Monday, 24 April 2017

May`s "stability" and "unity"

Theresa May claimed that the election is needed to provide for "stability and certainty" ( Morning Star, 19/04/17). With "stability" meaning "resistance to change", May clearly intends to govern in the same way. How difficult is it for Labour MPs to unite with one voice against continued austerity, more underfunding of schools and the NHS, and  tax benefits for the well-off and big business being the dominant economic policy?
   The "certainty" is that another Tory government will continue to have shrinking the state and taking government spending back to levels last seen in the 1930s at the heart of its policies. May added in her announcement that Britain needed the "strong leadership" she provides, but if Labour MPs cannot counter her nonsense with the true facts about her kowtowing to Trump, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the rest, revealing the country`s panic-stricken response to Brexit, and complete lack of effective leadership, they are not worthy of candidature.
May even had the nerve to say that divisions in Parliament "risked hampering the Brexit negotiations" and unity. "Divisions in parliament" are usually called the "opposition", so the election, she hopes, will give her the freedom and autocracy she craves to deliver a "hard" Brexit, with rights for workers forgotten.
        As for the "unity" in the country, it`s not often I agree with Alastair Campbell, but May clearly needs to get out more!

     It is not too late for Labour MPs to unite behind their leader; if they think May is a better alternative PM to Corbyn, they should say so, and stand down.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Observer letter on solving education`s problems

Grammar schools are not the answer to the problem of "huge geographical disparities"  existing in our unfair education system, as your editorial rightly said (Our schools are failing the poorest pupils. Politicians have no answers, only soundbites,16.04.17). It added that the top priority for education funding should be "attracting and developing the best quality teaching" in deprived areas, like Knowsley, but omitted to mention how this could be done. Certain areas, and some individual schools, could be designated  "Educational Priority Areas"(EPAs). Here, pupil-teacher ratios would be smaller, and pay augmented with significant annual retention bonuses, or deposit-free, low interest mortgages.
       A large majority of my forty-plus year teaching career was spent in Knowsley,and one huge problem I experienced, but which was not highlighted in the editorial, was the quality of leadership. Headteachers in "EPAs" would have to have experienced many years of teaching  in such areas. Too often heads are appointed on the basis of ticking the right boxes with the current jargon, and like many politicians, they provide "soundbites", but lack the necessary experience and ability to inspire and lead. A role for staff representation on the selection panel is a must.
       Ofsted criticism of schools in "EPAs" would be banned; it is pointless labelling schools in deprived areas as "failing", when teachers are working hard, but hindered by administration-overload, weak leadership and under-funding.
       "Meaningful answers" can only be provided by the experts. Lack of trust in teachers explains most of the wrong-headed nonsense spoken by politicians about education. This was epitomised, not  only by Gove`s tenure at the DfE, but by the shadow education secretary only a few years ago suggesting all teachers take an oath to demonstrate their commitment to the profession! 

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Nuclear war not a game

Paul Mason is right, to remind us both of "what a nuclear weapon does", and that nuclear warheads are now in the hands of "men for whom the idea of using them is becoming thinkable" (Nuclear war has become thinkable again,18/04/17). With leaders like Trump, Putin and Kim Jong-un, who revel in playing war games like children playing chicken, it is indeed "criminal" that the UK prefers "silence" to using our "diplomatic clout". May clearly thinks any offence given to Trump will not only hinder a post-Brexit trade agreement, but also her chances of retaining the Tory leadership. She`s keen to remind us that "politics is not a game", but still plays along, whilst Corbyn`s Labour is muzzled by fear of the right-wing press seeing caution as weakness, and preferring May`s more gung-ho approach.

     The nuclear explosion at Chernobyl back in 1986 caused such devastation it focused minds, even Russian and American ones; the SALT agreements, which limited warheads, morphed into START negotiations which effectively ended the nuclear arms race. It looks as though our stubborn and intransigent politicians need to be reminded of a little recent history! None of them appear to realise that there`s more to politics than unilateralism and "crowd-pleasing".

Friday, 21 April 2017

A vote for May is a vote for austerity

Very pleased to see that the outbreak of "austerity amnesia" at the New Statesman has subsided, and that, the word, even though, as Helen Lewis tells us, "has disappeared from the government`s vocabulary", still has an important place in your journal`s leading articles (Notebook,7th April,2017). At a time when the prime minister is telling us how hard her government is working to get the British people the best possible Brexit deal, she is simultaneously continuing with the callous and unnecessary cuts aimed at the least fortunate in our society. Are we expected to believe that a government which cuts the Widowed Parent`s Allowance and the Employment and Support Allowance is seriously intent on solving the problems raised in last week`s Leader about "the rising cost of health care and pensions" (The 100- year life, 7th April,2017)? When it has to make the choice of "raising taxes or closing hospitals" May`s response is obvious.

   No-one should be allowed to forget that this Tory government, and its predecessor, faced a similar choice over cuts or taxing the rich, and that they not only chose the former, but accompanied it with reductions in taxes for the well-off! When Tory MPs supported May for leader, their interpretation of "a safe pair of hands" meant someone who would continue with the same austerity policies which hurt no Conservative voters. They were right!

Monday, 17 April 2017

Street-Porter`s lack of understanding re grammar schools

Janet Street-Porter appears incapable of understanding that some people can see the unfairness of grammar schools, even though they actually attended them (Grammars get my support,15/04/17)."Why is Labour so hypocritical", she asks, when the likes of Corbyn, McDonnell, Flynn and Abbott were educated in grammars? How can she "have nothing but praise for a system", which classes around 80% of all eleven year-olds as failures, and which takes hundreds of millions to fund at a time when state schools, catering for children of all abilities, are being starved of cash by the government?
 It beggars belief that Street-Porter can see grammar schools as part of "May`s ambitious plan to create a fairer society", and that the comprehensive system has "damaged thousands of young people". I hope that the people who enjoyed massive success in comprehensives, and who value the work done there by overworked and underpaid teachers, were as disgusted as I was when reading the article.


On British foreign policy

Of course there has been "too much optimism" that Russia could be easily "persuaded to ditch the Syrian president", and, clearly, there still is |(Trump`s unpredictability demands European steadiness, 12/04/17). Why else would Johnson reject the opportunity afforded by the first visit by a British foreign secretary in five years, if the British government, in its usual arrogant way, didn`t think, firstly that European countries would take Johnson`s advice, and, secondly that the threat of yet more sanctions would "shift Moscow"? What should be clear to May and Johnson, is that not only has British influence waned since Brexit, and that Johnson`s posturing has the look of desperation, but that Putin will not be bullied into changing policy.
         However, with presidential elections in Russia next year, protesters demonstrating in many Russian cities, and their economy struggling, now is the time for Britain and the rest of Europe to show some diplomatic skill, especially with so little of it evident  across the Atlantic. Trading deals with Russia, especially in energy provision, could provide a way forward, as could some obvious flattery. If Trump is worthy of some buttering-up with a state visit, Putin must be too! Johnson sees himself as a historian, so he should remember Bismarck`s role as the "honest broker" in 1878 in Berlin. Why not offer to hold a congress on Syria in London, invite all the main leaders, get Merkel to be the chair, and the royals to be the hosts, and organise the catering? The chances are that May and Johnson would "back the wrong horse", just as Disraeli did, but it would at least tick a few boxes, and, as it answers the "need for a non-military response", prevent further missile and air strikes.

It is ridiculous that, as Kim Sengupta states, Boris Johnson is being retained in his post as Foreign Secretary because "keeping a recent rival for the leadership...damaged but inside the tent" is the "best of all options for the prime minister" (A tale of two diplomats: UN envoy impresses while Johnson flounders, 13/04/17). Johnson is not simply making a fool of himself with his wrong-headed ideas about getting tough on Russia, he is displaying the same, extreme arrogance in foreign affairs which May herself shows in dealing with fellow European leaders.
    It cannot be correct, politically or morally, for the British foreign minister to be someone totally unsuited to the job, because his failures are likely to ruin his career, and end his leadership prospects. Anyway, if Sengupta is right, Johnson "can do little" without May`s permission, so let`s start putting the blame for the G7 summit fiasco where it belongs, Downing Street!

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Morning Star letter on Greening and grammar schools

Greening`s attempts to justify her boss`s vanity project were both implausible and disrespectful (Morning Star,14/04/17). How dare this government deliberately underfund comprehensive schools and make cuts in real pay for their teachers, and spend hundreds of millions on extending grammar schools because, apparently, comprehensive schools are not good enough for the well-off? How dare Greening say that children from "ordinary working families" would no longer have to "just make do" by attending the local comprehensive? Could an Education Secretary ever have been more insulting to a profession which is so hard-working, despite constant criticism? Is it any wonder there is such a huge teacher recruitment problem, something this government refuses to acknowledge, or even care about. 
   Greening also suggested that these new grammars will be prioritising "disadvantaged" children, and those from "ordinary families, so that must mean the number of children attending grammars from prosperous families will be reduced. As if that is going to happen! Tory MPs know where their bread is buttered, and they are not going to create grammars in their constituencies in which there is no room for their voters` children.

 Perhaps Mr Corbyn might like to mention this at the next PMQs?