Monday, 14 January 2019

Why Labour should support a 2nd referendum

It does appear that Labour`s leadership has realised, at last, that a hard, or even no deal, Brexit "won`t just be blamed on the Tories" (Disaster looms. Can MPs act quickly enough to save us? 12/01/19). The large number of Remain voters who voted Labour last time might not be too keen to replicate the act in the next general election, whilst Labour`s Leave-voting supporters will not be happy either with the Norway option, which includes large cash payments and "a commitment to free movement".
  If the only solution is support for a second referendum Labour is right to be wary of the People`s Vote campaign appearing as "a Blairite shadow army". Just as few will ever forget the Tory nonsense about us "all being in it together", plenty of disgust was also registered with too moderate New Labour being "intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich". The Labour leadership launching its own second referendum campaign, along the lines of "Labour for Democracy", could prove the answer, taking control of both the message and the messengers, and able to ensure Blair and co. were kept on the sidelines.
    If Brexit were to be overturned, Labour could escape responsibility for free movement`s retention, and losing Leave supporters votes would not be guaranteed. I`m surprised no one has used this analogy to counter anti-democratic criticism and justify a second vote: imagine if a party won a general election by promising to cut all income tax rates by 10%, but after two years had failed to act on the election pledge. Everyone would demand another election immediately, and justifiably so. Hasn`t something similar happened here since 2016?

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Hopefully Clarkson is right!

Hopefully, Jeremy Clarkson is right (Clarkson: BBC favours women over men, 08/01/19). If it is true that "male presenters should accept they have no chance of winning jobs at the BBC", the nation should celebrate. The more of the likes of Clarkson, Lineker, Humphries and Shearer who go where their obscene levels of pay are provided by gambling companies paying for advertisements, and not by the corporation`s licence-fee payers the better. 
It`s high time the BBC shed its image of an over-paid boys` club, sorted out its pay structure, with a sensible cap on top earnings, cut down on the number of managers earning over £150,000, currently at well over one hundred, and ended the culture of tax avoidance within the corporation.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Unpublished NS letter on editorial policy

The Leader`s summary of the dire effects of the ideologically-driven austerity measures ends with an admission that this "is not left-wing alarmism" (After austerity, 7th December, 2018). Its conclusion, therefore, seems rather bizarre; the statement that the country is "in urgent need of social and economic renewal" is accompanied by the implication that the reason is that the government is "absorbed by the epic task of Brexit"! Does the New Statesman really believe that if it wasn`t for the 2016 referendum result, a Tory administration would have delivered the transformation required? With no workers on company boards, no "burning injustices" removed, but much underfunding of key services, and budgets favouring the rich, where is there an iota of evidence to support this?
     One also wonders why, in the same edition`s "Editor`s Note", Mr Cowley says that in the light of recent events like "the collapse of the centre-left across Europe", what the UK needs is "moderation". Surely the main reason for the decline of the centre-left has been its support for moderate, laissez-faire policies which have failed to rein in either the excesses of capitalism or the rising inequality?
By all means, "take the New Statesman upmarket", but being free from "the clutches of the Labour Party" does not mean unfair criticism of every one of its policies is required; dismissing its electorally-popular pledges to increase the income tax paid by the rich as "unimaginative" (The tax conundrum, 16th November 2018) smacks of unnecessary bias, when for most voters these proposals look about "the best in context"! "Getting the balance right" requires that left-wing solutions are not always lambasted!

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Guardian letter on private schools "gaming" the system

Of course, it`s welcome news that Labour is demanding an inquiry into the ways private schools are "gaming" the examination system, and Angela Rayner is absolutely correct to say that we cannot have an education system "with different rules for the privileged few" (Labour calls for an inquiry into GCSE changes "gamed" by private schools, 31/12/18). The inquiry, however, must go further than looking into what is happening at GCSE level where clearly private schools prefer to use Cambridge Assessment`s IGCSE exams, because they are "less robust". 
   The fact that more and more private schools are opting for Pre-U examinations rather than A-levels is also worthy of investigation. With much higher percentages of A*/A grades, papers set and marked by teachers in the independent sector, and with a more lightly-regulated regime than A-levels, Pre-U examinations, also provided by Cambridge Assessment, could well be another means of giving the privately-educated yet more advantage over the pupils from underfunded state schools "in the race for university places"!
   The general secretary of the Independent Schools Council might well say that private schools have a duty "to ensure their pupils are fully prepared for their next steps in life", but is it fair that those "steps" are so far ahead of pupils in the state sector, when increasingly suspicious methods are being used? 

Sunday, 6 January 2019

An "eminently solvable" problem!

What a shame your editorial`s "five ideas" for any government wishing "to make Britain a more equitable place" (Britain can be great again. Here`s how...,30.12.18) did not include the "eminently solvable" problem relating to the ways private schools "game" the examination system to give their pupils "a huge additional advantage" (Exam reforms boost private pupils in race for universities, 30.12.18). Not only are schools in the independent sector able to avoid 30 hours of GCSE examinations, which clearly impact on pupils` "mental health and wellbeing", by choosing Cambridge Assessment`s IGCSE exams "which include coursework", they are also able to inflate their results with "less demanding exams".
    This is only half the story as similar tactics are being adopted in the examinations leading to university entrance. Ofqual describes the newly-reformed and more rigorous A-levels as "national qualifications based on content set by the government", yet the private sector is increasingly avoiding them, preferring to opt for Pre-U examinations, also run by Cambridge Assessment. These examinations have higher percentages of A*/A grades, are more lightly regulated, with Cambridge Assessment, unlike other awarding bodies, not even required to compare similar qualifications when setting a grade level to ensure a measure of consistency. Pre-U examination papers are mostly all set and marked by teachers employed in private schools; late in 2017 the head of Eton admitted to the Commons select committee on education that at least seven of his staff were involved in the setting of exams taken by their pupils.
      How can Britain ever be a "more equitable" place if  the hugely advantaged pupils in private schools are allowed to take a different route to our state-funded universities from pupils in our underfunded state schools?

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Who will win over the "left behind"?

As Will Hutton says, the case for remain in a second referendum would be best  made by Labour, but surely not as "the centre of a cross-party coalition" (Labour`s leadership is at rock-bottom, 23.12.18)? In order for this campaign to have any chance of success, it has to put forward believable pledges, something that the likes of Ken Clarke and Vince Cable cannot do. Why should the "left behind" suddenly believe Tory promises  made by politicians who have voted not only for callous austerity policies but investment which by-passes three quarters of the country? Are their pledges any more credible than Johnson`s bus slogans? Tories didn`t tell them in 2016 that over 60% of recent investment in the UK was with EU money, so why believe them now?
       To solve the conundrum, Corbyn has to be reminded of the greater role he promised Labour party members after his leadership election success, and ballot them on a second vote. If he is then unwilling to change the party`s direction, he should be forced to stand down, as without the support from the pro-EU young people of this country, Labour has no chance in a general election. Only a democratically-elected Labour government can make those credible pledges to win over the "left behind" and get us out of a damaging Brexit!

Saturday, 22 December 2018

i letter on grade inflation

It seems clear that the real problem of grade inflation in our universities is not that "the proportion of firsts and 2:1 degrees awarded in England has soared" but that too many students from disadvantaged backgrounds are getting them (Hinds urges universities to tackle "serious issue" of grade inflation, 19/12/18). Would such a fuss be made if it was discovered that these awards were mainly going to students who had been educated previously in the private sector? People would argue that it simply proved the worth of public schools!
    What is surprising about the increase in the number of students who "entered higher education with the equivalent of grades CCD" graduating with firsts, when they are likely to have come from seriously underfunded state schools, been taught by non-specialist teachers, and had little opportunity to reveal their true potential? They will simply have shown the resilience and determination which Tory politicians insist only result from a private education!