Saturday, 31 May 2014

Tristram needs to read this!

 Selina Todd is a Fellow of St Hilda's College, Oxford, and author of The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class, 1910-2010. This is my response to her Guardian article:  

After the recent fuss about state school pupils lacking "character and resilience", largely created by, of all people, the shadow education secretary, how refreshing it was to read a positive article about state education in a national newspaper. (At my college we celebrate comprehensive schools, and the character they produce,27/05/14) The Establishment clearly thinks that a state education is somehow inferior to going to a  public school, so Selina Todd`s opinion that her students,"all educated at comprehensive schools" and all having "received excellent teaching", have "moral character" is to be welcomed. It would help if the person wanting to be in charge of state schools thought the same, instead of agreeing with the prep school head who recently said that state educated pupils lacked a "moral compass". In my 40+ years of teaching in state schools, I saw pupils from a variety of backgrounds displaying "character" and "resilience" by the bucketload every day, recovering from serious setbacks and problems, many of which the results of changes in government policy, and still determined to do their best. Why is it that the privately educated fail to accept this, and repeatedly insist that only in private schools can "character" be developed?
   In a week when the Labour party is being inundated with advice about the best ways to retrieve disillusioned voters, it could do worse than send its prospective education secretary up to Oxford to talk with the history department at St Hilda`s! Tristram could then pop over to Cambridge and remind the admissions tutors of the research done by Cardiff and Oxford Brookes universities which revealed that "students from state schools gained better degrees than independently educated candidates with the same A-level grades". A pledge to increase social mobility is a vote-winner! Sadly, he `s probably too busy with his book to manage it.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

BBC not blameless over Ukip

Well done, Russia Today!  How apposite that the "Kremlin-backed news programme", as reported in the Independent,  highlighted the "royal family`s links" to the Nazis at a time when our state-owned BBC is giving free publicity to a man, who in many ways really does deserve to be compared  to Hitler. Charles`s remarks about Putin merely showed his biased understanding of both history and current political affairs, but there is no excuse for the BBC`s lack of political judgement again revealing itself, this time in its build-up to the recent elections. Not only does the racist Farage denigrate other nationalities, he has uniformed members of an organisation called Britain First, with a reputation for intimidating muslim communities, at his meetings, and he plays on the fears of ordinary people during economic hardship. Yet he appears repeatedly on flagship programmes like Question Time and the Marr show, despite having no MPs at Westminster. As a result of the easy ride he is given on such programmes, even by Paxman on Newsnight, thousands voted for him without knowing the details of his policies, and how, for example, his support for a flat rate of income tax would  increase the amount paid by the poorer sections of society, and reduce that paid by the rich!

Grammar schools: the Myth (Letter, 16/12/13)

Tory views of grammar schools have long needed  challenging, if not repudiating; well done Michael Wilshaw! (Independent,16/12/13) Of course, as David Davis says,many working class students achieved success in such schools, and were given opportunites of advancement, but how many were denied one, and instead, given an inferior education in a secondary modern, because a test at the age of 11 had designated them as having no potential. In comprehensive schools, created in the knowledge that students` intelligence and potential continue to develop after 11, all pupils get an "opportunity". Examination results were not as good as they should have been; in my two-form entry grammar school, half of the pupils were immediately written off and put into the B stream, where the teachers were even less enthusiastic, the subjects, naturally, "less academic", and the results woeful. Wilshaw`s analysis, for once, can be supported by most teachers.
 The recent laudation of grammar schools was to be expected because it is increasingly being realised that their return is the whole point, along with personal political ambition, of Gove`s examination reforms; schools with only 20% of their pupils capable of examination success will be forced to adopt less rigorous curricula, whilst schools with 80% will force out the minority so they can concentrate on topping spurious league tables. Disappointingly, the penny has yet to drop in all political circles, hardly surprising perhaps, when so few of our opposition politicians are able to respond to such Tory propaganda, largely because of their own education in private schools.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Miliband`s policies are too moderate

Miliband is following the 35 per cent core vote strategy, albeit reiterating more traditional Labour and social democratic values, but in ways that are clearly too modest and moderate; his big pledge to make the Labour party different from the other mainstream parties has not been honoured, with the inevitable result that Labour is hemorrhaging too many votes to Ukip, with disillusioned voters feeling betrayed.  
   Rather than accepting that the days of large single-majorities may be a thing of the past, Labour should be aiming for a mandate from the electorate to enable it to transform our society which sees inequality rise every day, social mobility decline, and the weak and less fortunate driven to food banks and payday lenders. By hammering home the coalition`s appalling record, exposing Ukip`s tax and health plans, and repeating, with all the front-bench involved rather than too much focus on the leader, major proposals to save the NHS, the East Coast railway and RBS from privatisation, to introduce fairer taxation and education policies, and economic policies which increase the minimum wage, end the profiteering of private landlords, and produce millions of affordable homes, Labour can win with a significant majority.Indeed, had such measures been adopted earlier, Labour would have limited Farage`s success to a few tremors rather than what he calls an "earthquake"! 
     Getting more young people to vote would undoubtedly benefit Labour at the polls, and "bolder" policies, especially on rents and tax avoiding landlords, could do the trick, and "seize their imagination". However, more accessible polling stations, at supermarkets, town centres and university campuses, would force politicians out of the complacency which feeds the current corruption. A bold move by Labour could see a Private Member`s Bill on changing the location of voting, and a debate in the next session of parliament!
       John Phillips of the GMB was right to say at the Wales TUC conference that Thatcher`s "sell-off of a million council houses still hurts today", and that private landlords are the "real beneficiaries of Britain`s welfare system".  Not only are they charging extortionate rents for property that is often sub-standard, they are bleeding the taxpayers dry! Housing benefits going to these modern-day Rachmanns have risen by a massive 51% since 2008.  Just as bad is the fact that tax avoidance is rife in the private rental sector; one tax evading landlord managed to deprive the Treasury of £84,000, yet recently only received a suspended one year sentence! HMRC is exaggerating hugely when claiming such tax avoiders "are playing a high risk game", with such meagre punishment. A think tank regards BTL as meaning "Big Tax Let-off", (as opposed to Buy To Let) with "tax breaks for private landlords" adding up to £5bn a year, so wouldn`t one expect Labour to be targetting this for its first post-election budget?

    Labour would have been ignoring an electoral boost if it were not to pledge "a cap on rent". As, however, rents at the moment are still way too high, it should be considering a return to 2010 rent levels,whilst an Ofsted-style inspection team is set up to ensure properties are well-maintained, equipped with safety alarms and such like. If the Tory response to modest proposals is to accuse Labour of "Venezuela-style rent controls", Miliband may as well be radical, and get the job done. Again the question can be asked: What is the point of being a Labour PM if all you`re going to do is tinker, when transformation is required? The Wales TUC  conference delegates  demanded  "robust regulation of the private rented sector". The sooner Labour commits itself fully to this, the ending of tax perks for profiteering landlords, and to the creation of more social housing the better! Whilst on the subject of tax avoidance, should not all evaders and avoiders with honours have to send them back, and those who represent us in sport or parliament not be allowed to do so again?
     Are the policies on minimum wage bold enough to re-assure defectors to Ukip? Are Tristram Hunt`s comments on free schools and Performance Related Pay simply feeble attempts to out-gove Gove? Accept that they cannot out-gun the Tories and Ukip parties on immigration, and instead hone already publicised policies with the aim of making them more accessible and believable. Do its statements on HS2, Trident, a third runway and most importantly, austerity, suggest a party that is ready to govern or one that is going to carry on policies pretty similar to those of the coalition? What about the NHS and its funding? There`s a state-owned bank out there waiting to be used for the benefit of the taxpayers, and a majority of them support the NHS.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

changes to voting system

Maybe Cameron had a point when he said that voting in a general election was too important to be done by just pressing a button on a mobile phone, but Polly Toynbee is absolutely right to say that changes are urgently needed in the system she describes as "an archaic anachronism". (The British electoral system is corrupt - let`s change it,23/05/14) The truth is that despite turnouts dropping from 83.6% in 1950 to 65% sixty years later, there is "no sense of a crisis of legitimacy"; if there was, as Polly says, "Westminster would do its utmost to encourage voting". Aiming to attract 35% of that 65% cannot be described as "democracy in action"!
 Getting more young people to vote would undoubtedly benefit Labour at the polls, and "bolder" policies, especially on rents and tax avoiding landlords, could do the trick, and "seize their imagination". However, more accessible polling stations, at supermarkets, town centres and university campuses, would force politicians out of the complacency which feeds the current corruption. A bold move by Labour could see a Private Member`s Bill on changing the location of voting, and a debate in the next session of parliament!

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Radical proposals on rents needed if young are to be persuaded

  Jeremy Corbyn is absolutely right when he writes in the Morning Star that Miliband`s "proposals provide some degree of security and a step in the right direction regarding the behaviour of the letting agents" but he is also correct in criticising the Labour leader for being too cautious. ("Housing:A modest proposal, 08/05/14)
       John Phillips of the GMB was right to say at the Wales TUC conference that Thatcher`s "sell-off of a million council houses still hurts today", and that private landlords are the "real beneficiaries of Britain`s welfare system" (Morning Star,23/05/14)  Not only are they charging extortionate rents for property that is often sub-standard, they are bleeding the taxpayers dry! Housing benefits going to these modern-day Rachmanns have risen by a massive 51% since 2008.
     Also, tax avoidance is rife in the private rental sector; one tax evading landlord managed to deprive the Treasury of £84,000, yet recently only received a suspended one year sentence! HMRC may be exaggerating slightly when claiming such tax avoiders "are playing a high risk game", when the punishment is so meagre. Similarly, as a think tank regards BTL as meaning "Big Tax Let-off", (as opposed to Buy To Let) with "tax breaks for private landlords" adding up to £5bn a year, wouldn`t one expect the opposition to be targetting this for its first post-election budget? As most young people rent their homes from private landlords, and as Labour could have a landslide victory if it could persuade them to vote for them, now is hardly the time to present "modest" proposals to the electorate. In fact it`s downright silly, especially as nearly all students have experienced exploitation at first hand from private landlords! A cap at today`s levels is still not going to enable young people to save for a deposit for their own so-called "affordable" home!

    It`s not just in London, where exhorbitant rents are being pocketed by greedy landlords, and where these high rents are subsidised by housing benefit, and Labour would be ignoring an electoral boost if it were not to pledge "a cap on rent". It should be considering, also, a return to 2010 rent levels,whilst an Ofsted-style inspection team is set up to ensure properties are well-maintained, equipped with safety alarms and such like. If the Tory response to modest proposals is to accuse Labour of "Venezuela-style rent controls", Miliband may as well be radical, and get the job done. What is the point of being a Labour PM if all you`re going to do is tinker, when transformation is required?

Letter to Observer on need to end low pay.

Although technically correct to say that the first "big downside" to the way the labour market works is that "the taxpayer ends up subsidising low pay through tax credits and the benefits system", your Business Leader could have strengthened its argument with more appropriate wording. (Workers have become management`s prey and a natural balance needs to be restored,18/05/14) The more apposite way of expressing this would be that the "taxpayer ends up subsidising" the profits of the companies which refuse to pay their workers a living wage. One way of achieving a reduction in the level of inequality in this country is to force companies to accept lower profit margins, and therefore smaller dividends for their shareholders, by paying their workers more. If George Osborne thinks the minimum wage could go up to £7.00 an hour, then clearly it could increase substantially more!
       The article correctly puts much of the blame for low pay on "the loss of labour`s bargaining power", and this could be remedied by a commitment from Labour to introduce co-determination, as in West Germany from the 1950s onwards; there, union representatives sat on companies` boards, having a say in all decisions, and the result was less industrial action, no obscenely high rewards for bosses, and, of course, increased productivity. Britain may be "well advanced down the road" to the situation where capitalism "ends up eating itself", but if Miliband is serious in his support for "responsible capitalism", reducing inequality and restoring fairness to our society, he can offer the electorate policies which would guarantee a u-turn! 
 Under a Labour government there should be no such thing as a Low Pay Commission; it`s got to be changed to Fair Pay at least!

Friday, 23 May 2014

Labour should reject Blairism with a People`s bank for the NHS

How disappointing to see that the political editor of the left-leaning Guardian describes Miliband`s proposals on low pay as "radical plans".(Labour: we will link minimum pay to earnings,19/05/14)  Even the ultra-right wing George Osborne was willing to acknowledge that the minimum wage should be £7.00 an hour, 57% of the median earnings, so a suggestion from the leader of the Labour party to work towards 60% is far from signifying root and branch change! Of course, the Tories and the CBI will churn out the usual alarmist objections about unemployment rising, the minimum wage becoming a "political football" and such like, but they would if the proposal was for a rise to 56%. 
    Indeed, this sort of promise to "write a new chapter in the battle against low pay" has been a long time in coming, and the blame for this must lie with the Blairites in the party. Fearful of upsetting the suppering classes of the south`s marginal seats, their moderate "35 per cent strategy" has led to Labour struggling in the polls, and hemorrhaging votes to the Ukip party. This proposal from Miliband will barely make a dent in the levels of inequalty in the country, but it`s an important step in the right direction, and as a token gesture, a Labour government should immediately change the name of  the relevant commission from Low Pay to Fair Pay Commission.Those who think the minimum wage should not rise, I`m afraid, will never vote Labour, and Labour should not be abandoning its principles of fairness to attract them.
        Miliband is good at making promises to take action which only tinkers with the problem, rather than dealing with it properly. His ideas on rent caps do nothing about the excessive rents being paid now, the appalling condition of some rented properties, or the tax avoidance of many private landlords.For example, one tax evading landlord managed to deprive the Treasury of £84,000, yet recently only received a suspended one year sentence! HMRC is exaggerating hugely when claiming such tax avoiders "are playing a high risk game", when the punishment is so meagre. Similarly, as a think tank regards BTL as meaning "Big Tax Let-off", (as opposed to Buy To Let) with "tax breaks for private landlords" adding up to £5bn a year, wouldn`t one expect the opposition to be targetting this for its first post-election budget? It might just  convince young people that the Labour party is on their side.
          Miliband could show that under his leadership his party is different by actually taking on the banks; already 81% owned by the state RBS must not be sold, and a pledge made by him to renationalise after the election would prevent its sale. A People`s bank could be the vote-winner Labour seeks; of course, there will be problems because of forthcoming fines but it could attract customers by offering better rates than the high street ones because it could have lower profit margins, and pay sensible salaries as opposed to annual lottery wins, and award no bonuses. All profits would go to the state, but even better if they were ringfenced for the NHS., solving two problems at one go. The corrupt scam-devising banks would lose customers to this new bank, and Labour could fund all of Andy Burnham`s plans. A People`s NHS Bank could be the start of the transformation of our society which so many of us desire. A bank actually putting "ethics before profits" and benefitting the nation, could catch on! 

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Principles or personality? It`s a no-brainer!

      After the second world war, did the people of Britain worry about Clement Attlee`s lack of charisma and his hopeless attempts at public relations, or did they simply want a fairer society, better homes, improved educational opportunities for their children, and have hopes for a free health service for all? After all, they weren`t voting for a president, but the leader of the party with the policies which suited their needs the most.
      The political system has not changed, yet now, it appears, the leader`s personality is as important as his policies.and for some, more so! The news that Ed Miliband "makes four out of ten people less likely to vote Labour" is disappointing. Voters now seem to care more about politicians` geekiness than their proposals, more about their hairstyles than their principles. Is it any wonder we end up with a government which passes legislation to benefit the rich and to curtail social mobility, and  privatises institutions owned by the people at the drop of a hat?


Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Tax avoiders` excuses must be de-bunked

The view that "if half the energy devoted to rooting out so-called benefit cheats was switched to tackling tax-dodging companies", society would be "more just" is widely held. However, Cameron`s recent failure to insist on Gary Barlow`s return of hIs OBE is sending out the message that there is no disgrace in tax avoidance, not even when caught, cheating the Treasury of millions; the only punishment is paying  what you should have paid in the first place! Tightening the laws will help, but lawyers and accountants will inevitably find new loopholes; only when public humiliation is the accepted punishment for those who partake in tax avoidance, whether they be the CEOs of large businesses or popular sports people and entertainers, can there be any realistic hope of curtailing the practice.
   Another excuse the tax avoiders use is that the vast majority of people only pay tax, because they have no alternative, when the truth is that millions pay because it`s fair; taxation gives the country its free education and health services, it helps the less fortunate, it provides the country and its population with security, and lots more. In fact, it provides the very people who avoid paying their fair share with most of their reasons for living here. 
    Tax avoiders even claim their practice is akin to many in society having tax-free savings accounts. As Simon Read in the Independent recently wrote, there is a "world of difference between tax loopholes and legitimate, government- backed schemes" like Isas.(It`s the lengths to which the rich go, and the loopholes thay find, that makes their tax avoidance stink,17/05/14) The latter were devised to encourage savings at a time when inflation was soaring, and the amount of money in circulation had to be restricted. Their recent expansion has less to do with taxation and more with winning electoral support from Tory waverers.
    However, Read wrongly  asserted that the tax experts who spot the loopholes are the ones who should "take the brunt of the blame" for tax avoidance,and there are two reasons for this view being incorrect:     
     One is that these so-called "experts" are invited by governments to sit on Treasury committees discussing tax laws, and so influence the framing of the legislation; if governments stopped inviting them, finding the inevitable loopholes would be more problematic.
      Secondly, no-one forces rich individuals to take accountants` advice.They know exactly why taxation has to be levied in a civilised country, and choose deliberately not to pay their fair share, despite knowing, as we all do, of such things as the NHS being badly in need of extra funding, state schools suffering financially, Sure Start centres being closed and care workers being paid pittance. That`s why honours previously awarded need to be taken back from all tax avoiders and evaders! The excuse that tax avoidance and the reasons for the honour are separate, and should be treated as such, is plain nonsense!
     Rumours abound,despite injunctions and so forth, about the tax preferences of sports stars. Should the likes of Farah and Hamilton still represent Britain if they choose to change their main place of residency away from Britain, which is where they spent their formative years, in order to pay less tax to our Treasury? Should footballers who invest in tax avoiding schemes, so as to contribute less of their huge wealth to the taxman, be allowed to represent their British countries? In the 18th century Americans, being forced by the British government to pay taxes despite having no MPs speaking on their behalf, rebelled, claiming "No taxation without representation". Now, with tax avoidance so widespread it has been described as an "industry" by Margaret Hodge, is it not time to reverse the slogan? "No representation without taxation" seems pretty fair to me.
       Until tax avoiders are publicly disgraced, with as much opprobrium as possible, the problem will persist, the Treasury will be denied billions every year, and essential services will be underfunded. Instead of the usual rhetoric from politicians, like "morally repugnant" and "smell the coffee", some transparency from them on their own tax details would be welcomed. The trouble is Miliband`s silence on the subject of Cameron promising, and failing of course, to disclose his own tax details as far  back as April 2012 is deafening! Failure to score political points on this issue suggests Labour`s disclosures would be too embarrassing! 

Monday, 19 May 2014

Decreased social mobility is government`s education policy

          Reeta Chakrabarti, the BBC`s social affairs correspondent, wrote earlier this year that "successive governments have all tried to increase social mobility" in Britain, with "varied rates of success".That last point certainly is irrefutable; in 1991 17% of top earners came from low-earning families, but by 2000 that fell to 13%, with 42% from the richest families. The situation today is worse; a recent OECD survey, looking at "intergenerational social mobility", which basically means the extent "individuals move up the social ladder compared with their parents", found Britain at the bottom of a league table of twelve developed OECD countries. One has to question, therefore, whether the current coalition government really wants social mobility to be increased at all. Another league table puts Britain in 28th position out of 34 developed countries in terms of equality;  the bottom 50% of the UK population owns between 2% and 3% of the wealth.
      As Adnan Al-Daini pointed out in his excellent article for the Huffington Post, "Corrupt Capitalism -The Denial of Equality of Opportunity", the ending of the Education Maintenance Allowance, the grant to help students from poor backgrounds stay on at sixth form, and the huge hike in university fees, are two obvious examples of coalition government measures making social and economic movement less likely. But there are others.
     One of Gove`s first actions as Education Secretary was to create a crisis out of another round of excellent GCSE results, giving him the unfounded excuse he wanted to begin a raft of changes to the assessment system. Ending coursework, modules, chances to resit, and relying solely on end-of-course examinations all have the effect of benefitting children from well-off, stable and educated families, and all were introduced against the advice of experienced teachers and examiners. Similar things are happening at A-levels,  with AS examinations removed along with coursework and the January modules, and no doubt criterion referenced assessment will come under scrutiny soon; all of these were intended to make assessment fairer, enabling a greater variety of skills plus understanding to be tested, rather than relying on memory-based examinations. Who is the better historian? The student who can remember to put ten battles in order in their essays, along with the correct dates, or the student who can only remember five, but can analyse and evaluate a document written to justify the wars? 
      Whatever happened to the ideas of level playing fields and equality of opportunity? Austerity measures, leading to worse poverty, imposed on many homes will add to the problem, and increase pressures on potential university students to leave school early and get  low-paid  jobs, often on zero-hours contracts, and usually with little prospect of promotion.
      The introduction of new grades at GCSE, 1-9, cannot have been initiated for any reason other than the fact that too many state school students were getting top grades, and it`s the same reason the A* grade was introduced in the first place, By extending the grading process the hope is that superior results can be attained again by the private sector, and that more state school pupils can be classed as failures, who then become so disillusioned with education, they get away from it as soon as possible. Inevitably, the effect will be fewer state pupils attaining top levels, and when something like 50% of the students are unable to succeed, new, more suitable, courses will have to be devised for them, and then, of course, separate schools will have to be created. The "back to the 1950s" charge begun by Gove will have reached its ideological conclusion, and social mobility will decrease further. 
      This also explains why the government uses the  flawed  results of the so-called Pisa tests to justify making such changes, when other education surveys, such as recent Pearson ones, have shown  Britain`s education standards  to be relatively much higher. Sadly, even the shadow secretary for education appears to form his opinions after listening to Gove`s speeches and watching television documentaries about poor discipline in British schools! An article late last year in the Guardian by Fiona Miller, "Who has all the big ideas?" revealed how the majority of advisers and members of think-tanks behind  the main parties`education policies are privately educated, with Oxbridge degrees. It is very unlikely they will have the knowledge and expertise necessary to come up with ideas which will lead to a state education system promoting social mobility!
     Whilst many university graduates fail to land  jobs where they can earn £21,000 a year, to warrant their paying back student loans, Oxbridge graduates dominate the top jobs in our society. Oxbridge takes a large proportion of their students from the private sector, which is attended by only 7% of the pupil population. Until all universities are allowed only the same percentage of their students from private schools, how can anyone expect social mobility to improve? Instead of doing something to redress the balance, like perhaps ending the charitable status enjoyed by private schools, or ending the exemption from VAT which private school fees enjoy, recent governments have done precisely nothing. Internships, where graduates from wealthy homes get valuable but unpaid "work experience"  are yet to be banned. Yet politicians expect the electorate to believe that social mobility is on their agenda.
      Before the general election next year, party leaders need to be pressed on how they intend, if elected, to improve the social and economic prospects of young people from poor backgrounds. It`s a heaven-sent opportunity for Miliband to prove that his party is different from the others, but if he cannot show the young people of this country, desperate as they are for fairness and level playing fields, that he is worth voting for, we cannot blame them for their cynicism, and for not voting.
    The question has been asked before: what is the point of being a Labour Prime Minister if all you intend to do is tinker, when you have the chance to transform?


Character and resilience by the bucketload

Yet another criticism of state school pupils, and by implication their teachers, from a think-tank,(Demos) following "its examination of skills and experience gained with a scout group"! In my 40+ years of teaching in state schools, I saw pupils from working class backgrounds displaying "character" and "resilience" by the bucketload every day, recovering from serious setbacks and diverse problems, and still determined to do their best. Why is it that the privately educated fail to accept this, and repeatedly insist that only in private schools can "character" be developed? Gove, of course, is the worst offender, and changed the assessment system because state schools` results improved so much. Privately-educated Tristram Hunt has shown frequently that he is one of Miliband`s worst appointments with his remarks about "character" being taught so much better in lavishly appointed and staffed private schools. It would be interesting to discover how many members of this think-tank, Demos, were privately educated? 

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Tax transparency would be electorally sensible, but....

      Cameron`s refusal to publish his tax returns more than two years after he was relaxed about the information being made public presents Miliband with a wonderful opportunity, not only to score valuable political points after a bad week in the polls, but also to show that the Labour party is different from the others.
      He should now briefly state his own tax details, and throw down the gauntlet to the other leaders to do the same. Miliband could even promise that all Labour MPs and candidates in the general election will make similar disclosures between now and May,2015. Now that really would be transparency in action, and put pressure on all political rivals, and perhaps even encourage usual non-voters to participate. 
      On the other hand, sadly, failure to score such easy political points suggests there is something to hide,as does Miliband`s failure to raise the issue at PMQs, and that the cynics are right: they are all in it together!  


Thursday, 15 May 2014

10 ideas for Labour to gain support of young people

Millions of young people are disillusioned with politics and politicians, but if Labour could harness their support, an election victory would be assured. Here are Ten ideas on how Labour could win over the young:
Most young people pay rent to private landlords, or have had experience of doing so. Therefore Labour needs to promise much more. Rents are already way too high so capping them now does not help many. Conditions in many properties are appalling, so how about an Ofsted-style inspectorate to be set up to determine appropriate rent? Many of the profiteering landlords are tax avoiders and evaders, so HMRC should be targeting them.
Students especially are prone to exploitation by rogue landlords so new regulations should be considered. As all students are in the same boat, why not a standard rent per room per week, inflation-linked, and regardless of city, district etc, provided it meets certain criteria, like access to suitable kitchen, showers, bathroom, wifi etc. All students paying reduced fees with govt. loans to have accounts opened for them in a state-owned People`s Bank.
Pledge that increasing social mobility will be a priority target of Labour government, because top jobs going to Oxbridge graduates, privately educated pupils dominating top universities etc is unfair. (Labour prides itself on its fairness!) A cap at 10% of all students at any university to be from private schools will do for starters.
Social media, if utilised properly, can be successful in persuading young people out of their political apathy, as shown recently in America. Constant reminders of what the coalition has done, of what the Tories would do if given the chance, of how lives have been endangered by the malicious cuts, and of the difference Labour will make, can work wonders, especially if the messages are varied and appear on all aspects of social media.
 Messages to the young need to be delivered by young Labour supporters. A team of four Labour activists, preferably from ordinary backgrounds, state schools and perhaps already working at Westminster, could be set up to write the messages, and perhaps devise a power-point for all Labour MPs and candidates to use in their constituencies when talking to young people, with youtube links to demonstrate exactly why their votes are needed.(eg Teacher unions used a very funny one of Gove!)
Young and famous people, provided there are no tax avoidance scandals possible, thus ruling out most sports stars, could be "volunteered" into posting messages on social media, thereby having rather a cooler appeal than most politicians.
 Over half of young people are female, so most messages and party broadcasts should be delivered by females; the female MPs for Labour need to have a more public face and the male leaders less.
Many young people earn pittance so policy to end zero-hours contracts needs to be designed specifically for them, They would probably welcome knowing which employers were the best, so a Labour govt could initiate a system whereby awards are given to companies, to display in their advertising, when they pay correct tax, pay all workers at least living wage, with no zero-hours contracts, allow trade unions to operate freely, and have an appropriate number of suitable apprenticeship schemes.(all similar to the Blue Eagles in FDR`s USA)
"Three line whip" on all Labour MPs and candidates visiting secondary schools in their constituencies to talk to older pupils. Probably not many voters this time but undoubtedly influential members of families and communities. Damaging effects of Gove`s reforms on agenda, with pledges to repeal damaging assessment changes.

Challenge the coalition to change the location of polling booths before May 2015, or at least promise to do so when in government.They need to be less traditional and more accessible eg supermarkets, town centres, college campuses etc.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Tax avoidance: written in August 2012

The elephant left in the room of the potential Labour voters may well be immigration and/or crime and punishment, but sitting comfortably in the corner of the lounges of the Labour leaders and MPs is the jumbo known as “tax transparency”, something clearly none of them is keen to discuss.
Long before the Jimmy Carr expose, but keen as ever to cash in on the public`s distaste for bankers` malpractice, in April of this year Cameron said that the tax details of leading Coalition cabinet members would be made public after the May elections. No surprise that this didn`t happen; the surprise was Labour`s reaction, deafening  silence! Wasn`t this a wonderful opportunity to nail the “posh boys” once and for all? Cameron had clearly failed to honour the pledge because of the embarrassment the revelations would cause; they were either earning megabucks and putting most of it in offshore accounts, or having their ministerial and parliamentary salaries paid, not directly into their current accounts, but into their private companies, to avoid the higher rate of income tax by qualifying for the lower rate of corporation tax. Imagine the furore that would ensue, a scandal on the front pages around the world; government ministers elected to set fair levels of taxation for the people, fraudulently not paying them themselves. Resignations would be demanded by the electorate….but not by the Opposition! The only possible reason for Milliband and co. not putting the knife in the heart of the unelected plutocracy we`re forced to describe as a government must be that  his party is up to the same tricks; tax avoidance, costing the Treasury billions clearly isn`t the preserve of the rich Tory-voting upper classes and their Westminster cronies. Too many of the Labour MPs getting their  salaries paid into their own companies, possibly too many of the shadow cabinet, so neither Milliband nor Balls have the necessary ammunition to go on the offensive. For all I know it`s the done thing throughout Westminster; it certainly would explain the feeble attempts to claw back the billions lost in tax avoidance. Why not join with Obama, Merkel and Hollande in an anti-tax evasion alliance? Why no effective opposition to the job losses incurred by tax inspectors at HMRC? Reducing their number  by over three thousand is hardly an indication that parliament is at war with tax avoiders.
 The Guardian recently reported that HMRC was having difficulty with Ipsa because many MPs were trying to reduce their taxes because they were having to pay accountants to help them with their expenses! An Ipsa spokesperson admitted that the MPs were “more akin to businesses” these days.
So what can Labour do? Why not adopt tax transparency for all individuals and businesses as a pledge to be included in the next election? It could be easily done, by insisting that all tax records be put on HMRC`s website. If there`s to be a new non-predatory capitalism, everyone has to be sure the correct amount of taxes is being paid, by individuals as well as corporations. The argument that this would infringe the human right to privacy will have to be countered with facts about other countries successfully imposing it, and figures about how much money would be saved and how many job losses would be prevented. Add, also, another detail, that of including the topic, the  “moral obligation of paying tax”, in all schools` Citizenship or PSE curricula. Also, if, as Polly Toynbee wrote, in June, that  we need to be on a "war footing", tax avoidance needs to be seen for what it is, a crime against society, and those, who devise methods to evade the payment of what is due to the Exchequer by law, as criminals. Individuals who form their own companies, purely to avoid paying the full amount of taxation due on their salaries, need to be exposed, and the practice outlawed. In fact, as might happen in a wartime emergency, why not make it illegal for individuals and corporations to take any action which is deemed to be against the spirit of the taxation laws? A few high profile cases, and a few so-called celebrities and CEOs in gaol for a few months, could well work wonders.
 This is a jumbo-sized problem, an elephant who refuses to be ignored any longer. Addressing the problem will take time; Labour MPs will need months to end their unscrupulous practices, which even Osborne had the brass neck to call “morally repugnant”, but the electoral, not to mention ethical,  rewards would be enormous. We cannot expect capitalism to improve without more stringent measures being imposed on tax avoidance, and if that is to happen, clearer guidance is needed for Labour candidates, whose tax records would be under the most intense scrutiny. Once the tax records of all the candidates were in the public domain, the voters would be in a better position to make a sensible choice, and one would hope, in view of the values of fairness and justice, which the party is meant to uphold, it would be to the electoral benefit of Labour.
Milliband has been keen to stress, since his election as leader, that not all politicians are the same, not necessarily a view strongly held by a large proportion of the electorate. Making transparency on tax a key Labour policy would give Labour MPs and Labour candidates the moral advantage, crucial for election success, and begin the much-needed process of creating a new perception of the nation`s political classes. Delaying the process can only benefit the Tories, as crucial to future Labour success is winning over the 18-35 groups who easily can be put off voting altogether by more and more tax avoidance scams being exposed.
As a teacher in a 6th form college I see a generation of decent and extremely industrious students in need of political guidance and leadership. They can be won over, but 21st century thinking will be required: they are not impressed by people who say one thing but do the other, by people who criticise others whilst guilty of the offence themselves, by people who openly support the protests in Russia by Pussy Riot and others to look “cool”, but who endorse the gaoling of teenagers for four years for messing about on Facebook during last year`s riots, or by older generations pretending to listen to popular teenage bands. They are impressed by people with principles and who act in accordance with them, especially if those principles tie in with beliefs in fairness and justice. Teenagers respond badly to teachers whom they perceive to be showing favouritism, acting unfairly, and who refuse to listen.
Taxation, however, is something that is not always understood, and many people, of all ages, think 50% tax mean half of all earnings is taken.  Rather than merely criticise tax avoiders, politicians would benefit from explaining why such avoidance is unjust, because it leaves financial gaps which others have to fill, and because it is mainly practised by the wealthy, whose earnings dwarf the average income; a real –life scenario would be a good idea to publicise, with actual figures and only the names fictional. Imagine how effective this could be, if earnings were in the millions, and the tax avoidance meant the banker, footballer or whatever, lived on £40,000 a week rather than scraping by on the mere £30,000 without avoidance. On a related issue, Labour would do well to consider a new tax band for all those earning £75,000 -150,000 who seem to have escaped from the Coalition`s austerity attacks., and be more Hollande-like  in their fiscal thinking.
 So tax transparency, not often discussed or written about, a veritable “elephant in the room”, should be in the Labour party`s next election manifesto. It may require some “book-tidying” by some MPs, but the rewards could be enormous. I recommend it to the House!

Establishment has many "bullying faces"

 Suzanne Moore`s superb Guardian article clearly revealed how important the next general election is, and how essential it is for Labour to be more radical in its policies. (Jeremy Clarkson is not a maverick-he is the bullying face of the establishment,08/05/14) Sadly Clarkson is not alone, as the establishment has many "bullying faces", and tragically, many of them have been running the country for their own benefit for at least the last four years. Moore is right to say that part of the establishment "seeks not only to put a break on social progress, but to go backwards", and as she says, it is "about race and a whole lot more". It certainly includes education and social mobility; two of the first things this government did were to end the Education Maintenance Allowance and create a crisis out of GCSE results? The latter gave Gove the excuse he needed to take education backwards, and the two-tiered system is just an awful election result away. To decrease social mobility is clear  policy of this coalition government, and consequently, even graduates are failing to land jobs with enough pay to warrant loan repayments.
    The Tories have also pledged to reduce the size of the state to 1948 levels, yet another "refusal to embrace modernity". Governments cannot only be the representatives of the "rich and powerful, deriding the powerless whilst pretending to be victims", imposing austerity and poverty on the most disadvantaged; they have to be agents for "good", and that must mean progress and change!

Monday, 12 May 2014

Labour should dump the 35% strategy

 Andrew Grice, writing in the Independent, may be right in saying that those of us waiting for Mr Miliband to "make his play for Tory switchers" will find ourselves "waiting for Godot".(Labour`s given up on wooing Tory voters,10/05/14) Lets hope, though, that this does not mean Labour will not be constantly reminding the electorate as a whole of what the coalition government has done over the last four years. How many people really want to vote for parties responsible for the destruction of the welfare state, the running down of the NHS leading inevitably to its privatisation, the selling off of the country`s assets at knockdown prices, the obscene tax benefits for the rich and the country`s 28th position in the equality league table, Gove`s mishandling of the education system, the ending of the Education Maintenance Allowance, the decreasing social mobility which according to an OECD survey of developed countries puts us in 12th out of 12 in their league table, and so on. Are voters happy with the continued profiteering of banks and energy companies, do they agree with the obscene bonuses, or the way private landlords exploit their tenants to maximise their profits? Is enough being done by this coalition to reduce tax avoidance and evasion? 
    By all means Labour should attack Clegg for his complicity in all things Cameron, but as Grice says, LibDem voters are not the only ones who should be the focus of their campaign. The young can be, as Obama showed, targetted successfully, and if Miliband "hopes to repeat the trick", all aspects of social media need to be utilised, with messages from, perhaps, "cooler" representatives and supporters of the party. A start has been made with the modest suggestions on rent rises, but there is room to go much further, especially as so many students are exploited by profiteering landlords, keener on enlarging bank balances than providing safe and suitable property for their tenants."Whether the young will turn out in large numbers to vote" depends not only on how well Labour`s propaganda machine functions, but on how soon the "35 per cent strategy" is dumped! 

Big picture, not local issues!

The Independent`s recent election review series reveals what matters to many voters is having an MP who has a "reputation for turning up at events and dealing with local issues", like Jeremy Browne, the Lib Dem  representing Taunton Deane. (Why it`s harder than it looks to evict a Liberal Democrat MP,07/05/14) Isn`t such an attitude rather selfish, when the whole country has been subjected to cruel and grossly unfair policies, all going on to the statute book because of Lib Dems` complicity. Browne`s Tory opponent may describe him as "Nick Clegg`s man", but whose man has Nick Clegg been for the last four years?
   The electorate needs to think of the destruction of the welfare state in the country as a whole, the running down of the NHS leading inevitably to its privatisation, the selling off of the country`s assets at knockdown prices, the obscene tax benefits for the rich and the country`s 28th position in the equality league table, Gove`s mishandling of the education system, the ending of the Education Maintenance Allowance, the decreasing social mobility, and so on. Are voters happy with the continued profiteering of banks and energy companies, do they agree with the obscene bonuses, or the way private landlords exploit their tenants to maximise their profits? Is enough being done by this coalition to reduce tax avoidance and evasion? Many"local issues", like the eviction of long-standing tenants in west Somerset by the Crown Estate, might not have seen the light of day if voters had thought more of the bigger picture!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Labour still too timid!

Douglas Alexander and Spencer Livermore , respectively the chairperson and director of Labour`s general election strategy, wrote an article for last week`s Observer, which explained precisely why they needed to appoint Axelrod to advise them! (Labour doesn`t just want to run the country, we want to change the way Britain is run,04/05/14) They say they are "confident the Conservatives are beatable", but that statement reveals the timidity which seems to be currently at the core of everything Labour. After four years of the Tory-dominated government`s cruel austerity policies which targeted the weakest and most vulnerable, whilst benefitting the richest and putting Britain into 28th position in the equality league table, selling the country`s assets at rock bottom prices, and taking education and welfare back to the 1950s, Labour should be "confident" of a landslide!
  They go on to recount how the Tories compared their "sensible market-based policy on rents" to those of Hugo Chavez, but fail to understand that such alarmist, hysterical responses will come, whatever the proposal, so they might as well be radical! As tax increases are inevitable, and their standing on the economy is the worry, Labour`s new adviser will no doubt suggest that they announce how the rich are to be taxed more as soon as possible, thereby re-assuring the bulk of the electorate that Labour will indeed "balance the books", and save the NHS from privatisation."Powerful interests" will be "determined to stop" them, but wasn`t it ever thus? A little more Attlee and FDR, please, and a little less Blair and Disraeli.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Wintour`s mistake: Logic does not point to Tory win

Patrick Wintour`s excellent analysis of the parties` prospects in the run-up to the general election was spoilt a little by his comment that the "Labour poll lead seems to be defying gravity". (One year to go, and there is still all to play for,06/05/14) He was basing his judgement on the facts that many voters still hold Labour "responsible for the crash", and the more optimistic "economic figures" recently, whilst totally ignoring this Tory-dominated coalition`s record on everything else.The same edition of the Guardian was actually highlighting how government claims about "more people in work than ever before" are totally misleading, in view of the numbers of desperate people resorting to their "last refuge", self-employment,(Explosion in self-employment across UK hides real story behind upbeat job figures) and Polly Toynbee was debunking the myths about privatisation being preferable to state-ownership. (There`s no evidence it works, but privatisation marches on)
   How can Wintour seriously write that "logic suggests Cameron must win" the election when it is far more plausible to believe that if Labour`s propaganda machine gets its act together, and reminds the electorate of the cruel and grossly unfair policies adopted since 2010, Miliband should be a shoo-in! A start could be made with reminding voters of the destruction of the welfare state, and the declared intention to take the state`s role back to 1948 levels, the running down of the NHS leading inevitably to its privatisation, the selling off of the country`s assets at knockdown prices, the obscene tax benefits for the rich and the 28th position in the equality league table Britain now holds, the taking of education back to the 1950s, the ending of the Education Maintenance Allowance, decreasing social mobility, the list is endless. Have the banks been regulated, have bonuses been stopped, is there a housing bubble, are private rents out of control? Wintour gives two reasons for his "logic" comment, but there are hundreds suggesting otherwise! 

Friday, 9 May 2014

Brief comment on Barclays and bonuses

We all remember how Barclays` CEO, Anthony Jenkins, justified his action, when announcing 10% increase in bonus payments for many of its investment bankers, despite profits falling sharply. He said it was because the "best people" had to be prevented from defecting to rivals, and a "death spiral" had to be avoided. Now we read of thousands of job losses, including 8000 from the investment sector.  Surely this is bad economics? With its "investment bank income falling by 28% in the last quarter", Jenkins could have saved the bank billions by awarding no bonuses, and watching as thousands deserted ship, thereby saving millions more on having less redundancy payments! 
   The truth is, of course, the public is being conned by bankers and big business in general into believing these people deserve obscene wealth for their "socially useless" work. "Death spiral"? As if. There is no evidence showing bankers move banks if not given outrageous bonuses, and even less showing them leaving their luxurious and tax-friendly lives in London.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

letters on NHS referendum and Queens Award update

What a sad indictment of the political situation in Britain, that the idea of having a referendum on whether taxes should be increased to fund the NHS is actually a good one. (Let`s have a vote on the NHS,22/04/12) Steve Richards`s reasons for proposing it are also sensible, as "there can be no reasoned debate in an election campaign". The proposal raises two issues: one, that in an election, parties make promises, as we know to our recent cost, which they have no intention of upholding. Secondly, a general election should be a national referendum anyway, with different parties having distinctly different policies, but at the moment they don`t, and this explains the popularity of Farage. The fact that it looks like all parties need advisers from abroad to spell out the problem to them also goes some way to explain voters` disillusionment! What about referendums on Trident, HS2, MPs` expenses, and the rising inequality, as it seems the parties are also unable to reach decisions on these issues?
         Isn`t it time for the Queen`s Award for Enterprise to be updated? (Arms firm among Queen`s award winners,21/04/14) Do we really want in the 21st century to be rewarding makers of such things as "air-launched missiles suitable for firing in urban environments" with an emblem to be used in advertising as a "symbol of quality and success"? With a tax gap approaching at least £35bn a year, and inequality resembling that of the 19th century, might it not be more sensible to make such awards to companies paying the correct amount of tax to the government, and a living wage to all of its employees?

Guardian letter on Labour`s reluctance: full version

The reluctance of many in the Labour party to adopt the radical policies, based on fairness, which according to the polls, most of the electorate want, is apparently partly based on the inevitable alarmist Tory response. This fear, however, is a misguided one, because whatever policies are chosen, the response is always the same. Even when Miliband proposes the eminently sensible tightening of the "rules to protect key British companies" the Tory reaction takes the predictable "anti-business,anti-jobs and anti-jobs security" stance.(Coalition rift over £63bn offer for UK drugs group,05/05/14)
    Last week Labour`s very moderate rent proposals, which concentrated on limiting future increases rather than on reversing recent rent hikes, inspecting rented property and taxing profiteering landlords, received similar treatment, even stretching to "Venezuelan-style rent controls" from Shapps.
 Hopefully the penny will soon drop and the Labour leaders will realise the obvious; no matter what the proposal is, the Tory response will be hysterical, alarmist, or inaccurate, and possibly all three. Let them rant about "red Ed", "communism" and "written by McCluskey" for all they`re worth, because it appears that is all the Tories have; they can hardly boast of fairness! Grasp the nettle, Mr Miliband, and let`s have ideas and policies which transform, not tinker!


Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Teachers and pupils deserve better!

After four years of unlimited Goveism, it`s clear teachers and pupils deserve a better deal, something sadly which is far from guaranteed after the next election when a new government is formed. Early on in the coalition, Gove succeeded in achieving what teachers had failed to do over decades of trying, uniting the teacher unions, and bringing about joint industrial action. Simultaneously, he had not only insulted the most recent recipients of top grades at GCSE and A-level, but all those thousands and thousands who had worked hard and gained excellent results in these examinations over the years. Without a scrap of empirical evidence, and based entirely on ideological belief that only privately educated could achieve real academic success, Gove initiated a wholesale reform of school assessment. Refusing to take advice from subject experts and experienced examiners, he set about the dismantling of all aspects of examinations which had made them forces for social mobility; out went coursework, modular assessment, re-sits, AS levels and all things attempting to make the playing-field more level. Criterion referencing will be in the firing line soon. Back to the 1950s, accompanied by the longer-term goal, the return of a two-tiered system, and all with the backing of a blinkered and duplicitous LibDem leader.

Dealing with inequality

Both Miliband and Axelrod have hinted that the obscene inequality in this country, currently placing Britain 28th in the equality league table out of 34, will play a major role in the general election campaign. So how about, for starters, proposing a sliding scale of income tax, with 45% for £70-149K earners, 50% for £150-200K, 60% for £200-250K, stopping at 80%? It would not seem unreasonable to the majority of people in this country; even under Thatcher, the rich paid 60% income tax. Support for a Tobin-type tax on financial transactions, joining with the majority of the EU on this, would be popular, as would increasing the minimum wage to living wage levels, and promising legislation to introduce Co-determination, on lines similar to its use in Germany, with trade union representatives on company boards. Whilst nationalisation on a large scale will not appear on the manifesto, a proposal for a state-owned bank and energy company could attract customers with more attractive rates, simply by having 3% profit margins rather than the 5+% of the private sector, and thereby force a change of tune from existing providers. The millions paying a high proportion of their income to profiteering landlords would welcome their rents being capped at 2010 levels, and also the introduction of an Ofsted-style inspection authority, to ensure rents are fair and properties well maintained. 
    No plans for redistribution of wealth would be complete without proposals to deal with tax evasion and avoidance, and after this government`s rhetoric-only approach, making a difference should not be hard; how about re-employing the thousands of tax inspectors who have lost their jobs at HMRC and ending "sweetheart deals" for starters? The idea that tax avoiders of any type should be awarded, or keep when found out, their honours or right to represent this country, is preposterous. Charitable status for private schools could also be ended, and money to the Treasury increased by VAT being imposed on school fees.

   We have to hope that Miliband was telling the truth when he promised a political party different from the others. What is the point of being a Labour Prime Minister if all you intend to do is tinker rather than transform?

Monday, 5 May 2014

WWI: Commemoration or excuse for soap operas?

Most reviews of the Crimson Field, the latest new programme from the BBC`s First World War centenary season stated correctly that it was "an opportunistic mishmash", with pretty girls, "predictable lines" and, of course, a very sanitised  view of the war.Isn`t this exactly what many people feared the centenary commemorations would lead to, the unrealistic portrayal of war, more Mills and Boon than realism, romantic history rather than accuracy? Unless war is going to be shown with all of its terror and horrors, the result will be misleading, and the message confusing.Commemorations are better without political point-scoring,and the parties` leading lights competing with each other for the most sincere speech, or the most nationalist and patriotic soundbite.
     Politicians clearly prefer for the people and their children to be spoon-fed a false version of history; it has proved successful before. Didn`t the royalist, jingoistic and imperialist history churned out at the turn of the last century play an important role in providing politicians with the cannon-fodder needed for the slaughter in the 1914-18 war? Doesn`t Gove want schools` history today to be based on rote-learning of chronological facts rather than evaluation and analysis? Young people who think in too much depth about wars tend not to be their most avid supporters!  
    The news that the Ministry of Defence has recently attempted to suppress the publication of a book* which describes how aggressive tactics of the British forces, such as using huge amounts of air strikes and dropping tons of explosives, with inevitable civilian casualties, caused the Afghans to hate the British more than the Taliban, is,sadly, not surprising. Gove`s examination proposals for History, which increase British content to 40%, suggest that the aim is for students to study what ideological politicians decide what is best for them, rather than what should be deemed essential for growing up in the 21st century. The idea that Britain only ever fights "just" wars is, apparently, one which must be drummed into pupils` heads, whatever analysis of the evidence shows, and it looks like broadcasters are the government`s willing partners in the case of the first world war. With television presenters cashing in on the centenary with their "history" books, the public appear to be getting a raw deal.
    Jeremy Paxman has recently commented about "British generals struggling to fill a trench" because young people are "bubble-wrapped by a feckless culture", but it`s not so much the "changing nature of warfare" that is the reason for the war-weariness of the country, and the young in particular, but the lack of trust for politicians. The undertaking to send our soldiers into unwinnable and unecessary wars, often for reasons which politicians have deliberately created to generate both jingoistic support and exaggerated fear of the so-called "enemy", allied  to Britain`s position in world affairs as America`s poodle, at her beck and call to appease her rightwing bias and warmongering defence industry, go a long way to explain why the young are "war-shy". Could this be the underlying reason for many of the education reforms, and the continued justification for supporting Britain`s aggressive foreign policy?  
     Just because Downton Abbey provides millions every week with something alluding to the establishment`s view of how servants lived, does not mean that the first world war should get similar treatment. A huge disservice to the millions who died and suffered will be done unless dramas about the war actually show the true horror; how could there be a dressing station or field hospital near the front without terrifying noises, filth and blood? Do we want to send yet another generation to war who know little about the realities of past wars?
      The truth is that wars are so horrific no-one should be able to watch dramas about them without being shocked and horrified. If the television companies are going to take part in the war commemoration, they need to remember that they have a responsibility to history; it is not an excuse to celebrate war!

* An Intimate War -An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict by Dr Mike Martin

Labour needs to catch up in the propaganda race

Whilst agreeing with Frank Field that Labour needs "two or three big ideas to capture the imagination" of the electorate, I find it difficult to believe that making them pay more in National Insurance contributions is a vote-winner. Ensuring free healthcare at the point of use has to be a priority for Labour, and, with Britain lagging in at 28th out of 34 in the equality league table, there are numerous opportunities to tax those who can afford to pay more, rather than the majority, who cannot. Obvious ones include increases in income tax, a Tobin-like tax on financial transactions, a Capital Gains Tax on all house sales above a certain price, and taxing landlords more. Perhaps Labour should be asking whether the public would prefer Trident renewal, HS2 or a well-funded NHS?
    The trouble is that Labour doesn`t ask questions enough, not even when  Cameron and Osborne smirk their way through parliamentary sessions. Balls`s prediction of soaring unemployment is mocked, but Tory claims of job creation can be explained by agency work and zero-hours contracts, and 540,000 jobs created by self-employment. Shouldn`t Labour be shouting this from the rooftops? The Tories are clearly not better at running the economy, but they are miles ahead when it comes to the propaganda race. Is it any wonder that disillusioned Labour voters are heading Ukip`s way for the Euro elections? They will only return next year if they are persuaded to do so, and that means something has to change! Presumably, this is where the Axe comes in!