Sunday, 31 December 2017

Pay gap solutions (Observer letter)

"Tough action to match the rhetoric" is not something anyone can seriously associate with May`s government, and publishing the names of stock exchange companies "that suffered at least a 20% shareholder rebellion against proposals for executives` pay" or other resolutions at shareholder meetings, simply strengthens the argument (Chief executives are hard to embarrass: rules on pay must get even tougher, 24.12.17). Not only will it do little to "rein in excessive awards", as these executives, like bankers,  really are "immune to embarrassment", the list is incomplete. For example, it omits Persimmon, because only 9.7% of its shareholders objected to the renumeration proposals which gave 150 bosses a share of £600 million, with the CEO pocketing over £100m, and it will have omitted many more. Far from being an initiative which "bore fruit" as your Business Leader contends, the government`s list will ensure this particular "unacceptable face of capitalism" keeps smiling.
      Trusting in the ethical behaviour of businessmen is like believing bankers have to be given bonuses to keep the "best people" in the City. Having rules to force all companies "to publish pay data", as the Leader suggests, is not enough; since when has "naming and shaming" had any success in deterring businesses or rich individuals from pursuing tax avoidance policies? 
    Alternative proposals with more chance of success involve parliamentary legislation. A sensible ratio between  CEOs` pay and the average worker in the companies has to be agreed upon, and a law passed enforcing the decision. Failing that, raising the top levels of income tax to such heights that the amassing of obscene wealth becomes impossible, would not be unpopular with the majority of voters. Such a policy is not unprecedented, with Wilson` government in the 1970s having a top level of 83% for earnings, plus an extra 15% for investment income.
    CEOs, like university vice-chancellors, do not achieve results on their own, and if legislation is needed to end their greed and shrink their arrogance, so be it!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Ofsted should place blame where it really lies

Ofsted has an absolute nerve to announce that "more than a hundred schools have not improved for over a decade", as if it was their fault (Morning Star, 14/12/17). Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector, also showed  concern for the treatment of some of the UK`s disadvantaged children by saying that the practice of "off-rolling is an invidious example" of schools losing sight of the purpose of education. It is all very well for politicians like Andrew Adonis to call for a ban on what he called "the cancer of school expulsions", and on manipulated admissions, but as long as both the main focus of Ofsted and the government is on examination results, and Tory governments continue to underfund state sector education, schools have hugely difficult choices to make.
      "Difficult children", and those with special needs, require urgent and careful attention, but how can schools afford the cost of such requirements? Perhaps Ms Spielman would prefer pupils with behaviour issues to sit in with the GCSE pupils, but what would her inspectors say of the lesson which was constantly interrupted, or of the school with subsequently declining results? Schools employing specialist teachers, or setting up their own referral-units, have to make sacrifices elsewhere, which often means subject like drama and dance being dropped from the curriculum.
       Ofsted does enjoy a "unique overview" and has the ability to "speak truth unto power"; it should be placing the blame where it really lies, with the government and its failure to fund state schools and their teachers adequately!

Thursday, 28 December 2017

Democracy and transparency

Yet more proof that this government`s commitment to the so-called "British values" of democracy and transparency cannot be taken seriously (Files on Britain`s most controversial episodes vanish from archives, 26/12/17). Not only has it repeatedly refused to release the "1.2m historical files" locked away at Hanslope Park, and so enable historians to reveal the truth about, among other things, British behaviour in the colonies during the time of the British Empire, it now appears to be complicit in the disappearance of crucial documents "after civil servants removed them from the National Archives and then reported them lost". The fact that these papers cover "some of the most controversial episodes in 20th century British history", and whose study would clearly reveal information damaging to previous governments and past establishment figures indicate that the state`s manipulation of our history continues, and transparency as far away as ever.
    A  government wishing to reveal its support for democracy would aim to remove "barriers to democratic engagement", rather than make it more difficult for any age group to vote (Plans to pilot voting ID "could hit older people", 26/12/17). Labour is right to focus on the problems caused both by the photo ID requirement, and the inaccessibility of most polling stations, which these days should surely be made more numerous, and placed in areas like supermarket entrances, and college campuses. 
   "Safeguarding our democracy" from fraud, as the minister for the constitution says, is important, but a government  experimenting with ways to ease the voting experience and increase electoral turnout, would be more convincing; after all, the record recent Tory governments have of "protecting the most vulnerable" is hardly impressive!

Sunday, 24 December 2017

Unbelievable BBC!

How typical of the BBC. In a year when we have seen 

 austerity measures and infrastructure underfunding continued by the Tories,

 an election where the Tory majority has been slashed, 

Brexit talks embarrassing the nation, 

Tories sucking up to Trump and insulting our real allies, 

Conservative Cabinet members forced to resign for sexual harassment, 

and a Labour leader whose popularity has soared to heights rarely seen in this country, despite the abuse hurled at him by the media, 

who gets chosen as politician of the year? 

A Tory!


Crossing the line

The country has, indeed, "crossed the line", as Barbara Ellen says, when homeless nurses are "among the people who are placed in emergency accommodation", but sadly, that line has been crossed all too frequently in recent years (If our nurses are homeless, we`ve crossed the line, 17.12.17). Evidence for the "troubling societal shift" has been in existence for a while, with libraries and sure start centres closing whilst HMRC was cutting thousands of jobs, and with austerity policies targeting the least fortunate while the rich received tax cuts.
     More immediately, we have seen a Cabinet minister deliberately misleading his fellow parliamentarians over Brexit preparations, and receiving only the mildest of rebukes, and heard of a family having a "lucky" week when invited to a funeral with food provided. In education, not only has it been been admitted that social mobility is clearly not a priority, but also that so-called "top" public schools were able to tell their pupils in the summer their Pre-University examination questions, because they had set them. The head of Eton even owned up to the Commons` select committee that seven of his teachers are involved in writing the questions for their A-level alternatives, something which the education "watchdog", Ofqual, has since deemed perfectly okay.
  The "lines" are being crossed almost every day, and even more worrying is that there may be no change until 2021. Has the UK in modern times ever been in greater need of a general election?

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Ofsted and government to blame!

Whilst Amanda Spielman`s concern for the "treatment of some of the UK`s disadvantaged children" is to be welcomed, it is a bit rich for her to say that the practice of "off-rolling is an invidious example" of schools losing sight of the purpose of education (Vulnerable pupils abandoned by school system, says Ofsted chief,10.12.17). It is all very well for politicians like Andrew Adonis to call for a ban on "the cancer of school expulsions", and, indeed, for your editorial to criticise schools which "manipulate admissions", but as long as both the main focus of Ofsted and the government is on examination results, and Tory governments continue to underfund state sector education, schools have hugely difficult choices to make (Champion of the deprived, 10.12.17).
      "Difficult children", and those with special needs, require urgent and careful attention, but how can schools afford the cost of such requirements? Perhaps Ms Spielman would prefer pupils with behaviour issues to sit in with the GCSE pupils, but what would her inspectors say of the lesson which was constantly interrupted, or of the school with subsequently declining results? Schools employing specialist teachers, or setting up their own referral-units, have to make sacrifices elsewhere, which often means subject like drama and dance being dropped from the curriculum, and we know what papers like the Guardian and Observer think of that (Scrapping GCSE drama from the curriculum would be madness, 02.11.14)!
      Ofsted does enjoy a "unique overview" and has the ability to "speak truth unto power"; it, and your editorials, should be placing the blame where it really lies, with the government and its failure to fund state schools and their teachers adequately!

Friday, 15 December 2017

University recruitment

There is, of course, "a hidden profit motive" which encourages universities to "recruit as many students as possible paying top whack", as your editorial states (The market in higher education: not just about vice-chancellors` pay, 08/12/17). "Driving up quality through the power of student choice" is, indeed, an unlikely result of the "marketising" of higher education, and it is made even more implausible by two recent additions to the equation. The first is that many universities are attempting to make themselves look more attractive to potential undergraduates by making them unconditional offers, something which will undoubtedly cause despair to their over-stressed teachers, keen to maximise their potential.
     The second is the revelations recently made, after the summer cheating scandal, about Pre-U examinations, which many public schools now prefer to A-levels in many subjects for their sixth formers. No wonder, when we learn that many of these examinations are set by teachers in the private sector; the head of Eton recently reported to the Commons` select committee on education that seven of this year`s examinations were set by members of his staff. Ally this to the fact that these examinations are not overseen by the Joint Council for Qualifications as A-levels are, and we have a situation where standards might well be being driven down, and for this, universities and government policy must share responsibility.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Boris as Tory leader? Bring it on!

Most  NS readers will have been as amused as I was when reading the article by the editor-in-chief of what has been described as "the Bible of the banking fraternity", in which Tory MPs were urged "to start getting behind Boris" (Philandering won`t hold Johnson back, 1st December, 2017). William Cash appeared upset that "the new darling" of the Tories, Jacob Rees-Mogg, is the "bookies` favourite to be the next Tory leader", and prefers Johnson, because he apparently sees voters as "there to be drawn in, persuaded, teased, entertained and signed up". Is there anything more entertaining than Tories grasping at straws?
   It is difficult to support Cash`s claim that "the left fears Johnson", when the Labour leader`s popularity is based on a view of politics that is so distant from the one held by the foreign secretary. Corbyn`s strong principled beliefs contrast sharply with the opportunist and manipulative career moves of Johnson, and they clearly resonate with young voters, fed up with Tory policies which favour the rich and  big business, whilst imposing austerity measures on the least fortunate.
  If Johnson`s "charisma is the Conservative Party`s greatest electoral asset", it is an acknowledgement of its intellectual bankruptcy, devoid of ideas, bereft of unity and leadership, and guilty of leading the country into a Brexit which increasingly and suspiciously looks like a bonfire of regulations and workers` rights. Voters are fed up of being treated like mugs, and will not forget Johnson`s lies in a hurry. Many, like me, will relish the prospect of him as Tory leader, facing questions from a live audience in the build-up to an election. Bring it on!

Social mobility:as if the Tories cared

The suggestion that the resignation of the entire Social Mobility Commission is a "huge blow" to a prime minister who has "hinged her whole domestic agenda around improving opportunity" has little credibility, simply because of lack supporting evidence (For all May`s talk of meritocracy, she does nothing but reinforce privilege over opportunity,03.12.17). Even the excuses made to deflect blame from Tory governments, such as "deindustrialisation over the last 30 years", and generational wealth gaps, ignore governments` failure to distribute infrastructural investment away from the south-east.
     In education since 2010, governments have not only diverted funds from the state system to aid the creation of free schools, simultaneously threatening the return of grammar schools, they have ended the Education Maintenance Allowance which helped pupils from poorer backgrounds enter sixth forms, and removed coursework elements from external assessments. This is not the work of administrations keen to improve social mobility, especially when accompanied by austerity measures which have increased, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the number of children living in poverty by 400,000 in the last four years.
    The editorial mentioned the advantages gained by pupils at "elite public schools", but omitted to acknowledge the fact that Pre-U examinations have replaced A-levels in many independent schools. The head of Eton admitted to the Commons` select committee on education that seven of his staff are involved in the setting of these examinations, and no doubt the marking too! This becomes even more alarming when allied to the fact that Cambridge Assessment International Education, which runs Pre-U exams, is not a member of the body responsible for examination regulations and inspections, the Joint Council for Qualifications!
    Meg Kneafsey`s article on the "appalling behaviour" at Durham University simply added fuel to the argument for a law limiting the undergraduate intake of each university to 7% from the private sector, in line with national figures (Sneering at miners reflects a deeper malaise in our universities,03.12.17).

Friday, 8 December 2017

Scandal surrounding public schools and Pre-U exams

When news broke last August of an examination cheating scandal at top public schools Eton and Winchester, few in the UK had heard of Pre-U exams. When the details of the cheating were revealed, it became clear that in many independent schools, these examinations are taken instead of A-levels. As if the playing-field wasn`t sufficiently uneven, many of the privately educated are able to get their qualifications for entry to university by taking examinations which most teachers, let alone the public, didn`t know existed.
 Why do so many so-called "elite" independent schools favour Pre-U examinations in the first place? It appears these examinations were created in response to demands from private schools, because, presumably, they were not happy with the A-levels which the vast majority of 6th form students in the country take. Why? On the Pre-U website, Winchester College recommends these examinations, as they "are very liberating for teachers". In what ways? Are the courses and assessment procedures so different? Are the fees for these examinations higher than for "bog-standard" A-levels, and therefore out of the reach of most fund-starved state schools?
   What we do know is that Cambridge Assessment International Education, which is part of Cambridge University, runs the Pre-U exams and appoints the examiners, who just happen, often to be independent school teachers, which explains why there was cheating  this summer. Winchester college was forced to suspend its head of history of art , according to the Guardian (28/08/17), "after allegations he gave students prior information on exam questions". Similarly, the "deputy headmaster of academics" at Eton was forced to leave after questions were allegedly distributed to his students from the economics examination.
 So many unanswered questions, and so many doubts raised about the fairness of the education system, as if it wasn`t skewed enough already in favour of the wealthy. Never mind, here comes our trusted democratic parliamentary system to the rescue.
 Yes, the Commons` select committee on education invited the head of Eton, a director of Ofqual, and the chief executive of Cambridge Assessment International Education (CIE) to answer questions last Tuesday. The Guardian headlined that the Eton head would be "grilled". Excellent! All will be revealed and we will find out the answers to our many queries about these examinations.
    Sadly, however, there was no grilling, not even a mild heating, and watching the recording of events is not recommended. The Eton head admitted that seven of his staff set papers for exams taken by their own pupils pupils, and what also was particularly relevant was that the CIE is not a member of the organisation which is responsible for examination regulations and inspections, the Joint Council for Qualifications. CIE`s chief executive admitted the number of incidents of exam malpractice had risen from 269 in 2013 to 719 this year worldwide, hardly encouraging if we are to believe in the integrity of their exams! Ofqual do not even include the CIE when reporting on malpractice! What no-one mentioned was what happens in the classroom when the teacher knows the exam questions in advance, even if the pupils don`t:; there is so much room for putting more obvious emphasis on certain topics than on the others not being examined.

      What we need to know is how Pre-U examinations are different and why so many independent schools prefer them for their pupils than the A-levels taken by the vast majority of state schools. There must be yet more advantage gained for children attending public school, as if there wasn`t enough already!

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Britain and Trump

The UK needs to take a stand over Trump’s approach to Israel

There may be “no one in the White House able to restrain him”, as Robert Fisk says, but that does not mean Britain and her Nato and European allies should be doing nothing.
It is not enough for Boris Johnson to say he was “concerned about reports Trump would recognise Jerusalem as Israel`s capital”. Downright disapproval is needed immediately, then joint communiques from European leaders disassociating themselves from Trump’s idiotic action, and then the return of all American diplomats from their embassies, starting with the one in London. Cancelling Trump`s forthcoming visit to the UK is also an immediate priority.
It is not good enough to wait for Americans to take action themselves against him: Americans wanting to impeach their president need all the support they can get!

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Guardian letter on social mobility

Alan Milburn diplomatically attributed the government`s failure to "deliver on the issue" of social mobility to there being "too much focus on Brexit" (Brexit and fairness don`t add up, 04/12/17). One does not, however, need to be left of the "far- centre of an opposition", as Zoe Williams claims, to be finding "May`s equality shtick rather hard to swallow", as her repeated failures to act on any one of her aims regarding "burning injustices" stated in her Downing Street speech lead to an all too obvious conclusion (Never mind social mobility. Poverty is an insult to us all, 04/12/17).
      Williams is right to say that support for the Child Poverty Act was "only skin-deep", but sadly, the same is true of all recent Tory announcements on social improvement. Giving priority to policies of austerity, tax reduction and state-shrinking means everything else becomes mere rhetoric, designed only to win votes. The Social Justice and Mobility Commission was never intended to have the power to initiate change; after all, giving more opportunities to people from working-class backgrounds inevitably means less opportunities for the middle and upper classes. Having the EU around as a scapegoat, deflecting blame from the government for the poverty and minimal opportunities for improvement, came in particularly handy for the dominant faction in government, leaving us, of course, with an ever "worsening problem".

Monday, 4 December 2017

Tax and productivity

Andrew Rawnsley was right to say that "politicians have been slow to come to a subject that has been troubling economists for some time", and the result of their apathy is the current low productivity with its projected growth rate of 1.2% (Life is going to turn very nasty if we can`t solve the growth puzzle, 26.11.17). The five "foundations" of the government are based on, in Rawnsley`s words, "addressing skills shortages and deficient infrastructure", but they, despite what the Business Leader states, are most certainly not "fine as far as they go" (An industrial strategy that puts the whole country on the map is the way to lift UK, 26.11.17). There is a huge omission, and without it, any industrial strategy will flounder.
       It is, of course, reform of the existing tax system, which encourages short-termism and a bonus culture. Far too many CEOs are obscenely rewarded because they have overseen a rise in profits rather than in productivity, and an increase in the dividend paid to shareholders rather than in the amount produced. Raising the highest band of income tax would at least show both the government`s serious intentions in dealing with the productivity problem, and its awareness of where much of the problem lies. A sensible tax structure is needed to encourage CEOs to invest in technology and training rather than to accumulate wealth for themselves and shareholders! More scrutiny of bosses` actions instead of workers` hourly productivity would result in bigger dividends for the country as a whole.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Labour and Brexit

Jonathan Rutherford states a number of obviously incontrovertible points, but just because the country needs "national leadership, political resolve, and a strategy for a better country", does not necessarily lead to the conclusion he favours (Why the left should support Brexit, 24th November, 2017). It is noticeable that he omits any mention of the fact, stressed in the previous week`s Leader, that the country has been "betrayed by mendacious mediocrities such as Mr Johnson", and that the Brexit vote was only in part "a vote for the nation state", as many people voted to leave because it was a way of protesting against duplicitous politicians who had ignored vast swathes of the country for too long (Leader, 17th November, 2017).
       Rutherford wants Britain, apparently, to leave the EU because it "expands the opportunities of financiers, investors and high-skilled professionals", but that only happens because our leading politicians in the last thirty years have encouraged it; few will dispute that they have generally been either far too close to the City and financial institutions, or too easily influenced by  press and media barons. Kenneth Clarke openly admitted the latter recently. How can the greed of the multinational companies like Google and Apple ever be curtailed without European co-operation?
       Far from the public knowing  Labour to be "untrustworthy and not credible", it is Corbyn`s principled approach which has made him so popular. His policies to increase regulation, impose a fair system of taxation, and end the practice of investment being focused on the south-east, will be made far more difficult to achieve without trade with Europe, the inevitable consequence of the botched negotiations currently taking place. Corbyn also is clearly coming to the conclusion that the young people of this country, on whom much of his support relies, relish the opportunities the EU affords them, socially, educationally and economically. For purely political reasons, Corbyn has to oppose the hard Brexit into which the Tories are leading us; for the good of the country he has to consider a second referendum on the "deal" the Tories have in store for us.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Tories have the nerve to protest about defence cuts!

Tories will happily moan about defence cuts – but stay quiet on the ones that really matter

With more defence cuts on the horizon, Tories predictably churn out the adage about it being the “first duty of Government above all others”, and “open rebellion” apparently on the cards (Theresa May’s proposed army number cuts face “very substantial rebellion” from Tory backbenchers). What a shame the same Tories didn’t say they were “prepared to hold the Government’s feet to the fire”, when its cuts to local authorities mean the defence against food contamination and the security of the nation’s health is weakened because of the reduced number of food inspectors.
Why are there no protests when the continued lack of regulation in the City brings another financial crash ever nearer? Shouldn’t the security of taxpayers’ money be a priority? Defending children from the ravages of poverty has to be a top priority for any government seriously concerned about its duties, but the number of children living in poverty has increased hugely.
Safeguarding the right of every child to a decent education should also be one of the Government’s first responsibilities, but that doesn’t prevent schools being underfunded, and the teacher recruitment problem reaching epidemic proportions. Defending the population against criminals should be another priority, but cuts in police numbers continue without a murmur of protest. What about the Government’s responsibilities to protect people against Rachman-like landlords, greedy banks, cowboy builders and such like? How many more disasters have to take place before politicians realise priorities have to change?
Yet, defence against an enemy which apparently can only be stopped with nuclear weapons launched from new submarines costing around £50bn, is a real priority. The Tories are right: defence of the people is the Government’s duty “above all others”, but not always simply against exaggerated threats from foreign powers. For centuries British governments have wasted billions on military spending to justify the country’s position as a so-called great power, all the while denying the necessary resources to close the poverty gap and reduce inequality. Nothing has changed! 

Monday, 27 November 2017

Pre-U examinations add to unfairness

The appearance of the head of Eton before the Commons` education select committee, "to be questioned about exam malpractice at the school", is to be welcomed (Head of Eton grilled by MPs over exam malpractice, 25/11/2107). Hopefully, questions will also cover some wider issues. Why, for instance, do so many "elite independent schools" favour Pre-U examinations in the first place? It appears these examinations were "created in response to demands from private schools", because, presumably, they were not happy with the A-levels which the vast majority of 6th form students in the country take. Why? On the Pre-U website, Winchester College recommends these examinations, as they "are very liberating for teachers". In what ways? Are the courses and assessment procedures so different? Are the fees for these examinations higher than for "bog-standard" A-levels, and therefore out of the reach of most fund-starved state schools?
        It is clearly wrong for people currently teaching an examination course to set questions; it not only leaves doors open to the malpractice revealed this year, it gives massive advantages to the pupils taught by the teachers who set the questions. Furthermore, the "little oversight" Ofqual clearly has over these examinations begs the question about whether alternative examinations to A-levels should exist at all. It is not as though pupils educated privately have not been given enough advantage over the average A-level student!
      A lot of questions need answering before faith in the integrity of the examination system can be restored.

Friday, 24 November 2017

Unpublished letters on Brexit (2)

The conclusion in last week`s Leader that Brexiteers have been "betrayed by mendacious mediocrities such as Mr Johnson" is obviously correct, but it is also true that many people voted in the referendum for Brexit because it was a way of protesting against duplicitous politicians (Leader, 17th November, 2017). A New Labour government, described by many as in cahoots with the City, followed by a Tory-led coalition and then Cameron`s administration, appeared to be mainly ruling in the interests of the rich and the south-east, ignoring vasts swathes of the UK, and have resulted in a popularity surge for Corbyn. This explains the view of the Labour leader`s inner circle, that "opposing Brexit now would undermine" his "political project" (The Brexit wars rage on, 17th November, 2017).
       It also explains why the current "Exit from Brexit" dinner-goers stand little or no chance of "halting Brexit altogether"; the individuals mentioned by George Eaton include no one able to engender trust, and too many who generate suspicion. Labour right-winger Chuka Umunna apparently has "media savvy", but little popular support; ex-corporate lawyer Nicky Morgan is well remembered by teachers for her solution to the recruitment problem being for 60 hour-a-week teachers to project a "more positive image"! Anna Soubry`s voting record on fairer tax and increased austerity is appalling;  Nick Clegg is remembered by everyone for sacrificing any liberal values he might have had at the altar of parliamentary power in 2010, whilst Mandelson`s "intensely relaxed" views on the very rich helped to increase inequality.
    The "greatest obstacle Remainers face" is not "time", but the widely held lack of trust in most politicians. Until Corbyn decides Brexit has to be stopped, the Remainers` case is doomed.

Nick Timothy recently wrote that Philip Hammond "lacks a burning desire to change people`s lives", as if this was the  common denominator of Toryism. As your editorial stated, May has "turned down every opportunity to make things better", with no doubt, another chance scorned this week (Hammond must banish the ghost of Osborne and help the left behind, 19.11.17). The prime minister appears to care little about how history will judge her, and at the moment, she is nothing more than a stop-gap, interim ruler in name only, lacking the courage to stand up to political harassment from Tory bullies.
      She can do little about being a temporary leader, but May could certainly act to change what historians will write about her; William Keegan provided a clue (Brexit lacks credibility - but Remainers lack leadership, 19.11.17). Of course, the Cameron government "should have explained how the whole of the UK benefits from the EU", but it is not too late. No-one is going to take Clegg seriously since his liberal principles were sacrificed in 2010, and too many of the Remainers either also have ambition rather than principle at the heart of their politics, or a name abhorrent to electors, like Mandelson. Corbyn, as prime-minister-in waiting, is correctly election-orientated, so that leaves May.
    She should, as Keegan says, "broadcast to the nation", and come clean about what the negotiations have revealed, that Brexit really does mean economic disaster. It might result in her immediate removal, but at least May would leave office with some self-esteem and integrity intact, with more of the truth revealed about the duplicitous Johnson and Gove, and with historians` judgement likely to be a little more sympathetic.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Tax transparency an election winner for Labour

John McDonnell`s response to the Paradise Papers leak has been excellent, and his plan for an immediate public enquiry into tax avoidance, a "specialist tax enforcement unit" and the "public filing of tax returns" for large companies and the rich appear to be exactly what is needed (Morning Star, 16/11/17). In fact, all those in the shadow cabinet should be doing everything they can to publicise these plans, and force as much of local and national media to make them universally known.
   What might add to Labour`s argument, and cause May`s government further embarrassment, is the possibility of everyone in the shadow cabinet making public their tax returns. Corbyn did this last year with some impact, but the effect could be multiplied if they all did it. Why not make it compulsory for all Labour MPs, and for future candidates in forthcoming elections? Whilst we are on the subject, why not publish a list of all expenses claimed by Labour MPs, and voters would benefit, too, from knowing if they employ members of their own family on their staff, and whether they are landlords.
 The more distance and difference voters can see between Labour and Tory MPs the better the chances of winning over the still worryingly high numbers of government supporters.


Guardian letter on pay and productivity

Now that research has been carried out on levels of productivity on a city by city basis, and found unsurprisingly that the economy would be far larger "if all cities were as productive as those in the south-east", is it not time to investigate earnings levels in a similar manner (Productivity study shows south-east miles ahead,16/11/17)?
     The fact that "growth in earnings" nationally is lagging well behind the inflation rate is well documented, but it would be interesting to see the changes in pay levels on a regional basis, and whether the most recent 2.2% increase in the July-September quarter would be replicated in all areas (Jobs data suggests Britain`s employment boom has ended, 16/11/17). Presumably this percentage rise is positively affected by pay levels in the City, as it is difficult to see levels rising nationally, even at 2.2%, when a pay freeze for state sector workers is in operation.
   The truth is that if as much had been invested by successive governments in education and infrastructure in all areas as it was in London, the UK`s productivity problem would be less significant. A sensible tax policy for the very rich would have prevented short-termism in business, and encouraged CEOs to invest in technology and training rather than to accumulate wealth for themselves and shareholders!

Friday, 17 November 2017

Toryism a spent force

As Simon Heffer states, "May was in serious trouble " before the "Weinstein-on-Thames scandal" managed to rock the sinking Tory ship (From hubris to nemesis,10th November, 2017). What he doesn`t appear to grasp, however, is that, regardless of who is at the helm, the rocks are beckoning this particular vessel. Heffer pins his hopes on a cabinet reshuffle bringing in "gifted people", and obviously, a new leader filling the void created by "the utter absence of May`s authority", but significantly, no names of potential leaders are put forward. At least two of those mentioned for cabinet office would be electoral gifts to Labour.
 Heffer clearly fails to understand that ideologically, British Toryism is a spent force. He shows this most obviously when suggesting a "sensible and popular" budget would reverse Osborne`s stamp duty reforms. No doubt it would please the very rich, able to buy £1 million pound properties, but it would do nothing to help people on average earnings get on to the housing ladder, and away from the grip of Rachman-like landlords. Massive investment is needed, fairness applied to the income tax bands, tax avoidance prevented (Heffer`s silence on the Paradise Papers was deafening!), welfare and education services properly funded, landlords regulated, energy and transport provision reformed, and Brexit delayed. Crises are abundant, and the Tory party, "rudderless" or not, is disinclined to solve any of them!

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Paradise Papers: immediate action needed

John McDonnell is right to say that the Queen should "open up her full financial records" in the wake of the Paradise Papers scandal (John McDonnell calls on Queen to release financial records amid Paradise papers leak, 11/11/17). The revelation that the Duchy of Lancaster invested millions of the Queen`s money in a Cayman Islands` offshore portfolio which "are not set out in the royal household`s annual statements" begs obvious questions about the quality of advice being currently given.
 What the Papers also revealed  were details about how the British government had been influenced by offshore lobbyists in the lead up to the 2013 G8 summit, whose themes were tax evasion and transparency. Whilst neither May or Hammond will do anything about this, parliamentary committees could and should. Labour MPs should be demanding answers regarding what in the Papers was called "superb penetration of UK policymakers" by lobbyists on behalf of the International Financial Centres Forum (IFC) which represents offshore law firms. It`s little wonder the G8 measures on evasion and transparency in 2013 were so ineffective. Shouldn`t the Public Accounts Committee be demanding to question Shona Riach, the senior Treasury official, who had a "crucial meeting", according to the Papers, with IFC representatives two days before the summit? Similar questions must be asked of David Gauke, the then exchequer secretary to the Treasury, who also had meetings with IFC prior to the summit.

 It`s clearly not only the Queen who has been embarrassed by the leaks, but the sad fact is that serial tax avoiders, like Tory donor Lord Ashcroft, and racing driver tipped for knighthood, Lewis Hamilton, reveal no shame when named! The little embarrassment caused to the super-rich by the Papers show laws must be changed.

21st century Poor Law

Remember how the Tories and their allies in the media thought they were on to a winner when Labour`s nationalisation and tax policies led them to claim gleefully that Corbyn was taking the country back to the 1970s? The popularity of the policies clearly took them by surprise, but the results of their disingenuity are now coming home to roost. With disgraceful poverty figures, real wages declining, and the government`s refusal to "remedy the debt trap of Universal Credit" making matters worse, it is quite obvious where May`s administration is taking the country, and it`s certainly not forward! In fact, there are valid comparisons with Britain around 180 years ago!
  The Tories have been treating the poor as criminals since 2010, and the similarities between now and the way the less fortunate were treated as far back as the 19th century are obvious. After the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834, the workhouse test insisted those wanting help could only find it with "indoor relief", in the workhouses, where conditions were to be worse than those endured by the lowest paid workers. Now we have a disgraceful 21st century "welfare test", with  a similar principle of less eligibility; delayed and reduced payments of universal credit aiming to serve the same purpose as a workhouse, starving  people into accepting low paid work, paid by exploitative employers. 
    Pressure on the government to pause universal credit`s introduction must be maintained, despite the distractions caused by Brexit problems, tax avoidance and sexual misconduct. The country cannot wait for another 4+ years  until a general election is called. In fact, Labour must take every opportunity to force votes in parliament, and demand an election as soon as the government is defeated; there is far too much blood on this government`s hands already!

Brexit is our history`s legacy

For Simon Jenkins to state that "we should not be remembering but forgetting", and that "memory sustains ongoing disputes", is absurd (Too much remembering causes wars. It`s time to forget the 20th century, 09/11/17). Admittedly, Remembrance Day has become something of a "synthetic festival", and many schools`history syllabuses are skewed towards Hitler, but that simply means, as ever, our history is being manipulated by governments and their agents. An accurate and balanced view of the past, in all nations, would encourage co-operation, whilst discouraging nationalism, and promote fairness rather than bigotry.
   Take British history: the manipulated version of our history exaggerates differences with our neighbours, and suggests the existence, as Martin Kettle recently wrote, of a "tradition of exceptionalism", but there was nothing "exceptional" about our trading in slaves, seizing and looting colonies whilst committing the most awful of atrocities, entering wars unnecessarily, and exploiting workers (Protestantism is on the wane, yet the Reformation sowed the seeds of Brexit, 27/10/17). Britain behaved as barbarically as all the other imperial powers. That same history not only painted an inaccurate picture of World War II, with "Britain alone" defeating the nazis, and enjoying a "glorious" post-war aftermath when European ties and immigrants were not needed, it simultaneously bred arrogance.
      Whilst a country like Germany is prepared to face up to its past, acknowledging that people need to be told the truth about their history, and learn lessons from it, Britain continues to hide millions of historical files away from the prying eyes of historians, unable to deal with unpleasant truths about our nation. Luther didn`t "nail delusions of greatness into the English soul", our distorted history did, and Brexit is its true legacy!
  There is no need to "find closure on the 20th century", but the "remembering" must be of the truth!

Friday, 10 November 2017

New Statesman`s article on Johnson too lenient

Writing an article criticising the career of Boris Johnson must be like what Americans call a "turkey shoot", and Martin Fletcher`s article certainly made a decent fist of it (The way of the chancer, 3rd November, 2017). Asking the question "Who seriously believes that Johnson gets up each morning and asks himself, How can I improve the lot of the ordinary people?" was however, given the Tories` recent record of callous austerity, and May`s abject failure to put her "just about managing rhetoric" into practice, a little unnecessary; could Fletcher name anyone from the current Tory crop who does?
          On the other hand, the knife could have been plunged a little deeper. "Adding £250,000 to his official salary of £140,000" as mayor for a weekly Telegraph column was surprisingly not accompanied by mention of how Johnson described it - as "chickenfeed"- at a time when Conservatives were trying to show themselves in touch with the people, and oust Labour.
      Fletcher mentioned Johnson`s book about Churchill, but not how it was reviewed: the Telegraph described it as a "mixture of Monty Python and the Horrible Histories", whilst another said it bore as much resemblance "to a history book as a Doctor Who episode". No mention, either, of his efforts at fiction, as if his "history" books didn`t include enough; 2004 saw the publication of Johnson`s "Seventy Two Virgins", "not quite a novel" according to the Observer ( Drats. MP falls foul of facts, 03/10/04), with the author a "heroic failure as a novelist". An unsurprising verdict, with prose like  "a suicide bomber`s head would fly off as though drop-kicked by Jonny Wilkinson"!
 Despite the omissions, an enjoyable read about a "thoroughly untrustworthy charlatan". Speaking of which, can we have more please? Next, how George Osborne tricked the nation into believing austerity was imperative, followed by one on Gove`s totally unnecessary education reforms.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

One solution to BBC`s gender pay gap problem

As no-one in their right mind can possibly think co-presenting a radio programme on the publicly-owned BBC for three mornings a week to be worth anything like £600,000 a year, there is an obvious, if still over-generous, solution (Montague in talks with BBC over job swap at Radio 4, 02/11/17). A start to solving the "gender pay gap row at the corporation" can be achieved by offering all of the Today programme`s presenters a new £200,000 a year contract. Those who refuse to tear up their old ones need to be asked to justify their action, live on air, and preferably by Ms Montague!
 With one of the key roles of the programme`s presenters being to challenge policies, it is absurd in the current climate, and with the present government imposing a pay freeze on all other public sector workers, to have the work done by people earning well over twenty-four times the national average.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Since when has experience been necessary?

Mary Dejevsky`s support for the appointment of Gavin Williamson as Fallon`s replacement as Defence Secretary is valid in many ways, certainly in view of the unlikelihood that he will have "the sort of skeletons in his closet that cost Sir Michael his job" (The real reason Theresa May had to appoint Gavin Williamson, 02/11/17). Even if he has, few MPs will run the risk of exposing them. Strangely, Dejevsky omitted to question whether Fallon`s sexual misbehaviour should disqualify him from holding a knighthood as well as a post in the Cabinet.
   She does, however, suggest that May is unlikely to be worried by Williamson`s inexperience making him unsuitable "to fill one of the great offices of state". When have inexperience and unsuitability ever precluded Tory MPs from holding office? Doesn`t the fact that most of the recent Cabinet members have been millionaires, totally out of touch with the people of this country, privately educated with a skewed view of history, and with little concern for the wellbeing of the least fortunate, make them all unsuitable and lacking the necessary experience to govern us? Even Chancellors of the exchequer don`t need to have economics degrees as Osborne showed us!
    Even where Dejevsky sees some suitability, as with Davis taking over Defence because of his time with the SAS, or Rory Stewart`s job at the Dept for International Development making him a likely Foreign Secretary, there is massive cause for concern. Ex-army people in charge of Defence? Really? Stewart recently maintained that all returning jihadists should be killed, a view which is so contrary to the rule of law it should ensure his political future is over. 
  For once, May has made a sensible decision. Her next should be to ban all Tory MPs from drinking in the vast number of subsidised Westminster bars, and threaten to hand over to the media all MPs` monthly bar accounts.


Saturday, 4 November 2017

University welfare strategies

With the number of first-year students "who disclose a mental health problem" having risen fivefold nationally, and suicide rates rising in parallel with the increasing economic and academic pressure on students, Nottingham Trent University`s wellbeing policies should be applauded (Campus confidential, 28.10.17). All universities should be instructed to provide details in prospectuses of their student welfare strategies, perhaps on the same page as where their vice-chancellors` salaries are disclosed.

Friday, 3 November 2017

UK`s economic problems not only caused by Brexit

George Eaton`s otherwise excellent appraisal of the damage being done to the UK`s economy by Brexit failed to be sufficiently critical of coalition and successive Tory governments` policies (The new sick man of Europe, 27th October, 2017). Are we really expected to believe that, without Brexit, this Tory government would be delivering "transformative economic policy"? There is absolutely no evidence to support this; an apparently "new industrial strategy" as well as policies on corporate governance were watered down to the ineffective measures they now are by right wingers in the cabinet, lobbyists outside it, and a general Tory fear of upsetting party donors.
      Eaton was right to stress how the UK is "too unbalanced, too unproductive, and too unequal", but he fails to mention the role played by recent Tory governments in creating this situation. Tax cuts for the rich, lack of investment in infrastructure outside the south-east, and a minimum wage which is both too low, and too lightly enforced, are only three of the factors causing economic problems, long before the Brexit vote. With British businesses dominated by short-termism, with pay for managers and CEOs determined by annual profit levels, leading to a tendency to rely on cheap labour rather than investment in new technology and training, and low productivity the inevitable result, a government willing to legislate to enforce change is needed. 
       At least, last week`s Leader column appeared to suggest that the intensification of "strife and stress" faced by low earners, caused by the government`s callous Universal Credit system, proves May`s pledges about the "just managing" were nothing more than rhetoric (A universal failure, 27th October, 2017). Now is surely the time to support the policies of Corbyn and McDonnell.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Independent: letter on history`s manipulation

Hasnet Lais`s excellent article on the way the national curriculum prevents history teachers from teaching "the brutal legacy of empire" provides yet another piece of evidence to illustrate the way British history is still being manipulated (As a history teacher, I`m horrified by the whitewashing of my curriculum, 30/10/17). It was bad enough when Michael Gove was insisting on factual history taking precedence over analysis and evaluation, but when the facts to be taught are prescriptive, and when essential events are omitted, the history learned is bound to be inaccurate and misleading.
   This is not a new phenomenon, and the Brexit vote was, in part, the result of a distorted view of our history, seemingly desirous of our so-called "glorious past", when wars were won by "Britain alone", when empires were gained to "civilise", when atrocities were only committed by enemies or "barbarians", and when the economy boomed without the need for European co-operation or labour.
    Of course history involves, as Lais reminded us, a "dispassionate and authentic inquiry into the past", but unlike other countries like Germany which insist on facing up to their past and refusing to mislead students with "colonial amnesia", however uncomfortable, Britain does the opposite. Court cases such as those on behalf of 44,000 Kenyans claiming compensation for the brutal tactics employed by the British crushing the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s, get scant coverage in the press; had any other country used beatings, torture, rape, forced labour, castration and roasting alive as methods to suppress popular uprisings, it would be headline news.
      In fact, the thirty year rule has been ignored so often by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that there now exists an archive containing 1.2 million files, going back to the end of the Crimean War, hidden from the prying eyes of historians, and, of course, from barristers aiming to get justice for their clients. 
   Two things are essential: first, the release of the "secret" files, and second, an admission that our history has been manipulated for years, and that a re-write is required.


Sunday, 29 October 2017

Observer letter on Oxbridge

Priya Gopal`s arguments for the need both for a conversation about "wider deprivation and systemic inequality", and the existence of a "two-tiered education structure" merely deflect away from the unassailable truth about Oxbridge`s appalling "admissions processes" (Oxbridge bashing is an empty ritual if we ignore wider social inequities, 22.10.17). She sounds too much like the Oxford apologist who, when the figures were released to David Lammy, claimed that rectifying the problem was "a long journey", needing a "huge, joined-up effort across society".             
   Such propagandist nonsense is echoed sadly by Gopal blaming the existence of private schools for Oxbridge`s bias towards them! Her article raises many questions, but answers none of them. Why, when the national figure for attendance at private schools is 7%, do Oxbridge colleges insist on recruiting over 40% from the independent sector, especially when research at Cardiff and Oxford Brookes universities proved students from state schools gain better degrees than independently-educated candidates with the same A-level grades. Similarly, has not the integrity of the Pre-University examinations taken instead of A-levels by many private school pupils, and set and marked by teachers in the private sector, been questioned by recent scandals at Eton and Winchester?
   Is it any wonder that few high-attaining black or working class students are attracted to apply to Oxford or Cambridge, when both universities do so little to disprove the perceived myths which surround them? 
     Do Oxbridge interviews give all candidates a chance to show off their  understanding, or are the questions designed more to flummox all but the most confident? Will the majority of candidates from modest backgrounds face humiliation and embarrassment, if not at the interview, in the colleges afterwards, with the formal dinners, the expensive balls and clubs? Teachers concerned about their pupils` welfare, should not be blamed for directing most bright students elsewhere!

Monday, 23 October 2017

Oxbridge interviews need to change

So much gets written about Oxbridge interviews along the lines of Alex Preston`s article last week, how they "are not about catching our applicants", but about "getting candidates to think", one is drawn to conclude they "protest too much, methinks" (Solving the riddle of getting into Oxford, 15.10.17). These interviews, apparently, are designed to show "the first flickerings of critical thought", which is really worrying, as it arrogantly suggests sixth form teachers demand no such thing. If tutors fear they might be "bored" in tutorials, some internal reforms might be necessary!
      Preston even resorts to quoting from an Oxford professor`s book, which claims candidates need only "stay calm", and "use the one thing that will get you into Oxford, your brain"! For around 60% of Oxford`s undergraduates, their brains were accompanied by considerable wealth, giving them the access to private education, and the ensuing confidence. Putting sixth-formers through what is clearly a terrifying ideal for most of them can only damage the self-esteem of the hundreds every year who are rejected.So much for concern for pupils` mental health issues!
     If this is a time "when Oxford is seeking to be more inclusive", they should start with ensuring interview questions give the opportunity to all candidates to show off their knowledge and intelligence, rather than confuse and surprise them.  Do the tutors not believe the research findings at Cardiff and Oxford Brookes Universities, which revealed students from state schools gained better degrees than independently-educated candidates with the same A-level grades? The sooner a Labour government insists all universities take a maximum of 7% of their undergraduates from the private sector, in line with national figures, the better.
  Recent cheating scandals at Eton and Winchester "outed" the Pre-University examinations, taken at most private schools in place of the usual A-levels; it seems these examinations are often both written and marked by teachers in the private sector. On the Pre-U website, Winchester College recommends these examinations, as they are "very liberating for teachers"! How many "unliberated" A-level teachers in state schools know that their pupils are competing for places at university with students whose grades have been achieved differently? As if the playing field wasn`t sufficiently uneven!

Guardian letter on short-termism

Your editorial`s conclusion, that successive governments have failed to "think clearly" about the crisis in health and social care, making it "a bleak indictment of short-termist democracy", sadly can be applied to all aspects of government policy (Years of political cowardice now risk the sustainability of the NHS, 17/10/17). Short-termism leads to all sorts of apparently unforeseen problems; did no-one see that cutting council grants would bring about quality reductions in public services? Was no-one in authority able to predict recruitment crises in nursing and teaching, through over-work and a pay freeze? Tax reductions for the rich would not lead to increased inequality and decreased revenue for the Treasury? Selling weapons to the Saudis would bring in revenue, but the longer-term effects of the weapons on human targets, let alone on the government`s ethical standing, mattered not a jot. Promising £350m a week for the NHS might lead to a Brexit vote, but with drastic consequences later.
Similarly, short-termism in business has led to companies focussing more on immediate profits, rather than the benefit of improved productivity from longer-term investment in technology and training. 
   With the effects of such policies now coming home to roost, is it any wonder principled politicians, with plans to transform the way our society is managed, are on target to win the next election? 

Saturday, 21 October 2017

The Tory disease: short-termism

John McDonnell is wisely concentrating on the OECD`s "criticism of Britain`s weak productivity", and how the organisation stressed the need for more "infrastructure investment,  increased research spending and improved training". This highlights the sharp contrast  with Tory policies, which almost all are based on short-termism, and which have caused immeasurable problems, not only for the country`s economy, but for most of its long-suffering people.
      Labour needs to emphasise how successive governments have failed to think clearly about their health and social care p[olicies, and their short-termism has led to the present crises, and to obvious, but apparently unforeseen, problems. Did no-one see that cutting council grants would bring about quality reductions in public services? Was no-one in government able to predict recruitment crises in nursing and teaching, through over-work and a pay freeze, or that tax reductions for the rich would not lead to increased inequality and decreased revenue for the Treasury? Selling weapons to the Saudis would bring in revenue, but the longer-term effects of the weapons on human targets, let alone on the government`s ethical standing, clearly mattered not a jot.
     Britain`s current productivity problems have been caused by government-endorsed short-termism in business, with companies focussing more on immediate profits, shareholder dividends, and obscene pay and bonuses for bosses, rather than on improving productivity with longer-term investment in technology and training. Of course, companies concentrating on such policies should be the only ones considered for government contracts.

      With the effects of such short-termism now coming home to roost, is it any wonder principled politicians, with plans to transform the way our society is managed, are on target to win the next election? Being able to manage joined-up thinking is always handy when in government, and Labour being immune from  the Tory disease that is short-termism is something that needs publicising!

Friday, 20 October 2017

Question Time needs changing!

Roger Mosey makes many pertinent points about the future of Question Time, paricularly that the BBC is "right to try to renew its relevance" (Off the Air, 13th October, 2017). Also sensible is, as "these are serious times", that there is little room for celebrities and such-like on the panel, but plenty for experts; when, for example, the Education Secretary guests, why not also include an experienced examiner, headteacher, or union leader? Doctors or surgeons when Secretary for Health is on?  
  Mosey, however, misses an important point: viewing figures are not going to increase significantly unless some radical changes are made. Regardless of how "adept" Dimbleby is, a new format requires either a younger chair, preferably female, or  different guest chairs every week. Scheduling the programme against Newsnight has always seemed ludicrous, as is the idea that "the multiplicity of minor parties" demands panel representation; Ukippers have spoilt too many editions already! Studio audience participation could be enhanced by the use of electronic voting devices, whilst the wider audience could be involved by asking them to follow @bbcquestiontime on Twitter, and responding with retweets, or not, after every question. 
 As for the getting the "excellent This Week", to "move earlier", Mr Mosey!! There is nothing like the sight of opposing politicians cosying up together, whilst earning a fat fee, to put young people off politics for ever!

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Every day is bad for PM

Why John Rentoul should think that Wednesday this week was an especially "embarrassing day for Theresa May" beggars belief (Voices, 18/10/17).  Admittedly she carelessly answered "Yes" to Corbyn`s request that she "pause universal credit", and her government agreed to last week`s Labour demand for a "freephone helpline for claimants". There was also also  the expectation that Tory MPs be "instructed not to take part in the vote" at the end of the universal credit debate, but whether this makes for  a particularly bad day for May is doubtful.
           We have a prime minister so divorced from reality she recently made a statement claiming that there is a "great prize" awaiting us after Brexit, when the UK will become a "great global country"! Theresa May even admitted she thinks she will still be Tory leader in 2022! How embarrassing can she get?
  Her government`s uselessness in foreign affairs results in arms being sold for use in Yemen, and offers nothing to ameliorate political and humanitarian catastrophes. Sucking up to Trump, rather than criticising him for his crassness, goes a step further than shame and humiliation. 
  At home, shortages of hospital beds, teachers, GPs and nurses, prison and police officers, firefighters, food and buildings` inspectors, HMRC staff and more, exacerbate problems caused by decreased funding for local authorities, and the many caused by government-enforced austerity policies and real-wage cuts. If she is not embarrassed by all of this, she should be ashamed of herself.
     One of the the troubles is that May`s rhetoric knows no bounds, and ever since the Downing Street speech in July last year, she has done nothing to lead a government  "driven" by any interests other than those "of the privileged few". The "burning injustice" that is the lack of parity funding "between the south-east and the north", amounting to £59bn over ten years, is not going to be remedied by her government with a record of disastrous cost-cutting,  and which has already committed to Crossrail 2, rather than the electrification schemes across the north, which were promised in the Tory manifesto.

    History shows that the Conservative party is based on preserving the riches, property and benefits enjoyed by the wealthy, who in return become party donors. Businesses have their regulations reduced by Conservative governments so that they can make more profits, and in return, help to fund the party. As a result, corporate excess, greedy landlordism and lack of sufficient regulation on the financial sector are problems never likely to be tackled by May`s government. Every day in office is an embarrassment, and Wednesday was no more degrading than any other day!

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Too much mis-remembering

Will Hutton misses the point when writing about there being "too much remembering" (Endlessly refighting old wars does nothing to heal a fractured present, 08.10.17). Catalans wanting independence, just like the residents of eastern parts of Germany who voted far-right, have memories of their past which are not "inflated" as Hutton calls them, but so vivid they cannot be forgotten. History is always manipulated by politicians to suit their own ends, but when its justification is "ethnically based superiority", it becomes dangerous.
 What Hutton omitted to mention is that for many in Britain the memory of the fight against fascism is not just "over-remembered and over-deified", it is inaccurate, something that our governments have been keen to encourage, and has led to a preponderance of feelings of national pre-eminence. It is clearly a case of too much mis-remembering. The idea of "Britain alone" overcoming the Nazis is still being perpetuated, even on the cinema screens. Then there are the myths about the British empire acquired to spread civilisation, regardless of the massacres and atrocities, slavery and torture. Why else would millions of documents either have been destroyed or hidden away from the prying eyes of historians? The "glorious past", a time of economic growth without the need for European co-operation and immigration, did not exist.
  It is never "a time to forget and move on", as Hutton concludes. The mythology certainly needs to be scrapped, but the truth, especially in 

Labour should end Pre-U examinations

Few, if any,will have any problems with Labour`s promises to "radically transform Britain`s education system", and that "teachers would be at the heart of it". Most of the problems which have developed since Gove`s outrageous abandonment of advice from experts could have been avoided had the then Secretary of State listened to teachers.
 There is today, however, one very secret area of the education system which involves teachers very heavily, though sadly the teachers in question belong to the private sector. Who knew, before the recent scandal involving examination-cheating at Eton and Winchester, that there existed examinations taken by privately-educated students in this country, which were equivalent to A-levels but not the same, and whose grades are recognised by universities as entrance qualifications? They are called Pre-Us, and often include questions set by teachers in the private sector, who also mark them.
     With no limits to the proportion of students universities can enrol from private schools, only private sector pupils taking these examinations, and independent school staff, in many cases, actually setting the examinations, the current post-16 assessment system is both unfair and flawed. 

     On the Pre-U website, Winchester College recommends these examinations for use by other public schools, because they "are very liberating for teachers". I bet they are!
 Having taught A-levels for over forty years, and being "unliberated", I knew nothing about the existence of such examinations, and I doubt if many of today`s teachers in state schools realise that their students are actually competing for top grades and university places with privately educated pupils whose "A-level grades" will have been earned in a rather different way. Imagine how easier teaching becomes when, for example, having to cover three hundred years of history, and knowing which questions will be on the paper, even if no actual "cheating" is involved! How many state-school students have been denied access to their first choice university because of better grades achieved in these A-level substitutes?
    Labour must ensure these "examinations" are no longer viable as university entrance qualifications immediately!