Monday, 24 April 2017

May`s "stability" and "unity"

Theresa May claimed that the election is needed to provide for "stability and certainty" ( Morning Star, 19/04/17). With "stability" meaning "resistance to change", May clearly intends to govern in the same way. How difficult is it for Labour MPs to unite with one voice against continued austerity, more underfunding of schools and the NHS, and  tax benefits for the well-off and big business being the dominant economic policy?
   The "certainty" is that another Tory government will continue to have shrinking the state and taking government spending back to levels last seen in the 1930s at the heart of its policies. May added in her announcement that Britain needed the "strong leadership" she provides, but if Labour MPs cannot counter her nonsense with the true facts about her kowtowing to Trump, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the rest, revealing the country`s panic-stricken response to Brexit, and complete lack of effective leadership, they are not worthy of candidature.
May even had the nerve to say that divisions in Parliament "risked hampering the Brexit negotiations" and unity. "Divisions in parliament" are usually called the "opposition", so the election, she hopes, will give her the freedom and autocracy she craves to deliver a "hard" Brexit, with rights for workers forgotten.
        As for the "unity" in the country, it`s not often I agree with Alastair Campbell, but May clearly needs to get out more!

     It is not too late for Labour MPs to unite behind their leader; if they think May is a better alternative PM to Corbyn, they should say so, and stand down.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Observer letter on solving education`s problems

Grammar schools are not the answer to the problem of "huge geographical disparities"  existing in our unfair education system, as your editorial rightly said (Our schools are failing the poorest pupils. Politicians have no answers, only soundbites,16.04.17). It added that the top priority for education funding should be "attracting and developing the best quality teaching" in deprived areas, like Knowsley, but omitted to mention how this could be done. Certain areas, and some individual schools, could be designated  "Educational Priority Areas"(EPAs). Here, pupil-teacher ratios would be smaller, and pay augmented with significant annual retention bonuses, or deposit-free, low interest mortgages.
       A large majority of my forty-plus year teaching career was spent in Knowsley,and one huge problem I experienced, but which was not highlighted in the editorial, was the quality of leadership. Headteachers in "EPAs" would have to have experienced many years of teaching  in such areas. Too often heads are appointed on the basis of ticking the right boxes with the current jargon, and like many politicians, they provide "soundbites", but lack the necessary experience and ability to inspire and lead. A role for staff representation on the selection panel is a must.
       Ofsted criticism of schools in "EPAs" would be banned; it is pointless labelling schools in deprived areas as "failing", when teachers are working hard, but hindered by administration-overload, weak leadership and under-funding.
       "Meaningful answers" can only be provided by the experts. Lack of trust in teachers explains most of the wrong-headed nonsense spoken by politicians about education. This was epitomised, not  only by Gove`s tenure at the DfE, but by the shadow education secretary only a few years ago suggesting all teachers take an oath to demonstrate their commitment to the profession! 

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Nuclear war not a game

Paul Mason is right, to remind us both of "what a nuclear weapon does", and that nuclear warheads are now in the hands of "men for whom the idea of using them is becoming thinkable" (Nuclear war has become thinkable again,18/04/17). With leaders like Trump, Putin and Kim Jong-un, who revel in playing war games like children playing chicken, it is indeed "criminal" that the UK prefers "silence" to using our "diplomatic clout". May clearly thinks any offence given to Trump will not only hinder a post-Brexit trade agreement, but also her chances of retaining the Tory leadership. She`s keen to remind us that "politics is not a game", but still plays along, whilst Corbyn`s Labour is muzzled by fear of the right-wing press seeing caution as weakness, and preferring May`s more gung-ho approach.

     The nuclear explosion at Chernobyl back in 1986 caused such devastation it focused minds, even Russian and American ones; the SALT agreements, which limited warheads, morphed into START negotiations which effectively ended the nuclear arms race. It looks as though our stubborn and intransigent politicians need to be reminded of a little recent history! None of them appear to realise that there`s more to politics than unilateralism and "crowd-pleasing".

Friday, 21 April 2017

A vote for May is a vote for austerity

Very pleased to see that the outbreak of "austerity amnesia" at the New Statesman has subsided, and that, the word, even though, as Helen Lewis tells us, "has disappeared from the government`s vocabulary", still has an important place in your journal`s leading articles (Notebook,7th April,2017). At a time when the prime minister is telling us how hard her government is working to get the British people the best possible Brexit deal, she is simultaneously continuing with the callous and unnecessary cuts aimed at the least fortunate in our society. Are we expected to believe that a government which cuts the Widowed Parent`s Allowance and the Employment and Support Allowance is seriously intent on solving the problems raised in last week`s Leader about "the rising cost of health care and pensions" (The 100- year life, 7th April,2017)? When it has to make the choice of "raising taxes or closing hospitals" May`s response is obvious.

   No-one should be allowed to forget that this Tory government, and its predecessor, faced a similar choice over cuts or taxing the rich, and that they not only chose the former, but accompanied it with reductions in taxes for the well-off! When Tory MPs supported May for leader, their interpretation of "a safe pair of hands" meant someone who would continue with the same austerity policies which hurt no Conservative voters. They were right!

Monday, 17 April 2017

Street-Porter`s lack of understanding re grammar schools

Janet Street-Porter appears incapable of understanding that some people can see the unfairness of grammar schools, even though they actually attended them (Grammars get my support,15/04/17)."Why is Labour so hypocritical", she asks, when the likes of Corbyn, McDonnell, Flynn and Abbott were educated in grammars? How can she "have nothing but praise for a system", which classes around 80% of all eleven year-olds as failures, and which takes hundreds of millions to fund at a time when state schools, catering for children of all abilities, are being starved of cash by the government?
 It beggars belief that Street-Porter can see grammar schools as part of "May`s ambitious plan to create a fairer society", and that the comprehensive system has "damaged thousands of young people". I hope that the people who enjoyed massive success in comprehensives, and who value the work done there by overworked and underpaid teachers, were as disgusted as I was when reading the article.


On British foreign policy

Of course there has been "too much optimism" that Russia could be easily "persuaded to ditch the Syrian president", and, clearly, there still is |(Trump`s unpredictability demands European steadiness, 12/04/17). Why else would Johnson reject the opportunity afforded by the first visit by a British foreign secretary in five years, if the British government, in its usual arrogant way, didn`t think, firstly that European countries would take Johnson`s advice, and, secondly that the threat of yet more sanctions would "shift Moscow"? What should be clear to May and Johnson, is that not only has British influence waned since Brexit, and that Johnson`s posturing has the look of desperation, but that Putin will not be bullied into changing policy.
         However, with presidential elections in Russia next year, protesters demonstrating in many Russian cities, and their economy struggling, now is the time for Britain and the rest of Europe to show some diplomatic skill, especially with so little of it evident  across the Atlantic. Trading deals with Russia, especially in energy provision, could provide a way forward, as could some obvious flattery. If Trump is worthy of some buttering-up with a state visit, Putin must be too! Johnson sees himself as a historian, so he should remember Bismarck`s role as the "honest broker" in 1878 in Berlin. Why not offer to hold a congress on Syria in London, invite all the main leaders, get Merkel to be the chair, and the royals to be the hosts, and organise the catering? The chances are that May and Johnson would "back the wrong horse", just as Disraeli did, but it would at least tick a few boxes, and, as it answers the "need for a non-military response", prevent further missile and air strikes.

It is ridiculous that, as Kim Sengupta states, Boris Johnson is being retained in his post as Foreign Secretary because "keeping a recent rival for the leadership...damaged but inside the tent" is the "best of all options for the prime minister" (A tale of two diplomats: UN envoy impresses while Johnson flounders, 13/04/17). Johnson is not simply making a fool of himself with his wrong-headed ideas about getting tough on Russia, he is displaying the same, extreme arrogance in foreign affairs which May herself shows in dealing with fellow European leaders.
    It cannot be correct, politically or morally, for the British foreign minister to be someone totally unsuited to the job, because his failures are likely to ruin his career, and end his leadership prospects. Anyway, if Sengupta is right, Johnson "can do little" without May`s permission, so let`s start putting the blame for the G7 summit fiasco where it belongs, Downing Street!

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Morning Star letter on Greening and grammar schools

Greening`s attempts to justify her boss`s vanity project were both implausible and disrespectful (Morning Star,14/04/17). How dare this government deliberately underfund comprehensive schools and make cuts in real pay for their teachers, and spend hundreds of millions on extending grammar schools because, apparently, comprehensive schools are not good enough for the well-off? How dare Greening say that children from "ordinary working families" would no longer have to "just make do" by attending the local comprehensive? Could an Education Secretary ever have been more insulting to a profession which is so hard-working, despite constant criticism? Is it any wonder there is such a huge teacher recruitment problem, something this government refuses to acknowledge, or even care about. 
   Greening also suggested that these new grammars will be prioritising "disadvantaged" children, and those from "ordinary families, so that must mean the number of children attending grammars from prosperous families will be reduced. As if that is going to happen! Tory MPs know where their bread is buttered, and they are not going to create grammars in their constituencies in which there is no room for their voters` children.

 Perhaps Mr Corbyn might like to mention this at the next PMQs?

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

2 unpublished letters: on executive pay and low productivity

Nils Pratley is wrong when stating that LTIPs (long-term incentive plans) have been the "executives` best friend and the biggest driver of inflation in boardroom pay" (Boardroom poison, 05/04/17). Those descriptions almost certainly belong to fellow executives on the pay committees, who know that driving up pay in other companies` boardrooms will lead to similar tit-for-tat  increases in their own businesses. That`s why politicians calling for "a ban on LTIPs" are wasting their time, as replacements would soon be found.

        Instead of the the business, energy and industrial strategy committee making recommendations about companies simplifying "the structure of executive pay" and publishing "pay ratios between top executives and other employees", it should be insisting that May`s government introduce legislation to ensure the necessary reforms are made. After all, didn`t Mrs May enter Downing Street with pledges "intended to hold corporate Britain to account" (Theresa May to unveil boardroom crackdown on private big business, 29/11/17)?

As your editorial states, productivity does rise "when employees have
access to the latest kit", and the necessary "skills to use it properly, but until company bosses are prevented from getting huge bonuses for continuing their short-termist policies, British productivity will remain 20% below that of European rivals (Brexit makes solving the productivity puzzle a priority,10/04/17). Not for nothing did Nils Pratley recently write that misleadingly named "long-term icentive plans" were the "executives` best friend", because they did not require, despite their name,  long-term investment in technology and education to warrant the payment of obscene bonuses (Boardroom poison, 05/04/17).
Inevitably the CBI will spout forth the need for taxpayers` money to be spent on improving technical education in schools, so that company profits can rise, along with the productivity, but what is obvious to the rest of us is that British companies need to improve their apprenticeship schemes. The state certainly should "step into the breach", as is suggested, and a national investment bank would be beneficial.  Until that development occurs, however, why not introduce legislation banning the payment of all bonuses unless productivity rises significantly? After all, Mrs May did enter Downing Street with pledges "intended to hold corporate Britain to account" (Theresa May to unveil boardroom crackdown on private big business, 29/11/17)? 

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Unpublished Observer letter on May`s Brexit

Can Andrew Rawnsley really expect us to believe that the "link between a trade deal and continuing co-operation on intelligence and security", in the letter to the EU, wasn`t "intended as a threat" (Even your best poker face won`t be enough for success, Mrs May,02/04/17)? As Daniel Boffey tells us, the link "was made 11 times in the six-page letter", so it clearly was not an oversight, as many have claimed (UK`s military "must not be used as a Brexit talks bargaining chip",02/04/17) It`s no wonder the letter provoked a "furious response", and accusations of "blackmail"!
      How can we regard ourselves as a civilised society if we are prepared at any time even to mention the possibility of witholding vital information from our geographical neighbours, our present, and hopefully future, trading partners, and through Nato, military allies? Trying to improve the conditions under which Britain leaves the EU by threatening to reduce mutual cooperation over security is simply disgraceful, and deserves worldwide criticism. Refusing to inform neighbours of such things as security issues which may cause problems, recent movement of known terrorists or of people connected to terrorists, or the likelihood of terrorist action which may threaten lives, should not even be contemplated, let alone implied.
     Similarly, remarks like "a red, white and blue Brexit" are not, as Rawnsley describes them, "vacuous guff", but deeply worrying, especially as this paper over the last few months, has emphasised May`s careful and deliberate use of language. It`s as if this arrogant government`s main tactic is to give offence to all 27 EU members, so that a "no deal" solution is inevitable, which is exactly what the "Brexextremists on this side of the channel" want. That way we end up with a low-tax, de-regulated and offshore Britain, shrunk back to levels last seen in the 1930s, which has been the Tory plan since Cameron`s time. Having a corporate tax of 10% might well benefit the economy of Gibraltar, but it certainly doesn`t encourage neighbourly goodwill!

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Who speaks for liberal Britain?

Jason Cowley asks "who will speak for liberal Britain", but as long as the New Statesman includes pieces by such writers as Rachel Johnson, and takes such a blinkered view of the continuance of unnecessary austerity policies under May, the answer, sadly, is not "this magazine" (Editor`s note, 31st March, 2017)! Cowley rightly says that Cameron`s England "was characterised by public penury and private ostentation", but then adds that "Labour activists were sickened", as if no-one else was disgusted at the way the Tories were deliberately targeting the weakest and most vulnerable in our society.
Of course, Corbyn was seen as "an alternative", and again sadly, he has not been the "inspirational leader" for whom we had hoped, but criticising his front bench as "the least qualified" in Labour`s history is misguided (Corbyn`s failure is no excuse for fatalism, 31st March, 2017). Presumably their lack of Oxbridge honours degrees means they cannot make considered judgements based on fairness, or perhaps be taken seriously by parliamentary colleagues and commentators? This, of course, is outrageous! Can no-one else remember the complete hash made of the shadow education secretary`s job by the very well qualified Tristram Hunt, who was so out of touch with state education, he advocated teachers taking an oath, and suggested all state-educated pupils lacked "character and resilience"?  Osborne`s Oxbridge qualifications did not prevent him making mistake after mistake as Chancellor.
 At least the article did throw a challenge down to Labour`s so-called "best and brightest MPs" to "prove their worth". Instead of sulking because of their dislike of Corbyn, they owe it to the country, let alone their constituents, to oppose the Tories. They should realise Corbyn`s policies, like Stephen Bush clearly does, are not "hard-left", and can be part of an attractive election manifesto (Politics, 31st March, 2017). The Tories are not moving to the right because of the weakness of the opposition; they still have the same aim as in 2010, to "shrink the state" back to levels last seen in the 1930s, and all of "liberal Britain" should be united against them, centr-left press included.


Saturday, 8 April 2017

Beatle songs could save economy!

Yesterday, or perhaps it was the night before, I read Larry Elliott`s article, where he wrote about Project Fear, the Beatles` tribute band, "predicting immediate recession in the event of a Brexit vote" (Brexit may be just the crisis we need to cast off the status quo,01/04/17). He also wrote something about things only getting better when businesses and individuals are forced  to get back "out of their comfort zone" to increase productivity. The word is that it won`t be long before help arrives, because soon government and businesses will come together, and realise the end of the economy running on "worryingly high levels of debt" is essential, and that the "saving ratio", currently 3.3%, has to be increased (Debt fears loom as savings hit record low, 01/04/17). This means more money has to be provided, the minimum wage and savings rates have to rise, and firms have to invest in new technology, or face the wrath of the taxman.

  Ending misery doesn`t require a revolution, but a government working for no one but the rich has to realise there`s a place beyond Austerity-UK, and what goes on there matters!

Thursday, 6 April 2017

i letter on the "May doctrine"

Well said, Simon Kelner (Theresa May - so passionate about the wrong things, 0504/17)! If only our increasingly ridiculous prime minister expressed "such passionate disapproval" in Saudi Arabia about its multitude of crimes against humanity, rather than reserving her outrage for the National Trust, and "preached a gospel of reason and consideration", she would at least be attempting to unite our clearly divided country.
 Instead May`s insistence, that her "doctrine" is that everything her government does "is in our British national interest", simply means principles and ethics no longer matter. Presumably. we will continue to sell arms to any country, regardless of how and where they are used, and trade with any murderous dictator.
  Is it not in "our British national interest" to ensure our health and education services are properly funded, workers are paid sufficiently so that children are not brought up in poverty, and food banks are made a thing of the past?


Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Lord Howard`s omissions

What Lord Howard unsurprisingly omitted to mention, in his "inflammatory comments" about Gibraltar, is that when Thatcher sent the task force "against another Spanish-speaking country", she was way behind in the polls (Tories fire off warnings on future of Gibraltar, 03/04/17). The Falklands crisis was the result of diplomacy being abandoned in favour of the prime minister`s political gamble.
   The same thing happening again over Gibraltar cannot, however, be ruled out; someday soon, the electoral penny will drop, the truth about helping the "just about managing", and other such unfulfilled promises, will be revealed, and May will need a pre-election boost! 

Monday, 3 April 2017

Parliamentary watchdogs?As if

The news that the chairman of the committee of standards in public life reacted to Osborne`s shameless greed by saying ," We have not ruled out MPs having second jobs up until now, but we now have to look again at our rules", is only slightly encouraging (Morning Star,20/03/17). With far too many MPs having lucrative second jobs, major changes are unlikely: Lord Bew`s response should be seen as rhetoric rather than serious policy.
     The fact is that the breed, previously known as "parliamentary watchdogs" is now extinct, with the much more obedient cockapoo taking over. Of course, editing the London Evening Standard and being a worthwhile MP is impossible, and Osborne might get a reprimand, but only because the Tory brand is being brought into disrepute.
       Osborne accepted the editorship without first receiving official permission from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments, which apparently scrutinises commercial positions for former ministers. Doesn`t this reveal the irrelevance of this toothless committee? "Watchdog" indeed!

       The idea that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority is actually the MPs` "expenses watchdog" is equally misleading, especially judging by its recent decision regarding MPs employing family members. Members of MPs` families who are already employed  will be allowed to continue to work after 2020, so the widespread practice, despite receiving widespread criticism from the public, will continue; the ban only applies after 2020 to "new connected parties"!
   That it`s acceptable for over one hundred MPs to continue to employ relatives at the taxpayers` expense, even though Ipsa admitted that it`s "out of step with modern employment practice", beggars belief. Yet more cockapoo poo!