Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Teaching Excellence Framework: typical Tory nonsense

With the Tories` somewhat distorted views on education, the expectations of their "teaching excellence framework" were probably to enhance reputations of Russell group members, and cast doubt on the value of so-called lesser institutions (Elite universities given low scores in new table, 22/06/17). Basing rankings on statistics which have little to do with, as the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute said, "any meaningful assessment of teaching", the awards instead rely on results which often have nothing to do with how well students are taught, such as drop-out rates and graduate employment figures. 
         In fact, the results tell us more yet again about Tory governments which refuse to listen to experts, who have naturally "urged prospective students to treat the results with caution", and which are completely out of touch with the society they were elected to serve. It is little wonder, either that students call it "another meaningless ranking system", or that the University of Southampton is "appealing against its bronze award" ; it won`t be the only one.

Is it any wonder the Russell Group has said it "does not believe the Teaching Excellence Framework measures absolute quality" (Top universities not up to the new gold standard, 22/06/17)? Rather than assess the quality of teaching by actually observing lectures, these Tef gradings have been awarded using results based on student satisfaction, drop-out rates and graduate employment figures. How typical of Tory governments to ignore the advice of experts. Imagine if schoolteachers were assessed without being seen at work in the classroom!

Friday, 23 June 2017

"Biggest bribe in history" - as if!

It`s surprising that Simon Jenkins thinks that Labour`s "£50bn tuition-fee relief" to all graduates was "the biggest election bribe in history"(Where are we now? 16th June, 2017). Where has he been in recent years?
     In all of the elections held at least in the last forty years, the Tories have promised either massive tax reductions to the richest individuals and corporations in our society, or continued freedom for financial institutions to develop tax avoidance schemes without fear of serious punishment. As long as the rich voted Tory, they could continue to squirrel away their wealth in tax havens. Then there has been the raft of privatisations, guaranteeing huge profits for those wealthy enough to participate, but only available after Conservative election victories. Similarly, landlords have been promised freedom to raise rents, free in the knowledge that a Tory government would allow modern-day Rachmanism to flourish, leading to the appalling situation today,where many tenants pay as much as 70% of their earnings on rent. Older people have been bribed for years, not only with promises on pensions, but with pledges on their right to avoid inheritance tax. 
     Then, of course, the Tory promises to de-regulate, and allow developers to build or gentrify properties without rules insisting on health and safety taking priority, ensured profit maximisation, as did pledges to restrict the rights of unions to fight to improve the pay and conditions of their members.
 Some students will undoubtedly have been persuaded by Labour`s tuition-fee promise, but many more will have supported Corbyn because of his promises to reduce inequality, and return an element of fairness to our society. Perhaps Mr Jenkins would call that a bribe too?

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Socialism with a human face - if ever there was a need

The editorial last weekend ended brilliantly by saying how the Grenfell fire "exposes a country with the wrong priorities, lorded over by a worthless elite who have nothing to offer" (Morning Star, 18/06/17).
     Successive governments have caved in far too easily to profiteering landlords, illustrated not only by Rachmanism again being allowed to flourish, and tenants being forced to pay extortionate rents, but by the way the coroner`s recommendations after the Lakanal House fire were not immediately enforced.  If we look back at the record of recent Tory governments, it comes as little surprise.
    For example, in January last year a Labour amendment to the housing and planning bill was defeated, with Conservative MPs voting against proposed new rules requiring private sector landlords to ensure their properties are "fit for human habitation". Then there was the Tory housing minister telling MPs  that the fire industry, "rather than the government", should "encourage the installation of fire sprinkler systems", because the added cost "may affect housebuilding".
     A change in government attitude, which is based not only on reducing cost rather than increasing safety, but also possibly on self-interest, with far too many MPs being private landlords themselves, is required before people will trust a Tory government`s housing policy again. Indeed, the fire raises similar questions about safety in government transport and energy policies, where cost-cutting and profit-maximisation also dominate.

    All governments have a moral responsibility, but May`s actions fail to reveal her understanding of this! Corbyn, on the other hand, looks more prime-ministerial by the day; the need for "socialism with a human face" has never been greater!


Gaby Hinsliff asks questions about whether "successive governments caved in too easily to profiteering landlords" (Grenfell - shameful symbol of a state that didn`t care,16/06/17), whilst your editorial finds it "very hard to understand why" the coroner`s recommendations after the Lakanal House fire "were not immediately enforced" (Grenfell Tower is shaping up to be Theresa May`s Hurricane Katrina, 16/06/17).
      Is it necessary to look further than the record of recent Tory governments? For example, in January last year a Labour amendment to the housing and planning bill was defeated, with Conservative MPs voting against "proposed new rules requiring private sector landlords to ensure their properties are fit for human habitation" (Tories reject move to ensure rented homes fit for human habitation, 12/01/16). Then there was the Tory housing minister telling MPs  that the fire industry, "rather than the government", should "encourage the installation of fire sprinkler systems", because the added cost "may affect housebuilding" (The tragedy in west London must bring lasting change, 15/06/17). 
 A change in government attitude, which is based not only on reducing cost rather than increasing safety, but also possibly on self-interest, with far too many MPs being private landlords themselves, is required before people will trust a Tory government`s housing policy again. Indeed, the fire raises similar questions about safety in government transport and energy policies, where cost-cutting and profit-raising also dominate. Hinsliff stresses all governments` "moral responsibility", but May`s actions fail to reveal her understanding of this! Corbyn, on the other hand, looks more prime-ministerial by the day; the need for "socialism with a human face" has never been greater!



Following one of the most horrendous fire tragedies imaginable, which was probably the result of using "the cheaper, more flammable version of two options" to clad Grenfell Tower, we read that safety groups want to ban the use of combustible materials in the construction of buildings that "firefighters cannot reach from the ground" (Calls for ban on combustible cladding panels on tall buildings,17/06/17). So that would mean profit-hungry tenant management organisations could carry on using the cheap and dangerous cladding on all their properties up to ten storeys, with further risk to life? It is quite feasible in these days of over-stretched emergency services, that fire-engines would not reach an inferno blazing in a moderately tall building in time to save all the inhabitants. For the sake of a few thousand pounds!
       The regulations should be quite clear: no combustible materials should be used to clad any building, regardless of their height. As Theresa May infamously said, albeit about another subject, "Enough is enough"!

Friday, 16 June 2017

Corbyn has rewritten the rules

The fact that Britain is "headed for a hung parliament" shows that not only has May`s arrogant gamble failed, but that there is a lesson to be quickly learned by the Labour party (Corbyn stuns the Tories, 09/06/17). With Corbyn clearly not unelectable as so many of the parliamentary party believed, and a left-wing manifesto in the 21st century  far from being one of the "longest suicide notes in history", now is the time for all wings of the party to rally round their democratically elected leader. A disunited party under Corbyn has "changed the face of British politics"; imagine what a united one could do!
     The election has also made clear the point that the broadcasting media have no reason whatsoever to continue their policy of inviting Ukip`s opinion on everything political; the sooner it stops the better!

Corbyn has indeed "rewritten the rules", as even Jonathan Freedland admits (Corbyn didn`t just gain seats - he shredded the rulebook, 10/06/17). The election proved that it is possible to "advance from the left", and that every manifesto a couple of degrees left of Blair`s is not a candidate for the "longest suicide note in history" award.
     Freedland is keen to remind us that Corbyn "still lost" the election, but not that he won the campaign, backed by a disunited parliamentary party, by a country mile. Already I have heard a so-called Labour "moderate" on the radio distancing himself from Corbyn. Will such people never learn? As your editorial rightly says, it is "Mr Corbyn`s party now", and with some pride-swallowing by the likes of Yvette Cooper and Rachel Reeves, this wonderful opportunity can be grasped (The voters have called for a different Britain. Business as usual is not an option, 10/06/17). Corbyn has shown a willingness to compromise; it is their duty to do the same! A "better and fairer Britain" is a small price to pay!

Friday, 9 June 2017

NS didn`t like this

Like Peter Wilby, I hope Corbyn`s Labour gets around 35% of the vote, so that we hear less from "Blair, Mandelson and their ilk about how Labour can`t win on a left-wing manifesto" (First Thoughts, 2nd June, 2017).The trouble is their thoughts have been echoed in most of the recent articles on domestic policies in your magazine. You say that you "campaign for a more just society", but when Corbyn`s policies are aimed at achieving exactly that, you join in the right-wing media`s obsession with attacking him (Labour and the common good, 2nd June, 2017).
      Jason Cowley suggests that after his predicted "shattering defeat" for Labour, the party "must start again by listening to the people" (The reckoning, 2nd June, 2017). Isn`t this exactly what happened after the last election, with the right-wing elements led by Tristram Hunt stressing how Labour lost because it had too little aspirational appeal? This nonsense has been repeatedly rejected by Labour supporters, preferring Corbyn`s honesty and dignity to Tory-lite policies. The people have been listened to, and the result is, at last, a real left-wing challenge to a Tory party dedicated to reducing the tax burden of the rich, and imposing austerity measures on the least fortunate.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Too appalling for words

Polly Toynbee gave us "just 10 of the multitudinous reasons" why another five years of Tory government must be avoided, but the omission of a number of obvious ones reveals how "terrible" the prospect really is (Here are 10 good reasons to dread five more years of May, 06/06/17). No mention of a foreign policy based on making allies of any dictatorship, regardless of the cruelty of the regime, as long as British weapons are bought; nothing, either, about the inevitable increased inequality which will result from a refusal to tax the rich fairly, and to pass legislation to decrease tax avoidance.        
  The continued exploitation of those renting their homes from greedy landlords, permitted by a Tory government not even bothered whether such properties are actually fit for habitation, could have been included (Tories reject move to ensure rented homes fit for human habitation, 12/01/16). Then there`s the fearful likelihood of five more years of a government refusing to listen to the experts, which, in terms of health, education, policing, and just about everything else, is frankly appalling.
    Toynbee didn`t mention either, five more years of having to listen to Tory rhetoric, duplicitously claiming to be the government of the workers, one which cares about the "just about managing", and  which "doesn`t work for a privileged few" (What she said and what she meant, 13/07/16). Justifiably so; it`s too appalling for words!

Monday, 5 June 2017

Tory "magic money tree"

Simon Kelner`s excellent appraisal of the election even acknowledged that some of the recent "puerile discourse" is partly the responsibility of the media (Most soul-destroying election of my life, 02/06/17). He mentioned the Tories` latest soundbite "to discredit Labour spending plans", which is frequently mentioned in the media, the "magic money tree", but then failed to add any information about another "money tree", the one funding the Tories` election campaign.
Since the election`s announcement, £9.5m has been donated to the Tories, compared to Labour`s £3.4m, and rumour has it that much of this Tory money is from people linked with tax avoidance. Some of the donors have been fined by HMRC for using tax avoidance schemes, whilst others are under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office, or have companies registered in tax havens. This is clearly another of the subjects which the media has "left hanging in the air".
I don`t care if my prime minister can`t remember every single figure in the manifesto, but I most certainly do object to a PM who talks about making Britain a "country that works for everyone", but relies on donations which should be funding our schools and NHS!