Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Layer 290 . . . Cherry Blossom

We're at the peak of our season of cherry blossom, a blossom which is an emblem of love and good fortune. It's important to get out and enjoy it now, as it peaks for only 4 - 6 days.




                                                                          Oxzen Pics


White Cherry Blossoms
Celebrating the marriage
Of winter and spring.

                                                                                Oxzen Pics


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Layer 288 . . . Bravo Cleggo, Leadership Debates, Mos Eisley Spaceport, Spin Alley, Satire, Universities, Geriatric Judo and Aerial

Nick Clegg was on Andrew Marr's programme this morning, and was very good indeed. He was confident, convincing and didn't stumble in any way. He's making the case extremely well for a sizeable vote for his party as an instant demonstration that Britain is sick of the old two-party monopoly and needs a proper proportional voting system in order to have a more mature and credible democracy. As it happens his party's priorities are right in line with what Britain also needs. He's managed, with the help of his colleagues, to position the Lib Dems perfectly as the more radical and progressive party. If there's any justice in the world the electorate will do the right thing and ensure that neither the Tories nor New Labour get anything like an outright majority. S'exciting!

It's true that prior to the financial crisis Clegg was on the right wing (the 'Orange Book') side of his party, and supported the Chicago School / Friedmanite vision of neo-liberal economics, but that was then and this is now. It's reasonable to suppose he's learnt lessons, as have millions of others during the financial catastrophe that's gripped the world.


And in any case, as has been said elsewhere, this is now, chiefly, a one-issue election - proportional representation.


The Leadership Debates - Part Two

Last week's debate (on Sky News!) threw up no surprises, and most reactions suggested there's a pretty even split in public perception over who was the 'winner'. Oxzen, however, took issue with the Guardian editorial about the event -


"all three leaders agreed on the fundamentals of every question. If voters want to see real difference between the three main parties they will have to look elsewhere."

Really? The one thing that stood out in this debate was Clegg's brave and principled insistence that it's foolish to renew or replace Trident with a similar weapons system, that fresh thinking is needed about the place of nuclear weapons, and that we should take a significant step towards ridding the world of nuclear weapons by not rushing into the purchase of a new generation of such weapons when there's no actual need to.

Brown certainly seized on this difference during the debate. How come the author of this piece didn't even notice it? Whether or not you agree with Clegg you must give him credit for remaining consistent on this fundamental difference, which Brown and Cameron are too afraid or too lacking in vision to grapple with themselves.


Marina Hyde wrote a brilliant piece about the insane happenings in the interview area - 'Spin Alley' - immediately after the debate:


Sky leaders' debate spin room: the live abortion of democracy

"Mos Eisley spaceport," sighs Ben Kenobi in Star Wars. "You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy ... " Evidently Obi Wan never visited Sky's post-debate spin room, which – pound-of-flesh for pound-of-flesh – must have been one of the most distasteful places to be in this galaxy or any other tonight.

The venue was an interactive science museum in Bristol, magically transformed by Rupert Murdoch's news network into a fully operational 10th circle of hell. Behold, the cream of Britain's arseoisie, as journalists, spin doctors and politicians interact in scenes that just scream "Come, friendly bombs …"

It was like watching the live abortion of democracy. Had the network decided the evening should have been immortalised in oil paint (surely only a matter of time), Hieronymus Bosch would have declined the commission on the basis that it was a hellscape too far even for him.

Still, the premise is simple. Even before the party leaders have finished debating, legions of spinners and spinners' lackeys materialise to explain exactly why everything you thought you saw and heard was wrong.

Having vapourised seconds before the debate, the spindroids were suddenly all back in the room, presumably having just slid through a haunted TV screen to begin immediately the task of dispensing weapons grade wisdom.

In America, they call these media pens Spin Alley, so those searching for a suitably small-time UK equivalent should alight on something like Fibbers' Close, or Bollocks Avenue.

To isolate the biggest whopper told in the room in the wake of the debate would be a task for a more sophisticated listening system than the human ear, but an audit even of those overheard in a mere six foot radius would have to include Douglas Alexander's "Gordon dominated the debate tonight. He left Nick and David Cameron trailing in his wake." In fairness, everyone was giving their best Iraqi information minister. "The infidels are nowhere near the airport! No one could ever want to slap David Cameron round the face with a wet fish!"

The entire affair is, quite simply, a two bath event, which is to say that when one finally escapes it, a single immersion in scalding water doesn't begin to get the psychological dirt off.



Last week's 'In Our Time', as it happens, had satire as its subject.

In ancient times satirical attacks were known as satori!

Mocking the so-called elite in order to correct folly was seen as a noble calling.

Democracies need those who are prepared to attack the pomposity and snobbery of political elites, and need those satirists to be aggressively outspoken and even rude in order to drive home their points. The hypocrisy, pretense, falsehoods, self-indulgence, love of luxury and depravity of the ruling classes ought to be targeted.

The father of the genre, Lucilius, is the writer credited with taking satire decisively towards what we now understand by the word: incisive invective aimed at particular personalities and their wrongs.

All this happened under the Roman Republic, in which there was a large measure of free speech. But then the Republic was overthrown and Augustus established the Empire.

The great satirist Horace had fought to save the Republic, but now reinvented himself as a loyal citizen of the Imperium.

His satirical work explores the strains and hypocrisies of trying to maintain an independent sense of self at the heart of an autocracy.

This struggle was deepened in the work of Persius, whose Stoicism-inflected writing was a quietist attempt to endure under the regime without challenging it.

The work of the last great Roman satirist, Juvenal, was famously savage - yet his targets were either generic or long dead.

So was satire a conservative or a radical genre? Was it cynical or did it aim to 'improve' people? Did it have any real impact? And was it actually funny?



Polly Toynbee's column yesterday was very good, and so far has attracted well over 1,000 comments on CiF:

Your heart might say Clegg. But vote with your head

Until the electoral system is reformed, progressives are stuck. If you do not want a Tory government, it's tactics, not romance

Get real. Keep your head screwed on. What result do you want? I will assume, dear Guardian reader, that like me you have two prime purposes. One is to prevent Cameron walking into Downing Street on 7 May. Equal first is to secure electoral reform so that we are never again presented with such a disgraceful voting choice. If that's not your view, you can save time, stop reading here and push off to some Murdoch organ that will amply satisfy your needs.

Hundreds of posters on Guardian threads yesterday wanted a Liberal Democrat win. No surprise, since there is no doubt that Clegg was the best in both debates. He talks human not slogans, he is sincere, and he stands by unpopular positions without trimming. Those who squirmed at Gordon Brown asserting that Trident will protect us against Iran and North Korea – or his failure to answer on what to do about long-term illegal migrants, their children and, soon, grandchildren: stateless, exploited and paying no taxes – will think Clegg a brave and decent man. So he is on human rights, and how to "punch above our weight" in Europe. He might make a good prime minister. But it won't happen this election because the abominable voting system makes it impossible. Win electoral reform and he might win next time, if there is a rerun after we have got voting reform.

But until that day, never take your eye off the ball, whatever it takes. If many go with heart not head against such ferocious odds, and Cameron gets the crown, electoral reform will be a dead duck, and it's back to square one.

I have never much minded what the best anti-Tory party is called, I just want the left of centre to win. I will always back whichever group combines being furthest left with winnability: that's always a trade-off.

It's not a game. The people who always, without fail, get hit hardest by Conservative governments are the powerless, the weakest, the voiceless – and they may not even vote. It is an absolute certainty that inequality will always worsen under the Tories, always did, always will.

This time it will happen faster . . .

It's low tactics, not high romance. Vote what best keeps the Tory out where you are. Buck that arithmetic at your peril.


Cif comments included:


These damn Tories take people for simpletons.

If you are reasonably well off, there are good reasons to vote Tory, so why not just be honest and admit you vote Tory out of self interest, instead of persisting with this ludicrous conscience-salving charade that the Tories have social mobility and the poor's best interests at heart?

It always amazes me that Tories dislike Modern 'broken' Britain so much. It was, after all, built in their image by Thatcher, and sustained by Blair.

What do you people think this is? a fucking game?

We're heading for a Libcon pact. Ideas of a Libdem clean sweep are fanciful rubbish. The task of the clued-in social democrat is to frustrate Toryism when and wherever you encounter it. The Tories are not a political party in the same sense as Labour and the Libdems. They are a Conspiracy, funded by business and corporations, and kept in power by the power elites and media barons, class interests and landowners.

They, in Bevan's words, are lower than vermin, and our job, as left of centre voters, is to don any kind of nose peg, plastic bag or gas mask and put down the seeds of democracy everywhere they feed.

Democracy to Tories is poison.


YouGov 22 Apr - Con 33 Lib Dem 31 Lab 27
Seats: Con 253, Lab 256, Lib Dem 112

OnePoll 24 Apr - Con 32 Lib 32 Lab 23.
Seats: Cons 262, Lab 213, LD 146

Now then Polly, remind us which one of these massive Tory overall majorities it is that you're so worried about?

That's right - there isn't one.

One poll I spotted an hour or two ago gave me pause for thought:

Mums Net voting intentions following 2nd debate - LD - 50.3% Lab 20% Con 18%

Seats: Lib Dem 598, Lab 23, Con 3, others 26

Funny how close the MumsNet 50.3% is to the 49% who would allegedly vote Lib Dem if they thought the Lib Dems had any chance of winning...

Maybe that's what both the Guardian and the Murdoch empires are so worried about that they want to frighten you into not voting Lib Dem.


A very good article, one of the few truly intelligent pieces of journalism produced in this election.

For all the excitement Clegg has generated a couple of facts remain;

If we have a Tory government after May 6th Clegg might as well never have existed.

If we have a Tory government after May 6th there will be no electoral reform.

If we have a Tory government after May 6th the LibDems will find it much harder to achieve a breakthrough next time.

If we have a Tory government after May 6th Cameron has said he will actually make the current electoral system worse and even more skewed against the LibDems.

If we have a Tory government after May 6th Clegg will go back to being a nobody.

I am now a member of Hampstead and Kilburn Labour Party and I am risking being thrown out by saying this but everyone, Labour as well as LibDem voters, should vote tactically against the Tories.

In doing so you are voting positively for PR, social justice, a sensible economy and better public services. Cameron and Osborne's malicious, mendacious incompetence is the last thing the UK needs.


Graduates: a problem in four parts

Only when students, academics, employers and politicians can agree what university is for will answers emerge


Oxzen's comment:

How would it be if universities were places where people of all ages could go in order to pursue their own educational agendas, with a right to be as narrow or as broad in their learning pathways as they see fit? Maybe we could have universities that set out to meet the needs of learners, whatever they might be, with a view to creating a nation of well-balanced, highly intelligent, creative, enlightened and productive individuals who could make creative, enlightened and useful contributions to society? This might even make a refreshing change from generations of narrow, over-specialised and uncreative individuals pursuing self-interest and greed to the exclusion of any other goal in life.


The end of the affair?



Elderly 'should learn martial arts'


Fighting disciplines such as kung fu, karate and judo involve techniques that can help brittle-boned patients fall more safely, research suggests.


Album of the Week - Aerial, by Kate Bush



Saturday, April 24, 2010

Layer 287 . . . Free Spirits, Physical Intelligence, Nukes, Burlesque and Women's Liberation.

An aspect of human wellbeing that Oxzen has occasionally referred to, but not examined in depth and detail, is physical intelligence.

The human body is an incredible achievement of nature. Thanks to scientists like Darwin, Crick and Watson we've begun to understand how we evolved from the Big Bang to where we are today, via DNA and natural selection. The human body should be respected, celebrated, protected and looked after.

Oxzen, of course, is not one of those who believe that God created the universe and everything in it, including the first human being, who, for some reason, he called Adam. Allegedly.

Oxzen is not one of those who believe that God created the first woman from one of Adam's ribs.  Oxzen has yet to discover why God decided to somehow create the first woman from one of Adam's ribs, instead of using the same stuff he used to create Adam.

According to my DK Bible, "Adam and Eve walked naked and happy in the garden, and had no need of clothes." More of nudity later.

No matter. We've arrived in the 21st Century, at a point in history where we can witness fierce debates about the need to spend untold billions of pounds of our taxes on nuclear weapons to commit mass destruction on other human beings . . .  whilst at the same time millions of our fellow human beings, in cities and towns everywhere, are living in poverty - for want of the means to earn a decent living, and for want of decent levels of social security and old age pensions. The people who shout the loudest for more WMDs are not those who're living in poverty.

We're living in a time of bread and circuses, a time in which most people prefer to spend countless hours watching talent shows, soap operas, game shows, Top Gear, Dave, poker, snooker, sport, Big Brother and property development tips programmes . . . rather than spend a single minute taking care of their bodies and souls, or reading a book to a child, or trying to figure out why we should maintain a nuclear arsenal AT ALL, when Germany, Spain and Italy aren't bothered about whether or not they can nuke China - but especially before we've enabled every citizen to live in a decent home with enough money to feed and clothe their children properly.

We're living in a time when a young man, who's apparently a serious candidate to be the political leader of our country, can blithely talk about needing bigger and better nuclear weapons with which we can attack China, or 'defend ourselves' against China, which is a country that hasn't even threatened to attack any other country, let alone ours.

And on this point - a brief digression. In a nuclear conflict, which country is likely to emerge in a worse state - China or Britain? Answer - neither. We can't even imagine what we'd do to the planet if we filled the atmosphere with billions of tons of impenetrable toxic nuclear dust, a billion times more than the dust from an exploding volcano. Cormac McCarthy imagined it and wrote a book called The Road. Those of us who were unfortunate enough to survive the blast and the radiation would have a lot more to worry about than not being able to fly in airplanes.

Where was I? Oh yes. We re living in an age in which a team of 30 or so doctors and nurses spends 24 hours transplanting the face of a dead human being on to the head of a living person, and in which millions of children have no-one to read with them or talk to them; millions have to make do with bad housing and bad food.

In the week of the face transplant our capital city is holding a Burlesque Week, which looks like becoming an annual event. The daughter of a friend is taking part. It seems London is full of women of all ages and all shapes and sizes who are learning to be burlesque performers, and to do other things which appear to be celebrations of the human body and human sexuality, such as pole dancing. I'm not aware, as yet, of any amateurs who are learning to do lap dancing and table dancing just for fun , but you never know.

The popular burlesque show of the 1870s through the 1920s referred to a raucous, somewhat bawdy style of variety theater. In 20th century America the word burlesque became associated with a variety show in which striptease is the chief attraction. Although the striptease originated at the Moulin Rouge in 1890s Paris and subsequently became a part of some burlesque across Europe, only in American culture is the term burlesque closely associated with the striptease. These shows were not considered 'theatre' and were regarded as 'low' by the vaudevillians, actors and showgirls of neighbouring theatreland.

In the 1930s, a social crackdown on burlesque shows led to their gradual downfall. The shows had slowly changed from ensemble ribald variety performances, to simple performances focusing mostly on the striptease. - Wikipedia


We assume that in the first era of burlesque most of the performers allowed themselves to be exploited by accepting relatively paltry sums of money in exchange for performing dances involving the shedding most of their clothing in front of a largely male audience.

What seems to be clear in this second era of burlesque is that there are 3 categories of performers. Firstly there are those like Dita Von Teese [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dita_Von_Teese ] who are paid huge sums of money for their appearances and performances, and become very wealthy. It's hard to imagine how these women are exploited, unless you want to say they're exploiting and degrading their own bodies. Others would say they re simply making very good use of their own bodies to make money as an artist and a skilled performer, which many of them undoubtedly are - even if it's not exactly 'high' art.

The second category consists of women who are paid small sums of money for entertaining punters with performances which they may or may not enjoy doing. Those who don't actually enjoy burlesque dancing, if there are any, presumably make their living in this way because it's their least bad option.

In the third category are women who are pure amateurs - whose amour is for the pure joy of performing.

So what is burlesque? It's a form of dancing in which the outer layers of clothing are quickly removed, and for most of the dance the woman performs in her underwear - knickers, bra, corset, stockings and stiletto shoes - sometimes with the aid of props, such as large fans. Usually the stockings are peeled off, but never the knickers, which are often big and frilly. There's never even a suggestion that they might be removed. Some women choose to wear thong knickers that reveal their butt cheeks.

The bra, on the other hand, always comes off - usually right at the end, with a dramatic flourish, and it's twirled above the head of its wearer.

Underneath the bra the performers wear colourful nipple caps, sometimes with tassels. No nipples are allowed to be shown or seen.

Some performers have developed the knack of counter-rotating their nipple tassels by swinging and wiggling their breasts, and this becomes the grand finale of their act. Most dancers end by simply exposing their breasts to the audience, and enjoy the applause briefly before striding offstage.

It seems most of the women who go to burlesque classes are young and well-paid  professionals who have no intention of taking up dancing as a career. They do it for fun, for a thrill, for the sheer excitement of taking off their clothes and exposing their breasts and their bums in front of an appreciative audience.

These days lots of men (and women) are keen to pay 20 quid or so to watch women remove their clothes and expose their bodies. Whooping and cheering audiences provide the dancers with recognition and appreciation, which may contrast strongly with what happens in the rest of their lives - professionally dull and domestically boring - lacking in appreciation, affection, excitement, joy, stimulation, etc. Maybe this public display of their bodies and their sexuality  is a compensation for the lack of vibrancy and sexuality in the rest of their lives. On the other hand, it might be an extension and a continuation of how they live. It could be interesting to do a survey.

Physical intelligence is important. Sexuality is important. Everyone should take care of their body and  feel proud of their body. I doubt if it's possible to buy a completely new face, and you definitely can't buy a new body - only alterations to the one you already have. It's important to use it, and not abuse it.

We need to make the most of our bodies and their precious physical senses, and use our eyes, ears, etc to the absolute maximum, to keep us properly in touch with our world, to inform our perceptions and our awareness. Humans need to touch and be touched. The more physical intelligence - and social & emotional intelligence - there is in the world, the less likely it will be we'll end up fighting and killing one another. Though there will always be mad politicians, calling themselves realists, who'll cheerfully consider dropping the big one, come what may.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Layer 286 . . . Discovering France, Equality and Fraternity, Bankers Taking Serious Liberties, Competing on Radicalism, Over Confidence and Extremist Moods

On the radio this morning there was an item about a family that couldn't get back to Britain from Italy because of the no-fly zone, and had to hire a car. In the words of the 81 year old who was involved in the journey, "We got lost near the Alps and drove back along winding roads over the mountains. It was a great adventure!"

The guy who drove the car said, "France is a lot bigger than it looks on the map. It's a very beautiful country. Thanks to no planes and no trains we had a great time."

Well, yes. I just feel sorry for people who've never discovered the joys of unplanned journeys by road through France. Just think what it could do for the rural economy of France if more people chose a slow drive rather than a quick flight in order to get to the Mediterranean. France is a fabulous country with wonderful landscapes and a superb cuisine, and in my experience very civilised people. And they're still proud of their revolutionary slogan - Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.


And talking of revolutions, Polly Toynbee says this in today's paper:

Here's what Labour can do about the Lib Dem dilemma

This surge is about public rage at bankers and MPs. Brown should compete on radicalism, and leave Cameron to be nasty


History will record two mighty reasons for the Lib Dem surge: rage with the political system brought to the boil by MPs expenses; and rage with boardrooms and bankers who crashed the economy, cost jobs and homes, and yet kept their swelling pay and bonuses. Labour has failed to find the language or action to reflect popular outrage on either. Even under attack by business and the City, Labour replies weakly: "We're a pro-business party."

But 1996 Mandelson-speak is useless when business is kicking the hell out of Labour, and useless when people want the hell kicked out of bankers. Yesterday's report from the Centre for Economic Performance showed how bonanza bonuses in the finance sector cause risk-taking that contributed to the financial crisis. Why not use the report to announce that the bonus tax will continue until banks (and board rooms) control their offensively greedy pay? With the right language, that begins to match the Lib Dems.

Oxzen said this on cif:

The Lib Dems have already said they'll allow the Tories to form a government if they get the largest share of the vote. Why? If the Lib Dem surge continues and the bizarre outcome is a parliament in which Labour has the most seats with fewer votes than their main rivals, then the Lib Dems have a duty to make a deal with Labour to immediately push through electoral reform with proper proportional representation, and allow the country to have another election under the new system. The TV debates have thankfully made constitutional reform THE main issue, and the country will benefit from the policies that would follow from a more progressive parliament. Without a pledge to join with Labour in a government of constitutional change the Lib Dems will find much of their current popularity swiftly waning.


Nick Clegg's poll rise casts doubt on David Cameron's change claims

In Guardian/ICM poll, Conservative leader is seen as much less honest than the Lib Dem leader

by Julian Glover



George Monbiot had another good column in yesterday's paper:

Wales's unreported revolution

In the latest of a series of articles by Guardian writers on issues they care passionately about, George Monbiot asks how, when English politics is trapped in a neoliberal consensus, is green socialism able to flourish in Wales?


While radical rural politics are familiar in parts of France, Mexico and Brazil, those of us brought up in England associate the countryside with conservatism. Here in the remotest parts of Wales there's overwhelming support for policies well to the left of Labour's.

Why, when the three main parties in Westminster appear to be trapped in a neoliberal consensus, is a green socialist party sharing power in Cardiff? What has Wales got that England hasn't?

For the past few years a quiet but momentous revolution has been taking place. That this has passed largely unnoticed in England reflects the media's lack of interest in Wales. English progressives know more about the political transformation in Bolivia than the similar shift happening over the border. Perhaps this is just as well. The Welsh have been left to get on with it, and nobody in England cares enough to try to stop them.

It was Plaid Cymru that led the attempt to impeach Tony Blair over the invasion of Iraq. It opposed the conflict in Afghanistan from the outset. It wants to scrap Trident and cancel the aircraft carrier and Eurofighter contracts. It would break up the banks, ban short selling, tax foreign exchange transactions, raise capital gains tax, raise income tax for the rich while reducing it for the poor. It would set a maximum wage and give workers seats on corporate boards.

It seeks to renationalise the railways and curb the power of the supermarkets. It wants a living pension for everyone over 80, to raise benefits in line with average earnings and to scrap tuition fees. It would abandon ID cards, stop detaining asylum seekers and shift sentencing away from prison and towards restorative justice.

Such policies are widely held to make parties in England unelectable. But in Wales they are considered mainstream, and not just among Plaid supporters. The Labour party in Cardiff is a different beast from the Labour party in Westminster.

The Welsh Assembly government, where Labour is the senior coalition partner, has stopped Sats in schools, scrapped the private finance initiative, is abandoning the internal market in the NHS, has imposed tough social housing policies, helped set up a network of credit unions and – belatedly – more or less killed new opencast mining.

The manifesto Labour has just published for the Westminster vote would be a lengthy suicide note for the assembly elections. What explains the difference?

When I asked why a radical party could succeed in Wales, Llwyd replied instantly, as if the answer were obvious. Proportional representation had created space for a politics inhibited by Middle England. "Not the actual people of Middle England but the idea of it. First-past-the-post politics means that you are always chasing those swing votes in marginal constituencies."

But, I argued, while this might explain why Plaid does well in Cardiff, it doesn't explain its success in Westminster elections.

"Traditionally Welsh people belong to the left. There's a deep and ingrained sense of fair play. They want to see people being looked after. The University of Bangor was built on donations from quarrymen, earning a pittance because they wanted a better future for their children."

There's no question that, as Llwyd claims, devolution and electoral reform have been decisive factors. They have created a culture of political responsiveness that's mostly lacking in England. Politics in Wales is closer to the people; politicians are forced to listen. Perhaps in England too there is a peaceful revolution waiting to be unleashed, but with a parliament in which Welsh, Scottish and Irish MPs can be drilled through the lobbies to vote on purely English matters, where grassroots politics are continually thwarted by dodgy voting systems, ruthless party machines and antediluvian powers, the box in which it lurks remains firmly nailed down.

The English like to think of themselves as a modern and sophisticated nation . . . but as far as democracy is concerned, the English are light years behind.


Comedian Mark Thomas wins £1,200 over police search

'Over-confident' comic was unlawfully stopped and had his bag checked as he left arms protest


Police have paid compensation and apologised to the comedian and activist Mark Thomas after they admitted unlawfully searching him for looking "over-confident" at a demonstration.

The Metropolitan police stopped and searched Thomas after he gave a speech at a rally against the arms trade in 2007.

The police searched his shoulder bag and wallet for weapons, which they said could be used to cause criminal damage.

A police officer recorded on an official form that Thomas may have been carrying weapons as he had an "over-confident attitude". Nothing was found.

In January the European court of human rights ruled it was unlawful for police to use arbitrary stop-and-search powers against peace protesters and photographers under terrorism legislation. Kent police admitted conducting unlawful searches on 11-year-old twins and other activists at an environmental demonstration.

The officer said his shoulder bag "may contain such items due to the over-confident attitude of Mr Thomas". He is also said to have told Thomas he "appeared to know what you were talking about" at the rally. The officer added: "If we only stopped and searched people who looked nervous and shifty and didn't stop the ones who looked over-confident you would be able to get one past us," according to legal papers lodged by Thomas, which were not disputed by the police.

The officer noted on the official document recording the reasons for the stop-and-search that Thomas was "believed to be an influential individual".

The comedian's photograph had been on a secret "spotter card" issued to officers to identify people considered to be potential troublemakers at a demonstration against the arms fair two years earlier.

The Met paid £1,200 for "falsely imprisoning" Thomas for 12 minutes. He said: "£100 a minute is slightly more than my usual rate. If over-confidence is a reason for a stop-and-search Jonathan Ross should never leave his house."

Thomas said he would donate some of the money to the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation. He will also use it to fund his next standup tour, saying advertising posters would contain a line thanking the police for their financial support.


Nick Clegg's rise could lock Murdoch and the media elite out of UK politics

At the Sun, we deliberately ignored the Lib Dems. The cosy pro-Cameron press may now be left floundering

by David Yelland



Bill Clinton's warning on extremist mood in US

Growing concern in White house about anti-government mood
Trust in US government at its lowest point for half a century



The UK isn't so different from Greece: a financial crisis could happen here too

The markets fear a hung parliament but the real risk for the UK's grotesquely unbalanced economy lies further ahead

by Larry Elliott



Goldman Sachs prosecution threatens to open the floodgates on Wall Street

Pressure grows for stricter controls on derivatives
Timothy Geithner says banks will be made to pay

by Andrew Clark



Some excellent columns from Ruth Sunderland:

Labour and the Tories are just too scared to take on the bankers
Both the UK's main parties seem terrified of crossing an unelected – and unaccountable – financial elite


The crisis is no American invention – the City was in it, up to its neck

Look at how many of the characters in the credit crunch were operating out of London


Goldman Sachs finds $5bn for pay and bonuses amid fraud investigation


Unemployment across UK is back to 1999 levels

Decade of job growth effectively wiped out by financial crisis
Don't cut spending after election, business leaders urge



If the Conservatives cut the deficit it's all downhill from here

by William Keegan


Monday, April 19, 2010

Layer 285 . . . The Shock Doctrine, Privatisations, PR, and Big Issues for the Big Society


It's becoming clearer that come what may in the new parliament we'll be heading for more of the Shock Doctrine - using the failure of the banks and the current state of the national finances to summon up a virtual state of emergency - and then to create a huge cutting back of public services, in the name of stopping "waste", with all its consequences for unemployment and deflation.

Phase two will be more privatisations and outsourcing - even in education and health.

Cameron's piece in yesterday's Observer described his philosophy for a Big Society, which is a kind of anarcho-conservatism, through which money will be handed over to those who want to "run their own schools" etc - i.e. pay for for-profit companies to run schools, using hired hands posing as "successful" management teams.

Peter Preston wrote in yesterday's paper, talking about the debates on TV and how they're reported in the press, "We can make up our own minds . . . and you'll keep on winning, if you can be bothered to keep sitting up and taking notice."

Which is a fair point. But how many can really be bothered, how many have the time or inclination, and how many are prepared to inform themselves from the precious little quality writing about the key issues?


More good stuff in the Observer yesterday, and some Big Issues for the Big Society:

If you're old and still in touch with your family, count your blessings

by Mary Warnock



So, how do the parties match up on protecting our freedom?

The New Labour manifesto asks you to ignore all the suspicion the government has created during its term in office

by Henry Porter



Simon Singh's historic win is also a triumph for his online allies

by Nick Cohen



In today's Guardian we have these:

Cameron, beware. Cake baking and sports clubs can't fix inequality

An east London estate offers a potent picture of the Big Society. But there is a big gap in Cameron's big idea

by Madeleine Bunting



On libel, the really big battle awaits

Two years on, I welcome politicians' libel pledges. But tinkering won't do. Reform must be radical

by Simon Singh



And for the Lib Dems' next trick? Electrify the foreign debate

Nick Clegg will squander his gains if he shies from a row on Europe, Iraq and Afghanistan. It's time to get properly stuck in

by Jackie Ashley



In tomorrow's Guardian we have John Harris:

Clegg surge could kill first past the post

A three-way split would fatally undermine FPTP and signify the time has arrived for a historic push on our broken voting system


Some of us desperately want the political and constitutional crisis Martin Kettle wrote about on Cif the other day . . .  electoral reform is British politics' most fundamental issue.

Cleggmania notwithstanding, look at the state of the election debate. Where are such white-hot issues as housing, and low pay? The same goes for such baffling no-shows as climate change, the banks, Afghanistan, Europe, etc etc. This is what FPTP does to the national argument: it kills it.

Maybe not too late: despite the aforementioned grip exercised by the Brownites, might Labour signal its willingness to at least consider the more proportional AV-plus system, and thus begin to build a coalition for post-election reform? If, even post-election, plenty of Labour high-ups prove to be resistant, so be it: that'll be a signal that starting the realignment of the left that some of us speculate about is now a matter of urgency.

A Labour friend of mine just called me and said we seemed to have reached a Ceausescu moment: representatives of both main parties trying to sustain all the contortions of traditional politics, trying desperately to seize power on the support of around a quarter of the electorate, and triangulating their way around the meaningless middle – while their assumptions are shredded, and Britain moves somewhere else entirely. Let's hope so.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Layer 284 . . . Rising Hopes for a New Politics, the Clegg Ascendancy, Good Riddance To New Labour, Greens Turning Sharp Left, and Bank Crime

This is from today's Observer - "My Vote . . . by Katharine Whitehorn":

"I voted Labour in 1997 - at least, that's what I thought I was doing. I didn't know then that Tony Blair was on record as saying he'd have been a Conservative, except it took too long to get to the top; nor that he shared with the Right a touching fundamentalist belief in the efficacy of the market; nor that no notice whatever would be taken of our marching against war in Iraq. I'll vote Lib Dem this time for several reasons. Vince Cable seems more sensible about the economy than most and Nick Clegg wowed us all on TV; but more to the point , I want a hung parliament. Then laws will actually have to be passed because parliament has so decided, not because they seemed a good idea on the sofa in 10 Downing Street. And I can't wait to see - I can dream, can't I? - a withering of the lunatic Whitehall mini-management of targets and box-ticking that has driven so many honest and competent professionals to desperation."


Now where was I? . . . Oh yes - the Tories entering shit creek, and the rise of the Lib Dems.

Martin Kettle started his column yesterday with this:

The  Sun/You Gov poll on Saturday morning is the first proper national post-debate opinion poll. Its results are absolutely explosive. It shows the Conservatives on 33% (down 4% from the last YouGov), the Liberal Democrats on 30% (up 8%) and Labour on 28% (down 3%).

Whereas Oxzen had predicted last Thursday - just before The Debate (Part 1) -

So mark my words - by the time this election takes place the Lib Dem share of the vote will have gone up by around 5% and the Greens by 3%, with the Tories down by 8% on current projections. What's more, the Lib Dems started the last campaign at around 18% and put on 6 percentage points, whereas this time they're starting from 24%.

So - sorry about that folks. A slight miscalculation. I'd assumed the Tories were on 39 or 40% and would come down 8% to 31 or 32%. Pretty accurate with the Lib Dems and their 30% though.

What's more, the Greens haven't really got going, yet, and there may be even more to come from the Lib Dems, since Clegg seems to have made an even better impression than I'd imagined.

What's even more, a ComRes poll for the Independent on Sunday and Sunday Mirror today puts the Tories on only 31%, with the Lib Dems on 29% and Labour on 27%.

At this rate and under first past the post the Lib Dems could end up with more than 100 seats, with Labour getting just over 250 seats and the Tories just under 250. Which means that the Lib Dems would easily hold the balance of power in a hung parliament. Excellent.

[Under a proper system of proportional representation Labour ought to get, on the current projections, around 182 seats, and the Tories around 215. No matter - if New Old Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens worked together for progressive policies then the Tories would never again get even a sniff of power or influence.]

The Tory party would then go back into civil war mode, and probably split, with the Cameroons on one side and The Nasty Party on the other, each of them fighting for the right to leadership and direction as Progressive Conservatives versus Traditional and True Conservatives.

Labour, of course, will need to have its own internal revolution, as Mandelson, Brown and the rest of the gang fight to stay in control, and their opponents let rip with as much aggression and determination to get rid of them as they can muster.


On the back page of this week's London Review of Books, and on the back page of the Guardian's "Review" section in yesterday's paper, is an excellent advertisement for the New Left Review. In it they simply quote several passages from their archives, including this from Ralph Miliband, written in 1960 [yes - the father of David & Ed] -

The last election has shocked many more people into a recognition that the Labour Party is a sick party . . . Neither on issues of home affairs, nor in relation to Nato and foreign affairs generally, have the Labour leaders appeared as a clear alternative to the Tories. The reason for this is not that they were unable - somehow - to put over their case. The reason is that they were not such an alternative.


There's also a quotation from the current edition of the review, in an article by Tony Wood called Good Riddance To New Labour -

The clinching argument against New Labour is one of simple democratic principle. Any government with a record as appalling as this one's deserves to be punished at the polls., if accountability to the voting public is to have any meaning. The specifics of Labour's years in power - one murderous war after another; slavish devotion to finance; promotion of rampant inequality; repeated assaults on civil liberties; fragmentation and privatisation of public services; endemic corruption - make plain that they fully merit being turfed out of office. Good riddance; this execrable government deserves to go.

Read the entire article here - http://www.newleftreview.org/?page=article&view=2830


This is in today's Observer:

Greens turn sharp left

The Greens are Britain's new, and only, leftwing party. If you don't believe me, read their manifesto

by Mary Fitzgerald

While Nick Clegg's performance in the first leadership debate has suddenly made the Lab-Con stranglehold on power look weaker, one of the most dramatic political developments of a generation has gone relatively unnoticed.

With their new manifesto, the Greens have transformed themselves from a single-issue outfit into Britain's new – and only – leftwing party. They have pledged soak-the-rich tax hikes, aimed at radically redistributing Britain's wealth and delivering social justice for all.

They will use some £112bn in new taxes by 2013 to fund higher minimum wages and pensions, free home insulation, free social care for the elderly, big tax breaks for people on lower incomes, as well as the expected huge investment in transport.

It's short-sighted not to see the wider significance of this shift. It's true that our first-past-the post system means the Green manifesto is of almost no relevance to the outcome on 6 May. But think ahead to the local elections.

The Green party is positioning itself, politically, as a radical alternative to the near-identical policy platforms trotted out this Thursday on ITV. The Greens are now aiming their message not just at the growing numbers who care about the environment, but those concerned about social justice as well.

Given the extent to which New Labour has moved to the centre, this will hold powerful sway among disenchanted one-time Labour voters, as well as with more radical left-wingers (note that Beatrix Campbell, a former Communist, is standing as a Green candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn). Meanwhile, taxes on airplanes and the other environmentally-focused policies appeal across the political spectrum: climate change, in Britain at least, is not exclusively a concern of leftist voters.


Andrew Rawnsley writes this today:

Nick Clegg's victory in the televised debate presents both his complacent rivals with some serious dilemmas

David Cameron's strategists are already arguing among themselves about how aggressively they should "take the fight" to Nick Clegg. For most of David Cameron's leadership, his approach has been to try to hug the Lib Dems to death. The Lib Dem leader disdained the Tory's attempts to love bomb him during the first debate. Influential voices around David Cameron are telling him to forget any more loving and concentrate on bombing. Their visceral instinct is to go for the Lib Dems as wet on crime, reckless on defence, soft on immigration and in love with Europe.

The risk for the Tories is that this lures David Cameron back on to Michael Howard territory and will look like a lurch to the right which is repulsive to the liberal, centrist voters that he needs. Michael Gove has already experimented with one line of attack by patronising the Lib Dems as "outside the mainstream and a little bit eccentric". The trouble for both the Tories and Labour is that being "outside the mainstream" does not look the least bit "eccentric" to the many voters distrustful of and disillusioned with the old duopoly. It looks jolly attractive.



A new politics is up for grabs


If you want a "well" hung parliament, your strategy should be very simple indeed: vote Lib Dem. Not only will that guarantee a Lib Dem bloc in parliament holding the balance of power, it will discredit the electoral system itself. Worst case scenario: a truly phenomenal number of people end up voting a Lib Dem government into office which will have a clear mandate to introduce proportional representation, Lords reform, stronger local government, more direct democracy and, in effect, give its own power away. So not much of a risk at all then.

What is needed at this stage is not nuanced psephological arguments but a clear, disruptive, brutal message: vote Liberal Democrat and change the system.

When my computer starts doing odd things, I don't spend hours faffing about trying to debug the operating system. I hit the reset button. When my phone jams, I hit the reset button.

Courtesy of Nick Clegg's phenomenal performance this week, a vote for the Liberal Democrats has just become the equivalent of a bloody great big reset button. You can either press that button on 6 May or sit there in your respective comfort zones complaining about nobody has any real power to change things. It really is up to you now.

Finally, we're getting around to examining the operations of the big banks as actual fraud, and not just incompetence and stupidity:

Now we know the truth. The financial meltdown wasn't a mistake – it was a con

Hiding behind the complexities of our financial system, banks and other institutions are being accused of fraud and deception, with Goldman Sachs just the latest in the spotlight. This has become the most pressing election issue of all

by Will Hutton

The global financial crisis, it is now clear, was caused not just by the bankers' colossal mismanagement. No, it was due also to the new financial complexity offering up the opportunity for widespread, systemic fraud. Friday's announcement that the world's most famous investment bank, Goldman Sachs, is to face civil charges for fraud brought by the American regulator is but the latest of a series of investigations that have been launched, arrests made and charges made against financial institutions around the world. Big Finance in the 21st century turns out to have been Big Fraud. Yet Britain, centre of the world financial system, has not yet levelled charges against any bank . . . We have to live with the fiction that our banks and bankers are whiter than white, and any attempt to investigate them and their institutions will lead to a mass exodus to the mountains of Switzerland. The politicians of the Labour and Tory party alike are Bambis amid the wolves.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Layer 283 . . . Debating Leaders, Headteachers, Seldon, Factory Schools and Education

The Debate

As I was saying yesterday, the Tories are surely starting to realise they're in big trouble. Not only did Nick Clegg emerge the clear winner in last night's TV debate - Cameron did very badly, though not quite as badly as Brown. Even so, the differential between Cameron and Brown was pretty miniscule. Far from coming third, Clegg trounced the other two. He wasn't that great, in my opinion, but he clearly had a lot of appeal for viewers who'd never previously taken notice of him.

Front page of the Guardian -

Leaders' debate: Nick Clegg seizes his moment in the TV spotlight

Lib Dem leader makes powerful pitch as he depicts his party as a significant change from Labour and the Conservatives


Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, stole the first televised leaders' debate in British political history by offering himself up as the fresh and honest alternative to two tired old parties in an electrifying, fast-moving, 90-minute primetime broadcast.

Clegg's revelatory performance, acknowledged by Labour, has the potential to change the political landscape, even if David Cameron, with the most to lose last night, will be relieved that in some of the instant reaction polls he came second, ahead of the prime minister.

Clegg, in effect introduced to the nation for the first time, said: "Don't let them tell you that the only choice is between two old parties that have been playing pass the parcel with your government for 65 years now making the same old promises, breaking the same old promises."

The charge reprised his opening claim when he pointed to the other two leaders, saying: "Now, they are going to tell you tonight that the only choice you have is between the two old parties who've been taking it in turns to run things for years."

In the first substantial poll conducted after the debate, Populus for the Times found Clegg the overwhelming winner with 61% and Cameron and Brown trailing on 22% and 17% respectively.

Clegg's stand-out moment for me was when he said,

"I think creativity's important in the classroom, and freedom for teachers and headteachers. What's also important is smaller class sizes. We should bring down class sizes in Primary schools to 20, and in Secondary schools 16."

Why the fuck couldn't Labour have said this back in '97? What's even worse is - they're not even saying it NOW! Anyone who thinks we'll never become a more enlightened society until all our children are properly educated in schools where there's academic freedom and freedom to innovate and balance the curriculum, must surely support this. Anyone who cares about our children being unhappy in their factory schools where "standards" are supposedly being "driven up" through more and more teaching to the tests, must surely support this. Anyone who cares about our children having proper opportunities to develop all of their intelligences in a balanced way must surely support this.

On the other hand, Cameron's worst moment was when he stupidly tried to justify upgrading Trident at a cost of hundreds of squillions by saying we need it to face up to the Iranians . . . and the Chinese! Heaven help us all - three nuclear-armed submarines against the Yellow Peril! What a moron! Who said China is a potential enemy of Britain? What a moron! How reliant is this country on Chinese trade, manufacturing and investment? What a moron! So Cameron thinks that one day we might need to nuke China?

On this evidence, the only yellow peril Cameron needs to be concerned about is Clegg and the Lib Dems.

This is from the Daily Telegraph! -

The leaders' debate could be the beginning of the end for David Cameron


by Mary Riddell

Though he stayed calm, Mr Cameron’s face seemed to register a growing horror. The Tory nighmare had been that he might lose out by appearing a master of presentation. If only.

 Nick Clegg did not exactly pirate the Cameron playbook. Instead he produced a more novel and convincing version. You could see from Mr Cameron’s eyes that he knew he had been out-Daved, both on image and policy. Mr Clegg’s line on Trident and his emphasis on stopping children becoming career criminals both belonged in the no-go terrain where ordinary politicians dare not stray.

Yesterday Mr Cameron looked ordinary.

The Lib Dems are celebrating today. Their polling is telling them that, even before the debate, they were making headway against the Tories in the South-west. Now they have their hopes set on the cathedral towns and beltway marginals where they could oust Labour. Much as Gordon Brown might cast lovesick glances towards a LibLab deal, Mr Clegg is going to play hard (and maybe improssible) to get.

But a relatively small shift towards the Lib Dems will help Labour anyway. And, should there be a hung Parliament, it seems unlikely, if not unthinkable, that Mr Clegg would ever do a deal with Mr Cameron.  Much as a handful of Lib Dem MPs would like it, policy differences and the LibDem party membership would almost certainly forbid such an accord.

No wonder Lord Mandelson and Alan Johnson were smiling . Brown got  it on substance and Clegg on style. This, they hope, could signify a match made in heaven. We shall see. There are many potential slips between now and polling day, but the Tories’ unsealed deal may have started to unravel.

Under this piece there's the usual Torygraph nutter postings:

Too many things against Cameron. He is a PR spin merchant. He thinks he is a Tory when the whole country knows he is some bastardised cross between a liberal and a Marxist and his policies seem to have been cobbled together from reading a Russian manual on how to run a co-operative. The real shame about the debate is that it does not allow us to glimpse the idea that there are other viable alternatives such as UKIP or BNP.

“Clegg’s Triumph is Tories’ Worst Nightmare.”
No Mary, waking up next to you would be.


An interesting letter in the Guardian this week:

A shared vision for education


As headteachers, we were very concerned at the flight from consensus in the last stages of the education bill last week (Report, 8 April) and the blocking of a number of guarantees for children, including the right to one-to-one tuition. We see these guarantees as the culmination of unprecedented investment in schools over recent years. It is clear now that only the present government is committed to guaranteeing ringfenced and increased investment in all our schools.

The alternative proposals are not about steady investment in the whole system but the threat of across-the-board cuts coupled with boutique experiments borrowed as a result of naive educational tourism. These experiments will involve taking millions of pounds from existing schools to create artificial surplus places. There is absolutely no research consensus around the achievements of Swedish "free schools" or American charter schools. A few flatpack free schools will not reform a national system.

The educational landscape presently evolving is already a powerful force for change. It is led by a group of professionals who collaborate for the good of children, who have a shared vision for the whole system and think beyond the boundaries of their own schools. So please, no return to year zero.


This is something I'd meant to comment on a couple of weeks ago.


State schools accused of turning pupils into 'well-drilled automatons'

Public school head calls for a 'holistic education' to create more well-rounded pupils

The state system is guilty of producing "factory schools" turning out young people "incapable of living full and autonomous lives", the headmaster of a leading public school claims today.

Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington college and Tony Blair's biographer, says too many students cannot think independently about their subjects, lack personal skills, and are "little more than well-drilled automatons" after an education that lacks intellectual depth and rigour.

He calls for all state schools to be given the opportunity for genuine independence, with legal freedom to make a profit, select pupils as they wish, and choose their own curriculum and exam system.

The school day should be longer so pupils can benefit from the kind of "holistic education", encompassing extensive programmes of sport, culture, and leadership training on offer in public schools.

"Too many state schools have become factories," Seldon writes in a pamphlet, An End To Factory Schools, for the Centre for Policy Studies. "Reluctant students are processed through a system closely controlled and monitored by the state … The new world does not need container-loads of young men and women whose knowledge is narrowly academic and subject-specific which they can regurgitate in splendid isolation in exams."

An unprecedented increase in education spending under Labour has failed to produce better schools, Seldon says. He argues that the "choking" influence of centralised oversight holds them back.

Many of the same problems are found in universities, he says. "There, too, individual students are obliged to meet the requirements of a pedestrian exam monolith, creative teaching is sacrificed to instruction and transmitting the right or approved answers, and students have an increasingly narrow quality of all-round education as higher education increasingly loses sight of its mission to educate the whole student."

Seldon makes 20 recommendations to ensure the return of "delight, gratitude and stimulus" in schools which have become too large, de-personalised and exam-focused. His changes include more active learning, with regular experiments making a return to science classrooms.

Schools should be free to set their own disciplinary regimes, with zero tolerance of bad behaviour; the exam system should be restructured to end the "stranglehold" of A-levels and GCSEs in England and Wales, which is failing pupils.

"By the early 21st century, the factory school model was all but complete," his potted history of state education says. "Children arrived at nursery school at three or four and left school at the age of 16 or 18. The production line for children in school consisted of lessons punctuated by bells, which resulted in classes trooping off to different parts of the factory, from which they eventually emerged 11 or more years later with exam passes as the validation of their personal and school career.

"The factory was owned and operated under the strict top-down instructions of government, who decreed everything that went on. It is the apogee of Fordism gone mad."

." Not all schools are bad, Seldon adds. They are full of remarkable teachers and hard-working students who sometimes achieve "extraordinary results on slender resources".



The Common Entrance automatons

Wellington College's head knocks state 'factory schools', yet his entrance exams see children being drilled as early as year four


by Francis Gilbert

Anthony Seldon is one of the most powerful figures in education today, so when he provides 20 recommendations for improving schools we should all take note. Given his ideological closeness with the Conservatives, he might be in government shortly, with his guidelines becoming the law.

In his latest pamphlet, An End to Factory Schools, he characterises our state schools as "factory schools", turning out students who are "incapable of living full and autonomous lives". He is particularly condemning of the sorts of pupils the current exam system produces, saying: "The new world does not need container-loads of young men and women whose knowledge is narrowly academic and subject-specific which they can regurgitate in splendid isolation in exams."

I find this point particularly ironic since he is the headteacher of Wellington College, a highly selective, fee-paying school that requires its prospective pupils to take a battery of tests before even entering. These exams include the Common Entrance, a succession of highly specious tests that have scarcely changed in decades. To gain good marks in the Common Entrance, most pupils are drilled within inches of their lives by their "prep" schools.

I withdrew my eight-year-old son from his prep school and put him in the local state primary precisely because I didn't want him turned into a Common Entrance automaton: the school he was at was already drilling the poor children in year four to take a test they would sit at 13 years of age! Since he's been at the local, inner-city primary, he's really flourished precisely because the teachers don't treat the children like robots. And yet, Seldon pretends to be someone who nurtures the happiness of his pupils. If he did, he would end Wellington's entrance exams immediately.

But he won't – because he believes in schools being allowed to select their pupils. Any teacher knows that school selection leads to a chronic "exam factory" mentality. I've taught for 20 years in the state sector and never seen pupils treated as poorly in this regard as they are in the private sector. The reason why the private sector gets great results is not because of the quality of teaching – which is often dismally poor – but because they ruthlessly cream off the best kids and teach relentlessly to the test. It is true that this attitude has seeped into the state sector in recent years, but it's not nearly as bad in state schools as in fee-paying ones.

Seldon wants a "free-school" system such as the one promoted by the Tories, where parents are given a voucher that is equivalent to the value of their child's education and would be able to spend it where they want. Private companies would be able to set up schools in the same way as shops – a free market for schools. These schools would be funded by the taxpayer but not accountable to the taxpayer because private companies, not locally elected people, would dominate the governing bodies.

Such a system would mean well-connected self-publicists such as Seldon will profit hugely, contracting their dubious services to the state – Wellington College has already "sponsored" an academy. Contrary to what Seldon says, the evidence from the US suggests that these privately run schools provide a significantly worse education than their state-run counterparts. Above all, the evidence suggests that all schools should be accountable to the taxpayer, otherwise unaccountable private companies, organisations and individuals profit while children's education suffers.

Seldon's big idea is that "trust" should enter our society again: that we should trust our public workers more. It's hard to disagree with this obvious sentiment, but the central problem is that it's very hard to trust much of what Seldon says. I certainly don't.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Layer 282 . . . Witch Hunts, Balls, Ofsted, The Big Debate and The Big Society

Another excellent column by Jenni Russell this week -


The Baby P inquiry shows witch-hunts still thrive

The pressure was on Ed Balls to serve up a head to the howling crowd – and the public checks to ensure calm utterly failed

The version of events we'd been fed – that the chief responsibility for the tragedy could fairly be laid at the door of one highly incompetent and publicly vilified executive, Sharon Shoesmith – turned out to be frighteningly unreliable.

Instead, we read about pressure on Ofsted to produce the results the secretary of state required, endless rewritings of a supposedly independent report until it did exactly that, and the stunning failure of Ofsted to produce any of the evidence of this happening until the court hearings dealing with it had ended. We can't afford to ignore a sequence of events that suggests how easily the government can manipulate information to suit its purposes, and how responsive public servants can be to political and media demands. They can't be relied upon, on this evidence, to be disinterested searchers after truth and solutions when things go wrong. Some simply want to protect themselves from criticism and find someone to blame.

In response to this, and a comment I posted, 1nn1t posted this excellent piece -

We can only remain hopeful that one day people who were involved in or are aware of school inspections where there was collusion between Ofsted and local authority officers to condemn and get rid of particular headteachers will have the courage to come forward with the evidence.

Ofsted has from from the beginning. Remember Islington Green:

    Chris Woodhead, a now-discredited former chief inspector of schools for Ofsted, condemned Islington Green as a "failing school" after ignoring the judgement of senior inspectors.

The leader of Ofsted, now and at the time of the Haringey case, is Christine Gilbert

    Divorced from her first husband, she met then councillor and later government minister Tony McNulty when she was Director of Education for the London Borough of Harrow. The couple married in September 2002 in Hammersmith and Fulham.

In Yorkshire Ofsted is used by LEAs as an attack dog to drive out heads. The story goes like this:

LEA and Head don't get on.

Ofsted starts programme of snap inspections.

LEA institutes agressive discussions of Osted reports.

More snap inspections - easily failed because, eg "the school Safeguarding Policy Document wasn't provided to the Inspectors within x minutes of their requesting it" or "The school has carried out all necessary CRB checks but the information has been stored separately rather than on "a single central record"." or more:

More agressive discussions. Heads by now suffering from stress.

Head called to meeting with big cheeses in Town Hall. Cheeses propose to Head that he take early retirement on grounds of sickness with pension enhancement.

Conditions of offer by cheeses:

1 Impending retirement not to be mentioned to staff/pupils/parents.

2 Retirement will take effect from this next mid-term Friday afternoon.

3 The 'retiring' head will sign a gagging contract preventing him disclosing anything of the events, circumstances and terms of his sudden departure.

Some heads have refused such offers. They then receive a series of off-the-record chats and phone calls from senior LEA staff pointing out to them the advantages of accepting the 'retirement offer'.

Why, do you imagine, so few teachers any longer wish to become Head Teachers?


Back to the Election - and the Big Debate

Tonight's the night - the moment political anoraks have been waiting for - the first of the 'debates' between between Brown, Cameron and Clegg, live on ITV.

The Tories are in big trouble, and I think they know it. What's more there's nothing they can do about it. Their brand is what it is.

The further this election goes on, and the more that voters come to realise that Clegg, Cable, Hughes, Ashdown and co are a decent bunch of people with genuine social democratic and liberal instincts, the more that many of these voters will make up their minds to switch their votes from the despised New Labour to the Lib Dems instead of to the other "major" party, with huge consequences for Tory hopes in the marginal and "winnable" seats.

What's more, as the campaign rolls forward, the Green Party and its very able leadership will attract not only protest voters but also those who like what they see in terms of policies that the Labour party should have but forward but in fact haven't.

Voters are not as stupid and as fickle as politicians often think, and the memory of Thatcher will last for more than a generation or two. During the years of the Thatcher ascendency the Tory party congratulated itself on having such a political colossus as their leader - right up to the point when they and everyone else suddenly realised that she was a true nutter who had exposed Toryism in all its true character by smashing the lingering post-war social-democratic consensus, with terrible consequences for British industry and the majority of the working class electorate. John Major, by winning an election, made matters worse for the long-term good of the Tory party and not better, since it was on his watch that the 'bastards' and the sleazeballs of Torydom were thoroughly exposed.

So mark my words - by the time this election takes place the Lib Dem share of the vote will have gone up by around 5% and the Greens by 3%, with the Tories down by 8% on current projections. What's more, the Lib Dems started the last campaign at around 18% and put on 6 percentage points, whereas this time they're starting from 24%. And this time they have the benefit of being the party of Vince Cable, who was virtually the only politician who foresaw the financial crash, and has become the man most voters would like to have as chancellor.


On the Today programme one of the presenters reminded us of one of the dictums of Groucho Marx - "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them - I have others."

A Hazel Bloody Blears interview was broadcast in which she was asked whether or not it's surprising that people are turned off politics thanks to the expenses scandals, Iraq, etc, - to which she replied, unsurprisingly, in her usual pathetic and useless way, by saying that people feel "excluded" because politicians too often speak in jargon.

So here's someone who's clearly learned a lesson. Her answer to all of this nation's ills is that politicians just have to stop speaking in jargon - and then all will be well again with our political culture.


Meanwhile, in the Guardian, Marina Hyde's campaign trail has taken her to the launch of the UKIP manifesto:

Kicking off the launch proper, the deputy-leader, David Campbell-Bannerman, promised policies "from animal welfare to pubs" – truly, the full gamut of thinking from Y to Z.

When Farage announced he would be devoting his energies to standing against the speaker, John Bercow, in Buckingham, the party's top job was taken over by former Tory peer Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the sort of patrician dullard you pray not to be seated next to at dinner.

Before long, it was on to Ukip's proposed ban of the burqa and niqab in public "and some private" buildings. How were they going to enforce that?

"We haven't said private buildings," countered Pearson.

Well you have. It's in your manifesto. "Have we?" his lordship wondered of his more junior colleagues. Doubtless he'll get round to reading the 15-page document in good time.

Tag-teaming Pearson was the more seasoned media hand Nigel Farage, who has an enduring line in misplaced confidence. "I don't want to be rude about the other parties – that's not my style," he smiled knowingly, in the manner of a man who fondly imagines he has a style other than "affable berk".



Simon Hoggart, meanwhile, was at the launch of the Tory manifesto:

DIY government? It's scary

The Tories launched their manifesto in Battersea power station, site of the Pink Floyd album cover with the flying pig.

Finally David Cameron introduced the Conservative manifesto, which is a dark blue hardback and looks like a tombstone. The theme is that the next government can save money by getting people to do the work themselves, whether taking planning decisions, holding elected representatives to account, saving local pubs and post offices, appointing the chief constable, checking wasteful public expenditure online or founding new schools.

"It's about we, the people!" said Mr Cameron, with great conviction and terrible grammar. "We're all in this together. Join us, in forming the next government of Britain."

Gosh, life is going to be busy under the Tories. It's lucky their campaign against waste means there will be mass sackings. Otherwise nobody would have the time to do everything the "Big Society" demands of us.



Labour, Tories and Lib Dems clash ahead of key TV debate


Gordon Brown has received a boost on the eve of today's televised leaders' debate after more than 50 economists from around the world signed a letter backing his handling of the economy. The letter, from 58 academics, was organised by Labour, and comes as a response to a letter from business leaders criticising Labour's planned increase in national insurance.

The British signatories include the Labour peers Lords Layard and Peston; the crossbench peer Lord Skidelsky, who is the biographer of John Maynard Keynes; and Sir David Hendry, a fellow of Nuffield College Oxford. They are supporters of a Keynesian stimulus for the economy.


Gordon Brown admits banks needed more regulation

PM says the government should have been tougher on the banks

Gordon Brown has admitted mistakes in regulating the banks, accusing the City of lobbying against greater scrutiny before the financial crisis plunged Britain into recession.

Brown had previously blamed the scale of the recession mainly on the international financial crisis and the refusal of other countries to agree to tighter international surveillance of the banks.

In an ITV interview due to be broadcast tonight, Brown admits he had been influenced by bankers' lobbying.

"In the 1990s, the banks, they all came to us and said, 'Look, we don't want to be regulated, we want to be free of regulation.' ... And all the complaints I was getting from people was, 'Look you're regulating them too much.'

"The truth is that globally and nationally we should have been regulating them more. So I've learnt from that."


WFTYS. We fucking told you so!


Deborah Orr


[Here's] the part missing from David Cameron's vision of a grassroots-up, sober, self-help society. It was not ordinary people who needed the state to keep them in line – fearful authoritarian religious leaders did that. It was the ruling elite, who abused their power without restraint, that made "big government" necessary.

All Britain wants or needs really, is a government that will persuade the powerful that it is right to behave in a manner that is responsible, humane and generous, and help the people who can't help themselves.

We have had 13 years of a government that thought it could do the latter, without doing the former. Come 6 May, we might just end up with a government that is eager to do neither.

'stonepark' commented with this quotation:

"Before our white brothers arrived to make us civilized men,we didn't have any kind of prison. Because of this, we had no delinquents.Without a prison, there can be no delinquents.
We had no locks nor keys and therefore among us there were no thieves.When someone was so poor that he couldn't afford a horse, a tent or a blanket,he would, in that case, receive it all as a gift.We were too uncivilized to give great importance to private property.We didn't know any kind of money and consequently, the value of a human being was not determined by his wealth.We had no written laws laid down, no lawyers, no politicians, therefore we were not able to cheat and swindle one another. We were really in bad shape before the white men arrived and I don't know how to explain how we were able to manage without these fundamental things that (so they tell us) are so necessary for a civilized society."

John (Fire) Lame Deer
Sioux Lakota - 1903-1976


Drunkeness, Violence and Spiritual Intelligence

Also on the Today programme this week was a piece about our culture of drunkeness and violence - and STILL nobody has any answers, other than more crackdowns and "toughness".

How long will it take before people in general and politicians in particular begin to admit that we have to begin at the beginning - with young children in school - helping them to develop emotional intelligence, social intelligence and spiritual intelligence, together with a capacity for lovingkindness, a belief in the value of meditation, and a determination to be non-violent?


Pope in the Poop

The pope should stand trial

Why is anyone surprised when Christopher Hitchens and I call for the prosecution of the pope? There is a clear case to answer


Sexual abuse of children is not unique to the Roman Catholic church, and Joseph Ratzinger is not one of those priests who raped altar boys while in a position of dominance and trust. But as so often it is the subsequent cover-ups, even more than the original crimes, that do most to discredit an institution, and here the pope is in real trouble.