As the wonder years of Tony Bliar's reign edge towards a close (sorry, that should have been "blunder years", obviously) the lunatic ideas fall thick and fast. There's hardly any facet of human life in this country that NuLabour aren't prepared to legislate about, from how we throw our rubbish away to which gender we should have sex with and how we should think about it. Basically, if you don't want to stick your willy up another man's bottom there must be something wrong with you and you should go back to school where they'll teach you how to be … erm, inclusive about where you stick your willy.
And what unifies their legislation is the fact that all of it is stark, staring bonkers. It's difficult even to remember the last time parliament passed anything that was useful, sensible, supported by the majority of people in the country, and of any use to man or beast.
So here are the latest two proposals to revolutionise the asylum that is Britain …
Gordon Brown is worried that immigrants don't feel a proper sense of loyalty to Britain. He's right, too. But his solution is to make them all do Community Service before they're … well, "released into society", I suppose is the correct expression.
What seems to have escaped his attention is that Community Service is a punishment. We give Community Service to burglars, vandals, people who commit assaults, violent freaks like Naomi Campbell. We ought to give it to people who break their ASBOs, but we don't.
So in this age when alienated young men in immigrant communities are a major problem - some might say since 7th July 2005 they're the major problem - Gordon Brown thinks that it's a good idea to welcome them by punishing them, assuming that they're petty criminals the moment they've stepped off the plane at Heathrow?
Don't get us wrong, we're all for establishing ground-rules for would-be immigrants. Learning English? - great idea. Taking classes in British history and culture? - a bit naff but we wouldn't argue. A course in practical things like using banks, paying your income tax, where to buy a TV licence, not marrying your 9-year-old sister, divorcing your wife when you've got fed up with her instead of dousing her with petrol and lighting a fag - much better.
Look, Gordon, you're right to be worried about immigration. The rest of us have been worried about it for several years. There is an obvious solution, you know - look, we'll write it in little letters so you can just read it quietly by yourself and nobody'll know - you could not let them in in the first place! There, that wasn't hard, was it? A bit radical, I know, but take it from us, you'd earn a hell of a lot of Gordon Brownie points. On the other hand, using a well-known and routine form of punishment? Come on Gordon, that's just bloody stupid.
Then there's education.
Education Secretary Alan Johnson has announced that in future teenagers who drop out of school or training at 16 will face criminal action, because the school leaving-age will be raised to 18. Dropouts would be served with ASBO-style "attendance orders" specifying a study course that they are expected to attend. Breaching an attendance order will be a criminal offence, punishable by a £50 fixed penalty or prosecution. Ultimate sanctions include fines or Community Service (ooh, just like one of those wicked immigrants), but Mr.Johnson added that he expected the sanctions, which may also include the confiscation of driving licences, to apply only to a small "hardcore" of refuseniks.
Training could take the form of full-time academic or vocational studies, workplace apprenticeships or training courses. Teenagers already in employment would be expected to undertake accredited training one day a week. Employers face having to pay youngsters for five days a week when they're only working four, and apprenticeships? Who's going to pay for those?
The names of all 16 and 17-year-olds will be added to a database held by local authorities so that they can track their participation in education or training. That's good. Another database is just what we need. A nation can never have enough databases, I always say. Hey - they could take their DNA and fingerprints, too, just in case!
Local authorities will receive £476 million a year to employ advisers to help young people choose suitable forms of training. The GOS used to work in a local authority education department and, trust him, more education advisers is the one thing this country does not need. Most of them are teachers who couldn't make the grade in the classroom, they tend to have the communication skills of a kipper, they are cordially hated by proper teachers (the GOS knows one who some local head teachers simply won't allow across the doorstep) and if anyone should be sent for compulsory retraining it's education advisers - they might possibly find a useful role in society. A doorstop or something.
The scheme has already attracted some pretty damning criticism. Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, warns that criminalising young people will alienate those already disaffected with the system. A small businessman has this to say …
I have a small engineering business and employ an apprentice. The government gives me no funding towards his wages, I pay his tuition fees at college and all other costs. Luckily I chose an apprentise who is quick to learn and has ambition. Then this fascist government is going to force more apprentices on me and if I don't accept them I will be commiting an offence. This just smacks of the government getting out of paying dole and other benefits and employers having to pick up the tab again. Minimum wage, regulation, corporation tax increasing for small businesses - and now enforced employment. What chance does anyone stand of making a go at a business any more?
Sadly the seeds of failure are already embedded in the scheme right from the start. It's enormously complicated, contains too many options, will be a bureaucratic nightmare to administer, will be enormously expensive to maintain, and will ultimately fail. It doesn't take much common sense to see that once it starts it will quickly be watered down, and it is the schools that will bear the brunt. Students who can't or won't fit any of the available pigeon-holes will simply be compelled to remain at school where they will cause disruption for hard-pressed teachers trying to interest them in pointless and useless courses in "Media and Texting Studies" while Polish immigrants will continue to adequately fulfil all the useful tasks as plumbers, brickies, carpenters and so on.
As Minette Marrin wrote this week in The Sunday Times, "An education ought to be very good, to justify depriving a child of its liberty. There can be no justification for sentencing children to long hours in schools that are no good to 11 years of compulsory boredom, mismanagement and bad influences. There can be no justification for spending billions on this long incarceration only to let the prisoners out, having blighted their best years, unfit to deal with the world."
Already employers complain about school-leavers' "skills gap", meaning the wretched young things are so ignorant, incompetent and ill-disciplined that they are useless in a job, and need basic remedial training. Just what makes the government think that an extra two years of resentful, mind-sapping boredom will do what the previous eleven years have failed to do?
Marrin continues: "Colleges and universities complain that students arrive unable to construct a sentence, let alone write an essay. The brightest of undergraduates - the cream of our education system - need remedial teaching at university. Meanwhile the number of Neets - young people not in education, employment or training - has risen by a quarter since Labour came to power. Surely the disgraceful failure of education in this country is now an established fact?
"Yet what is the response of the education secretary to this astonishing failure? It is to make it compulsory for all children to stay in our abysmal education system until the age of 18." Marrin is absolutely right. The government has totally failed to deliver a relevant, effective schools system and tinkering with the system or victimising the products of that system will not solve the problem.
Funny thing, this. Have you noticed that every new government initiative these days involves a £50 fixed penalty? Unless you're some guileless newly-arrived immigrant, of course, when you'll get another sort of welcome.
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