Archive for June, 2012

The Tragedy of Timbuktu

June 30, 2012 2 comments

Reports are coming through of Ansar Al Din, the armed Islamist group now in control of much of Northern Mali, having begun the total destruction of 16 UNESCO world heritage sites in Timbuktu.  All the sites are ancient mausolea.

As I set out three months ago, this at least partially the fault of David Cameron and his Boys’ Own Adventure in Libya. 

The chaos now enveloping Northern Mali has a fairly complex history, and it’s biggest trigger was the March coup in Mali itself, which led to military weakness in the Northern areas quickly exploited by a mix of Islamist and Touareg groups intent on seccession and/or the imposition of Sharia law.  But

 there seems little doubt that a key contributing factor was the retreat from Libya of heavily armed mercenaries, no longer in the payroll of Ghadaffi. 

Just as in Iraq eight years previously, the British government and its allies appear to have completely failed to plan for the possible knock-on effects of Ghadaffi’s downfall – the existence of mercenaries recruited from southern neigbours was hardly unknown, after all.   And just as eight years ago, a whole region is being stabilised by a British prime minister’s desire to play the international hero.

I’m not even sure if Hague or Cameron know where Timbuktu is, never mind anything of its importance as a cultural site.   But this weekend, they should be feeling guilty about the irreversable damage they are partly responsible for.



Categories: General Politics

Gay rights and the tea party

Tom Scott is a US Conservative talk-radio host who ran as an independent candidate in 1994 against Eunice Groark, a Repulbican and the first female lieutenant governor of Connecticut back in in 1990.

He became submerged in hot water in 2005 when, as Tampa mayoral candidate, he opposed local gay rights marches, and urged elected officials to vote against them.

But his excuse at the time was that his opposition was not down to discrimination, but the “issue was spending public dollars to advocate or advertise gay pride“.

He went one further, too: “I oppose any kind of discrimination in any form”.

Tom Scott is also a fellow-traveller of the tea party movement. To the accusation that the tea party is a cell for racists and homophobes, Scott – a black person himself – replied that “the real basic platform of the Tea Party” is a dissatisfaction of high taxes and big state.

This probably doesn’t sit well. After all, the tea party did more than just raise the issue of supposedly bad finance. When the Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez raised the spectre of epistemic closure, and right wing bias towards Fox News, this was at a time when the birther movement were waving placards claiming the President of the US was not a real American.

Who were the birthers? Well people like Tom Wise who felt Obama’s documents had been altered. He, also, was a Tea Party coordinator.

But there seems to be some desire for a real Tea Party, not the rag tag bunch who pose conspiratorial questions and look stupid, like Tom Wise (not well named).

Sanchez’ colleague at the Cato Institute David Lampo has taken it upon himself to do the seemingly impossible task of bringing gay rights to the conservative right. For him this should start with the Tea Party movement. Though, further, he doesn’t think it’ll be too hard.

In his new book A Fundamental Freedom:Why Republicans, Conservatives, and Libertarians Should Support Gay Rights  he cites:

A Montana Tea Party group recently kicked out one of its board members for remarks that seemingly condoned anti-gay violence. In Texas, a bastion of hard-core Republican conservative theocrats, the Republican Party recently replaced its “Schlaflyite culture warrior” chairman (in the words of author and journalist Jonathan Rauch) with a more traditional Reaganite who emphasized economic issues over social ones. As a Dallas Tea Party leader told Rauch, “We do not touch on social issues. We believe the biggest danger to the country is the fiscal irresponsibility that’s going on in Washington.”

I once again ponder on the question: is an organisation like the Tea Party the sum of its parts (which brings to mind the birthers and other nonsense) or a whole which cannot always control the message of its parts (the whole’s message being one of non-discrimination and economic issues)?

On the Republicans in general and gay relationship recognition, Lampo cites some very interesting figures:

when it comes to relationship recognition for gay couples, as far back as 2004, a CBS News poll showed that 46 percent of Republicans backed either civil unions or same-sex marriage, and that support has continued to grow. A CBS News poll in August 2010 showed 59 percent of Republicans supporting either same-sex marriage or civil unions (25 percent backed marriage, 34 percent civil unions). A May 2011 survey by Public Policy Polling showed a majority of Republicans, 51 percent, in favor of either same-sex marriage (12 percent) or civil unions (39 percent).

In his Washington Post piece he notes a sea change in Mitt Romney, siding with homophobic organisations to rally up the troops. But for Lampo these troops are imaginary. The conservative Right are coming round to gay rights – even on issues such as marriage.

So perhaps there is something in this. Perhaps this shows something interesting within conservatism that appeals to gay marriage, rather than the stock criticism that conservatives and gay marriage are as oppositional as Jeremy Hunt and truth-telling.

As a congregation of conservative rabbis in Arizona recently put it: “same-sex marriages have the same sense of holiness and joy as that expressed in heterosexual marriages”.

Categories: General Politics

The privatisation of democratic scrutiny: the strange case of Lancashire Healthwatch

June 29, 2012 10 comments

The Lancashire Evening Telegraph reports (i.e. copies and pastes a press release) :

A NEW organisation to improve health and social services in Lancashire has been unveiled.

Lancashire County Council has joined forces with Parkwood Healthcare to form a new health watchdog called HealthWatch Lancashire.

Parkwood specialises in providing staff, including nurses, care assistants and project workers, to the NHS, private and voluntary organisations.

From April 2013, the new organisation will replace the current Lancashire Local Involvement Network (LINk) as an independent watchdog, listening to local people’s concerns and ensuring the best services for them.

In dryer terms, Parkwood Healthcare has won the contract from the County Council to run Lancashire Healthwatch (see No.5 in May 2012 Cabinet minutes), pursuant to the Health and Social Care Act 2012.  

Clause 183, para 2.2 of that Act requires the following in respect of such a contract:

The arrangements must be made with a body corporate which—

(a) is a social enterprise, and

(b) satisfies such criteria as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State

This makes the award of the contract look very odd.  I have checked out Parkwood Healthcare on the Companies House site and it is a Private Company Limited by Shares.  As such, it is surely outwith the normal definition of a social enterprise. 

So have the County Council acted illegally in awarding the Healthwatch contract to Parkwood Healthcare?  

Well, maybe, or maybe not.  The Health and Social Care Act, courtesy of a late amendment in the Lords (unchallenged by any member of any party), provides a definition of what itmeans by ‘social enterprise’ (Clause 183 para 7):

For the purposes of this section, a body is a social enterprise if—

(a) a person might reasonably consider that it acts for the benefit of the community in England, and

(b) it satisfies such criteria as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State.

Now, I’m a pretty good at ‘reasoning’, even if I say so myself,  but I don’t consider that Parkwood Healthcare ‘acts for the benefit of the community in England’, precisely because the organisation’s legal status is not one normally associated with social enterpise. 

Further, we don’t know what criteria may be prescribed in the secondary regulations, because those regulations are still a matter for consultation; indeed those consultations appear to have a particular focus on what ‘social enterprise’ is to be taken to mean (see Issue 1 in these slides).

So in summary, we have a (Conservative) County Council apparently offering a ‘social enterprise-only’ contract to what is clearly a private firm, but which might just arguably be considered a social enterprise under Andrew Lansley’s new regulations.  Except that they haven’t been issued yet.

Further, the contract has been awarded to a Lancashire-registered firm which, at least judging by the website section on the nursing agency part of its business,  may have a financial interest in delivering some of the services that it is now being contracted to scrutinise*.

At the very least, I think Lancashire County Council needs to be asked a few questions about this**, including whether it has made provision in the contract with Parkwood Healthcare for its termination/withdrawal, in the event that the secondary legislation makes such a contract unlawful.


* We should be clear that this is not entirely new. According to its accounts, Parkwood Healthcare already has contracts to “act as the host for voluntary organisations to meet and influence service provision” in Lewisham, Harrow and Greenwich, while also offering nursing agency services in the London area.  

These contracts come under the previous government’s Local Involvement Networks (LINk) legislation, but the difference is that in these cases their ‘hosting’ services have been subject to a degree of accountability from those members that make up the Local Involvement Network itself (cf. the Lancashire LINk board structure, for example). Under the new Healthwatch provisions there appear to be no such safeguards, with LINks simply abolished in favour of Local Healthwatch arrangements. 

** I should stress, not least so as to avoid any risk of legal action, that I am in no way suggesting that Parkwood Healthcare has acted improperly in tendering for the Lancashire Healthwatch contract.  It is the Council’s actions that I question.



My father, and the meaning of the Bomber Command memorial

June 29, 2012 3 comments

I have mixed feelings about the new Bomber Command memorial.

I can understand what has motivated the veterans who have campaigned for so long for it: the brooding sense of resentment that they alone have failed to be recognised for their heroism, the need to put the record straight.

But I’m pretty sure that my father, a Lancaster bomb-aimer who bombed Dresden and other German cities at the age of 21, would not approve.  I’m pretty sure of that because, until he was killed in 1979, he resolutely declined to talk about the war.  He stayed in touch with none of his squadron, attended no memorials. He walked on the hills on Remembrance Day.

My mother, likewise, largely maintained that silence, in quiet respect for the way my father approached post-war life, but she has confirmed well enough what I’d long suspected but wasn’t old enough to ask my father before he died: that he hated everything about the war,  most especially what he was ordered to do, and that he felt guilt about what he had done till the day he died.

Of course I accept that other veterans view what they did quite differently and that for them it is a legitimate source of pride.  

I accept fully that is easy enough now to see the carpet bombing of German cities (rather than continued attacks on strategic power and transport installations) as a needless act of retribution, but that the decision-makers of the time were subject to pressures, and emotions, that we can only guess at. 

For those who flew under these decision-makers’ orders, it is quite understandable that they should have agreed, or come to agree, that what was done needed to be done, and that they should be honoured equally for their part in winning the war against Nazism.

Even so, I can’t help feeling that the memory of my own father is just a little bit sullied by the new memorial: that his way of dealing with the past -  family ties and the local solidarity of his workmates in the steelworks to which he returned after the war -  has been shoved a little too unthinkingly to one side, in favour of what is actually a very modern politics of  recognition.

Fifteen years ago or so, a Labour MP (it might have been Clare Short) was brave enough to suggest that 2014 or 2018 might be a suitable time for the very last Remembrance Day, a hundred years on from the war around which the institution grew up; the brave men we commemorate each 11th November will soon be as distant as the Napoleonic wars were to those same men.  Eventually, history must replace remembrance.

Thar MP’s wasn’t a very popular view even then, but I can’t imagine any MP of any colour now calling for a time-limit on remembrance which, if we’re brutally honest about it, may often be more about our need for occasional solidarity and collective emotion by any means available, in a world where day-to-day solidarity can seem hard to come by.

Financial crisis and drug provision

I’m not about to make a crass analogy between the UK and Greece, but drug provision from charities in this country (reported by Mary O’Hara in the Guardian today) has parallels to street clinics run by NGOs in Greece.

As mentioned in the Lancet:

Another indicator of the effects of the crisis on vulnerable groups is increased use of street clinics run by NGOs. Until recently, these clinics mainly catered to immigrants, but the Greek chapter of Médecins du Monde estimates that the proportion of Greeks seeking medical attention from their street clinics rose from 3—4% before the crisis to about 30%.

I’m all for inclusion of the third sector, but we should stand back and see what the new inclusion in their remit means for the most vulnerable in society.

Categories: General Politics

The other Barclays scandal

The Libor cat is out of the bag, and Bob Diamond’s personal defence is likely to be that he was head of Barcap, not of the whole of Barclays, at the time of the abuse.

So it’s worth remembering what has definitely been going on under his watch…..

Back in February, when Barclays was still “the one that didn’t get bailed out”,  this came out from shareholder group PIRC:

PIRC research last year identified that at least £1.4bn of deferred bonuses payable were not carried as a liability or disclosed by Barclays in respect of 2010 and previous years. Barclays said that it was nevertheless complying with international accounting standards (IFRS) under which a liability to employees does not count as a liability.

That was contrary to the requirement of Section 411 of the Companies Act which requires amounts paid and payable to employees be disclosed, independently of whether IFRS or UK GAAP was used. It then became clear that this problem was common with other banks.

With today’s figures Barclays is now disclosing amounts payable in accordance with Section 411, even though it is not adjusting its profits or balance sheet for this. This reveals:

• The amount missing in 2010 was in fact £1.7bn, higher than PIRC’s estimate.
• For 2011 the missing sum is now £2.0bn.

That is, while Barclays are this year just about complying with company law by admitting to the £2bn liability in the notes to their accounts (page 33, Performance Management section), they deliberately omit these liabilities from their overall profit figure.

If these bonus liablilities are taken into account, and other IFRS quirks* are ironed out, PIRC calculates that:

Barclays true profit for 2011 is only £2,914m, not the £5,879m IFRS number, nor the group’s own “adjusted” number of £5,590m.

This is important because the bonuses being paid out to Barclay’s investment bankers this year have been based on what appears to be an over-inflated profits announcement.

*In fact, as a helpful anonymous commentator set out when I first set this out, the issue of what is a real liability is complicted somewhat by the inconsistency between Companies Acts and the international accounting standard (IFRS):

The Companies Acts are not particularly clear since in respect of cash awards the test is “paid and payable” – and it could easily be argued that the awards do not become payable until the 3 year additional service period is completed in 2015 – and in respect of share awards the Companies Acts are even more specific in that the value of the awards should only be recognised when the awards are finally given i.e. in 2015.

IFRSs are actually more sensible in that they require both cash and share awards to be spread over the period when the employee is required to provide services to earn the award. Where Barclays have been naughty is that they have taken that latter period to start in March 2012 and end in March 2015 – and have recognised nothing in respect of 2011, eventhough it is the employees performance (or lack of it) in 2011 which has determined the size of the bonus pool. The accounting under IFRSs is just wrong and PIRC should refer it to the FRRP.



Categories: General Politics

What we don’t hear about forced marriages and gay men

I recently reviewed a report for HuffPo that shows how London Police Services are underprepared for a rise in serious crime. The report by the Victims’ Services Advocates (VSA) can be downloaded here.

One of the figures the report mentions, which I didn’t have time to highlight in my review, was one by the Metropolitan Police which shows that there were 298 Forced Marriage incidents / crimes reported in 2010 (including 333 actual and prospective victims – i.e. living in fear of forced marriage).

Of those people forced into marriage, the gender breakdowns reveal:

  • Female: 297
  • Male: 35
  • Unknown: 1

One of the inferences based on interview material, and the MPA’s own assessment, is that many of the men who are involved here are actually gay, and forced into marriage because of this.

The MPA didn’t check sexual orientation (save for one person)  as part of the course, so it is hard to evaluate, but there has been some attention given to this type of marriage over the last few years – and it is deeply disturbing.

Back in 2010 the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) said there had been a surge in cases where men and boys are being forced into marriage because their families suspect they are gay or bisexual.

In that year the number of calls from men to the unit increased by 65%, from 134 in 2008 to 220 in 2009, and many of the cases involved families from south Asia, particularly Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

Comparable figures need to be shown today, to see whether this is an increasing problem, and to see who is targeted.

If the figures are worrying then this only adds to the VSA’s findings that there needs to be improved communication lines between the police authorities and victims.

Tony Blair’s grand plan

Blair gets it right(ish)

As European leaders prepare for the latest ‘make or break’ summit later this week, it’s important to reflect on what Tony Blair thinks

No really. 

Most of what he had to say to Andrew Marr on Sunday about the need for a ‘grand plan’  was of course absolute pap, consisting of the usual reiterations about the need for Greece et al. to take the “pain” if Germany is to come up with the readies, he did make one important point when he acknowledged that the introduction of the euro had been:

 motivated by politics and delivered in economics.

Blair is right that the political will to introduce the common currency meant that it happened before the level of economic competitiveness between the various countries was equal enough to ensure its long-term smooth functioning.  Leaders kidded themselves and their electorates that a combination of the trade flexibilities offered by the new currency itself , along with the continued judicious use European Structural Funds would be enough to finish the job.

We need to be clear then, as Blair appears to be, that monetary union didn’t create the imbalance problems Europe now faces.  The problem dates back to the creation of the Single Market itself;  even before having the same currency ruled out devaluation as a means to change the balance of trade, the Single Market meant that underlying differences between economies could not be addressed through the application of import duties and export subsidies. 

The three solutions

Come 2012, three ‘solutions’ to the current mess, of varying wrongness,  are being proposed. 

First, there is the idea that self-defeating austerity will suddenly come good.  Enough said…it’s hurt and it’s not worked.  

Second, there is the hope that Germany will play ball and sign the Eurobonds. That’s better, and it may happen, but it still only offers a reprieve. 

Third, and most pernicious of all, is the ‘radical’ solution – put forward by people who don’t live in the real world or at least don’t care much for those who live in the real word – that the euro should be allowed to go to the wall.  This will cause chaos and meltdown, with the impact heavily weighted to the poor in the poorer countries, but however pleasurable that might be for the UKIP nihilists, it STILL doesn’t address the fundamental problem, which is nothing much to do with the euro, and lots to do with underlying economic imbalances.

The grand plan

But there is a fourth option, and Blair (however unwittingly) leads us towards it.   There is a grand plan.

This is to go back to first principles, dismantle the Single Market as it exists at the moment, and rebuild the European economy around a cooperatively agreed, flexible set of import tariffs/export subsidy permissions, aimed at allowing the countries with relatively poor trade balances to improve them through increased exports (including via limited inward investment based on these export advantages) and import substitutions processes.

“Ah”, will say the gainsayers, “that’s against European law, and its introduction will spell the end for the European Union”.  But, as I set out here, that’s not actually the case; Article 32 of the Lisbon Treaty allows wiggle room on the “prohibition” of “duties on imports and exports and charges having equivalent effect” in cases where there is a need to:

avoid serious disturbances in the economies of Member States and to ensure rational development of production and an expansion of consumption within the Union.

If events we’re witnessing now in Europe aren’t serious disturbances in need of a whole lot of rational development, then I don’t what events are.

The unthinkable about the Single Market needs to become the thinkable.  After all, restriction of worker movement within the EU, the other key principle underlying the Single Market,  has suddenly become thinkable again. 

Such restriction are also permissible under the lesser read provisions of the Lisbon Treaty and, as Alasdair Palmer at the Telegraph rightly suggests (though the glee with which he suggests it, and the comments which follow make me nauseous), such restrictions will soon become very attractive to member states desperate to be seen to be doing something, and cynical enough to make that something ‘tough action of immigration’(1).

The radical re-engineering of the Single Market, as a co-operative means of equalising trade balances (2), is not of course, the whole solution.  As Yanis Varoufakis has pointed out:

What is going on in Greece is no recession! Here, everyone is going under. Efficient and inefficient alike. Productive and unproductive. Potentially profitable and loss making enterprises. I know of factories that export everything they make to satisfied customers, that have full order books, a long history of profitability; and, yet, they are on the brink of bankruptcy. Why? Because their foreign suppliers will not accept their bankers’ guarantees in order to provide them with the necessary raw materials, as no one trusts the Greek banks anymore.

The answer to this, Yanis argues, can only be direct bank recapitalisation.  Without a functioning system of credit, a change to the Single Market in Greece’s favour will have little effect.

With this proviso, a move towards tariff/subsidy allowances would do wonders for the Greek economy, where there is export potential (while exports to the EU fell by 8.6% in the first quarter, largely because of  credit meltdown that Yanis refers to, they actually rose to China by a staggering 269% (perhaps because these exports are based more on primary products (e.g. cotton).

Of course, in the longer term, the introduction of cooperatively agreed tariff/subsidy ‘allowances’ (3) (reduced over time as economies start to converge) is in many ways simply a different route to money transfers between Germany and other European countries, and there would be pinch points to co-operation if, say, a German car manufacturer suddenly decided it liked the idea of Greek export subsidies and announced relocation – there would almost certainly be a need for some restriction on inward investment as a means to cut costs on existing trade (as opposed to new investment).  Even so, a system of transfers within a growing economy is likely to be much more attractive than one forced upon Germans in a stagnant Europe.

Dedicated to Tony

So will this grand plan, or a variation on it, happen?  Well I wouldn’t bet my bike on a fundamental reform of the Single Market emerging from this week’s latest crisis talks.

Even leftwing economists, who are supposed to understand the bit about capital serving people and not the other way round, currently seem reluctant to offer such a fundamental challenge to the orthodoxy that free trade is good, preferring to look at ways in which fundamental imbalances can be mitigated, rather than actually removed through co-operative European government (4). 

So I don’t expect the lightbulb to go on above Monti or Samaras’ head anytime soon.

But even if we need to dip further towards economic mayhem before the (good) unthinkables really do become thinkable, it might be worth people better than me at economics-speak running with the idea of a this grand plan and seeing how far we get.

Hell, I’d even call it Blair’s grand plan, and vote for him as President of Europe, if it worked.

 Stuff I couldn’t squash in above

 (1) Palmer is in fact wrong to suggest, as he appears to do in his blog that, the member states’ unilateral move on Schengen on 7th June is a restriction in itself, as it is concerned with policing entry from outside the EU, but he is right to say that the way the member states have acted without regard to the European Parliament is indicative of a change in mood).

(2) For a primer on the importance of trade balance, look no further than this succinct post from TCF’s occasional guest Paul Cockschott, in which Paul argues that the Balance of Trade (his focus is on the Uk economy) is the “elephant in the room”, disregarded as a major indicator of a country’s economic well-being since the 1980s.

(3) I am aware that the World Trade Organisation would be a major stumbling block here, but in the end the EU can argue for primacy of law within its own jurisdiction, and that the WTO has never objected to Article 32 to date.

(4) When I consider the conceptual difficulties of creating a coherent challenge to the orthodoxy of  ‘free trade is good’, without it looking like a backward step, I am reminded of the difficulties experienced a 100 years ago by late Victorian/Edwardian Conservatives, trying but failing to create a coherent case for tariff reform.  They could see clearly enough the negative consequences of free trade for people of their core constituency – and this was not solely the propertied – and were attracted to the reconstituted  ‘moral economy’ which tariff reform appeared to offer, but were unable to present this in such a way that they didn’t look like ‘dinosaurs’ from an earlier age of political economy. 

For more, read EHH Greens magisterial study The Crisis of Conservatism: The Politics, Economics and Ideology of the British Conservative Party, 1880-1914

 BoT importance primer

Will the Ashley abusers go to prison?

England played football on Sunday and lost, because two players missed penalties.  These two players happened to be black and they received some abuse on twitter which linked the colour of their skin to their missing the penalties.  Police are now investigating the tweeter, a “Steve from London”, and his tweets.

So will this charming gentleman end up in prison, Liam Stacey-style, for an offience under the Misuse of Communications act 2003?

I sincerely hope not.  As I set out here with reference to the Stacey case, I simply can’t see how this kind of alleged offence can pass the Crown Prosecution Service public interest test, and a prosecution will be more of a victory for celebrity culture than it will be for justice.  Further, the Misuse of Communications Act was drawn up before the advent of Twitter and Facebook, and is simply unsuited to dealing with the changes in the way people now communicate with each other/the ether.

Happily for Steve in London, the CPS appears now to have reflected on matters, and the Chief Prosecutor for sport-related offences appears to agree with me:

Harassment through social media is covered by existing legislation, such as the Misuse of Communications Act, and we have already seen successful prosecutions in this area. Where the abuse is racist, we can bring that to the attention of the court as an aggravating feature.

This is an area where I would suggest education, both of what not to do and of how easy it is to detect and prosecute these offences, might prevent the criminalisation of otherwise decent people, but I should stress I would never condone the misuse of social media to commit what would be a hate crime if said face to face.

The proof will be in the pudding, but let us hope this relatively balanced view prevails in this case. 

As it happens, racist abuse of the two Ashleys came across my own twitter timeline on Sunday.   The tweeter, whom I won’t identify, has clearly now sobered up and regretted his beahviour; the tweet, in which the term “spear chuckers” occurs with reference to the penalty missers, has been deleted, though it remains within an RT from another tweeter, who happens to be black.   The latter’s response is interesting in the context of the CPS’s new line on the advantages of education over punishment in this kind of case:

Who the fuck are you kidding with them kinda tweets [name] lad?

The response suggests that the latter tweeter knows the former by name (an a later tweet to an inquiring friend indicates that he knows exactly were he lives), and that he’s calling out his friend/acquaintance out on his temporary, drink-fuelled pseudo-racism (perhaps aimed at impressing others) rather than accusing him of deeply held views.

This ‘calling out’ is, I suggest, a better way forward than dragging the young person before the courts.

Categories: Law

Victory for TCF as Michael Gove forced to lie slightly less than before

June 24, 2012 5 comments

Gove’s statement to parliament on the ‘O level’ leak contained this justification:

The sad truth is that, if we look at the objective measure of how we have done over the past 15 years, we find that on international league tables our schools fell in reading from 523 to 494 points, in maths from 529 to 492 and in science from 528 to 514.

Gove is referring to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study, and the data he provides is correct.

This is interesting for two reasons.

1) This time around Gove relies on the raw score changes rather than on the international league tables which have been the focus of misinformation, dating right back to 2010, since when he and his department have relied heavily this false data to set out their case for education ‘reform’. 

The dodgy league table data has been used repeatedly in the last week by Tories and their supporters, including Liz Truss MP, Toby Young (repeatedly on telly, I understand), Phillip Blond and Stephen Robinson so it is a surprise to see a sudden change of tack by Gove himself.

The change suggests strongly that he and his DfE team, complicit in the lies that have been so consistently peddled, have recognised that the game is up, and that they can no longer get away with it.  This amounts to a victory for TCF and for others who have sought to bring the DfE’s disgraceful manipulations to public attention.

2)   Nevertheless, Gove can’t bring himself to stop the lying completely.  While it’s good that he’s abandoned the totally invalid claims about slippage in comparison to other countries, he continues to suggest a downward trend on UK scores which simply does not stand up to serious analysis.  

As I’ve noted several times, no proper trend analysis between 2000 and 2009 is possible because the 2000 sample was not large enough to be statistically robust.

Moreover, the 2000 and 2003 tests were conducted some months earlier in school year 11 (Nov/Dec) than the 2006/2009 (March-May) as an exception in the international study (because they get in the way of GCSE preparations).  As John Jerrim of the Institute of Education has noted, this makes a pretty obvious difference:

[I]t is important to understand that between November/December and March‐May of year 11 is likely to be a period when children add substantially to their knowledge of the PISA subjects as it is when pupils are working towards important national exams. Consequently, one should expect the year 11 pupils in the PISA 2000/2003 cohort to out‐perform their peer taking the test in 2006/2009 due to the extra five months they have had at school….. This would in turn suggest an overestimation of the decline in PISA maths scores over time.

Look at it the other way round.  If scores in 2006/2009 had not been lower in 2009 than they were in 2000, a valid question might have been what the hell teachers and students learn during most of year 11.


So bizarrely, we’re left with a situation where Gove has been forced to lie a little bit less than he has done so far, but where he’s so dependent on the use of the PISA tables to defend his crackpot scheme that he’s still forced to mislead the House of Commons.



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