it.
As a result it relied upon Project Fear issuing increasingly blood-curdling warnings about the effects of Brexit which, though unfolding events may prove them largely justified, failed to convince.
Much the same thing is now happening in the debate over grammar schools. I have heard plenty of tales of the iniquities of grammar schools of earlier decades – what I once called “tales of short-trousered angst” in the Guardian – but almost no one talking about why you should want to send your child to a comprehensive.
There are other parallels. Back in February, while ticking off Emma Thompson, I wrote:
If we want the forces of light to win the referendum on British membership of the European Union then we have to get away that it is a project of the elites.
Which may be a problem. While professionals arrange the harmonisation of qualifications across the continent to make it easy for them to take up agreeable employment abroad, the rest of us are faced with an influx of people who will work harder and expect lower wages.
That, incidentally, why it is bizarre that David Cameron's demands centre on benefits for people from Poland. It is the Poles in jobs that British workers are afraid of.Academic research gives little support to the idea that immigrant labour depresses wages, but it does not feel that way to many people.
I suspect that same people are not impressed by the debate on grammar schools. They see the wealthy sending their children to private schools or buying houses in the catchment areas of successful comprehensives.
Then they are told that no policy changes that might benefit their own children can be allowed unless they benefit all children absolutely equally.
We are used to the professional left arguing that unless a reform can be introduced everywhere, all at once, then it should not be introduced at all.
This is best displayed by John Prescott’s reaction to the prospect of free schools:
"If you set up a school and it becomes a good school, the great danger is that everyone wants to go there."But the debate on comprehensives so far as also brought to mind Algernon’s remark in The Importance of Being Earnest:
“Really, if the lower orders don't set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them?”If we want voters to support comprehensive schools then we need to convince voters that they will be good for their children, not scare them or call them selfish.
Let’s end with a tweet that shows the way forward...
Very proud that I lead a comp School. The aim is to get 'grammar school' outcomes for all children, not just those already on track aged 11.— Blatch Mr Harrold (@BMS_MrHarrold) September 10, 2016