Saturday, 24 February 2018

.Reasons for nationalisation`s popularity

Your Leader column (16th February,2018) attributed the current popularity of nationalisation to the electorate being "weary of substandard service", particularly on the railways, and the "excessive prices imposed by many private companies". What it omitted was the repugnance aroused by obscenely high levels of pay awarded to CEOs of private companies, resulting in increased pay ratios; in 2016, for every £1 the average employee of a FTSE company was paid, their CEO received £129. To make matters worse, the CEO`s pay is often unjustly awarded, either after making "efficiency" savings, by closing branches and sacking workers, or after initiating short-termist policies, which see share values increase but little or no investment in technology and training to improve productivity.
       There is also the issue of awareness; the British public know not only, as the Leader said, how the "state across Europe plays an indispensable role in ownership and strategy", but how nationalised foreign companies profit from their involvement in British transport and energy. Having a Tory government which refuses to contemplate state control, but allows British companies to be run by foreign states is plainly idiotic, and has to stop.
       Nationalising railways and utilities would allow pay ratios to be improved, and set an example for all private companies. Failure by many to follow suit would then provide moral justification, if any was needed, for Labour`s aim to tax high earners more heavily, with a 60% rate surely not out of the question; under Margaret Thatcher`s government, the top income tax rate was at that level until the 1988 budget! 

Friday, 23 February 2018

Helen Lewis`s Memory

Fourteen years since becoming "politically active", and Helen Lewis has never felt "more despairing about the quality of our politicians" (Out of the Ordinary, 16th February, 2018). Of all the Tory ministers, she is only able to point to Gove, whose weekly announcements on environmental issues apparently make him "a pocket of industry", whilst from Labour, only McDonnell and his advisers are praised for "thinking about new ways" to create a fairer economic model.
Lewis`s memory is clearly playing tricks! How can she forget Cameron`s administrations, which feigned compassion, and forged instead callous and unnecessary austerity polices aimed at the most unfortunate in our society? What about the "omnishambles" Osborne made of most of his budgets, failing to meet his own targets and losing the AAA credit rating, not to mention the reduction of taxes on the rich in times of increasing inequality, and the deliberate underfunding of health, caring and education? Gove took education back years to Gradgrindian rote-learning and GCSEs based on memory rather than analysis, whilst May introduced a billboard campaign, telling illegal immigrants to "go home or face arrest". Then there were the increases in academisation, privatisation, Rachmanism, "Fat-catism", food banks, phone-hacking and arms sales to the Saudis.
In any "despair league" of recent political action, that takes some beating!

Friday, 16 February 2018

A "Beatlesong" response to Quincy

Quincy Jones, please (Beatles "worst musicians in the world", says Quincy Jones, 08/02/18)! Please me and all Guardian readers by refraining from such nonsense; there`s a place for it, but not in this tabloid. "Worst musicians", as If. I fell for that before but not a second time. Lennon said Ringo wasn`t the best drummer in the Beatles, because the end of the group was near, so let`s try writing something about things getting better for a change. Don`t ask me why but ending misery doesn`t always require a revolution!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

1833 Abolition a "factoid"

David Olusoga rightly criticises the Abolition of Slavery Act of 1833, both for its obscene generosity of £20m, "the modern equivalent of £17bn", granted as compensation to slave owners "for the loss of their human property", and for the lack of accuracy which surrounds it. It did not free all slaves in the empire as the countless school text books insist, because well into the 20th century, slavery was still in existence in Sierra Leone, Gambia, Burma, Hong Kong and northern Nigeria, a fact Britain confessed to the League of Nations in 1924.
   Glorifying Britain`s role in the past is typical of the manipulation of our history which has been going on over centuries, and the Abolition Act must be seen alongside other such mythologised "facts" as the "fair governance" of our colonies and "Britain alone" in 1940! It`s a shame that the all too numerous "factoids" in the history books cannot be deleted as easily as the Treasury`s tweet!

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Snobbery of elite universities

Politicians are very keen to blame teachers for failing to inspire pupils with sufficient aspiration and confidence to persuade them to apply to Oxbridge and other so-called "elite" universities, and less enthusiastic about criticising the universities themselves for creating a self-reinforcing spiral. Of course, governments have to accept responsibility for underfunding schools and closing Sure-Start centres, and even for refusing to contemplate passing legislation banning universities from exceeding the 7% national level with students from public schools, but universities have the means to improve social mobility at a stroke, and refuse to do it.
   David Lammy, back in October last year, revealed how both Oxford and Cambridge, recipients of over £800m of taxpayers` money each year, enrol consistently around 80% of their intake from the top two social classes, with more offers being made to pupils from Eton than to students on free school meals across the whole country. Totally unsurprisingly, the number of ethnic minority students accepted is so low, Lammy concluded there has to be "systematic bias"!
      And still the universities make excuses. A recent article in the Guardian by  professor Wolff from Oxford university claimed that "playing safe" with undergraduate admissions, in other words giving preference to applicants from upper middle class homes, was encouraged by the government`s Teaching Excellence Framework. This includes students` drop-out rates as a measurement of a university`s success, but has been in existence for under two years, and is the most feeble of reasons for explaining decades of the lack of diversity in our "top" universities.
   It clearly does not explain why students with straight As from an economically poor area in the north of England stand far less chance of being accepted by one of the Russell group universities than does someone with similar grades from a public school. According to Lammy`s research, Oxford, for example, makes more offers to applicants from five of the home counties than to the whole of the north of England.
   How similar are those qualifying grades anyway? Do universities check whether the grades have been achieved through traditional A-levels, or whether students have taken the Pre-U examinations, popular in most public schools, where there is the possibility that the exam papers were either set or marked by their teachers. A cheating scandal was exposed involving these examinations last summer, resulting in a pathetic "investigation" by the Commons education select committee. If these examinations, not inspected and regulated by the Joint Council for Qualifications like all the other examinations taken by sixth-formers, and run, incidentally by Cambridge Assessment International, part of Cambridge university, are not chosen because of the extra advantage they afford, what is the reason?
         Where is the "risk", anyway, in offering a place to a student from a school in an economically-deprived area, who achieves grade Bs and Cs in traditional A-level examinations, and who clearly has the potential to attain an excellent degree? He or she may lack, unsurprisingly, confidence, and may not perform well in a nerve-racking interview, which has a reputation for belittling applicants with local dialects and who are unable to recite any of Byron`s poetry, but has real talent and potential to improve further. Research by Cardiff and Oxford Brookes universities proved students from state schools gain better degrees than independently-educated candidates with the same A-level grades.
       There is only one reason the so-called "elite" universities recruit so many undergraduates from schools in the private sector, when nationally only 7% pupils attend them - academic snobbery. A Labour government should consider legislation, both to force these universities to open their doors much wider, and to insist all university qualifications in the UK are gained through properly regulated examinations.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Undemocratic Tories

Tories frequently claim to be the upholders of the "British" value that is democracy, yet what they are currently doing, and which Andrew Rawnsley omitted to mention in his piece on their most recent crisis, is totally undemocratic (Taking their knives to Mrs May`s toga won`t solve all of the Tories` troubles,04.02.18). It`s not so much that the "Tory party fears that any replacement would likely to be worse", but that an unelected leader would almost certainly be forced to go to the polls, and that would allow democracy to bring in Labour to form a government. Refusing to sack May in case it lets in Corbyn is both undemocratic and morally repugnant!
       Rawnsley was right about May being a "zombie prime minister", bungling the "few opportunities to revive her authority", and using a cabinet reshuffle to suppress the progress of any "future leadership material", but it was her misuse of the honours system which epitomised May`s selfish pursuit of "her own short-term needs". Awarding knighthoods to both the chair and treasurer of the "kingmaking" 1922 Committee, and making its vice-chair a dame, really did reveal that the prime minister is far more concerned about her own position than the state of the party, let alone the country!
 Any decent MPs in the Tory party would be plotting to overthrow May, not because of her lack of "vision" and clarity over Brexit, but because of her abuse of prime ministerial powers. The fact is that, under her leadership, the innumerable crises over health, education and safety not only have increased rather than declined but also show no signs of having been dealt with. This does not seem to bother Tories at all, and that speaks volumes!

Friday, 9 February 2018

Clueless about the future? And the past!

Gary Younge rightly states that the country`s cluelessness "about the future" results from a distorted view of our history (The delusions of war and empire that led to Brexit, 03/02/18). The refusal to study the past in any detail, allied to successive governments` insistence on manipulating our history by hiding away vital evidence in Hanslope Park, results in arrogant delusion, the ensuing feeble attempts to punch above our weight in the Brexit negotiations, and the inevitable and humiliating climbdowns. Exaggerating differences with our neighbours, and pretending to own what Martin Kettle recently called a "tradition of exceptionalism", has led to the ridiculous and parlous situation in which the country now finds itself (Protestantism is on the wane, yet the Reformation sowed the seeds of Brexit, 27/10/17). The deliberately misremembered historical chickens have most certainly come home to roost.
  It is noticeable that the countries, like Germany, which have faced up to their difficult pasts, appear more aware of the need for unity in Europe. Only when the truth about the UK`s colonial past is revealed, when the facts about our seizing and looting of colonies, whilst committing the most awful of atrocities, and our reliance on essential colonial aid to emerge successfully from world wars, are all openly admitted, can the people and government of this country ever hope to have a non-distorted view of the future. The idea that our isolation in the past was "splendid" is part of the historical mythology driving current government policy.