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.

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