The debate over politicians’ right to separate their private lives from their party dogma or job responsibilities has come to the media forefront again this week – this time with high profile Social Democrats seemingly crossing party lines to send their kids to private schools.
The government opposition party has long championed public schools as one of their key causes and lambasted the government over cuts within the educational sector. According to the Social Democrats’ own website, public schools are right up there as a key party issue along with health, the environment and integration.
‘No parent should have to feel it necessary to buy a place at a private school to give their children a proper schooling,’ reads the Social Democrats’ literature.
Now they are having to answer some tough questions, as it emerged this week that the party’s parliamentary group deputy chair, political spokeswoman and education spokesman all have their children enrolled in private schools. And party chairman Helle Thorning-Schmidt plans to remove her daughter from public school in favour of private in the autumn.
As a parent, her excuse for wanting a new school for her teenage daughter seems plausible enough. Apparently dozens of the young girl’s friends have made the switch from public to private in recent months and Thorning-Schmidt’s daughter wants to follow suit.
However as a politician, the Social Democrat leader has come under fire from opponents labelling her a hypocrite based on her former comments towards private schooling.
Liberal political spokesman Peter Christensen said it was a case of ‘double standards’ for top party members to chastise parents for making the move to private schools when they choose the same for their own families.
‘It’s in sharp contrast to the attack that the same party has launched against many parents who chose to go the private route,’ he said to TV2 News.
In 2002, Thorning-Schmidt contributed to a book with her views on education, saying there were many reasons a parent might choose a private school.
‘The most important explanation in many cases, however, is the selfish narrow-mindedness of the middle class,’ she wrote at the time.
Likewise, party colleague and political spokeswoman Mette Frederiksen has been vocal in her opposition to private schools in the past, but has now enrolled her daughter in one.
‘It’s no use that parents send their super kids to a private school as soon as there are problems in the public school. Everyone has a responsibility to make the public school system work. It means that one has to stay and take on the struggle to improve the school’s competency and environment instead of taking the kids out of the school,’ Frederiksen wrote in 2005.
According to Jyllands-Posten newspaper, 14 percent of Danish children are enrolled in private schools overall, while that figure increases to 24 percent for children of MPs. More than half of the Social Democrat MPs who have school age children have put them into private schools.