KEITH NEWBERY Yet again, it’s plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Political beliefs are like old neck-ties – hang on to them for long enough and they will eventually come back into fashion.

Well over 20 years ago cynics like me began to carp about the lamentable state of the education system in this country, which was exemplified by the risible ‘improvement’ in GCSE results year on year.

We were assured pupils were getting brainier, and daring to venture the opinion that perhaps exams were getting easier was tantamount to child abuse.

Outraged parents wrote to point out how hard their offspring were working and how cruel it was to disparage their efforts.

In the meantime, I was interviewing youngsters for jobs in journalism who did not have the first idea about the use of the apostrophe, and who tended to sprinkle them on paragraphs like hundreds and thousands on a fairy cake.

It took just ten minutes to explain the basic rules for the deployment of these vexatious little marks – and the relief and surprise on their faces was palpable. They had simply never been taught how to do it.

That’s why I never blamed the kids, who were hapless victims of a flawed and ill-conceived system which decreed that failure must never be an option, thereby making it impossible for true success to be properly measured.

Now the CBI has revealed that thousands of youngsters – armed with a long list of GCSE ‘successes’ but totally lacking in the basics of the three Rs – are required to attend remedial classes before being considered ready to begin meaningful employment.

That’s not merely a grim indictment of a wretched ideology, but a gross betrayal of a million young dreams.

Another unfashionable and unpopular view to hold throughout the nineties was resistance to membership of a single European currency.

Those of us who did were condemned as swivel-eyed, xenophobic little Englanders who couldn’t bear to be parted from our beloved currency and who, given the chance, would like the return of the ten-bob note (50p for those of a certain vintage).

But it did not take a degree in economics to realise that bracketing together so many disparate currencies from countries which shared a land-mass but precious little else, was one hell of a risk.

Now the consequences are there for all to see.

** Casting a dim glow on proceedings

In the mid-sixties, a gormless looking (and sounding) Norfolk postman called Allan Smethurst had an unlikely hit with a record entitled Hev You Gotta Loight, Boy?

I think about it every time I see the slightly ridiculous Olympic torch relay labouring its way around this country.

The sacred flame went out within seconds of being ‘lit by the sun’ on Mount Olympus – and has since been inadvertently extinguished on more than one occasion during its progress around these shores.

Some torch-bearers have already put their personal commemorative beacons for sale on Ebay, apparently.

Hubristic, shallow, mercenary and just a little absurd, we must hope the torch relay is not a disturbing portent of the event it is intended to celebrate.