Progress, the party-within-a-party/pressure group/think-tank ran a competition for a bursary at their policy weekend in March. Good on them. It was all about a 550 word essay on how to win a Labour majority. I entered, because a) I wanted to go b) I’m too skint to pay.
I didn’t get a bursary because a) I’m not a Progress members (that wasn’t made clear at the time, but heh ho); b) my entry was deemed below the standard of other entries anyway.
Here it is, written as I thought a Progress person might write, but with stuff I could actually support. Seems ok to me, but what do you think? Is it total bollox?
The three pillars of a Labour majority
A Labour majority needs to be built on three pillars: policy, presentation, party. The pillars must be strong in themselves, but they also need to create a coherent whole. Great policy is no good if it isn’t presented to the electorate in a way that convinces. Presentation doesn’t work unless the party is effectively mustered, and the party cannot be effectively mustered to its presentation role unless it understands and ‘owns’ the local impacts of proposed policies.
But even strong pillars can fall. The outward lateral forces of any massive structure need a counterforce in the form of flying buttresses, and that may be the architectural function of Progress.
Over the last two years, Labour has established a clear policy line in two key areas: fiscal responsibility and the cost of living. Ed and the PLP team are starting to get through on the message that, far from talking about the cost of living crisis as a way to avoid having to talk about the economy, for most people the economy is the cost of living crisis.
We now need to develop a coherent menu of investments designed to improve public services and create long term savings, and to stimulate wage-led growth. The ground for this is being prepared by the Zero-based Review, which emphasises fiscal discipline around day-to-day spending in order to create room for investment.
We need to develop a set of punchy alternatives to Osborne’s cut-and-see- approach. Childcare investment is an obvious such area, and the work on growth via procurement processes is encouraging, but we will need more costed examples for the manifesto, such as a coherent early investment strategy (based both on Frontline and refocused Children’s Centres) which cuts a swathe through quasi-judicial spending on child protection whilst also stimulating local employment.
A wage-led, social investment-focused economy should be our main selling point. Even our legislative programme should be based around that e.g. adaptations to minimum wage legislation to give the OBR more influence over a less corporate-influenced Low Pay Commission.
We need to devolve our presentation, and trust our local parties to deliver the seats we need for victory. We can be confident that the vast majority of parties, after two decades in a ‘campaigning party’, know what they’re doing, and can do it better than a central body producing ‘on-message’ but necessarily inauthentic-looking literature for the doorstep, which by its nature creates inauthentic doorstep conversations.
This is not to downplay the importance of regional and national support, including from Progress’s own resources, but we need to develop systems which respond to local demands, not ones which provide targets, incentives and monitoring.
The Collins Review promises to be a landmark document for the labour movement. It will set out a coherent plan to incentivize many thousands of union members (and others) to go beyond their financial contribution to the party and become involved in a local labour movement which embraces CLP, trade union/trade council and community organising functions.
We will need to act quickly to ensure that this radical new approach (or arguably very old approach) is embedded quickly in local areas, so that come Autumn 2014 a host of new and newly energised supporters rally to the cause, now convinced that the party is serious about devolving power and resources to local level.
Drawing on insights from Hasina, a woman I knew in Bangladesh, Sally Copley (Labour PPC for Oxford West), cognitive linguist George Lakoff, historian Tim Stanley, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, and Peter Griffin from Family Guy, I try to map a route past Labour’s current immigration impasse and towards a ‘reframing’ of how Labour might present a new immigration narrative.
This route will largely depend, I suggest, on the capacity of the labour movement for subversion against the leadership, and the willingness of the leadership to tolerate such subversion. As such, the development of an authentic left-wing framing of the immigration debate might act as a model for (anti-hegemomic) framing of other political ‘debates’ which are currently being lost to the right.
From a Chittagong slum to the House of Commons
Years ago, I was sitting in the clinic in a Chittagong slum, chatting after work hours with a mix of local residents and staff (there we are, that’s me in blue).
Most were Muslims, but a couple of the staff were Hindus. We got to talking about Muslim-Hindi relations, and one contribution from a local mother, Hasina (pictured below) – her child was staying with us in the feeding centre and she was well known in the area as an organiser and agitator – has stuck with me:
We need the Hindus. They are cleverer than us. Sometimes we don’t like them, but we need them.
I was reminded of this last week when, down in London, I bobbed down to Westminster for Progress’s Q&A on Labour’s immigration stance in the context of winning the next general election.
At the top table were:
1) Jonathan Portes from NIESR, who gave us facts about immigration being good for the UK, before retreating (several times) behind his “I’m an economist, not a politician” banner. Jonathan was always going to do this, so it does make you wonder why he was a speaker at meeting on how to get the politics of immigration right.
2) Diane Abbott MP, who went over, in some places word for word, the Progress article magazine I’d read in the ten minutes I was waiting for it all to start. Her message is simple: stop apologising for Labour’s immigration policy as it’ll make everyone thing the Tories/UKIP are right, and deal with the economic issues which feed popular anti-immigration sentiment instead. She also said that people who claim that anti-immigration stances aren’t mostly about race are talking crap.
3) David Hanson, Shadow Immigration Minister, talked crap about how we should recognize that people around the country were “in shock” at the changes in their community, such as a traditional butcher’s now being a Polish foodstuff shop, and that the best way to deal with all this is to deal with the economic issues which feed popular anti-immigration sentiment. David’s list of issues was a bit different from Diane Abbott’s, notably leaving out trade union freedom. He also said that people who claim that anti-immigration stances are actually about race are talking crap.
4) Zoe Tyndall from polling firm Britain Thinks, who – amongst the general platitudes – told us one interesting thing: that the one thing her focus groups associate with Labour’s immigration policy is Gordon Brown’s calling Irene Duffy a bigot – the implication being that the real issue for voters is not so much whether immigration is a good or a bad thing, more that they dislike the idea of an elite telling them that there is correct line to take on it.
5) Someone else from a polling firm or think-tank who said nothing of interest and whose name I’ve forgotten.
The Q&A proceeded as you’d expect, and as many have proceeded previously. The speakers entrenched themselves in their positions, and the central question of how a mainstream political party might facilitate a shift in public opinion on immigration, in order to get to a more sensible political and economic position of the type set out by Jonathan Portes, while still understanding, respecting and being seen to respect the right of the public to have an opinion which for the moment at least appears diametrically opposed to that sensible political and economic position (and without, therefore further entrenching a public view that a pro-immigration stance is only held by a metropolitan elite who don’t have to suffer the assumed/imagined* cultural and economic downsides of immigration).
The best attempt to address this central question came from Sally Copley, the Labour PPC for Oxford West & Abingdon, who asked – referencing her campaigning job with Oxfam GB – why we are unable to develop a pro-immigration narrative/story which can turn the tide of anti-immigration sentiment. What the right were very good at, she went on, was presenting/comstructing a “villain of the piece” around to which to establish a story of good and evil. why she asked, was the left not as good at it? This was, as I’ll go on to set out, was more insightful than I initially credited it as being.
Diane Abbott’s half-attempt to answer this was slightly bizarre, and reflected a failure even to grasp what the question was about; she claimed, as far as I could tell, that the only way forward was us to tell a story that we thought was true, thus spectacularly both missing the point and accusing us all of not believing the benefits of immigration in the first place.
But at least she had a go. The other top table ones fell back into their own securities of needing to understand that people felt under threat (Hanson), that we needed to start where people were at (pollsters) or that such stuff really wasn’t anything to do with him (Portes).
Already feeling somewhat dispirited, I attempted to back up Sally’s point – rather inarticulately, because I tried overly to facilitate dialogue by drawing on previous conversation threads (including Diane Abbott’s) – by suggesting one particular narrative in which we both believe – given the evidence – and which “starts where people are”. This is in schools – very much part of the everyday life of millions of parents and grandparents – and the very real evidence (which I’ve covered here and here) that immigration is a direct causal factor in improvements in achievement for both immigrant and native-born children.
Jonathan nodded furiously as I said this, and noted that, strangely, this was a ‘story’ which was being told by the Daily Mail, but not by Labour. Diane Abbott then provided an answer, ostensibly to my question but with no obvious substantive connection to it – essentially she repeated a bit of her Progress article – before the Chair Polly Billington, the PPC for Thurrock, weighed in with her experiences of the huge improvements in academic achievement in her area which she suggested, agreeing with my line, were being driven by immigration (from West Africa in her case) but then proceeded to chide me gently for not realizing that in fact this was very bad news, because white working class children were being excluded in some way from the rapidity of these achievements, and this meant that immigration might in fact be a bad thing.
The meeting tied up, and we all went home – none the wiser about how we actually “win” on immigration in a way which differentiates us from the right. As it stands, the Labour party seems doomed to its cowardly position – as reflected here – of the need to take voters’ concerns seriously and even internalise these concerns so as to feel in tune with popular feeling, even while knowing that these concerns are the result of years of hegemomic practice in which the party itself has been complicity, for fear of being seen to disrespect voters, while the Abbottian left snipes from the sidelines but without a positive alternative, anti-hegemonic strategy.
How not to win on immigration
So what might that alternative strategy look like?
This is where my Hasina from Chittagong comes in. Labour, I suggest, could learn a lot from her.
Hasina didn’t like Hindus much, but really wanted them in her community because they benefited her; they were the ones who knew how to mix the rehydration solution best of all, who were literate, who could make your baby well. It was therefore in her self-interest that she should sublimate her dislike of some cultural stuff Hindus do in favour of other practical stuff that Hindus do well.
My point at the House of Commons sought to reflect Hasina’s insight. If only, I was trying to say, immigrants could be marketed in the same way in the same way of my aid agency had, albeit inadvertently, marketed our Hindu staff from across town, then we might get somewhere – if only, for example, we could develop a ‘story’ which persuaded people that it’s in their direct self-interest to have immigrants in their school, to the extent that people start to seek out high-immigration areas for their children’s education, in the believe that this would give them the best start in life. Then, perhaps, we might start to get somewhere – starting with grudging respect for individuals exemplars of immigration, maybe, but moving on to an acceptance that immigration as a whole is to be welcomed.
But course it’s not as easy as that, and I was wrong to suggest that it might be (not that anyone was listening). As George Lakoff has reiterated recently in his (very good) interview with Zoe Williams, it’s not all about self-interest:
Liberals try to argue against them [convervatives] using evidence; they are embarrassed by emotionality. They think that if you can just demonstrate to voters how their self-interest is served by a socially egalitarian position, that will work, and everyone will vote for them and the debate will be over. In fact, Lakoff asserts, voters don’t vote for bald self-interest; self-interest fails to ignite, it inspires nothing – progressives, of all people, ought to understand this.
In my own argument, I had forgotten that an argument in favour of immigration based on the self interest of native-born Brits, even though this might be a narrative step on from Jonathan Portes’ dry economic facts, still relies on people being open to evidence – local evidence that immigration causes better attainment for all children in their area, in this case.
In fact, there is little evidence that such a breakthrough might be achieved, at least in the short term. After all, even respected commentator Tim Stanley, in appealing for a “serious calm conversation about immigration” failed, within that very appeal, to notice the false assumption behind his acceptance that high number of pupils with first languages other than English “has to affect [negatively] the learning of other pupils”; as I’ve set out, the opposite is true. If an intellectual calling from a debate unframed by initial prejudice uses the frame of initial prejudice as a way of providing what he thinks is balance, what chance do the rest of us stand?
From evidence to moral foundations
Lakoff has argued for years now that the left (‘liberals’ in his US terminology) have been losing ground to the right because they have lost the framing battle. It is a convincing argument, rooted in his in his background as a cognitive linguist researching how our core cognitive functions are driven by an understanding of the world-as-metaphor – but while he is rightly critical of methods which smiply reinforce conservative messages by repeating them, in the belief that people will then see how absurd they are, he largely fails to come up with answers about how we might carry out this reframing more successfully. This is, in part, because he has become focused on the strict father vs nurturing father metaphor which he suggests lies at the methaphoric heart of all political debate, embedded as it in Judeao-Christian culture. This may be true as an analysis, but it difficult see how such linguistic embedding might be combatted.
More useful- at least heuristically – is the model of political framing set out by moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Haidt sets out five moral foundation ‘spectrums’, which he seeks to show are rooted in our evolution (and evidenced anthropologically), and which act as ‘triggers’ for our judgment on moral, and therefore (reflecting Lakoff) political issues.
These moral foundation spectrums are: 1) care/harm 2) fairness/cheating 3) liberty/oppression 4) authority/subversion 5) loyalty/betrayal 6) sanctity/degradation , and overt moral approval or disapproval of political actions and ideas is triggered by evolutionary impulses, which put us on guard against actions deemed to be at the negative end of the spectrum, and value those at the positive. Haidt goes on to suggest that the left relies overly on just three foundations in its political framing, giving the right an in-built advantage as they appeal to a population which pays unconscious heed to all six.
Haidt offers us a convincing story about why the right seem to find it easier to gain the upperhand in political argument, because they are able to rely on the moral triggers themselves developed in (literally) uncivilised times, when cooperation and equality of status were used as bargaining tools in the interests of self and clan, rather than as ends in themselves. In these terms, Zoe Tyndall’s research finding that what really narks her focus groups about Labour’s immigration policy is not the policy itself, but its association with Gordon Brown disrespecting Irene Duffy. Indeed, Haidt’s summary of the authority/subversion foundation might have been written to describe this reaction:
The authority/subversion foundation evolved in the adaptive challenge of forging relations that will benefit us within social hierarchies. It makes us sensitive to signs of rank or status , and to signs that other people are (or are not) behaving properly given their position (p.154).
What Labour sought desperately to write off as a storm in a teacup (though Brown, to his credit, realised it was much bigger than that), the Right instinctively seized upon as a key part of its story about Labour as an oppressive force. This brings me back to Hasina (pictured, below, with her children).
I have already set out her half-joking insight about the value of Hindus, and expressed it in terms of her and her family’s self-interest. But there was more to it than that. Hasina, as a woman who stood up for herself in a community rife with domestic violence, that what she was saying was gently subversive, not simply because it was brazen about ackowledging the ‘otherness’ in Hindus, but because it really wasn’t her place to saying such stuff, amidst an informal get together of staff (her social betters), and the strange but kindly foreigner to boot. In so doing, her political incorrectness counted for a great deal more than the staff platitudes about us all working together as one.
In fact, Hasina reminds me a little – though not physically, of Peter Griffin, the creation of the 21st century’s most talented observer of modern American life, Seth McFarlane. Here’s Peter (11 second clip), doing what he does best, valuing immigration and otherness by taking the piss out of authority in act an which also nods at self-interest.
How to win on immigration
So, having explored why the Right is winning on immigration, how does the left start to win?
If you follow the Haidt-Hasina-Griffin logic through, the obvious answer is that we must start to subvert. If we take as a starting point the idea that Labour’s political hierarchy has, through its collective behaviour, triggered revulsion on the authority/subversion moral spectrum, then the only morally acceptable behaviour, in the eyes of the wider population, is for people within the same labour movement to rebel against it. In time, this might create the space for us to exploit other moral foundations such as loyalty/betrayal, whereby an act in favour of immigration comes to be viewed as an act of loyalty to social class rather than an act of national betrayal, as it is currently framed (and as I’ve heard reflected on the #labourdoorstep).
To some extent, therefore, Diane Abbott is right to say that we must stand up against the current immigration narrative, though as a member of the Labour hierarchy tarred with the same brush as most MPs, she is the wrong person to lead on that. Ultimately, Diane Abbott is no Hasina. Or Peter Griffin.
In the current command and control structure of the Labour party, such acts of welcome subversion are unlikely to happen on a meaningful scale, anf it looks like the Collins Review will fail to do what it might have done in opening up power beyond its current narrow confines.
This is a shame. If the party’s “thinkers” had real gumption, they would realise that it stands to benefit, not just in terms of the opportunity to turn round the immigration debate, from opening itself up to legitimate contestation of its decision-making, and that what it preaches about the value of community organising might, instead of it being used to further depoliticize local parties, might instead be a key tool in the (re)legitimization of the party (and the leadership itself).
Even if the thinkers can’t grasp Lakoff and Haidt properly, they might at least see that the rise of UKIP is driven not just by anti-politics, but by a UKIP leadership which makes a virtue of the fact that its adherents are subversive even with the party (its attempts to control this will also hasten its decline). Labour is made of more moral stuff than UKIP to start with, and the leadership should see the advantage in engaging with principled dissent.
In the end then, whether Labour gets it right on immigration, and all other social policy areas which it as ceded to the right because of its failure (inter alia) to read Lakoff properly, is likely to depend on the usual stuff – the capacity of the rank and file to wield influence within the party.
We’ve been here before, of course.
Tories and Labour alike are full of praise for the way in which now ex-Immigration Minister Mark Harper has acted over his discovery that this cleaner does not have permanent leave to remain in the UK.
This seems odd, because if the news reports are accurate, Mark Harper has acted unlawfully.
Specifically, he would appear to be in breach of the Race Relations Act 1976 Part 2, sec 4 (2A) which states that:
It is unlawful for an employer, in relation to employment by him at an establishment in Great Britain, to subject to harassment a person whom he employs or who has applied to him for employment
This is made clear in the TUC’s 2010 guidance on immigration document checks:
Under the Race Relations Act (RRA) 1976 and its subsequent amendments it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against their employees or prospective employees on the grounds of race, colour, nationality (including citizenship), or ethnic or national origin. This applies to both public and private sector employers.
The TUC guidance goes on to review what documents can lawfully be reviewed by employers, and when they can be reviewed:
List A documents confirm that a person has the permanent right to stay and work in the UK. People holding List A documents need only be checked once, at the point of recruitment.
List B documents confirm that a person has the limited right to stay and work in the UK. People holding List B documents need to be re-checked every 12 months until they end their employment or are able to produce a List A document, in order for their employer to maintain a defence against being fined.
In Harper’s case, it seems clear that he thought his cleaner had permanent right to stay in the UK. In any event, he had no right to make repeated checks for any employee taken on before 29 Feb 2008, the date the new List A and B documentation rules came into force. His cleaner was, according to press reports, employed before then. Had s/he been employed after that, then he would legally have had to do the checks year;y, which he didn’t do.
So having got it wrong (but not unlawfully so) in 2007, it looks like he has acted unlawfully both now, and possibly also in 2010 and 2012, when he says he also checked his cleaner’s immigration status. He simply had no right to do so – losing papers does not count as a justification.
Funny that an Immigration Minister should be so ignorant of the law – but not so funny for his cleaner who now – because of this unlawful act by her employer – presumably now faces an uncertain future.
h/t Tim Flatman
Billionaire venture capitalist Tom Perkins has suggests that “the progressive war on the American one percent” might be analogous to developments in “fascist Nazi Germany”*. Anti-rich media reporting, he tells us, may be the precursor of something much worse, if only we could think things through like him:
This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent [sic] “progressive” radicalism unthinkable now?
Perkins has attracted ridicule but he may actually be right. Historian Karl Dietrich Bracher seems to concur that something on the scale of Kristallnacht, and what followed, was so out of keeping with what had gone before as to be “unthinkable” until it came to pass.
Prior to Hitler’s emergence, outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence were rare in Germany, unlike eastern Europe. Of course, anti-Semitic was ever present, waiting for fresh opportunities, particularly in times of poitical and economic crisis. It flared up with great intensity in 1873-1895, 1918-23, 1930-33, but its influence on political life and the terrible realization of its barbaric goals became possible after it had become part of an anti-democratic mass movement (p.66).
Bracher goes on to trace how and why this anti-democratic movement developed during the 1920s, and at the heart of his story is the way in which the “army and bureaucracy, middle class and business” (p.66) sided with the emerging forces of Nazism, enabling it ultimately to gain power via the democratic route, for two main reasons: a dysfunctional democracy in the form of the Weimar republic, and the ‘Red spectre’ of Communist revolution (p.66). In the end, says Bracher, the Germans got the Nazis because they thought the alternative might be worse:
The History of National Socialism is, in effect, the history of its fatal underestimation (p.69)
Fast forward to 2014 America** , and arguably it is this dynamic that Perkins has identified for us: a deep distrust of the political establishment, conflated with a growing fear of what “progressive” forces from the Left, such as Occupy, might mean for the status quo, leading to a growing hankering after a maverick figure of authority in whom we can all trust.
On this side of the Atlantic, UKIP is doing its best to provide that kind of “authority”, winning popularity via a leader who disrespects the fundamentals of democratic politics while making use of those same fundamentals to increase his coverage. He can’t be any worse, we say, even though by normal standards of judgment, he very clearly is.
UKIP won’t itself last as a political force, but its methods, including a very English form of völkish nationalism (unwittingly abetted by those who see the development of an English identity as a panacea) may well be taken up more talented and ruthless operatives.
Of course, on one narrow point Tom Perkins is wrong. The victims of such a rise in nasty, anti-democratic forces will not be the likes of Perkins – he and his sort will be busy collaborating on the identification of who the victims should be, and making the most of the new opportunities afforded to them by the spirit of post-democracy.
But we should be grateful, at least, for this quick history lesson.
* I assume Perkins wants to distinguish ‘fascist Nazi Germany” for other types of Nazi Germany, though I’m not immediately aware of there having been any other types.
** Here I do Bracher a blatant disservice, as he is very clear that the rise of Nazism was a very German phenomenon, with a very specific set of drivers which do not lend themselves to explication of the rise of fascism in other countries. Sorry, Karl Dietrich.
On hearing that Ed Balls was to use the Fabian conference to announce Labour’s commitment to a budget surplus, Hopi Sen tweets with mock insouciance
This is amusing, because his #intheblack labour side hasn’t won. It’s lost, and my side has won.
As George Eaton has pointed out*
While Osborne’s promise applies to total government spending, Balls’s only applies to current spending (day-to-day spending on public services, for instance teachers’ salaries and hospital drugs). This leaves open the option of Labour borrowing to fund additional capital spending (investment in assets such as housing and roads).
This is not something In the Black Labour ever conceived of in their original short paper.
Where George continues to get it wrong is his assumption that additional borrowing will go towards capital spending only. True, Balls focused on capital investment today, but the crucial (and largely ignored) Zero-based review makes it clear that there is an openness to non-capital social investment where additional funds are needed in the short terms to generate longer term savings to the public purse e.g. through investments in education and social justice-focused welfare provision.**
Ed Balls’ conversion (or re-conversion) to a reasonable sensible fiscal strategy in government should be a matter of celebration for the Left, much more than the politically attractive but much less meaningful 50% tax-rate (which should have been announced much later, giving top earners less time to shift there income around to avoid it). It comes about not least because of the pressure by sections of the Left on Labour to do something seriously pro-growth AND pro-social justice, and marks quite a big shift in our direction. If you look closely.***
* Fair play to George for finally waking up to this. It’s possible, though I’m sure he’d deny it, that he realised what was going on when I took him to task on his failure to keep up to date. His colleague Rafael Behr, whom I also found wanting, has conceded that I am right.
**This is easy enough to manage at a Treasury level – simply lower capital expenditure in Departmental budgets by shifting these costs into the new investment funds, thus allowing for increased investment-focused revenue in the Departmental budget.
*** To be fair to Hopi, he’s not alone. All the press comment I’ve seen other tha George’s has seen Balls’ speech as a simple move towards fiscal disipline, ignoring the bit about this only being on current spending, and the room that this leaves. This, for example, is quite wrong.
I’ve got a lot going on at the moment so I’m not very bloggy, but here’s a quick email I sent to some Labour National Executive Committee CLP delegates, spurred on by Mark’s good piece at Labourlist on the need for member involvement in the Collins Review process now coming to a head:
Dear xxxxxI’m writing to you in your position as NEC CLP representative because I know you take seriously the need to ensure that ordinary members views’ are heard on the NEC.As you’ll know, there are some concerns – as there were with the Refounding Labour process – that members’ and CLPs’ submissions to the Collins Review will be largely disregarded in favour of backroom compromise. These concerns are neatly summed up by Mark Ferguson at the Labourlist website this morning.I share this concern, not least as my own submission received no acknowledgment at all (again, as with the Refounding Labour submission).Can I ask then that you and your CLP NEC colleagues make the reasonable demand, in advance of your meeting, that the report presented to you should contain both a full list of the submissions made and a full analysis of those submissions, including responses to the recommendations set out in them.A useful template for this, which you might want to suggest, is the consultation response matrix set out by officers for local council reports during local development plan and similar processes, with columns a) setting out the main recommendations made by consultees; b) whether the drafters of the report agree/disagree c) comments on the rationale for agreement/disagreement (incl “see xxxxxxx” to save space where recommendations and responses are similar.I would also ask that you propose that the document submitted to you be made public.Best regards
Whenever a government document is at released on a day when people may be focused on other things, there is a temptation to wonder why. That started in 1986, when the Black report into Health Inequalities was released on a Bank Holiday Monday, as its then-shocking findings didn’t with the Thatcherite vision of the creation of a free society via the market alone.
And so it was when the Ofsted subsidiary guidance to its school inspectors was released quietly on 23rd December 2013, even though its official publication date is January 2014.
It’s not too hard to work out why. Paragraph 5 is the killer:
Do not insist that there must be three years worth of data, or that these data must show good progress or achievement, before judging a school’s overall effectiveness to be good overall. A school can be good if teaching, leadership and management, and behaviour and safety are good, and if there is sufficient evidence that progress and/or achievement of current pupils are good also. This is often the case when a school is improving from requires improvement, serious weaknesses or special measures. However, inspection reports must state clearly if this is the case.
In simple terms, this means that inspectors are being given leeway to award schools a ‘good’ rating in situations where their final results – GCSEs in secondary or level 2 SATs in primary – would not warrant it.
This is a very marked change in policy. Any senior teacher or governor will tell you that for at least the last 10 years final achievement of pupils has been pretty well the be all and end all; if you’ve got ‘requires improvement’-style exam results, you can argue till you’re blue in the face that you’re now a good school, that this will be reflected in future year achievements, but you’re still going to be graded at ‘requires improvement’ (RI).
So why the sudden change?
One explanation is that Ofsted, through its inspectors, has listened to schools’ arguments that it is unfair to be graded at RI even though it’s clear from every other part of the inspection that they have in fact improved their teaching, behaviour standards and school leadership. This would be a good thing.
The other more cynical explanation is that Ofsted realises the political importance of getting as many schools as possible shifted from RI to good in the four terms which separate us from the general election, so that come March 2015 Gove is in a position to wave figures around to ‘prove’ that his school revolution worked.
Is this too cynical? Well, I can’t say conclusively one way or another, but there are other bits of the guidance which suggest that Ofsted is deliberately relaxing its crteria around what counts as good. In particular, there’s paragraph 64:
Inspectors must not give the impression that Ofsted favours a particular teaching style. Moreover, they must not inspect or report in a way that is not stipulated in the framework, handbook or guidance. For example, they should not criticize teacher talk for being overlong or bemoan a lack of opportunity for different activities in lessons unless there is unequivocal evidence that this is slowing learning over time. It is unrealistic, too, for inspectors to necessarily expect that all work in all lessons is always matched to the specific needs of each individual. Do not expect to see ‘independent learning’ in all lessons and do not make the assumption that this is always necessary or desirable. On occasions, too, pupils are rightly passive rather than active recipients of learning. Do not criticise ‘passivity’ as a matter of course and certainly not unless it is evidently stopping pupils from learning new knowledge or gaining skills and understanding.
Again, this is a very marked shift. Many Ofsted reports written in the last couple of years have condemned schools to RI on the basis that the quality of teaching does not stand up to inspection in enough classrooms, and at the heart of this has been the finding that teachers do not ensure enough ‘differentiation’ and/or that students are not active enough participants in their lesson. Here, in one short paragraph, these considerations are thrown out in favour of a more general review of a “wide range of other evidence about how well children are learning in the school£ (para. 65). In other words, it’s going to be much easier for inspectors to judge individual lessons to be ‘good’, because they can take into account stuff that happens outside the classroom.
Again, you could argue that such a change is a good thing, if seen outside of the political imperative, but the question must surely arise: if this makes sense now, what the hell have the Ofsted leadership been doing for the last three years, forcing inspectors in completely the opposite direction?
I hope this shifting of the Ofsted goalposts is something Tristram Hunt’s team picks up on.
Mark at Labourlist praises the Labour leadership for speaking about immigration – something the rank and file are too scared to do. At least Ed’s trying to do something about it, says Mark:
Ed Miliband has decided to do something different. Something smarter. Something more humane. And something incredibly risky. He’s decided to try and change the debate on immigration.
Worried about immigrants “taking British jobs” by taking rock-bottom salaries? Then tackle the root cause – unscrupulous employers who seek to exploit the overseas poor to undermine the British poor.
Now I’m all for closing the loopholes which allow the minimum wage to be avoided. But it’s quite wrong to suggest that unscrupulous employment practices are the “root cause” of economic migration.
The root cause of economic migration to the UK is that some countries are poorer than us.
If we don’t want people to move here – and I accept that’s the current majority view – the root cause to tackle is the poorness of those countries.
That is, of course, the principle reason for the European Union existing in the first place (well, that and stopping wars). The Single Market is fundamentally about convergence of economies so that we all have roughly the same standard of living, and so that we move from country to country because we want to, not because we have to.
The problem – the “root cause”, if you like – is that the single market hasn’t worked as envisaged, because capitalism’s not like that, and that’s where Ed’s opportunity for ‘something smarter” lies.
As I’ve set out in some detail, there’s a very clear line to be struck about the functioning of the European Union, which would at one fell swoop undercut Cameron’s “renegotiation” froth and provide a real and timetabled solution to what is seen as the migration problem. This involves a temporary trade-off, agreeable within the current Lisbon Treaty, between freedom of capital* and freedom of movement restrictions, which would allow the poorer countries in the EU the opportunity for much more rapid growth and convergence with the richer countries, this reducing the need for people in the poorer countries to earn money abroad and send remittances home.
If Labour really wants to get serious about migration, it really needs to look to do more than tinker round the edges.
*The original thinking about this ‘artificial devaluation’ via changes to freedom of capital rules was from proper economist, Duncan Weldon, but he dismissed it as unrealistic in the context of Single Market law. As I’ve shown, it’s not, because that law was set up specifically with the ‘get out’ clauses that Duncan wanted to see in mind. It’s simply that Duncan hadn’t read the law at the time. Oddly, the 90 Tory MPs who wanted to curb A” migration at the last minute, did pick up on an aspect of these provisions, though they got it wrong by referring to the 2005 A2 Accession Treaty rather than the actual Lisbon Treaty and the 2004 Directive which reinforced that.
Over the festive period there’s been some commentariat reflection on why lots of British people are “angry” with their MPs. It’s mostly utter tosh.
John Rentoul thinks anger towards politicians is quite a lot to do with the type of people who go into politics, and that it’d be better if they were nice to each other, and less “tribal”.
Heather Brooke declares that information is power and that we need digital not analogue politics, or something. It’s all a bit vague, but her main point seems to be that we get the wrong people because political party patronage rewards the arse-lickers. So for Brooke, much the same as for Rentoul, the core problem seems to be the undue influence of the party. Similarly, Robert McGregor at New Left Project emphasizes how MPs are increasingly subject to the “party machine”.
Polly Toynbee prefers to pass the buck to the electorate, demanding that we all get off our arses and do something. Michael White goes a bit further, telling us that MPs are really the good guys, even the one who’s now in prison, that they should be paid more, and that the rest of us are just a bit stupid.
Adam Lent from the RSA gets marks for some sensible analysis, noting that we’ve been hating politicians for quite some time now but – interestingly for someone who’s had a full-time job looking at such such issues for several years now – he accepts that has “no idea” what might be done, though he thinks Douglas Carswell might be on to something with his digital stuff. Like Brooke, Carswell seems to think that salvation may lie with the power of the internet.
What strikes me most about all these great thinkers – and the impasse they all find themselves in – is that they focus exclusively on how MPs get then fulfil their role, failing to question what that role actually might be.
All of them appear bound implicitly to Edmund Burke’s conception (1774) of parliamentary representation , in which MPs manfully carry, for the sake of the us plebs, the burden of their god-given gifts:
Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
If there’s one thing to be said for Burke, he ha confidence in himself.
Yet there is another quite different conception of the MP’s democratic role which, were it to take hold as the norm, might quite easily see a quite different type of MP coming forward to fulfill it.
This is of the MP operating primarily as delegate, accountable to their local constituency through a modernised form of democratic centralism (and there is no reason why the kind of technological innovation Brooke refers to shouldn’t enhance this). In this scenario, the party – for from being the root of the problem when it comes to public perception, becomes the key solution, as local parties and movements actually gain real power and Polly’s arse-moving injunction actually becomes meaningful, and as expectations of MPs are reduced commensurate to their actual level of talent.
In other words, with a turn towards MP-as-just-delegate , virtuous form might just start to follow virtuous function. This would be the reverse to the current seemingly inevitable downward spiral, in which any contrivance designed to make MPs look and sound more ‘authentic’ and ‘close to the people’ is almost certain to have the opposite effect because – well, because people are not stupid, and they know MPs now have a self-determined status out of keeping with their actually capabilities. 
 The Burkean elitism inherent to modern parliamentary government has taken such deep root that, as with our five commentators above, it now largely goes unnoticed, but it is worth rememberimg that it might all have been quite different, at least for Labour MPs, if one event in particular in early Labour party history had turned out little differently.
The House of Lords’ Osborne judgment of 1909, which declared it unlawful for trade unions to levy their members in order to fund to the nascent Labour Party’s organisational and electioneering costs. Writ large behind this judgment was the determination of the Lords to ensure that MPs should remain representatives in the Burkean sense, and not to become the delegates of forces beyond parliament. Indeed, as the Labour scholar Henry Pelling (1982) tells us:
Lord Justice Farwell, in another concurring judgment, quoted Burke to the effect that ‘Parliament is not a congress of Ambassadors from different and hostile interests….. but a deliberate Assembly of one nation’ (p.893**).
Thus, while Pelling contends that in the long-run the judgment actually enhanced the position of the Labour party (notably through the introduction of MP salaries as a compensatory measure), it might be argued with the benefit of 30 years more hindsight, that the consequences for Labour, as a party then developing a distinction in its conception of what an MP is in parliament for, were more negative.
 For practical suggestions on how this might be introduced within the labour movement, see especially section 5 of the TCF submission to the Collins Review. To a large extent this is about bringing the MP role down to size, while accepting the reality of parliamentary institutional norms in the short to medium term.
 It seems mean to pick on one particular MP, as I try to seem them as victims of a Burkean ideal they cannot hope to live up to, but brand new MP Sarah Champion’s almost immediate adoption of superior status, almost in spite of herself, is too good a one to leave from my argument. This bit of patronising guff, in particular, makes me want to scream:
Now that I am “one of them”, I can report back that Parliament is actually full of normal people who care passionately about representing their constituents and making changes that will have a positive impact on peoples’ lives. What we need to address is why people don’t believe that’s true, and why people don’t think their voice is heard.
Pyjama-thin, shivering and bowed she comes to
at the whirring cashpoint sound
of banknotes readied to dispense
one square-packaged meal
till next state-appointed day.
To iced shudder
shark assistant snakes
through litter-gravelled square,
Readied to relieve
hard-waited remnants of relief
and mockingly condemn
to the pained and choiceless choices
of sagging estate time.