Posts Tagged ‘Comprehensive Schools’

The Blairites and Middle Class Entitlement

August 14, 2016

Mike today put up a couple of pieces on the latest plans by the Blairites to hold on to power against Jeremy Corbyn and the majority of Labour members. One was to try and resurrect David Miliband as a challenger to Corbyn’s leadership. This is a sick joke, considering how unpopular Miliband was before under the old rules. He’d fare even worse now. And it shows how utterly cynical and manipulative they are about trying to insert him in Jo Cox’s vacant seat as the PLP’s preferred candidate, over the wishes of her constituency.

The other plan is a new, internal Labour party group, called Tomorrow’s Labour, which intends to set up an astroturf – fake grassroots movement – against Corbyn using spambots. This is pretty much against the rules of the internet as it is, and make a mockery of their claim to be fully transparent, and compliant with all existing rules.

I wonder how far the Blairites’ determination to hang on to power, no matter what the cost, is due to their sociological origins. I was talking to a friend of mine the other week, who remarked on the very middle class backgrounds of the Blairite politicians. Old Labour was largely, though not exclusively, working class. Many of its politicians had come into politics as members of their trades unions. These were people like Ernest Bevan, Nye Bevan, and the veteran Labour left-winger, Dennis Skinner. Obviously, there were even then members of the middle class involved in Socialist politics, like Clement Atlee, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and the Fabians. This began to change in the 1960s, as the Labour party deliberately set out to attract a more middle class membership, as advocated by Tony Crosland. In order to attract them, it played down and minimised its advocacy of nationalisation. The Labour leader at the time, Hugh Gaitskell, wanted to drop Clause 4, the section of the Labour party’s constitution which advocated nationalisation. He failed. Despite this move to the Right, the Labour party still remained committed to the national ownership of the utilities and certain other important industries, such as mining and steel. Crosland himself was responsible for the introduction of comprehensive schools. Although this has been very loudly decried, the old system of schooling did reinforce class divisions and prevent children from working class backgrounds rising upwards. The party was also committed to a planned economy, something that also went very much against the principles of free marketeers like Milton Friedman and von Hayek.

All this went out the window with the 1979 election victory of Thatcher and the continued electoral success of the Conservatives. This convinced the Labour Right to adopt all of her policies – privatisation, the destruction of the NHS as a public service, the dismantlement of the welfare state and increasing criminalisation of the poor. They also turned away from the working class, and concentrated on trying to win votes from middle class voters in marginal constituencies.

And the party’s demographics also changed. Many of the New Labour MPs were like Harriet Harman. She’s a millionaire. They tend to be very middle class boys and girls, privately educated, with the advantages that accrue to the members of those classes. They sit on the boards of companies, various quangos and are active in the charities. This is all very well, but it makes me wonder how far the Blairites are motivated by purely ideological convictions, and how much of it comes from instinctive class loyalty? These are people, who have never had to work hard to get into their current position of power. They don’t have much contact with the working class, and apparently share the middle classes’ hatred and fear of them. You can see it in their determination to cut down on welfare benefits for the unemployed and for their support for workfare, as well as the unchallenged belief in the sociological myth of mass pockets of unemployment where nobody in a family has worked for generations. And there’s the instinctive hatred of the privately educated businesspeople for the trade unions.

As a rule, the middle classes uncritically accept that they have a privileged place in society, which is theirs by right. A little while ago Secular Talk did a piece, reporting on a study that found that the richer you are, the more likely you are to believe that the existing state of society was just. I don’t doubt that. Now I don’t deny that some of them are genuinely concerned with enlarging democracy through campaigns against racism and for female empowerment. They may also sincerely believe in Thatcher’s twaddle about making conditions worse for people in order to encourage them to try to rise above their station. But they do so through the middle class assumptions they have inherited as part of their background, including their belief that they have an innate right to rule. This might not be articulated or even conscious, but it seems to be there.

Hence the determination to hang on to power whatever the cost, the wild, stupid denunciations of Corbyn’s supporters as hippy Trots wearing donkey jackets. The great unwashed are trying to take their party back after good, Blairite middle class types have tried to make it respectable. How dare they! And so we come to their attempts to clean out Corbyn’s supporters through denying them a voice, in order to retain their middle class supporters and appeal to a middle class electorate.

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Owen Smith Unveils His Policies, but None Are His Own

July 28, 2016

Mike yesterday put up a piece reporting that Owen Smith had finally unveiled 20 policies of his own, with which he hoped to challenged Jeremy Corbyn. They’re all good, as far as they go. The trouble is, none of them are his own. Mike reported that the Corbynistas have already pointed out that they were taken from the Institute of Employment Rights’ Manifesto for Labour Law, which Jeremy Corbyn had already adopted as the basis for future Labour policy last month. Mike quotes the response of the Jeremy Corbyn for Leader Campaign to Smith’s policies, who said that they welcomed Smiff’s support for policies announced in recent months by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell. They pointed out that Smudger’s speech showed that Corbyn did possess true leadership, and that a Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn would reverse the damage caused by the decline in manufacturing jobs due to the failed economic policies of the last thirty years. Northern communities, hard hit by industrial decline, would be a particular priority, and would be regenerated through economic devolution that would put people and jobs first.

Mike also points out that several of Smudger’s policies are vague. They just appear to be cosmetic, and don’t address the real, underlying problems. Such as his promise to concentrate on ‘equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity’. Mike makes the point that this is so confused as to be almost meaningless. He also makes the point that Smiff’s promise to increase spending on schools and libraries is fine, but he doesn’t promise to end private-sector involvement in schools, or reopen the libraries that have closed. His promise to reinstate the 50p top rate of tax is also cosmetic, and will be attacked as such by the Tories. His promises to reverse the cuts to the capital gains tax, corporation, inheritance tax and his plans to introduce a new wealth tax similarly look cosmetic. They’ll bring more money into the treasury, but he says nothing about how they’ll be spent. As for ‘ending fuel poverty by investing in efficient energy’ – this is notable because he does not promise to renationalise the electricity firms, thus meaning that we’re still going to be paying the foreign owners of our energy companies.

Mike concludes his article with the statement:

Smith makes a big deal of being able to deliver these policies – asking us to accept that Mr Corbyn can’t. How do we know either of those things? We don’t. In fact, it seems unlikely that this list is anything more than a catalogue of empty promises and he’ll go back to right-wing neoliberalism if he gets the chance.

It’s not enough. It’s painting a new face on New Labour. It’s reacting to Jeremy Corbyn.

And perhaps this is the biggest point to be made:

Why have Fake Corbyn when we can simply keep the real Corbyn?

See Mike’s article: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/07/27/20-policy-proposals-from-owen-smith-but-how-many-are-his-own/

This is a very good point. Smudger is reacting to Corbyn, and while it’s welcome that Corbyn’s leadership of the party is forcing Smiff to embrace some left-wing policies, they aren’t as good as the full range of policies articulated by Jeremy Corbyn’s camp. And we have absolutely no guarantee that once in charge of the Labour party, Smiffy will carry out any of his policies. In fact, there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary. Smiff’s a New Labour, neoliberal privatiser. He left a job in the Labour party to work for Pfizer, and then returned to the Labour party. While at Pfizer, he pushed for the privatisation of the NHS. Back in the Labour party, he was part of the unit that maintained good relations with the company and the other private healthcare firms hoping to get a cut of NHS action. When questioned about his connection with Pfizer, Smudger lied about it, claiming that he worked for them before he joined the Labour party, thus hiding the fact that he was already working for the Labour party before he joined them. And while he has said that he doesn’t intend to privatise any more of the NHS, he hasn’t promised to renationalise what has already been sold off.

And his faction, New Labour in the form of Progress and Saving Labour, has a record of appalling mendacity. His rival, Angela Eagle, lied about having a brick thrown through her office window, just as she lied about being abused at a meeting for her sexuality. The anti-Corbyn camp have smeared and libelled decent people, many with a sincere and proud record of anti-racism and opposing anti-Semitism, as anti-Semites. This has included Jews and people of part-Jewish heritage. They have adopted the deceitful strategy of PR companies to try to present themselves as the victims in a concerted campaign to smear and discredit Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. There was the ‘Eradicate Blairite Scum’ T-shirt, which was devised by a Blairite and her pet PR person. Mike has put up a piece today reporting that the elderly gentleman wearing that claims he was tricked by the two, and feels that he has also been smeared because of it. Then there was the letter by over 40 female Blairite MPs complaining that they had been abused in his name, when there is no evidence that anything of the sort had occurred. Quite apart from the staged heckling of Corbyn himself at a gay rights rally, done by another PR person from Portland, a company owned by Will Straw, the son of Jack Straw.

I also notice that he makes absolutely no proposal to tackle the New Labour and Tory welfare cuts, despite the fact that these have thrust millions into precarity and grinding poverty. The Work Capability Assessment has resulted in at least over a thousand seriously ill people dying after being found ‘fit for work’ by Atos and their successor, Maximus. In some areas, 80 per cent of those told they were fit for work had their judgements overturned on appeal. But the damage inflicted on very many vulnerable people through the stress of these tests is severe. It has made the mental health of nearly 300,000 people worse, sometimes seriously so. He hasn’t promised to end the system of benefit sanctions, despite the hardships and injustice these have caused. The blog ‘Diary of a Food Bank Helper’ has put up numerous cases of those working at the sharp end of poverty in the UK. Kitty S. Jones, Johnny Void and so many others have also put up their accounts of people, who’ve been thrown off benefit for often the flimsiest reasons. Like they’re turned up a few minutes late, because they had to arrange alternative means of getting their children to or from school. Or they were in hospital, and so couldn’t attend the interview. Or some other bullsh*t excuse.

I’m still haunted by some of these stories. Stilloaks on his blog put up the cases of some of the 590 people, who have died of hunger or through their own hands, after having their benefit stopped. This included a young mother, who leaped through an upper storey window, killing herself and her baby. There was an elderly couple, who committed suicide together, because they were starving and had come to the end. One of the accounts, not of a fatality, was of how members of the public came to comfort a young man, who broke down in tears outside the Jobcentre, weeping because they wouldn’t give him any money.

This is the kind of establishment bullying that had people marching in the streets back in the 1930s. It’s the casual abuse by the entitled privileged classes, that inspired the comrades of the National Union of the Unemployed to occupy the Ritz, leaving their patrons aghast because the proles had dared to show up! How dare they!

Some of these account of poverty were read out in parliament. It says everything you need to know about Cameron and IDS that they had a good chuckle about them, live on air. Yep, to the Tories, poverty and desperation are a damned good, jolly joke, provided those affected are just grammar school oik or the hoi polloi from the comprehensives and secondary moderns.

And from Owen Smith and New Labour – silence. Smudger abstained on the Tory welfare cuts. As did Eagle. Mind you, they couldn’t do anything else, as New Labour was responsible for introducing a fair part of the legislation on which they were based. Like the Work Capability Tests.

Giving people a decent wage is an excellent start. But it also needs to be coupled with policies that won’t lead to the starvation of those of on benefits. Smudger isn’t going to tackle this. And so whatever he says or does, he’s still content to see a fair chunk of the 3.7 million trapped in food poverty remain in it.

And then there is the authoritarian mindset behind these antics. Jeremy Corbyn is massively popular with grassroots Labour. And I’m confident that, if his parliamentary party actually bothered to take the trouble to represent their members and constituents, he’d be massively popular too with the electorate. After all, before the Tories shot into a 16 point lead ahead of Labour this week, there were only a single point ahead last week. And this despite all the abuse and smears.

But that’s too much for the Blairites. They can’t stand the idea that the neoliberal policies Tony Blair placed so much faith in as the electoral salvation of the Labour party, actually aren’t. And they definitely don’t see themselves as the ‘servants of the people’, as Andrew Rawnsley ironically titled his book on Blair and his coterie. They see themselves as the leaders, whom the grassroots members should automatically obey. And if they still persist, then they’re a Trotskyite hippy rabble wearing donkey jackets and smelling of patchouli, who should leave the party.

Smudger and his cohorts have an absolute contempt for ordinary people, who are to be sneered at, tricked and deceived. He and they have lied about Jeremy Corbyn. He will lie, and lie flagrantly, once he is in government. He and they cannot and should not be trusted with power. He will not restore the NHS. He will not renationalise the utilities, and he will not renationalise our failing railways. He’s a fake, and the genuinely progressive policies he’s adopted are their to disguise the privatising neoliberal underneath. And once he gets in power, it’s a fair bet that they’ll be forgotten, and he’ll carry on copying Tory policies as before. After all, it’s what Bliar did.

The Miners’ Strike and Times’ Editor Charles Moore’s Hatred of the Working Class

June 4, 2016

Owen Jones in his book Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, argues that the impoverishment and degradation inflicted on the working class by Tony Blair’s New Labour and the Conservatives is due to a bitter hatred of them by the Conservative upper classes. He quotes Balfour as saying ‘Of course there’s a class war going on. We started it.’ Hollingworth’s discussion of the miner’s strike in his The Press and Political Dissent: A Question of Censorship adds more evidence to this. He notes that the right-wing press and its editors may also have had a very strong hatred of the miners, a hatred that was displayed in a comment by Charles Moore, a former editor of the Times and one of the Thatcher’s biographers. It was also displayed in a piece written by an academic, who talked about how the miner’s were all tricked into striking because they were the less intelligent pupils from Secondary Moderns and Comprehensive schools.

There is also some evidence, though far from conclusive, that Fleet Street’s hostility was based on simple class hatred towards the miners and their families. Charles Moore is the editor of the Spectator but used to be a Daily Telegraph reporter and writer and still contributes to the paper regularly. Asked about the miners, he replied: ‘I really hate those people, actually. This strike as brought out feelings I didn’t know I had. It seems to me such a lie that these people represent or are the defenders of an oppressed class and so clear that Arthur Scargill is an oppressor, that is has finally brought out all my contempt for the Left. A perhaps more serious example came from the Sunday Times in August 1984. The paper commissioned a feature article by Professor Frank Musgrove of Manchester University. This is what he wrote:

In the past 30 years two social processes have siphoned off men of initiative and ability. Educational selection has left a residue of D and E stream secondary modern and comprehensive school pupils for pit work – there has been a massive haemorrhage of talent from mining communities. And earlier pit closure programmes have set up eddies of selective migration which have drained away the most enterprising men from the more northerly fields.

It is the dilute human residues that remain, especially in Yorkshire and Durham, that have been most effectively manipulated and mobilised by the tactics of the NUM. They have been bounced into a strike without a ballot and have learned to repeat slogans (‘No pit closures on economic grounds’. ‘Cowards hide behind ballots’) whose horrendous implications they do not begin to grasp.

We did not solve the educational problem by raising the school-leaving age to 15, still less to 16. Five years in the E Stream of a comprehensive school is an excellent training in sheer bloody-mindedness if not actual subversion. … This is not education. It is a species of trench warfare. It is anticipatory socialisation for the mass picket line. (The emphasis is added by Hollingworth, pp. 283-4). The Sunday Times was, of course, edited by Andrew Neil, now presenting the Daily Politics for the Beeb.

Vox Political: Tory School Privatisation will make Standards Worse

March 27, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political has a very interesting piece from the BBC. The leaders of the Conservative, Liberal and Labour groups in the Local Government Association have written a joint letter to the Observer, stating their opposition to the government’s plans to turn all schools into academies. The stats actually demonstrate that all academy schools actually perform worse than the schools under state/ local government control. There’s also a graph with the article that demonstrates this.

Mike asks the obvious question of why, if Academy Schools are so poor, are the Tories so keen to convert all our schools into them? Is it because they don’t want an educated, critically-thinking electorate, but indoctrinated drones that will take low-wage jobs because they lack the qualifications for anything else? Or is it because they know that everybody else’s children are more intelligent than they are, and can’t handle the competition?

Mike’s article is at: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/03/27/tory-academisation-plan-will-worsen-education-standards/

My guess is that the Tories are keen on privatising our schools for a number of reasons, not excluding those Mike has outlined. They firstly want to privatise them for the economic profit of their paymasters in big business, including one Australian-American media mogul, Rupert Murdoch, who also has an educational arm to his business empire. I think it’s called Aspire, rather than something more suitable, like ‘Despair’.

Secondly, it’s carrying on from Thatcher’s campaign to create a class of schools removed from local authority control. Like Mussolini, Maggie Thatcher is, to the Tory faithful, always right. Anything she does cannot be criticised in any shape or form and is absolutely correct, whatever happens. To quote the old scientist, it is very much a case of where there’s a difference between theory and reality, so much for reality. Thatcher was basing her campaign against state education, and more broadly, teachers, on the popular resentment in the 1970s and ’80s about teachers from the ‘loony Left’ indoctrinating children in state schools, teaching them that gays were equal and making them anti-racist, when they should instead have been teaching them good, hearty Tory values. Remember the clause in her education bill attacking the teaching of homosexual propaganda in school? And I can remember her also delivering a foam-flecked rant to the Tory faithful about how ‘Fabians’ were teaching children ‘anti-racist mathematics’. At the time, there were concerns about the failures of those schools which had adopted ‘progressive’ educational policies. Like one school in inner London, where the teachers decided not to teach, as this would ruin children’s innate creativity. There were also horror stories run in the press about Brent and Lambeth councils, and the bizarre, highly authoritarian attitude they took to education, in which nearly everything was suspected of racism. They were supposed to have altered the old nursery rhyme, ‘Baa, Baa, Black Sheep’, to ‘Baa, Baa, Green Sheep’ to make it less racist. It’s been stated several times since that this was just an urban myth, and that the Sun has admitted it made it up. On the other hand, I’ve met people, who did go to school in those boroughs, who claimed they did have to sing it. So I honestly don’t know. Given the mendacity and racism of the Scum, it wouldn’t surprise me if they had made it up.

Thirdly, there was and is a strong perception that comprehensive education, which was mostly introduced by Labour, but which also had some Tory support, had failed, and that standards had fallen. The older generation in particular looked back to the grammar schools with nostalgia as institutions where standards were much higher. It looked very much like Thatcher was using this nostalgia to try and reintroduce them, albeit in a slightly different, updated form. In actual fact, the Labour party under Crossland had decided to introduce comprehensive schools because the grammar schools were elitist. Very few working-class children were sent there. Instead, they were considered more suited to the secondary moderns, where they would be taught a manual trade. Grammar schools were reserved for those set on clerical careers and the like, and so were very much bastions of the middle classes.

There were immense problems with some of the comprehensives. Some of them were too large, too underfunded, and hampered with the kind of teaching staff that have become stereotypical amongst the Right. Hartcliffe, one of the comprehensive schools in my part of Bristol, had an unenviable reputation for poor academic performance, and chronic theft and bullying amongst its pupils. It has changed greatly since then. It’s been divided into two buildings, rather than a single huge one, and standards have risen markedly in the past few decades with a change of headmasters.

My guess is that the changes that occurred to Hartcliffe, have also been common amongst failing schools throughout the country. Standards in state education have risen. But this counts for nothing, as the Tory Right is ideologically opposed to state education. Tory toffs like Cameron, Gove, Osborne and Thicky Nikki seem to look back for their view of a good education system to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when schools, or at least, the grammar schools, were largely private, and the proles were given just enough education to allow them to get a job once they left school, which was at 12, then 14. Changes in industry mean that you now need a more educated, technically proficient workforce, and so they can’t get away with sending children that you out to work. So the higher education sector has expanded, but the Tories would like that to be the nearly exclusive province of the monied classes, and so have raised tuition fees to exorbitant heights after they were introduced by Bliar.

And so contemporary schoolchildren are going to suffer because of a political orthodoxy that started with Maggie Thatcher in the 1980s, and has continued through a mixture of greed and ideological inertia. Oh yes, and the Goebbels-like determination to keep pushing a good lie if it gets you votes.

Cameron’s Class Background, Prejudices and Osborne’s ‘Workers’ Budget’

March 10, 2014

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This morning the lead story in the i was that Cameron had been told by the Tories that he had to stop the gap between North and South widening any further. Further to this story, Osborne had been preparing a ‘Worker’s Budget’ for next week. Quite how far Cameron is from anyone, who could remotely be described as working class is explained in detail in Owen Jones’ Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (London: Verso 2012).

Cameron’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all stockbrokers. His primary school was Heatherdown Preparatory School in Berkshire, whose old schoolboys include Princes Andrew and Edward. When he was eleven he flew across the Atlantic with a group of his school chums to go to the birthday party of Peter Getty, the grandson of the oil billionaire, John Paul Getty. He was, of course, like all good snobs, educated at Eton. Before he went to university, he worked as a researcher for the Tory MP Tim Rathbone, who was his godfather. A few months after this, his father arranged for him to work in Hong Kong for a multinational. Apart from his Oxford and the Bullingdon Club, he managed to get a job at Conservative Central Office following a telephone call from Buck House. When that came to an end a few years later, his girlfriend’s mother, Annabel Astor, suggested to the chairman of Carlton Television, Michael Green, that he should hire him. Which he duly did. So elevated and far from the world of us plebs is Cameron, that he described his wife’s education as ‘highly unconventional’ because she went to a day school.

Other Tory colleagues have stated that he’s an unrepentant social elitist. One of his old schoolmates is supposed to have said ‘I think there’s something very unconservative about believing that because of who you are, you are the right person to run the country. It’s the natural establishment which believes in power for power’s sake, the return of people who think they have a right to rule.’

Another Old Etonian described Cameron as ‘a strange product of my generation … He seems to represent a continuation of, or perhaps regression to, noblesse oblige Toryism. Do we really want to be ruled by Arthurian knights again?’

And naturally, Cameron has surrounded himself with ministers from the same elevated social class. 23 out of 29 of his first cabinet ministers were millionaires. 59 per cent of them went to a private school, and only 3 per cent actually went to a comprehensive.

Even Boris Johnson’s sister, who edited the Lady, is fed up of the very narrow class basis of his cabinet. She told Jones before the 2010 General Election about probably composition of his administration: ‘the prospect is Old Etonians bankrolled by stockbrokers … It’s back to the days of Macmillan and Eden.’

So this a government of toffs, led by an extremely rich toff, even by toff standards, who believes he has an automatic right to rule, simply because he is a toff. And his fellow toff, Gideon, sorry, George Osborne, will next week, according to the I, launch a ‘worker’s budget’. The whole idea is a joke. Unfortunately, as the 38,000 people or so, who may have died under Cameron’s welfare reforms, it’s a killer. And that ain’t no laughing matter.