Tag Archives: Niall Ferguson

The Scottish Independence Referendum: Some Historical Perspectives

The closer we get to the date of the Scottish independence referendum, the more bizarre and ludicrous the Unionists’ arguments (well, narratives actually) become. One such argument concerns an independent Scotland’s continued use of the pound sterling. “No, you can’t use it” screams George Osborne but hang on, don’t the Isle of Man, Gibraltar and the Channel Islands, all of which are independent, use the pound? Yes, they do. Then there’s the question of national borders. Last week, The Mail on Sunday interviewed Ed Miliband, who apparently claimed if Labour win next year’s General Election, his government would consider putting guards on the border between Scotland and England. But I wonder if Mr Ed, in his moment of petulance, realised that the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland is effectively open and this has officially been the case since 1993? Even when the Irish Republic was declared, the border was lightly patrolled, if at all. Consequently, Labour members have been quick to claim that Miliband’s views had been “misrepresented”, but I suspect that they’re being dishonest.

I have seen some Labourites and self-described socialists complain that a vote for independence is a vote for the Scottish National Party. It isn’t. In case they weren’t paying attention, this is about independence and nothing else. Others make even wilder assertions, claiming that Scottish independence will lead to fascism north of the border because the SNP is really like the British National Party (sic). Really? This is a country where the far-right have fared worse than their cousins south of the border. Fascism has no traction in Scotland. Many Unionists on the political Right, like historical revisionist, Niall Ferguson, try to channel the Darien Scheme and summon up the ghosts of Scotland’s single failed colonial episode to deal a hammer blow to the idea of independence. This is an event that happened over 300 years ago. Isn’t it time to move on? Apparently not. A peevish and newly-bearded Ferguson, appearing on Newsnight on Monday, went from comparing a potentially independent Scotland to the US state of Colorado (presumably because it legalized the sale and consumption of cannabis earlier this year) to making specious connections with Belarus and Moldova. The desperation! Iain Martin of the Telegraph moaned that Newsnight had “finally found a historian other than Tom Devine”. He, of course, meant Ferguson, who’s defended neoliberalism by rewriting the history of capitalism from the perspective of the powerful, and writing out those on whose backs great fortunes were made. Devine, on the other hand, was a Unionist but defected to the Yes camp a few months ago. Given his slippery grasp of history, Ferguson is not a man I’d trust to make a logical and reasoned case for the continuation of the Union. But this really is the best the Unionists can offer. Have you seen who else they’ve got onboard? Uh huh, look away now.

Since the beginning, the ‘No’ campaign has used hectoring, threats, petulance, outright bullying and yes, lies to try and convince the Scottish people to side en masse with their dismal campaign. Indeed their behaviour is reminiscent of English Unionists in the months before the passage of the Act of Union in 1707.  The idea of union was so unpopular with the common people that when the draft of the Act was made public, riots ensued. Aware of the Act’s unpopularity, the English bribed and cajoled the Scottish nobles into accepting it. The poet, Robert Burns, observed:

We’re bought and sold for English Gold,

Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation.

The gold was distributed to aristocrats and some of the money was used to hire spies like Daniel Defoe, who reported “A Scots rabble is the worst of its kind, for every Scot in favour there is 99 against”. Today, the Unionists offer more devolution, which is no doubt backed with more gold for wealthy landowners and businessmen. As for spies, they may well be operating on the ground. Plus ça change.

The 1707 Act was passed by the Scottish Parliament by 106 to 69 votes. By doing so, Parliament had ignored the wishes of the people and effectively voted for its own extinction. The Treaty of Union contained 25 articles, most of these were economic, while the other articles dealt with symbols. Many Scottish nobles, like the Campbells of Argyll (Archibald Campbell, the 3rd Duke of Argyll was even educated at Eton), were absentees and had taken up residence in London and the South-East, but still ruled over their clan from afar.

The Act of Union was so poisonous that it invited insurrection in the form of the Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745. This reveals something else about English motives behind the Act: it was designed to prevent Scots from choosing their own monarch – even if the monarch was Protestant. In the aftermath of the rebellions, the Highland Clearances forced communities from the land . The wearing of tartan, the playing of bagpipes and the speaking of Gàidhlig (Scottish Gaelic) were proscribed by law. Thus, the Union was enforced culturally as well as economically. There were similar clearances in the Scottish Lowlands.

Yes, Scotland was poorer than England, which had overseas possessions and material wealth (partly through legitimizing piracy with its privateers armed with guns and letters of marque). It is true that the Darien Scheme bankrupted Scotland, but the idea that the Act of Union was promulgated on the basis of English altruism is patently absurd. This lie has been magically transformed into a handy myth to be invoked in response to the case for independence and I’ve seen it used many times. England had always wanted to dominate Scotland and, indeed, it continues to do so, economically, to this day. North Sea oil, which was discovered off the Scottish coast in the 1960s was later used to finance tax cuts for wealthy, mainly English, capitalists. A sovereign fund could have been established with the royalties (Tony Benn had proposed this when he created the British National Oil Company in the late 70s), as Norway had done, but Thatcher and her Tory ministers regarded it as an opportunity to have a piss up at the expense of ordinary people. In other words, the money made from this Scottish asset was used to shore up the same kind of people who supported the Act of Union in the first place. Ordinary Scots, aside from those working in the oil and gas industry, haven’t fared so well. The heavy industries like shipbuilding that had so dominated cities like Glasgow are but a memory.

The Poll Tax was first introduced in Scotland, apparently because, according to Ian Lang, the Rugby School-educated Tory Secretary of State for Scotland, it would appeal to the Scottish ‘sense of fairness’. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The Poll Tax ensured that Scottish Tory MPs became less common as the 1990s wore on. Only one Tory was returned to Westminster in 2010. The Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament are also in decline. Most Tory MSPs sit in the chamber thanks to the regional lists.

One thing that I have always found amusing when travelling across the English-Scottish border is the difference between the national signs. If you’re travelling from south to north you will be greeted by signs that read “Welcome to Scotland” but if you travel in the opposite direction, the sign simply says “England”. What? No welcome? In some small way, this sums up the difference between the two countries. One sign is friendly and welcoming, while the other may as well say “You’re in England now. What more did you expect? A hug”?

There’s talk that the Scottish independence referendum will finally prompt long overdue debates on the way politics is done in the rest of Britain. It is clear that the current Westminster arrangement is damaging the country. Westminster politics, for the most part, are corrupt; rotten to its core and is in desperate need of a good kicking. The Union is stale and backward-looking, and draws on an imagined past that is replete with the redundant symbols of prestige (think of the honours system and the House of Lords). Scottish independence could change all that.

Vive l’Ecosse! Saor Alba!

 

 

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Filed under Government & politics, Scotland, Scottish Independence Referendum

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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My Coalition verdict: What a shower

The title of this blog is borrowed from a series of similar blog titles in yesterday’s  Torygraph.  As you’d expect, all of them heap praise on their Tory brethren and pour scorn on their Lib Dem coalition partners. None of them claim that the coalition is a “shower”, though clearly many of them wish the Tories had an unassailable majority. But we don’t always get what we want in life, do we? The coalition has been in place for one year and in that year, it has waged war on the poor, the unemployed, the low-waged, the disabled, students and anyone who does not fit into their vision of the perfect society. In fact the word “society” has been absent from their minds as they pursue an ideologically-driven agenda of cuts.

The way in which the coalition parties have used the excuse of the structural deficit to push through cuts has been dishonest. In fact, this coalition government finds it difficult to be consistent. First, it talks about the national debt, then it talks about budget and structural deficits and tries to erroneously compare these things – as Thatcher did – with household finances. They tell us that “Britain’s credit card is maxed out” . Rubbish. The country doesn’t have a “credit card” and it can still raise money on the international bond markets. In spite of what the Con-Dem government and their allies tell us, Britain is far from being broke. There is money in this country but it’s all concentrated in the hands of a small number of people.

The sad truth is that the vast majority of the public haven’t got a clue when it comes to deficits and debts and the government use this ignorance to their advantage. This dishonesty is reproduced by the Telegraph’s bloggers, who are all keen to impress upon us the need to accept reductions in public spending, which the government tries to present as either ‘localism’ or ’empowerment’.

If they want to talk about household finances, perhaps they could start dealing with stagnating wages and the ever-rising cost of living. Britain’s household debt is higher than it’s ever been, yet the government seems quite happy for this situation to continue. At the beginning of this year, the rate of VAT was increased from 17.5% to 20%, which has meant that many things have increased in price – including food which, although free of VAT, is subject to VAT through production and distribution costs.

Education has been area where the Tories have sought to make their mark.  While paying lip service to the idea of education for all, they’ve been pushing forward their divisive idea for free schools. Free schools, in spite of what their supporters and this government tells us, sucks funding away from existing schools.  In Further and Higher Education, they’ve caused the biggest stink by scrapping the Educational Maintenance Allowance and imposing swingeing cuts on universities, which has prompted many universities to raise their tuition fees to the higher level of £9,000 per annum. The curriculum is also about to be colonized by ideology.  The subject of history is going to be rewritten to serve the narrow interests of the state. The revisionist historian, Niall Ferguson has been asked to devise a new history syllabus that will focus on such things as the greatness of empire. In many of the post-1992 universities, arts, humanities and social science courses are being cut because they are seen to be ‘soft’. However the real reason for cutting social sciences and humanities courses is because they teach critical thinking. Say hello to “by-rote” learning.

The Tories have also been keen to misrepresent social housing in their efforts to claim that

  1. All social tenants are  ‘scroungers’
  2. Council housing is a drain on the nation’s finances
  3.  Social housing is “state” housing and
  4. It’s a form of welfare.

Their flagship councils, who have been emboldened by having their party in government, have each made attacks on council tenants.  Westminster City Council wants to raise tenants’ rents if their incomes increase. Hammersmith and Fulham Council have threatened West Kensington and the Gibbs Green estates with bulldozers as part of their ‘redevelopment’ plans for the area around the Earl’s Court complex. The Queen Caroline Estate in the Broadway ward has also been targeted. The word that is often used in conjunction with these plans is “vulnerable”. These two councils claim, as the government does, that social housing should be for the “most vulnerable”. So who qualifies as “vulnerable” and what happens to those people once they have ceased to be “vulnerable”? Will they be evicted after a couple of years?

Let’s look at another of the more common misrepresentations.  Early in their administration, the Tories claimed that there were millions lost through “widespread benefit overpayments”. It turned out that the numbers had been vastly inflated and the amount of money was only dwarfed by the amount lost to the exchequer through tax evasion and avoidance. While those of us on lower incomes have no choice but to pay tax, those people who earn the most find ways to wriggle out of paying it.

It’s time for a look at some of those Telegraph blogs. Here’s one from the Great Lord of Darkness that’s titled  “My Coalition verdict: Iain Duncan Smith scores high, Vince Cable scores low”

The once respected Vince Cable, now an object of derision, scores zero, while Ed Miliband gets 2 out of 10 and must work harder.

There’s only one problem: Miliband isn’t in the coalition, so why mention him?

Ed West also has a pop at Cable.

Biggest loser: Either of the two leading rattle-throwers, Vince Cable and Chris Huhne, who are going to destroy their party because they overestimate the size of their political constituency. “Progressives” comprise a fairly small portion of the British public, and even within the Left are outnumbered by Blue Labour social conservatives and Jack Straw-style authoritarians. They could probably all fit inside Chris Huhne’s living rooms.

Super-Catholic, Cristina Odone can’t resist the sitting duck either.

Biggest Loser: Vince Cable. Energy Minister Chris Huhne may resign from government, but no one really liked him much in the first place. Vince, instead, was the nation’s darling for his purported knowledge of the economy (his book The Storm was a best seller), charmingly romantic Desert Island disc performance, and his fancy footwork on Strictly Come Dancing. Then he  blew it, boasting about his importance to the Coalition. He now looks like a foolish, self-important old man who seems as out of touch with his colleagues as with the public that once cherished him. Sad.

I won’t bother quoting the rest because they all plough the same dull furrow.

The coalition started badly. In the space of 15 days it suffered its first ministerial scandal and resignation when crypto-Tory, David Laws was forced to hand his portfolio to the equally worthless, Danny Alexander.  Today, Laws has been suspended from the Commons for breaching parliamentary rules. He won’t be returning to government any time soon.

The Telegraph says,

He is expected to be ordered to apologise to Parliament and pay back tens of thousands of pounds after an investigation that resulted from a Daily Telegraph report last year.

It is the most serious punishment imposed on any parliamentarian by fellow MPs following the expenses scandal and is likely to block any return to government for Mr Laws.

The Prime Minister had hoped that Mr Laws, who was popular among Conservatives as well as Liberal Democrats, would return to the cabinet soon, but this has now been ruled out.

Ironically it was the Telegraph that broke the Laws expenses story. For someone with a great deal of personal wealth, why did he feel the need to cheat the taxpayer out of over £40,000? One word: arrogance.

It’s hard to see how this coalition can last another 4 years when the Conservatives are trying to find ways to divorce their partners. The Tories’ allies,  the bloggers and commentators at the Torygraph,  spend a great deal of time sticking pins into their Lib Dem voodoo dolls. With these kinds of tensions, it is only a matter of time before the coalition collapses and in the aftermath of the Lib Dems drubbing in the English local elections and their obliteration in Scotland, this can’t come soon enough.

Paddy Power is offering the following odds on the year of the next general election:

2011                  7/2

2012                  5/2

2013                   10/3

2014                   5/1

2015 or later  6/4

Those look like pretty good odds.  I’m almost tempted to have a punt.

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Life on Hannan World (Part 2)

That Littlejohn fella. He was right!

A couple of weeks ago, I had the misfortune of reading a blog in which Dear Dan cited the repugnant Richard Littlejohn. If you cite Littlejohn to support your argument, you’re at the top of a slippery slope.

First he says,

The grimly efficient Chris Grayling aims to rescue millions from this wretched state. Pilot tests run under the last government yielded astonishing results. When claimants were reassessed in Aberdeen and Burnley, 30 per cent of them were passed fit for work, and another 30 per cent classified as capable of some work.

Then he links to Littlejohn, Britain’s version of Rush Limbaugh.

To understand the magnitude of the task he faces, though, the minister should read this article by Richard Littlejohn (you have to scroll down to the penultimate entry). A woman from Essex was shifted from Jobseekers’ Allowance to Incapacity Benefit three years ago because she is allergic to rubber. The Department of Work and Pensions argued that such a condition needn’t preclude all forms of employment. According to the DWP lawyer: “Her allergy, although inconvenient, has not prevented her from leading a relatively normal life — shopping, socialising, travelling on public transport.” The judges, however, ruled in favour of the claimant: a decision that may encourage others to challenge their reassessment in court.

You can read the original Littlejohn article here but you need to scroll down the page to find the actual article titled “Our amazing India rubber benefit rules”.  If you look at the first article, you can see that it harks back to the 1980’s and the “Loony Left council” articles that filled the pages of the Tory tabloid press. These days, a few Torygraph bloggers use the same style. Plus ça change.

The title of Hannan’s blog is dishonest “Can 2.6 million people be too ill to work”?  Where does he get this figure from? You get the feeling Hannan is the sort of person who sees clinical depression as the ‘blues’ and a little ‘hard work’ will cure that. All they need to do is “snap out of it”. But it isn’t that easy if you suffer from depression.   Here’s the crux of the blog

Between 1971, when Invalidity Benefit was introduced, and the mid-1980s, there were typically around 700,000 claimants. Today, there are 2.6 million (the name was changed to Incapacity Benefit in 1995). We have, tragically, encouraged some people to arrange their affairs around qualifying for the allowance.

There’s only one problem with that figure. It’s wrong. But in order to ram the point home, he includes an image of Wayne and Waynetta Slob. Cheap.

This article from FullFact.org debunks the myth of 2.6 million.  It also does so here. Here’s a snippet,

The Department for Work and Pensions estimates that when they have completed the 1.5 million assessments 23 per cent of these people will be fit for work – not 94 per cent, or even 75 per cent. This demonstrates how misguided it is to apply a statistic related to ESA applicants across the board to all Incapacity Benefit claimants.

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Eh?

In another blog, Hannan apologizes for the Empire and gets in some praise for his hero, Enoch Powell. The blog has the title “In all the coverage of the atrocities in Kenya, two words are missing”. And which words are those, Dear Dan?

The British Empire was a surprisingly peaceable place. There were sporadic insurgencies, of course, and brutal wars in Ireland, India, Cyprus and Palestine; but many colonies were brought to independence without a shot being fired in anger.

This narrative of the Empire skips over many inconvenient truths to promote the idea that the British Empire – as opposed to the other empires – was, in spite of its evident failures,  a force for good. The rest of the paragraph gets a little confused.

The Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya was the exception. The mutineers were uncommonly ruthless, perpetrating monstrous atrocities against loyalist and neutral Kenyans, of whom nearly 3,000 were murdered. The response was commensurately severe: 1,090 terrorists were hanged and as many as 71,000 detained without due process.

On the one hand he condemns the actions of the so-called Mau Mau and on the other, he tells us that the response to the rebels (whom he refers to as mutineers) was severe. But this was always the response when native people were yoked to a greater, colonizing nation. They fight to wrest control of their land from the invader and will kill anyone who is seen as a collaborator. Presumably the resistance movements of World War II cut no ice?

In the second paragraph, he uses the atrocities committed at the Hola Camp to have a pop at the Guardian.

Abuses took place in the internment centres, culminating in the beating to death of eleven detainees by security guards at the Hola camp. Guardianistas, of course, slot the episode neatly into their evil-imperialists-versus-nice-natives narrative.

Mmmm, hmmm, Let’s read the rest,

But the point about the Hola killings is that they led to an outcry in the House of Commons, a wave of revulsion in the country, and a hastening of the independence process.

What he doesn’t mention is how long it took for anyone to complain.

Linking to this blog, he says,

I’m not a great fan of empires – we would have done far better to have carried on with our unofficial protectorates and trading outposts than to assume responsibility for large tracts of land – but there is little doubt that, as empires go, ours was relatively benign. Niall Ferguson makes the obvious but rarely remarked point that, for most of the countries under British dominion, the alternative was not unmolested evolution towards modernity, but conquest by someone else: France, Germany, Turkey, Russia, Japan or – worst of all – Belgium.

Yes, that’s the same Niall Ferguson who teaches what he and Carswell describe as “proper history”.  Are protectorates any less wrong that colonies? Not really, but this piece of lazy thinking implies that “if we hadn’t have colonized them,  some other power would have done so and the situation would have been much worse”. Belgium, as he rightly points out, was one of the worst colonizers. King Leopold II treated the Congo as his own personal property and subjected the natives to horrific and barbaric treatment. But the Congo was called  a “Free State”, that is to say, a country where the normal rule of law and civil and human rights are suspended in order to pursue a tidy profit.  It is an idea that gets most Randists moist. This site promotes the idea of a free state. But it’s a vision that exists outside of history and reality.  The BBC reports on the Lekki Free Trade Zone in Nigeria and tells us that other African countires are following suit. Is this another Scramble for Africa? Recently the government announced its intention to create so-called Enterprise Zones. Guess what that means for workers? The only people who get excited about these zones are parasites.

Ironically, the MP who brought the Hola Camp abuses to the attention of the Commons was the mercurial Enoch Powell, who would later go on to deliver his infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech. Powell was a fervent free-marketeer and like those who give unquestioning devotion to the classical liberal model, he promoted that idea in isolation from the historical facts. This blog is, as much as anything else, an effort to rehabilitate the reputation of Powell by constructing a new, kinder memory of him outside of the materialism of history. Thatcher appropriated the memory of Churchill and isolated his wartime premiership from the rest of his inglorious past. It was a mistake and it came back to haunt her.

On to today’s blog and Hannan claims that the money that this country (sic) has given to the Portuguese bailout could have been spent on

254,150 nurses (there are around 390,000 nurses in the NHS)

114,109 NHS doctors (more than the actual total of 110,000)

180,575 police constables (there are 170,000 police officers in the UK)

194,553 teachers (out of 450,000)

246,856 Army privates (as against 106,550 actual regulars, of all ranks)

What’s so ironic about his figures for doctors and nurses is that, not so long ago, he appeared on Fox News to tell the American people that the “NHS was a 60 year old mistake”.

This blog is a mix of anti-EU sensationalism and snide attacks on his political enemies.

He takes a cheap swipe at the March of the Alternative

So where is the “March for the Alternative”? Where are all the students, Socialist Workers and trade union activists who thronged through London just a couple of weeks ago?

At the end he adds this,

So where is the TUC? Where is UK Uncut? Where are all those who asserted last month that a much smaller sum meant the end of social security in Britain? Are they missing something? Or am I?

There are none so deaf as those that refuse to hear, Dan. Tell you what, if you’re so fired up about the bailout, why don’t you organize your own march? There’s nothing stopping you. Or maybe the Rally Against Debt, which has so far attracted little support and that he supported on his blog, is more his thing? I understand, that like Hon Tobes, he’s chickened out of appearing at the rally. The fact of the matter is that the bailout of Portugal is part of a series of mistakes made by countries who adopted the neoliberal economic model in an attempt to play with the big boys of the G20 nations. This is the same economic model that was forced onto this country by the Thatcher government in the 1980’s.

Naturally, such facts are always met with silence. I wonder why?

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University of East London to close School of Humanities and Social Sciences

UEL's Halls of Residence, which were built to resemble dockside mooring bollards

The Tories have always had an issue with academic  subjects that include critical thinking as a major component of their work. In the 1970’s and 1980’s it was Sociology.  In the 1990’s, it was Culture Studies.  More recently the Tories have attacked Media Studies.  These are seen as ‘soft subjects’ as opposed to the core or STEM subjects like Maths and Science on which Tory politicians, in particular, ascribe greater [ideological] value.  History has also come under assault from the Tories for being ‘left wing’ and ‘trendy’. In their book, The Plan – 12 Months to Renew Britain, Hannan and Carswell argue for the teaching of “proper history”. This is evidently shorthand for a narrower form of history teaching that concentrates on such things as the glory of Empire and the names of kings and queens.  Last year, the newly-appointed Education Secretary, Michael Gove, approached the revisionist and apologist historian, Niall Ferguson with a view to helping him write a new history syllabus. This was only the beginning.

In November the BBC reported that HSS at English universities will lose their teaching grants. Last week, I received a sudden email that alerted me to the fact that the University of East London was proposing to dismantle the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.  I am presently studying for my PhD in Cultural Studies with the SHSS. I am in my second year. The green paper proposing these changes was attached to the email. It does not make for happy reading.

A meeting was hastily convened in one of the teaching rooms on the ground floor of the East Building. As I walk into the room, I can hear the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and author of the Green Paper, Prof. John Joughin talk about “markets”, the Olympics and so on. This is not encouraging. His PowerPoint presentation outlining the changes is even less encouraging. It proposes that Culture Studies is placed within a newly-created School of Creative and Digital Industries. There is no mention of Humanities. As for Sociology and Psychosocial Studies, these are to be part of the School of Law and CASS School of Education respectively. You may ask what connection these subjects will have to their new schools. The answer is very little.

Joughin knows his management-speak but little else. For an academic, he seems entirely clueless about the important contribution made by our school. But, more worryingly, he conflates sociology with social work and social care and he conflates psycho-social studies with psychology. And this man calls himself an academic? He talks a lot about “duplication” but he does not elaborate on this. It seems to be his only rationale for making these changes. He is also fond of repeating the phrase “student experience” as if that’s supposed to convince us of his sincerity. But these are hollow words. His manner in dealing with the questions put to him is arrogant and confrontational. He’s clearly a manager and not an academic. He talks about this green paper being a “consultation”, but my experience of such exercises tells me that the conversation is only ever likely going to be one-way: his way.

Most of the points put to Joughin are met with a well-rehearsed “You’ll have to wait and see what’s going to happen”. There is an ominous ring to these words. His other stock reply is “Have you read the Green Paper”? When the answer is “Yes”. Nothing is offered but silence and more drivel about “courses remaining intact”.  He talks about the government’s wishes, at this point, another PhD student and I make the point that this is an ideologically-driven restructuring. Our eyes meet but he says nothing. Gotcha!

UEL’s management are content to chase markets, some of which will disappear after the Olympics. They seem to pin their hopes on this single event and on nothing else. There is no vision for the future. It is a ham-fisted attempt to dance to the government’s tune. The ‘restructuring’ has all the charm and finesse of an elephant on ice-skates.

Research Blogs has an interesting article here

My Masters supervisor knew that I was interested in pursuing cultural studies as an academic discipline and suggested UEL because it had an excellent reputation for cultural research. Indeed, it has largely filled the void left by the closure of Birmingham University’s Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (often referred to simply as The Birmingham School) in 2002. The Birmingham School had faced considerable opposition from the Thatcher and Major governments

There is a culture of anti-intellectualism at the heart of contemporary British politics that refuses to acknowledge academic work that asks questions about society; a tendency that they regard as dangerous and subversive. Instead, we find that these politicians only see universities in one way: as factories producing graduates for the service industries.

David Willetts, the Minister of State for Universities and Science, wants universities to offer the same courses in a sort of  McEducation style chain of institutions

In a speech at Oxford Brookes University, Willetts said his proposals would allow students to take prestigious courses, but save on the expense of living away from home by studying at a local university or college. He added that if institutions were freed from having to set their own degree programmes, they could focus on giving students excellent teaching.

This is not higher education as we know it. Willetts, whose soubriquet is “Two Brains” for his policy heavy background, high hairline and his close association with think tanks, sees education as a marketable commodity.

Willetts said: “It has generally been assumed that any home-grown institution offering higher education must award its own degrees. But I am interested in looking at whether some could benefit from linking themselves to an established exam brand with global recognition.”

Willetts has an estimated wealth of £1.9m. He knows the value of money but not the value of an education – priceless.

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