Monthly Archives: June 2011

Gove: “Won’t someone think of the children”?

The  government approach to the public sector strikes – particularly the teacher’s strike tomorrow – is quite simply, appalling. In response to the teacher’s strike, the government has resorted to the classic tactic of using emotional  blackmail and blatant misrepresentations to try and sway public opinion in their favour. All of a sudden, single parents matter when they never mattered to them before. The children – the pupils – are also being dragged into this. “Won’t someone think of them”? But these words are hollow and insincere and amount to little more than public relations gimmicks. That shouldn’t surprise us: since they came to power, the Tories have relied rather heavily on PR. I thought Blair was pretty bad for his addiction to PR but Cameron is a former PR man; he lives and breathes it.  Never before has a someone with a background in PR occupied the highest office in the land. It is a first. But his efforts to make use of PR looks a little tired and clichéd.

Teachers have gone on strike before, yet given the rhetoric coming from the mouths of the Tories, it would seem that this was the very first time that teachers have voted for industrial action. Teachers are now painted variously as “irresponsible” and “selfish” people who are more concerned with their unions than with teaching. Predictably,  right wing commentators like  the Daily Telegraph’s Hon Tobes and Katharine Burbalsingh have chimed in with their smears and dark mutterings of “leftist conspiracies”. I won’t bother to quote or link to their blogs but needless to say the blogs all attract the usual rubbish from their braindead readership about banning trade unions and how the ‘left’ is ‘destroying education’. 

Burbalsingh’s blog draws on this Torygraph article by Graham Paton et al. In it, he accuses the National Union of Teachers (NUT) of “bullying” headteachers into going on strike. The opening paragraph reads,

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has written to schools throughout England and Wales telling them they could be in breach of employment law and health and safety regulations if they keep schools open during the pensions-related dispute.

What this paragraph doesn’t tell you is that Gove, resembling a weak-kneed version of Kitchener, has suggested that parents could volunteer to keep schools open. What Gove overlooked was the fact that anyone who works in a school needs to have a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check. Any headteacher who allows parents to act as ersatz teachers would be breaking the law. This is not about the omnipresent ‘red tape’. This is a matter of child protection. The NUT was right to warn headteachers of such issues. Indeed, just because someone is a parent, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they cannot be child-abusers as well.

Further down the article,

As tensions between ministers and union activists escalated, schools were warned against bringing in supply teachers to cover for striking teachers and told any moves to plug gaps in the timetable with permanent staff would be “very damaging” to morale.

But then who says that supply teachers aren’t and cannot be members of trade unions? It’s a terrible presumption.

The strike is only for one day but to hear Tory commentators talk, you’d think it was for a month. As someone pointed out to me the other day, no Tory had a problem with the days lost for the Royal Wedding. Indeed the Tory press has depicted the teacher’s strike as a regular occurrence. The last such strike was in 2008. This is what the Guardian said in 2010 when the NASUWT threatened to strike,

The last teachers’ strike was in April 2008, when at least 1 million children in 8,000 schools went without lessons after the NUT, which represents more than half of the profession, clashed with the government over a pay deal that it said would leave its members worse off. It was the first national teachers’ strike for 21 years.

That’s right, before 2008, teachers hadn’t voted for a national strike for 21 years!

The Sun’s tone is as you’d expect,

IT is time to make a stand.

 On Thursday, a hardcore of militant teachers will try to shut all Britain’s 23,000 state schools by striking over pensions.

 It would harm pupils and cause family childcare chaos.

The Sun says this cynical strike must not succeed.

Today we call on parents and the majority of moderate teachers to keep schools open.

 For decades, education has been in the grip of hardline teaching unions.

There’s one thing missing from this leader: an image of Winston Churchill giving the ‘V’ Sign. In typically hysterical fashion, the Scum have dubbed the strike “The Summer of Hate”. You will recall from this blog, that the word “hate” has now been conscripted to serve ideological masters. For years the US right in have used the word in the same way to claim the moral high ground. Is it childish? You bet it is.

Even Ed Miliband has said the strike is wrong. Are we still in the 1980’s? Milly Band says,

You do not win public backing for an argument about pensions by inconveniencing the public – especially not while negotiations are ongoing.

 A point has been missed by a country mile here. The government told the public sector workers what it intended to do (while labelling them parasites) and it had no time for negotiation. Only as the strike day approached did the government consider negotiation. Lest we forget, on 17 June, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander preempted negotiations between the government and the unions by announcing the coalition’s intentions for public sector pension ‘reform’.

This Tory-led government has been gunning for education since it came to power. They introduced free schools. They announced that they were going ask Niall Ferguson to rewrite the history syllabus, then it cancelled the Better Schools Programme.  “Won’t someone think of the children”? Won’t someone think of them, indeed.

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John Galliano, casual anti-Semitism and Ezra Pound

I don’t follow fashion and I despise the fashion industry. Out of all the arts, fashion is probably the least politically and socially engaged of all the forms. Its leading ‘lights’ are self-congratulatory and self-obsessed. Some, like John Galliano, are either completely clueless or wilfully ignorant of history. So when I’d heard that Galliano had been accused of anti-Semitism, I wasn’t at all surprised.

Galliano’s excuse for his outburst is that he is addicted to drink. Nowhere Towers believes this is a feeble excuse and suspects that Galliano is being dishonest and is really an anti-Semite at heart. In all of the talk about the incident, no one has once mentioned the fact that he models his appearance (and perhaps his thinking) on Ezra Pound.

For those who aren’t familiar, Ezra Pound was an expatriate American poet who lived in Britain in the early part of the 20th century. He was friends with T S Eliot, another expat American, whose poems he published. He also helped to shape the work of Hemingway and Joyce. Pound wrote for Wyndham Lewis’ (who was also an anti-Semite) literary magazine BLAST and coined the word “Vorticism”, which was the British inflection of futurism. Pound was appalled by the loss of lives in WWI, which he blamed on “international finance and usury” – these words are often employed euphemistically by anti-Semites to refer to Jews.  Initially attracted to  CH Douglas’s social credit ideas, he became a fascist in 1924. He wrote anti-Semitic articles for Action,  Oswald Moseley’s newspaper. He dabbled in economics too…but no one took him seriously.

He lived in Italy during WWII and broadcasted anti-Semitic propaganda for the fascist government.  When the Allies invaded Sicily in 1943, he fled north. Days after Mussolini was shot, he was captured by partisans, who later released him. Fearing the game was up, he and his wife surrendered to the US Counter-intelligence Corps in Genoa. He was imprisoned. He was later examined by psychiatrists, who concluded that Pound had had a mental breakdown. It should be noted that Pound was an early advocate of the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.  If that sounds surprising, then we should remember that Zionism was not popular among the majority of Europe’s Jews and was seen, and rightly so, as a playing into the hands of anti-Semites.

So now Galliano is awaiting his fate. He claims that he isn’t anti-Semitic or racist and yet, it seems, he has plenty of previous form. Besides, racism seems to be rife in the fashion industry.  This blog says,

Issues around racism within the fashion industry aren’t new. Every few months, it seems, a new incident takes place: models being photographed in blackface (Claudia Schiffer in 2010 and Lara Stone in 2009); non-white models dressed in “tribal” clothing (most recently at the 2010 Victoria’s Secret fashion show); all-white runway shows (Fall 2008 is perhaps the most infamous example, but despite media coverage of the issue, the trends have continued); all-white fashion editorials in some of the most influential magazines; and, in seeming apology, the cliched “black issue,” dedicated  to models of color (see, most recently, Vogue Italia, 2008).  Influential people of color within the fashion industry have been speaking out for years, but the situation remains bleak.  With such a pitiful record, it’s little wonder that the hiring of a white editor for Essence magazine was met with such outcry.

Galliano’s defence reminds me of the oft-used defence of the 1970’s, “It was just a joke…can’t you take a joke”? Well, call me humourless but racism is racism and it doesn’t matter if it is masked by jocularities. In fact, that makes it worse.

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Hammersmith & Fulham: the most rotten borough?

The Tories at Hammersmith & Fulham Council tell us that they’re “open and transparent”. In fact, they say a lot of things, most of which is backslapping, self-congratulatory bullshit.  But the Council has been the subject of more “Rotten Borough” stories in Private Eye than any other council since Westminster’s frequent appearances in the magazine during the 1980’s. Shepherds Bush blog and HFConwatch both tell us that the council has featured in the magazine’s “Rotten Boroughs” a record six times.

I watched the Politics Show on BBC1 last Sunday. Greg Smith, Young Britons’ Foundation campaigns director and LBHF Cabinet Member for Residents Services (yes, I couldn’t quite believe it when I first saw it either) was trying to defend the Council’s decision to buy space in the Fulham Chronicle for £75,000.  Responding to local MP, Andy Slaughter’s charge that the paper was now pushing the Council’s propaganda, Smith claimed that the paper carried the council’s  “events listings” but isn’t this the job of an independent local paper anyway? Why does the council have to buy column space to disseminate this kind of information?  Oddly enough, no mention was made of the censoring of an advertisement for the Parents Alliance for Community Schools or Slaughter’s column in the paper.

Curiously enough, before the Chronicle was paid £75k by the Council, I never once received the paper through my letter box. Yesterday, there it was on my doormat, as bold as brass, masquerading as an independent local newspaper. What amuses me is the way the Council tries to defend its purchase of the paper column space by claiming that it needs to have its notices printed somewhere. As far as I’m aware, all local newspapers do this for free anyway.  You will always find planning notices in the back pages of local papers. Even the Biggleswade Chronicle prints such notices and has done for many, many years. Why did it cost LBHF £75k to do this?

Cllr Smith (quoted from the Shepherds Bush blog) said

Let’s look at the reality of the situation: Without the advertising contract the Council has with the Chronicle, the STATUTORY planning notices alone would cost £120,000. We get them for £75,000 along with free advertising for things like asking people to come forward as foster carers and the double page spread which we use for events listings, informing people of road closures etc.

 It makes you wonder how councils managed in the past, doesn’t it? Perfectly well, it seems.

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The neoliberal consensus: a nice little stitch-up

Many people, including me, have remarked on how Tony Blair was more Tory than Labour. When he won the 1997 General Election, one of the first things he did was to invite Thatcher around to Number 10. Some people said this is what newly elected PMs do; it was a mark of respect and courtesy. Of course, that’s a fallacy: Thatcher didn’t invite Sunny Jim Callaghan around for tea nor did John Major. In 2005, David Cameron told the press that he was “the heir to Blair”. This was no slip of the tongue. He meant every word of it.

According to The Independent’s Steve Richards, an informal alliance was formed between Blair and Cameron. This is the neoliberal consensus.

For David Cameron there is a much more significant alliance than the one with Nick Clegg, a coming together that has defined his leadership from the beginning and will do so until the end. The alliance is not formal and never will be, but it is at the heart of his project as leader in a way the Liberal Democrats are not.

I am referring to the informal alliance between Cameron and Tony Blair, one that extends to some of those who worked closely on policy with the former Labour prime minister. The partnership started when Cameron as the new Conservative leader supported Blair’s school reforms in 2006. Cameron went on to make the mischievous yet sincere observation that the Labour leader evidently wanted to go further and would do so if it were not for his wretched party and chancellor. The heir to Blair assured him that he would carry on with the reforms when he won a general election. He has done so.

The rapport goes well beyond two leaders. The Education Secretary, Michael Gove, a close ally of Cameron’s, describes himself without irony as a Blairite. Famously he and others at the top of the Conservative Party regard Blair’s memoirs as the equivalent of the Bible. Blair reciprocates. His interview in The Sun yesterday was reported as an endorsement of Cameron’s policies and a warning to “Red Ed”. The actual quotes were no different to those he had delivered in various broadcast interviews last week, but it does not take very much to present them as The Sun did. Blair appears to broadly support Cameron’s public service reforms, and in his memoir argued in favour of George Osborne’s contentious deficit-cutting strategy.

You can read the rest here.

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Scapegoats and brickbats: the government’s assault on the public sector

The Tories need a scapegoat. They always need scapegoats. In the 1980’s the scapegoats were Labour-controlled local authorities (dubbed ‘Loony Left’ by the Tory press), the trade unions, gays, lesbians and ethnic minorities. These days, the scapegoats are public sector workers and the public sector generally. Trade unions still come in for flak from the Tories. This morning they were unwittingly helped by Labour’s Ed Balls, who chipped in by urging (if that’s the right word) the unions not to walk into the government’s “trap”.  The Labour Party clearly hasn’t learned the lessons of the 1980’s and when Balls produces nonsense like this,  it’s easy to see why Labour are out of power (hands up, who wants Blue Labour?). What Balls has done is to express cowardice. Rather than face down the government, Balls and the rest of the front bench try to avoid confrontation and in doing so, make themselves look weak and pathetic. Anyone would think that they didn’t want the votes of trade unionists.

The government and its allies in the media have been quite keen to misrepresent public sector workers. Perhaps the most popular myth in circulation is the one that claims that all public sector workers are well-paid and will get extremely generous pensions when they retire. The fact of the matter is that, as with most other wages, public sector pay has been stagnant for years. Forget what you’ve heard about council chief executives’ salaries, those who do all the dirty work on the frontline are being paid a fraction of that. Many public sector workers are on the National Minimum Wage and can expect to recieve pensions of around £4,000 and yet this government wants these people to pay more towards their pensions (which will decrease in real terms). Why? Because they need someone to blame. They need to hammer the public sector so that they can press ahead with their plan to privatize those social functions that are left. Only today, Cameron revealed the following plans to give people more “power” (sic). The Sunday Times (which I cannot quote because it’s behind a paywall) claims that Lord Snooty wants to give people  “individual budgets” so that they can “buy” services. From The Independent,

Allowing the elderly to choose how money is spent on their care;

Enabling people with long-term health conditions to choose their own therapies;

Giving parish councils powers to take control of local parks, playing fields, parking and traffic restrictions;

Allowing parents of children with special needs to make their own decisions about schooling.

What all this amounts to is a further assault on the public sector. Soon local authorities will only exist to rubber stamp the diktats of private providers. But this is only the tip of the iceberg: before we know it, education will subjected to the same treatment with schools being forced into the voucher system. As for empowerment, this is noticeably absent. Giving real political power to people is something that this government is keen to avoid. There is no way that the government wants to allow us plebians a say in how decisions are made. That would be too much like real democracy.

So what happens when you run out of funding? Well, the government hasn’t thought that far ahead.  Given the number of hare-brained ideas that trip from the lips of ministers, some might say that the government isn’t capable of thinking at all. In today’s Telegraph, Danny Alexander reiterated the government’s position,

Mr Alexander insisted that ministers wanted a ”constructive dialogue” with the unions – but indicated that this would be restricted to the detail of how the changes would be implemented.

Nowhere Towers believes that the government has behaved high-handedly towards the unions by telling them that they will only negotiate  when the unions accept the government’s plan. This is the wrong way to go about negotiations. In the same article, former Labour pensions minister and closet Tory, John Hutton added his thoughts,

”They are the basis on which we want to go forward and reform public-service pensions, but of course in these discussions we need to look at the detail of how that works, about how these things are implemented,” he told the Murnaghan programme.

”What we have to get to is a situation where, yes, people have to work a bit longer and contribute a bit more, as we have put forward, but that we maintain the quality of their pensions into the future.”

Reform is the word being used here but reform almost always means cuts, redundancies and unwanted and unnecessary changes to working conditions.  The unions have no choice but to go on strike. If they didn’t strike, they would be failing their members and, for that matter, all those working people who aren’t fortunate enough to be able to earn a living from rents, dividends, shares, trust funds and daddy’s allowance.

The largest one-day strike since the General Strike of 1926 will take place on 30 June. Doing nothing is not an option.

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Filed under Big Society, Conservative Party, Cuts, Government & politics, Labour, Public spending

Young Britons’ Foundation on “How to win an argument”

I found this on the homepage of the YBF website. I’d love to see what ‘skills’ they teach their young shock troops. I’m willing to bet that dialectics is absent from the syllabus.

“How to Win an Argument” Skills Training Workshop

YBF are pleased to announce the details of our 2011/2012 Skills Training Workshop Programme.

The Young Britons’ Foundation is widely recognized as the leading provider of state-of-the-art political training to conservative activists in Britain. Each workshop will be taken by a leading expert in their field and you will have the opportunity to receive one on one training and advice throughout the days training.

Due to a high demand for places YBF are releasing details of each workshop every day this week and payment and registration for the workshop programme will begin on Monday 20th June at 10:00am.

There are two discounts available for this years skills workshop programme (see below for details). If you are interested in either the block booking discount or the group discount please contact Operations Director, Emma Carr

I wonder if they’ll teach them about logical fallacies and how not to use them?

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Let’s talk about: mandates, unions and strikes

With a public sector strike looming, the Tories are questioning the legitimacy of the numbers of those union members who have voted to go out on strike. Although those voting in favour were in the majority, the turnout was as low as 29%.

But the Tories forget something: most by-elections attract a turnout of around 30%; sometimes less. Yet, in spite of the low turnout, a candidate is elected to parliament with no questions asked about such poor numbers. Many local authorities are also elected on similar turnouts – some of those councils, incidentally, are Tory-controlled councils. In fact,  the turnout for local elections in Britain is the lowest in Europe.  Indeed, some of their own MPs were elected on low turnouts. But not a peep from them about this.

Recently, the likes of Vince Cable, Boris Johnson and now, Francis Maude have all threatened to introduce tougher anti-union legislation if the unions ‘cripple the economy’, which is just another way of passing the buck and covering for the fact that the government is clueless in its approach to the nation’s finances.  In today’s Guardian, Maude said that he and the rest of the government “had not ruled out” tougher legislation. Interestingly enough, one of the unions that voted to strike was the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. The ATL, as far as I know, has never gone out on strike. But this doesn’t stop the Telegraph’s gobshite-in-chief from spouting rubbish about “hardcore Trotskyites”. The ATL is usually known for  encouraging and allowing strike-breaking among its members in its Further Education section.  Of course, The Hon Tobes, being the ignoramus that he is, completely ignores the union’s history to get in a spot of union-bashing.

Having debated Mary Bousted on numerous occasions (see here, for instance), I don’t doubt that she’s completely sincere in her belief that Michael Gove’s education reforms will have a negative impact on state education. She’s wrong, of course, but she’s entitled to use the public platform granted to her by her union to put her case as strongly as possible.

But to go further than this and exploit her members’ anxiety about pension reforms to pursue her own ideological agenda is unacceptable. Whatever her political views, she and her trade union have an obligation to abide by the decision of the British people and respect the will of its elected representatives. To call a strike this summer would not only be an unforgivable attack on our schoolchildren, it would be an affront to democracy.

This Tory-led government is committed to making public sector workers pay greater contributions towards their pensions. Hon Tobes wilfully misleads us when he claims that Mary Bousted is “exploiting her members’ anxiety”. The concern among public sector workers is very real. I wonder if he’s actually spoken to any teachers?

In today’s Torygraph, Maude said,

For the parents – particularly if you’re a single mother who’s working and you’re dependant on the school being open and your child being at school – when that school randomly closes down when all the discussions about the dispute are still going on, people are going to be quite angry about that.

This is an odd statement, particularly as the Tories have repeatedly shown little sympathy for the plight of single parents. But, once again, Maude seems to think that it’s only women who are single parents. But none of us should be surprised by the impoverished thinking among members of the current government. This comment from Hon Tobes blog perfectly illustrates the widespread and wilful ignorance that pervades the party,

If Bob Hawke could fire all the domestic airline pilots in Australia and Ronnie Regan could fire all the air traffic controllers in the USA with neither action really impairing the airline industry, why not fire all the striking teachers. British education is a sad joke and it would be the ideal time to start afresh, completely afresh. A good first point would be to start teaching kids to read phonetically.
This commenter doesn’t think about the process involved in training and, more importantly, retaining teachers. In his/her mind they can all be easily replaced. Presumably this commenter would just as well employ unqualified teaching assistants as teachers. As I mentioned, one of the biggest problems for the education sector is the retention of teaching staff. Many newly-qualified teachers (NQTs) leave the profession in the first year. But this fact appears to have passed the Tories by.
Not only are the days long gone when teachers could consider themselves particularly poorly paid, they still have greater job security and longer holidays than most. High investment in education over many years has seen salaries rise – and rightly so, since attracting and rewarding good teachers is important for the country. But equally, many children are leaving school without even the basic standards of literacy and numeracy, shortcomings for which the profession must take a large share of the blame. Strike action will hardly help matters: it will be damaging to the children and deeply inconvenient for parents, who will have to organise
child care or take time off work.
This idea that teachers have “longer holidays than most” simply isn’t true. During those supposed holidays, most teachers are marking, researching or preparing lessons. Then there’s the stress, the pushy or aggressive parents that need to be dealt with. The endless paperwork. The form-filling. The long hours.
There is a notion in ciculation that the state school system is inherently left-wing and damaging the minds of the nation’s children and,on the other hand there is another that supposes that teachers and other public sector workers are a drain on the nation’s life-force. This image has been partly concocted by the Tories’ allies in the media to create a new Other; a new enemy within for our times.  Public sector workers are variously portrayed in the right wing press as bloodsuckers and greedy bastards. They are seen as the ones who are the obstacle to the nation’s economic recovery. In the Tory imagination, society is represented as an upside down pyramid: the most powerful are at the bottom while the rest of us are on the top, pushing down, oppressing the millionaires and billionaires. It’s a Randist fantasy.
 Good night, everyone!

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