Sunday, 15 October 2017

Too much mis-remembering

Will Hutton misses the point when writing about there being "too much remembering" (Endlessly refighting old wars does nothing to heal a fractured present, 08.10.17). Catalans wanting independence, just like the residents of eastern parts of Germany who voted far-right, have memories of their past which are not "inflated" as Hutton calls them, but so vivid they cannot be forgotten. History is always manipulated by politicians to suit their own ends, but when its justification is "ethnically based superiority", it becomes dangerous.
 What Hutton omitted to mention is that for many in Britain the memory of the fight against fascism is not just "over-remembered and over-deified", it is inaccurate, something that our governments have been keen to encourage, and has led to a preponderance of feelings of national pre-eminence. It is clearly a case of too much mis-remembering. The idea of "Britain alone" overcoming the Nazis is still being perpetuated, even on the cinema screens. Then there are the myths about the British empire acquired to spread civilisation, regardless of the massacres and atrocities, slavery and torture. Why else would millions of documents either have been destroyed or hidden away from the prying eyes of historians? The "glorious past", a time of economic growth without the need for European co-operation and immigration, did not exist.
  It is never "a time to forget and move on", as Hutton concludes. The mythology certainly needs to be scrapped, but the truth, especially in 

Labour should end Pre-U examinations

Few, if any,will have any problems with Labour`s promises to "radically transform Britain`s education system", and that "teachers would be at the heart of it". Most of the problems which have developed since Gove`s outrageous abandonment of advice from experts could have been avoided had the then Secretary of State listened to teachers.
 There is today, however, one very secret area of the education system which involves teachers very heavily, though sadly the teachers in question belong to the private sector. Who knew, before the recent scandal involving examination-cheating at Eton and Winchester, that there existed examinations taken by privately-educated students in this country, which were equivalent to A-levels but not the same, and whose grades are recognised by universities as entrance qualifications? They are called Pre-Us, and often include questions set by teachers in the private sector, who also mark them.
     With no limits to the proportion of students universities can enrol from private schools, only private sector pupils taking these examinations, and independent school staff, in many cases, actually setting the examinations, the current post-16 assessment system is both unfair and flawed. 

     On the Pre-U website, Winchester College recommends these examinations for use by other public schools, because they "are very liberating for teachers". I bet they are!
 Having taught A-levels for over forty years, and being "unliberated", I knew nothing about the existence of such examinations, and I doubt if many of today`s teachers in state schools realise that their students are actually competing for top grades and university places with privately educated pupils whose "A-level grades" will have been earned in a rather different way. Imagine how easier teaching becomes when, for example, having to cover three hundred years of history, and knowing which questions will be on the paper, even if no actual "cheating" is involved! How many state-school students have been denied access to their first choice university because of better grades achieved in these A-level substitutes?
    Labour must ensure these "examinations" are no longer viable as university entrance qualifications immediately!

Friday, 13 October 2017

Manipulated history and Brexit

Last week`s Leader mentioned the important role history is playing in the current issue of Catalonia`s independence (The Spanish crisis, 6th October, 2017). The "feeling of hurt" after the oppression the Catalans suffered during the Spanish Civil War and Franco`s dictatorship "has never gone away", and allying this with economic resentment has led to the demand for a referendum.
   Strangely, the Leader did not see fit to compare this with the UK`s current crisis. That similar economic frustration was an important factor in the Brexit decision is irrefutable, but Britain`s struggle against the fascists also played its part, albeit rather differently. Our manipulated version of history has given many Britons an aversion to the idea of European co-operation, having been led to believe "Britain alone" defeated the Nazis, that the empire existed to spread civilisation, and that our "glorious past" showed the economy could flourish without immigration. 

     British governments have allowed historical files, which would correct inaccurate history, to remain secret, and they must share responsibility both for creating a general belief in our mythological past, and for the utter confusion which now abounds. 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

SATs (and "trick questions") should be abolished

The fact that "music, drama and art embedded into every part" of the day in a Bradford primary school has produced a remarkable "turnaround" in results in all areas of the curriculum illustrates perfectly the importance of enjoyment as a hugely important factor in learning (The secret of great SATs results? Extra music, and lots of it, 03/10/17). How encouraging it is to see children`s mental and social development being given top priority, and massive congratulations must be given to all involved.
      At last, children`s welfare is clearly beginning to feature more prominently in some educationalists` thinking. Sadly, however, its prominence was lacking when the SATs assessors decided that asking a question like this at Key Stage 2 was either appropriate or useful:
   A bat and ball cost £1.10 in total. The bat costs £1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
    It`s plainly ridiculous to put young children under stress with unnecessary testing, but the inclusion of such "trick" questions makes the call for the abolition of SATs even more urgent. 

Sunday, 8 October 2017

On Tories` unsuitability to govern

Andrew Rawnsley mentioned how a  "strategic dilemma" for the Tories is causing "fresh division within their ranks" (Roll up, roll up to see whether Theresa will flop in the big top, 01.10.17). The realisation that they clearly need to make some proposals which will have significant impact, and persuade young people, in particular, to turn away from Corbyn, is countered by those who think "they will never outbid " him when it "comes to spending money". This, however, is not their main problem. The real "dilemma" for the Tories is that they have allowed the lobbyists and donors to have far too much influence on policy, particularly in recent years, something which hasn`t caused problems, because cutting costs and limiting regulation has suited the lobbying industry just fine. Cameron`s pledge to reform the "scandal" of the "far-too-cosy relationship between politics, government, business and money" merely resulted in a register being set up, typical of his disingenuity.
  Now that public opinion has finally turned in favour of more regulation, public ownership, and fairer taxation, the Tories can no longer remain the small-state libertarian party of recent years. How much longer can Tories allow lobbyists to water down their proposals which would allow worker representation on company boards (unlike the CBI-approved non-executive directors), more affordable and social housing being built, control to be taken of the gambling industry, tenants being ensured fair rents? The answer is probably indefinitely, because of the party`s reliance on funding and support from these vested interests. 
   A possible alternative, to promise transformational changes in the public sector, appears beyond their scope of thinking. Introducing sensible pay ratios, capping top salaries, ending gender pay gaps, allowing considerable pay increases to end recruitment crises in education and health, limiting government contracts to non-tax -avoiding companies, reforming the honours system, all are being allowed to become Labour priorities. 
  EU leaders might well have "deep doubts about Mrs May", but the real doubts should be about the Tories` suitability to govern.

Friday, 6 October 2017

Yet another Tory problem: Lobbying

Both of the otherwise excellent articles on the Conservative government`s problems strangely omitted to mention the influence of lobbyists on Tory policies and action (Politics; The long Tory civil war, 29th September,2017). Every time May or one of her ministers admits the need for a policy which would actually initiate real change, and win votes, proposals are watered down. Whatever happened to May`s promises made in Downing Street last year, to the "fight against the burning injustices", to the help for the "just about managing", to the leadership of a government "not driven by the interests of the privileged few"?
      The pro-business lobby has clearly influenced most of May`s proposals on corporate reform, something she said was vital because excessive pay at the top threatens the "social fabric of our society". Not vital enough, however; the pledge on workers` representatives on company boards fell at the first hurdle, and now it is up to non-executive directors to stand up against CEOs and argue for better pay ratios. Of course, both the CBI president and the director general of the Institute of Directors publicly voiced their approval, and CEOs will continue to pocket at least around 100 times the pay of their average employees.
   As long as there is a willingness to kowtow to lobbyists, Tories have little chance of either introducing sufficient change, or amending unpopular policies, to "collapse the floor under Labour`s feet". Concern that our government is selling weapons to the Saudis so that they can bomb Yemen, a country so devastated by war that famine and disease are rife, doesn`t stop the arms industry lobbyists winning the day.
     Likewise, the betting lobby ensures the continued existence of the addictive fixed-odds betting terminals on almost every high street, and a barrage of televised advertisements on primetime TV. The building industry`s influence over government means little or no affordable or social housing is being built. As Stephen Bush says, the Conservatives` problem with the young "might not be easy to solve", but it is certainly not helped when lobbying succeeds in preventing much-needed legislation on capping rents, and ending tenant exploitation, from being introduced.
 As for the influence of the banking and financial sectors on government policy!! The lack of substantial regulation, the fact that next to no prison sentences have resulted from the many abuses and fraudulent acts, and the refusal of governments to introduce a financial transaction tax all speak volumes. No doubt, it won`t stop them claiming in Manchester to be the party of social justice!
      Tories can "claim back language from the left", which Robert Haflon suggests, as much as they like, but as long as lobbyists rule the roost, something which their party funding demands, "compassionate Conservatism" will remain as much an oxymoron as ever.

Why not sack Johnson?

Mary Dejevsky might well have a reasonable solution to some immediate Tory problems, but sacking Boris Johnson, with him then challenging Theresa May for the leadership, would be my preferred option. This is as it most likely would lead to an early general election. The sooner Labour is in power the better.
Dejevsky’s description of Johnson is spot on when she calls him “crass and gaffe-prone”, but where does she get the idea that he “possesses a sense of history”? Surely what he actually has, like many privately educated toffs, is a distorted vision of history, exaggerating the importance of Britain and looking back on a “glorious past” that was, in fact, a time of British-enforced slavery, barbarity and multiple atrocities.
As for having a “capacity for empathy”, it certainly wasn`t in evidence when insulting Buddhists in Burma, writing rude limericks about the Turkish leader, and thinking it funny to ridicule the dead in Libya.
Clearly, Johnson’s sense of humour is puerile in the extreme, but when it is allied with public-school arrogance, and an education which taught a totally biased and inaccurate version of imperial history, the result is a Foreign Secretary who brings embarrassment and shame to us all. MPs on all sides should be demanding his resignation.