Saturday, 29 November 2014

Morning Star letter on Hunt and private schools

The editorial on Tristram Hunt`s feeble attempts to let the electorate know how cool he is with with Labour`s desperate efforts to show 'respect' to the working class was spot-on.(Morning Star,26/11/14)The idea that private schools will sacrifice business rate relief unless they improve their partnerships with state shools by doing such things as helping 'disadvantaged pupils from the state sector navigate the quicksand of university entrance' is again indicative of the fact that Hunt is in the wrong job.
       The so-called 'top' universities are taking 50-60% of their students from private schools, not because state school applicants lack ability or qualifications, but because universities are biased. There is plenty of empirical evidence available showing that state school educated undergraduates perform better than their counterparts from the private sector, but with only 7%  privately educated, the universities still are refusing to give state educated applicants a fair deal. If the latter do not meet the demands of the application process, it`s that procedure which needs changing, and as universities have refused for years to change it, legislation is needed. Hunt should be proposing that a Labour government would pass a law banning any university taking more than 7% of its applicants from the private sector.That really would be proof of a government wanting to give everyone a fair chance, a principle that Labour used to be proud of, equality of opportunity!

Bernie Evans

Klass warfare and Miliband`s advisers

Another week, more lost opportunities for Labour, and yet another situation where defeat is grasped from the jaws of victory! Questions have to be asked about the suitability of Miliband`s advisers.  Instead of there being a "major public postmortem in the wake of the loss of Rochester and Strood" to embarrass the Tories, we have the Labour leader having to affirm his "respect" for the "working people"!
     It started with the Klass debacle and Miliband`s obvious unsettling over one of Labour`s flagship policies. What on earth are the advisers being paid to do, if it`s not to practise and rehearse the Labour leader before he faces the press or television cameras? They should have known with whom Miliband was appearing on the programme, done their research and discovered Myleene Klass was an experienced television "performer", articulate, rich, and, above all, living in London; it does not require a degree in rocket science to guess accurately what might be her favoured topic of discussion!  Perhaps even worse was the eventual response! Is there anyone in the country who thinks that tweeting twelve hours later with the words from a Klass hit song, "Pure and simple", made Miliband appear more prime-ministerial?
     As for the furore over Thornberry`s tweet, there would be no problem with Miliband never having "been so angry", even though potential Labour voters would probably prefer for that sort of reaction to be reserved for callous coalition policies and growing inequality, but going public was always going not only to please an already hostile media, but to deflect attention from a Tory party haemorrhaging MPs to Ukip. Presumably the advisers` private sector education taught them nothing about molehills and mountains?

Labour`s lack of respect

Labour had been haemorrhaging votes long before the misguided Thornberry tweet, arguably because the party`s policies revealed the lack of respect for the working people which Miliband suddenly deems so important. Policies designed to tinker rather than transform are demeaning in themselves, especially when opinion polls have made it glaringly obvious that the electorate strongly favours punishing bankers, re-nationalising railways and energy providers, and more progressive taxation.
     Why didn`t the awful situation in the New Era estate, where tenants look likely to be evicted if they fail to agree to a 25% rise in their rents, or the fact that thousands of families are being forced to live in "temporary accommodation", designed for single nurses or students, for five years or more, make Ed Miliband angry? What could show more disrespect than a promise from a potential prime minister that further rent rises will be capped, but nothing will be done to prevent private landlords continuing their massive profiteering, at the expense of the people already suffering the most because of coalition cuts? Even the establishment of an Ofsted-type rented property inspection unit would show some concern, as would the determination in government to concentrate on the provision of social housing.
      Was Labour`s ire aroused by Gove`s education reforms? Why not? As Education secretary, he decreased social mobility by removing modular assessment, coursework and resits, all designed by experts over many years to create a more level playing field, so vital in promoting equality of opportunity. In his opinion, students from working class backgrounds were doing so well in ever improving GCSE and A-level examination results, not because true abilities were being allowed to flourish, pupils were working harder, or even the fact that teaching had improved, but because exams were too easy. How many people, who had been so proud of their children`s achievements, felt abandoned when Labour`s response was tacit agreement? Such disrespect, but no anger from Labour!
     Gove even allowed, with next to no argument from Labour, "free" schools to be set up. They certainly weren`t free in the sense of costing nothing, as Gove diverted millions to his pet project, away from their intended destination, the state sector.The fact is these schools, planned by middle class parents, were designed to be educational havens, free from working class interference and, above all, free from children seen to be hindrances to learning and high achievement. Writers for the Sun newspaper might well have referred to them as "pleb-free". Was the Labour front-bench up in arms at such class--divisive reforms, was Miliband angrier than ever his colleagues had seen before? Even now, the privately-educated shadow education minister, Tristram Hunt, has voiced no plans to close these schools, and transfer their resources to the state sector, and even Gove`s outrageous examination reforms look likely to avoid repeal, should there ever be another Labour government. Isn`t it deeply insulting that a party claiming to be the party of the working people do nothing to prevent the so-called top universities recruiting the majority of their intake from private schools, when only 7% of children actually attend them? If it makes me angry, why doesn`t it have the same effect on politicians who say they want a fairer society?
     If Labour really was the party of the working people, which it likes us to believe, would not its representatives been present at the days of industrial action, taken by civil servants, teachers, nurses, midwives and all those other groups having their standard of living reduced so that the Tories can reward their friends in the City with tax cuts? Did rage reverberate around the corridors of Labour HQ when the Tories announced they would change voting laws making strike action almost impossible? No it didn`t! We can`t have Labour supporting the people against callous coalitions or greedy bosses, can we?  After all, what would Cameron say about  it at PMQs?
       Getting mad with a colleague over tweeting a photograph of a house decorated with English flags is, almost certainly, too little, too late; the fact that Labour`s anger was far from obvious when the coalition government was waging a class war, enforcing austerity and poverty on those least able to defend themselves whilst enriching the well-off, speaks volumes. Only now that the Labour leadership and their inept advisers finally realise that working people are deserting them in droves do they find the need to "show respect"; it will be a case of putting the bolt in the door of an empty stable unless policies receive immediate radicalisation.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Tories cannot be trusted with the economy

Isn`t the Prime Minister`s warning of "red lights" in the economy simply a case of buck-passing? Blaming Ebola and events in Ukraine and the Middle East is a sure sign of Tory panic, with the election looming. With the chancellor claiming to have halved the recent EU surcharge of £1.7bn when everyone knows he simply factored in Britain`s rebate, the question has to be again asked: why do people trust the Tories more on the economy than Labour? 
Opinion polls reveal this to be the case, but that must tell us more about the inadequacy of the Labour propaganda machine rather than about Tory economic success. What has the Tory-dominated coalition done in the last five years to suggest that a Tory government would manage the UK`s economy in a way  that would be remotely effective or competent?
       Of course, the Tories` well-oiled propaganda devices did an excellent job in 2010, when they blamed the Labour government for the economic crisis, and stressed the subsequent need for deficit reduction and the imposition of austerity, and it seems the opinion polls reflect its effectiveness. However, some simple  facts suggest that the Tories` propaganda works more smoothly than their economic policies.
      Remember how the deficit had to be removed immediately? Living beyond one`s means was wrong, and failure to act would mean lumbering the next generation with massive debt. The country fell for it. There were no other arguments or alternatives; Labour was in limbo without a leader, and supporters of a Keynsian solution, blaming bankers and the recession, and proposing government spending to speed up the economic recovery, had little chance. Facts and evidence have rarely played significant roles in Tory narratives, with Lib Dems complicit in everything, as long as they could claim a share in government, but the fact is that the Tories were spinning the nation a yarn. Reducing the deficit was neither as essential nor as urgent as they claimed, especially as quantitative easing would soon re-capitalise the banks to the tune of £375bn.and kickstart the economy. It did give them, though, the excuse they wanted to make savage cuts in government spending, which meant at least 350 thousand job losses in the public sector, and huge reductions in benefits to the less fortunate; their real aim was a low wage economy for the people and a low tax regime for corporations and the rich. They wanted to shrink the state back to levels last seen in the previous century, and their stated aim now is to shrink it further, back to levels last experienced in 1948. With their "economic wisdom", the economy flatlined  and still the deficit  did not disappear! Back in 2010, Osborne predicted the effect of all the cuts would be to reduce the deficit to £40bn by the end of this year, but it is likely to be near £100bn.So much for Tory expertise!
         What about their point of it not being fair to lumber future generations with debt? Strange how this didn`t figure at all in their thinking when they tripled the fees university students would have to pay! The argument was, of course, that with their university qualifications, they would earn large salaries, and easily pay off their debts. But in their low wage economy, with its reduced social mobility, many graduates would fail to earn enough even to start paying off debts. The so-called Tory economic experts did not expect that either!

      Notwithstanding, Labour gets the blame because of all the borrowing its Blair and Brown governments had done. But when the figures are examined, which party deserves the criticism? In the last five years, the coalition has borrowed £157.5bn, with billions more on the cards, compared to the £142.7bn borrowed by Labour in its thirteen years in government; a much vaunted long-term economic plan which fails to balance the books and leads to exponential borrowing, needs to be seen for what it is, a complete failure!
      Reducing the tax  paid by the rich when they`re meant to be lowering the deficit? Exactly! Sacking workers ar HMRC when they`re meant to be ending tax avoidance and closing the tax gap of £40bn plus? Having representatives from the "Big Four" accounting firms on Treasury tax committees so they can sell their avoidance scams to companies like Greene King? Selling off prized assets like Royal Mail and sections of the NHS at reduced prices, ignoring state-owned successes like the East Coast line, giving £85bn in grants and subsidies to  private corporations? The list goes on. So much for Tory economic sagacity!
     And still more needs consideration! Is the economy really safe in the hands of Cameron and Osborne? Wonder what Cameron`s Oxford tutor thought when his ex-student suggested everyone should pay off their credit card bills to boost the economy? Did history graduate,Osborne, expect the economy to get the kick start it needed back in January 2011 when he increased VAT to 20%, thereby reducing expenditure and cutting the demand for goods? Not knowing what 8 times 7 is, he can hardly be expected to understand that if you drive record numbers of workers into low pay employment, income tax receipts will decrease. And still, we are told, because of Osborne`s shrewd handling, the economy has recovered. Really? National income is higher now than it was in the first quarter of 2008, but population has grown by 3.5m, so in actual fact, income per capita is down 3.4%, and real wages for most are down 10%. CEOs of the FTSE 100 companies earn 143 times that of their average employees! Oh but unemployment is down to 6%, they will say. But, we all should say, take zero hours contracts, record 15% self-employment, many out of necessity or desperation, plus all the part-time work, and they do not add up to an economic recovery.
     As Cambridge University economics lecturer, Ha-Joon Chang, recently wrote, the country is experiencing a "bogus recovery, largely based on government-fuelled asset bubbles in real estate and finance, with stagnant productivity and falling wages". And the electorate is supposed to put their trust in them to manage the economy? I don`t think so! Now they are promising £7.5bn tax cuts, without actually knowing from where the money will come. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts spending cuts of another £50bn under a Tory government.
    It is abundantly clear that one of Labour`s most important of the many tasks it has to perform in the coming months is to ensure the voters know the facts.The myth that the Tories are able economists, and that the UK`s economy is safe in their hands, is one which needs serious de-bunking. Voting for an over-cautious and reticent Labour party may not always appear an attractive option, but the alternatives are much, much worse.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Landlords` profiteering morally and economically wrong

The Tories may want to shrink the state back to levels last seen in the 1940s, but the private rental sector, as exemplified by the New Era situation, is ripe for state intervention. How much longer can governments allow the exploitation of millions of tenants in this country? Forcing them to sign "contracts increasing rents by 25%" will not be a practice restricted to one housing estate!
      Not only is it morally wrong to allow profiteering by "predatory landlords" to flourish at the expense of innocent victims of poverty and austerity, it is economically ill-advised, when so much money could be better spent rejuvenating local economies, than fattening already bulging bank accounts. Furthermore, with months to a general election apparently "too close to call", shouldn`t political parties be vying with each other to attract the votes of "Generation Rent"? Admittedly, Labour has proposed increased regulation, but nothing that will actually reduce exhorbitant rents, making renting more affordable.

    With numbers living in rented accommodation unlikely to fall in the immediate future, would it not be sensible for government to  develop an Ofsted-type inspection body, to check all rented properties, and band them according to size, condition, safety and situation? Rents could then be set according to the band, and increases, annually, determined by the government. If landlords didn`t like having their profit margins reduced from the double figure levels as at present, they could always sell to councils or housing associations, thereby increasing the much needed social housing numbers, and decreasing the amount of tax avoided!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Labour`s education policies too moderate

An article by Solomon Hughes in the Morning Star recently concentrated on the influence of the Blairite Progress group on Labour`s policies, with mentions of  Tristram Hunt featuring strongly. Speaking at their rally, Hunt declared himself "delighted to be with Progress", and although his "jokes" may not have gone down well, his policies for education certainly will have.  
      That means, of course, that under a Labour government, teachers cannot expect very much in the way of improvement. Whilst understanding, to some extent, that his appointment had much to do with meeting the Gove challenge at the despatch box, it is evident that now he must be moved on. He clearly was taken in by all of Gove`s nonsense about assessment changes being necessary because results were so good; he still fails to acknowledge that teaching now is better than ever, and teachers must be told to work less, not criticised for poor discipline, or whatever. Ofsted, and heads who fear the inspection regime, have managed to force sixty hours of work a week out of teachers, a situation which inevitably will lead to recruitment problems, and future standards. Has Hunt attacked this ludicrous state of affairs? Of course not! His own idiotic suggestions for re-licensing and a teachers` oath are testimony to the fact that Labour would do well to replace him before the election with someone with knowledge and experience of the state sector, who can empathise with the teaching profession. Labour cannot pretend the problems with pay and pensions do not exist, or that the decrease in social mobility is not part of the education remit. How long will the so-called "top" universities be allowed to take the majority of their students from private schools?

 With Progress behind him, Hunt may think he has bigger fish to fry; Labour needs someone in the post who realises nothing is more important than the education of our children, and that equality of opportunity is still a principle worth defending!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Labour and an electoral pact

It is becoming increasingly clear that the 2015 election is, as the pundits would say, "difficult to call". Almost anything can happen in the six months remaining, and millions of votes are still up for grabs, as are most of the seats. Are there any "safe" Tory or Labour seats any more?
 There are many similarities with the 1906 situation; the Tory government had made itself extremely unpopular with the ordinary people, with gaffes like the Taff Vale case, divisions were appearing in the ruling party over tariff reform, and a new party was emerging, grabbing support from all sides. With the resignation of the PM, an election loomed, and  the Liberals, unsure of victory, played it safe by making an electoral pact with Labour, agreeing not to oppose them in thirty constituencies. The result was, of course a resounding defeat for the Tories, twenty-seven seats for Labour and a huge majority for the Liberals.
     In 2015, the Tory party also will command little support from the ordinary people, after five years of unfair austerity, tax cuts for the rich and unbelievably callous legislation directed against the weakest members of society, but there still remains huge questions about where their votes will go; undoubtedly the Tories will lose votes to Ukip, but so will Labour, and the Opposition`s problems don`t end there, as there is the possibility of losing almost all their seats in Scotland. Labour`s projected moderate policies have failed to prevent support haemorrhaging to its newest rivals, and it seems unlikely there will be a much-needed shift to the left to regain lost votes.
     No-one can predict with any accuracy the election result, but what is certain is that every seat will count in the formation of the new government, and coalitions are likely. As Labour could not possibly think of joining up with the duplicitous Lib Dems, even though for some unknown reason they will still have some representation in parliament, some pre-election thinking is required, especially as resources will inevitably be tight. Does it not make sense to spend the most money in constituencies where the main rival is Tory or Ukip rather than a party whose policies might be judged by some to be similar to those of Labour? 
       Could a pact be made with the SNP so that Labour could at least hold on to a dozen seats in Scotland? Unlikely, as polls suggest an SNP whitewash, with the Labour vote down to 20% in some, unless some of their people could be guaranteed places in Labour`s cabinet. A Green deal is more of a possibility; two of Labour`s target seats are Brighton Pavilion, whose current MP is the excellent Caroline Lucas, the Green party`s only MP at the moment, and Holborn and St Pancras, where the Green party leader, Natalie Bennett is standing. There will undoubtedly be other seats where a split Labour /Green vote could let in a Tory or, more likely, a Ukip candidate. The policies of the Green party are radical and to the left of Labour, so much so they like the description of themselves as "watermelons - green on the outside, red in the centre". Not only do they prefer re-nationalisation of the railways, but the 50% tax rate applied to all those earning £100,000 plus, a minimum wage at 60% of the national average, and the ending of university tuition fees and Trident. In Wales, too, Plaid Cymru`s domestic policies aim for social justice and a fairer distribution of wealth.
     Would it not be sensible for Labour to think now of making electoral pacts with parties prior to the election, rather than trying, and perhaps failing, to do deals from a position of weakness after the votes have been counted? What happened after the 2010 election, with the result being five years of Tory-inspired austerity, should be a salutary lesson for Labour. If the same were to happen again, but this time with Ukip as the Tories` partner in crime, heaven help us. Opposition groupings would have to be re-aligned and who would bet against one of them being a left-wing party with policies also aimed at protecting the environment? A Green Labour party! 

    One of the worst scenarios after the election is a Labour party struggling to form a majority government, aiming to ally with parties with broadly similar views, but being shunned because of pre-election animosity. Those differences should be ironed-out now!

Monday, 17 November 2014

Government`s hypocrisy over tax avoidance

After the verbal chicanery delivered by Osborne recently over the EU`s demand for £1.7bn, it`s not surprising to see that being forced to scrap his tax reducing enticement vehicle, the "patent box", is somehow "a great deal for Britain".  The "incentive" was designed to encourage companies to Britain, as they would only have to pay a maximum of 10% corporation tax, so avoiding higher tax elsewhere. As its gradual removal has been brought about largely by Germany "arguing that it encouraged artificial shifting of profit", could we ask the Germans to complain too, about the behaviour of this country`s "Big Four" accountancy firms? Used by our government  on Treasury tax committees, they then find ways for companies and individuals to avoid tax, with their payment being a percentage of the taxes saved. Deloitte, one of the "Big Four", issued a pamphlet last year which stated that for every £1m of income in the UK, £165,000 of cash tax can be saved! Yet, the government continues to award these firms massively lucrative contracts, and doesn`t even insist on the return of honours from CEOs of companies found to be tax avoiding.
        Our  government is also responsible for not only another avoidance scam, the relaxation of the so-called "controlled foreign companies" laws, but also the cutting of thousands of jobs, including those of tax inspectors, at HMRC, where "sweetheart deals", made with companies like Vodaphone and Starbucks, have caused so much public disquiet in this country, let alone in the corridors of power of Europe.They have done next to nothing about tax havens where trillions are squirrelled away; the British Overseas Territories, according to "War on Want", together "rank as the most significant tax haven in the world, ahead of even Switzerland".
        How can we criticise Jean-Claude Juncker for the "tax avoidance schemes that were rife in Luxembourg during his premiership", when we have a government doing similar here?  Can we  really expect there to be an effective agreement on closing international loopholes and ending tax avoidance, involving all the members of the G20 group, when the British government`s hypocrisy is clear for all to see?

"Best people" conspiring against the public

How many times have we been told that big bonuses are necessary to keep the "best people" working in our banks? How often have we heard that bankers have learned their lesson and were "putting ethics before profits"? In a recent Guardian article, Jill Treanor informed us that, according to the City Minister, it was even time "to move away from banker-bashing"! At the same time, the outgoing chairman of Barclays was ridiculously stating that "big fines were making it harder for the industry to win back public trust". 
     The truth is clear for all to see: the banking industry is rotten to the core, and has been protected by politicians, many like the minister, ex-bankers themselves, for long enough. Conspiracy theorists have, no doubt, already noticed how strange it is that the manipulation of the foreign exchange markets had been going on for over five years before action was taken, and that the recent record fines, amounting to little more than a few days of banks` profits, are to be used to finance a pre-election autumn statement for the Tory chancellor?  After all the bullish talk about "clawing back" bankers` bonuses, the Prudential Regulation Authority decided it would only apply to bonuses paid after January 1st, 2015!
     What comes as no surprise, in view of his own recent "manipulation" of the facts, is that Osborne thinks it`s all part of his "long-term plan" to have a "financial system that works for everyone"! Nice try, George, but we`ve heard enough! How many times did you take yourself off to Brussels to argue in favour of bonuses and against the EU`s financial transaction tax? Promising "resources for action by the Serious Fraud Office" brings to mind horses and stable doors! 
 On the other hand, what a wonderful opportunity for Mr Miliband to announce his government would transform the 81% state-owned RBS into a People`s Bank, with lower profit margins, trusted staff, and that curious notion about the customer coming first!

Thursday, 13 November 2014

CBI`s idea on making a difference!

So Miliband`s answer, when faced with massive doubts about his ability to lead the Labour party to an election victory, is to show his party would be little different from the Tories if elected. Joining Cameron and Clegg, the two people most responsible for the imposition of callous austerity policies, in paying homage to the CBI, could well have done as much damage to the party`s election hopes as his pro-Establishment visit to Scotland in referendum week. Labour`s proposal for a minimum wage of £8 an hour by 2020, with "CEOs earning 257 times the average worker`s salary", is so feeble as to beggar belief. And they wonder why votes are haemorrhaging elsewhere!!
   The CBI, representing business leaders who are sitting on over £500bn which they have "refused to channel into the economy", in a recent report,"A Better Off Britain", suggested ways to improve living standards. Instead of advocating that all companies should  pay at least the living wage to all employees, or end their tax avoidance policies. currently costing the country at least £40bn a year, or even bosses taking a cut in pay, the report called for an increase in the National Insurance threshold to £10,500. Also recommended was the extension of free childcare and extended maternity pay, both funded presumably by the taxpayers. The CBI`s director general, John Cridland, thinks these proposals "would make a difference". No, Mr Cridland! What would make a difference is the CBI acknowledging both the debt business owes to workers and their families and paying them accordingly, and the role taxation plays in allowing companies to function; and of course, having a Labour party remembering where its priorities lie! 

 By saying that business leaders have been "at the sharp end of the most difficult times", and that his government would provide a minimum wage of £8 an hour but not until 2020, Miliband demonstrated exactly why Labour is floundering in the opinion polls.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Guardian letter on Labour`s problems

Your editorial on the leadership of the Labour party rightly states that Miliband needs "to be more proactive and more focused about pushing his key policies", but ignores the possibility that these "key policies" may be causing the problem in the first place.(The message from the polls is that Labour needs to raise its game, not change its leader,11/11/14) Your statement that there are "no easy fixes for centre-left parties in modern politics" overlooks an obvious option, which Miliband would be well advised to consider, to move further from the centre. When he has done this in the past, as with the energy price freeze pledge, his support in the polls has increased. On the other hand, having policies which merely tinker, and change little, there can be neither vision nor transformation, and the UK after five years of a Miliband government, would be pretty similar to what it is now, something the electorate clearly understands.
    Joining the other two main party leaders queueing up to pay homage to the CBI, similar to his actions in Scotland in referendum week, will only enhance the view that there is little to choose between them. An £8 an hour minimum wage by 2020 suggests exactly the same. "Left"-leaning policies, like ending the privatisation and making the City institutions pay their fair share at last, properly regulating rented property so that tenants do not pay inflated rents to profiteering Rachman-like landlords, and allowing the gradual re-nationalisation of railways to proceed when franchises become available, would at least indicate voters were not totally being "taken for granted".
    The adoption of transformational policies which aim to re-shape society, so that it works for the common good, and not just for the financial sector and the 1%, would actually show Labour, not before time, was "raising its game".

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Labour still doesn`t get it: pt 2, education

Labour still doesn`t get it! Gove`s reforms were unnecessary.
Labour`s policies on housing and the minimum wage have been criticised recently for being too moderate, for lacking ambition and for failing to appreciate the fundamental problems. Sadly the same criticism can be made of the party`s education policies.
   The main reason for this appears to be the same one which explains Labour`s acceptance of the need for austerity: it is Labour`s failure to understand that the policies of the Tory-dominated coalition government are ideologically driven. The Tories are not so much concerned with reducing the deficit as with carrying out their aim of shrinking the state back to levels last seen in the middle of the last century. We only have to examine the borrowing figures for the coalition in the last five years, £572.5bn compared with the Labour government, in thirteen years borrowing £442.7bn. Deficit reduction was essential, we were told, to prevent lumbering the next generation with huge debts, but the government almost immediately lumbered thousands of university students with mountains of debt! Banks in need of re-capitalisation were given £375bn via quantitative easing, no mention of deficit causing funding problems there!
Similarly, to enable Gove to have carte blanche powers over education, the Tories led the people to believe that reforms were necessary, because as GCSE and A-level results had improved so much, examinations had to be made more difficult, the attainment of top grades made more arduous, and the division of the assessment procedure into manageable chunks called modules ended. Labour`s immediate response was negligible at best, failing to challenge the basic precept that the success of the state comprehensive schools, with results on a par with many expensive private schools, had more to do with other factors, and that Tory reforms would give an unfair advantage to children from well-off homes. Tories do not want either level playing fields or an increase in social mobility, and the immediate removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance should have reminded the Labour party of those facts
 Had teachers been asked to explain improved results, they would undoubtedly have emphasised facts like increased pupil effort, increased teacher expertise, the inevitability of results improving with previous mistakes being rectified, mark schemes scrutinised, and coursework problems resolved. Television programmes might well highlight unruly behaviour and ill-discipline in the classroom to improve viewing figures, but focussing cameras on the students concentrating on their learning, absolute silence during tests, essays being discussed, and evaluation techniques examined would provide a more accurate picture of everyday life in most state schools, and also explain the recent improvements in examination results. Then there`s the increased availability of technology being used, bringing learning and lessons to life, in a way which was well nigh impossible a few decades ago.
      If some pupils gained top grades even though their spelling and grammar were rather wayward, changes to mark schemes, with the highest levels only available to accurate users of language, would have done the trick.
 Instead Gove proceeded with wholesale reforms which took educational assessment back to the last century, with their emphasis on long,essay-based examinations, the need for factual recall rather than skills in analysis and evaluation, the ending of modular assessment and coursework, and the teaching of nationalist, imperialist, British history. Top jobs were to be for Oxbridge graduates, with state school applicants still having less chance of gaining places in the so-called top universities than those from private schools. Without the repeal of Gove`s changes, it is likely schools will have to develop different curricula for different abilities, with the inevitable consequence being different types of schools. Without changes introduced by law, in student recruitment, universities will continue to give preference to the privately educated, even though only 7% attend private schools. 
      But what does Labour, now with the privately-educated , history expert, Tristram Hunt at the helm, do? At first out-goveing Gove was the priority, with support for free schools, Performance Related Pay, re-licensing of teachers, and most recently, a teachers` oath. Notice how all of these proposals imply the inadequacy of the teaching profession and the need to improve. Hunt has supported the return of AS levels and the need for all teachers in the classroom to be qualified, but he clearly does not get it. Gove`s reforms were introduced, not because of inadequacies on the part of pupils and teachers, but because of their success, and this is why Hunt and the Labour party should be promising to support teachers and to repeal every single measure Gove placed on the statute book. Gove was criticised because he would not listen to the education experts, the ones with expertise and experience, but is there any evidence to suggest Hunt is any different in this respect?

Bernie Evans

Labour`s lack of vision explained

 Clive Soley is typical of Labour`s right-wing critics within the party, attributing problems in a recent Guardian article to a lack of "vision", whilst making subtle criticism of the leadership. Is it not possible that the acceptance of such advice in the past is the reason Miliband is in this mess? Soley`s "vision" for the party with its emphasis on "growth in the UK economy" and a "growth-led agenda in Europe" sounds like it has been pilfered from the back of Nick Clegg`s cigarette packet. Does he really think such economic jargon will stop the haemorrhaging of votes, especially as the public is already being constantly informed about "growth" in the economy, without feeling any benefit? Miliband`s leadership began well because he seemed to be promising a "different" party, one which would tackle "predatory capitalism", and transform our society, but Soley`s aim for Labour is neither different nor radical!
     Of course, he is right to say "there has to be more than NHS and education", but wrong when he attempts to analyse the cause of the problems. He blames not the "individual policies" but the lack of "overall vision", without realising that the two are inter-connected. By having policies which merely tinker, and change little, there can be neither vision nor transformation, and the UK after five years of a Miliband government, would be pretty similar to what it is now, something the electorate clearly understands.
    Will current Labour policies close the equality gap, and move the UK out of its appalling 28th position in a league table of 34, or end tax avoidance and collect the missing £35bn? Will the City institutions finally be made to pay their fair share through a transaction tax, will social mobility return as an objective of education policy, will profiteering landlords be forced to reduce rents and improve their properties? Will corporations still be getting £85bn a year in government grants and loans, when the public favour some re-nationalisation? How many of the 200,000 houses built will be either social or affordable housing? Is a minimum wage of £8 an hour, but not until 2020, expected to show voters Labour is on their side?

    There can be no pointing the country in a specific direction and no vision for the future if Labour`s policies aim merely to amend things here and there, and repeal the most obnoxious of the coalition`s reforms. A vision for the country, where workers are treated fairly and where inequality is reduced, where war is declared only on tax avoiders and evaders, and where nuclear weapons are scrapped so that resources are freed up to benefit society as a whole, demands policies with transformation at their core, not moderation and compromise! 

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Miliband needs to listen

Can`t you just envisage hearing  this in 2015, from the new Labour leader? "I want to apologise to the electorate.We didn`t listen". Similar words to the ones uttered by Jim Murphy when launching his leadership bid in Scotland; similar, too, to those heard so many times in the last few years from most Labour politicians, after Euro or by-election results, or slumps in opinion polls. On the other hand, let`s hope Labour leaders don`t listen to advice emanating from political commentators like the increasingly right-wing, Andrew Rawnsley! 
   In a recent Observer article, first in his list of reasons for Labour being "in so much trouble in Scotland" was "taking its core voters for granted", which Rawnsley follows with the mistaken claim that a "move to the left" will not solve the problem. Really? Traditional working class supporters of  Labour are deserting the party in droves, not because its leader makes a mess of eating a bacon butty, but because its policies hardly  differ at all  from those of the other parties, and offer too little to those "core voters". When Miliband did show courage in standing up to the energy companies, and berating "predator capitalists", a boost in the polls for Labour followed, but his party has,so far, failed to take the hint. Fear of upsetting "more middle class voters" may well be the reason, but how many of these better-off voters do not want to see more fairness in our society, an education system which increases, not reduces as at present, social mobility, more progressive taxation, and more commitment to get all companies and rich individuals to pay their fair share? How many would support real attempts to reduce the massive inequality, and are ashamed that the UK, as Will Hutton informed readers recently, currently ranks 28th in an equality league table of 34? Are they not likely to vote for a party not only committed to raising the minimum wage at the earliest opportunity, rather than waiting till 2020, but intent on reducing the ratio of CEOs` pay to their average worker`s from the obscene 143:1? "Left"-leaning policies, like ending the privatisation of everything from the NHS to Royal Mail, properly regulating rented property so that tenants do not pay inflated rents to profiteering Rachman-like landlords, and allowing the gradual re-nationalisation of railways to proceed when franchises become available, would at least indicate voters were not being "taken for granted".
 Policies which aim to re-shape society so that it works for the common good, and not just for the financial sector and the 1%, would actually show Labour was listening to the right people, and not to columnists more interested in "lip-smacking ironies" than a Labour victory!

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Johnson`s book will continue to mislead

    It`s been good to read that Boris Johnson`s recent money-making enterprise received the treatment it deserved from the literary critics. Not only has the book on Churchill been criticised for its "distinctive writing style", its more sinister purpose, the creation of political association and similarity between the author and subject, has been rightly, and widely, lampooned. Although its content also has come under attack for its "negligible contribution to knowledge" and bearing as much resemblance "to a history book as a Doctor Who episode", the criticism has not gone far enough! 
    Johnson`s "objectivity" will undoubtedly have ensured the exclusion of detailed chapters devoted to Churchill`s attempts to control the BBC during the General Strike, his sending of troops to end the strike at Tonypandy, his infamous racist comments, including the ones which practically ensured the death of three million during the Bengal famine of 1943, and even his encouragement of the use of chemical weapons in the Middle East!
 It needs to be remembered that not only did the people of this country vote Churchill out in 1945, they elected Attlee, whom polls have frequently shown most people see as Britain`s best prime minister, and certainly the one our politicians should be attempting to emulate. Incidentally, seven weeks before that election, Attlee, not the most charismatic of politicians, received a letter from the Labour party chairman, Laski, pointing out that his leadership was "a grave handicap to the hopes of victory"!! A 190 seat victory followed!
      No doubt, Johnson`s book will reach the bestselling lists, thereby earning him yet more obscene amounts of money which he can describe as "chickenfeed", but more worrying is the fact that it will become another in a long list of "history" books being used to mislead the nation.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Hippies at a heavy metal concert

Sudden interest in the well-being of northerners and stating that Tories have completely changed since 2010, and moved to the right, are indications more of Lib Dem desperation than anything else. So news that Lib Dem Norman Baker has "quit his Home Office role because Tory colleagues had soured things" comes as no surprise, particularly with the general election looming. He apparently said working in the Home Office was similar to being a hippy who`d bought tickets for the wrong concert. Isn`t it funny how the Lib Dem "hippies" were able to endure so many Iron Maiden numbers before realising they were at the wrong gig? In fact, it has taken Norman Baker four and a half years of, in his words, "walking through mud" at the Transport and Home Offices, for him to realise that, perhaps, his wellingtons are, in fact, suitable for a wet Glastonbury, not a Heavy Metal mudfest. "May" might well be his official reason for resigning, but is it not the month next year, rather than the Secretary of State, which has the more relevance?
  Lib Dems, facing meltdown in the election, are suddenly trying to distance themselves from the Tories, but their apparent innocence in all things Cameron simply won`t wash. They are to blame, as much as the Tories, for the imposition of austerity and poverty, the increase in inequality and decrease in social mobility, the huge amount of privatisation and the attacks on the welfare state, not to mention the tax reductions for the rich, the failure to reduce tax avoidance, and of course, the university fees` hike.

 A hippy at a heavy metal concert walks out half way through the first song with his fingers in his years; he doesn`t stay until the first encore, and then expect us to believe he didn`t enjoy it!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Tristram and the F-word!

So Tristram Hunt wants to re-introduce the "F-word" into the Labour lexicon. On the one hand, the abandonment of his brief, concentrating on increasing social mobility through "early intervention in families to improve children`s lives", rather than education, looks mistaken. Wouldn`t he be better advised to focus on repealing all things Goveist, and changing laws to prevent universities favouring applicants from private schools? Only 7% of pupils attend private schools, yet 50-60% of students at  some universities, especially some Oxbridge colleges, are from the private sector of education!
     On the other hand, this may be the start of a career move by Hunt to show he is the "lionheart " Labour lacks,(or, at least that`s what John Prescott thinks) and that his promotion is vital to the party.  If that is the case, it`s bad news for Labour, but thousands of teachers will be delighted, especially if the magic penny could drop one day for Labour to realise that state school pupils and staff desperately need a Secretary of State who was actually state school educated!


Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Morning Star letter on Bank of England

The news that there is now "a record five million working people driven into low pay jobs" is hardly surprising in view of the mixed messages coming from the from the Bank of England. (Morning Star,27/10/14) Despite the somewhat encouraging words from Carney to the TUC last month about the need to reduce inequality, and a deputy governor this week warning that bankers are paid too much and "should expect a pay cut ...because of falling profits", there is Andrew Bailey, another deputy governor, expressing dismay that the debate on bonuses "is so divorced from the heart of the matter which is appropriate incentives"! Well, if he was referring to the working people`s need for "appropriate" pay at a time when real wages continue their downward spiral, he would have a point, but of course, like his friends in government, epitomised by Osborne`s frequent trips to Brussels to contest the bonus cap, he is arguing for the continuance of the ludicrous lie that the top paid will only work hard if they have a financial incentive to double their already obscenely-high pay. The City minister may well say it`s time to "move away from banker-bashing", but her case is weakened when the outgoing chairman of Barclays ridiculously says "big fines on banks were making it harder for the industry to win back public trust"! Presumably such things as mis-selling insurance policies to customers, fixing Libor rates and money-laundering drug money weren`t relevant?
    Bailey is the same deputy governor who recently complained that those fines  were making it difficult for banks to re-capitalise, expecting us to have forgotten that £375bn was created by Quantitative Easing for that very purpose. It will be interesting to see whether the European banks do actually lend to businesses the £790bn created for them by the European Central Bank, rather than hoarding it, like our banks.
     It appears that Bank of England managers may be ignoring the Bank`s founding charter which stated that its purpose was to "promote the public good and benefit of our people". The Bank`s website even states that its aim today "reflects that vision"! You could have fooled me! Any chance of Labour promising to change things?


Disagreeing with Behr and Mason in one week!

It is difficult to disagree with either Rafael Behr`s description of Labour "hammering" the Tories being like "an occasional prodding with a foam mallet", or his suggestion that Miliband`s assessment of the so-called economic recovery which "by-passes the majority" may just be correct. (A Tory nightmare:what if "red Ed is right on wages? 29/10/14) What is surprising, however, is Behr`s decision to omit the two most obvious criticisms of the Tories` economic plan: their idea for a "low wage economy" is meant to facilitate a regime where lower taxes are paid, especially by corporations and the wealthy. This  has backfired spectacularly, despite record employment, as workers on low wages or those recently self-employed, pay little or no income tax, and consequently coalition tax targets will not be met, and borrowing will increase even further, adding more to a deficit the Tories promised to reduce.
 Secondly, of course, paying low wages does not benefit an already unbalanced economy; company profits may rise and incomes at the top may reach even more obscene levels, but much of that money does not return to the economy. Paying higher wages immediately would be much more sensible, as spending would increase along with demand, giving the economy a much needed boost. In addition, there would be less need for housing and other benefits for which the taxpayer currently pays, rather than the greedy bosses.
Voters certainly "aren`t stupid", and they realise that Labour` pledge to have a minimum wage by 2020 of £8 an hour smacks of a party that is dogged by cowardice, and too firmly in cahoots with business and the City`s financial chicanery!

So Paul Mason thinks that if Labour fails to win the election next May, the party can either turn "blue", or, deserting any working class pretensions it might have, become the party of the "liberal salariat and the public sector workforce". (Mainstream politics is imploding; is discontent with globalisation the cause?27/10/14) He clearly views current Labour policies as being largely orientated towards the working people, but on what grounds?
    The pledge for an £8 an hour minimum wage is a very moderate one, not to be achieved until 2020, and will do little if anything to curb the growing inequality, which already places the UK in 28th out of 34 in the equality league table. Housing policies let the greedy landlords off the hook, with only promises to cap further rises in rents which already reach exploitative levels. Proposals to end the employment of unqualified teachers will have no effect on the decreasing social mobility.
As for remaining the party of the "public sector workforce", the idea would perhaps have more feasibility if Labour was actually now demanding an end to their pay freeze and pension reforms, and supporting them in their industrial action. There is a real danger that many in the public sector will desert them in May, and who can blame them when Labour`s leaders appear more concerned about cosying up to business and the City, promising nothing to limit obscene pay at the top, or anything which might offend the CBI?

Monday, 3 November 2014

Ideas to end "predatory capitalism"

     News that more than 1000 companies are now committed to paying the living wage or above is a start at least, as is energy company SSE seeing, according to a recent Observer report, the "commercial advantage in rejecting tax avoidance schemes and the use of tax havens". As a result SSE is the first FTSE100 firm to be awarded the Fair Tax Mark. Tax avoiding businesses, with their fiscal chicanery, run the risk of alienating the public, which is why the Fair Tax Mark is so useful as a guide for consumers, and should be used by all governments seriously intent on "knocking down the walls of corporate secrecy".
      However, why stop with tax avoidance? Companies which pay low wages and rely on the taxpayers to fill the gaps with housing benefit and such like, are also running the risk of falling foul of "consumer power". A Fair Pay Mark could be the reward for sensible and fair pay, with the living wage paid to all workers employed directly or indirectly by the company, equal rates of pay and opportunities for all workers, regardless of race and gender, and a reasonable pay ratio between the lowest and highest paid, (including bonuses). Is it any wonder the UK is 28th in the equality league table of 34 developed nations,  when FTSE 100 CEOs now receive in total renumeration 143 times that of the average employee in their firms?
       The idea of being able to identify the businesses whose activities bring benefit to the economy as a whole is not new, and the Labour leader might do well to read some biographies of the other Roosevelt instead, for one of FDR`s more successful New Deal policies was the awarding of the "Blue Eagle" accreditation to companies exhibiting practice akin to what Miliband would call "responsible capitalism". There is certainly a case to be made in Britain for a Fair Employer Mark, which could be awarded to all businesses which allowed all workers full trade union rights, something sadly, some large engineering firms are apparently avoiding, and also one for companies with a creditable apprenticeship scheme. A Safe Employer Mark might be useful for firms where machinery is used or where accidents more likely to happen,
       If Miliband was serious about ending "predatory capitalism", and wanted to show that Labour is not in thrall to the City unlike the other parties, he and his colleagues should be voicing their full support for the Fair Tax Mark, and thinking seriously about extending it, when in government, as an indication of their "commitment to fairness". A pledge to do so now might well be the "silver bullet" Labour desperately needs!