Sunday, 28 August 2016

May too similar to Disraeli

Already, there are too many similarities, for comfort, between May`s "compassionate conservatism" and the originator of the concept, Disraeli, who infused his administration of 1874-80 with legislation based, supposedly, on "One Nation" Toryism .Non-biased historians quickly saw through Disraeli`s duplicitous attempts to woo working class voters, labeling most of his reforms as "window-dressing", rather than serious legislation designed to make lasting and far-reaching changes. Now we have May`s "voluntary approach, asking manufacturers to reduce sugar levels over time", being all too similar to Disraeli`s permissive reforms, where councils could take necessary action, but only if they could be bothered. Only 10 of the 87 urban areas took any action over slum clearance, for example, following the Artisans Dwellings` Act.
     Unlikely as it is that the food industry will find a Joseph Chamberlain in their midst, May`s "obesity strategy" will have no positive effects whatsoever. Having to resort to 19th century measures for inspiration augurs very badly, and suggests there is plenty more "window-dressing" to come!

Friday, 26 August 2016

New Statesman letter on Labour `MPs

The Labour split is clearly serious, but to suggest, as Wes Streeting does, that "the Rubicon has been crossed" is simply scare-mongering rhetoric  (The Labour schism, 19th August,2016). The majority of Labour MPs are now supporting for leader a politician "untainted by the Blair years" and so, presumably, more electable than most, but with left-wing policies very similar to those espoused by Corbyn`s camp;  twelve months ago, such policies were compared to 1983`s "longest suicide note in history", making Corbyn, apparently, unelectable!
      Instead of listening to the opinions of the likes of Mandelson and Tristram Hunt, whose policies have lost two elections, Labour MPs should consider how Corbyn`s policies, such as an education system where all children get access to preschool facilities, and a National Health Service no longer under-funded or facing part-privatisation, can fail to appeal, if explained properly; public ownership of the rail system is not "hard-left", but a sensible economic solution to a problem, caused mostly by an obsession with profits. Labour`s economic competence can be proved with sensible and fair fiscal policies, whilst the Tories` incompetence, and failure to meet any of Osborne`s targets, is an open goal waiting for shots from the entirety of the Labour parliamentary team.
     George Eaton concludes the article by stating how "voters do not like divided parties", but if, following Corbyn`s inevitable victory, Labour MPs refuse to support him and his left-wing agenda, we shall all know where the blame lies.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

De-bunking the grammar school mythology

Well said, Angela Rayner! Selective education does indeed belong in the dustbin of History", especially as the so-called "golden age of grammar schools" is a myth perpetuated by the Tory propaganda machine (Morning Star, 08/08/16). It is, moreover, a myth which needs urgent de-bunking, alongside the one which is currently being fed to us about Theresa May`s caring and compassionate Conservatism, aimed at decreasing inequality. No-one who cares about giving everyone a fair and equal chance in society can possibly support grammar schools, let alone consider increasing their number.
       Of course, many working class students achieved success in grammar schools, but that does not mean social mobility increases under a selective system. In a comprehensive school, these working class pupils would have succeeded just as well, whilst none of their peers would have been written off, and sent to secondary moderns, or their equivalent, where they would have been deemed no-hopers. No-one who experienced the 11 plus examination will forget the divisiveness of the procedure, and the disillusionment and unhappiness of friends who "failed". To even talk of 11 year-olds "failing" is disgusting.
      Not that all of those who passed the selection process were on the path to success. In most grammar schools, yet more selection, again based on the results of the same examination, ensured that only about thirty pupils, the ones in the A-stream, received anything like a reasonable education. The ones destined for B and C streams were given a "different" curriculum, including woodwork and cookery, presumably more suited to their abilities! Results in grammar schools were never as good as they should have been, simply because over half the students were never expected, or encouraged, to pass examinations.
     I read recently of some young people turning to Ukip, because of that party`s preference for grammar schools; they cannot possibly know how appalling most grammar schools were, especially when compared to today`s comprehensive schools, the real "centres of excellence" in our society. There, because they were created in the knowledge that students` abilities and potential continue to develop long after the age of 11, all pupils get the opportunity to demonstrate their talents.
    Wasn`t it the success of comprehensive schools, in enabling all pupils to prove their worth, which caused Michael Gove, back in 2010, to end coursework and resits, not to mention the maintenance grant for potential 6th formers, and to place more reliance on punctuation, memory tests and end of course examinations? Will May turn the clock back? Yes, but not to 2009; she`s going back to the 1950s and 60s!
       Discipline in boys` schools was based on corporal punishment, by means of striking of a cane on to the unfortunate boy`s backside; I well remember still having ridges and bruises days afterwards. Teaching lacked invention, encouragement, variety and even decent preparation, and this was in the grammar schools. Imagine how much worse it would have been for the 80% of pupils in the secondary moderns.
   Don`t believe the Tory nonsense about grammar schools and social mobility; don`t be persuaded that there is even a reason to debate May`s proposal. It has to be rejected, totally!


May`s "naming and shaming" and other "peashooter" solutions

Graham Ruddick rightly emphasises the point that the "naming and shaming" of 198 employers failing to pay the minimum wage is "shameful", not simply because there are so many companies on the list, which make such vast profits and which clearly think their success has nothing to do with the hard work of their employees, but because the government must know that such public unveiling is simply "window-dressing" (Poor payers: time to act, 12/08/16). It receives scant attention from the media, especially when released at a time when most people`s attention is focussed elsewhere, but, as Ruddick says, without the added threat of criminal charges, company directors will continue the practice.
 The idea that embarrassment, caused by widespread public knowledge, will deter such anti-social behaviour as tax avoidance and failing to pay the minimum wage, has long been proved a non-starter; has transparency stopped CEOs of FTSE 100 companies taking home 183 times the pay of their average worker? Has the banking industry stopped paying obscene amounts in bonuses, the expensive tastes of MPs been sated by the expenses scandal, or public knowledge of the Speaker`s ridiculous travel claims changed his means of transport?
  If May thinks the voters will be fooled into thinking she is tackling  capitalism`s problems, she is mistaken.

 Eleven "peashooter solutions" to fix the banking industry in the last seventeen years, despite those institutions "reliably" working "against the interests" of the British public, demand a response from the Tory government, especially as May has promised to "reform capitalism" (It isn`t our banks that need an overhaul - our watchdogs do too, 10/08/16). Clearly what is needed is not just for the "state-owned institutions" to be "mandated to lend more", but for them to be amalgamated to create a People`s Bank, working for the benefit of the country as a whole, and not simply to create profits to be divided up into shareholders` dividends and obscene.bonuses.
   It would not only create real competition to the remaining high street banks, but also a nationalised bank would force them to mend their ways, and end such ridiculously callous and greedy practices like, in Larry Elliott`s words, "penal rates for unauthorised overdrafts", not to mention fixing Libor rates, and laundering drug money (Flimsy whip for banks, 10/08/16). Above all, would it not challenge their obviously confident belief that the 3 per cent of customers switching banks is not set to rise in the foreseeable future?

May`s laissez-faire policies and Guardian wrong on need for old Tories

Just because Theresa May stated in her initial speech as prime minister that she was in favour of tackling the acute problems of social mobility and British capitalism, does not mean that the message has to be believed, especially by the Guardian. Your editorial claims that she "sees the value of intervention" and supports an "activist industrial strategy", but her actions suggest otherwise (Nudges and requests will fail: it`s time to force change, 20/08/16). The fact that May has, as Sarah Woolaston says, chosen to put the interests of the advertising industry "ahead of the interests of children" does not augur well for the future, and strongly intimates that laissez-faire policies will continue to dominate, at a time when the situation demands regulation (Theresa May`s climbdown on obesity is her first big error,20/08/16).

"Kenneth Clarke on the Tory side and Margaret Beckett on Labour`s" may well "stand out as veterans these days", but their most recent contributions to political debate do not actually support the argument for more experience "on the green benches of Westminster" (A place for the grey-haired on Westminster`s green benches,22/08/16). Beckett attributed the huge rise in Labour membership, recently, to the desire of young people to join Jeremy Corbyn`s fan-club, whilst Clarke`s sexist analysis of the qualities of female politicians is far more likely to appear on tee-shirts than in the pages of PhD students` political theses!
Your editorial concludes by stating that the likes of George Osborne should stay on, because "they have much to contribute", but most constituents would prefer their MPs totally devoted to representing them in parliament, rather than to amassing obscene amounts of money, by making after-dinner speeches in America.
           The news that the "multibillion-pound industry", which "provides advice on aggressive tax avoidance", could face financial penalties in the future is encouraging , but hardly before time (Tax advisers face heavy fines over avoidance,17/08/16). Can we have assurances that representatives of "the big four accountancy firms" no longer are allowed to sit on treasury tax committees, thereby gaining first hand knowledge of fiscal policy details and regulations to utilise later in their avoidance schemes, something apparently known as regulatory arbitrage?
An end to rewarding these firms constantly with extremely lucrative government contracts, and their partners with peerages, knighthoods and other accolades, would be welcomed also. It is worth remembering that not one of the Big 4 has been investigated about their obviously questionable audits of the banks, prior to the 2008 financial crash; they have been protected by their friends at Westminster for far too long!

Saturday, 20 August 2016

In praise of comprehensives

The "desire to open new grammar schools", as a solution to the "Seven Per Cent Problem", is only "understandable" if one believes in Tory mythology; as last week`s Leader said, "focusing on early-years education" is a more sensible way, based, as it is, on evidence rather than propaganda, and the recent forced closures of Sure Start centres is a national disgrace (Grammar schools and social mobility, 12th August, 2016).
  It is important, however, to acknowledge that increased investment in nursery and primary education is insufficient on its own, and that spending per pupil at secondary level is falling, with too many academies being forced to employ non-qualified members of staff. Indeed, with teacher recruitment reaching crisis levels, the fact that schools are using agencies to recruit from abroad is being ignored at the country`s peril. The recruitment problem will only ease when teachers receive, not only pay comparable with their importance to society, but also less criticism, at a time when teaching quality in state-schools is higher than ever before.
   Allowing comprehensives to flourish, and to continue helping "all children reach their full potential", instead of shifting the goal-posts, Gove-like, when they do, is certainly a way to reduce private school "domination of public life". On the other hand, looking at the problem from the other end could provide a more immediate solution; in line with the national figure, no university should be allowed to take more than 7% of its undergraduates from the private sector.


Verdict on Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn was weak in the EU referendum, and silly to let Theresa May get off so lightly at PMQs, especially when she had just made pledges, to which a Tory PM would never have any intention of adhering. He has, however,  not only stuck to his principles, but also his policies, and by doing so, has revealed the hypocrisy of the Labour MPs who oppose him; they were quick last year to say he was unelectable, because his left-wing agenda was too similar to 1983`s “longest suicide note in history”. Now they support a leadership candidate espousing left-wing policies, which they hope will win the leadership contest, and which they would then presumably drop, if Smith won.

     Corbyn has also exposed how Tory-lite most of the media are, and their wholesale attack on him shows little has changed since the 1980s and their demolition-job on Michael Foot!

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

2 Morning Star letters on Tory inaction

With so many revelations about appalling employment conditions, and "piece-rate wages" being paid by companies like Deliveroo and others, and with so many politicians forced to defend their constituents with phrases like " a return to a Victorian system", it is interesting to see how May`s government will respond (Morning Star, 13/08/16).
    Despite the prime minister`s early rhetoric about combating inequality, and reforming British capitalism, her only action thus far has been to publish a list of the 198 companies known to be failing to pay their employees the so-called "national living wage". Naming and shaming bonus-laden bankers, and CEOs taking home 183 times the amount of their average workers, hasn`t exactly had much success in changing practice, so there`s little need to hold our breaths on the wage issue!
 More important, perhaps, is the point that no-one in government could possibly have expected such publicity to have any effect, especially at a time when most of the media is obsessed by sporting events elsewhere, and when people`s thoughts are concentrated on holidays. We can expect more of this "window-dressing" in the months to come.
     What is beyond the realms of possibility is effective Tory action; legislation making it a criminal offence to pay wages below the minimum, and tighter regulation ensuring employees` conditions at work are, at worst, decent, and unions having access to all workers, are both unlikely to see the light of day under this administration. Same goes for anything likely to help private renters against exploitative landlords.

    These are the sort of points Labour MPs could, and should, be making during this parliamentary recess, before Tory propaganda starts renewing, as if it ever stopped, its attacks on Corbyn and his "unelectable" policies.

Following Corbyn`s imminent leadership victory, Labour MPs should be looking forward to victories next year in the mayoral elections in Liverpool, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands. As your editorial put it, the resulting "cheering effect" will further boost support (Morning Star,11/08/16).
      There is no need, however, to wait that long, especially as failure to unite now is letting the Tories off the hook. A united party could be making hay at the government`s expense, cashing in on the prime minister`s obvious hypocrisy; there is no such thing as "compassionate conservatism"; support for grammar schools is the policy of a party hell-bent on maintaining divisiveness and unfairness in our society.
     After another ridiculously expensive banking commission`s report, (with a conclusion that banking apps are the answer to increasing competition on the high street!) Labour should be pressing for the development of partly state-owned banks into a nationalised People`s Bank, working to benefit the country as a whole, ending the profit-at-all-cost philosophy.

      There is a real danger that the Tory government`s propaganda machine will succeed in another electoral con-trick, persuading voters that May`s "one nation" Toryism actually exists. Labour MPs have a duty to challenge that notion, and the sooner they rally around Corbyn, and do exactly that, the better.

Friday, 12 August 2016

New Statesman letter with Beatle songs

If there`s a place where you would expect hidden Beatle song titles, it would be in an article by the paperback writer, Hunter Davies(1966 and all that, 29th July, 2016). Don`t ask me why, but this was something he ignored, and for no-one to notice is bizarre. Or so they tell me.
    Why, I`m not sure, but I`ve got a feeling, Hunter, that this was your opportunity to act. Naturally, I will help, but you don`t need me. As if! I fell for that trick yesterday, or was it the night before? Anyway, every little thing helps, so it`s polite to offer my assistance, is it not, a second time? Yes.
    It is, NS readers, your turn to do some searchin`; I would love you to, on your own, or all together, now, because it was 50 years ago, to join in the game. You can`t do that? Oh please!
  Please me, don`t let me down! It doesn`t take any time at all, so let`s come together and celebrate. It`s free. As a bird once said, revolution will only slow down, if you let it.

Be that as it may, but it won`t be long before you know what to do!

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Guardian letter on Tories and grammar schools

Owen Smith is wrong to say that the move towards grammar schools is a "sign of the weakness of Labour as an opposition" in that the Tories "think they can get away with it" (PM`s grammar school scheme faces backlash, 08/08/16). What it actually signifies is that Theresa May`s talk about reducing inequality is yet more Tory rhetoric; her determination to display compassionate Conservatism is simply political posturing.
     A prime minister, wanting to return state education to the days of selection, when it means up to 80% of eleven year-olds, mostly from poor backgrounds, are denied access to an education designed to suit the needs of a privileged few, is doing the exact opposite to creating "a country that works for everyone". 
     May might well believe in the grammar school mythology, but there are thousands of us, who experienced first-hand the divisiveness of the system, and its appalling unfairness and inefficiency, willing to testify otherwise. It`s a myth that needs de-bunking once and for all!


Sunday, 7 August 2016

Observer letter on honours

In addition to the five suggestions to help the prime minister "tackle corporate irresponsibility", one obvious and topical idea would be to ensure no honours whatsoever are dished out to people responsible for any action by their firms, which are deemed socially unacceptable (Five ways to ensure "capitalism works for all, not just the few, 31/07/16). This would include such things as avoiding tax, offsetting higher wages with job losses or reduced hours, and failing to reduce the "gender gap".     
      A change of name from the "High Pay Centre" to one based on Fair Pay would do no harm, and neither would looking back to the responses of Franklin Roosevelt, who, like our current leaders, encountered "resistance from business groups wary of sweeping regulations". His answer was to award "Blue Eagles" to companies whose business practices benefited the country; they could then be used in all advertising, so that consumers would know where best to spend or invest. Awards in this country could be given for paying fair share of tax, fair treatment of all employees, regardless of position, race or gender, acknowledgement of rights of trade unions, and sensible investment in technology to boost productivity. Differing coloured stars could indicate the reason for the award. Transparency could further be encouraged by printing the pay ratio between CEO and the average worker on the actual award. 
 Finally, keeping RBS under state ownership would allow it to become a National Bank, whose raison d`etre was not to maximise profits at all costs, but to exist for the benefit of us all!

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Guardian letter on honours system

It is far from "churlish to suggest a fundamental rethink" of the honours system, especially as Cameron`s nominations reveal the same arrogance which led to his disastrous referendum decision (Time to overhaul an outdated, political and inglorious system, 01/08/16). Your editorial mentions the "inclusion of two businessmen", who also happened to be major donors to the Tory party, but omitted the point that Ian Taylor`s firm, Vitol, hit the headlines two years ago, when news of a £550,000 donation was accompanied by the revelation that Vitol had paid 2.6% global tax on profits of £846m.
  Repugnant enough for the Tories to accept money which should have been paid to the Treasury, but shame on Cameron for honouring tax avoiders. If this isn`t the straw which breaks the already "tarnished" honours system`s back, surely nothing ever will?

Monday, 1 August 2016

"Compassionate" Toryism, Tory propaganda, Labour duplicity

Matthew d`Ancona`s assertion that Theresa May "offers compassionate conservatism to the electorate" requires urgent clarification (The PM is her own woman. Remind you of anyone? 25/07/16). What actually is being offered is the appearance of a compassionate government, the same trick which Tory prime ministers generally use to woo the working class voters. In fact, it was Disraeli, the founder of "One Nation" Toryism, who introduced the idea of passing reforms which looked good on paper, but which changed things very little. Historians usually refer to those acts of parliament as "window-dressing", and May`s promise to introduce an element of co-determination into industrial management is simply another example; belatedly having workers` representatives on companies` boards will do nothing to reduce the obscene inequality in our society. 
    Yes, Matthew, she does "remind me" of someone. Benjamin Disraeli!

The refusal by the Treasury to accept the accuracy of the report by the Trades Union Congress, showing that "real earnings have declined by more than 10% since 2007", suggests that compassionate conservatism is simply a pre-election gimmick (Britain at the bottom of league as real wages decline by 10%, 27/07/16). Even though the report`s findings are backed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the OECD, and the Bank of England`s chief economist, Andy Haldane, ministers still insist that the "employment rate has grown more than any G7 country", ignoring the rates of increase in Germany, as well as non-G7 Hungary and Poland.
 Such mis-information by the government is hardly a new phenomenon, but the disloyalty by Labour MPs means that the Tory propaganda machine has the whole summer to ram home untruths unchallenged. How can the anti-Corbynites be so inept, when the lie about Labour`s borrowing and spending causing the economic crash had such an electoral impact? Of course, they will blame the recent poll, showing Labour "16 points behind the Conservatives with 27%" on Corbyn, but far too few political commentators have even intimated how these figures for the two parties could be far closer, had the MPs rallied around their democratically elected leader. They were, after all, elected on a Labour ticket, with a duty to serve the best interests of the party.

The lack of joined-up thinking, not to mention honesty, in the Labour MPs` plot to overthrow Corbyn is depressing. Are we now expected to believe that they will unite behind Smith and his left-wing policies, after specifically stating that they could never win an election with a radical, left-wing agenda like the one proposed by Corbyn (Smith comes under fire after saying he wanted to "smash" May "back on her heels",28/07/16)? Why aren`t they labelling Smith`s proposals, some of which having been "previously announced by the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell", as "the longest suicide note in history"?
    Your editorial suggests Smith has to persuade voters that having a leader who "inspires confidence in MPs" is a "fundamental prerequisite", but if that necessitates pretending to be left-wing to win the leadership votes, and then resorting to moderate policies which tinker rather than transform, Labour is finished (Owen Smith: six weeks to try before you buy, 28/07/16).
     Maria Eagle says the "convoluted arrangements" leading to the disgraceful treatment of the HMRC cleaners is what "makes people disillusioned with politics", but the failure of duplicitous Labour politicians to unite against such blatant exploitation, reminiscent of the early Industrial Revolution, is closer to the mark ("Beyond parody": HMRC cleaners left worse off after introduction of the national living wage, 28/07/16)!


Morning Star reject (2 and 3)

The idea that the new prime minister is a "compassionate Conservative", intent on reducing inequality, and even in favour of introducing, at long last, an element of co-determination into industrial management, is currently being propounded by the Tory press. May`s speech on her first day in office promised all the usual nonsense about her government`s willingness to address social justice issues and economic hardship, but her record in giving wholehearted support to Cameron`s callous austerity programme suggests otherwise. Her response to the current practice of employers, desperate to increase profits and ignore the need to pay the minimum wage, cutting hours, as exemplified by the "outsourcing giant ISS" and tax office cleaners, will be revealing (Morning Star, 23/07/16).
       "Compassionate Conservatism" has never, in fact, existed. Even the founder of the concept of "One Nation" Toryism, Disraeli, whose 1874-80 administration passed thirteen major reforms, all ostensibly to improve the lives of ordinary people, was an imposter, tricking working class males into voting for him; historians generally agree that those reforms were more "window-dressing"  than causes of significant improvement. Similarly, May`s co-determination policy is unlikely to reduce the pay-gap, as it did in West Germany, when FTSE 100 CEOs in Britain are paid 183 times more than their average employee.
        The truth is that "One Nation" Toryism always has been an attempt to woo working class voters, rather than a serious attempt to change society. It will take more than May`s "window-dressing" to reduce the obscenely large gaps between the pay of workers and bosses, or to end the tax avoidance policies of most businesses.
         Leaders of parties claiming to be in favour of " social justice" do not push for more grammar and free schools, when the inevitable consequences lead to more challenging schools for the majority.
        "Compassionate Conservatism"! What would Jim Royle`s response to that ridiculous concept be, I wonder!!

As Corbyn himself said, it`s the "duty and responsibility of every Labour MP to get behind the party", so it`s good to see the return of Sarah Champion to the fold (Morning Star, 26/07/16). Presumably she accepts the point that Labour isn`t working because Labour MPs constantly attack their democratically elected leader. What a shame they cannot display the same amount of contempt, both for the party which has been totally responsible for the most callous six years of government in recent history, and for its new leader who, unlike Corbyn, and in her own words about Gordon Brown in 2007, is clearly "running scared of the people`s verdict".
  Corbyn, I am sure, could develop his point further and state that is the duty of every elected Labour MP to serve in the shadow cabinet, if invited. A refusal to do so should automatically lead to, if not expulsion from the party, at least reselection at constituency level. They were elected on a "Labour ticket", so any independent action by them is simply undemocratic; if they didn`t agree with the leader`s policies, they should have stood as independent candidates in the election. Anticipation of the Tory media`s reaction to Corbyn`s leadership should have led them to rally round from the start!

Morning Star reject (1)

As your editorial correctly stated, Labour MPs need to remember that the "votes they gained at the general election are not personal testimonies" (Morning Star, 22/07/16). Whilst I firmly believe that Labour, under Corbyn`s leadership, can win in 2020, the proviso is that the party has to be united. Corbyn`s opening speech in his leadership campaign was inspirational and "self-assured", but his performance at PMQs, the most publicised political event of the week, was not, with the result that the new PM was given too easy a ride. This cannot be allowed to happen again.
     More preparation of questions, and anticipation of answers, are essential. Why not tackle her on the outrageous claims she made on her first day, when she appropriated the language of equal rights and social justice? What legislation is she planning to reduce the inequality about which this so-called "compassionate Conservative" apparently cares so much? Would she support legislation to force all employers with more than 21 staff "equality pay audits"? If she cares so much about gender inequality, what does she intend to do to about the fact that thousands of women in their early sixties have been conned out of their rightful state pension? Mention May`s support for co-determination, and ask how this needs the support of government legislation, if the obscene pay gap between bosses and workers is to be reduced. Would she support laws reducing the pay ratio to, for example, 20:1?
        Anticipation of her responses, including her inevitable retaliation by attacking Labour, and her avoidance of direct answers, should lead to Corbyn`s exposure of her "compassion" as fake! It`s not rocket science, but May cannot be allowed, as previous Tory incumbents too often were, to get away with tricking the electorate again.

        Corbyn would reject rehearsed sound-bites and pathetic point-scoring, but he has to demonstrate, not only which party is on the side of the ordinary people, but which one has, for the last six years, governed on behalf of the wealthy, imposing austerity as a "political choice, not economic necessity". If Corbyn doesn`t make that absolutely clear at every PMQs, and hammer the point home repeatedly, he will, sadly, lose support in the country.