Posts Tagged ‘Grammar Schools’

The Privileged Class Background of BBC Staff, and the Problem of Oxbridge Public School Elitism

August 26, 2017

Earlier this week I put up a piece reviewing Tom Mills’ The BBC – Myth of a Public Service. This contributes immensely to the debate about the Corporation’s bias by showing how it consistently allies with the elite against the left and the working class.

And Mills makes a very strong case that, apart with the institutional methods of control the government exercises over the Beeb through the license fee and the appointment of its governors, the BBC also sides with the elite because of the elite, upper and very middle class origins of its managers and staff. Mills describes this background on pages 29 and 30. He writes

A 2014 report of the quasi-official Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission had no qualms about identifying these top BBC executives, and over a hundred other senior BBC managers, as members of ‘Britain’s elite’ – along with politicians, civil servants, the super-rich, FTSE 350 CEOs, newspaper columnists and other groups. The Commission’s survey of 125 BBC executives found that 26 per cent had attended private school (compared with 7 per cent of the population), 33 per cent had attended Oxbridge (compared with just 0.8 per cent of the population) and 62 per cent had attended one of the Russell Group of leading universities (compared with 11.4 per cent of the population) – figures which were comparable with those for other factions of Britain’s power elite, as the report shows. Senior BBC managers are also extremely well paid: in 2014/15, the seven executive members of the BBC’s Executive Board earned an average of over £424,000. Meanwhile, around eighty BBC executives are thought to earn over £150,000, even after policy measures were put in place to reduce executive pay following fierce criticism from the press. Among this executive cadre are around a hundred or so senior managers in editorial policy who on average earn just over £100,000, and the most senior of whom can earn two or three times that.

Below these senior editorial managers, we see similar patterns of privilege. In 2006, the Sutton Trust examined the educational backgrounds of 100 leading news journalists in the UK, of whom 31 worked at the BBC. It found that 54 per cent were privately educated and a remarkable 45 per cent had attended Oxbridge. Educational background is of course an indicator of shared class background. But it is also in itself a profoundly important basis for elite cohesion, forging along with other formative experiences, if not a shared set of ideas, then at least a shared demeanour and set of dispositions. Elitist recruiting practices – which are naturally justified in meritocratic terms, even if they are recognized to create serious problems in terms of legitimacy – thus create subtle forms of institutional and cross-institutional cohesion.

This bears out a comment made by one of the television directors Mike and I heard speak over two decades ago at a Doctor Who convention here in Bristol. He stated that it was very difficult to become a director at the Beeb unless you had been to Oxford or Cambridge. If you hadn’t, it was very difficult. If you had, on the other hand, it was very easy.

As for Oxbridge, I’m currently reading Gregory Benford’s SF novel Timescape (London: Gollancz 1980). The novel’s plot is split between the devastated Britain of 1998 and the optimistic California of 1963, as a group of scientists in Cambridge attempt to use tachyons to carry a message back to their counterparts in La Jolla to warn them of the coming ecological crisis which is gradually causing global civilization to collapse. Benford is an American, and one of the team of Cambridge scientists, Gregory Markham, also hails from across the Pond. The book therefore includes descriptions and meditations on Britain’s relationship to its past, compared with America, and the class structure of British society. On page 182, Benford comments on the educational segregation at Cambridge High Table.

He walked back towards the colleges, letting this feel of the press of time seep into him. He and Jan had been to High Table at several of the colleges, the ultimate Anglophile experience. Memorial plate that gleamed like quicksilver, and crested goblets. In the after-dinner room of polished wood, gilt frames held glowering portraits of the college founders. In the great dining hall Jan had been surprised to find de facto segregation: Etonians at one table, Harrovians at another, the lesser public schools’ alumni at a third, and, finally, state school graduates and everyone else at a motley last table. To an American in such a citadel of education, after the decades of ferocious equality-at-all-costs politics, it seemed strange. There persisted a reliance on inherited advantages, and even the idea that such a system was an inherited virtue as well.

This is not too far removed from the description of outright class snobbery Thackeray describes in his Book of Snobs. Casting his eye about England’s great, and at the time, only universities, he noted the way the class system affected even the type of gowns undergraduates wore:

If you consider, dear reader, what profound snobbishness the University system produced, you will allow that it is time to attack some of those feudal middle-age superstitions. If you go down for five shillings to look at the ‘College Youths’, you may see one sneaking down the court without a tassel to his cap; another with a gold or silver fringe to his velvet trencher; a third lad with a master’s gown and hat,, walking at ease over the sacred College grass-plats, which common men must not tread on.

Me may do it because he is a nobleman. Because a lad is a lord, the University grants him a degree at the end of two years which another is seven in acquiring. Because he is a lord, he has no call to go through an examination. Any man who has not been to College and back for five shillings [the price of the train fare to Oxford and Eton], would not believe in such distinctions in a place of education, so absurd and monstrous do they seem to be.

The lads with gold and silver lace are sons of rich gentlemen, and called Fellow Commoners; they are privileged to feed better than the pensioners, and to have wine with their victuals, which the latter can only get in their rooms.

The unlucky boys who have no tassels to their caps, are called sizars – servitors at Oxford – (a very pretty and gentlemanlike title). A distinction is made in their clothes because they are poor; for which reason they wear a badge of poverty, and are not allowed to take their meals with their fellow-students.(pp. 60-61).

One of the other, British characters in Benford’s novel, Renfrew, who has the idea of using tachyon radiation to transmit to the past, is also an outsider. He’s the son of a working class Yorkshireman, and because of this is also an outsider amongst the public schoolboys. At one point Renfrew remembers how, as an undergraduate walking down Oxford’s corridors, he passes another pair in gowns. One of these says very loudly in an Oxbridge drawl, ‘Oh God, not another oik come up on a scholarship!’

Oxford has been under considerable pressure to make its more democratic, and Robert Peston has said in his book, Who Runs Britain, that there’s an element of hypocrisy amongst some of the Scots universities, who tried to capitalize on the class scandals that have erupted over Oxbridge in recent years. Some of the Scots universities, particularly St. Andrews’, are even more elite and class-ridden.

It’s tempting to think of those days of class snobbishness as having vanished along with scholarships. However, as the Tories are intent are privatizing the British school system, and really, desperately, want to bring back grammar schools if they can get away with it, as well as cut away the last vestiges of the student grant to the poor, it’s likely that they’ll come back.

Theresa May Plans to Stop Children Having Free School Meals

May 20, 2017

Along with her other vile policies – like ending her promise not to raise VAT, taxes and national insurance, ending the triple lock on pensions, bringing back fox hunting, opening more grammar schools, May also wants to end free school meals for infants.

Maggie Thatcher tried something similar way back in the 1970s. She wanted to end free school milk as Heath’s education secretary. This earned her the soubriquet ‘Maggie Thatcher, the Milk Snatcher’. Mike in one of his articles on her vile policies has posted a very nice gif from EL4C, which shows a picture of Maggie with that chant, followed by May and the slogan ‘Theresa May takes your lunch away’.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/05/19/at-last-britons-are-uniting-against-theresa-may/

Historians of the ’70s have argued that Thatcher’s stopping of free school milk was, in itself, a minor issue, which became a political battleground because people were fed up with the Tories generally.

But the stopping of free school meals for infants is a very different story.

We now have a society in which a hundred thousand people or more have been forced through Tory welfare cuts to use food banks. According to statistics, seven million people life in ‘food insecure’ households. Which means that they don’t know if they’re going to have enough to eat tomorrow.

Mothers are starving themselves in order to give food to their children.

This isn’t scaremongering by the ‘cultural Marxist left-wing media’. And people don’t go to food banks, ’cause it’s free food, as spouted by Tory liars like Edwina Currie.

It’s documented fact.

This will make the situation worse. It will mean more children going to school hungry, where they won’t be able to learn because of the hunger pangs. And if they can’t learn, they can’t pass exams, and so won’t get a proper, paying job. If any are still around after they’ve all been either automated away or outsourced.

And so we’ll go back to the 19th century, when there was real famine and malnutrition amongst the Labour poor.

This is what the Tories want. This is what May intends to give the ‘hard working people’ her party claims to be defending.

All to give her friends and paymasters in big business more tax breaks, and a cowed labour force so desperate they’ll work for literal starvation wages.

Don’t put up with it.

Kick and them out.

Vote Labour June 8th.

Peter Hitchens Spearing BBC Anti-Russian Propaganda over Syria

May 7, 2017

Peter Hitchens is somewhat of a political maverick. He started his political career as a Trotskyite, before gradually abandoning Marxism and embracing Conservativism. He’s not a supporter of gay marriage, although he admits that opposing it is a lost battle. He supports the reintroduction of the death penalty, the return of grammar schools and more stringent punishments as a deterrent to crime. He’s also very strongly anti-cannabis.

Against that, he has opposed the selling off of council houses and does not believe that private firms should run prisons, as the maintenance of justice and its machinery of punishment and correction should be the exclusive preserve of the state. He got up the nose of his editors at the Mail of Sunday for persistently referring to David Cameron as ‘Mr Slippery’, or similar derogatory names.

And he absolutely despises Blair, whom he terms ‘the Blair creature’, for his invasion of the Middle East. Hitchens has made it very clear in his column that he loathes Blair for sending so many courageous men and women to their deaths in an illegal conflict.

And he is also very definitely not going along with the current Beeb propaganda against the Russians over the war in Syria.

This short video of his appearance last year on the Andrew Marr Show by Scot TV, Hitchens refuses to go along with the general condemnation of the Russians for bombing Aleppo. He makes the point that the al-Nusra Front, whom we are now being told to support by our government and media, are Islamist terrorists, and a form of al-Qaeda. He states that the footage we see of noble white helmeted rebels rescuing the injured victims of Assad and Putin is propaganda footage. We are not allowed into those areas, so we don’t see what’s really going on. Also, we are not shown the horrors that our shelling and attacks, or those of the rebels we are currently backing, have perpetrated on Assad’s supporters.

Hitchens is absolutely correct, but his stating this horrifies Marr’s two other guests.

In recent months there have been well-documented reports of the supposed heroic rebels massacring those trying to flee rebel-held areas. In the last incident, a suicide bomber scattered crisps and food in front of train, so that the children of those fleeing would first leap out of the train to scrabble for them. He killed 68 people. 12 of these were kids.

There has also been the suggestion that the victims of the poison gas attack, which was falsely blamed once again on Assad, were in fact pro-government villagers kidnapped by the rebels, and then killed by them, their bodies then used as macabre props for a very nasty piece of propaganda.

And the rebels have also faked poison gas attacks several times in order to draw America into the war, setting of chemical weapons themselves as ‘false flag’ attacks.

Hitchens is very much a member of the Tories, but I respect his integrity and independence on this issue. Just as I like him for his manifest disrespect to David Cameron, although his reasons may not be the same as mine.

He is absolutely right about Syria, and it is refreshing to see him speak in contradiction of the lies and propaganda we are being fed by the government and news media.

Member of Audience on ‘Question Time’: Tories Just Talk About Brexit and Insult Jeremy Corbyn

April 30, 2017

This was also posted on YouTube by The Darwinian Left. It’s a very short clip from Thursday’s Question Time, in which a member of the audience states that he can’t understand May’s election strategy. She clearly doesn’t want to hold an election, as she won’t participate in debate or talk to the media. He also says that he hasn’t heard the Tories articulate a single policy on the economy, NHS, education or welfare. All they want to do is talk about Brexit, about which we’ve already had a referendum, and insult Jeremy Corbyn.

The gentleman is entirely correct. And the Tories can’t talk about their policies, because they’re dreadful. Thanks to their continued attacks on the NHS and the welfare state, millions more are in poverty. 8 million people, according to the UN, are in ‘food insecure’ households. Meaning they don’t know where the next meals coming from. The Tories are deliberately running down the NHS in order to prepare it from privatisation. Ditto education, though they’ve had a few setbacks there. They wanted to turn every school into an academy. That failed. They wanted to bring back grammar schools. That was widely attacked and shot down.

They are failures, who have succeeded only in making the extremely rich even richer, while destroying the welfare state in a deliberate policy of making working people poorer. But obviously they can’t say this, as it’ll lose them the election.

And so all they have left is trying to fearmonger about foreigners and smear Jeremy Corbyn. And even in the Brexit negotiations they’re a massive failure. May hasn’t got the deal Britain needs from Europe, though you won’t hear her admit that. And actually, Jeremy Corbyn’s in a much stronger position through his extensive and good relations with European Socialist parties. Though you won’t hear that on the Beeb.

So that leaves the Tories with just insulting Jeremy Corbyn.

There is another element to this clip which I find amusing. It’s the way Dimblebore starts to stammer out a reply, but just can’t manage it, when faced with the obvious truth of this comment.

Paul Mason: Elite About to Go Tinfoil over Momentum

September 20, 2016

Paul Mason on Saturday posted a long, but excellent piece discussing the way the elite were changing their tactics from attacking Jeremy Corbyn, to attacking his support group, Momentum. This followed the appearance of an article in the Times about the group’s supposedly dodgy activities in Liverpool, based on an anonymous dossier put together from a Labour member, who had visited their chatrooms. He quotes right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes and the Time’s editorial about how Momentum are really cuckoos in Labour’s metaphorical nest, seeking to infiltrate and take over the party. Mason points out that two other films are also scheduled to attack Corbyn and Momentum this week, and notes the way the story being peddled by the Blairites and the elite has changed. Whereas before it was just Corbyn and a few members of Momentum who were infiltrators, with Smudger demanding the right to address their rallies alongside Corbyn, in a speech last week Smudger equated Momentum with Militant Tendency in the 1980s, and almost suggested that Momentum should similarly be thrown out of the party as Militant was.

Mason points out how ridiculous the comparison is, and compares the open and democratic structure of Momentum with both Militant and the Blairite successor group, Saving Labour. He writes

With 18,000 members Momentum is four times bigger than the Militant Tendency ever was, even at the height of its influence in the mid-1980s. Momentum is organising The World Transformed — an open, free, largely unstructured culture and ideas festival alongside Labour conference in Liverpool as a way of attracting non-party activists and local young people. The organisers have arranged open press access and gained sponsorship from two Labour-affiliated unions and a major NGO. Indeed until last week their main problem was convincing the press to cover it.

Militant, by contrast, was a rigid grouping, with two layers of secrecy, an internal command/control structure and an elected leadership along Bolshevik lines. It operated like this because that is how the Labour right operated. It was in some ways a mirror image of the bureaucratic hierarchy it tried to oppose.

Today, that is still how the Labour right organises: Saving Labour, for example, is a website co-ordinating attacks on Corbyn which has still not reveal who funds it or owns it. Labour Tomorrow is collecting funds from rich donors for purposes as yet unannounced. It has no publicly accountable structures at all. Momentum, by contrast, is an open and democratic group.

Mason states that the intention behind these stories is to begin a witch hunt against Momentum if Corbyn loses. If, on the other hand, he wins, it’s to form the basis of the Blairite’s legal campaign to gain the party’s name, bank account and premises on the basis that these had been illegally stolen by infiltrators. He notes also that these attacks on Momentum itself are based on the failure of the attempts to uncover dirt and smear Corbyn himself. Corbyn is popular with the party’s grassroots and his views poll well with the public.

Mason feels the solution would be to make Momentum and Progress, their Blairite opponents, affiliated sections of the Labour party so that their members become Labour members, and are subject to Labour party rules. But this would need a change in the party’s regulations. He is happy to see anyone become a member of Momentum, though, provided they don’t campaign for rival parties like the TUSC, the Greens and SNP. But Mason also believes that Labour members also need to join Greens, Left nationalists, anti-political people and even Lib Dems in grassroots campaigns on issues like Grammar schools. He also makes the point that the reason why Momentum grew so rapidly after Corbyn was in reaction to the dull, hierarchical and very bureaucratic structure of the existing party, and particularly hostility by the Blairites.

He goes on to make the following recommendations on what the party needs to do to attack the government and counter its policies:

•to de-select the (hopefully few) MPs who insist on actively sabotaging and abusing Corbyn;
•to bring forward a new “A-list” of candidates — more representative of the class, gender, ethnic and sexual-orientation of the UK population than the present PLP;
•passing coherent radical policies Labour Conference 2017 and the next National Policy Forum;
•deepening the left’s majority on the NEC and reversing the purge;
•focusing activist resources into geographical areas where the official party is weak;
•and turning Labour’s regional structures from anti-left “enforcement” operations into local networks of co-ordination to fight the Conservatives.

Mason states that Social Democrats in the Labour party should defend it as one of the remaining elements of the party’s Left wing, going back to the Clarion newspaper in the 1920s. And he also makes this point that it can be seen that it is not a far left movement can be seen from the fact that the true far left parties don’t like it:

And one of the clearest indicators that Momentum is a genuine, democratic formation is that the surviving far left — the SWP and Socialist Party–stand separate from it and their leaderships are wary of it. This suits me — because I have no sympathy for the bureacratic and hierarchical culture of Bolshevik re-enactment groups; it is precisely the open-ness, cultural diversity and networked outlook of Momentum, and the generation of youth drawn to it, that terrifies them.

He further argues that Social Democrats should support it, even if they disagree with its policies, as it has prevented the Labour party from undergoing a process similar to the collapse of PASOK in Greece, where the party has been ‘hollowed out’ and replaced by a party of the far left.

He concludes

The bottom line is: Momentum has a right to exist within the Labour Party and its members have a right to be heard.

If you’re a member of it, the best way to survive the upcoming red scare will be to smile your way through it. This is the tinfoil hat moment of the Labour right, as it realises half a million people cannot be bought by the money of a supermarket millionaire.

So get out the popcorn. You’re about to see what happens to the neo-liberal wing of Labour — and its propaganda arm — when the workers, the poor and the young get a say in politics.

In modern parlance: they are about to lose their shit.

See: https://medium.com/mosquito-ridge/elite-goes-tinfoil-over-momentum-dd544c9d8f1c#.fwtj82i9m

I think Mr Mason’s exactly right about all this. He is certainly is about the highly centralised, and rigidly hierarchical nature of the real parties of the Far Left – the Communists and Trotskyites. Parties like these, such as the SWP and the Socialist Party, have a very un-democratic party structure based around Lenin’s doctrine of ‘Democratic Centralism’. In order to prevent the party splitting up into various competing factions, Lenin stipulated that the party must be organised around the leadership of committed revolutionaries, who would be responsible for laying down policy. These could be questioned up to a point, but the moment the leadership took a decision, further debate was outlawed and absolute obedience demanded from the members. There is also a very rigid attitude to party doctrine. Only the leaders’ view of Marxist ideology is considered authentic and conforming to objective reality. Any opposition to it is labelled a ‘deviation’ and its supporters purged, very much like heretics from a religious group. Stalin clawed his way to power by fighting a series of campaigns against his opponents in the party, who were labelled ‘deviationists’ of the Left and Right. When Tito in Yugoslavia decided he wanted to purge Milovan Djilas, one of the architects of workers’ control, he accused him of ‘anarcho-syndicalist deviationism’.

Momentum doesn’t have that mindset, but the Blairites – Progress, Tomorrow’s Labour and Saving Labour, certainly do.

As for the opaque nature of Saving Labour’s funding, my guess is that much of it comes from big business and the Israel lobby. This isn’t an anti-Semitic smear. Blair was funded by the Zionists through Lord Levy and David Sainsbury. It’s because the Zionist lobby is massively losing support through the BDS movement, which is also supported by many Jews fed up with Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians, that the Zionists in the Labour party have accused Corbyn and his supporters of anti-Semitism. My guess is that Saving Labour won’t reveal who funds them because it would show their opponents to be right about their connection to the rich and to the Israel lobby.

UKIP Disintegrates as 50,000 Members Flock to the Tories

September 17, 2016

It seems this has been the week for extreme right-wing parties collapsing. Hope Not Hate first reported that the NF looked like it was in terminal decline, with some of its old boot-boys demanding that it should now be wound up. Then, a few days later, they reported that the EDL company, English Footsoldier EDL Limited, had been compulsorily dissolved by the authorities after it failed to supply all the documents required of businesses under British law. And yesterday Mike posted a piece reporting that UKIP were also shedding members at a rate of knots.

Alexandra Phillips, one of the Fuhrage’s top aides, has defected to the Tories, along with another 50,000 kippers she claims have also joined the Tory party. The Tories have indeed increased their membership by this number, but as Mike says, this doesn’t touch the Labour party, who have seen their membership increase to 600,000, thanks largely to Jeremy Corbyn.

Mike points out that the defection of such large numbers to the Tories does refute the kipper claim, repeated by the party’s defenders on Mike’s blog and over here, that the party was somehow ‘left-wing’. It wasn’t. While many of the grass-roots members did believe in the nationalisation of public services, like railways and the utility industries, the party leadership was always right-wing Tory, and their policies reflected that. Mike points out as an example of this the fact that Phillips was denounced as a ‘Pinko’ when she advised Fuhrage not to talk about banning immigrants with HIV. Mike demonstrates that both the Tories and UKIP held identical policies with a handy graphic from Pride’s Purge. Mike ends his article by quoting David Whitley, who tweeted the suggestion that we should go back to treating UKIP like the BNP.

See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/09/16/mass-exodus-from-ukip-to-the-tories-whatever-happened-to-the-peoples-army/

Mike’s exactly right, as is the Guardian when it quotes Phillips as saying that the Tories are doing the ‘UKIP dance’ on Brexit, grammar schools and fracking. There should be no surprises there. UKIP’s leadership were the extreme right-wing, Eurosceptic branch of the Tory party. And the Brexit campaign was largely led by high-profile Tories – Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, for example. Not that you would have realised this from Theresa May. After the ‘Remain’ side lost, May started spinning the narrative that it wasn’t due to the Tories after all, but the Labour party. Working class Labour voters had been responsible for the narrow Brexit victory, while the nice, Tory voting middle classes had all voted for ‘Remain’. And like the rest of the establishment, she claimed it was all due to Jeremy Corbyn, because he wasn’t as enthusiastic about promoting the European cause as the rest of them. Including, Mike has shown, Theresa May herself. Despite all the complaints about Corbyn not pulling his weight during the campaigning over the referendum, Corbyn did put in his time and effort supporting ‘Remain’, much more than May herself. And the claim that, as the supporters of the Leave campaign were largely working class, they must have been Labour voters is similarly dubious. One book on the party, Revolt on the Right, which attempts a serious political analysis of the party, its programme and the sociological composition of the party and its supporters, has a few cases studies of typical UKIP voters and members. At least one of these was a working class Labour supporter, until Maggie Thatcher came along. They voted for her because they believed she represented the working class, despite the fact that she didn’t, and cordially despised them. The same person didn’t vote for Tony Blair, because he didn’t represent the working class. This is interesting in itself, as the only difference between the two was background. As a lawyer, Blair was rather more middle class than Maggie, though she was also middle class as the daughter of someone who owned his own grocery business. But this slight difference in background affected the way Blair was perceived by those working class voters, who were taken in by the all rhetoric about Maggie’s working class origins and how she lived above the shop and the rest of the guff.
The people, who voted for UKIP weren’t Labour supports, but working class Tories, the spiritual heirs of Alf Garnett. But this is too much for May to admit, and so she had to use their social class to smear Labour and Corbyn. As so many others were doing.

I’m also not remotely amazed that UKIP are now in a process of disintegration. They were a one-issue party. Their whole raison d’etre was to get Britain out of the EU. And now that’s been fulfilled -sort-of, if the powers that be ever get round to it – they’ve lost their purpose. And so the party is beginning to disintegrate, and its members returning to their real home in the Tories.

Grammar Schools Show May Has No Idea About Education

September 10, 2016

I saw Theresa May announce on the news yesterday that all schools were going to have the opportunity to become grammar schools, along with the headlines proclaiming it in the Torygraph and the Daily Heil. I’ve no doubt both those papers were working themselves up into a frenzy about how wonderful and exciting this policy is going to be, how it’s going to smash years of ‘loony left’ progressive education forced on our children, which has resulted in them being poorly educated illiterates and prone to violence. They’ll also probably try telling us that it was all introduced in the terrible 1960s with the deliberate intention of destroying quality education and Britain’s wonderful class structure, along with teaching kids to be gay. There’ll also be some kind of insinuation coming, no doubt, that it’s all about destroying traditional ‘Britishness’ and so making us welcome foreigners, meaning Blacks, Asians – and particularly Muslims – as well as eastern Europeans.

Yes, the comprehensive schools were introduced with the intention of destroying the British class structure in education, which condemned kids from the working and lower middle classes to manual trades, and gave the wealthy access to the elite education for a clerical or managerial career. No, this class structure was not beneficial, whatever John Betjeman said about it in his poem, ‘Westminster Abbey’. But it’s been said many times that the British are locked in nostalgia for a glorious past that never was. One pop band, Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space, even said in one of their lyrics that ‘Unreasoning nostalgia is a British disease’. And they’re right. And one of the major sources of the infection is the Daily Heil, for whom everything right and good ended with the Labour victory in 1945.

Apart from the sheer reactionary nature of the policy itself, it also seems to me to shout loudly that Theresa May hasn’t a clue about education. David Cameron’s education secretary was Thicky Nicky Morgan, now sacked from her post, who also didn’t have a clue either. This was the only thing that shone out of her vacant eyes, as she persistently failed to answer any questions on the failure of the government’s support of Academies at the expense of state education. Alan Coren once joked that Conservative candidates were all so similar, it was like they were all clones. There was a vast laboratory of them round the back of Conservative central office, from which they were taken and defrosted ready for elections. With Thicky Nicky you go the impression that she was programmed with her answers like a robot, along with the strict instruction not to deviate from them if she couldn’t answer the question. Mike over at Vox Political has put up a piece reporting that Thicky Nicky has just attacked May’s policy. She claimed that the concentration on selection would undermine six years of progressive education reform. Mike points out that her opposition to it is problematic, given how terrible she was at the job of education secretary. Is she opposed to it, because it’s even worse than her idea, is Mike’s entirely appropriate question here.

Thicky Nicky attacks May’s grammar school plans – for doing more harm than she managed?

In fact, this whole affair screams to me that May actually has no carefully thought out education policy. She wanted to have all schools transformed into academies, until that was shot down in flames. Now she wants them transformed into grammar schools. Or rather, they can apply to become grammar schools. Clearly, in line with Tory elitism, only a few will actually be allowed to become them, because you’ve got to have somewhere that’ll educate those not intelligent enough to get into the grammar schools. So something like ‘secondary moderns’ will come back, although they’ll be called ‘failing state schools’. Which they are at the moment. As for selection by ability, that was always on the cards with the Academies, as the author of one book against them I blogged about here revealed, The Great City Academy Fraud.

May doesn’t really have any policy for education, beyond the destruction of the state system. She just wants it handed over to private enterprise, just as much of it was before the introduction of comprehensives. The academies were the best guise for doing this, as they could be sold off to academy chains, while still remaining in theory state schools. And despite being elitist and selective, they weren’t as elitist and selective as grammar schools.

Now that’s gone, it looks like she just start fumbling around for any policy that would do the job, no matter how antiquated. And the first one to hand was the nostalgia of the British middle classes for grammar schools. She needed to announce a police quickly that would grab the public’s attention and make it sound like she was firm, determined and with a clear policy. Except that it shows that she doesn’t have one, except to grope back to the class-ridden past, because the class-ridden snobs that read the Torygraph and the Fail demand it. It’s another policy with no substance, except stupid, reactionary nostalgia. Which basically describes just about every policy and stance announced by Thatcher and her followers for the last thirty-odd years.

Black College Students Explain Why They’re Not Impressed with Trump’s Education Policy

September 9, 2016

This is another video from The Young Turks, and it’s part two of a continuing series in which their reporter, Eric Byler, examines Trump’s attempts to reach out to Black Americans. The blurb for this on YouTube notes that only two per cent of Black Americans support him. Given the massive way he’s appealed to White Supremacists and the disparaging way he refers to non-Whites, like Mexicans and Muslims, I’m not remotely surprised that Afro-Americans dislike him. In this piece, Byler talks to the students at North Carolina A & T State University. This is an historic Black college, which is credited, according to the blurb, with being the place that launched the sit-in movement that ended segregation.

Trump has asked Black Americans ‘What do you have to lose?’ by voting for him, promising that he’ll improve their educational opportunities through Charter schools. Those are the American equivalent of our Academies, and they’re about as popular. Like some of the Academies on this side of the Pond, they’ve been forced on communities, despite protests and demonstrations by teachers, parents, clergy and other members of their communities. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of the oldest civil rights movement in America, recently demanded a moratorium on their establishment. Several of the pupils state very clearly that they don’t want state education to be disparaged and run down, but to be built up.

And what is most interesting of all is why so many Black Americans resent and are suspicious of Charter schools: they were first launched in the Deep South with the voucher system in the wake of desegregation, so Whites could take their children out of the now officially colour-blind public schools, so that they wouldn’t have to mix with Blacks.

Here’s the video:

I’m posting this as we have the same problems with the promotion of Academies in Britain, although that seems to have gone by the wayside with May’s announcement that all schools will be able to apply to become grammar schools. The experience of Black Americans with voucher schools in the US adds an extra dimension to some of the fears articulated by the critics of Academies and faith schools over here that such schools are divisive and will cause greater disruption to communities.

My sympathies are solidly with those of the students interviewed by Byler in this video. The state system in this country has been deliberately trashed and run down by successive administrations ever since Thatcher. Academies, by and large, are no better than state schools. Where they have succeeded, it’s because they’ve had an enormous amount of money thrown at them, often far more than the budget of the Local Education Authority for all the schools in its care. Any school would include, if they had that kind of money thrown at them. Far from demonstrating the superior results of private sponsorship and investment, they simply show the need for a properly funded state system.

The Tories and the Return of the Grammar Schools

September 7, 2016

I caught a glance of the front page of the I newspaper today. The cover story was of Theresa May bringing back the grammar schools. I’m afraid I haven’t read the article, so you can criticise this article for my ignorance, if you like. But I don’t think it’ll make any difference to what’s written here. I’m annoyed by the policy, but not surprised. I think Mike published something on his blog a few weeks ago reporting that May was trying to bring back grammar schools. And others have also seen it coming years ago. The author of a book I reviewed a few weeks ago on this blog, which attacked the foundation of the City Academies under Tony Blair, believed that this was all going to lead to the return of grammar schools, as the academy system leads to the separation of the bright, wealthy elite, who can afford to pay, from the poor and less intellectual.

It was also on the cards, given the immense nostalgia there seems to be in this country for grammar schools, if not the 11 plus. That was the exam that decided your future. If you were bright and passed it, you got to go to a grammar school, and could look forward to a middle class, clerical career. If you failed, you went to a secondary modern to be taught a mostly practical education to prepare you for one of the manual trades. A similar system survives in some continental countries, like Germany.

Some people continue to support the system, because the less academically able were nevertheless directed into an area more suitable for their abilities. This might be so, but it was also responsible for creating massive social inequalities. Tony Crosland, one of the founders of the modern comprehensive system, passionately advocated them because of the way the 11 plus discriminated against the poor, and reinforced the British class system. If you were poor, you were far more likely to find yourself failing the exam, and condemned to a life of manual work. There were scientific reports at the time also pointing out that the test itself was unscientific, and that a single exam at that age did not give an accurate picture of a person’s true intelligence.

Even some Tories despised the exclusion of working class pupils from ‘O’ levels. Rhodes Boyson, who was one of Thatcher’s education ministers, described in one interview how he felt it was unfair to discriminate against working class pupils in secondary moderns. They were prevented from taking ‘O’ levels at the time as part of the focus of the secondary moderns on technical and manual trades. He talked about how he led a group of his pupils through the ‘O’ level syllabus and got them to pass the exam, which technically they should not have done. Boyson was a grotty education minister. It was he and Thatcher, who began the process of destroying the Local Education Authorities and trying to take schools out of their control, thus laying the basis for the academy system. But Boyson had at least been a teacher, and had done something radical which genuinely helped working class pupils with this action back in the 1960s.

But nevertheless, there is still this continuing nostalgia for the grammar schools. They were supposed to be better than the comprehensives, which some no doubt were. Many comprehensives were too big, and there was immense harm done to pupils through some of the ‘progressive’ education policies. There were real horror stories in my part of Bristol about Hartcliffe school, which had a reputation for theft, bullying and very low academic standards. But this has changed. The school has been re-organised, and I think standards have improved massively. But the stereotype of the failing, substandard comprehensive, compared to the glittering excellence of grammar schools remains. One of those, who continues to demand their return is a certain Charles Windsor, or as he is better known, Prince Charles. Among his correspondence that became public a year or so ago, to the embarrassment of the government, which had been trying to keep his interference in politics very quiet, were his letters asking for their return.

And now it seems he’s going to get his way. And millions of working and lower middle class children are going to find themselves kept down, by an educational system that deliberately discriminates against them achieving any kind of career above the low paying trades deemed to be their lot by their social superiors. Ultimately, this isn’t about excellence in education. This about reinforcing the traditional British class system, and keeping the lower orders down and away from the middle and upper classes.

The Demands of the Independent Social Democrats during the 1919 German Council Revolution

August 20, 2016

I found this statement of the political demands of the Independent Social Democratic Party in J.W. Hiden’s The Weimar Republic (Harlow: Longman 1974), pp. 78-9. The Independent Social Democratic Party – USPD – were the left-wing of the main German Socialist party, the SPD, which split in 1919 over the issue of the workers’ councils. These had sprung up across Germany following the defeat in the First World War, and were modelled on the workers’, soldiers’ and peasants’ councils that had been set up in 1917 during the first phase of the Revolution, which eventually ended in the Bolshevik coup. Hiden in his comments notes that at the time the USPD issued their demands, there was actually no chance of it being implemented. The elections to the National Assembly had already been held, and the Spartacist Uprising, which was intended to establish Germany as a Communist state, had been quelled. Nevertheless, he considers it important as the kind of state that the Revolution could have created.

The immediate demands of the USPD are:

1. Inclusion of the Councils system in the constitutions. Decisive participation of the Councils in legislation, state and municipal government and in industry.

2. Complete dissolution of the old army. Immediate dissolution of the mercenary army made up of volunteer corps (Freikorps). Disarming of the bourgeoisie. The setting up of a people’s army from the ranks of the class conscious working sector. Self-government for the people’s army and election of officers by the ranks. The lifting of military jurisdiction.

3. The nationalist of capitalist undertakings is to begin at once. It is to be executed immediately in the sphere of mining, and of energy production (coal, water-power, electricity), of concentrated iron and steel production as well as insurance. Landed property and great forests are to be transferred to the community at once. Society has the task of bringing the whole economy to its highest degree of efficiency by making available all technical and economic aids as well as promoting co-operative organisations. In the towns all private property is to pass to the municipality and sufficient dwellings are to be made available by the municipality on its own account.

4. Election of authorities and judges by the people. Immediate setting up of a Supreme Court of Judicature which is to bring to account those responsible for the world war and the prevention of a more timely peace.

5. Any growth of wealth achieved during the war is to be removed by taxation. A portion of all larger fort8unes is to be given to the state. In addition, public expenditure is to be covered by a sliding scale of income, wealth and inheritance taxes.

6. Extension of social welfare. Protection for mother and child. War widows, orphans and wounded are to be assured a trouble-free existence. Homeless are to be given the use of the spare rooms of owners. Fundamental reorganisation of public health system.

7. Separation of state and church and of church and school. Public, standardised schools with secular character, to be developed according to socialist educational principles. The right of every child to an education corresponding to his ability and availability of the means necessary for this end…

The programme’s clearly a production of the revolutionary ferment at the end of the First World War. But much of it remains acutely relevant for today. For example, we do need the nationalisation of public utilities – electricity, gas and water – as millions are being overcharged and exploited by these companies. The railways are notoriously expensive and inefficient. Under private management they consume three times more money from subsidies than they did when it was a nationalised industry as British rail. At the same time, Britain’s forests are being privatised, to the public’s disadvantage, by the Tories.

Similarly, there does need to be increased taxation of the super-rich. Under Blair and the Tories the rich have benefited from massive tax cuts, and the tax burden has been unfairly passed to the poor. Inequality has massively increased, so that a vanishingly small minority of people own far more than the rest of us combined. This was shown very clearly last week when the Duke of Westminster died, leaving £9 billion to his son.

Social welfare certainly needs to be extended. Blair and the Conservatives have consistently cut benefits for and demonised the poor, disabled and unemployed as ‘scroungers’. The result is that some 4.7 million are living in ‘food poverty’, and hundreds of thousands are only kept from starving by food banks. As for the war wounded, and the widows and orphans produced by Blair’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, I wonder how much help they are receiving, despite charities like Help For Heroes. Many of the squaddies that fought for their country during Gulf War I were left homeless. I have a strong feeling that many of their comrades in these wars have also been left, discarded by the state, in similar poverty and destitution. We also need a profound reorganisation of the public health services, as these are being privatised by Blair and the Tories.

There’s an irony here in that USPD wanted homeowners to have to take in the homeless. This is the precise opposite of what the Tories have been trying to do to those in council houses with the ‘Bedroom tax’. Millions are being left without homes, not just because they aren’t being built, but because many properties were bought as part of the buy-to-let market. Rents have risen, so that many people can no longer afford them, let alone think of owning their own home. But the Tories are the party of business and property, and something like this measure would fill them with panic. After all, it’s why they have a fit of the vapours every time someone talks about the ‘Bedroom tax’. They definitely don’t want to give the rest of the population the terrible impression that they are going to tax everyone’s bedroom. But doing it to the very poorest is perfectly acceptable.

I went to a church school, and don’t agree with the complete separation of church and state or absolutely secular schools, although I understand the reasons why many do. But I do support their statement that every child has right to the education that corresponds to his ability, and the means necessary for that end. It should be an automatic right. Unfortunately, this is also being undermined by the academies, that were brought in by Blair and which the Tories want to expand. They’d also like to bring back grammar schools, which were abandoned in favour of comprehensives because they did discriminate against working class children achieving a high education. And the introduction of tuition fees by New Labour and then increased by the Tories is leaving students with crippling debts, which are actively leading a quarter of graduates to stick to low paid jobs in order to avoid the extra burden of paying them off.

As for the most radical proposal, the inclusion of workers’ council in the political system – there’s a very, very strong argument for that too. The massive corporate corruption of parliament has shown that it increasingly does not represent the working class or their interests. It represents the power of big business, and their campaign to have a poor, desperate, poverty-stricken working class willing to be exploited through workfare, zero-hours and short-term contracts and the like.