Friday, October 30, 2009

Layer 213 Family, Friends, Politicians, Presidents, Expenses, Democracy, Admissions and the Age of Crappy Music

Back home after several wonderful days in gorgeous Devon, and what's new in the world? Eldest granddaughter had her 5th birthday, and a brilliant all-afternoon party attended by her parents, her uncle and aunt, her little sister and baby cousin, her cat, her guinea pigs, her mum's dog who now lives with her uncle, her aunt's new and very playful puppy, and her grandparents, one of whom was late arriving back from Devon owing to great granny not feeling very well, and of course due to the ever-atrocious traffic.

Aunt had baked a superb birthday cake, and there were cards and presents galore. One very happy and chatty little girl had a ball the whole day long. Dad had given himself a day off work for this very important occasion, which fortuitously fell during half term week. It seems more and more fathers are now questioning their work/life balance and saying to themselves that they owe it to themselves to enjoy more time with their family, especially on important occasions, as much as they owe it to their loved ones.

So what else is new in the world? I have a very dear and wonderful friend who's spending time in hospital, one who's just spent a couple of days in Paris enjoying the city in warm sunshine, and another who's just popped over to Brittany for a couple of half term days with two of his lovely daughters. I have a friend who's just getting ready to fly out to Nigeria for a month or so, another who will soon be flying out to Thailand, and another who's organising a musical soiree for a select group of friends who are willing to play and sing songs of their own choosing by way of entertaining one another. Should be interesting!

Meanwhile, ex-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was on Question Time, showing a lot of gall for a woman who might soon find herself in court for her ludicrously false expenses claims. How come she's still an MP and still appearing on QT? Oh well, if it's OK to invite Nick Griffin . . . Although she's given an apology of sorts she still reeks of an attitude that can only be summed up as New Labour - the professional hard-faced machine politician, clinging on to a career that's in ruins, thoroughly disgraced but determined to remain in post and in the public eye. Just like New Labour.

On the same programme the ever-cuddly John Sergeant strongly endorsed Tony Blair's canditature for the EU's Presidency, which immediately signals that this is a man who's a ridiculous twat of the first order, and in truth about as cuddly as a rotund little ball of fresh doggydoo.

How many more of these supposedly intelligent commentators and politicians can't see that Bliar is thoroughly detested throughout Britain and Europe, and not just by the leftist element of the chattering classes? That he's a war criminal? That to endorse him for this high office is tantamount to signalling to the world that you're an unreformed New Labour lickspittle and a halfwit of the first order?

Gordon Brown for one. Yes, our Prime Minister, who's a well-known Blair hater, who has more reason than most to know about Blair's egomaniacal and psychopathic tendencies, has strongly endorsed Blair to be the top man in Europe. For fuck's sake, Gordo - you're in a big enough hole! Stop fucking digging! What more can this man possibly do to alert the rest of the world to the fact that he's an idiot who no longer cares about getting re-elected? Clearly he wants to completely destroy the Labour Party and to be the only New Labour prime minister never to be elected to that post. How can anyone vote for a man like Brown who clearly lies through his teeth and recommends the vile Tony Blair for the European presidency?

Timothy Garton Ash wrote an interesting column yesterday about the EU job and its potential candidates -

This EU job is no presidency. It will rely on another. And it won't be Blair
As any reader of the Guardian knows, many on the British left are apoplectic at the prospect, above all because of Iraq ("war criminal", and so on). So are many mainland Europeans, especially those that opposed the Iraq war.
There is, however, one who fits the bill – although he'd need some persuading to take it on. This is Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland, UN international mediator and last year's winner of the Nobel peace prize. Ahtisaari has the stature, gravitas and experience for the job. An elder statesman, he would have avuncular authority with the current generation of EU heads of government. He is an excellent chair, without being even remotely chairmanic. He would be taken seriously in world capitals without anyone feeling that he was stealing their limelight. As the co-chair of the European council on foreign relations, he has already spent a couple of years thinking hard about what a European foreign policy should look like.
But it's not just about Blair, is it? Why on earth would any Europhile want a Brit to be the first to hold this high office when Britain has constantly been the backslider and the opter-out as far as Europe is concerned? Bloody hell - we've even refused to join the Euro!


Roy Hattersley wrote a good column yesterday about the expenses scandal, in which he concluded,
The crisis of confidence in politics and politicians is not the result of Douglas Hogg claiming parliamentary expenses for cleaning out his moat. It is the product of politicians failing to debate the merits of a society in which one family lives in a moated grange while another survives in a bed and breakfast hostel.

If it becomes only possible to become an MP by making material sacrifices, there will be more conviction politicians. It is because the House of Commons has increasingly become a career, rather than a vocation, that a proportion (a small proportion) of members behave like bankers in search of a bonus.


Hattersley writes about financial inequality, whereas in today's paper Simon Jenkins writes about educational inequality and elitism -

Holy texts and lineage are no way to assemble state schools

The primitive barring of a child on ethnic grounds is the nadir of the pursuit of 'choice'. Pupils should go local, warts and all
Soon we shall cry, come back 11-plus, all is forgiven. The spectacle of the supreme court trying this week to decide whether racial purity should be the basis for admission to state education shows how close we still are to the dark ages. If I had to choose between putting my child through a test of the three Rs or trying to prove his mother's maternal bloodline, give me the three Rs any day.

The case of the London Jewish Free School (JFS), now before the supreme court, should never have been brought to trial. There is something primitive about religious adherence or ethnicity conferring privilege in state education. That this should be the result of Labour government legislation is extraordinary.

The 2006 act governing school admissions clearly states that, where a school is oversubscribed, its governors may discriminate by selecting on grounds of religion. This has driven a coach and horses through the comprehensive principle that state pupils go to their local school, as happens in most normal democratic countries.

I am against eccentricity or exclusivity being validated with public money.

It is preferable for a state school admission system to be based on locality. Schools are cohering local institutions, for richer, for poorer, and that is how admission is determined across most of the globe. If aptitude or ability are to be criteria, as was the ambition of the 11-plus, let the test be public and fair. It is not reasonable for admission to be based on parental class, background, faith or group affiliation. Those who want such schools can pay for them. Many do. It is a free country.

When I went to primary school, I went with everyone from my village.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, the discipline of local catchment eroded, as white flight sought ever more devious ways of avoiding high-immigrant inner-city schools. Successive governments introduced the concept of "choice", and middle-class parents besieged church schools as havens of collective security. These schools were oversubscribed and found themselves not chosen but doing the choosing. Admissions criteria – and covert charging – became the rage.

The pews of London churches with school nominations were soon packed with desperate parents. Others were emptied of their congregations. In 2006, the government attempted to legislate that a mere 20% of places in church schools should go to non-worshippers. By then the pass had been sold, and even that was too many for the church lobby. The minister, Alan Johnson, capitulated as, more recently, has Ed Balls. Across a third of English schools, the Labour party has handed back to the church the keys to the door of the bourgeoisie.

Urban vicars, with hundreds of desirable school places in their pockets, are the new, mostly regressive, social engineers. Their discretion is remarkable. Some allow prospective parents who go to weekend "second home" churches in the country to include this in their attendance score.

From the moment "choice of school" gained traction under John Major, the old tensions resumed.

The 11-plus was abolished because thousands of middle-class parents were enraged at being denied access to their local grammar school when a child failed the exam. That was why the Tories swore never to reintroduce it and accepted comprehensive education – until leaders arrived who had forgotten, or never known, the battles of the 1960s.

Now to have parents roaming the country looking for an ever "better" school reopens the can of worms that 11-plus selection tried, but failed, to close. Allied to the pernicious league tables, so-called choice has left popular schools and eager parents in an unholy alliance to maintain the quality of intake and reject unsuitable pupils. Both know that it is enrolment that separates star schools from sink ones.

As schools get ever more cunning in selecting bright pupils, it is easy to see what happens next. The public will protest and the government will insist on a national admissions test to promise a level playing field. It may not be called the 11-plus, but that is what it will be.

Children should go to their local school, primary and secondary, warts and all. It does not matter how a school is run, but it does matter how the state allots places in what are public institutions. Labour's crude attempt to ingratiate itself with middle-class voters has ended in a ridiculous court case. If tests there must be, let them be proper ones, not recitations of holy texts or mother's birth certificates.
Some of the comments on CiF after Simon's piece are well worth reading too.


Seamus Milne wrote a good column yesterday with the heading,

Spying on us doesn't protect democracy. It undermines it

By branding protesters and mainstream Muslim activists as extremists, the police are effectively criminalising dissent

He concludes,
[This] is a timely reminder of the self-serving tendency to fantasy among intelligence organisations. Unleashing such people on those exercising their right to protest or take part in non-violent politics has got nothing to do with the defence of the democratic process – it's an assault on democracy.

On the music front, Lynsey Hanley wrote a column in which she says this,
There are few more obvious signs to be found of the revolution in opportunities for working-class people born between 1945 and 1970 than in the backgrounds of pop stars of the period.

Pop is in danger of becoming another of the closed-shop professions that anyone without the breeding or the nous finds it impossible to enter. The charts are strewn with posh pop stars who could, frankly, have found gainful employment at the higher end of the civil service. What do Florence and the Machine, La Roux, Will Young, and Lily Allen have in common? A private education, of course, which affords them the galloping confidence and social network required to make their way in whichever field they choose to excel in.

Then there are the state-educated artists – Amy Winehouse, Adele, Katie Melua, the Noisettes – who learned the same tricks at the specialist Brit School in Croydon. The result of such fame-farming is that you end up with the Kooks when what we really need for inspiration are actual kooks.

The one bucket-educated, self-made current star who has managed to steer his way through pop's Krypton Factor course completely on his own terms, without contacts, industry polish or the aid of reality television, is Dizzee Rascal.

How can pop stars any longer be at once the great inspirers and the great transformers when, thanks to stage schools and Simon Cowell, they're subject to a weekly time-and-motion study worthy of the Model-T Ford? Most of the Top 40 is guff at the moment to anyone over the age of 15 . . .
It's good to read this total condemnation of contemporary 'pop music' from someone who's clearly not just a grumpy old man [or woman].


And on the subject of music, try this -

Read what Guardian readers think about it here -

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