Archive for July, 2012

The iron laws of blogging

I am bound, by the iron laws of blogging, to link to my piece at the New Statesman about Tory education lies.


Please note that the Liberal Conspiracy edit-down of this is rubbish. So there, Sunny.

Categories: General Politics

Summer reading

July 23, 2012 4 comments

Not going to be blogging much for a bit, so here’s what I’m thinking of reading this summer instead.  No reason you should be interested, but any ‘absolute must’ recommendations, esp. on liberation theology (other than Freire), are welcome:

First time reading

Lenin, The State and Revolution

Edmund Burke, Reflection of the Revolution in France

Finishing off

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind

Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism

Paul Sanderson, Socialism with a Northern Accent

Ken Coates, The Crisis of British Socialism

Rawls, Justice as Fairness

Re-reading to remind myself of the good bits

Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda

Charles Taylor et al. Multiculturalism and the politics of recognition

Heinrich Kleist, The Marquise of O

Re-reading and trying to understand properly this time

Franz Kafka, the three big novels

Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

Richard Sennett, The Fall of Public Man

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Jean Baudrillard, The intelligence of evil or The Lucidity Pact

Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition





Categories: General Politics

Finally, Labour edges towards a sensible position on Europe

Finally, finally, it looks as though the Labour leadership is edging towards a coherent position on the European Union. 

Denis MacShane, presmuably with the go-ahead from Miliband, has a piece up at Comment is Free, setting out how Miliband might use his visit to Hollande this week to set out a substantive Labour position quite distinct from Cameron’s silly rhetoric:

Labour should fashion its own R&R policy – reform of the EU institutions and rebalancing of European economics in favour of growth, jobs and a focus on salaries and wages, not rentier income. Right now all the focus is on the eurozone crisis and the need for less austerity and more growth. But the EU institutions – a 27-strong commission that is far too big, a European parliament disconnected from national parliaments, and three EU presidents (commission, council and parliament) and a high representative – need substantial slimming down and refocusing to make them fit for purpose.

 A centre-left R&R (reform and rebalancing) project for Europe should be developed to counter Cameron’s dangerous and isolationist repatriation and referendum politics. Winning Hollande’s engagement for a serious examination of reforming the EU, together with rebalancing Euronomics, would show Miliband setting the agenda on this important policy area.

I disagree with Denis’s view that Labour should entirely rule out a referendum, as to do so is (as with Cameron) to throw away an important bargaining chip.  It might well be counter-productive to leave the EU now, but if the plans now being drawn up by Herman van Rompuy  (the outlines passed without fuss at the recent Council summit) for the further entrenchment of neoliberalism in the EU go through as I fear they might, exit may become a much more valid socialist response.

I  also disagree with Denis on which bits of the EU instituitions need ‘slimming down’; I’d slim down the member states’ Council back to its pre-Lisbon size, in favour of a European Parliament with real powers and a real connection to national political parties (not parliaments), while Denis’s wording about the European Parliament’s’ disconnect’ suggests he wants the reverse.

Nevertheless, the general direction set out by Denis is good, especially if it’s followed through upon –  most notably with a well-developed 2014 European election manifesto, presaged by localised publicity around the Labour candidate selection process (which I understand will start in January 2013).

Of course, I’ve been talking up a joint Miliband-Hollande ‘project’ for months now, and I said much the same as Denis is now saying, but back in May:

Labour needs to be bold on Europe, and go much further, much sooner, than the first tentative steps it has taken in the right direction. It needs to see itself as a pro-active force on Europe, aggressively differentiating its own pro-activity from the reactionary little-Englander nonsenses of the Tories.

Labour (and the commentators who support it) need to stop worrying that an EU referendum will ‘define’ Labour’s first parliamentary term (assumed to be in some way for the worse), and instead be confident that it will be seen by voters as an integral part of strong Labour party project.

Labour needs to enunciate clearly that Europe is not currently working for working class people, because its institutions have been captured by the Right, and it needs to have a clear plan for their recapture by the Left. This is not an anti-Europe stance. This is an anti-rightwing Europe stance.

Labour needs to be clear on what it means by European democracy, and it needs to put in place the right people to make European democracy work.

It’s good to see Labour finally catching up, but it’d all be a lot easier if I was in charge of Labour policy on Europe in the first place…..


Categories: Labour Party News

Is Stephen Twigg’s favourite Military Academy being liberal with the truth?

At the weekend I wrote a long post setting out how military schools might not bring the benefits that the Labour hierarchy is claims they will bring.  

As part of the post, I fact-checked (somewhat sarcastically) Stephen Twigg/Jim Murphy’s claim that Duke of York Military Academy in Dover is a shining example of what military schools might provide in the way of academic achievement.

I noted:

that the most commonly used measure of GCSE national averages is the percentage of pupils gaining five [or more] A*-C grades (incl. English and Maths), that the current national average for this is 59%, and that 118% of Duke of York School students therefore achieve five A*-Cs.

Impressive certainly. Also mathematically impossible.

I had assumed it was an error from Twigg/Murphy themselves – hence the sarcasm – but  after a bit of digging I discovered that the claim about the School’s GCSE success comes directly from page 4 of the Duke of York Military Academy’s (DOYMA’s) own prospectus:

Our GCSE provision is comprehensive and our success rate is consistently twice that of the national average at GCSE (A*- C including Maths and English).

The terminology in the prospectus is very close to that used in the Department for Education tables, which provides the national average and the results for each school for the last four years.   The national average for 2011 is, as noted, 59% for “% achieving 5+ A*-C GCSEs (or equivalent) including English and maths GCSEs”, and I can see no other national average with which DOYMA’s results might reasonably be compared. 

Hence, I just cannot see how the claim to have “consistently twice that of the national average” can be true, at least as of 2012.   Even in 2008, when the national average was 47.6%, doubling it would have required 95.2% of DOY students to attain more than 5 GCSE A*-C grades, when in fact their 2011 results indicate that 91% did so*. 

This is all very odd.  Perhaps oddest is the fact that the prospectus could simply have noted its 91% achievement figure in 2011 –  is impressive in its own terms** – and allow prospective parents and students to make their own comparisons.  In contrast, the “consistently twice that of the national average” wording appears deliberately designed to disparage the results of other schools, invalidly as far as I can see.

If it turned out that DOYMA’s prospectus does turn out to contain a liberal interpretation of its comparative academic achievements, that would not in itself invalidate Twigg’s and Murphy’s central claim that military schools are good for young people.  Nor should it be taken as a reason to denigrate the efforts of all the students at DOYMA, who no doubt deserve every success they get.

It would, however, reflect somewhat badly both on the Academy and upon two Shadow Ministers’ fact-checking processes.

 *There are no DOYMA figures for the three years before 2011 in the tables, probably because its Academy status is new, so it is impossible to be certain, but if it did turn out that the school had achieved 95.4+%, and then slipped to 91% in 2011, other questions might validly be asked about the school’s success in moving to Academy status)

** As I noted in my original  piece, DOYMA’s results were achieved with 0% students on Free School Meals (the common proxy for being from a poor family) and 0% with special educational needs (national averages 15.9% and 8.5% respectively).  DOYMA might possibly argue that FSMs does not apply to boarding schools, though as far as I am aware the FSM indicators is based on primary school eligibility and used for a range of purposes, not simply to inform the distribution of free meals.   Moreover, some 62% of students at DOYMA are already ‘high attainers’ (above level 4 at Key Stage 2), as against 27% in the school where I am a governor, for example.  Taken together, these factors suggest that DOYMA’s results cannot be validly compared with the national average anyway.

Categories: General Politics

Now, surely, is the time for Polly’s mea culpa

July 16, 2012 12 comments

Polly Toynbee has written a piece on outsourcing, in which she says:

No one can prove the value or cost of most outsourcing. What Thatcher began and Labour continued is an epidemic of evidence-free, faith-based policymaking. Politicians have been seized by a conviction that private is always better. With no public service for fair comparison, the weary old mantras of “monolithic”, “sluggish” public services go unchallenged.

I have replied, in a kindly manner:

Dear Polly

I honestly believe that, before telling us some more of what a lot of us already know, you would do well to offer a mea culpa for a piece of yours in Serco’s in-house magazine, Ethos, in 2009, in which you appear to be supportive of outsourcing public services, and in which you state quite categorically:

“There is no doubt that putting some services out to tender has vastly improved certain standards over the years, broken the power of vested interests and brought in competition that has sharpened up results.”

We all make mistakes, and the internet is unforgiving. We can perhaps all move on when you have either apologised, or explained why you thought what you thought in 2009, and why it is apparently so different to what you think now.

Perhaps an apology might be accompanied by the donation to a good socialist cause of whatever fee you received from Serco for their propaganda enhancement.

Any views on a suitable recipient of said donation?

Categories: General Politics

The Teapot of Doom

I have for some time now been actively opposed to the Conservative-driven narrative of a Broken Britain, confident in my own theory that the malaise on our society is caused not by some collapse in national morals, but by structural and power inequalities which sometimes find expression in alienated behaviours.

It is time for a mea culpa.  I was wrong, and Phillip Blond is right.  Unless something is done quickly by those destined to lead us, we are lost.

I have had nagging doubts about my leftwing certainties for some time new, but I threw off the shackles of socialism when I read of this appallingness in a newspaper local to me, the St Helens Reporter:

A man got his hand stuck in a teapot while trying a fish out a teabag.

The details of the ambulance call and the small cut to the hand make for almost unbearable reading for anyone of British stock, but we must confront the truth. 

The sad reality is that a man in St Helens failed to use teabag tongs to take the teabags out of his teapot.  That bears repeating with big letters: HE FAILED TO USE TEABAG TONGS.

But it gets worse.  The collapse of social norms are such that the St Helens Reporter feels the need to carry a picture of a teapot (see above) as part of its story.  

This suggests strongly that younger people in St Helens – focused entirely on the pleasures of “pop” music and meeting at bus stops – DO NOT EVEN KNOW WHAT A TEAPOT IS.

And this is happening in St Helens,the very home of Mr Johnny Vegas, comic impressario and advertiser of tea and teapots.  Lord only know what it’s like in Dunstable. Or Barnsley.

It is the end for Britain.




Categories: General Politics

What’s Boris Johnson’s position on the EU?

December 2011, Boris Johnson put out his clearest message to the leader of his party that his position on the EU was doing damage to the country. He said the UK should oppose any change which created a “very dominant economic government” across Europe.

By March of this year, it had been noted by Matthew Barrett that Boris had become the “most senior person in the party to support an in/out referendum“.

In a statement about the general state of play in Europe, Boris has said this:

This idea that if we can find a big enough bazooka, we could blow away the problem by creating a Euro government in which there will be shared fiscal responsibility, I’m afraid that really will, in the long term, and probably even in the short and medium term, simply exacerbate the problem, because that administration, that economic government will have no democratic legitimacy.

But, even though plenty of UKIP supporters have said on the back of this that Boris should get their second vote during the mayoral elections, this hasn’t settled everyone’s opinion.

In the comments section of Barrett’s March article on Conservative Home, one commenter points out, regarding Boris calling for an in/out referendum:

What Boris doesn’t tell us which side he would support let alone vote for!

It will be a very useful in seeing who are the true supporters of the EU and who are the genuinely pro-British amongst them.

Oddly, James in the comments section has put:

Like Cameron, Boris is just another tax hungry socialist pretending to be a Conservative and that pledge isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

Lastly David in the same comments wrote:

Boris a plastic eurosceptic. Wouldn’t depend on him for this (or much else).

So for all the doubt, it should come as some relief that John Hind, writing in a small comment in today’s Observer Food Monthly, gives us the concrete answer on where Boris stands on Europe:

Look, I’m actually rather pro-European, actually. I certainly want a European community where one can go and scoff croissants, drink delicious coffee, learn foreign languages and generally make love to foreign women.

This might be unhelpful in pursuit of his opinions on Europe as an economic community, but now we know what carrot we should dangle in front of him if we want him to support an ‘in’ campaign. Or did we always know that anyway?

Categories: General Politics Tags: ,

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