Saturday, 26 March 2016

Progressive Tories? No chance!

Of course, as your editorial stated, Osborne "talks a good game" when, in fact, it`s all "cobblers" (Morning Star,24/03/16). It really does come to something when the country`s economic future is determined by the personal ambitions of its chancellor! The truth is that there is little about Tory policies, and the mythology surrounding them, that cannot be regarded as nonsense.
    Tories calling themselves "progressive" and their party beholden to "compassionate Conservatism", as this bunch has been doing for nearly fifteen years, does not detract from the evidence; since holding the reins of power in 2010, the prime minister and chancellor have been responsible not only for austerity measures and budgets, which the Institute for Fiscal Studies have repeatedly reported as hitting the poorest hardest, but tax changes which have benefited the most wealthy. Tories who claim to be ignorant of these facts are being disingenuous in the extreme.
     In fact, history shows us very few examples of any Tory governments revealing compassion as even a minor influence on policy. The government which, for over a century, was termed as "Progressive" by historians, is now deemed unworthy of the description. The 1822-29 government did nothing to alleviate the suffering of the poor, not even banning the exploitation of children in the factories and mines, let alone extending the franchise, ending slavery in the colonies, and granting monies to fund the most basic of education for future generations. When decent reforms were passed, such as repealing the Combination Laws, reasons such as fear of insurrection, were far more important than any feelings of outrage or sympathy. It is not a coincidence that the following decade saw the rise of Chartism.
    History will fail in its duty to the truth if it does not view the 2010-16(20?) period as one of the least "progressive" of modern times, and its claims to be otherwise as pure "cobblers"! 

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Morning Star letter on "divide and rule"

Saturday`s editorial included many valid points, but none more so than the fact that there is a "delusion among too many people" that the welfare state is "unaffordable", with so many social security payments (Morning Star,12/03/16). This explains the huge number of false accusations of so-called "benefit cheats" over the past five years, encouraged by the disgraceful Sun newspaper setting up its own benefit fraud hotline; almost 900,000 reports out of more than a million cases were proved to be innaccurate. What people are not encouraged to remember is that fraudulent claims account for a mere 0.7% of total benefit expenditure.
     It is, of course, reminiscent of another country whose government relied on its vicious propaganda machine for popular support, spurred on by the right-wing press.
     In 1930s Germany, Gestapo numbers were much smaller than suggested in most films and television programmes, which tend to show secret police on every street corner. Detailed research, by historians such as Gellately, has shown how in large towns like Wurzburg in pre-war Germany, only 22 Gestapo officials were employed, with only 11 on non-administrative duty, to cover a population of over 130,000. Their work was done for them, of course, by the brainwashed people, eager to show their loyalty with their accusations and allegations!

    Just as the benefit cheat is the perfect excuse for Tories to impose austerity in this country, so the Jews and left-wingers were the excuses for Nazism! This tactic is basically one of divide and rule, and is used by governments which realise that their policies are indefensible, and that economy with the truth is the real "long-term plan"!

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Gordon Bennett

I`m surprised that, in his review of the new book about Gordon Bennett, Charlie English omitted the example of his behaviour which is most responsible for his name becoming "an appropriate response to news of any extraordinary event" (Gordon Bennett and the First Yacht Race Across the Atlantic,12/03/16). In 1877, Gordon`s engagement to socialite Caroline May was broken off after he disgraced himself in his future in-laws` house, by drunkenly mistaking the dining-room`s fireplace for the  toilet,and urinating in front of all assembled guests.

Friday, 18 March 2016

NS letter on Brexit`s chances

The "debate over British membership of the EU" has, indeed, been "dismal", as your Leader rightly stated, but just because team Brexit cannot respond to simple "leap in the dark" accusations does not mean they cannot secure victory in June (In defence of Project Fear,11th March, 2016). Losing arguments but winning elections is hardly a new phenomenon; how many people thought the Tory proposal about shrinking the state back to levels last seen in the 1930s a vote - winner? 
Far too much credence, yet again, despite the lessons which should have been learned from last May, is being given to the polls, and nowhere near enough to the distinct possibility that the electorate will view the referendum as a chance to protest against the government. Commentators all too frequently forget that the Tories gained their overall majority with a "narrow subsection of the public around their flag", a mere 24% of the electorate's support. The reasons the left have given for staying in Europe are valid but not being given enough publicity, and the arrogance of Cameron and Osborne has certainly not abated since the general election. The immigration question is being avoided, and the referendum could be the opportunity for which the "shy" Ukip element has been waiting.

 In such circumstances, a reliance on Johnson`s "affected affability" rather than a focus on the "central arguments" might be all that is needed; the Remain campaign could soon find that the real "onus" is on them!

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Pre-budget letter

How ironic that a chancellor, who constantly criticised the previous government for "failing to fix the roof while the sun was shining", now finds himself having to make a further £4bn of cuts, in order to reach his target of a budget surplus by 2020. Why didn`t Osborne think of this before selling off some RBS shares last year at £1.1bn less than their value? Even after six years of being in charge, the economy is £18bn smaller than was thought, despite a monetary stimulus of £375bn of quantitative easing, which failed to kickstart the economy.
  In order, as Steve Richards says, "not to alienate voters before the referendum", this week`s budget will undoubtedly include announcements about long-term investment plans, like Crossrail 2, northern transport links and increased housebuilding, but such investment is years overdue; the truth is that the current state of the economy is the result of his misguided, and ideologically driven, economic policies (The only figure that matters this week is the majority of 12, 15/03/16). What his speech will not include is an admission that public spending on infrastructure is 50% less than what it was in Labour`s last year of government. Of course Osborne will blame a "cocktail" of foreign problems, for which, again, he should have planned, but there is no doubt where the responsibility really lies.
   With "a leadership contest to fight", there will be yet more privatisation outlined, but such a short-sighted "fast-buck" policy is typical of a chancellor, who should have been concentrating instead on preparations for the next, inevitable recession, by, for example, raising billions by reducing tax avoidance. His diverted profits tax is only intended to raise £600m, and not until 2019!

   Almost certainly, Osborne will repeat his "country can only afford what it can afford" mantra, but when interest rates are near zero, only the economically inept refuse to borrow. How "morally repugnant" is it to find that the roof is still leaking, and that the chancellor`s personal ambition dictates the country`s economic policy?

Additional anti-Osborne letter:
With your front page focussing on Osborne`s pensions` U-turn, because of "Tory fears of backlash from affluent voters", and the editorial concentrating on Facebook`s feeble fiscal attempt at "being thought cool" again, one thing is clear ( Chancellor backs down on pensions, 05/03/16): fairness is not going to return to our society, until our democratic system is reformed. As long as a government can gain an overall parliamentary majority with only 24% of the electorate`s support, it will always legislate with an overriding purpose of benefiting its supporters. Banks will still be considered too big to fail, there will still be "continued boardroom excess", and tax avoidance will remain rife (Facebook turns a new page but it`s too little too late,05/03/16). Facebook`s change of tune will neither make a significant impression on the Treasury`s coffers, or the firm`s profits.
     Despite the "common response" of disgust, Osborne knows his perpetual policy of promoting unfairness will keep that 24% on his side; the despair of the remaining 76% matters not a jot!


Sunday, 13 March 2016

Guardian letters: private education and need for truth in history teaching

Hadley Freeman is right to say that private education costing £30,000 a year "doesn`t buy you self-awareness" (So the privately educated are the new underclass? Spare me the sob story,06/03/16). Trouble is, it doesn`t buy any sense of fairness or compassion either!

 Is it any wonder that "the British memory of empire" is "woolly" (Rhodes hasn`t fallen, but the protesters are making me rethink Britain`s past,04/03/16)? Not only is it a fact that "we just don`t talk about it", we are not even allowed to find out the truth about it! As the Guardian has reported in the past, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has repeatedly failed to obey the thirty year rule, with the result that an archive containing 1.2 million files going back in British history as far as the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Crimean War in 1856, exists under lock and key, unavailable to the prying eyes of historians (Academics consider legal action to force Foreign Office to release public records,13/01/14). What are governments hiding? Suspicions are raised about British mis-rule in the colonies, but other aspects of history, like the Cold War, are also included in the missing archives. Is it so important to protect reputations of long gone governments and long dead politicians, or is the secrecy simply to perpetuate for future generations the myths about "Britishness"?      
       If details of events are kept secret, history will serve only to mislead. Instead of the positive spin placed on our history, our history curriculums in schools should at least include what the historian, William Dalrymple calls the "British My Lai" at Batang Kali in 1948, the thousands of "eliminations" in the 50s, the orders to destroy all of the evidence given by Iain Macleod in 1961, and the British forcing out the inhabitants of Diego Garcia in 1971, so that the Americans could have another airbase.
      Dalrymple is right when he says the longer the "blackest side of the imperial experience" remains untaught, the longer "bigotry, prejudice and racism" will continue. Just like Garton Ash, we should all "feel urgently compelled to enquire"! 

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Wilshaw`s criticism must stop

Laura McInerney`s reasons for defending teachers who have "been trained in our system", but who add to teacher vacancy rates by teaching abroad, are all valid, but she omits to mention one additional, important factor (Golden handcuffs for teachers won`t solve the staffing crisis in our schools,28/02/16). The Ofsted chief has the unfortunate habit of reporting on schools in generalisations, which usually means the wonderful work being done in our state schools is ignored. Take Wilshaw`s recent announcement about the state of the north-west`s secondary schools, for instance; three out of ten schools in Manchester, four in Liverpool, have been found to be "inadequate", but that does not mean there is no excellent teaching there, or that no pupils achieve brilliant results, or even in the so-called poorer schools, superb work is not being done.
 With over forty years of teaching experience in similarly censured Knowsley, I know that in the six comprehensives there, of which four are now academies, teachers and most pupils will be striving for the best results, but with only criticism from the inspectorate and the education department, morale will be low. With pupils knowing how hard their teachers work, despite getting constant disapproval, how many of them will aspire to the profession? The teacher recruitment crisis is set to get a whole lot worse, and it`s beginning to look as this is the result of deliberate policy!

Friday, 4 March 2016

New Statesman letter

For people like me, who spent their lives teaching white working-class pupils, the facts that social mobility in the UK "seems to have come to a halt", and an "insecure labour market" is reducing optimism, are particularly galling (The struggle of white working-class children, 26th February,2016). The wording, however, of many reports of schools` problems does not help, and even Tim Wigmore`s argument, where the omission of the word "some" is frequent, is weakened as a result. Of course, there is under-achievement, but not all white working-class "flounder at school", and to suggest otherwise undermines much brilliant work being done by pupils and staff in many schools, often in "challenging" circumstances.
 Wigmore is not alone, and the worst culprit should certainlyknow better: only recently, the Ofsted chief, Sir Michael Wilshaw, reported that three in ten Manchester secondary schools are judged to be "inadequate, or require improvement", whilst in Liverpool, the figures are four in ten. His exaggerated and unnecessary conclusion was that this poses a real risk to the so-called, and so far non-existent, northern powerhouse.
    What about the pupils in the more successful schools? What about the successful pupils in the low achieving schools? How are the poor teachers meant to feel, when faced with constant and unfair criticism? No wonder there`s a recruitment crisis in the profession! The sooner Wilshaw goes, and the sooner the achievements of working-class pupils and their teachers are properly acknowledged, the better!

   Of course, "improving job prospects" in some areas would help. How about moving parliament to Kirkby?

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Guardian and Indy letters on northern powerhouse and Osborne

Twice in his article, Simon Jenkins describes Osborne`s "northern inititiative" as "sincere", but where is the evidence to substantiate this (Osborne`s vanity projects spell doom for the north,25/02/16)? Far more likely is the point that "northern powerhouse" was clearly an election vote-winning wheeze, which appealed to a Tory party thinking itself, at best, to be a partner in a coalition government post-May 2015. Then, of course, the Lib Dems could be blamed for its shelving. The Guardian recently reported that 83% of the government`s "£300m relief fund will  go to Tory-run councils", mostly in the south; this 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, and any suggestions of Osborne`s sincerity, must stop

Osborne`s "decision to step up austerity" has little to do with economics, as demand will be further reduced, and everything to do with his Tory leadership claims, especially as rivals have been hogging the news recently. (Independent,27/02/16). Just as Nicky Morgan`s threat to appoint an American union-baiter as Ofsted chief has nothing to do with improving education, and Johnson`s decision to run with the Brexit team having no connection with principle, Osborne is making sure the Tory party does not forget who makes the so-called "tough" decisions!