Posts Tagged ‘Ed Balls’

What Balls said, what Balls means

January 15, 2012 5 comments

Is there any reason to believe Ed Balls supports the Tory-led cuts agenda?

No. He said that he accepted the cuts, not agreed with them. He also said “I cannot make commitments now for three years’ time. I won’t do that. It wouldn’t be credible.”

So does Ed Balls have ideas to the contrary to the coalition government?

Yes. According to the Guardian, he said that “he was not abandoning his belief that the cuts programme was too deep, and he was willing to remain outside the political consensus on the relevance of Keynesian demand management.”

What does Ed Miliband think?

He told Andrew Marr this morning that: “If Labour was in power now we wouldn’t be making those changes. We wouldn’t be cutting as far and as fast as the government.”

He didn’t say they wouldn’t be making cuts at all, and that’s important.

What do both Ed’s really think about the public sector pay freeze?

Ed Miliband said this morning: “It’s a hard choice, but when you are faced with the choice between protecting jobs or saying the money should go into pay rises I think it’s right to protect jobs.”

This is an indication that if Labour were in power now, while they wouldn’t be cutting so hard and fast, they would effectively cut the pay of public sector workers. Owen Jones, at the Fabian conference yesterday, said that given the rate of inflation, a pay freeze effectively amounts to a cut. It is clear that this reality has Labour’s backing.

Is it political disaster?

Left wing voices from Owen Jones to Bob Crow have mentioned electoral and political disaster. This is because it looks as though Labour support the cuts agenda unreservedly – but what Ed Balls is really to blame for is talking about this in a kind of quasi-managerial way, rather than talking about this in a way that says the coalition government are making a set of irreversible mistakes.

Oddly, in an attempt to make the party’s economic message credible, they are allowing the press – from the right wingers to the left – to paint them as supportive of austerity measures that aren’t working.

So are Balls and Miliband being as bad as left wing critics are making out?

They are obviously playing the long game, which is fine, but they’ve come out looking confused. This could be the fault of the Guardian, under the political control of Patrick Wintour, who has been very tough on Labour of late.

But even judging by Ed Balls’ keynote at the Fabian conference yesterday (a watered down version of the previous day’s interview with the Guardian), he is trying to earn credibility by “accepting” a set of cuts that are not credible.

It’s true that he cannot yet promise to reverse every cut the coalition makes, but why has he not framed this in a discussion about how irreversibly damaging the government is being on the economy?

Ed Balls’ speech: the verdict from the left and the right – dispatch from #lab11

September 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Ed Balls today did exactly what he was supposed to do: he offered something by way of a plan to boost jobs, created a soundbite on Labour’s economic plan (“fiscal responsibility in the national interest”), apologised for what Labour got wrong in the past (75p pension rise, the abolition of the 10p tax rate), put the boot in Osborne’s unworking plan and ended on  high note – as opposed to Vince Cables pessimistic one during the Liberals’ conference (a point picked up by George Eaton earlier).

But will he convince? To the right (of the party and beyond) it will have provided no challenge to the theory that Labour is a party fit to govern only when there is money to spend, and that the Tories (or fiscal conservatives on the Labour Right) are the choice of the day for austerity measures. Balls outlined some interesting ways to promote growth and jobs, recognised shortfalls such as cutting the future jobs fund, but admitted a Labour government would not be able to reverse every Tory spending cut.

To the Left, his opposition to strike action over pensions will smack of a cuts agenda apologism. Further, his statement on sold-off banks’ windfalls, which he initially sounded sceptical of, before stating that he will use any to reduce the deficit, will appear very unradical, and at worst comfortable with the failing national banking system. As Eaton says: “some on the left would prefer a radical commitment to mutualise the banks and turn them into engines of growth.”

Overall the speech spelt out some interesting plans, proved that Labour was thinking ahead, and that under his direction it will not introduce a Tory-lite programme. For example the one-year small firms national insurance tax holiday for taking on extra workers seems like a very sensible policy as a means of countering the terrible mess being created by the Tory-led government. But despite the glimmer of hope, it is only relatively better, and it is not a radical overhaul. In some places it is ridiculously unambitious given the state we’re in, and in other places it appears unwilling to challenge at all.

But it will curry favour, will attract attention, and it will prove wrong the objection that Labour are playing a long term game to keep mum until the next election.


Alan Johnson has resigned; are two Ed’s better than one?

January 20, 2011 5 comments

You’ll no doubt hear many jokes tonight about Ed Miliband deciding to take his Johnson out, only to stick Balls in the fold – well there will be none of that here.

In fact the TCF tone will be one of mostly joy no doubt. While Mr Balls will fill Johnson’s old post, his wife, Yvette Cooper, the current shadow foreign secretary, will take over the home affairs position.

Alan Johnson has cited personal and family reasons for why this decision has been made. His full announcement is as follows:

“I have decided to resign from the Shadow Cabinet for personal reasons to do with my family.

“I have found it difficult to cope with these personal issues in my private life whilst carrying out an important frontbench role.

“I am grateful to Ed Miliband for giving me the opportunity to serve as Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.

“He is proving to be a formidable leader of the Labour Party and has shown me nothing but support and kindness.

“My time in Parliament will now be dedicated to serving my constituents and supporting the Labour Party.

“I will make no further comment about this matter.”

Many of us felt that Ed Miliband’s choice when forming a shadow cabinet was playing a safe game; Balls after all came to be seen as a rather radical voice, tearing down many of the claims made by Cameron and Osborne in their attempts to cut too deeply, too fast, without an eye on growth or jobs.

After Miliband’s decision to take a supposedly moderate stance as regards cutting the budget deficit, many on the left were concerned that the Labour Party of the next few years would opt for a cuts-lite programme – but with the announcement of Johnson’s stand down, and Balls to take his place, perhaps we have reached something of a wake-up call. Certainly it will make for good Question Time viewing tonight.

The timing is interesting; some time past the silly season Miliband’s critics were warning him that he was not acting fast enough to make serious blows against the Tory-led government, while remaining comfortable only around the converted (such as the Fabians, whose conferences are where his two memorable speeches have taken place). After the messing around, and moves toward backdoor privatisation of the NHS, the EMA cut and the localism bill, it is apparent that the Labour Party needs an economic narrative themselves, to come from someone other than a Minister who joked that he needed to consult a primer in economics for beginners.

That Johnson was set to lead a soft approach towards cuts, some became increasingly worried that the Labour Party would lose further confidence with the left wing of the party, and be reduced to a rubbish act opposition. I said in September:

For me, out of the two main options – Balls’ growth model and the Darling inspired softer deficit halving programme – the growth argument is the one that holds the most traction. Therefore, I should like to see Ed Balls as shadow chancellor for the Labour Party.

Balls, for all his misgivings, has a level head with the economy; he demonstrated this during his leadership bid, and in his numerous speeches, like the one with Bloomberg, gaining a reputation as someone who will not toe coalition orthodoxy. With any luck his new position will put the willies in the government, and take Labour on course for a narrative on the economy that will yield confidence in Labour run councils to actively oppose cuts that they are being obliged to undertake.

As Paul mentioned back in September, on this blog, while supporting Ed Balls for leader of the Labour Party:

Ed Balls understands this relation between the political and the economic … [he is] a serious challenge to the existing economic status quo.

With any luck Paul will be wrong to say that a Shadow Chancellorship under Balls will saturated by the “conservative instructions of his political master” Ed Miliband. On matters such as the impending damage to our economy, Miliband needs to listen to Balls – perhaps this is the first step of his acknowledging this fact.

Why I voted for Dianne Abbott

September 6, 2010 6 comments

Deep down I know that I’m still bitter that John McDonnell wasn’t able to stand as leader of the party – and I know very well that this view won’t be controversial to writers on this blog.

I knew that I wanted to see at least one socialist in the contest – though when I found out which one would be standing, from the Socialist Campaign Group, I remember thinking, in truth, oh but not that socialist!

I hadn’t the same problems with her as had other members of the Labour party I spoke to over the course of the many hustings I’ve attended. For example, her having been given a leg up by David Miliband didn’t make me think she was a token black/female/socialist (delete where applicable) candidate – we in the party have no reason to be tokenistic about such matters – nor did it make me feel that I should write her off full stop – there were other reasons for me to do that.

Miliband the elder obviously extended his hand to Abbott because her inclusion added to the debate – a worthwhile gesture I felt. For some, this was an obvious impetus to view Abbott as a non-candidate and frankly ignore her.

For me, this was not the case at all.

I did however share sympathy with the view Abbott is a hypocrite. Of course sending her child to a private school lost her credibility among leftwingers and many constituents. Though her reasons for doing so were surely worse (that she is a single Mum with a black son who could get involved with gangs, was part of her justification for her move).

This evokes another reason why one would be cautious of her: sometimes her criticisms of fellow leadership contenders went further than simply saying look at these middle class men, call this change? This was cheap, and was made cheaper when their race had been brought into question, like this means anything at all.

Questions of race ultimately lead sound minded people to conclude that it is no matter, that people are people and so on. Raising questions of race as a means to show change in the Labour party is not possible, is dreadful and not sound minded at all.

People said her campaign wasn’t effective. I imagine it just wasn’t loud enough, and let’s face it; we have all been more interested in the family feuds and Balls’ going forth on the economic illiteracy of Ozzy Osborne.

My own criticism of her campaign was that it was in places rather shallow and base. I had this to say in July:

I know the argument: stroppy teenagers and shop floor Mothers can’t relate to men in suits, yet they end up our representatives every time, and we wonder why people don’t engage with politics.

But hold on, how people related to politicians didn’t spur on the anti-politics saga circa the expenses scandal, but rather the other way around, politicians obviously don’t quite understand the electorate – and subsequently fairness and respect for tax payers’ money.

Frankly, this extends further to what politicians talk like, look like and smell like; if they don’t get, they don’t get it, and that trait transcends class, age, race and gender boundaries.

For this reason, there is a strange element to Dianne Abbott’s recent trouble making, when she called the other four leadership contenders “geeky,” in an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.

We’re used to the disengaged politician now, but it is patent nonsense for Abbott to suggest that she has more chance listening than they have.

I won’t recycle the fact that the only difference between her and her colleagues (apart from her colour, more of which in a moment) is she has never been a SpAd and that she has been an MP for longer. But she has made decisions, and has said things, where you wonder whether the 20 years spent listening to her voters has counted for anything, particularly the type of thing she implies here which is that she knows what people want.

The paradox: give me a middle class former policy wonk who admits to needing more knowledge any time, over a middle class, Cambridge educated, long time MP, who implicitly likens herself to Obama, and thinks she knows what the people want.

I mean that as much as I do today. But yet – and here is the surprise – I voted for her as my first preference.

Ed Miliband, who I felt was strongest to start with, quickly misread his place as unifier (the party being a broad church and all), holding back from laying into capitalism and instead attempting to spell out how he was going to reform capitalism or make capitalism better.

I must admit, I agree with John Gray, the author, when he points out that both Miliband’s wildly miss the point, raised most notably in this country by their Dad, that capitalism will appear to modify in the face of threat – like it did in the thirties, seventies, eighties and now – the point is not to change it, but to understand it (in a reversal of Marx’ thesis on Feuerbach).

In spite of this, I gave Ed Miliband my second preference. Though I’m sure he is serious about transcending the grip of New Labour folderol, I just don’t think he has it in him, nor do I think he knows what it means to do this. It is not simply ridding the party of New Labour architects, but it’s about coming into a new political landscape, and focusing on the politics to fit it. For me this is socialism, but to hear all candidates talk about socialism, you’d think it was a new idea not yet properly theorised or understood.

Yet – and this was the basis of my choosing Ed for second preference – many trade unions and socialist societies saw in him the man they want.

At a time when the party is moving away from the Fukuyama-type notion that unregulated capitalism has emerged successful and it is non-party political to allow the markets to be unfettered, we need someone to lead who is in debt to unions – who will be at their most pertinent when the coalition government tries to fob off public sector workers with pay freezes while turning a blind eye to outrageous banker bonuses and tax evasion – despite this, too, being a “non-party political” issue.

David Miliband, too, has union backing, and the advocacy of the so-called voice of the intelligent left, Jon Cruddas. But, not only has this Miliband been the most uncomfortable with criticising the record of New Labour, his leadership will be easy pickings for Tories and Liberal Democrats when it turns out – if indeed he was – complicit in the use of torture. Indeed, he has already had his fingers burnt when denying the Britain’s role in torture, and if an investigation turns out evidence of his direct complicity this will be electoral poison for the Labour party – already on its back feet pleading forgiveness for a war gone totally awry.

So at this stage you might be saying: well, Carl, if you dislike your two preferences so much, how much must you dislike your third, fourth and fifth? You’d be surprised at my answer. My third preference was Ed Balls – who I was most impressed by, for all the obvious reasons. He came across the most economically literate, while remaining astute enough to tackle questions on society, particularly the education sector which he still maintains a careful eye on.

So why didn’t I vote for him, in spite of Paul’s well explained reasons as to why I, and you, should? Honestly, for character I find him displeasing – a trait I recognised around the time Sharon Shoesmith fought for and lost her job. But on an economic narrative to counter the one being passed off as orthodox by the coalition government, Balls has it spot on – there is an alternative to cuts in order to reduce the deficit in the quickest speed possible, and he has proved himself totally capable of projecting that – even if some, such as Don Paskini, see this as politically a dangerous move.

In short: I don’t want a Balls leadership, I see in Balls a shadow chancellor; a job he should have probably had anyway under Brown.

So, in sum, I voted:

1) Dianne Abbott

2) Ed Miliband

3) Ed Balls

4) Andy Burnham

5) David Miliband

But to look at that in isolation doesn’t tell you the whole story.

Ed Miliband is the realistic contender and I prefer him to his brother so, realistically, I hope he gets the job, which is why he got my second preference vote. But I desire to see a socialist as leader of the party, and now I think is the perfect time. Abbott is a socialist, and though I think she is a problematic candidate – for reasons spelt out above – it is for this reason she got my first preference.

Has time run out for Labour socialists?

June 9, 2010 22 comments

I can’t express in words how utterly furious I am that John McDonnell has been forced to withdraw from the Labour leadership contest. After a few days of faux outrage over his comment that if he could, he’d go back to the 1980s and kill Thatcher, and Diane Abbott’s mealy-mouthed supporters saying they think he should be the one to withdraw, despite her pledge to do so if he got more nominations (which he had, at that point), John has rightly judged that her supporters won’t come to him, so he’ll have to give his to her.

Not good enough. Every campaign for the next five years – against library closures, against service cuts, against the attempt to further casualise the public sector – is going to be fought outside of Labour. Only historical revisionists and morons believe that the anti-poll tax campaign was a Labour campaign. And yet the Left has kept the life support switched on, firmly demanding that people exercise the great contradiction at the heart of our democracy: loyalty to a Party the leadership of which does not care about them.

Is it time to pull the plug? Since 1923, we’ve faced the same situation. Labour is elected with high hopes for its success, disappoints those hopes and is then swept from office, leaving the Conservatives to pick up where they left off. Since the end of the great depression, after the war, when the exhaustion of the capitalist system allowed for greater state controls (which had been utilised during the war anyway and rubbed off the red taint they previously had), the journey has been backwards – trying to find a way back before the post-war settlement.

This is the mission of the Conservative Party, and ‘big society‘ is just its latest cover. What has Labour’s leadership done? Nothing. We have been losing the battle, and all the while desperately clinging to what Labour has achieved – scarcely anything new without sacrificing something old. So, of the last three parliaments, we got the minimum wage and a long-overdue rise in benefits (for example) whilst Labour set course towards undermining teachers’ unions and education, through faster deregulation of schools.

Meanwhile, Labour socialists – an endangered breed that I’ll deal with in a moment – ask their comrades and friends to hang on in a party that has been swamped by vapid twits. Anyone who goes to all the events touted by the Fabians, has been to Oxford or hangs out online can’t fail to know who I’m talking about. The twits claiming the legacy of Nye Bevan whilst backing Ed Balls, for example, without seeing the incredible disparity between the politics of the two. Whatever Bevan’s deficiencies and later demoralisation, he was no Balls.

Bevan occupies, as one might notice, the strapline of this blog. His sentiment, that one should not stand in the middle of the road, that one should not be afraid to take a position has been my personal code all my life. It is far from the attitude of the Labour leadership and their coterie. It is a party rotten through and through, corrupt, full of patronage and seeking after patronage, unprincipled. It isn’t really socialist at all. In seeking after patronage, people learn to talk with a certain vocabulary, highly technocratic and bloodless. Totally removed from ordinary people.

Labour socialists of the Labour Representation Committee number somewhere below 1000 people – that’s less than one percent of the total party membership (excluding the trades unions). They are condemned by the Labour Right for being backwards. They are excoriated by those who exist as rootlessly as Labour’s London elite for being too provincial, too unwilling to work with other groups (whatever that means, as every Labour campaign I’ve ever seen has involved LRC members and parliamentarians). But they are the last remaining socialists in Labour.

The last election demonstrated that this clique will not exist forever. The Parliamentary group of the LRC was halved, to say nothing of the destruction wreaked about its bigger, less socialist sister, the Socialist Campaign Group. And even this doesn’t account for the wacky behaviour of a bunch of the members of these groups, like Michael Meacher, supposed Left veteran…who nominated Ed Miliband for leader, even though Ed had cleared the bar and with room to spare. So long as the fortunes of this group are tied to Labour, it exists within a contradiction – urging (critical) support for a leadership that will kick the poor when it’s opportune whilst claiming to represent them.

The leadership contest has demonstrated that no matter how well people like John McDonnell work, no matter how much support they gather, they’ll be outmanoeuvred by Labour’s Right, which can rely on the cowardice and (ironically) the uncooperative nature of Labour’s ‘soft’ Left. Harriet Harman and Ed Ball’s nominations for Diane Abbott play the diversity card but in reality are simply intended to prop her up into a slightly more credible candidate (still not very credible, from a political point of view) and force McDonnell out. All he has done is bow to the inevitable.

Abbott has the nominations – she’s on the ballot – but she’s not going to change the Party. Forgive my cynicism, but I’ve met too many soft Lefts. Despite her feminist credentials, she doesn’t have the detailed critique of the Party that is the remit of the LRC – and that would set free the feminist and radical energies that people were quick to impute to her. Indeed when she does her media appearances – the last I heard in-depth was on a Radio 4 discussion programme on Friday about two months ago – she can even be quite conservative. So good luck to her and her supporters – she’ll be better than the other four, but I don’t have any faith in her, and am rather sickened by how heavily she has stressed the fact that she’s black and female – like these are somehow politically relevant, except as tokenism.

John’s letter to Labour members, in which he announces his decision to stand down, acknowledges that despite enormous grassroots pressure – e.g. Tom Harris’ admission that he and other Labour MPs were deluged with letters and emails to demand McDonnell get on the ballot – the Labour bureaucracy and PLP were unmoved. His final appeal is to the strength of the Labour Left, that the fight against the cuts should be continued and that a Conservative government be denied the chance to have everything its own way.

With this, every socialist will agree – but I will not use my energies to electrify the zombified party that Labour has become, and I am one among many. Campaigns dominated by socialists will come together, and as last time, Labour’s leadership will do what it can to hinder them, so long as they aren’t tied to the apron strings of mother Parliament. They will face no backlash from their members, as the membership have nowhere else to turn. The odd constituency party might endorse the LRC, but even these constituencies can’t seem to get their MPs in line. And this is before the vast and reactionary weight of the trade union bureaucracy is employed by said leadership.

Are we simply to say that time has run out for socialism in the Labour Party? My anger at McDonnell’s withdrawl howls Khrushchev’s famous retort at the PLP and its groupies, “History is on our side. We will bury you!” And yet…

Marxism is not an exact science. Having shaken my socialist eight-ball, the answer comes back “Indeterminate”. This is the truth. The struggle for socialism in Labour is indeterminate. Socialism within Labour may be buried beneath the avalanche of bureaucratic indifference and then made irrelevant by the emergence of an organisation outside Labour that can combine within itself all the loose strings from every campaign the Left fights. The failure to do this after the poll tax campaigns, and after the anti-war campaigns has been the life-support of Labour’s Left.

These failures are contingent – failures of tactics, rather than of principle – and a success in this field will remove that last remaining leg. On the other hand, the failure of Labour’s Left to conquer the Labour Party (whilst a rather taller order than the first) is equally contingent, one of tactics and not of principle. Everything flows, and there will be more mass campaigns thrown up by the intrinsic processes of capitalism meeting the contradiction of the indestructible basic solidarities of the working class. These tactics will have longer to test themselves out until the impulse either to utterly change Labour or to leave it will move even the conservative behemoths of UNISON and Unite.

Balls and Miliband against the war?

May 22, 2010 4 comments

Hurray! Ed Balls and Ed Miliband have announced that they were actually against the declaration of war on Iraq. The battle for the soul of the Labour Party is won! Pfft. Do me a favour. The announcements from Balls and Miliband are designed to position themselves as populists without having to promote any popular positions on policy.

“People always felt as if the decision had been made and they were being informed after the fact.” […]

“I was in the room when a decision was taken that we would say it was that dastardly Frenchman, Jacques Chirac, who had scuppered it. It wasn’t really true, you know. I said to Gordon: ‘I know why you’re doing this, but you’ll regret it’. France is a very important relationship for us.”[…]

“It was a mistake. On the information we had, we shouldn’t have prosecuted the war. We shouldn’t have changed our argument from international law to regime change in a non-transparent way. It was an error for which we as a country paid a heavy price, and for which many people paid with their lives. Saddam Hussein was a horrible man, and I am pleased he is no longer running Iraq. But the war was wrong.”
-Ed Balls

One can’t help but notice that the wrongness of the war didn’t stop Balls from accepting a parachute into a safe Labour seat from the New Labour heirarchy, nor a series of well-paying jobs from the very people who inaugurated the war. Quite the heavy price. But all of this is nothing compared to Balls’ admission that he’d have voted for the war.

So not that against the war.

“As we all know, the basis for going to war was on the basis of Saddam’s threat in terms of weapons of mass destruction and therefore that is why I felt the weapons inspectors should have been given more time to find out whether he had those weapons, and Hans Blix – the head of the UN weapons inspectorate – was saying that he wanted to be given more time. The basis for going to war was the threat that he posed.

“The combination of not giving the weapons inspectors more time, and then the weapons not being found, I think for a lot of people it led to a catastrophic loss of trust for us, and we do need to draw a line under it.”
-Ed Miliband

Clear moral leadership there from Miliband. Or not. It may just be a poor choice of words, but what Miliband is saying seems to be that the Labour government lied, and that it’d be really nice if people would just forget about it. Sure, Hans Blix should have been given more time, but there’s no actual critique of the war there.

Millions of people marched against the war – millions who did not support the objectives of the war, who did not want to risk British lives and who plainly disbelieved every word the government uttered. The best Ed Miliband can come up with is that the weapons inspectors should have been given longer, and that the failure of the invasion to find them led to a loss of trust. Lukewarm.

I can’t help but wonder if the Guardian stirring up this issue simply as a backdoor endorsement to Ed Miliband, which Ed Balls has neatly shafted. In reality, each interview is a key failure – it demonstrates categorically that both Balls and Brother Ed see government in the traditional way: you can disagree with the decision but it ultimately belongs to the Ministers and the Parliamentary Party.

Election to government of a Labour Party with these men at the top would thus not be substantially different to New Labour.

Boris and Latin: how to kill two birds with one headbutt

March 18, 2010 8 comments

London Mayor Boris Johnson has written to Michael Gove, to protest that Latin is not part of the national curriculum. The idea of writing to the shadow Education minister is the result of a hissy fit between Balls and Johnson, in which BoJo said he wanted to headbutt Balls after the latter was very dismissive of Latin.

Lest we forget, however, it was the decision of a Tory government to create a National Curriculum and leave Latin off it that did for Latin in schools. Uptake dropped from 16,000 to 11,000  in the following ten years. Since then Latin has actually been recovering as a subject. This is not a side issue, it is central to Boris’ complaint and he misses it.

Instead Johnson invokes the spectre of class war in his Telegraph column, written as a reply to Ed Balls’ comments, quoted below. What would Geoffrey de Ste. Croix have made, says Boris, of the attempt by Labour to restrict study of the ancient world to the bourgeoisie?

De Ste. Croix was one of my heroes at university, and I loyally pitted many of his theories against all comers when essay time rolled around. But Boris’ focus on class bypasses the key issues.

Fetishizing Latin

‘Speaking on the radio, Spheroids dismissed the idea that Latin could inspire or motivate pupils he said that headteachers often took him to see the benefits of dance, technology or sport but added:

“No one has ever taken me to a Latin lesson to make the same point. Very few parents are pushing for it, very few pupils want to study it.”’  (Boris Johnson quotes Ed Balls, in the Telegraph)

Let me begin by saying Balls is wrong and shamefully offensive to the hundreds of dedicated teachers, academics, pupils and parents who have fought for their subject, which has steadily gained ground. I can only thank the stars that this attitude wasn’t in evidence when OCR threatened to cut subjects like Ancient History from their range of A-levels.

Boris Johnson’s attitude, however, is prejudiced towards a subject he loves, and with no solid basis. The following is the crown of his arguments to Michael Gove, echoed almost word for word in the Telegraph piece;

“We cannot possibly understand our modern world unless we understand the ancient world that made us all and there is simply no better way than to make young minds think in a logical and analytical way.”

There’s nothing there that’s incorrect, it just doesn’t prove that we need Latin as part of the national curriculum. Young minds can think in logical and analytical ways in a range of subjects. All of them, come to that. And as for needing to understand the ancient world that made us all, there’s the question of which ancient world.

If we’re going to study Roman civilization, what about Greek? That isn’t covered by Latin. If Roman and Greek, what about Chinese? Egyptian? Central American? All widespread civilizations which shaped the world. Even if we remain Eurocentric, what about the years between the fall of Rome and the arrival of the Normans?

As I make it, we’d need Classical Greek, Near-Eastern Greek, Byzantine Greek, Old Latin, and Old and Middle English to grasp all the relevant sources – and that’s just from the point of view of the dominant literary trends. What about Old and Middle Irish and the perspectives of the other minorities for which extensive writings survive?

Johnson fetishizes Latin, which is not unusual for someone of his political persuasion and education. If Balls’ mistake is to dismiss Latin, Johnson’s mistake is equally as bad, if less offensive; it is to elevate Latin out of all proportion. When trying to sell the idea to Heads, it’s the prestige people think goes with offering Latin that often counts.

This is a hangover from the days when Classicists ruled the British Empire and the world. It is class based. Just not in the rather petty way that Balls’ suggests, with the subtext of his comment being that Latin is elitist, or in the way Boris Johnson makes out, that it’s the gateway to all higher things and that the plebs should get their turn.

How do you solve a problem like the content of the national curriculum?
More important than this is that the debate highlights the problem of an overly-centralized education system. Parents and pupils should have a much greater degree of input into what subjects local schools offer, based on the needs and preferences of the catchment area. Beyond English, Maths and Science, choice should lie with parents.

In reality, Boris Johnson’s solution is no solution; adding Latin to the national curriculum just squeezes time for other things, for everyone, regardless of whether they want to study it or not. Eventually there’ll be others with similar arguments that a given subject is so central, everyone should be forced to study it at some point up to KS3.

What we should be demanding is a mechanism whereby parents can gather enough support to prove to LEAs that their area can sustain a certain subject, and a mechanism for parents to ensure the LEA takes steps to increase provision to meet requirements.

Details such as how this localised decision making would relate to national planning for teacher training are needed, but ultimately it kills two birds with one almighty headbutt: first, the centralised nature of decision making, second, the inadequate provision for popular subjects such as Latin. Everyone wins, and Boris’ class war is averted.

At least until the Tory cuts kick in.

Read more…


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 145 other followers