Academy cash buys more than honours

The most recent twist in the “cash for honours” saga currently afflicting the UK government has seen the the arrest of Des Smith, the man responsible for raising money for the City Academies scheme.

Some people have asked why donors to the Labour party, or to the Academies, are so keen to buy themselves a title. Of course, the main purpose, and indeed the more scandalous, is not that the new nobles buy themselves the right to be “Lord and Lady”, but that they receive a seat in the House of Lords, the upper house of parliament, for the rest of their lives. Leaving aside the merits and pitfalls of having an unelected upper chamber, buying a seat in parliament in this way is in effect no different from rigging an election. Seen in that light, the maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment doesn’t seem so disproportionate.

There is, however, a far more sinister influence that is gained by those making donations to the City Academies. Sir Peter Vardy – a millionaire car dealer – has said that “It would be a shame” if this scandal undermined the academies programme. Sir Peter himself has donated money to schools and received his knighthood for “services to education” in 2001. He is a committed Christian who rejects the theory of evolution and believes in creationism, and this is what is taught in the schools he sponsors. It’s unacceptable that anyone should have this amount of influence over educational policy just for opening his cheque book, particularly when it means imposing his minority, unscientific views on the pupils, and disguising them as a scientific theory.

One would have to be extremely naive to believe that businessmen sponsor schools out of the kindness of their hearts and expect nothing in return, even the religious ones – or particularly the religious ones. What they expect is not a title, but influence. If the “loans for lordships” row results in the abandonment of the City Academies scheme, it will actually have done the nation a great favour.

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