Saturday, 30 November 2013

Clegg still digging

Cameron and Osborne resort to U-turns and personal attacks when they know they face a real possibility of election defeat,but they can`t hold a candle to Clegg in his efforts to stave off electoral humiliation. Not content in digging a hole for himself with his attempts to defend the honour of politicians in the wake of criticism from Paxman, he now has the temerity to front the coalition`s attack on Johnson for his "greed is good" speech, Cameron`s patsy to the last. He attacks Johnson for suggesting "we should give up on a whole swath of fellow citizens", without seeming to realise that is exactly what he and his coalition colleagues did by giving their support to Gove`s examination changes, which in the long term will lead to a two-tier system of education! It`s hard to believe the Deputy Prime Minister has not heard of the inferior education provided in the old secondary moderns, hardly centres of  a "culture of opportunity and aspiration",which he pretends to favour, but this is the same man who, after three years of being in  government, declared it was time to "hardwire fairness" into policies! He continues to talk as if the inequality this government has increased and encouraged has nothing to do with him; supporting the living wage is all very well but has he instigated any policy to make it compulsory? "Greed", he says, "brought a banking collapse and misery and hardship", yet for three and a half years he`s joined in with the Tory propaganda blaming the Labour government`s spending and borrowing for causing the problems. That hole gets deeper by the day! 

Tory U-turns a warning to Labour

Carney might say that a likely 17% rise in house prices in two years does not mean there is "an immediate risk to financial stability", but it certainly suggests yet another gamble by the Chancellor has failed to reap rewards.  His Funding for Lending scheme, giving access to banks to very cheap money yet again, was originally intended to benefit small and medium sized businesses until it was hi-jacked by the greedy buy-to-rent brigade, and lasted so long unchecked because it resulted in low mortgage rates and house price rises, with the  accompanying pre-election feel-good factor. The truth is the Tories have been banking on no interference from the Bank of England, and the continuation of low interest rates, until the Tories are "swept back into power in 2015", on the back of the homeowners` vote. Labour must be very wary, especially with an Autumn Statement due next week, because the Tories are clearly prepared to adopt any populist policy, such as caps on Pay Day Lenders, accept U-turns, as with the FLS, resort to any measures, no matter how low, such as the personal attacks on Miliband, and even accept the idea of a freeze on energy prices, albeit in a different guise. Expect, too, yet more emphasis on "efficiency", not only to keep the financial sector on board, but because in Tory-speak, this means job losses, and lower unemployment figures would trigger the Bank of England to raise interest rates.
     Labour have only a few days to commit themselves to some obvious and electorally popular policies, because they are almost certainly pencilled in for Osborne to announce next week, and a start could be made with an immediate rise in both the minimum wage and tax-free allowance, acceptance of the EU`s version of the Tobin tax, a cap on all private rents, with a commission on the rental system to follow. Miliband must ensure he gets his "retaliation in first", making it absolutely clear to the voters whose side he is on, people not City. Obfuscation and prevarication must be avoided, as clearly the Tory election campaign is well under way.

More on Boris and greed

Supporters of Boris Johnson, in their attempts to clean up the mess made by his recent speech, are now saying that what he meant by the "greed is good" nonsense is that it`s perfectly okay for people to better themselves. Does this mean we can expect to see the mayor of London giving his support to the outsourced University of London staff in their struggle for pensions and proper sick pay, as they seek to improve their conditions? Of course not! No matter how much spin Johnson`s cronies put on it, everyone is well aware of what he meant: that it`s okay for the likes of him and his mates in the City to grab, profiteer, run scams to cheat fellow citizens,take bonuses like annual lottery-wins, fix interest rates,to enjoy the security, transport and health benefits provided in this country but pay as little tax to fund them as possible, but when it comes to hard-working people, who often have to work all hours for pay less than the minimum wage,suddenly it`s different.
Johnson is so lacking in sympathy, he cannot see the irony of saying that he does not want a return to a time of "heartlessness", when "figuratively riffling banknotes under the noses of the homeless" was commonplace. Isn`t the membership qualification test for his beloved Bullingdon Club these days exactly that, only literally?
       The speech appears to be the start of his bid for Tory leadership, hoping presumably Cameron`s hold on the party will weaken further after the expected Ukip gains in next year`s Euro elections, and stealing Gove`s thunder with his call for a return of grammar schools, the inevitable long-term result of the recent examination reforms. Ingenuous to the last, Johnson hails the super-rich, the "1% of earners who contribute 30% of income tax", many of them his friends in the City,yet fails to mention not only their obscene wealth for "socially useless" work, and their tax avoidance and evasion, which now costs £95bn a year to the British economy, but also their refusal to pay decent wages to the majority of their workforce. He doesn`t even understand why they are "so despicable in the eyes of all decent British people". They are not the hard-working "Stakhanovites" as he describes them, but greedy capitalists, and his version of laissez-faire, where they will "do more to help poorer people" is simply preposterous. No doubt by spouting forth such rubbish, his popularity in the Tory party will soar, but hopefully it will reveal to the people formerly impressed with him the true nature of the man. Liverpudlians must certainly never forget the remarks he made soon after the Hillsborough disaster, whilst his description of the £250,000 paid to him for his weekly column in the Telegraph as "chickenfeed" should have ensured he never win any election again, especially in a city where economic apartheid seems the order of the day.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Boris`s bid for power

Boris Johnson has managed to escape with his career intact after making so many unacceptable and offensive speeches, one can only hope that this time, he has gone too far, even for right-wing, but extremely election-conscious, Tories. If "the spirit of envy" and "greed" are characteristics to be admired and fostered, presumably Johnson would lend his wholehearted support to strikes in London by nurses and carers, social workers and cleaners, in their attempts to break the stranglehold on them imposed by the "economic apartheid" which he appears to care so little about in the capital. He apparently does not want a return to a time of "heartlessness", when "figuratively riffling banknotes under the noses of the homeless" was commonplace, yet isn`t the membership qualification test for his beloved Bullingdon Club exactly that, only literally?
       The speech appears to be the start of his bid for Tory leadership, hoping presumably Cameron`s hold on the party will weaken further after the expected Ukip gains in next year`s Euro elections, and stealing Gove`s thunder with his call for a return of grammar schools, the inevitable long-term result of the recent examination reforms. Ingenuous to the last, Johnson hails the super-rich, the "1% of earners who contribute 30% of income tax", many of them his friends in the City,yet fails to mention not only their obscene wealth for "socially useless" work, and their tax avoidance and evasion, which now costs £95bn a year to the British economy, but also their refusal to pay decent wages to the majority of their workforce. Those are the reasons why they are "so despicable in the eyes of all decent British people", Boris. They are not hard-working "Stakhanovites", but greedy capitalists, and this version of laissez-faire, where they will "do more to help poorer people" is simply preposterous.

Osborne`s U-turn

Osborne`s U-turn, with his "legal cap on the overall cost of payday loans", should act as a warning to the Labour party.The Tories, as duplicitous as ever, have two different messages in their preparations for the 2015 election, one for the financial and corporate sector, one for the rest of us. For the City, as Cameron`s "gold throne" speech at the Lord Mayor`s banquet explained, the aim is a "leaner and more efficient state" with less interference in the market, and evidence can be seen with the Chancellor`s efforts to prove the EU`s cap on bonuses illegal. This is the Chancellor  who is so in cahoots with the City he has allowed the regulators to appoint a head of their own choice for the inquiry investigating why the regulators saw nothing wrong with the Co-op Bank`s affairs!
     For the rest of us, after years of punishing austerity policies, we are expected to believe the Tories care, and "represent the low-paid"! Osborne can harp on about making sure "hardworking people get a fair deal from the financial system" as much as he likes, but the truth is that the Tories are running scared, knowing that Miliband has "struck a chord" with the electorate by promising to freeze energy prices.More Tory U-turns will undoubtedly follow, and we can expect pledges on the minimum wage and changes to personal allowance levels for income tax, probably as early as the Autumn Statement next month; so determined are they to maintain power, ideology will remain "all over the place", and principles will be ignored.They cannot even afford for unemployment to fall too much just before the election, as an interest rate hike,which would be triggered, would be electorally disastrous. Miliband must use this to his advantage, and ensure he gets his "retaliation in first", making it absolutely clear to the voters whose side he is on, City or people. Obfuscation and prevarication must be avoided, as clearly the Tory election campaign is well under way.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Politicians qualifications, like those of Rev Flowers!

The revelation that Paul Flowers, the disgraced and former chairman of the Co-op Bank, knew "next to nothing about banking" , and was £44bn wide of the mark when asked about the assets of his bank, came as a shock; his lack of knowledge and experience in the sector should have excluded him even as a candidate for the job. However, it does suggest  there may be a need to check on the suitability of many of those holding key positions in our society, starting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The heir apparent to the Osborne baronetcy left the Bullingdon Club with a degree in modern history,and worked as a researcher and speechwriter with the Tory party before becoming an MP in 2001.He was Michael Howard`s third choice as Shadow Chancellor in 2005, and ran Cameron`s leadership campaign.Where are his accountancy skills and expertise in micro amd macro-economics? If he had any, perhaps he would not have praised the Co-op for its attempts to spend £750m which it clearly did not have, on buying Lloyd`s branches,or,as Andrew Rawnsley tells us, tried to "persuade other finance ministers to waive capital requirements" in order to promote the purchase. 
    This is the man who is so in cahoots with the City he has allowed "the regulators to appoint a head of their own choice" for the inquiry set up to investigate why the regulators saw nothing wrong with the Co-op Bank`s affairs! Osborne also ignored the parliamentary commission`s advice on bankers` bonuses by skedaddling off to Brussels to claim the EU`s bonus cap was illegal! Banking on interest rates not rising significantly until after the 2015 election is clearly his "essential gamble", but this shows exactly how the Chancellor`s pursuit of political power takes priority over the needs of our society, just like the bankers` pursuit of profit and bonus has precedence over the requirements of their customers and the taxpayers.

  There is definitely a case for "ethical leadership by independent people",as suggested by the Centre for Public Scrutiny,but until the priorities of our party politicians change, it seems a distant and unlikely prospect.Harping on about transparency is all very well, but without, for instance, insisting on publication of the personal tax details of all politicians and those holding public office, is what can be described as "all talk and no trousers"; our politicians appear well qualified for that at least!

Idle f----r or nightmare?

Another week in British politics, another question of major political significance emerges. Which is worse, for the person ostensibly designated as your number two to be an "idle f----r", or someone your office describes as a "nightmare" to work with? Either way, the answer is unlikely to do anything to increase election turnout in 2015, which, if it  reaches 60%, will be verging on the miraculous. All we need now is for Miliband to do something so electorally disastrous, akin to Kinnoch`s "We`re alright" rants in 1992, like appearing on a radio programme pretending not to be high-brow!

Balls pays for advice?

It comes as no surprise that the Co-operative Group is an "indirect provider of gifts to Labour".  What is, however, is the fact that £50,000 of that support was to "fund one of Ed Balls`s policy researchers"! That`s not far off twice the national average earnings, and hardly good value. As policies emanating from that section of the Opposition party have amounted to restoring the 50% income tax rate for very high earners (rocket science), restoring old ideas like 10p rates(scrapped in 2008) and a mansion tax(Lib Dem idea) it seems some "researchers" must be taking someone for a ride. Not even one or two progressive ideas? No increased rates for high earners of the £80-149k variety, nothing radical like a sliding scale of taxes going up to 60%, a level even tolerated by Thatcher? A land-value tax? Clearly and sadly, not a hint of the policies being influenced by trade unions, and certainly no intimation, whatsoever, that the 50 grand was wisely spent.
 The Tories will be planning some Aussie-inspired "sledging" for the next PMQs, but Labour should perhaps be getting their retaliation in first with attacks on the Tories raising funds through private clubs like the Carlton Club and the United  and Cecil.  By using this method, the "identity of donors is hidden from public view", and the Tory support for transparency is again revealed as a total sham.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Labour at PMQs

The Guardian`s editorial rightly described Cameron`s conduct at prime minister`s questions this week as "absurd", and the increased vitriol aimed at Miliband recently definitely suggests that the "Tory strategist" Crosby is having more than a little influence on tactics.Miliband will, no doubt, see fit to compare notes with that other victim of Aussie "sledging", Stuart Broad, when he returns from the Ashes tour!
    It was right too, in its advice to the Labour leader to stick to "addressing the real substance" and avoid "vituperative" retaliation, as Cameron is certainly better prepared for the latter than the former.There is plenty of "substance" available for Miliband, for, as Tim Matthews writes, there can be no economic recovery, despite Cameron`s posturing, when the amount of household debt, foodbanks and malnutrition is rising daily (Letters,22/11/13) and the only new jobs are part-time, with zero hours contracts. Any contact Miliband may have had with Flowers was certainly mistaken, but the whole affair gives him an excellent opportunity to break with the banks and, indeed, all things City; the Tories may like to harp on about the cost of benefits and such like, but the biggest draw on government resources has been the banks, not only because of the bail-out after their excessive greed caused the 2008 financial crisis, but the £375bn worth of quantitative easing they received for their recapitalisation. Yet they still have to act fraudulently, mis-sell, fix Libor rates and manipulate currency markets in their quest for the all-important profit. Labour must distance itself from them, not only because it`s an electorally sensible decision, it`s a morally correct one too!

  Miliband can play an important part, too, in improving that gladitorial circus of braying that is the weekly PMQs: the Speaker should be asked to insist that all questions are responded to by the prime minister with actual answers rather than political-point scoring; Labour MPs should be told to act with decorum and actually remain seated, unless asking a question, so that the government benches look more foolish than usual; and their questions need vetting to avoid repetition and overlap. If Labour is serious in its attempts to woo the younger voters, its behaviour at PMQs, like its policies, has to be markedly different from that of the Tories.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Rewarding bankers at the expense of the taxpayer

How ironic that the chair of the Business,Innovation and Skills select committee thinks that handing over more fees to the banks, which set the sale price of Royal Mail far too low, would "reward bankers at the expense of the taxpayer". This is what successive governments have been doing for years, and continue to do so, even after the financial disaster their greed caused in 2008. £375bn of quantitative easing was not enough for the banks, even though there was no requirement imposed on them to lend to small businesses in order to kickstart the economy. Rich bankers were given huge amounts of  money by the chancellor`s reduction of the top rate of income tax, and when the EU at last decided to cap bankers` bonuses, it was the same chancellor who flew to Brussells on their behalf, claiming the cap`s illegality. Despite their fraudulent behaviour, with the mis-selling of PPI, Libor fixing and manipulation of currency markets, with even some laundering of Mexican drug money as well, bankers face few, if any, criminal charges, and their CEOs whose astronomical pay is always justified by their huge responsibilities, never actually take the responsibility for their underlings` abject behaviour.
    Of course they should not be paid the extra millions; as their incompetence cost the Treasury possibly billions, they should be returning the money already paid. However, as the Tory-led coalition was so willing to accept the low valuation, it is likely they considered possible extra votes gained in the 2015 election as good value. However, value for the taxpayer was never a consideration; they would never have sold a business bringing in £200m profit a year if it was!


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Tories the party of the rich. Wow!

A Tory minister has admitted that his party`s main problem is "being seen as the party of the rich". Wow, who knew? Could it have something to do with the government being dominated by multi-millionaires and old-Etonians, or the tax policy of cutting the 50% rate for the very rich, whilst refusing a tax increase for £100k + earners, or perhaps Osborne`s efforts to prevent the EU`s bonus cap,or even their acceptance of financial gifts from obscenely rich businessmen, whilst promising lower corporation tax, and doing next to nothing to prevent tax avoidance and evasion.Oh, of course, then there`s the policy of austerity for everyone, except that it effects the rich not a jot. Well spotted, Mr Boles! It`s no wonder the editorial describes you as one of the "smart Tories"!

Gove`s reforms underestimated again

Laura McInerney has made an excellent case in the Guardian, for schools to have access to counsellors, and was absolutely correct to emphasise the need to "tackle the tough 30% of students who continue failing GCSEs".  However, by dismissing Gove`s changes to the assessment procedures as"little more than tidying around the edges of an exam system for 16 year olds" shows how she, by no means alone on this, is seriously missing the point. An ideologically-driven and politically ambitious Education Secretary like Gove does not "tidy around"; under his system of examinations the success/fail percentages will not be 70% and 30% like they are now, as the failure rate is bound to increase, possibly with the above figures reversed. After all, Tory ideology is not aimed at increasing working class success, and I fear the real motive behind Gove`s reforms is a two-tier state education system, with academic success for the top 30% in their grammar schools, and secondary modern education, with low aspiration, self esteem and lower paid teachers, for the rest. Think how many more counsellors will be needed then! The sooner Labour realises what Gove`s not-so-cunning plan entails,and promises immediate repeal of all of the coalition`s education legislation, the better.

role of the state; Labour`s chance

The Observer`s editorial rightly states not only that there needs to be a "fundamental reshaping of the relationship between the state and market", but that Labour has "worryingly little to say" on the subject.(The state we need: not smaller but smarter,17/11/13) The latter is especially disappointing because Cameron`s admission at the Lord Mayor`s banquet that he has no intention of "resuming spending once the structural deficit" has been removed should be the opportunity Labour leaders have been waiting for, to be exploited by Miliband and co.,as they begin the 2015 election campaign. Their need to focus on this is obvious because it not only illustrates exactly the difference between the Tory and  Labour ideologies, but also the duplicity of a conservative-dominated coalition government, whose "economy with the truth", as exemplified here by the speech`s contrast with what Cameron said in 2010 that the cuts were out of necessity rather than "some ideological zeal", is approaching legendary status.
 Labour needs to exploit the fact that the Tory aim of "a leaner, more efficient state" will take the country further back to the days of laissez-faire, when the weakest in society were exploited, rather than protected by a welfare state; regulating the power of the banks, energy companies and the like is essential in today`s society. The rights gained by the working people in the twentieth century to equality of opportunity in education, free healthcare, collective bargaining and employment, social housing and all the benefits provided in a fair civilisation, will not exist in Cameronland  with little or no public spending, and Miliband,Balls and the rest need to say it again and again. Failure to do so would be a dereliction of their duty.

    Improved ratings in opinion polls since the promise of an energy price freeze should send a message to the Labour leaders that bold policies,like challenging tax avoiders, bankers` bonuses and privateers, are more in tune with the current mood of a public, increasingly disenchanted by expense-claiming politicians and greed-obsessed, irresponsible capitalists. Most people clearly would prefer an extension of the role of the state, with increased regulation, and to hear about fair taxation or the retention of  the East Coast line in public ownership than about free schools, performance related pay, and other policies too Tory-like for their own good. Disillusionment with politics is often a result of parties and policies resembling each other too closely, and Cameron`s announcement provides an ideal opening for Labour. The power of the state, as you say, does need to be "channelled for the good of citizens", and not for the benefit of City financial institutions, which is clearly the Tories` preferred option!

switch banks

Since the financial crash of 2007-8, Barclays has epitomised everything that is wrong with the banking sector; fraudulent and corrupt activities have included the mis-selling of PPI, the Libor fixing scandal, ues of tax havens, exhorbitant profits and obscene bonuses to its greed-obsessed investment bankers. A few paltry fines have resulted in profits only reaching a measly £1.4bn for the third quarter of this year, whilst its new CEO, the one who replaced the disgraced Bob Diamond, Antony Jenkins says nonsense like "We get it, we are changing the way we do business", and that the bank will put ethics above earnings; that would explain, then, why the bank has suspended six employees in the wake of new investigations into the manipulation of the currency markets!
      Also, in its attempts to avoid the EU cap on bonuses, the same one Osborne pathetically attempted to block in Brussels as illegal, Barclays is now contemplating  paying its high earning investment staff a new "allowance", at the same time planning to cut 1,700 more jobs from its branch network. This is in addition to the warning last week that 600 jobs could go in Dartford and Coventry! Unite will, of course, fight to save these jobs, but the truth is that workers, union members and everyone who desires a fairer society should show their disgust with the activities of Barclays and the other main high street banks, like the money-laundering HSBC, by moving their accounts. Admittedly, with the Co-operative bank`s problems, viable alternatives are difficult to find, but switching could become a new form of peaceful protest, especially if we all did it four or five times a year!
 All this shows how vital it is for this country to have a nationalised bank in which we can trust, and one where profit is not the sole motive. The announcement by Miliband that his government would impose a "levy on monster banking profits" to pay for an extension of free childcare is to be welcomed, but far too low-key. Attacks on the banks, their profiteering and dubious habits, just like the intended energy price freeze, should be a major Labour policy, and get the necessary publicity. It is still not clear whose side Labour is on; it needs to convince the electorate that it is different from the Tories in that it is not in cahoots with the City, and that it will pass laws to make the financiers pay their dues.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Nightmares for Labour

At first glance, the news that a rich businessman is going to pour a few of his megabucks into the advertising campaigns for Ukip in next year`s Euro-elections cannot be anything other than good for Labour. More Tory voters, all anti EU and anti-immigration, will abscond, splitting the right wing vote, and leaving ever-so-slightly-left Labour to benefit at the polls, at the expense of a damaged Tory party. Similar events have happened before, so why not again?
    It certainly is a possibility, but not inevitable; in fact, there is an alternative conclusion to such events, one which is more a "nightmare" than "dream" scenario for Labour.
    What if this businessman is the first of many willing to subsidise Farage? With too much cash to know what to do with it, and too little sympathy with Romanians and Bulgarians being allowed to work here, others of the ultra-rich fraternity could well be persuaded to follow suit, and suddenly the country is awash with Ukip propaganda, with  radio, television and newspaper advertisements galore. Massive victories in the European elections could be disastrous for Cameron, but the trouble is, as we have seen throughout the last four years, his lack of principles allows him to make deals with just about anyone, and the result could be a Tory-Ukip coalition facing Labour in the 2015 election.This would mean the Labour leaders would have only a few months to prevent Britain being ruled for the next 5 years by a right-wing group, with policies verging on fascist.
    The right does not have the monopoly on disillusioned workers, who feel jobs are being taken from them by EU migrants, and the trouble is Labour is doing, and has done in recent months, so little to win them over. Even more worrying, and this gives impetus to the "nightmare", is that Labour has been so concerned with not upsetting the well-to-do in the marginal constituencies, it has ignored its more traditional supporters.Clearly, it is relying on the fear of another five years of Tory rule to persuade public sector workers and trade unionists to vote Labour, but if Farage could encourage most of the 20% or so who never usually vote to support him, Labour could be in deep trouble.
 The Labour leaders needs to ask themselves some important questions; why, for instance, should teachers and everyone involved in state education, vote for them? Where were they when the strikes and protests took place? Why weren`t they joining in the rallies and making their anti-Gove speeches, like the union leaders? Do they really think Gove is that more out of touch with the reality of teaching today than privately-educated Tristram Hunt, especially as their views on free schools and Performance Related Pay are so alike?
 But it`s not just teachers, and that`s the problem. How many workers have had pay or pension problems with employers, and received not one iota of support from Labour? Firefighters, Grangemouth, care workers, all on zero-hour contracts, the list is long and seemingly growing, and the unemployed have not even been mentioned yet. Of course, Labour has some MPs who are brilliant, but they are few and far between; we only have to go back one week to the Bedroom tax vote to see that.
  If Labour policies were markedly different, there might be a case for more optimism, but apart from the blip that is the energy price freeze pledge, there is little to tempt the electorate that isn`t pretty similar to other parties` promises. The truth is not-being-Tory is insufficient, and Labour has failed to uphold the basic ideologival principles upon which the party was founded. The only solution must be a radical approach towards taxation and pay, with a change in society as the consequence, and a return to fairness and equality of opportunity as the main objective. No-one believed Cameron when he spoke from a golden throne about his desire to see an increase in social mobility, but what are Labour`s policies on the issue?
 Time is running out for Miliband, and the longer he leaves it to adopt radical policies, the easier it could be for this "nightmare" to become a reality.


Questions for Royal Mail valuers

 Bearing a recent occasion in mind, when the security chiefs were asked questions by a parliamentary select committee which were of the "What would you like to talk about today?" variety, with representatives from Goldman Sachs and UBS due to face MPs this week after the sale of Royal Mail, perhaps some sample questions could be suggested?
      For instance, why was your valuation of the publicly-owned company so much lower than other banks` valuations, at £3.3bn rather than the £10bn of JP Morgan? So low, in fact, that the share price rose 38% on the first day of trading! Is it not true that the lower the valuation of a company making millions of pounds profit every year, the more City investors would prosper? With banks becoming increasingly adept at fixing Libor rates and such like, could not something similar have happened with this valuation?
     Can we rest assured that the investment bankers involved in the valuation did have the necessary experience and knowledge required for such a task, and were not totally lacking in either, as it seems was the case with the chairman of another bank recently in the news? We tend to rely on the Financial Service Authority checking on such things, but perhaps our faith is misguided.
     Did the government at any time suggest to the valuers that a low valuation would be appreciated? This question is relevant because, of course, there is a suspicion that the reasons for the company`s privatisation were not economic, but political and ideological. With the coalition constantly stating cuts have to be made as money is in such short supply, one would have presumed keeping Royal Mail as  a going concern, with employment, taxation and profits all benefitting the Treasury, was the best option; if selling was the choice, the more they sold Royal Mail for the better, far nearer JP Morgan`s valuation; selling at below the correct market price suggests the government was more concerned with gaining votes for the 2015 election by ensuring  the buyers made a quick profit than doing a good deal for the taxpayer or the employees.
   Such a line of enquiry might generate some detailed analysis of what actually happened, and who knows, even some truth; goodness knows how we are so used to being lied to when it comes to government announcements, whether they are about reasons for wars, the necessity of austerity, or the numbers of unemployed and state of economy, so it`s highly unlikely we will get to learn the truth about this!

Labour, the pope, and right wing threat

It comes to something when a quote from the head of a church so, often seen to be somewhat out of touch with its flock, resonates more than anything said by the leader of our opposition party since his election. Why have we never heard Miliband criticising irresponsible capitalists, bankers and energy profiteers like Pope Francis?  The fact that our society is dominated by people with a "self-centred mindset bent on profit at any cost" reveals  a greater depth of understanding than revealed so far by our centre-slightly -left opposition, and is the sort of response  needed to counter pro-austerity announcements from our multi-millionaire ministers, and their bonus-obsessed allies in the city. 

      John Palmers warning about the rise of far-right parties, and the similarities with 1930s Europe, should not be ignored. Imagine the dreadful, but not totally unlikely scenario of next year's European elections in Britain seeing a Ukip landslide, and Cameron forced into a coalition with them to take on Labour in 2015. By then it would be too late for Miliband, Balls and the rest to adopt an anti-austerity stance and policies  to regain support from trade unionists, teachers and public sector workers, not to mention the unemployed and disabled, all deserted by Labour, and left defenceless in the face of attacks from this callous government. How many Labour members of parliament will rue their decision not to attend the vote on the bedroom tax, when full Opposition attendance would have seen its defeat? How many wake-up calls does a slumbering Labour party need? If the pope can attempt to revive an outmoded church, is it too much to expect a Labour leader to do the same with his largely comatose party?

Cameron cares about social mobility! As if.

 Prime ministers caring about social mobility do not scrap Educational Maintenance Allowances, do nothing about limiting the ability of so-called "top" universities to recruit high percentages of their students from private schools, do nothing about private school fees being exempt from VAT, do not give their Education  Secretaries carte blanche to return school assessment back to the 1950s, and do not appoint their chief ministers from the likes of Eton and the Bullington club. 

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Tory mythology must be refuted

They never stop, do they? John Major`s recent attempt to place the blame for the lack of social mobility, and the fact that society is dominated by rich, privately educated men, on the last Labour government is typical. The Tories` propaganda machine has not stopped, since the last election, trying to convince the electorate that the 2008 financial crash was not the fault of greedy, bonus-seeking bankers, but Brown and Darling`s economic policies were to blame! Sadly, it doesn`t end there; so many Tory myths exist, Labour could spend an entire election campaign refuting them; in fact, that`s not a bad idea.
     Foreign policy, always based on upholding democracy, is a good place to start. Don`t democratic governments rule because they have the support of the majority of the people, and pass laws according to what`s written in their election manifestos? After all, that`s why people vote for them in the first place, but it doesn`t even apply to the coalition we have now. Where was the breaking up of the NHS on the Tory manifesto, or the trebling of tuition fees on the Lib Dems`, or tax reductions for the rich, cuts to benefits for the disabled etc etc? Truth is our democracy is something of a sham, but it suits most of our politicians down to their last expenses claim. The main parties do not want 80-90% turnouts in elections, as they`d have to adopt more people-friendly, rather than City-friendly, policies; secret and safe voting on the internet should be possible, and it would increase voter participation hugely, getting young people involved and interested,but it never gets a mention!
      The state is too big, and needs to be slimmed down and made more efficient, is another frequently heard Tory complaint, but there`s never an accompanying explanation, for obvious reasons; what this entails, as we`ve seen in recent years, is the gradual destruction of the welfare state, and the return of laissez-faire, just like in the 19th century, with workers exploited, and trade unions struggling for legality. The improvements achieved in the 20th century would be sacrificed at the altar of bonuses and tax reductions for the rich. Tory myths on taxation are also heard, with the most recent being their determination to wipe out tax avoidance. What do they take us for? You don`t get more individuals and companies to pay the correct amount of tax by laying off thousands of HMRC staff, and doing absolutely nothing about tax havens. Having representatives from tax "advising" firms like Deloitte and KPMG on treasury committees when drawing up tax legislature is a bit of a giveaway too!
     How about bringing back selection and grammar schools to increase social mobility? Oh please. Never a mention of what happens to the 70% or so who don`t manage to get the private tuition the middle class parents pay for to ensure the 11+ is passed. No reminders of those secondary moderns of the 50s and 60s, or the lazy teaching in the grammars.If anyone seriously wanted to deal with the lack of social mobility, they would ensure no university could enroll more than 7% of its students from private schools, in line with the national figure, and end the ridiculous tax avoiding scam of private schools having charitable status, so that VAT would have to be paid on their fees.
    So many myths, so few of them analysed and challenged by Labour; privatisation encourages investment, nationalisation never is profitable; the NHS needs wholesale reorganisation; nuclear weapons are essential to our security; bonuses and tax reductions are essential if we want "talent" to stay in this country; firms can`t afford to pay the living wage; all unemployed are lazy, ..... .The list is endless and growing, and only Labour can do anything about it.
    All Labour MPs and election candidates should be given a list of the 10 most destructive Tory scare-mongering myths, with a truthful version alongside, and told firstly to learn them off by heart,(Gove-like,with understanding preferred but not essential) and secondly, to provide an analysis of at least half of them in every interview, article,and speech between now and the election.
    Only when the mythology is refuted does the truth stand a chance!


Cameron`s admission

The news that Cameron admitted at the Lord Mayor`s banquet that he has no intention of "resuming spending once the structural deficit" has been removed must be the opportunity Labour leaders have been waiting for, to be exploited by Miliband and co.,as they begin the 2015 election campaign. Their need to focus on this is obvious because it not only illustrates exactly the difference between the Tory and  Labour ideologies, but also the duplicity of a conservative-dominated coalition government, whose "economy with the truth", as exemplified here by the contrast with what Cameron said in 2010, that the cuts were out of necessity rather than "some ideological zeal", is approaching legendary status.
 The Tory aim of "a leaner, more efficient state" will take the country further back to the days of laissez-faire, when the weakest in society were exploited, rather than protected by a welfare state; the rights gained by the working people in the twentieth century, to equality of opportunity in education, free healthcare, collective bargaining and employment, social housing and all the benefits provided in a fair civilisation, will not exist in Cameronland  with no public spending, and Miliband ,Balls and the rest need to say it again and again. Failure to do so would be a dereliction of their duty.
     Improved ratings in opinion polls since the promise of an energy price freeze should send a message to the Labour leaders that bold policies, taking on tax avoiders, bankers` bonuses and privateers, are more in tune with the current mood of a public, increasingly disenchanted by expense-claiming politicians. Most people clearly would prefer to hear about fair taxation or retaining the East Coast line in public ownership than about free schools, performance related pay, and other policies too similar to Tory ones for their own good. Disillusionment with politics is often a result of parties and policies resembling each other too closely, and Cameron`s announcement provides an opening too good to be missed.


Monday, 11 November 2013

Guardian needs to apologise

Having devoted the whole of your readers` editor`s section to apologies, it does seem appropriate that you publish one to the people of the Philippines for your suggestion that they are "looting".(Destruction and desperation,11/10/13) People without "clean water,food and medicine", suffering in the way that they are, do not "loot".

In defence of Blackadder

Paxman, in his recent "Newsnight" argument with Tristram Hunt, revealed little understanding of the mechanics and  difficulties involved in modern-day teaching, so it was no surprise to read that he regards using TV programmes, like Blackadder, to improve the understanding of schoolchildren studying World War One as "astonishing".Presumably, he would prefer schools to buy his book on the war, what with him being an authority on the subject and a distinguished historian??
      More worrying, of course, is that Andrew Murrison, one of Cameron`s chief advisors on the war-fest being planned to commemorate the centenary of the war, thinks Blackadder and similar productions have "left the British public with little understanding of the first world war". Whetting interest, as Barbara Ellen correctly says, is an important starting point in most learning, and Blackadder serves this purpose well. But it does more, too, emphasising the futility of the conflict and the cluelessness of the privately-educated officer class, and this, presumably, is the real reason for government objections. Evidently, we are to be re-educated, our history is to be re-written; volunteers were not told lies about the likely duration of the fighting,millions of lives were not wasted, there was no war of attrition, officers were not so blind to the slaughter their decisions caused for them to repeat mistakes time and time again, and fighting the war was essential if our civilisation was to be preserved, like all wars since, and, doubtlessly, in the future.

     Politicians are already competing with each other in their efforts to persuade the electorate in the genuineness of their patriotism and the sincerity of their emotions, and the Tories will be patronisingly expecting everyone to forget that, in the interests of their ideology, they have destroyed our welfare state.They just don`t get it, as they are even suggesting a football match be played, like the one at Christmas 1914, where, after the troops fraternised, sharing photographs and such like, a game was played, illustrating completely the futility of the war the politicians did so little to prevent.

Remembrance,but no re-writing!

         Cameron`s attempt to re-write history is a desperate attempt by a Prime Minister, completely out of touch with the feelings and beliefs of ordinary people, to score electoral points. As soon as the initial idea of an official commemoration to mark the centenary of the start of the war was mooted, the fear was that politicians would compete with each other to convince voters that their patriotism was greater than that of the others, and their emotions more sincere, and, typically, the Prime Minister has set the ball rolling with his description of World War One as "epic". What next? Boris Johnson dressed in khaki re-enacting a charge across no-man`s land in the gardens of Buckingham palace?
       Cameron also said that a "commemoration,that like the Diamond Jubilee celebrations this year,says something about who we are as a people. Remembrance must be the hallmark of our commemorations". Like the Jubilee celebrations!! I`m surprised he didn`t announce the creation of a First World War theme park, or a competition to find the best General Haig impersonator. No doubt there will be celebrities cashing in, too, with remembrance records, television series and books galore, few written by historians, and, of course, the ubiquitous commemoration tee shirts, plates and mugs.
       If remembrance is to be the "hallmark", what exactly is it we should be remembering about World War One? Of course, we should annually acknowledge those who gave up everything in their firm belief their country needed them, but if Cameron and co. have their way, the acknowledgement next year will be more like a national circus of jingoism. Should we be remembering the huge failure of governments, not all elected by their people, to prevent a continent drifting into a needless war, or their willingness to send millions to their deaths.Despite knowing about the likelihood of trench warfare ensuing, the 1914 British recruitment campaign included the lie that the conflict would be over by Christmas; how many thousands were tricked by this deliberate deceit? Is it okay to remember how the army allowed many children to enlist, knowing full well their true age but encouraging them to "age a little in the next hour" and "sign on" later. No doubt, governments would not like our memories to focus on the tactic, an inevitable consequence of the type of warfare adopted, of ordering the young volunteers and conscripts to walk towards the enemy`s machine guns! Similarly, as the war dragged on, are we allowed to recall the fact that for both sides on the western front, the conflict was allowed to develop into a war of attrition, with the country having the most soldiers left after the slaughter of millions, winning? Perhaps the private schooling and military college education of the war`s tacticians wasn`t so hot after all?
       We should certainly remember the role the press played in confirming the feelings of superiority already engendered by the so-called "history" taught in British elementary schools at the start of the century. If the young people didn`t know about the British empire spreading "civilisation" and all other cultures being "barbaric", they certainly did after reading the Daily Mail and the rest of the now correctly-labelled "gutter press"; they knew,too, that Germany was wrong to want Dreadnought-style ships in their navy, like we did, or to want to conquer other countries because of their potential to provide cheap labour and raw materials, and to buy the resulting manufactured goods, like we did. The owner of the Mail, Harmsworth, admitted his paper stood for the "power, supremacy and the greatness of the British empire"!
       Apparently, one of Cameron`s chief advisors on the war-fest, Dr Andrew Murrison, has complained that film and TV comedies like Blackadder have left the British public with little understanding of the war. Really? It couldn`t have anything to do with more government-inspired tampering with history, could it, nothing to do with our perception of the privately-educated, largely clueless, officers, the "donkeys", making mistakes, repeating failed tactics time and time again, and actually causing thousands of deaths? Why, it might even reflect badly on our present privately- educated politicians and officers, who seem as keen as ever to spend billions of taxpayers` money on preparation for future, needless wars.

      Commemoration will transform into celebration, remembrance into commercialised recollection, and the whole affair looks like it will, fortunately, be seen for what it is, political electioneering masquerading as respect for the victims; the public will spot Cameron`s motives and, thankfully, his attempts to gain kudos from the suffering of others will backfire, just like Osborne`s efforts to gain popularity at the Olympics. The Tories are distanced so far from reality, they don`t even realise that the re-enactment of the Christmas 1914 football match, which epitomised the war`s futility, will emphasise an aspect of warfare they want to ignore! Labour leaders need to be wary of falling into this "celebration" trap.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Some possible reasons for disillusionment with politics

Jonathan Freedland is absolutely correct to say that there is a "hunger that cannot be fed by bread alone", and how it "escapes the reach of politics", but it is not enough to put the blame on the post-2008 recession, or on the party straitjackets polticians wear. (Politicians,learn this: people cannot live by bread alone,09/11/13) The truth is that the party front-benches are dominated by people who have not lost touch with "how people actually live", because they never were in touch with it in the first place! Wealthy backgrounds and private education,leading to Oxbridge, followed by internships and research posts at Westminster do not make for politicians with a grasp of reality,let alone real-life experience and subsequent knowledge of our society. The wealth and success of people like Brand and Perry matter not a jot when it comes to winning public support and trust, because their backgrounds have provided them with an understanding of the people, far superior to that of politicians, who rely for information far too much on data-collections and think-tank research. Moreover, they speak, despite Brand`s penchant for long words, in a way which does not, Gove-like, invite disengagement.
       Whilst not all politicians fail in this way, it`s difficult to watch even five minutes of any Wednesday`s Prime Ministers Questions and not feel disgusted with the boorish behaviour on show; men in suits shouting at each other, having to be reprimanded by the Speaker, and threatened with being kept behind, are unlikely to convince the disenchanted electorate that their vote will make a difference. Perhaps Gove`s atrocious behaviour in the House of Commons should be shown in schools, especially those going into "special measures"? On the 13th June last year, the Speaker had to intervene in PMQs to restore order with the words, "I am really worried about the conduct of the Education Secretary. In the average classroom, he would have been excluded by now. He must calm himself". ( Hansard, 13/06/12)

      Hopefully Brand`s Newsnight interview, articles, and appearances at anti-austerity protests will succeed as a wake-up call to all holding power and influence, particularly to the Labour party, as clearly other tactics are not having the desired effect. If Brand succeeds in getting young people interested in achieving a more equal society, he`s cetainly doing better than the party leaders

Friday, 8 November 2013

Hole Clegg digging getting deeper

The news that Clegg has criticised Paxman can be objected to on a number of counts. First, Paxman doesn`t just "sneer at politicians"! Hasn`t Clegg ever seen University Challenge, or his interviews with economists, journalists, business people, teachers, lecturers etc?
       Secondly, why on earth shouldn`t he treat all politicians as "rogues and charlatans"? We are talking about people who break promises ad nauseam, carry out ruthless reforms which have devastating effect on, in particular, the weakest in our society,and which appeared on no manifestos, who continue to claim outrageous amounts in expenses, who lower taxes for the rich whilst cutting disability benefits, who have taken the country into numerous and mostly unnecessary wars, and who behave deplorably at televised PMQs, whilst railing at poor discipline in schools. For someone, who has forsaken all principles for an iota of power, to dare defend politicians takes some nerve, but we are talking about the deputy prime minister, who gave his support to Gove`s examination changes as they will not lead to a two-tier system of education! The same man who, after three years of being in  government, declared it was time to "hardwire fairness" into policies! The hole he has been digging for himself since 2010 gets deeper by the day!

Government`s "economy with truth"

  Being "economical with the truth" appears to be rising to a new level with this government.We`ve recently heard Jeremy Hunt alleging that foreign visitors and short-term migrants, taking advantage of the NHS, cost  the taxpayer £300m a year, ignoring the government`s own research which suggests the true figure is nearer £60m; accuracy does not appear to be a priority when it comes to data, as long as the "gutter press" can be fed with misinformation to mislead their readers.
          A few incorrect figures can, of course, deflect attention from a ministry`s incompetence, or promote a flawed ideology; not so long ago Iain Duncan Smith was discovered to have issued completely spurious statistics to claim his benefits cap had encouraged 8000 unemployed to move into jobs; the made-up figure did not deter the media from reporting it as fact, and the damage was done before the truth was revealed. Gove has also misled the public, even to the extent of being reprimanded by the OECD, in his quest to denigrate state schools, so successfully he seems to have convinced the opposition of the need for free schools and Performance Related Pay for teachers! Accuracy, such as the positioning of British schools as 6th in Pearson`s education league tables, somehow gets ignored.
       We should be wary of the government`s "claimant-count measure of unemployment", especially as numbers claiming Job Seekers Allowance are bound to be lower when 387,000 have been forced to abandon their claim because of the "new sanctions regime". Notice how Cameron always stresses these figures, and the ones relating to people in work, because he can include part-time workers, even though they desperately want more hours, and those on the dreadful zero-hours contracts, suitable for students maybe, but not for anyone with a family or mortgage.
      Figures, of course, add authority to Government claims, but when none "suitable" are available, Goebbels-like repetition is the favoured method; hence the public is inundated with the "need for privatisation" in order to encourage profits and investment in our industries and transport, whilst the millions paid into the Treasury by the profitable Royal Mail and the east coast railway fail to get a mention. Similarly, state ownership is always wrong, except when other countries` nationalised companies are taking over British businesses.

       A reduction in unemployment figures, no matter how convoluted, adds to the argument that the economy is recovering, and that coalition policies are justified! The sad thing is that the government gets away with it, largely because of its massive media support, and a response from Labour which, to say the very least, is ineffective.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

In praise of Russell Brand!!

It comes to something when a self-confessed "twerp", "junkie",and "Jack Sparrow" is the one best able to articulate what I suspect is the majority of the population`s frustration with our system of party politics. Hopefully Brand`s Guardian article will succeed as a wake-up call to all holding power and influence, particularly to the Labour party, as clearly other tactics, even demonstrations, strikes and People`s Assemblies have failed.
     So much of what he wrote is irrefutable, and the point about the "toxic belch wafted into our homes by the media" is particularly relevant on the day the BBC televises a programme about "Britain on the fiddle", in the Guardian`s words, exposing those who cause a "criminal drain on resources". No, it`s not about bankers` corruption, or multinationals` refusal to obey our tax laws, or even the scams of the utility companies! Not even about multi-millionaire MPs who claim costs for heating their second homes on expenses, but benefit fraudsters, with, no doubt, more to come on "health tourists" and illegal immigrants! Since when have licence fees financed our nationalised broadcasting company in order for it to become a mouthpiece for the Daily Mail and other right-wing alarmist media?
     In fact the BBC seems intent on doing everything it can to challenge this section of the media`s exaggerated claim that it leans to the left; there has been an almost total absence, recently, of discussion on tax avoidance and evasion, the really "criminal drain" on at least £35 billions worth of our resources per year; no mention of the trillions foisted away in tax havens, but instead, a focus which verges on doting, on anything "royal", another massive "drain" on taxpayers` money. Dimbleby`s rude refusal  of the right of Owen Jones to speak up for the nationalisation of energy companies on Question Time epitomised this right-wing stance. Is it any wonder that the views of a comedian, young, irreverent and rude, have such resonance in a society so subservient to the conservative and rich? Keep on rocking the boat, Russell!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

living wage not enough

The Guardian`s editorial on the living wage stated that it is an "optional add-on for employers who can be embarrassed or inspired to pay fairly". Surely the fact that Miliband has to offer tax breaks to encourage employers to do so proves how over-optimistic your view is; domestic and international news increasingly emphasise the disappearance of responsible capitalism, with mis-selling, manipulation and tax avoidance seemingly the order of the day.So many examples exist of companies seeking profits above all else, with little care for their workers and customers, and no thoughts whatsoever of improving the economy of this country, or indeed, increasing the taxes paid into the Treasury.
  Even making the payment of a living wage compulsory by law is insufficient; company bosses will compensate by either increasing prices to the consumers, extending  the number of zero-hours contracts for their workforce, and employing more students, or increasing the use of tax havens, or clever accountants, in their  efforts to reduce corporate tax payments.Will workers paid a living wage be better off if their un-regulated landlords increase their un-capped rents, as many will undoubtedly do? Just because the majority of us recognise that "there is such a thing as a threshold of decency", does not mean it can be achieved in this era of selfish irresponsibility. Miliband would do better to promise a government of responsible socialism!

Monday, 4 November 2013

BBC needs to regain the public`s trust

Will Hutton in the Observer is absolutely correct when he writes that the BBC, because it has a "commitment to objective and impartial reporting", will inevitably find itself on "a collision course" with the various forces of conservatism. The Director General will be more able to "stand up against the bullies" if he knows he has public opinion on his side, and the BBC will regain and retain it if, not only the quality of the programmes is maintained, but if there is a general public acceptance that not a penny of the licence fee is being wasted; that means total transparency is absolutely vital, which, if achieved, could become a benchmark for all corporations.
      The BBC should not attempt to match the fees paid by its more affluent rivals to star presenters; would celebrities be unwilling to promote their new albums, films or autobiographies on chat shows if the host was not as famous as themselves? The objective is the publicity, whatever the first name on the credits! The idea that it is a privilege to be given the opportunity to work for the Corporation should be cultivated, so that would mean no contracts to be allowed where there is any possibility taxes could be avoided. If certain, older presenters don`t like it, tough! Then there`s the extravagence,which not only applies to over-generous pay-offs, but to numbers of employees.Whether any punditry is required at all is a moot point, but there must be a strong case for the number of "experts" and "analysts" to be reduced; sometimes there appears to be more pundits than competitors! Their role as time-fillers could be taken by showing highlights of what happened when the teams/players/runners last competed against each other.

      The application of  such basic principles as no-one employed by the BBC to earn more than the Prime Minister, no tax avoiding companies or individuals to be given contracts, and young talent and minority sports to be given fair coverage, would all help improve an ailing image. Why give the job of hosting a quiz programme to an old,, and already employed presenter, when younger, and no doubt,cheaper, talent could be developed. Sensible programming would not go amiss either, with more opportunities on air for females of all ages, clearer distinction of programme genre between channels, and more sensible use of sports,drama and entertainment archives, with perhaps one channel completely devoted to showing re-runs of serialisations and major sporting events. Common sense, not rocket science, is needed.

Miliband`s ideas on living wage

The Morning Star`s editorial rightly asks the pertinent question about who is putting the "working class first", whilst also, again correctly, criticising Miliband`s bribe to employers to pay a living wage, rather than making such payment compulsory. But, as a letter in today`s Guardian points out, even that may not be enough.Let`s face it, what would many employers and companies do, if forced by law, to pay the living wage, currently £7.45, and £8.55 in London? In order to ensure neither their profits nor bonuses were reduced, many would employ more part-time staff, and place more workers on zero-hours contracts! If £7.45 an hour was the level of pay, but only 20 hours worked, for example, many employees could well be worse off. 
      One solution, as the letter suggests, is to have a living income, rather than an hourly figure, as the target, calculated by the writer, as £298 a week, or £15,596 a year,£342 and £17,784 for London. This would certainly provide a clearer picture of the treatment of workers in this country, especially as it would make it easier to compare workers` incomes with those of the bosses, and also strengthen the argument for any political party, should there be one, which is contemplating taxing the rich in an effort to restore an element of fairness into our society; not holding my breath on that one!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Gove`s cunning plan

If not enough children could jump over a three foot bar, would the number be increased by raising the bar to four foot? Of course not, but isn`t this exactly what Gove is doing, in his words, "to improve the attainment of pupils in England"?  Lots of reasons exist to explain England`s low ranking for numeracy and literacy among 16 to 24 year olds, but none of them is the nature of the examinations taken by them when they were 16, and the cutting of resources which limit the amount of early intervention, in places like Sure Start centres, will only add to the problems.
      Increasing rigour, with more emphasis on grammar, spelling and punctuation in all written examinations, and on such things as proportion and probability in Maths, could be achieved by a re-wording of the mark schemes by the examiners.Gove`s wholesale changes of assessment and content, whilst perhaps adding extra challenge for the brightest, will only serve to demoralise the average and below-average students. A curriculum and assessment system,based on ones delivered in  20th century private schools, will lead to the demise of many subjects incorrectly perceived by right-wing politicians to have no value in the 21st, and will increase the likelihood of failure for many pupils, especially those from less affluent backgrounds.

     Taking education back to a 50s style system, universally seen by educationalists to have been flawed, must be seen for what it is, an ideologically-driven political exercise. Words like "planet" and "which" spring to mind when one recalls that Clegg agreed to give these reforms his party`s approval because there was no danger of the end-result being a two-tiered system of state education! Without the intervention of  a Labour government intent on upholding equality of opportunity as one of its fundamental principles, a nationwide system of grammar schools is the inevitable consequence of Goveism. Unless Labour no longer sees itself as the champion of comprehensive education,  opposition must be voiced to Gove`s changes immediately; failure to do so will be giving tacit agreement to an examination system designed to limit the chances of success for children from working class backgrounds.

Friday, 1 November 2013

In defence of Hunt!!

I was disappointed by his appointment, and have been appalled by some of his comments, and Tristram Hunt is only a couple of weeks into his job as shadow education spokesperson! His support for Gove`s pet project, free schools, is counter to the belief Labour supposedly has in state education and equality of opportunity, whilst his ridiculous remarks on Question Time favouring Performance Related Pay for teachers will have been daunting for all those employed in education, hoping for a better deal from a Labour government.
However, the suggestion in today`s Morning Star that he "faced a TV savaging" on Newsnight last Wednesday is a slight exaggeration.His arguments in favour of having qualified teachers were forceful and well researched, and it`s a shame that he hadn`t spent as much time looking into PRP before his previous television appearance.His defence, in fact, of Labour`s policy of insisting all teachers in the state sector be trained and qualified, regardless of their subject expertise, was so persuasive, Paxman had to resort, as he always does when out-argued, to asking personal questions demanding "yes" or "no" answers, and then repeating them. Admittedly, Hunt should have been better prepared for such questioning, so that the answer would have been "Yes", he would send his children to state schools with unqualified teachers, because within eighteen months, a Labour government would make it illegal to employ such teachers anyway, and that there was no need to contemplate private education for his children, because the qualified teachers in the state sector are doing such a good job.
       What the programme showed, as does his other programme, University Challenge, was the arrogant and patronising attitude of Paxman, whose contract,especially in view of revelations made by the Observer newspaper last year about him, and some other BBC presenters, in relation to tax avoidance, should not be renewed.

BBC Solutions

It comes to something when Graham Norton, "one of the BBC`s highest-paid stars", criticises his employer for wasting taxpayers` money on "multimillion payoffs to departing senior executives". Money could also be saved by adopting the tactic the Green party`s MP, Caroline Lucas, has suggested for rail companies, without the resultant state-ownership; when the contracts of ageing and arrogant presenters expire, end them; not only are they too expensive, many still are tainted by the accusations made by the Observer last year of tax avoidance, and such claims do not lose credence when current affairs programmes of the corporation pay so little attention to the subject.
      Norton also accuses the BBC of scoring "way too many own goals", most appropriately, when the prime culprit is the over-long crisp advertisement, otherwise known as Match of the Day. The Corporation still doesn`t get it,does it, as changing the pundits every week shows? They could have the Queen and Pope doing the "analysis", but as long as they re-showed the goals, already shown 4 times, in slow motion, and used their technology to reveal the assistant referee`s decision made in a fraction of a second, using only two eyes,as idiotic, the programme would still flounder. If they must have punditry, because that`s what their rivals do, the obvious solution is to show all the football action first, leaving the "analysis" to the second half of the programme; most of us could enjoy an extra thirty minutes` sleep every Saturday night!

Page 34 for Saharan tragedy!

 The fact that the shocking story of the finding of 92 dead bodies in the Sahara desert, so emblematic of the world`s rich-poor divide, was  reported on the Guardian`s page 34, albeit on a whole page, whilst the front page, in true tabloid style, as Steve Bell`s cartoon so graphically showed,was devoted to a "six year affair" between disgraced journalists, is disappointing. Similarly,it was twenty past six before the tragedy featured on Radio 4`s evening news, again with priority given to the Brooks Coulson trial.
What sort of country has Britain become, when our  two most trustworthy sources of information view the desperate plight of people,"almost all women and children", unfortunate enough to be born in a country rated "the worst place in the world to be a mother " by Save the Children, with an indifference verging on the callous? A story so insignificant it seems, it ranks below the "clandestine relationship" of phone hacking editors of newspapers, often correctly described as examples of the "gutter press", with good reason!

Barclays` TRANSFORM 2nd edition

The Guardian reported in February this year that Antony Jenkins, chief executive of Barclays Bank,had said in a press conference, "We get it, we are changing the way we do business". He added that the bank would put ethics above earnings, and unveiled his grand plan, "Project Transform"; this was a management jargon acronym, standing for Turnaround, Return Acceptable Numbers and Sustain Forward Momentum, all designed to restore Barclays` reputation in the wake of Libor-fixing, PPI mis-selling and the other scandals and scams it was involved in.
  In view of this week`s news, the acronym may need some tweaking:
T - Targets, like the compensation to income ratio target of 35%, to be ignored.
R - Reduce staff numbers by 40,000, with "a vision for more technology".
A - Avoid the EU cap on bonuses.
N - No change to the banking culture. 
S - Shareholders to be tapped "for £6bn to bolster its financial strength".
F -  Fall in profits to be expected, in view of possible fines for fraudulent actions by staff.
O - Obfuscate when caught out, as in spouting jargon about the need "to push harder".
R - Reward staff with 41% of income in case bonuses paid not sufficient.
M - Manipulate the £3tn-a-day currency markets.
            In addition to the Barclays` scandal there is the disappearance of our main ethical bank, so there could not possibly be a more opportune time for Labour to propose the creation of a state-owned bank after the election, one in which taxpayers could place some trust. There doesn`t appear to be one around at the moment which deserves it!