Saturday, 31 December 2016


Two sixteen, probably not the best, 
Too many iconic figures laid to rest.
Too many worst nightmares realised;
Voters, like rabbits in car lights, Brexitised,
Thinking a lurch to the right is wise,
"Britain for the British, not for Poles and Eyeties".
52% vote Brexit, all ties are torn;
 it`s goodbye Cameron, and George Osborne.
Mayhem in Downing Street, Boris Foreign Sec.,
 Across the water, it`s neck and neck.
What`s that? Oh no! That can`t be true.
Trump has won - misogynists rule!
The message from the year is clear - 
FDR was wrong - we have everything to fear.
Chicanery and duplicity have won the day; 
no-one believes a word politicians say.
May with her "Jams", and "co-determination". 
Who will believe Trump`s "state of the nation"?
Two seventeen? It`s anyone`s guess.
Le Pen matching Donald Trump`s success?
Anything worse we cannot see, 
unless it`s Blair in charge of a political party!

We need to face up to our past!

 Instead of making excuses for Britain not having "an exhibition in London about British colonialism" similar to the one in Berlin, would it not have been more appropriate for your editorial to demand Britain faces up to its past (Britain can learn from Germany about not denying the past,27/12/16)? Arguing that "an act of collective national reflection" seems to be "beyond us" is both dubious and patronising, whilst the fact that the "Daily Mail and Michael Gove would dismiss it as political correctness gone mad" actually adds weight to the argument, rather than undermines it.
     In this country, we have have had a string of governments lacking the courage to reveal the truth about Britain`s shameful imperial past. Why else would historians be denied access to 1.2 million files of historical evidence, going as far back as the Crimean War? 

     Controlling the story of past events for political purposes like this goes a long way to explaining the present day`s  xenophobia. Believing that Britain`s past was glorious, and that it was always the enemy who revealed their barbarism through atrocities, was bound eventually to lead to racism and nationalism. The re-writing of our history textbooks cannot come soon enough! If Germany can face up to its history, there is no excuse for Britain not doing the same, and the Guardian should be at the forefront of the argument!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Tory "oath of allegiance"

Labour is right to criticise Tory proposals to make public sector workers and all new migrants swear an "oath of allegiance" as "gimmicky and cack-handed, which, of course, they are, but it makes you think what sort of "oath" Tory MPs are surely compelled to take.
  Their oath has to include pledging outright support for all claims made by Theresa May, regardless of how ridiculous they are, like being the "party of the workers", and helping the "just about managing". Ignoring all evidence would have to be in there somewhere, as the recent Autumn Statement and the Trade Union Act make lies of many government statements. There would have to be something, too, about promising to ignore all expert advice, to use filibustering techniques to prevent fair and just legislation being passed, and to claim the government is doing all it can to prevent tax avoidance, and make the rich pay their fair share. The facts that next to nothing has been done about off-shore accounts and the continued existence of British-controlled tax havens have to  
     Tory MPs educated in comprehensives would also be expected to support wholeheartedly the extension of grammar schools, even though they know they could not have had more committed and industrious teachers themselves when they were at school, and that they owe their present positions to them.  The small matter that selection denies the majority of children an equal opportunity, and sends them to the 21st century version of 1950s`secondary moderns has to be ignored.                    Swearing to denounce trade unions would be compulsory, despite many knowing that the more workers who join unions, the greater the chance not only of the pay gap being reduced, but also of them keeping their seats at the next election.
       Unlimited support for austerity, lower taxation and the shrinking of the state is a no-brainer; after all, does anyone really care about the government spending less of the striving taxpayers` money on the unemployed and disabled? Insisting Corbyn`s policies, regardless that they include fairer taxation, proper funding for the NHS, an end to zero-hours contracts, more social housing, private rent freezes and an increased minimum wage, make him unelectable, has to be as important to Tory MPs as repeating as often as possible the words "government`s industrial strategy". This will have to be learned off by heart in case they confuse it with that other famous example of non-existent Tory policy, "long-term economic plan"!  Even though the policy to create a "northern powerhouse" doesn`t exist either, it`s okay to mention it, just in case Osborne is the next leader. Neglecting to criticise the foreign secretary is essential, too, for similar reasons!
    Pledging to repeat the mantra that "spending billions on Trident, HS2, and Hinkley is absolutely vital, but a proper care system is too expensive" has to be compulsory,too.!

Of course. mere words of an oath, as we know, do not guarantee conformity, but they help, especially when allied to the ever-present possibility of a cabinet reshuffle; being "economical with the truth" does wonders for promotion prospects!

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Of course international aid is affordable

Sadly, as Andrew Webster says, people are increasingly asking why Britain should contribute so much in international aid when "so many services at home desperately need money" (No turning back for international aid,26/12/16). The point is that £12bn can easily be afforded, plus billions more for our public services. What is needed is a government with the courage to tax fairly and efficiently, ignoring the Laffer curve as right-wing propaganda, raising income tax so that people earning three times the national average pay much more, and treating tax evasion and avoidance as punishable crimes.
   Priti Patel`s insistence that tackling hunger and drought is "in Britain`s interest" is correct, not least because it offers some sort of morality into government policy which is far too dominated by arms sales, and deals with ruthless dictators.

Monday, 26 December 2016

An enlightening Scottish budget

Having scoured your paper for details of Scotland`s budget this week, I resorted to the "search" button on your website, which only directed me to articles on BBC News! I would have thought that this budget, especially after the non-event which was the Tories` Autumn Statement, and the tax changes introduced by the Finance Secretary for Scotland, Derek Mackay, would have been of interest to many readers. Nicola Sturgeon, apparently, is contemplating "fielding candidates south of the border", but the budget`s failure to tax Scotland`s rich simply supports David Torrance`s argument (English voters, don`t be fooled by the SNP - its rhetoric hides its nationalism,14/12/16). If moderate Labourites are won over by a party supporting Tory-lite economic policies, with "George Osborne-like arguments against restoring the 50p rate of income tax", and no hint of wealth redistribution, they are probably in the wrong party anyway.
      Even so, I would have thought the Guardian would have been keen to illustrate how the SNP is driven, not "by ideology, but the pursuit of independence", and how the more power it has, the "more conservative the Scottish government seems to become".

Friday, 23 December 2016

Guardian letter on Wilshaw

There might be some doubt, as Laura McInerney says, about the "extent to which Wilshaw was responsible" for the alleged "improvement" in Ofsted, but there is none when it comes to his role in the demoralisation of the teaching profession (And so farewell, Sir Michael Wilshaw, the Dirty Harry of Ofsted,20/12/16). Arrogantly attributing the improved rating of primary schools to "Ofsted`s hard work" is simply insulting to teachers, whilst his penchant for "forthright language" is sadly matched by his overuse of simplified and damning generalisations. For every school underachieving in the north of England there are others doing brilliantly; even in schools with below average performance, there are teachers achieving outstanding results.
        Wilshaw would have done education in these areas a much better service by highlighting these facts, and also stressing the difference in grant per pupil between areas, rather than constantly criticising. What would an Ofsted inspector make of a school assembly, which concentrated on some pupils` poor behaviour, and a minority`s poor work ethic, without mentioning the positive approach of the majority?

        Wilshaw might indeed say that he "didn`t mean any offence", but few will be convinced. After all, it was he who said that when staff morale in a school "is at an all-time low", the head knows he/she is "doing something  right"!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Tory industrial strategy?

With manufacturing and industrial output much lower than predicted, Frances O`Grady has every right to insist that the Tory government should prioritise in "improving their industrial strategy". When the TUC general secretary added that the Autumn Statement`s investment package "was far too small", she was not exaggerating.
  Hammond`s spending of £23billion on a "national productivity investment fund" didn`t even lead the Office for Budget Responsibilty to alter its forecasts for the coming months, with the gradually phased increase having such little effect on emeployment and productivity.
   As with Brexit, it appears there is no plan for industrial growth, just as Cameron and Osborne conned the voters with their "long-term economic plan". No doubt we will hear in the coming months, the term "industrial strategy" repeated by Tories over and over, but constant repetition doesn`t prove existence, as has already been shown with Tory alleged concern for the "just about managing".
      If the Tories were really serious about increasing productivity, their rhetoric about top executives` pay would be converted into action. Business leaders` greed for obscene levels of renumeration has led to short-termism, with more thought on meeting this year`s targets than budgeting for the future with investment in technology and training. Capping bosses` pay, or setting a maximum pay ratio, are not even on the Tories` agenda!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Tories wrong on education again!

As usual, May`s government has got its priorities wrong again. It should not be focussing on "a national funding formula for schools", as no Tory government is going to reduce funding for wealthy areas, especially, it seems, this one, which is prepared to spend billions on unnecessary selective and free schools.
     Far better to spend taxpayers` money where it is needed, on classroom teachers` salaries. Whilst there is a recruitment crisis, results are not going to improve more than they have, and until the teaching profession is valued as an important section of society, and paid accordingly, catching up with Nordic and Asian schools` results is a pipe-dream!

 How very generous of the Independent Schools Council to offer 10,000 "free" places, provided the taxpayer comes up with £5,500 for each one (Private schools propose plan for 10,000 "free" places, 10/12/16). This almost certainly has more to do with the private sector feeling threatened by their future clients` confidence in getting their children into grammar schools, than fear of losing their charitable status. Most offer their swimming pools to local primaries, or use a similar ruse to keep their huge "tax privileges", because they "assist state schools", but this plan shows how anxious all of them are about falling rolls.
     How typical of the private schools to become worried that grammars could threaten their existence, and to show little concern when the results of thousands of excellent non-selective comprehensives have shown where the best teaching takes place. What a shame snobbery plays such a significant role in our society, especially, it seems, when choosing schools!

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Criticism of New Statesman

I have little doubt that this will share the same fate as my recent letters, but I will persevere nevertheless. Helen Lewis recently opined that the American media should do some serious "soul searching" over its role in Trump`s election, but shouldn`t the editors of the New Statesman be doing the same thing over the move to the right in this country (The politics of whitelash, 11th November,2016)?Whether Trump was treated as a joke-candidate for too long, and whether his political beliefs were investigated in sufficient depth, are certainly questions many Americans should be asking themselves, but the same can be said of the British media in relation to this country`s dire political situation.
 In recent weeks there have been letters and a Diary written by Norman Tebbitt, Thatcher`s right hand man, and a huge section devoted to Blair and his "comeback", whilst last week`s orgy of pessimism about the UK`s future included the Diary written by the political editor of the Sunday Times, and an article on the Labour party of all things, by a writer for the Times (Things can only get worse for Labour,9th December). Yes, there was the token gesture of the Guest Column written by John McDonnell, but what`s the point when the rest of the issue attacks anything left of centre?
       Instead of moaning about the demise of liberalism, wouldn`t it be far more productive to have interviews with representatives of the left, perhaps some of Labour`s current front-benchers, and articles analysing the policies of the right? Theresa May`s Downing Street speech has to be exposed for the fake promises it contained, the Autumn Statement for the complete waste of effort which it was; at least,Tories` anticipation of "another decade in government" would look presumptuous!  Nuttall`s policies need to be examined for the neo-fascism they contain, and the danger to which they would expose the country should Ukip, heaven forbid, form part of a right wing government.
According to its website, the New Statesman is "celebrated for its progressive politics", but I can`t help wondering what the Webbs would be making of its content recently! 

Friday, 16 December 2016

Out-Ukipping Ukip

Of course, Labour cannot hope to win elections by trying to out-Ukip Ukip, and "such thinking" is, as Dianne Abbott says, "completely misconceived" (Morning Star,03/12/16). Stressing the benefits immigration has always brought to this country has to be Labour`s priority, but exposing Ukip`s policies for what they really are is also essential. History has shown that making minorities scapegoats for a country`s ills is extremely dangerous, but that is exactly what Farage and Nuttall   have been doing for years, with far too much success, and with far too much sympathy and support from the right-wing media. 
     Paul Nuttall clearly regards white, working class voters in the north of England as easy electoral pickings, but Ukip will not win many of their votes provided Labour and the media publicise their policies accurately. How many of Ukip`s target group, for example, will support the idea of a flat rate income tax of 31%? Not only are they extremely unlikely to support their own tax level going up 11%, the fact that the same level would be paid by the rich, the very rich, and the obscenely rich is hardly an electoral selling-point!  

 What has happened with Farage, and indeed to a similar extent with Trump in America, is that the media generally gave them an easy ride. Too often the publicity they received was on chat and panel shows, when they were given free rein to spout forth right-wing views without interrogation, which would have delved deeper, and revealed the more extreme elements.
    It is up to the Labour MPs to show a united front, and attack right-wing views, whether they belong to the Tory government, or to Ukip.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Hey Mr Nobel Prizeman (to the tune of Mr Tambourine Man)

Hey Mr Nobel Prizeman, you`ve read all that I`ve wrote,
I ain`t worthy and you must have read my words wrong.
Hey Mr Nobel Prizeman, you`ve given me your vote,
But the narrow minded cynics see no value in my songs.

Given me an award, which really struck a chord
With college students, but not the ones most prudent,
Caused a fuss with all the press, writing from their desks,
I`m "just a singer"!
I`m ready to back down, I`m ready to refuse,
Really make some news, but if your vote means anything,
I promise I`ll come and get it.

You clearly liked my rhymes, like when all freedom chimes,
 "Aimed at anyone" paired with "escapin` on the run",
It`s not Shakespeare, but made my reputation,
As spokesman for a generation.

It ain`t Steinbeck but it rhymes and resonates
It`s me you want to venerate, but you alienate
All the professors and literature heavyweights,
That`s what the prize for me necessitates.

Hey Mr Nobel Prizeman, thank you for your vote.
I ain`t worthy but what the hell, I`ve wrote my share.
Hey Mr Nobel Prizeman, I`m not the one to gloat,
You can quote me and compare me anywhere.

Hey Mr Nobel Prizeman, as your name implies,
I am honoured and am humbled by your judgement.
Hey Mr Nobel Prizeman, it`s really a surprise
That you`ve honoured me, a writer so self indulgent!

 I ain`t Hemingway or Faulkner or even Twain,
If I confuse I explain. Don`t cast aspersion;
Never asked for adulation or citation
 For my songwriting.
I`m ready to accede, I`m ready to receive,
If you really believe that I am worthy
Of your literature award.

Hey Mr Nobel Peaceman, it`s really a surprise.
"Masters of War" didn`t stop the killing, god wasn`t willing,
Hey Mr Nobel Peaceman, open up your eyes,

I`m no champion, no conquering hero, just Bob Dylan!

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

BBC - too pro-Tories and too much UKIP

Admittedly, I haven`t seen or heard all of the recent BBC broadcasts, but it seems to me that the Beeb is contributing hugely to May`s apparent popularity in the polls, and the alleged increasing support for Ukip.
      Why is the BBC giving so much coverage, especially in its news and current affairs programmes, to the proposals made by Theresa May to reform corporate governance? The ideas that the pay ratio of CEOs and the average earner be published, and that shareholders vote on executive pay be binding, are hardly new, revolutionary, and perhaps most importantly, likely to make any significant change. Already the tried and tested pledge to force businesses to have at least one workers` representative on their boards has been dropped, not because of pressure from the bosses` organisation, the CBI, of course, and not a U-turn either!
      Co-determination of this nature has been seen to work in other countries, especially in West Germany in the 1950s and 1960s, but May appears to prefer solutions which might look as though they make a difference, but in reality do nothing of the sort; in other words, "window dressing " reforms, common with all Tory PMs since Disraeli in the late 19th century.
    All the Beeb`s attention on the pay ratio is unwarranted, to say the least. If it is so important why hasn`t the corporation focused in the past on the fact that the pay of the average FTSE100 chief executives has risen from 47 times that of the average worker in 1998 to 128 times last year? And, of course, it`s still rising.
Now that May and her ministers want the pay ratios to be made public, it`s suddenly big news, apparently. It shouldn`t be; it`s just another method of naming and shaming, and we all know how successful that`s been. Greedy fat cats don`t care if people know how much they are paid, they just want more.
    The BBC hasn`t exactly gone overboard on top executive pay before, otherwise it would be common knowledge how obscene pay levels for bosses lead to low investment in technology and training , and, therefore, contribute to low productivity. But now that the Tory government wants to adopt an obviously useless method of reducing executives` pay, the BBC gives it the full works!
      If May promised to legislate to bring the ratios down to socially acceptable levels, 20:1 for instance, now that would be something to headline with!
      It`s the same with Ukip and its new leader. We have become accustomed to the Beeb giving maximum opportunity to Farage to spout forth his right-wing nonsense, but the fuss the Corporation made over Nuttall`s election was simply OTT. Did the same happen when the Plaid Cymru and Green leaders were elected? Of course not. The BBC could not even bring themselves to denounce Nuttall for his right-wing policies, or mention his desire both to privatise the NHS, and to introduce a flat tax rate of 31%.
 They did, however, announce his intention to challenge Labour for working class voters, the very people who would be most interested to learn that Ukip thinks they should pay 11% more in income tax, whilst higher earners should have theirs reduced dramatically!

   If the very existence of the BBC is under so much threat from the government it should say so, as it would explain its current bias. Regardless, viewers and radio listeners deserve better, and Labour should be shouting about this from the rooftops!

Monday, 5 December 2016

2 letters on executive pay

Not only has Will Hutton argued in the past that a pay ratio of 20:1 was needed to curb high rates of pay for CEOs in the public sector, he has also written that excessive financial rewards "have nothing to do with performance and everything to do with executives keeping up with each other in a status race (Extravagant executive pay doesn`t reflect performance - it`s all about status,19/04/14). Yet he is now in a taskforce which fails to "back the two remaining flagship ideas" of May`s "corporate governance agenda" (OK, no workers in the boardroom - but May must not be lily-livered about executive pay, 27/11/16).
     Your Business Leader called on May to "stiffen her sinews" and insist that publication of pay ratios, and binding shareholders` votes on pay, become law, but it reveals as much "timidity" as the government. Everyone knows pay at the top is obscenely high, and should take much of the blame for the private sector`s lack of investment in technology and training, and, therefore, for low productivity, but naming and shaming, which is essentially what the ratio publication entails, doesn`t work. Far better for the Leader to have suggested a maximum pay ratio of 20:1.
 Having workers on boards was not "a fight May was never going to win", because at best, it only would have been "window dressing"; the TUC reckons it would take boards to be made up of 33% workers` representatives before their presence could make a real difference. If May wasn`t prepared to fight for workers` representation, there is little chance of her legislating on ratios, especially if respected left-leaning publications are as "lily-livered" on the subject, as she clearly is! Just because Hutton has appeared to have U-turned doesn`t mean your newspaper should follow suit!

The fact that, as Nils Pratley says, "nothing would have to happen as a consequence", shows how May`s proposals for the publication of pay ratios, and indeed for corporate governance reform as a whole, are nothing more than "window dressing" (PM needs to stand firm on pay ratios,29/11/16). Like all Tory prime ministers since Disraeli, May wants to give the impression she is on the side of the workers, whilst doing nothing to upset employers. She backed down in the face of pressure from the CBI, from insisting on worker representation on company boards, despite co-determination having been proved a success in other countries, notably West Germany after the war. 
    Forced publication is just another method to name and shame, a policy which has failed to reduce tax avoidance or paying below the minimum wage, whilst obscene levels of pay for bosses is known to be responsible for the lack of investment in technology and training which leads to low productivity. 
      If she really wanted to help workers,and simultaneously boost the economy as well, May would be planning legislation to restrict the pay ratio to 20:1, prosecuting all CEOs and employers who failed to pay a living wage, and raising the national living wage to £10.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Too much Blair

Seven pages and the cover devoted to Blair (Unfinished business, 25th November,2106)!! No, he isn`t "quite the fugitive in his own land" because of the Iraq war , and his "extensive business operations", but why he receives such a vast amount of attention from a leading left-leaning magazine beggars belief. Blair is the most important single reason for the dire state of British politics today, yet he arrogantly thinks he can become "an agent of influence"; what a shame he didn`t think that earlier, rather than making billions out of "advising" dictators. Are we suddenly meant to forget, for example, how he appeared in a propaganda video praising the "progress" being made in Kazakhstan, under the dictatorship of President Nazarbayev? Did the 13 million dollars he was paid, according to the Financial Times, blind Blair to the shooting of striking workers there, and the killing of the leaders of opposition parties? Almost definitely, but sadly, Jason Cowley didn`t ask him!
  People`s faith in politicians in general was shattered when a prime minister was prepared to lie blatantly to the nation to rustle up support for an unnecessary and illegal war, and in Labour politicians specifically, when he brown-nosed the City, and failed to regulate the financial institutions. The Middle East is still suffering the consequences of Blair`s war , the UK has been forced to endure six years of austerity under Tory-dominated governments, because of Blair`s failure to think beyond Westminster, and the New Statesman still gives him all that space? I am astounded and disappointed; you`ll be giving him the Diary slot next!