Friday, 26 February 2016

New Statesman letter on housing policy

Helen Lewis is absolutely right to compare Brown`s "client state" of public sector workers with the Tories` creation of "one of their own", the "owner-occupiers" (Notebook,19th February,2016). Of course, the government`s housing policy, which has the effect of turning 90% of under 35s into "permanent renters", is unfair, but it does also mean that Generation Rent should not only vote anti-Tory in 2020, but, if Corbyn and co, play their cards properly, should also become Labour`s own "client state". 
     It means Labour has to flesh out its housing policies, with pledges to build more social housing, along with proposals which end the current exploitation. With private renters paying around 40% or more of their income on housing, would the economy not be better served by reducing rents, thereby freeing up income for expenditure elsewhere?
      Rents in the private sector have increased by more than 8% on average in the past year. One in three of rented properties in the private sector is officially classed as "non-decent", whilst one in five present a health or safety risk to the occupier. A solution would be for councils to be given funding to set up an Ofsted-style organisation, given the task of inspecting all rental property and banding it, according to size, condition, location, facilities and safety. The rent to be charged would have to be within the confines determined by the band, with annual increases decided by the council.

"Dead Cat Society"

There was much debate last week about whether Cameron`s disgraceful "bunch of migrants" comment at PMQs was a slip-of-the-tongue, revealing the true character of a prime minister whose mask had slipped, or a more calculated remark, with a deliberate objective. Certainly, there is plenty of evidence in support of the former, especially as so much of what Cameron normally says during those televised sessions is carefully scripted, the anti-Corbyn rants in particular. The Tory leader has form, too, with last year`s "swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean" remark, showing similar disregard for the plight of desperate refugees, suggesting that this time he got carried away in his eagerness to score a political point, in what he clearly regards as a jousting match.
    On the other hand, Cameron was having a hard time, with the "unelectable" Labour leader having ninety per cent of the country behind him with his attacks on the "sweetheart" deal with tax avoiding Google. A controversial remark, albeit one with racist undertones, would divert attention away from the very simple fact that tax avoidance by multinationals is okay with this government, and comments about it being "morally repugnant" are merely rhetoric. It wouldn`t be the first time the Tories ended or postponed criticism of their actions in this way.
    Diverting attention of the public away from what is really important is the signature "dead cat" tactic of the Tories election strategist, Lynton Crosby. They paid him £2.4 million, and gave him a knighthood, so they clearly aim to get their money`s worth!
     Throwing, metaphorically speaking, a dead cat on to the dining table has one notable and relevant effect. Boris Johnson, who also employed Crosby as campaign manager during mayoral elections, described it like this: "the key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, Jeez mate, there`s a dead cat on the table", and talk about nothing else, with the previous topic of conversation successfully having been forgotten.  In political terms, it can lead to politicians escaping an analysis of their actions by well-informed critics, and instead, as in Cameron`s case, still facing criticism but for an action which can be more easily excused, as a "mis-speak" or other such noinsense,
     The same manoevre was behind Michael Fallon`s attack on Ed Miliband a mere ten days before the last election, when polls were beginning to show a Labour lead; he suggested Miliband would not only scrap Trident, but also do a deal with the Scottish Nationalists. No points for guessing what dominated the media`s coverage the next day, or for accurately describing what happened to Miliband`s very popular pledge to crack down on non doms` tax avoidance!
   All of this would suggest that, under this administration, we have a "dead cat society", where Tory politicians and their allies in the media do their utmost to prevent attention focussing on anything which might indicate, for instance, that the so-called "long-term economic plan" is failing, that Osborne`s targets are being missed, and that Tories in government actually borrow more than Labour. Does the country actually need a discussion on the merits of mothers wearing pyjamas to take their children to school, when there are far more important issues needing to be tackled? Is it really essential to have front pages devoted to the activities of would-be celebs behaving badly for a television programme, when a debate is needed on whether to spend £100m on weapons of mass destruction? Then there`s the exploitation of private tenants, the Tories` Trade Union Bill, the rising costs of HS2, and the existence of the mythical "northern powerhouse", to mention but a few. 
     With a record like this, and an ambition to shrink the state back to 1930s levels and privatise just about anything with value, Tories will be using Crosby`s strategy more frequently in the coming months. Labour MPs need to ignore it and stick to their task of attacking the government for its cruelty, duplicity and for its creation of a "dead cat" society.


Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Morgan`s ambition behind this nonsense

Lucy Powell is absolutely right to criticise the Secretary of Education for wanting to replace the head of Ofsted with "someone with a track record of taking on the unions" (Morning Star,15/02/16). As she says, Ofsted is meant to "help schools improve, not to pick fights". This is not to say that Michael Wilshaw has done enough to praise teachers for their excellent work and commitment, or to acknowledge the resulting improvements in education in the state sector, but to suggest that "a union-busting US replacement" is needed to replace him is absurd.
     Has there ever been one instance of teacher unions taking action against government initiatives which would raise school standards in the UK? There have been protests against large class sizes, against pay freezes which lower real wages, and against unnecessary additions to workloads already approaching sixty hours a week, but the aim is always to protect a profession dedicated to raising standards. Tory policy on pay and workload has resulted in massive recruitment problems, with many schools using agencies to find recruits abroad, and many children being taught by unqualified staff, and/or teachers with only an A-level in the subject. A cynic might even suggest government policy is to lower standards, especially in some deprived areas, to strengthen future arguments about the need for more privatisation.
      Certainly, Morgan`s desire to "pick a new fight" with unions has everything to do with raising her stature in the Tory party, and with her personal ambition regarding leadership, and nothing whatsoever to do with raising educational standards. Being "tough" on unions is a default position for anyone with leadership aspirations in this right-wing government. Whilst Hunt deliberately sets out to create the impression of chaos in the health service, Morgan clearly aims to replicate this in state education.


Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Speaker

Any Wednesday, 12.15pm, PMQs:
Speaker: "Order, order. Prime Minister, I have already warned you about this. You must answer the questions. This is not called Prime Minister`s Questions for nothing; it is not an opportunity for you to a) ask your own questions to the Leader of the Opposition;
b) treat the session as a party political broadcast;
c) encourage schoolboy behaviour from your backbenchers".
    Of course, this is what should happen, and instead of complaining about the disgraceful behaviour of individual MPs, the Speaker should remove them from the chamber; behaviour would soon improve.
The reality is far removed from this, and the fact is the electorate is badly served by the present incumbent of the Speaker`s chair.
Let`s consider some other salient points.
        The Speaker`s disgraceful disregard for Parliament`s reputation, and the huge hypocrisy he has shown by lecturing on the need for parliament "to ensure it is a credible institution", beggar belief. It would be interesting to discover how many afternoons he spent watching the tennis during Wimbledon fortnight last year, for he was certainly not presiding over the Budget proceedings, nor on the debate the following day, when he was photographed at the tennis, sitting behind fellow MP John Whittingdale. The Daily Mail reported that Bercow "enjoyed more than £6000-worth of free tennis" last summer (02/10/15). I am sure Bercow`s constituents in Buckingham will be interested in such details about their MP`s work output just weeks before his massively long summer break, not to mention the announcement of a significant pay rise. Delegating your work to a deputy so that you can spend the afternoon at one of the world`s premier sporting events sounds like the action of a sciver to me!
       Then there is the small matter of pay! According to the Commons website, Bercow`s salary is bigger than the prime minister`s, now reaching £150,236, having recently accepted an additional 0.62% increase for his official role, and with another £1000 MPs` pay rise in the offing,. He also enjoys an official residence, Speaker`s House, in the northeast corner of the Palace of Westminster, with private accommodation in a four-bedroom apartment upstairs! Plus, of course, the well-documented taxpayer-funded apartment for his children`s nanny!
     During the MPs` expenses scandal, Bercow re-paid £6500 when it was discovered he had failed to pay Capital Gains tax on the sale of two properties in 2003, but of course, he put all this aside when elected as Speaker.
He promised to "implement an agenda for reform, for renewal, for revitalisation", and to re-assert "the core values of this great institution", but it didn`t quite work out like that. He`s had an expenses scandal all to himself. Already this year Bercow has been in the news for all the usual reasons. He has spent thousands of pounds of public money, it has been revealed, on wining and dining fellow MPs, including around £2000 on a leaving dinner for his former deputy, £3000 on an event for newly elected MPs, and £1700 on a reception for retiring MPs. One meal with the Australian Speaker in May 2014 cost £1,954. Let us not forget who is paying the bill for all of this.
      Then there`s the small matter of travel! Following on from the £96000 claimed between 2010 and 2013, our much revered Speaker claimed more than £31000 in travel and accommodation expenses between April 2014 and April 2015 : these included such arduous trips as the 0.7 mile trip to Carlton House from Parliament, for which he claimed £172, and the journey  from his house to King`s Cross station, which cost the taxpayer £168. Best of all, perhaps, is the £367 claimed for being driven to the University of Bedfordshire to deliver a lecture on..... you`ve guessed already, the reform of Parliament, to ensure it remains a "credible institution". Bercow`s spokesman even said, "The Speaker is committed to cutting costs wherever possible". You could not make it up! Talk about taking us for mugs! 
     With his being so unpopular with many fellow Tories, you would think they would get rid of such an embarrassment, but....
 There were accusations that he presided over a cover-up of MPs` expenses, after tens of thousands of pieces of paperwork relating to claims made before 2010 were shredded. No further investigations without evidence! Fancy that!
   Maybe the MPs` friend can do what he likes in Parliament, but, as far as we are concerned, he must be viewed as a disgrace. Elected to preside over a clean-up of Parliament, after the biggest scandal in years, Bercow has done nothing of the sort; in fact, he has added to the widespread distrust we all have of the majority of our politicians.
    And we are still asked why Corbyn stands out , and is so popular! Look at the Speaker`s record , and the answer is obvious.

Education in crisis

News broke at the weekend that leading Tories are in a panic about the government`s myopic education policy, with cuts to Conservative-run councils meaning many will be unable to provide school places for all the children in their areas. Days earlier we learned of a shortage of headteachers, especially in more deprived localities, to accompany the better-known fact of teacher recruitment numbers being down, and agencies being used to recruit staff from abroad.
   Tory reaction? Councils should seek sponsors for "free schools"!
     The government`s perseverance with its policies, favouring academies and "free" schools, beggars belief, especially without any evidence whatsoever, that they raise standards. 
       Whilst it is true that good leadership can make a huge difference to the quality of education provided at schools, no headteacher can turn a school around without the hard work of the classroom teachers. With the current teacher recruitment crisis, it can hardly be a surprise that schools are struggling to recruit headteachers. Although the job of principal can undoubtedly be rewarding, and not only financially, running a school with staff shortages in key subjects like Maths and Science, with staff morale at its lowest for years, with pay rises restricted by a short-sighted chancellor to 1% for the next four years, and with a working week for the average teacher approaching 60 hours, the headteacher`s job is simply too stressful. No wonder research is showing that 86.8% of school leaders believe headship to be less attractive than five years ago.
   The government must accept responsibility for this, and take appropriate action. Constant criticism of the teaching profession from recent secretaries of state, coupled with broken promises not to introduce new initiatives in term time, as well as the threat of unfair and inaccurate judgements by Ofsted inspectors, have all made the job of headteacher more difficult, with no sign of improvement. In fact, the chief inspector of schools, Michael Wilshaw, rather than accepting that pressure from Ofsted deters potential applicants, blames existing headteachers for the current shortage, as they have not sufficiently "encouraged their leadership teams to develop through in-school opportunities or external programmes"!
Furthermore, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development recently provided results of its research, showing that high pay for bosses demotivates the rest of the workforce, which then is reflected in productivity levels. With large companies` CEOs being paid 183 times more than their average employee, this is hardly surprising, but it also applies to schools. The pay ratios are much smaller, but morale is always low when the headteacher is paid four or five times that of the average classroom teacher, yet never faces the constant pressure of actual teaching and its consequences, such as marking, reports, meetings, and inevitable pastoral issues.
     Teacher workload is yet another problem the government chooses to ignore, despite its obvious causal relationship with the recruitment crisis. Has there ever been a government education initiative which resulted in reduced work for teachers? It has to be wrong to expect every piece of work done by a pupil to be read, marked and have a written comment suggesting ways to improve; not only is it unnecessary, it`s unproductive, and Ofsted and parents need to be told by government not to expect it.
    Cameron is sending his son to an £18000 a year private school, because of the lack, apparently, of good comprehensives close to Downing Street; his hypocrisy knows no bounds. With pay frozen and rents in London allowed to rise year after year, it`s surprising there are any teachers in the capital at all. The government`s refusal to pay teachers a salary which reflects their importance to society is typical of Tory administrations, but ideas from Clegg and others to pay some teachers more for working in deprived areas are divisive, and should be rejected. It is clear Labour should not only support pay awards for most workers in the public sector whose real wages have declined since 2010, but explain how they would afford it - by raising taxes on the wealthy. It always seems ridiculous to me that those earning £40K+ pay income tax at the same rate as those earning £149K. New tax bands at 45% for those earning over £100K, 50% over £150K, 55% over £200K, and 60% over £250K would provide the necessary funds, with the NHS benefiting also.

    How can the inevitable crisis in education not benefit Labour? The only problem is that most MPs seem more determined to embarrass Corbyn than the Tory Prime Minister!

Friday, 19 February 2016

New Statesman letter on shadow cabinet

If it wasn`t for social media, I too would wonder, like Peter Wilby, "what has become of Jeremy Corbyn", as the mainstream media`s silence on the activities of the leader of the Opposition suggests a conspiracy is afoot (First Thoughts,12 February,2016). Having first hounded him, but failing to persuade him to engage in Boris-like banter, the press now punish him with silence or criticism. Wilby mentioned how the Mail typically "excoriated him" for asking Cameron about the damage being done to the NHS at PMQs rather than its "Number One subject of the hour", the EU.
       Wilby is correct, however, to question the whereabouts of the shadow cabinet. Apart from McDonnell, the majority appear content to let the government off the hook, when they should be as mad as hell about its failures to balance the books, reduce tax avoidance, simultaneously ignoring the wishes of parliament over constituency changes, and the rest of its attempts to stitch up the next election. Shouting from the rooftops would be my preference, but voicing objections on the "Today" programme would suffice. If their idea is to isolate Corbyn and his few allies, thereby distancing themselves from any electoral disasters which might occur in May, they are backing the wrong horse. Tory-lite policies will not win Labour the election; the sooner the shadow cabinet and the rest of the Labour MPs realise that working with their elected, and popular, leader, rather than against him, is the way forward, the better. In the meantime, Cameron and co ride roughshod over principles once thought indispensable, fairness and democracy.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Tories undermining democracy

The government`s "decision to reject completely MPs` advice  to amend rules" relating to constituency boundary changes comes as no surprise (A cavalier disregard for MPs` advice undermines democracy,13/02/14). Your editorial rightly says that the alterations will give "the Tories a massive head-start in 2020", and are "an affront to parliament", but what`s new? The Tories have already started the process of stitching up the next election by introducing individual registration, and reducing funding for opposition parties, with the "short money" changes, and reductions from trade unions, but with no restrictions imposed on Tory donations.

       Such examples of democracy being undermined did not prevent Cameron recently attempting to "sign up Boris Johnson to his campaign", with a promise to "assert the sovereignty of the House of Commons and these houses of parliament" (PM`s hard line on UK self-rule woos Johnson,04/02/16). The hypocrisy does not end there; whenever Tories want to justify arms sales, or even armed intervention, the excuse invariably given is the need to protect democracy. It`s regarded as a "core British value", yet we have a government with an overall majority in the lower chamber, elected on the votes of only 24% of the total electorate! Only a Tory government, with a record of ignoring the wishes of the Commons, and passing legislation without debate by using statutory instruments, would have the brass neck  to persuade the nation to vote in favour of staying in the EU by claiming it was the only sure way to ensure the "sovereignty" of parliament.

After a brief summary of the government`s legislation and policies since it took office, Helen Lewis concluded, "Surely we deserve better" (Slothful and slapdash: the housing bill tells us everything about the Tories,12/02/16). Sadly, the country knew all about the Tories before the election, about their cruel and needless laws like the Bedroom tax, their selfish tax bands benefiting the rich, and their appalling record in dealing with tax avoiders and greedy landlords. The country still voted for them because the media waged an unwarranted war against the Labour party, against its policies, which would have injected an element of fairness into our society, and in particular against its leader.
  Of course, the Tories are "committed to a scattergun set of policies", because there is no "long-term economic plan", any more than there is a "northern powerhouse" policy, and these don`t exist as they were simply pre-election wheezes, which they never expected to have to put into action. The huge amount of privatisation, the provocation of junior doctors to stir up dissatisfaction with the NHS, teacher shortages following pay freezes and continuous criticism of their work, and housing policies, which hurt "hard-working families", cannot be described as unexpected.
 Tragically, we deserve what we get! Compassionate Toryism is a myth perpetuated by the Tory propaganda machine, and 24% of those entitled to vote swallowed it!

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Stuff on "northern powerhouse" and such like

The warning by the think-tank, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, that George Osborne is unlikely to meet his target of running a "budget surplus by the end of the decade" must signal the failure of the Tories` "long term economic plan" (IFS: Osborne may have to impose more austerity,09/02/16). This, of course, will never be admitted, and no doubt Tory backbenchers will be still playing their private, self-congratulatory game of "word bingo" with the term at future PMQs, but it does not require an economic genius to predict that their policies of shrinking the state and freezing pay in the public sector, cutting jobs at HMRC when it is calculated that each tax inspector brings in to the Treasury approximately ten times their salary, and refusing to impose fair taxes on the rich, will run into problems.
     What we all can predict, however, is that, as James Moore says, Osborne will use as one of his many excuses the suggestion that the UK is no longer "in normal times" (Outlook,09/02/16). Some blame will also, no doubt, be placed on the last Labour government, as will an excuse used recently by the DfE to explain low numbers being recruited to School Direct, that the target figures were "purposely over-inflated signal their ambitions for the policy".

      There is a real dilemma here, but as it is for the Tory party, it gets little publicity. Before the general election, which they did not expect to win, they promised £8bn of income tax cuts, plus of course a new "northern powerhouse", which they never intended to fund. They also have a chancellor, intent on becoming the next leader, who has to show leadership qualities with his budgets, whilst the outgoing leader wants to prove his "compassion" with policies like prison reform, which will cost billions, and which the chancellor will deem unaffordable! PMQs could be interesting in the next few weeks, as long as Mr Corbyn plays his cards right!

Can we now put the idea of the Tories wanting to create a "northern powerhouse" to bed? It was clearly an election wheeze which appealed to a Tory party thinking itself, at best, to be a partner in a coalition government post-May 2015, when the idea could finally be shelved. The news that 83% of the government`s "£300m relief fund will  go to Tory-run councils", mostly in the south, is not simply deplorable, but indicative of the ridiculous bias this administration shows for southern England (Council cuts: PM accused of buying off MPs,10/02/16).
    With none of this extra money designated to help the "five most deprived councils in the country", all of which unsurprisingly are in the northern half of England, and with none of the proposed improvements in transport even off the ground, this ludicrous sham must stop.

Christopher Smallwood`s argument is seriously weakened by two significant omissions (The NHS needs more cash. To find it we have to ditch the prejudice,08/02/16). Firstly, his opening sentence, that there is "no extra money available", ignores the facts that not only is there, by the government`s own admission, a tax gap of £34bn, but also that the income tax structure is far too heavily weighted in favour of the wealthy. Is it not ridiculous that someone earning just over £40,000 a year pays income tax at the same rate as someone earning £100,000 more? New tax bands at 45% for those earning over £100K, 50% over £150K, 55% over £200K, and 60% over £250K would provide much needed funds for the NHS, and prove popular, simply on the grounds of fairness. People earning less than £40K pay enough tax already; they should not have to pay extra in health insurance!
    Smallwood also stated that the "fall in defence spending has come to an end", but this disregards the point that, almost certainly, the majority of people in this country prefer the NHS to Trident renewal. The refusal by the government to raise the necessary funds to support the NHS properly looks remarkably like it is waiting for the situation to worsen, before announcing yet more privatisation; Smallwood`s article acts as one of the many harbingers of such events we can expect in the future.
"Morally indefensible sweetheart tax deal", indeed, Ms Christie, and even then Osborne tried to mislead us about the amount of corporate tax Google paid (Why does George Osborne make me so angry? Let me count the ways,06/02/16). A quarter of the "paltry" £130m related to its share option scheme! Perhaps economy with the truth is part of the so-called "long-term plan"?

Christopher Smallwood`s argument is seriously weakened by two significant omissions (The NHS needs more cash. To find it we have to ditch the prejudice,08/02/16). Firstly, his opening sentence, that there is "no extra money available", ignores the facts that not only is there, by the government`s own admission, a tax gap of £34bn, but also that the income tax structure is far too heavily weighted in favour of the wealthy. Is it not ridiculous that someone earning just over £40,000 a year pays income tax at the same rate as someone earning £100,000 more? New tax bands at 45% for those earning over £100K, 50% over £150K, 55% over £200K, and 60% over £250K would provide much needed funds for the NHS, and prove popular, simply on the grounds of fairness. People earning less than £40K pay enough tax already; they should not have to pay extra in health insurance!
    Smallwood also stated that the "fall in defence spending has come to an end", but this disregards the point that, almost certainly, the majority of people in this country prefer the NHS to Trident renewal. The refusal by the government to raise the necessary funds to support the NHS properly looks remarkably like it is waiting for the situation to worsen, before announcing yet more privatisation; Smallwood`s article acts as one of the many harbingers of such events we can expect in the future.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Corbyn`s "unelectable extremism"(apparently!)

How sad to see so many of our leading, and apparently left-leaning, politicians describe Corbyn`s policies, which basically are in favour of, as Diane Abbott said, "peace abroad and social justice at home", as "unelectable extremism" (The choice before Labour,29th January,2016). One of them even "reeled off the names of the most obvious members" of an alternative shadow cabinet, from Cooper to "the Eagle sisters", which had proved itself unelectable in last year`s election! Strangely, too, was the faith shown in the accuracy of opinion polls, begging the question whether polls showing a massive rise in Corbyn`s popularity would have been treated with the same respect.
    Not one of the "past and present" politicians mentioned the role of this most duplicitous of Tory governments, and how every week throws up revelations of skullduggery, from compliance in tax avoidance to arms deals which breach international law obligations, from being obviously "intensely relaxed" about growing inequality to crises in health and education provision. Will middle-class Britain be so keen to support another Tory government in 2020 after ten years of austerity measures failing to reduce the deficit, and their children having 20 per cent of their lessons taught by unqualified teachers? Cuts to council funds, even in Conservative-run heartlands, are bound to cause problems, from which Labour should aim to benefit.

     George Eaton, in his introduction, wrote approvingly of Tory centrism, with its minimum wage increases, equal marriage, and "apprenticeship levy on business", but such feeble attempts to add an element of fairness to government policies, and any Labour attempts to emulate them, will not fool the electorate again. Labour MPs need to unite and support Corbyn, not sit back, plotting, all the while undermining their leader`s credibility.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Comrade Corbyn

Stephen Bush`s review of "Comrade Corbyn:a Very Unlikely Coup", was remarkably generous, describing it as "an accomplished study", and concluding that it is "difficult to see another book doing better" (The Critics:How he got that way,5th February,2016). This is hard to believe, given that the author, Rosa Prince, is the online political editor for the Telegraph. She may, as Bush says, have conducted "over a dozen interviews with the leader`s friends and opponents", but the suspicion she must have aroused from the "friends", fearing a hatchet-job, will undoubtedly have limited their responses. One wonders whether real friends would have responded, at all, to a writer with views so distant from Corbyn`s, and indeed, their own? 
      Bush does not mention whether Prince carried out much research in Corbyn`s constituency, as surely such a book would demand, but grateful constituents would hardly figure prominently in a book with such a predisposed title. Let`s face it, Prince`s purpose is to paint a distorted picture, perhaps not a full-scale demolition, but a biased view nevertheless. Rather than looking forward to a "second volume", as Bush appears to do, many of us would prefer to wait for a more impartial analysis.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Teachers can`t win!

Teachers can`t win; when they work so hard to improve examination results, Tory "experts" like Michael Gove and ex-corporation lawyer, Nicky Morgan, judge the exams as "too easy", but instead of changing mark schemes, they change the whole assessment process, and get rid of AS levels.
       Now universities have nothing to guide them in their selection of future undergraduates other than teachers judgements, so what happens? Ucas complain that "teachers are deliberately boosting predicted grades to get pupils into top universities" (We do inflate predicted A-level grades, admit teachers,05/02/16).
   Imagine the fuss from parents and universities if teachers predicted A-level grades according to the effort pupils make normally! They would be rightly criticised for lacking aspiration, and for not motivating their students. Of course, teachers have to base their decision on the grades pupils could get if they "worked flat out", which most sixth formers do in the months leading up to A-level examinations.
      If decisions relating to assessment were not taken by politicians but by expert and experienced teachers and examiners, the AS levels would still exist, and universities could be guided accordingly. Oh, but what would then have happened? Assessment, because it would be fairer, would not work against students from less fortunate backgrounds, and results would improve. Whenever results in state schools improve, Tories make changes; they don`t appear to like it when results in the public sector match those in private education! Equality of opportunity is not a Tory principle; remember what happened to the Education Maintenance Grant, weeks after Gove`s appointment?

With over forty years of teaching in the state sector, and seven years as a pupil in an awful grammar school, I regard myself in an excellent position to agree with Ralph Lucas, of the Good Schools Guide, that "overall, state schools have never been better" (Soaring state schools threaten private sector,06/02/16). What is annoying, however, is firstly, that the Department for Education predictably and ridiculously sees the improvement as a result of its "commitment to social justice and fairness", when it`s clear that the progress has been made despite government initiatives.
        Equally irritating is the rush to attribute all improvements to "the new model of headteacher in the state sector". Whilst it is true that good leadership in all schools is essential before advances can be made, it is also evident that without the efforts and commitment of hard-working teachers, none of these improvements would have taken place. The government won`t admit this, of course, because it would make their policy of freezing teachers` pay appear even more petty. This does not excuse the majority of the media which seems determined to minimise the important role played by the classroom teacher.

     Constant criticism of the teaching profession from recent secretaries of state, coupled with broken promises not to introduce new initiatives in term time (So much for the election promise not to introduce primary reforms mid-year,26/01/16), as well as the threat of an unfair and inaccurate judgements by Ofsted inspectors, have all made the job more difficult, with no sign of improvement. Until the government deals with teachers` pay and workload problems, the recruitment crisis will continue, and remarks from DfE spokespersons about government policies "achieving educational excellence for everyone, everywhere, regardless of their background" will continue to beggar belief. 

What a shame, and indeed, an indictment of current education thinking, that the chief inspector of schools, Michael Wilshaw, thinks that "giving a grammar school education to the top 20%" would be an "economic disaster" (Grammar system would be "economic suicide", 30/01/16). He says that because "the economy is now so different" from when grammar schools dominated the secondary sector, he is against a selective education system, as if the state of the country`s economy was the most important determinant.
  The fact that such a system is totally unfair, and results in 80% of the children getting an inferior education, simply on the basis of an unreliable test, which ignores totally both the pupils` potential and background, seems to have been relegated below the importance of the economic needs of the country. At least, Wilshaw does admit that comprehensive education "can work", but only if schools have "great leadership". One would expect that the Ofsted chief would have realised by now that no headteacher can improve the quality of education in a school without the support of dedicated and under-paid, hard-working teachers. Failure by Wilshaw, and recent secretaries of state, to acknowledge the wonderful work done by the vast majority of teachers is contributing to massive recruitment problems, which will in the long run lead to the two-tiered system he purports to be against. 

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Rawnsley and Corbyn

Andrew Rawnsley couldn`t quite bring himself to admit it (Politicians need to get off their knees with the likes of Google,31/01/16). After a whole article devoted to explaining why "such intense outrage...has welled up" over the existence of "one rule for the hyper-rich and another rule for everyone else", he was forced to confess that it has given "lift-off" to the "populist parties" of the likes of Donald Trump and Bernie Saunders. What Rawnsley couldn`t manage was to say that it is also one of the major reasons for not only the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn, but also his electability in 2020. Not surprising really in view of the fact that he has written about little else, other than Corbyn handing the Tories election victory on a plate, for the past twenty weeks or so.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Indy letter on Tory democracy

Tom Peck`s amusing piece, comparing the staunch anti-EU arm of the Tory party with "the full might of the British Empire", jokingly excused Jacob Rees-Mogg "for never quite comprehending that it is no longer 1867" (The day that Cameron took on the British Empire,04/02/16). There can be no excuse as there is a huge difference! In 1867 there was a Tory leader intent, albeit for reasons resembling a basic fear of revolution, on extending democracy, and with his Reform Act of that year, giving the vote to working-class males. At the first opportunity, Disraeli also extended trade union rights and legalised peaceful picketing with his Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act.
     Even Rees-Mogg will have realised that in 2016 we have a Tory prime minister, who like his 19th century predecessor, claims to be supporting "One-Nation" Conservatism, but who is, in fact, attacking the very principles Disraeli propounded. There can be no claims for twenty first century "Tory Democracy" when we have a prime minister not only reducing numbers of those entitled to the franchise, with his individual registration scheme, but also changing constituency borders to favour his own party. Cameron is also reducing financial support for opposition parties by making changes to "short money" allocation, and, as Lord Rennard pointed out, by "removing much trade union funding from the Labour party" without altering "Conservatives` own funding source" (Letters to the Editor,04/02/16).
   When Cameron, with his EU renegotiations, announces that he wants to assert Parliament`s authority over all EU institutions, one wonders whether he is referring to a democratically elected House of Commons having such influence, or one dominated by a Tory party elected by 24% of the electorate!


Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Google tax deal a disgrace

Perhaps Mr Osborne could tell us when avoiding paying the correct amount of tax stops being "morally repugnant" and develops into "a major success of our tax policy" (Morning Star,27.01.16)? What is really worrying is that Osborne actually admitted he hopes he will see "more firms following suit", in doing "sweetheart" deals, leading to paying paltry amounts of corporate tax, with HMRC. This is a shocking admission of the failure of his anti-tax avoidance policies. Even his "diverted profits tax" is only going to recoup approximately  £600m, but not until 2019!
 Furthermore, the Daily Mirror has discovered that Osborne, policy chief Oliver Letwin, Theresa May, Jeremy Hunt and ex-Tory chairman, Grant Shapps, are among 17 different Tory ministers to have held talks with Google bosses in recent months. In fact there were at least 24 official meetings with Google in the 19 months between January 2014 and September 2015. If this doesn`t prove that this government is in cahoots with big business, nothing will.
     A government intent on making tax avoiding firms "smell the coffee" would not have reduced staff at HMRC by 20,000. Sadly the idiocy does not stop there; even more ridiculous is that allowing Google to avoid paying 20% tax on its profits rakes in a mere £130m, whilst the plan to create more so-called "efficiency" by closing 137 tax offices, and having 13 new regional centres instead, is part of a plan to cut £100m in costs. For every tax inspector employed, it is calculated three to four times his/her salary is collected in tax.

    Is it any wonder that these multinationals are running rings around our innumerate government?

Tuesday, 2 February 2016


All Labour supporters will have been impressed with Corbyn`s performances at the weekly PMQs, though it would make more sense for his backbenchers to leave the Tories to look foolish on their own; let them behave like naughty schoolboys as they are clearly good at it! There are, perhaps, two things the Labour leader could keep up his sleeve. There must be somewhere rules about how every PMQs` session should progress, which will include details of the answering procedure, and how the PM`s response should be directly related to the question; at some stage Corbyn could read these out loud, particularly after yet another Cameron carefully rehearsed "answer" failing to deal with the question asked.
 Probably, Corbyn`s best approach would be to cover three issues in his allowed six questions, starting this week with the fact that the PM and Osborne seem to have different views about Google`s "sweetheart deal", allowing the multinational its own corporate tax level of around 3%. Cameron`s responses can surely be anticipated, so after the second fudge on the issue, Corbyn should have at his disposal, facts or quotes which can embarrass the government; once given, they can be followed up with the next question, so preventing Cameron having the last word on the subject, something he clearly relishes.
    The Labour team must know Cameron will avoid answering directly any question, so devoting more than two questions to a relevant issue appears pointless; other topics ripe for questioning include the "jungle" at Calais, though Tories may have acted to prevent such embarrassment by Wednesday, the £490m deal for Spanish trains rather than giving the contract to the UK`s train manufacturer, Bombadier, G4S`s abuse of government contracts, and the Centre for Studies`s report on low wage, high welfare economies which makes a joke of the Tories` plan for a "northern powerhouse".

     The calm approach should continue; Cameron can be embarrassed without Corbyn having to sink to the PM`s level!

Fairer income tax

What a good idea from Steve Richards (We`re asking the wrong referendum question, 27/01/16). Rather than ask whether "voters will back a tax rise... in order to pay for health and elderly care", wouldn`t it be better to ask if they would support a tax rise for the rich, "specified in detail", for the NHS?
      It always seems strange to me that those earning £40+K pay income tax at the same rate as those earning £149K. New tax bands at 40% for those earning over £100K, 50% over £150K, 55% over £200K, and 60% over £250K would provide much needed funds for the NHS, and prove popular, simply on the grounds of fairness, in a referendum on the subject of funding. As Richards says, it would be "about the voters and what they expect a government to deliver".

Monday, 1 February 2016

Politics and patriotism

If, indeed, there are "ghosts in the Labour machine", which have been "haunting the party for generations", haven`t they got more to do with the effectiveness of Tory propaganda than with reality (Flying the flag, 22 January, 2016)? Front page hysteria erupts whenever Corbyn appears not to be making the right "gestures and symbols" like singing the national anthem at St Paul`s cathedral, but when his policies are announced to help the British people, to put more money in the Treasury, and to fight for fairness for all, he is denounced as an old-fashioned "hard-left" visionary. Hasn`t his popularity got much to do with the voters` distrust of gesture politics?
       John King mentioned how "the Tories keep on flying the Union Jack", but omitted the fact that this is a myth perpetuated by the media. No front page headlines or television news focussing on the government`s preference for Spanish trains, built with Spanish steel, rather than giving the £490m contract to the UK`s train manufacturer, Bombadier, means the myth continues. Allowing London to be taken over by the world`s mega-rich, whilst social cleansing drives Londoners to seek housing in the less-affluent areas, is hardly the action of patriots. Neither is the constant stream of privatisation, including the gradual sale of the much-loved NHS, which inevitably leads to more and more British interests being owned by foreign businesses and governments. What is patriotic about doing "sweetheart" tax deals with multinationals like Google and Starbucks, which deny the country`s coffers billions? 

      King thinks it essential that Labour "understands the patriotism of the people", but if political commentators concentrated on the unpatriotic actions of the Tory government, the electorate would be better able to make informed choices come election time.