Friday, 31 March 2017

letters:1) teacher unions and 2) heads

With the creation of a "super-union", following the merger of the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, and the obvious attacks being made on state education by the Tory government, there could not be a more appropriate time for teacher representation to be strengthened further (Teachers` groups merge to form super-union,23/03/17). The newly created National Education Union, with "more than 450,000 members", would be far more of a "game-changer" if it also included the 320,000 teachers in the NASUWT union. Howard Stevenson is right to say that "governments deliberately seek to exploit divisions". Many times in the duration of my career, industrial action by one of the main unions was undermined by the non-action of the other, with the government subsequently able to claim that, as only a small proportion of teachers were involved, the issue was clearly of little consequence, and undeserving of its attention!
     Laura McInenerney predicted earlier this week that schools could be soon "stripped back to basic entitlements", with increases in tutoring and parent contributions soon to be the norm (The Tory dream: no frills unless you pay, 21/03/17). A united front is needed to change current government thinking, improve teacher recruitment, and campaign for better pay and conditions. This merger has shown how unions can work with joint-leadership and shared values, but with the exclusion of a major teaching union, the "divide and rule" policy will still be available to governments. In times like this, when state education faces an existential threat, teachers need their leaders to speak "with one voice". Talks about further amalgamation should begin immediately.

Alas, Miles Secker is way off the mark (Letters, 28/03/17). All too often headteachers are appointed without having been "thoroughly tested over years as classroom teachers, department heads, then assistant and deputy heads". In fact, in my experience, far too many candidates with exactly that background have been overlooked, whilst the ones willing to support the latest educational fad, to make unnecessary changes, or to use meaningless jargon in the interview, were appointed. Within days, staff and pupils knew the wrong person had got the job, with the inevitable result that the school entered a period of decline. 
     If heads could all draw "on a deep fund of thought and experience", education today would be in a far better place! 

Osborne article too lenient:"austerity amnesia"

The clever heading for Jason Cowley`s article on George Osborne`s shameless acquisition of jobs and obscene wealth was sadly misleading (The austerity editor,24th March, 2017). The paragraph on his record as chancellor concluded that it was "mixed"! Rather than criticising him for the ideologically driven and unnecessary austerity policies, which targeted the weakest and most vulnerable in society, and which aimed at reducing government spending to levels last seen in the 1930s, Cowley simply mentions his "pursuit of expansionary fiscal contraction". Later on, Osborne is described as the "former austerity chancellor", but neither his roles in the current NHS, education and prisons crises, or the job cuts and pay freezes for which he also shares responsibility, are mentioned.
 Calling him an "austerity chancellor", without any of the drastic consequences he caused, suggests a bout of "austerity amnesia" is doing the rounds at the New Statesman`s office. Letting the politician who dreamt up the idea of a "Northern Powerhouse" as an electoral wheeze, whilst slashing the budgets of Labour-controlled northern councils, off the hook is simply too generous. Theresa May might well have "unceremoniously sacked" him, but his policies still linger on, and such callousness must not be forgotten, especially as it contributed hugely to the EU referendum result.

 If the decision as to whether he can combine the numerous jobs with being an MP is for "his own conscience", there can only be one result!  

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Response to Nick Cohen re Corbyn

Nick Cohen`s sneering at the leaders and "second XI" of the Labour party doesn`t do him any credit (Don`t tell me you weren`t warned about Corbyn, 19/03/17). Presumably, we should be more impressed with the millionaire Tories currently in power, with their politically opportunistic leader having her blind trust to keep her wealth hidden, the chancellor refusing to make public his tax details, and a foreign secretary prone to racist and sexist remarks? 
      Are we to assume Cohen would prefer a more moderate, centrist Labour leader, more concerned about the south-east and the City? We know how popular electorally that would be! Cohen asks whether we would "be happy to live in" a low-tax and low-regulation Britain, but clearly doesn`t understand how New Labour disappointed millions, who were, unlike its leaders, not "intensely relaxed" about the "filthy rich" getting richer. At least, Corbyn has given hope to many that fairness can exist as a political policy, that inequality can be reduced, that the NHS can be properly funded, that equality of opportunity can be re-invented as an educational objective for government. Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna so ineffectively "struck back against" the Tories` "austerity programme", it was often difficult to tell who was more in cahoots with the City!
     It`s all very well having an Observer journalist so anti-left wing, he resorts to calling many of his readers "fucking fools", and so angry he fails to check the gender of his source in Cabinet, but perhaps he would do more to earn his not inconsiderable pay by spitting his venom at the Tories. The Labour MPs, whom Cohen supports, should be doing the same; instead of "biting their tongues" they should be exposing the real party of economic incompetence, and backing policies which put fairness in society at the top of the agenda! If teachers sulked because they didn`t like their head, very few pupils would ever get taught!

Friday, 24 March 2017

"Austerity amnesia" reaching epidemic proportions

"Austerity amnesia" is now influencing too many of your recent articles, with Andrew Marr and George Eaton especially appearing to suffer from short-term memory, when it comes to recent Tory policy. In the former`s review of Goodhart`s book, The Road to Somewhere, he attributes the Somewheres` contempt for parliament on the Blair government`s "armed intervention in Iraq in 2003", and on "the relatively minor scandal" concerning MPs` expenses, totally omitting the Tory-dominated coalition`s austerity policies, which punished the poorest and most disadvantaged, and which May`s government is happy to embrace (Understanding Brexit, 17th March,2017). Along with economic policies which favoured the south-east and their richest inhabitants, austerity played a huge role in creating the large group of Britons, who felt "left out and left behind".
    George Eaton appears to see Tory Remainers as the country`s only hope, even while admitting that many had only opposed Brexit "in the hope of advancement under Cameron" (For a softer Brexit, Theresa May needs to face a tougher opposition, 17th March,2017). He, like Marr, has a memory block when it comes to recalling which policies these MPs actually support; shrinking the state, cutting taxes and the associated services and benefits, privatisation, reduced funding for the NHS and state schools, are just a few points on the Tory agenda. Yet Eaton can`t resist blaming Labour`s "toxic leadership", which "has made Tories reluctant to ally with them", when clearly, their lack of principle is the most important factor. 

    Of course, a "stronger opposition" is needed, but it would be helpful if writers concentrated more on Labour`s principled stance against austerity and inequality, and less on joining in with the Tory media`s blame-game.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

May a "safe pair of hands" and early election

To whom was Martin Kettle referring when using the first person plural in his article on the prime minister (We used to think May was a safe pair of hands, No longer 17/03/17)? Certainly not the majority of Guardian readers, and not even all Guardian writers. Alan Travis, last July, warned about about May`s approach to civil liberties that was "too cavalier", and reminded us both of her disgraceful "Go Home" vans which toured immigrant communities, and policies which split up "an estimated 33,000 families because they didn`t earn enough" (What does Theresa May`s record as Home Secretary tell us? 18/07/16).  How much of the present crisis in prisons is due to the illiberal approach adopted over her six years in charge? Travis wrote of how she "joked" that, whereas Ken Clarke wanted to "let them out", she preferred to "lock them up".
  A "safe pair of hands" avoids unnecessary risks, but long before her Scottish "gamble" May was making promises for which it would be difficult, in some cases impossible, to garner Tory party support. Since when have Tory MPs not been driven "by the interests of the privileged few", or cared about "burning injustice"? Two budgets have revealed how little this government is concerned about  the "just about managing", whilst May`s sudden support, both vocal and financial, for grammar schools, when state schools face "real-term cuts to funding by 2019-20", imperils party unity further. 

  A safe bet she certainly never was, but the low profile "Submarine May" deliberately kept during the referendum campaign revealed a political cunning, which might well have peaked too soon! 

Opposition parties need to be careful! Conservative MPs may be saying in public that a snap general election should be called "to capitalise on Labour`s woes", and to "secure a personal mandate" for the prime minister, but I suspect the real reason is more duplicitous (May`s MPs urge her to call snap general elction, 20/03/17). Even Lord Hague has admitted "trouble is coming"!
  With the election expenses` scandal likely to escalate, the grammar school issue to backfire, Scotland to continue to be problematic, and 27 EU members to be adamant the Brexit deal be unfavourable to the UK, Tory MPs must know an election now, rather in 2020, is their best bet on political survival. Going to the polls in 2020, after a hard Brexit, no access to the single market, and increasing inflation, interest rates and unemployment adding to woes caused by the Tories` deliberate underfunding of the NHS and state schools, does not appear an attractive prospect to most Tory MPs. The "just about managing" certainly won`t be voting for them, despite the rhetoric!
      Labour being on "an early-election footing" is requisite political posturing, but its leaders should be considering the likely pitfalls of an election now, and the obvious benefits of one later. McDonnell admits that Labour is "not getting a fair hearing with the media", so why give May the opportunity to increase her majority? By 2020 the polls might well be different!

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Observer letter on Brexit and Tories

Tom Kibasi`s excellent analysis of the UK`s economic problems, where he supported the idea of "using Brexit as a moment to bring about the change that Britain needs", omitted one very salient point (Article 50 is upon us but neither Brexiters nor Remainers grasp the vital changes that Britain needs, 12/03/17). As the Autumn Statement and the recent budget revealed, Osborne`s misguided and unnecessary austerity policies are being continued by May`s administration, with the ultimate aim being the same as Cameron`s, to "shrink the size of the state" back to levels last seen in the 1930s, and to reduce the "so-called tax burden", as William Keegan reminded us (We all need a stiff drink to swallow Hammond`s austerity, 12/03/17). 
   It makes no sense whatsoever for the 27 EU members to offer a trade deal beneficial to the UK, as it would simply encourage Leave campaigns in their own countries, so the likely result is a deal which our government will reject. May and her ministers have already threatened that their response, in such a situation, would be to cut back even further on taxation and regulation, failing to mention that this has been their objective since 2010. They will then have an excuse both to lower corporate tax to Irish levels, and to bin workers` rights, to "attract investment".
   Brexit has played into Tory hands; this not only explains the Tories` sudden belief in the sanctity of democratic decisions, despite their willingness to break manifesto promises, but also why May is so adamant on avoiding parliamentary interference

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Brexit playing into Tories` hands

As the Star editorial rightly said on Thursday, the "humiliation heaped on Hammond and May as a result of their U-turn emphasises that their government is vulnerable" (Morning Star,16/03/17). May`s weak leadership, with many of her apparent wishes outvoted in cabinet, adds to the Tories` problems, as does her inept handling of the Scottish Nationalists` desire for their second referendum.
    The trouble is that May will head the Brexit negotiations, and anyone who thinks a good deal for British trade and workers is on the cards needs to re-consider. Britain cannot be seen to emerge from the talks with a beneficial deal, as this would encourage all would-be Leavers in each of the 27 EU member states, to copy Britain. With no acceptable deal available, May and Hammond have both threatened that the UK`s response would be to lower taxes and decrease regulations even further, matching Ireland`s 12% corporate tax levels, for instance, to "encourage investment", and to "free up employers" from  EU red tape, like the rules which limit hours in their workers` days.
      As the low tax, less regulation regime has been the stated aim of Tories since getting into power in 2010, and the real objective behind the austerity policies, which May and her cronies still support and enact, the Brexit vote has now fuelled the Tories with another excuse to carry out the policy of "shrinking the state" back to levels last seen in the 1930s.

     The Tories may well be "wobbling" at the moment, but Brexit has played into their hands!

Thursday, 16 March 2017

On the Budget and Osborne`s shameless greed

Putting up the National Insurance contributions for the self-employed, of whom, as Zoe Williams informs us, 91% "are earning £20,000 or less" (Plausible, sober, and yet divorced from reality,09/03/17) is hardly the action of a chancellor who "has been brave", as your editorial on the Spring Budget suggests (The chancellor provides political theatre - but is it all an act? 09/03/17). Going after the companies "who use self-employment as a way of dodging national insurance", not to mention their responsibilities regarding sickness and holiday pay, should have been Hammond`s first, rather than "next step". It seems, however, that would be too much to expect from an increasingly duplicitous Tory government, which refuses to deal with the financial crises in the National Health and care systems, even when blessed with unexpected tax windfalls amounting to billions.
    It is blatantly obvious, to the Guardian`s readers if not all of its writers, that May and her team have no intention of governing in the way announced on the steps of 10 Downing Street last July, and that many of the "just about managing" will have to continue to do just that, albeit reliant on scant government subsidies. An Opposition leader who "lambasted the chancellor", and whose post-Budget speech criticised the Tories for their "utter complacency", should be praised for his stance against inequality, rather than the recipient of snide remarks (Corbyn attacks complacency as services suffer, 09/03/17).  

      Rather than looking "at the benches opposite", perhaps Hammond is more aware of the lack of "pressure to defend himself for extending austerity", refusing to tax the rich proportionally, and for his "appalling priorities", in the nation`s leading centre-left newspaper (Hammond was swaggering in the ring alone, 09/03/17)!

Your editorial is absolutely correct to say that there are "habits, courtesies and unwritten codes of decency and honour" which should govern politicians` behaviour, but wrong to suggest that there is "something distasteful" about George Osborne "cashing in" on his time as chancellor, whilst remaining an MP (Printed pledges and unwritten protocols both matter in politics,10/03/17). It is utterly disgraceful, totally reprehensible, and completely unacceptable! He clearly feels no guilt about the horrendous suffering his unnecessary austerity policies have caused, otherwise he would have resigned.
 What a shame the British press don`t see the need for a hatchet-job on the former chancellor, yet continue to lambast Corbyn, a decent politician fighting against the inequality which Osborne both espouses and epitomises!

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

May losing her marbles?

The fact that Greece has called for the return of the Elgin Marbles, stolen from them by Thomas Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, in the early 19th century, affords the British prime minister a wonderful opportunity (Calls for Marbles` return to help bolster Europen unity, 14/03 17). Not only would their return act as a "symbolic act in the fight against the dissolution of Europe", and be a conciliatory gesture at the start of extremely difficult Brexit negotiations, it would illustrate how May`s speech in Downing Street last July was not simply rhetoric and political posturing. She promised then, amongst many other things based on fairness, to act against all "burning injustice".

       Unable, apparently, to persuade her cabinet to support help for the "just about managing" in two budgets, or to introduce legislation to get workers` representatives on all large companies` boards, or even to support an enquiry into a very obvious "injustice" at Orgreave during the miners` strike, May`s return of the Marbles would show, at least, that she understands the value of diplomacy, and that she is not all talk. Sadly, I`m not holding my breath!

Monday, 13 March 2017

i letter on May`s leadership

According to the majority of media reports, Jeremy Corbyn`s lack of leadership qualities is the main reason for Labour`s poor showing in the polls. Andrew Grice, however, tells us that Theresa May frequently has her own ideas on "tackling the excesses of capitalism - curbing executive pay, putting workers on boards", and such like, watered down by her Chancellor (History says that May and Hammond will sink or swim together, 11/03/17).
     Why aren`t May`s obvious leadership problems headline news, like the Labour leader`s are? Why isn`t the media demanding to know who is actually making the decisions, and running the country?
     May escapes criticism and derision, even though failing to carry out promises made on the steps of 10 Downing Street last July; Corbyn stands up for the ordinary people, state schools and the NHS, and gets lambasted!

Thursday, 9 March 2017

New Statesman letter on May`s Disraelian tendency

Jason Cowley sensibly asked Theresa May whether she was "a Thatcherite or a One nation Tory", getting the typically vague,"I`m a conservative", in reply (May`s method, 10th February, 2017). On current evidence, our prime minister is an archetypal Disraelian, with her government already having many parallels with the 1874-80 administration of the infamous "political opportunist", and founder of "One nation" Toryism.
 The rhetoric is similar; like Disraeli`s promise to "improve the condition of the people", May speaks about "the need to create a society that works for everyone, not just the few". Sadly, the similarities can be seen in the results, too. The grammar schools which May favours, can only ever benefit a tiny fraction, to the detriment of the majority, whilst her actions overall resemble the "window-dressing" reforms of the 1870s; the climb-down over workers` representatives on boards is akin to the permissive nature of so many of Disraeli`s reforms. like the Artisans` Dwellings Act.
    Even May`s trip to the White House, which she mysteriously describes as a "resounding success", can be likened to Disraeli`s Berlin visit, where he claimed "peace with honour", despite "backing the wrong horse". Although his government passed a Public Health Act, Disraeli showed little concern for workers` health, worryingly close to May`s refusal to say more, in the Q&A section, than it was "an interesting period", when referring to Attlee and the NHS.
      In fact, it was both surprising and disappointing not to see more of the interview devoted to her plans for the NHS. With clearly a crisis exiting in our hospitals, with shortage of beds available, and operations cancelled as a result, a question asking why May`s government chose to blame GPs might have proved enlightening!