Monday, 21 May 2018

Giving Labour`s economic policies a "human face"

Perhaps Labour "is struggling to capitalise on what is genuine public indignation at corporate greed", as Polly Toynbee suggests, because it is paying insufficient attention to "ordinary voters"(The message is loud and clear - people do want fat cats stopped, 16/05/18). McDonnell probably needs to be on a "business charm offensive", but better use should also be made of television broadcasts and social media to "neutralise Labour`s negative economic reputation".
   Having actors playing the roles of voters at different levels of tax bands, explaining how much tax is paid now, and how Labour`s changes would affect them, would be beneficial, especially as the changes would not kick in until earnings of £70000 were reached, roughly three times the national average. Imagine how little sympathy would a CEO invoke when he complained that his income would be reduced from £10 million to a figure a mere 20 times that earned by the average worker in his firm. Even less when he tried to justify the low corporation tax his company paid, compared to businesses in the rest of the world.
   Countering the Daily Mail`s anti-Labour propaganda with facts and figures, and giving economic policies a "human face", seem sensible ways to convince voters how a "competent and fair economy"  can be created.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Teacher overload: some solutions

With "overwork and lack of support driving teachers across England out of the profession", solutions are urgently needed (Special report: Teacher Burnout, 13.05.18). Recent governments have been so anxious about wooing voters with new policies, like academisation and the expansion of free and grammar schools, they have ignored the advice of educationalists, leading to the current crisis.
     The real problem is the culture of exam factory education which has been developed, with Ofsted judgements relying far too much on results` data. Pressure is placed on heads to provide improved results, with the pressure inevitably passed on to the classroom teachers, who are forced to test repeatedly for exam practice. This then leads to inordinate amounts of pupils` work to be marked. More emphasis has to be laid by the inspectorate on the pastoral care offered by the schools, rather than results.
 Parents` expectations of teachers have to be modified; too much work has to be marked, too many reports and progress details have to be sent home. Then there`s the amount of detail expected in the marking, with "what went well" and "even better if" comments, or their equivalents, now expected for most pieces of work. Ofsted should clearly adopt a more sympathetic approach, and issue instructions for all schools: one written report a year, one internal assessment a year, one piece of work marked with brief comment once a term. All schools have to modify seriously their homework strategies, devising tasks which require little or no marking by the teachers, and more parental supervision.
   The role of senior management in schools must change, also, with less attention paid to Ofsted preparation, and more to the effective running of the school. What all teachers would appreciate is seeing senior staff in the classroom, not necessarily with timetables of their own, but stepping in three or four times a week into troublesome classes, or giving younger teachers more preparation time.
       To suggest that there are "signs that the environment is changing" because the new education secretary has reducing teachers` workload among his "priorities" is to forget what every education secretary in the last twenty years has said. Governments will claim that the obvious solution of funding schools sufficiently to enable class sizes to be reduced significantly and the pupil-teacher ratio improved, cannot be afforded. The result is that we are heading for a South Korean model, with most pupils attending private classes in evenings, after a day in their "normal" school, huge pressure to succeed, and an alarmingly high suicide rate among 10-19 year olds. 

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

"Repugnant" sums up this government

Your excellent editorial rightly pointed out both how Theresa May has reneged on every one of her pledges made in her first speech as prime minister, and how it is clear that "her political strategy hinges on the exact antithesis" of fighting "burning injustices" (The Tories` search for scapegoats is repugnant, 29.04.18). It is not only "repugnant", however, to blame the country`s problems on "people sponging off the system", but short-sighted; not only are the scapegoats "imaginary", continuing this unnecessary policy of austerity damages the economy. The least fortunate spend all of their money, in order to survive, so reducing benefits and cutting jobs reduces demand in the local economy, whilst cutting taxes for the rich, who spend a much smaller proportion of their earnings, simply creates more money available to be stashed away in bank accounts, often for reasons of tax avoidance or evasion.
     What the editorial also failed to mention was that by harping on about "the undeserving", government ministers create an excuse for not dealing with the real problems which blight our society, the growing inequality, the lack of investment and regulation, and the gross underfunding of our education, health and caring services. A government which is deliberately causing "immeasurable human suffering" is itself deserving of the adjective "repugnant", and all Labour MPs should be uniting to remove one of the most objectionable governments in recent history from office.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Statues misrepresent history

There can be little doubt that the unveiling of the statue of Millicent Fawcett is an important feminist victory, being the first one of a woman to "be immortalised in Parliament Square", and the New Statesman correctly devoted its Leader and its "In the Picture" section to it (The voice of courage cannot be denied, 27th April, 2018). The Letter of the week also concerned a statue, this time supporting one of Sylvia Pankhurst. All of this begs the obvious question whether statues offer the best "chance to remember" the significant events of our history.
         The trouble with statues is not only that they do not offer a fair balance, both in terms of politics and gender, to the story of Britain`s past, but that they help to perpetuate a distorted view of history. For a start, they result from exaggeration being applied to the significance of the work of individuals rather than collective effort, and contribute to a mythologised view of history, which tends to understate the roles played by women generally, by working people, and by other races. For instance, the UK`s statues give the impression Britain`s wars have been won single-handedly by white men.
   In view of Brexit and the Windrush scandal, never has there been a more obvious need for the truth about our past to be learned. The British governments` policy of destroying and hiding documents from historians has been instrumental, both in perpetuating intolerance, and in the refusal to acknowledge what can only be described as shameful events in our past. Would not a more effective method of learning from history be to open more museums based on a less masculine-orientated version of the past, and secondly, to review all schools` curricula, including those in the private sector, to encourage the study of the roles of women and other races in our past?

 How can a history based on the manipulation of facts begin to teach what is right or wrong, or even what is worthy of remembrance? Statues of suffragettes are important symbols, but do little to remedy the problem of historical myopia. 

Unpublished letter to Observer on Tory scapegoats

Your excellent editorial rightly pointed out both how Theresa May has reneged on every one of her pledges made in her first speech as prime minister, and how it is clear that "her political strategy hinges on the exact antithesis" of fighting "burning injustices" (The Tories` search for scapegoats is repugnant, 29.04.18). It is not only "repugnant", however, to blame the country`s problems on "people sponging off the system", but short-sighted; not only are the scapegoats "imaginary", continuing this unnecessary policy of austerity damages the economy. The least fortunate spend all of their money, in order to survive, so reducing benefits and cutting jobs reduces demand in the local economy, whilst cutting taxes for the rich, who spend a much smaller proportion of their earnings, simply creates more money available to be stashed away in bank accounts, often for reasons of tax avoidance or evasion.
     What the editorial also failed to mention was that by harping on about "the undeserving", government ministers create an excuse for not dealing with the real problems which blight our society, the growing inequality, the lack of investment and regulation, and the gross underfunding of our education, health and caring services. A government which is deliberately causing "immeasurable human suffering" is itself deserving of the adjective "repugnant", and all Labour MPs should be uniting to remove one of the most objectionable governments in recent history from office.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Tory promises to young people

Last week`s Leader reminded readers that austerity has always been a Tory "choice" rather than a British "necessity", but that did not prevent Cameron and Osborne deviously pretending that the continuance of government borrowing would "burden younger generations" (Crumbling Britain, 20th April, 2018). Labour leaders already promise to end the cuts, but would do well to base much of their propaganda on the point your Leader also makes, that Tory policies have "enfeebled the collective institutions" on which young people rely.
     Based on a "doctrinaire conservatism" which aimed to shrink the state back to levels last seen in the 1930s, Tory austerity policies have targeted young people. Ally the failure to regulate the many Rachman-like landlords, which has meant Generation Rent is never likely to save sufficiently for deposits to own their homes, with the hike in tuition fees to £9000, and the sheer hypocrisy of austerity`s authors, Cameron and Osborne, becomes all too obvious. "Saddling future generations with debt", weighing down "our children" with a "millstone of debt" were Cameron`s excuses for his draconian cuts, and their dire effects will, no doubt, be highlighted in your forthcoming articles on "Crumbling Britain". Denying young people any semblance of equal opportunity by underfunding schools, causing the closure of Sure Start centres, applying appalling minimum wage and apprentice rate levels to the under 25s, and extending zero-hours contracts even to university lecturers are just some of the many reasons the majority of young people will never vote Tory. Who can blame them?
   Brexit was indeed a "symptom of discontent", but a government dedicated to reducing inequality and increasing fairness in our society can be the cure!

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Ukip has collapsed but still around

John Harris rightly states that the Windrush scandal highlights the "awful effects of social policy" designed to out-Ukip Ukip, and warns us that the party`s "mixture of opportunism, nastiness and resentment may yet take new forms" (Ukip may be gone but its ideas are locked into our politics, 23/04/18).We don`t have to look far.
    It was only because the disastrous Brexit talks are going so badly, that suddenly Commonwealth countries became economically important to the UK,  forcing May`s government  into apologising and backtracking on the Windrush affair. Ukip may have "collapsed", but its ideas live on in the Tory party.