Friday, 16 February 2018

A "Beatlesong" response to Quincy

Quincy Jones, please (Beatles "worst musicians in the world", says Quincy Jones, 08/02/18)! Please me and all Guardian readers by refraining from such nonsense; there`s a place for it, but not in this tabloid. "Worst musicians", as If. I fell for that before but not a second time. Lennon said Ringo wasn`t the best drummer in the Beatles, because the end of the group was near, so let`s try writing something about things getting better for a change. Don`t ask me why but ending misery doesn`t always require a revolution!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

1833 Abolition a "factoid"

David Olusoga rightly criticises the Abolition of Slavery Act of 1833, both for its obscene generosity of £20m, "the modern equivalent of £17bn", granted as compensation to slave owners "for the loss of their human property", and for the lack of accuracy which surrounds it. It did not free all slaves in the empire as the countless school text books insist, because well into the 20th century, slavery was still in existence in Sierra Leone, Gambia, Burma, Hong Kong and northern Nigeria, a fact Britain confessed to the League of Nations in 1924.
   Glorifying Britain`s role in the past is typical of the manipulation of our history which has been going on over centuries, and the Abolition Act must be seen alongside other such mythologised "facts" as the "fair governance" of our colonies and "Britain alone" in 1940! It`s a shame that the all too numerous "factoids" in the history books cannot be deleted as easily as the Treasury`s tweet!

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Snobbery of elite universities

Politicians are very keen to blame teachers for failing to inspire pupils with sufficient aspiration and confidence to persuade them to apply to Oxbridge and other so-called "elite" universities, and less enthusiastic about criticising the universities themselves for creating a self-reinforcing spiral. Of course, governments have to accept responsibility for underfunding schools and closing Sure-Start centres, and even for refusing to contemplate passing legislation banning universities from exceeding the 7% national level with students from public schools, but universities have the means to improve social mobility at a stroke, and refuse to do it.
   David Lammy, back in October last year, revealed how both Oxford and Cambridge, recipients of over £800m of taxpayers` money each year, enrol consistently around 80% of their intake from the top two social classes, with more offers being made to pupils from Eton than to students on free school meals across the whole country. Totally unsurprisingly, the number of ethnic minority students accepted is so low, Lammy concluded there has to be "systematic bias"!
      And still the universities make excuses. A recent article in the Guardian by  professor Wolff from Oxford university claimed that "playing safe" with undergraduate admissions, in other words giving preference to applicants from upper middle class homes, was encouraged by the government`s Teaching Excellence Framework. This includes students` drop-out rates as a measurement of a university`s success, but has been in existence for under two years, and is the most feeble of reasons for explaining decades of the lack of diversity in our "top" universities.
   It clearly does not explain why students with straight As from an economically poor area in the north of England stand far less chance of being accepted by one of the Russell group universities than does someone with similar grades from a public school. According to Lammy`s research, Oxford, for example, makes more offers to applicants from five of the home counties than to the whole of the north of England.
   How similar are those qualifying grades anyway? Do universities check whether the grades have been achieved through traditional A-levels, or whether students have taken the Pre-U examinations, popular in most public schools, where there is the possibility that the exam papers were either set or marked by their teachers. A cheating scandal was exposed involving these examinations last summer, resulting in a pathetic "investigation" by the Commons education select committee. If these examinations, not inspected and regulated by the Joint Council for Qualifications like all the other examinations taken by sixth-formers, and run, incidentally by Cambridge Assessment International, part of Cambridge university, are not chosen because of the extra advantage they afford, what is the reason?
         Where is the "risk", anyway, in offering a place to a student from a school in an economically-deprived area, who achieves grade Bs and Cs in traditional A-level examinations, and who clearly has the potential to attain an excellent degree? He or she may lack, unsurprisingly, confidence, and may not perform well in a nerve-racking interview, which has a reputation for belittling applicants with local dialects and who are unable to recite any of Byron`s poetry, but has real talent and potential to improve further. Research by Cardiff and Oxford Brookes universities proved students from state schools gain better degrees than independently-educated candidates with the same A-level grades.
       There is only one reason the so-called "elite" universities recruit so many undergraduates from schools in the private sector, when nationally only 7% pupils attend them - academic snobbery. A Labour government should consider legislation, both to force these universities to open their doors much wider, and to insist all university qualifications in the UK are gained through properly regulated examinations.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Undemocratic Tories

Tories frequently claim to be the upholders of the "British" value that is democracy, yet what they are currently doing, and which Andrew Rawnsley omitted to mention in his piece on their most recent crisis, is totally undemocratic (Taking their knives to Mrs May`s toga won`t solve all of the Tories` troubles,04.02.18). It`s not so much that the "Tory party fears that any replacement would likely to be worse", but that an unelected leader would almost certainly be forced to go to the polls, and that would allow democracy to bring in Labour to form a government. Refusing to sack May in case it lets in Corbyn is both undemocratic and morally repugnant!
       Rawnsley was right about May being a "zombie prime minister", bungling the "few opportunities to revive her authority", and using a cabinet reshuffle to suppress the progress of any "future leadership material", but it was her misuse of the honours system which epitomised May`s selfish pursuit of "her own short-term needs". Awarding knighthoods to both the chair and treasurer of the "kingmaking" 1922 Committee, and making its vice-chair a dame, really did reveal that the prime minister is far more concerned about her own position than the state of the party, let alone the country!
 Any decent MPs in the Tory party would be plotting to overthrow May, not because of her lack of "vision" and clarity over Brexit, but because of her abuse of prime ministerial powers. The fact is that, under her leadership, the innumerable crises over health, education and safety not only have increased rather than declined but also show no signs of having been dealt with. This does not seem to bother Tories at all, and that speaks volumes!

Friday, 9 February 2018

Clueless about the future? And the past!

Gary Younge rightly states that the country`s cluelessness "about the future" results from a distorted view of our history (The delusions of war and empire that led to Brexit, 03/02/18). The refusal to study the past in any detail, allied to successive governments` insistence on manipulating our history by hiding away vital evidence in Hanslope Park, results in arrogant delusion, the ensuing feeble attempts to punch above our weight in the Brexit negotiations, and the inevitable and humiliating climbdowns. Exaggerating differences with our neighbours, and pretending to own what Martin Kettle recently called a "tradition of exceptionalism", has led to the ridiculous and parlous situation in which the country now finds itself (Protestantism is on the wane, yet the Reformation sowed the seeds of Brexit, 27/10/17). The deliberately misremembered historical chickens have most certainly come home to roost.
  It is noticeable that the countries, like Germany, which have faced up to their difficult pasts, appear more aware of the need for unity in Europe. Only when the truth about the UK`s colonial past is revealed, when the facts about our seizing and looting of colonies, whilst committing the most awful of atrocities, and our reliance on essential colonial aid to emerge successfully from world wars, are all openly admitted, can the people and government of this country ever hope to have a non-distorted view of the future. The idea that our isolation in the past was "splendid" is part of the historical mythology driving current government policy.

Truss and Osborne up to usual tricks!

Few will have been taken by surprise by the "hellfire" of Liz Truss`s "logic" (Two data points of nonsense? This Tory has been hacked, 01/02/18). Her ridiculous attack on Momentum members this week was hardly unexpected following her co-authorship of "Britannia Unchained" in 2012. Who can forget this treatise`s claim that British workers "are among the worst idlers in the world"? Let`s hope the voters in South-West Norfolk don`t!

Osborne is right to say there is a north-south split in education; it`s the gap in school funding which he more than anyone was responsible for creating  (GCSE results of poor pupils in north worst in England, 01/02/18)! Not only did his austerity cuts to northern councils` budgets mean the shutting of hundreds of Sure-Start centres, but his profligacy with spending on free schools meant unnecessary diversion of much-needed funds away from state schools. Is it surprising that northern children achieve "GCSE grades that are significantly worse than those of their counterparts in London", when primary schools in the north receive £900 per pupil less than the ones in London, and secondary schools £1300 less? The small matter of investment gap between everywhere in the UK and the south-east, again his creation, also contributes strongly to the teaching recruitment crisis, which is most evident in northern areas.
   The arrogance of the former chancellor clearly knows no bounds. He even had the audacity to claim on Radio 4`s Today programme that the success of the London Challenge was due to his financial management, the Tories` academisation policy, and Gove`s curriculum reforms! Next he`ll be trying to get us to believe that his Northern Powerhouse idea wasn`t an election wheeze dreamt up weeks before the 2015 election, when the Tories were behind in the polls!

NS letter on European Research Group

Albeit only taking up one column in Peter Wilby`s First Thoughts, a semblance of much needed political balance was offered in last week`s edition (2nd February, 2018). Revealing some truths about the secretive and somewhat "sinister" European Research Group to counter the huge barrage of criticism showered on Momentum by the right-wing Mail and Murdoch press, was good to read. Despite being funded by thousands of pounds of taxpayers` money, via Tory MPs` expenses, this organisation, which Wilby rightly describes as a "party faction", refuses to disclose its membership for public scrutiny. Yet it`s the transparent Momentum which takes the media`s flak, with the so-called "non-partisan" BBC as guilty as the others; Sunday`s 8 o`clock news on Radio 4 was followed by a brief look at the papers, and the first four items were focused on anti-Momentum and Corbyn stories!
   Hopefully the NS will step up its efforts, both to give Corbyn`s Labour a fairer hearing, and to challenge the Tories on their lack of transparency. It`s not only the ERG which is being secretive. The taxpayers of this country deserve to know the tax details of the Mays, and of the entire Tory cabinet!