Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Another letter on UK`s "colonial amnesia"

The fact that Germany now acknowledges that its soldiers "exterminated thousands of men, women and children in concentration camps" in Namibia, decades before the Nazis rose to power, puts Britain to shame (Germany confronts its forgotten Namibian death camps, 15/01/17). In this country, we have governments not only suffering from what is often called "colonial amnesia", but lacking the courage to reveal the truth about Britain`s shameful imperial past. Britain`s empire far exceeded Germany`s in both size and longevity, and involved much more brutality, but its only attempt at public enlightenment, with a museum on the subject in Bristol, lasted a mere six years. It closed in 2008, with the chair of the museum`s board of trustees blaming its "unfashionable" subject.
      Yet while the Germans are prepared to admit its historical "mistakes", 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.   
      Britain`s history is being manipulated, presumably to protect the reputations of long gone governments and long-dead politicians; believing that Britain`s past was always glorious, and that only our barbarous enemies committed atrocities, was bound eventually to lead to racism and nationalism. If our past was more widely understood, the national debate might well be different! If Germany can face up to its history, there can be no excuse for Britain not doing the same.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Can May`s policies sink any lower?

Are there any greater depths to which Theresa May can take British foreign policy (No focus on human rights with Erdogan, 28/01/17)? Not content with telling the leaders of such noxious kingdoms as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia that the UK is "determined to be  your partner of choice", a month before the first executions for six years took place in Bahrain, she then visits the White House, to make deals with Trump, the torture supporter, and betrays all the millions who marched against his misogyny last weekend.
 To deepen the hole that she is digging for herself and her foreign policy, May next meets with the Turkish president, Erdogan, the torture enforcer, who has overseen the arrest or sacking of around 137,000 judges, teachers, civil servants, journalists and military personnel since July. Despite being urged to extol the need for "fully upholding human rights, as well as the rule of law" by the Bar Human Rights Committee, May will only state her view on human rights "if they come up"! No doubt Erdogan will be invited for a state visit too! Perhaps even to join a Triple Alliance, as long as they buy their engines for their fighter jets from Britain?
   Such desperation and unprincipled behaviour by the prime minister cannot be allowed to continue. It`s not just "decent Tories", to use Ed Miliband`s words, who are feeling distinctly "queasy"!


Saturday, 28 January 2017

letter to i on May visiting Trump

In accepting the White House invitation, it is clear Theresa May has made a grave error of judgement, and with appallingly crass remarks like the one about how "opposites attract", she has also badly let down all those who marched against Trump`s misogyny last weekend. To make matters worse, the visit comes at a time when not only, as Mary Dejevsky says, May is "chasing the fiction of that special relationship", she is also, as must be clear to Trump, desperate for a trade deal to show that her Brexit plans can work (May might as well stay at home,27/01/17).

     With the American corporations keen to get their hands on as much of our health provision as possible, the president in favour of putting his country "first", and the prime minister repeatedly refusing to guarantee that "the National Health Service would be off the table", its not only "decent Tories" who are "feeling queasy" (May invokes Cold War spirit to give strong warning over Russia,27/01/17).

Friday, 27 January 2017

May`s inspiration has to be Disraeli

Pearce and Kenny put forward a strong argument supporting the idea that Joseph Chamberlain "serves as an inspiration for Theresa May`s premiership" (The empire strikes back, 20th January,2017). There is no doubt that he was, especially when mayor of Birmingham, a keen social reformer and "advocate for the industrial as well as the national interest", but the article ignored the more significant similarities between May and Disraeli.
      In his famous Crystal Palace speech in 1872, Disraeli promised to "improve the condition of the people", a pledge not dissimilar from May`s promises on the steps of 10 Downing Street, and one which also had little chance of attaining fulfilment, because of the opposition it would arouse within the Tory party. Too much rhetoric and too little action are criticisms which can be applied to both prime ministers, too, with their "window-dressing" reforms lacking compulsion. May`s lack of legislation to force employers to allow workers` representatives on boards can be likened to Disraeli`s propensity for permissive legislation. An unwillingness to offend private landlords prevented the Artisans` Dwellings Act having much effect beyond Birmingham, in a similar way to it hindering May from capping excessive rents.
   Just as "the Thatcherite right are somewhat uncertain about May", the 1870s` Tory party never fully trusted Disraeli after his 1867 Reform Act, which gave the vote to the urban working class males. The distrust exacerbated after he allowed aggressive and jingoistic speeches by the arrogant Lytton and Bartle-Frere to take the country into unnecessary conflict in Afghanistan and southern Africa, something which has only potential similarity at the moment, but which increases every day Johnson remains as foreign secretary!

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Letter on May`s "alternative facts"

Fending off questions with bland, repetitive and obfuscatory phrases is clearly becoming the default position, not only of the prime minister, but of the entire Tory government, as illustrated this week over Trident, and earlier in the month, by the transport secretary over the Southern Rail crisis. Of course, May knew about the missile failure; of course, parliament wasn`t informed in case support in the vote for Trident`s renewal was reduced. In concealing critical truths from parliament, and therefore from the public, they are proving themselves as duplicitous as the previous government. "Deliberately misleading parliament", which is what May is accused of by the Stop the War convener, Lindsey German, is clearly now official government policy (Morning Star, 24/01/17).
       We see it every week at PMQs, when perfectly sensible and pertinent questions from Jeremy Corbyn, and other opposition MPs, are either not answered at all, or responded to with irrelevancies or false claims, with the Speaker failing to offer any reprimand, or even a reminder of the purpose of the session.
       The trouble is this government tactic works, because it is allowed to: claims that the NHS is not in crisis, that no recruitment problems exist in the teaching profession, that the country cannot afford increased pay for carers, and that everyone`s taxes need reducing, are repeated so much, they must be true! As if there ever was an "economic long-term plan", or is likely to be a "northern powerhouse", or even help for the "just about managing"? No-one in the mainstream media says the government is lying to us, but what else is it? Being "economical with the truth"?

       How can the "effectiveness of the UK`s independent nuclear deterrent" not be in doubt, as Fallon says, when its missile "malfunctioned"? How can we criticise the Trump administration for its propensity to use "alternative facts", when our government adopts the same tactic?

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

May`s industrial strategy

The letter from your business editor, Elizabeth Anderson, claimed that May`s so-called "new industrial strategy is making all sectors of business happy" (May`s industrial strategy could be her moment, 24.01.17). There is, however, one sector, and many would argue the most important one, which will not be happy with the green paper, and that is, of course, the workers, without whom no business can exist, let alone prosper. A commitment to guarantee workers` rights, with pay high enough to avoid the need for state supplements, should have been included, alongside bosses being forced to adopt long-term strategies, including investment in training and technology. The fact that the paper mentioned "businesses" 346 times, but trade unions not once, speaks volumes. "Workers` party" indeed!

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Conservative City`s season getting worse

Whilst relegation remains a problem for Labour United, their main rivals for the big prize, Conservative City, are not having the easiest of seasons either. Manager May, a surprise choice for leader after a period of almost complete inactivity in the pre-season preparations, which led to her predecessor`s resignation, is coming under fire for her team`s lacklustre performances. "Submarine May" is again going down, this time into the lower reaches of the league of premiers!
          Her managership has led to a dramatic change in tactics, with the formation now favouring a three-pronged attack on the right-wing, and too few offensives down the centre to worry the opposition. In fact, the three attackers are definitely more anti-strikers than "false number 9s", too right-wing focused to be concerned about attacks from the centre. One of the three, Davis, has a reputation for only putting in short shifts, whilst the strangely popular Johnson hits the news more for his off-the-ball behaviour than his skills in the opposition half.
      Johnson was May`s surprise selection, especially as his post-match gaffes tend to outnumber even his missed goal opportunities. Shooting on sight appears his modus operandi, whilst team mates would prefer a more considered approach. "Blond bombshell Boris", as Johnson is often described, is one of the many multi-millionaires in the team; he actually described the quarter of a million a year he earned for putting his opinions in a newspaper as "chickenfeed". Remarkably still too popular to drop from the team at the moment, but how long manager May tolerates a player, whose hobby is the past, and whose so-called "history" books are described by experts as "more Monty Python than history", is anyone`s guess. Johnson could soon be history, himself, if any more of his shots hit his foot rather than the target!
        The third anti-striker is renowned for wanting the "right result", and for not doing enough to achieve it. Considered the team expert on defence for a short while, Fox`s career seemed to have ended when it was discovered he had smuggled a close friend on to the team bus! Fans love a "fox in the box", but this Fox`s contribution has been minimal, and he might well be spending more time on Conservative`s backbench. 
       Manager May`s other bombshell was to announce what could be the end of City`s academy system. Rather than grooming the best talent in academies, as has been the common practice in recent years, May is going for selection at eleven, and hoping to see talent develop from there. This caused a huge outcry when announced, even amongst Conservative City`s traditional supporters. What`s wrong with the present system, they asked. What about those whose talents blossom later? Some, admittedly not City`s normal fans, even had the audacity to ask what was wrong with giving everyone the same opportunity!
      Where the coaching would take place for those not selected was a question frequently asked, and not only by City`s Calvinist fans. Even more wanted to know about who would be doing the coaching!
        With the team out of Europe, and a probable reduction in the number of foreign players and coaches eligible to ply their trades in this country on the imminent horizon, has May made a mistake? Indeed, many supporters are worried that her plans are muddled over Europe, and beginning to wish she had taken Europe more seriously earlier in the season. 
        May`s refusal to spend, to prop up the team`s ailing performance, when money is clearly not a problem, judging by her profligacy regarding the team`s sponsors, is only one of many problems. She clearly is spending too much on the defence, at the expense of all other positions, and too strict on freedom of movement, to the dismay of some supporters.
      Her preference for rhetoric rather than action is another; "talking a good game" is something most managers do, but most actually attempt to transfer words into deeds, especially as this is one "transfer" which requires no agent`s fees! With some backroom staff leaving, clearly confused by the manager`s methods, and lack of clarity and transparency, the number of resignations might well snowball. Chairman Murdoch may have given his approval for now, but such assent is often the kiss-of-death; with Johnson waiting on the right wing, May needs to watch her back four as well.

       The forthcoming contest at Copeland will undoubtedly be worrying for her opposition, but it could well result in Mayhem for Conservative City! We can but hope!

Saturday, 21 January 2017

On Rees`s Holocaust book

Having been a fan of Richard J Evans for many years, using his books to inform my teaching, and admiring his stance against Gove`s ridiculously nationalistic views of the schools` history curriculum, I read his review of Laurence Rees`s new work on the Holocaust with interest (Witnesses for the prosecution, 13th January,2017). Whilst Evans does admit both that Rees has "probably interviewed more people who lived through the Third Reich than anybody else", and that "vivid descriptions of the horror" are provided, this is clearly damning with faint praise. The view is expressed that, hopefully, Rees will "continue making documentaries for many years"!
       Maybe the book isn`t all that the "publisher`s blurb" claims, and perhaps Rees should have continued his analysis beyond 1945, but to question whether the author`s reliance on testimonies is the "right way to go about putting together a book" is surely too harsh, especially on this subject?

     At a time when anti-semitism is increasingly raising its ugly head in British politics, so much so that Francis Beckett correctly has to remind readers where its "spiritual home" lies (Anti-Semitism is a right-wing problem,13th January), any book that adds to "the mass of testimony and evidence" about what can result from years of scapegoating, union-bashing, and right-wing governments, should be welcomed. Not all works of history can be "the best book", but that doesn`t mean they should not be read! 

Friday, 20 January 2017

May lacks courage to sack Johnson

The most recent gaffe by Johnson illustrates not only his complete unsuitability for the job, but also May`s cowardice (Boris may not have used the word "Nazi" - but then he didn`t need to, 20/01/16). How can we hope to have any allies in the EU, to organise a  Brexit "with minimal damage", when our Foreign Secretary has a habit of making what Tim Farron rightly calls "utterly crass" remarks? How can we expect countries outside the EU, like India, to make favourable trading deals with us, when the so-called "diplomat" sent to make the deal is prone to making racist comments?
 The fact that just 24 hours earlier, May had warned her ministers that "any stray word" would make the Brexit problem even greater, shows how cowardly our prime minister is. Any other cabinet member would be sacked for such remarks, but Johnson`s dismissal, deserved as it is, might get him increased support from the right, and May doesn`t want a strong rival on the backbenches. She is putting her own position before the nation`s future, and that is despicable.


Thursday, 19 January 2017

More details needed on high pay

What a shame such good ideas on capping high pay should be revealed in a radio interview (Morning Star,11/01/17). How much more effective such an obviously popular policy announcement would have been, had it been made after consultation, at least with the shadow cabinet. I don`t blame Corbyn, entirely, for this as he had to respond to the question, but I do wonder what his advisers are actually doing.
        Surely, in such an important  week for Labour and its leader, massive preparations would have taken place, rehearsing Corbyn in answers to the expected questions, and informing the MPs of what was in store? This would have ensured clarity on freedom of movement, Brexit generally, and pay caps.
       Of course, the pay policies are sensible, but even by the time of Corbyn`s afternoon speech, more details should have been ironed out. These are election winning policies, the sort that can appeal to the majority of voters disgusted by corporate greed, but without sufficient detail, they can have the opposite effect, especially after the mainstream media has had its say.
        The policies suggested could ultimately prove to be game-changers, but not until they are allied with ones dealing with private companies without government contracts, and with a comprehensive tax framework. The latter could, of course, include an tax level of 100% on incomes over £500,000 or whatever top level is  decided.
     Inevitably, such ideas will cause the usual knee-jerk reaction from the right: firms will move abroad, votes of the aspirational will be lost, accountants will still find loopholes etc. Answers to these and more must be prepared and made available so all are on the same page, there is no lack of clarity and votes can be won.

     It`s hardly rocket science!

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Tristram is no loss to Labour

Even Tom Watson surely had his fingers crossed when stating that Tristram Hunt`s "departure will be keenly felt by parliament and by the Labour party". Other claims that he was damaging the party when he resigned his Commons seat last week, simply don`t make sense.
Many will think that he did enough damage beforehand!
        Resigning mid-term, after repeatedly criticising state educated pupils for their lack of resilience, is bad enough, but in his role as shadow education secretary, his refusal to listen to experts, the educationalists and teachers, was all too obvious.  What other explanation can there be for such ludicrous ideas as all teachers having to swear an oath promising to work hard, Performance Related Pay for all teachers, support for free schools, and the re-licensing of teachers every five years.                             
       Hunt`s "frustration" apparently stems from the lack of clarity in some of Corbyn`s announcements, but he clearly has a short memory. When questioned about his own children`s future schools, Hunt`s reply was that they should  "never rule out what takes place", whilst  his crossing a picket line of outsourced and underpaid university workers, striking for a living wage, did much to alienate traditional Labour supporters throughout the country, let alone those in his constituency!
The knives will be out for Corbyn if the seat is lost, but the real blame clearly lies elsewhere.

Friday, 13 January 2017

New Statesman letter on May and Tristram

What an excellent start to the new year! First there`s the Leader`s accurate analysis of the Brexit vote, with the opportunity it gave thousands in the north of England and the Midlands "to protest against decades of neglect" (The new divides,6th January,2017). Not many of us believe in the existence of a "northern powerhouse", especially when the government gives priority to spending billions on cutting the Birmingham to London rail journey by twenty minutes!
   Then George Eaton wrote, again with validity, about the UK having to lose its single-market membership if it "wishes to control immigration" (Politics,6th January,2017). But then the disappointment! Praise for May for "making progress in some areas", such as with the housing problem, banning letting agent fees. Is this really praiseworthy, when nothing whatsoever has been done to stop rents rising, or to carry out her pledges to help the "just about managing"? Similarly, the Chancellor is lauded for his plan to "soften welfare cuts", when most agree the Tories` austerity ploicies have been misplaced and unnecessary. What about the salient point that in April there will be £13bn benefit cuts, decreasing the incomes of low-paid families, and hurting especially the most vulnerable, the disabled and single mothers? Hammond hasn`t dropped the noxious plan to shrink the state back to 35% of GDP. Some hopes for making "divided Britain united once more"!

    Surely, though, Tristram Hunt had his tongue firmly in his cheek when writing about liberals who "condescendingly seek to educate rather than empathise" (Closed v open, 6th January, 2017)? He must know that many of us will never forget how his complete lack of "empathy" led him to cross the picket lines of university workers requesting a living wage, in February, 2014, so that he could "educate" students with his lecture at London`s Queen Mary University! 

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Corbyn and high pay

Now that Corbyn has "insisted Labour has no principled objection to ending free movement", one can only guess what the next objection the right-wing MPs will make to his leadership (Corbyn says Labour is not wedded to free movement and UK can prosper out of EU,10/01/17). Could it be that those who are "intensely relaxed" about people getting obscenely rich will now condemn his statement on the radio about capping high pay? After all, how could the leader of the Labour party in this country possibly see anything wrong with top bosses earning in three and a half days what the average worker earns in a year?

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

What 2016 proved

What the year 2016 proved beyond doubt is that, unsurprisingly in view of the Tory governments in power, the only solution to the nation`s problems lies with a move to the left. The country is struggling economically and socially, and the right has no answers.
   2016`s losers were not chief executives who left prominent roles in financial circles, or, according to a recent Guardian article, "bosses at a string of companies" who faced shareholder "revolts"; far from it, as they still kept their millions. The real losers were  the employees, with pay below the living wage, with zero-hour contracts, and with bosses either using Victorian working practices, or  "systematically plundering" workers` pension funds, or both.
     On the subject of the latter, Philip Green left BHS with a  pension deficit of £571m, yet the Pension Regulator is only chasing him for £350m. That`s clearly another of those "burning injustices" Theresa May intends to do nothing about, like Orgreave!
      Workers lost out, too, because of gross government indifference to their woes. Post-Brexit excitement might have led to promises about not ruling in the interests of "the privileged few", but the rhetoric never became action. Workers` representatives on the boards of companies was always a non-starter, in the light of the permanent Tory alliance with big business and the City. May`s government is as much in cahoots with the likes of the City, financial institutions and the CBI as any of its predecessors.The autumn statement revealed the lie about helping workers who were "just about managing"; the trade union legislation was nothing less than anti-worker, just as recent statements from government ministers were, about recent industrial action to save jobs.Another example, if any more is needed, is the way May dealt with the disgraceful firms failing to pay their workers the minimum wage: she "named and shamed" them, as if that was going to change anything! No doubt about it, 2016 proved, yet again, that Tory party, despite the recent claim to be the "party of the workers", couldn`t give a damn for the working people.
      The year also proved, as if it wasn`t known already, that wealth does not "trickle down", that paying executives obscene amounts of money does not improve company performance, and that excessive pay is unnecessary to attract the "best people". The massive pay ratios, currently averaging 128:1 in FTS100 companies,  show how short-termism, which focuses on bonus targets being reached in one or two years, leads to low or no investment in technology and training, and results in low productivity. Yet the mainstream media still goes on about workers needing to work harder, and teachers not giving their pupils the right skills, as if they decide what is to be taught.
  On that subject, Brexit has created the problem of increased divisions in our society, with the right-wing eager to exploit the racism which has reared its ugly head again. We know the Tories care nothing for state education and its teachers, as there couldn`t be a recruitment problem otherwise, but they even refuse to contemplate opening the hidden history files, all 1.2 million of them, to historians. The country needs to face up to its past, no matter how harrowing it might be. If the German government can reveal to its people the country`s awful imperial past, as well as its Nazi horror show, the UK government has a duty to do the same. How can we all live peaceably together when the majority believe in a history that has been engineered and manipulated by governments. Ukip thrives on propaganda, and 2016 proves that the Tories are willing to see Ukip`s popularity increase, even if it`s accompanied by more race hatred, than risk losing power to a rejuvenated Labour party.
     What 2016 did demonstrate, without a doubt, is that inequality can only be reduced by government legislation. Such methods as "naming and shaming" and permissive policies will not work. Wealth redistributive measures are needed, and they will not come from centre-ground political parties; isn`t that what the Blair-Brown years taught us? The rich have to pay more in income tax, and that means those earning over three times the average wage; businesses have to pay more corporation tax, and all those using tax havens as a means of tax evasion need to be prosecuted.
   Only if the Labour party rallies around Corbyn, and the media gives him a fairer ride, is there hope for change in the new year. 2016 demonstrated how the right, when it is left unchallenged by the media, can increase its popularity, by using lies and propaganda, so it is vital the people of Britain are fed the truth; sadly, this is something the mainstream media is not very good at, and something history teachers are not allowed to do.

Monday, 9 January 2017

Labour United in relegation crisis

Few will argue the point: Labour United are having a difficult season, and time is running out. The knives are again out for the manager, Corbyn, and fans who have supported the club for years are apparently deserting in droves. The good news is that thousands of new supporters have turned up recently, but there is no denying the team is in trouble.
    It hasn`t exactly been a bowl of roses for the manager from the start. Whilst his tactics, always focused on attacking from the left, appeared to go down well with many of the fans, he never has been able to regain the impetus lost by his predecessors. Previous managers concentrated on less of the left-wing approach, and looked for more play down the middle, and, indeed, there was some success until supporters realised this was a game foreign to them and voted with their feet. Potential managers who favoured maintaining this more conservative style lost out to Corbyn.
    His approach was criticised by many, especially some of the leading players, who appeared unable to adapt to tactics other than those which failed in the crucial matches. How can fans forget those awful results in 2010 and 2015?
   But it is the players who are out there in the field, and they claimed they could not win unless they chose the tactics. Revolt was inevitable. It came, of course, last year; Corbyn had definitely lost the changing-room!
     He`s not been in the game for forty years and not learned a thing or two, though, and even though the players put forward one of their own as a rival leader, Corbyn had the backing of the supporters. The truth is they like his tactics. Attacking from the left is, as they see it, a game-changer; it will bring results which will transform, rather than tinker, and that`s what many, especially the younger ones, like.
       It`s gone quiet in the dressing-room recently, but no-one can afford to relax, especially with the important game coming up in Copeland. Labour United`s form has been abysmal of late, with the last match in Richmond Park, admittedly never a ground United like to visit,  a near-disaster, losing to a rival team with no form at all! Now they are up against it, with the opposition scenting victory.
       Failure to win in Copeland will reinforce the calls for the manager to go, and it`s certainly not going to be easy for Corbyn. The opposition will concentrate on what many see as United`s achilles heel, defence! The insistence of United`s manager`s on playing down the left means defence is always a problem, especially when they play in this particular part of the country. Strong resistance from the right will undoubtedly be the opposition`s tactic, and perhaps, lead to Corbyn stepping aside. Much will depend on the role of the manager himself; will he lead from the front, and will he be able to galvanise his players? Defeat is inevitable unless they all pull together!
  The manager`s opponents are predicting relegation already. They point to his confusion over priorities, and doubt whether he sees a future in Europe. They insist he needs to strengthen the squad, teaming up with rivals to secure victory wherever possible, rather than sticking to his long-held principle about attacking from the left. Perhaps they have a point, as the Green team are led by managers with many similar views to Corbyn, and some co-operation with them, rather than any of the others suggested, might help to save the manager`s job? 
   Wars are not decided by one battle, a season is not determined by one match, but an awful lot is hanging on the Copeland result!      


Sunday, 8 January 2017

Observer letter on Tories` appalling education policies

It is interesting to note that the Tories are using the same argument for their Higher Education bill as they used back in the 1980s, when proposing the privatisation of the energy industry (Lords revolt at Tory plans for "free-market" universities, 01/01/17). Clearly, the proposals "to increase choice and competition in the higher education sector" will no more raise standards than the energy sell-off lowered prices. This backdoor privatisation is another example of May`s government`s appallingly inept education policy.
   Whilst there is no denying universities should be made "more accountable to their students", the Tories` method of achieving this is crass. Teaching quality is to be judged by the Teaching Excellence Framework, which takes into account student opinion, the number of students who leave prior to course completion, and the number of graduates gaining appropriate jobs. Bearing in mind that good teaching will lead to increased tuition fees, how can anyone in government think that this is efficient or fair?
     Government thinking on the teacher recruitment crisis in schools is no better (Teaching shortages could worsen as Brexit takes effect, 01/01/17). With "more teachers leaving the job than joining", the DfE failing "to hit necessary recruitment levels for a fifth year in a row", and May refusing to give EU nationals "any assurances that they will continue to be welcome" after Brexit, one would have thought the penny would have dropped by now: low pay for classroom teachers, an excessive workload, and constant criticism from Ofsted all are problems in dire need of government attention. The fact that schools have to rely on recruitment agencies "operating in places like Romania and Bulgaria" for their teachers is nothing less than a national disgrace!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

NHS: the obvious solution

Whilst at first glance, Steve Richards`s idea for a referendum, his solution to "the underfunded NHS and elderly care service", appears plausible, but it would, if won, add to the already unfair tax levels currently in place (Another referendum? Yes, but this time on the NHS,03/12/17). May`s government, according to Richards, is "struggling to find a means of providing a tiny bit of extra cash", but this is misleading, as it can afford to reduce corporate tax to lowest levels in modern times, and to refuse to "reverse the cuts to the bank levy", costing the Treasury over £1bn a year (McDonnell calls for end to bank "tax giveaway", 03/12/17). Funding the NHS to adequate levels simply is not a government priority, whilst doing nothing to redistribute wealth is!
    Prior to Richards`s referendum, the government would be required to "explain the costs and the tax rise required", but May`s government would frame this so perversely that the resulting tax increases would be expected to effect everyone. The over-used right-wing threat about the country being unable to afford more, unless everyone pays more, would undoubtedly be heard, and repeated in the Tory press. Can Richards really envisage a Tory government telling the voters that the NHS can be funded properly by insisting that the rich, starting at those earning over three times the national average, pay, say 45% income tax, those earning over £100,000 50%, over £150,000 55% and over £200,000 60%, and putting it to a popular vote? No, nor me, but that`s the sensible way to fund the NHS and care services adequately, and more besides!

Friday, 6 January 2017

May wrong on Israel

In her response to John Kerry`s description of Netanyahu`s administration as being the "most right-wing" in Israel`s history, Theresa May displayed yet again the duplicity to which we have become accustomed from Tory politicians (Morning Star, 31.12/16). Saying it was wrong to focus on "single issues like settlement building" and preferable to look at the "wider peace process", beggars belief. It`s like saying the Tories` economic policy should not be judged by the recent autumn statement, or that their education policies should not be viewed on their stance on grammar schools and selection! Actually, it`s also the same as saying you shouldn`t criticise the England football team for its abysmal performances in recent tournaments, because they won the World Cup in 1966!
     What it tells us, unsurprisingly, is that the Tories specialise in treating everyone like mugs, incapable of understanding what is really going on. Now that May has used this strategy with the Americans, perhaps the penny will drop with the Labour MPs who refuse to support Corbyn; the Tories clearly regard them as idiots, and treat them as such, for refusing to accept the only leader around at present who can really challenge the Tories at the polls.


Guardian letter on civil servants

Simon Jenkins`s statement that if civil servants do not "believe in what they are doing", they "should go", is nonsense (We will always need friends in Europe - and diplomats, 05/01/17). Throughout modern history, the bureaucracy has managed change, which was distinctly abhorrent to most of its members, especially if it emanated from the left.

      Civil servants, it is now being alleged, lack the "skill-set" necessary for handling the detail of the Brexit negotiations, but the alternative is far worse. Jenkins states that "wisdom is not fashionable in Europe just now", but the trouble is that it is even less fashionable here. Imagine the catastrophic results if the negotiations were left to the likes of Johnson, Davis and Fox!

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Tories wrong on education again(2)

Having taught for many years in one of the poorest areas of Merseyside, I remember the 1980s as being particularly difficult; it wasn`t so much a matter of pupils having to share a text-book in lessons, as teachers having to share the same half-set, and plan lessons accordingly. With large classes, and pay always falling well behind inflation, I became convinced, then, that the Tories were not really bothered about what happened in state schools, especially those miles away from the leafy suburbs of the south.
 The news, therefore, that schools are again facing "the biggest cut to their budgets in a generation" comes as no surprise (Teachers` jobs to be cut as school finances fall off cliff, heads warn, 04/01/17). A caring government, supposedly keen to help the "just about managing", and unwilling to rule for the benefit of the "privileged few", would never have allowed the teacher recruitment problems to become a crisis in the first place. To add salt to the wounds, funding per pupil in the north is still way below that for London. Back to the 80s we go!

Sir Michael Wilshaw would be far better advised to leave education policy advice about grammar schools being "economically disastrous for the country" to Labour and all politicians anxious to retain their seats, and stick to the job he is paid to do (Grammars will damage UK economy, says Ofsted chief,24/12/16). Far better if he had apologised for constantly and unduly criticising teachers throughout his term of office, and acknowledged that the resulting recruitment crisis should be top of his successor`s priorities. He should also have admitted that there are hundreds of schools in the north of England achieving fantastic results, especially considering that most receive grants per pupil well below that of London schools, and that thousands of brilliant teachers work diligently, enthusiastically and successfully there. Demanding a pay increase for classroom teachers would have been a far better "parting shot"!
       Your list of quotes in the column, "Wilshaw in his own words" did not include the one most teachers associate with him: that when staff morale in a school "is at an all-time low", the headteacher knows he/she is "doing something  right"! 

The Tories are using the same argument for their "controversial reforms to higher education", that their bill will increase competition and choice in the university sector, and raise standards, as they used in the 1980s, when privatising the energy industry (Rebellion over university reforms, 02/01/17)! The idea that "free-market" universities will improve standards is just as ridiculous as Tory claims that having more energy companies would cause prices to fall.
     That Tory higher education policies are off course is further illustrated by the plans to link tuition fee increases to teaching quality. The latter is to be determined by the Teaching Excellence Framework, where teaching quality is judged by students` views, the number of students dropping out before course completion, and the number of graduates getting appropriate jobs. Only Tories could possibly think such a system efficient!

  Making it "easier for new institutions to be awarded university status" can only lead to profit-seeking colleges being set up; the last thing the country needs is privatisation of higher education!

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Some new year resolutions for Corbyn

Apparently, there are moves to change the Corbyn image in 2017, to make him more "electable". He is too often accused of lacking leadership qualities, and as a consequence, the Labour party of lacking clear policies. A possible solution is for the press to be alerted, using social media, to the fact that policy statements will be delivered by the leader at certain public events.
     Similarly, the party, rather than investing some of its repleted funds in election gimmicks like pink mini-buses and Ed-stones, should announce donations to food-banks and to charities for the homeless, like Crisis. Media coverage of Corbyn and other Labour politicians will thereby increase, highlighting differences between Labour and the other parties.
    Some suggestions for new year resolutions for Mr Corbyn:
 At a prison where riots have taken place recently, be seen with your shadow lord chancellor, Shami Chakrabarti, talking to staff and inmates. Announce policies to reduce prison numbers, and divorce Labour from the so-called "authoritarian arms race". Be sure to add that you`re leaving that particular "race" to the rightwing Tory and Ukip parties, who seem to believe that they appear "tougher" by sending more people to prison.
    Not only attend an Arsenal match, allow yourself to be interviewed, where you state your support for safe-standing areas at all grounds, and that your government would legislate accordingly. Similarly, your government would denounce all football clubs which spend millions on transfers and players` pay-packets, but refuse to pay their regular staff a living wage. 
       Be seen at a food-bank, or charity, actively involved. When interviewed you make the announcement about the Labour party donating some of its recently accrued "wealth" to good causes, highlighting the government`s preference for spending on weapons and renovating buildings, rather than on helping people. Make sure you are always accompanied by the relevant shadow minister, to show the party`s unity.
      Visit a comprehensive school in your constituency with Angela Rayner, and be seen talking to staff and students. Here your announcement concerns the party`s opposition to Tory and Ukip support for grammar schools, explaining that comprehensives do a great job for all children, not just a small minority. Be sure to say that you are opposed to secondary moderns, the destination of 80% pupils in areas where selection takes place. Add that a Labour government would increase the starting salary of teachers, and alter the current Ofsted inspection process, to ensure stress levels and workload were reduced.
      Make a visit with John McDonnell to HMRC`s headquarters, where again you chat with staff, and announce that the number of tax inspectors would be restored under Labour to pre- coalition levels, to get to grips with tax evasion and avoidance. More staff would ensure the fat cats were targeted, not just small businesses. Stress how your government (say this often; it will sound as though you mean it, and it`s probably "prime-ministerial"!) would make tax avoidance and evasion punishable crimes. Additional staffing costs will be met by the increased revenue collected. On the same visit, emphasise the income tax changes benefiting the low-paid, and making the wealthy pay their fair share, which you will introduce. The Laffer cirve, you will say, is a myth invented by the rich to keep their taxes low.
       Be seen buying a round in a pub. Here you point out the social usefulness of pubs, especially for the lonely. Far better to be able to sit in company rather than buying alcohol in supermarkets, and drinking alone, at home. With this in mind, you will announce that your government will change VAT rules relating to food and drink.
      On a well-publicised visit to a care home, be visible helping the staff deal with their patients. Here the relevant announcements about zero-hours contracts and the minimum wage can be made, and how your changes to income and corporation tax will keep the NHS safe from predators, and increase pay for carers. You must stress how yours would be a "caring government".
     At a building site visit, in your hard hat, you will say that trade unions are vital for the country`s future, and that your government will not bow down to CBI pressure, but will insist all companies must recognise the rights of trade unions at the workplace. You will add that when you say that workers` representatives will be on the boards of all large businesses, you mean it!
       I hope these help; you`ve got my vote, but it looks like you have a job on your hands to persuade a few more.
Happy New Year, Jeremy.


Monday, 2 January 2017

Chakrabarti right on prisons, right-wing MPs wrong

It really is time for the New Labour brigade to shut up (Labour: we will halt overcrowding and rioting in jails, 24/12/16). Don`t the likes of John Spellar realise, that by saying such things as Shami Chakrabarti is "unilaterally abandoning Labour`s policy of being tough on crime", they are creating a rift where there most certainly should not be one? Far better for Labour to divorce itself from failed past policies, and leave the "authoritarian arms race" to the increasingly right-wing Tories, and Ukip.  Not only is Chakrabarti correct to want an end to prison overcrowding, she is right to question the role of private companies like G4S, which "are profiting from incarceration".

      It is to be hoped that Labour can receive positive publicity from its obvious desire to listen to experts, something which May`s government clearly has no intention of doing. What a nice change it makes, too, to see sensible judicial policies coming from someone with recent experience in the field of human rights and justice, rather than from letters written by politicians who had overseen the staffing cuts which caused many of the  problems leading to the current crisis!