Posts Tagged ‘Nicky Morgan’

Brexit Britain’s Collapse also Reveals Failure of Free Market Capitalism

September 26, 2021

I wonder sometimes if the Communists and Trotskyites didn’t throw in the towel too soon. They were always looking for the collapse of capitalism, and while that didn’t happen and probably won’t, they would have realised that Thatcherism, at least, isn’t working and made real efforts to make the British public realise it. Communism collapsed with the velvet revolution in eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s as the countries of the former Soviet bloc threw off their chains and embraced democracy and free market capitalism. Francis Fukuyama declared that it was ‘the end of history’. Liberalism in the broad sense of the mixture of liberal democracy and capitalism, had seen off its rivals and would now reign supreme and unchallenged as the global ideology bringing peace, freedom – both political and economic – and prosperity to everyone.

But it hasn’t worked out like that.

Thatcher’s privatisation of the public utilities here in Britain haven’t brought the necessary investment these sectors needed. As Ken Loach’s superb documentary, The Spirit of 45, makes very clear, the power, water and railway industries are natural monopolies that need national planning and support. This has been particularly shown time and again in the management of the railways. Major’s privatisation of British Rail in the 1990s and its breakup into separate companies resulted in a spate of horrendous train crashes. Insult was added to injury by the rail companies passing the buck and accusing each other of responsibility for the disasters. As a result, the company owning the railway network itself, Railtrack, had to be renationalised in 2002. Privatisation did not work. And it has continued to fail with the private railways companies. Several have had to be taken back into state administration after providing poor service. However, this has always been excused as a temporary measure and the government has insisted on finding some other private company to run those services afterwards. After a series of such failures, this strategy now looks more than a little desperate. It’s an attempt to fend off the obvious: that private enterprise isn’t providing a proper, decent rail service and the only way to run it properly is to renationalise it.

It is very much the same with the government’s part-privatisation of Britain’s schools. Declining standards in state schools led Thatcher to experiment with privately-run schools outside the control of Local Education Authorities. These were then called ‘city academies’. They were another failure, and her education secretary, Norman Fowler, was forced to wind them up quietly. Unfortunately, Tony Blair thought it was a wizard idea and it became a major part of New Labour education policy. Simply called ‘academies’, these schools would be run by private companies. Some of these would specialise in particularly subjects, such as Maths and science. Expertise from private industry would ensure that standards would be high, and they would provide a powerful incentive through their competition for the remaining state schools to improve their performance. Except that didn’t happen either. The academies don’t perform any better than ordinary state schools once the massive difference in funding is taken into account. An academy may receive tens of millions of funding compared to a fraction of million that the Local Education Authority receives to spend on all the schools it runs. Furthermore, many of the academies have only been able to maintain their high standards through being highly selective about their intakes. Pupils that may not reach the marks demanded by the schools, including those with behavioural problems or who come from poorer families, are often excluded and expelled. Educational performance and standards in many academies has been so abysmal that the chains managing them have collapsed and the schools once again taken into public administration. But private enterprise under the Tories cannot be allowed to fail, and so we had the grim spectacle a few years ago of Nicky Morgan, the Tory education secretary, repeatedly not answering the questions on the Andrew Marr show why the government was pushing ahead with turning schools into academies when just a little while ago 25 academies had had to be taken over by the government again.

Now, thanks to a mixture of Brexit and global problems elsewhere, the gas industry is in crisis. There are shortages of gas, a number of the smaller companies have already collapsed and customers are being faced with sharp price rises. Novara Media have even said that the government has admitted that if there are severe problems with the major gas suppliers, then they will have to be nationalised.

Gas, like electricity, should never have been privatised in the first place. When it was initially privatised, the company was not split up into separate, competing companies and so it was able to dominate the market as a private monopoly. Now some of those companies are suffering because they are unable to cope with free market conditions. This says to me very much that Jeremy Corbyn was right – that the public utilities need to be publicly owned and rationally managed as part of an integrated system. This is another point that Ken Loach’s documentary makes very well.

And Brexit has created further problems. The establishment of a customs border with Eire overturns one of the terms of the Good Friday Agreement and so threatens to return Northern Ireland to sectarian violence and chaos. There is a shortage of CO2 as a result of which some foods and other goods may suffer shortages. And there may be further shortages, including petrol and other fuels, because Brexit has also resulted in fewer haulage drivers. Some are even now predicting a new ‘Winter of Discontent’, like that in 1979 that resulted in the defeat of the-then Labour government and the election of Maggie Thatcher.

I remember the petrol crisis of the ’70s, when OPEC suddenly raised oil prices and there were queues at petrol pumps. Just as I remember how Ted Heath’s dispute with the coal miners resulted their strike, the three-day week and power cuts. It got to the point that by the middle of the decade the right were expecting a Communist takeover and the end of civilisation as we know it. There were supposedly private militias being formed by bonkers right-wingers while parts of the establishment wanted to overthrow the minority Labour government in a coup to be replaced by a kind of coalition government composed of representatives from all the parties. Well, that was what the Times discussed in its articles. The security services, however, were forming plans to round up trade unionists and left-wing politicians and activists and intern them on a Scottish island somewhere. The editor of the Mirror went to Sandhurst to interest them in overthrowing the government but was met with a no doubt polite refusal. I think he, or one of the other plotters, even went as far as Paris to see if that old Fascist, Oswald Mosley, would be interested in leading the new government.

All that has been used in the Tory myth that socialism doesn’t work, and only creates the economic and political chaos that helped bring Britain to its knees. Chaos that was only ended by the glorious reign of Maggie.

Except that these problems look like they’re coming back, and this time the fault is Brexit and the free market.

I think Boris will be able to find temporary solutions to alleviate, but not cure, some of these problems. He has, for example, introduced new legislation to encourage lorry drivers from the continent to come over here. But the underlying structural problems remain. The only way to solve them is through nationalisation.

The Labour party is in an excellent position to drive this home, at least in the case of gas. Even if it doesn’t go that far, it should still be landing hard blows on Johnson and the Tories because of Brexit’s massive failures. But Starmer isn’t doing that. Instead, as Zelo Street pointed out in a piece published a day or so ago, the Labour leader is more intent instead on destroying democracy in his party as part of his war on the left.

Which is why I’m almost nostalgic for the old Socialist Workers’ Party. They’re still around, rebranded as ‘the Socialist Party’, but they’re nowhere near as active as they were. Whenever there was any kind of crisis or major issue you could count on them turning up with their megaphones and copies of their newspaper to harangue the masses and demand further action against the problem. Unfortunately, in many cases the Socialist Workers’ Party were the problem. They colonised left-wing issues in an attempt to turn protest groups into front organisations, which they could then use to produce further discontent. Rock Against Racism collapsed when the SWP took over the leadership of that organisation, formed to protest against the rise of Fascism. They were also busy infiltrating the Labour party and other left-wing parties here and abroad with the intention of radicalising them. I think the eventual hope was to create some kind of mass revolutionary movement. It didn’t work, and has only resulted in purges, such as that of Militant Tendency by Kinnock in the 1980s. In fact, the policy has helped strengthen the right in the Labour party, as they smeared Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters as Trotskyite infiltrators as the pretext for their continue purge.

The Trotskyites lived, however, in the firm belief that capitalism would eventually fail. Well, it isn’t doing that now, but it should be abundantly clear that Thatcherite free market capitalism isn’t working. The SWP would have realised that and tried to get the message across. The Labour left, which isn’t remotely Trotskyite, realises too that Thatcherism isn’t working. Their solution is simply a return to the mixed economy of the social democratic consensus. This wasn’t perfect, but it operated far better than the free market shambles we have now. And no, mixed economies are not ‘Communist’, ‘Trotskyist’ or ‘far left’. The real Communists and Trotskyists hated it as a form of capitalism, just as they hated reformist socialist parties like Labour.

But Starmer’s leadership is pledged to propping up the same wretched free market capitalism. Which is why I really feel there should be a mass movement driving home the point, again and again, that Thatcherism is ideologically and economically bankrupt. It is doing nothing but producing chaos in the economy and industry, and poverty and starvation to Britain’s working people. And this poverty will get worse. This is why I’m almost nostalgic for the wretched SWP, as they would have been determined to drive this home. And who knows? Perhaps if they behaved like a reasonable party, they might have gained further support and forced the Labour party to rediscover its socialist heritage in order to head off a challenge from real Communists.

Cartoon – The Tories: Nightmares of the Flesh

March 23, 2020

Here’s another of my cartoons lampooning and attacking their Tories and their noxious leading members. In this case, it’s influenced by a few of the ‘body horror’ films of the 1980s – The Thing, Society and From Beyond, and one of the early ‘Nemesis the Warlock’ strips in 2000 AD, ‘Killerwatt’. Body horror is that part of the Horror genre, where the human body mutates and takes on warped, twisted forms, though I think it can also include the ‘torture porn’ subgenre, in which people are tortured and mutilated.

In The Thing, an American base in the Antarctic discovers a crashed UFO, from which an alien escaped to infect members of the base’s team and their animals. The alien replicates and hides by infecting other creatures, devouring them at a cellular level but copying their form – until it finally reveals itself by twisting itself into weird, hideous forms. As the bodies mount, and successive characters are revealed to have been infected and taken over, paranoia mounts. The horror is as much in the fear and distrust the characters have of each other, as of the grotesque appearances of the Thing itself.

From Beyond, directed by Stuart Gordon is roughly based on the short story, ‘Beyond the Wall of Sleep’ by H.P. Lovecraft. However, the film bears little resemblance to the story that inspired it. In the film, two scientists, Tillinghast and Dr. Pretorius, are using a device, the resonator, to peer into a unseen dimension surrounding our own and its denizens. Tillingast is arrested for murder after one of the creatures from that dimension then appears and bites the head off his superior, Pretorius. He takes a curious policeman and a female psychiatrist from the mental hospital in which he has been confined back to his laboratory, and set the resonator running to show them he’s telling the truth. But each time they switch on the machine, Pretorius appears, in progressively grotesque forms as it is revealed that he’s become a monster of hideous appetites. The slogan for the movie was ‘Humans are such easy prey’.

In Society, directed by Gordon’s collaborator, Brian Yuzna, the horror is mixed with social comment aimed squarely at the class system of Reagan’s America. It’s hero is a teenage lad, Bill Whitney, who finds out that he’s really adopted, and his upper class family, their friends and colleagues, are really monsters. These creatures have total control of their bodies, which they can deform and twist like rubber or plastic. They are predatory and exploitative, feeding on ordinary humans in orgies in which they melt down almost to a liquid state to feast on their victims.

It’s hard not to see this as a comment on the exploitative, predatory nature of the rich business class set free by Reagan and the Republicans.

But these films were anticipated in their horrors by 2000 AD and ‘Nemesis the Warlock’. Created by comics veterans Pat Mills and Kevin O’Neill, the strip was set thousands of years in the future, when humanity had moved underground, away from the devastated surface and the planet’s name was now Termight. Ruling Termight was Torquemada, grand master of the Terminators, a quasi-monastic order, who had turned humanity’s fear of intelligent aliens into a religion and led wars of extermination against them. Opposed to him was the alien hero, Nemesis, and his resistance organisation, Credo. The character first appeared in the two ‘Comic Rock’ strips, ‘Going Underground’ and ‘Killerwatt’ in 1980, several years before the above films. In the latter story, the alien chased Torquemada down the teleport wires the grand master was using to get to his capital, Necropolis, after his train journey overland was interrupted by a gooney bird, a colossal bird creature resembling, or evolved from, the Concorde airplane. As the two raced down the wires, they had to cross the Sea of Lost Souls, a nightmare sea of neutrons and twisted bodies created when a gooney bird sat on the teleport wires.

Two panels showing the Sea of Lost Souls from ‘Killerwatt’. Art by that zarjaz master of the macabre, Kevin O’Neill.

In this cartoon, I’ve drawn a similar landscape, complete with surfers, where the denizens of the sea are Tory politicos. They are Boris Johnson, David Gauke, Dominic Cummings, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Nicky Morgan and Theresa May. I hope you enjoy it, and that it doesn’t give you nightmares. Oh yes, and what you see behind them is supposed to be giant tongues, in case you thought it was anything else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Seasonal Musical Attack on the Tories: the Universal Credit Songbook

December 26, 2018

Yesterday, Christmas Day, Mike also put up another piece of musical satire and anti-Tory criticism. This was the Universal Credit Songbook, where some clever clogs has taken the tunes of traditional Christmas carols, and given them fresh words attacking the Tories’ murderous policies, and particularly Universal Credit.

Mike posted an example, tweeted by Imajsaclaimant, which runs

Away in a bedsit,
No crib for a bed
My mother is silent,
When will we be fed?

My mother is crying,
But I’m wide awake
No money for presents,
Five more weeks to wait

This seems to have inspired Michael Fulcher, who posted another piece to the same tune commemorating the death of Gyula Remes, the Hungarian man, who died outside parliament.

See Mike’s article https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/12/25/its-the-season-for-christmas-carols-how-about-a-couple-from-the-universal-credit-songbook/

Socialism and working class protest, has a rich musical heritage, and this, and other recent anti-Tory songs are part of this. Songs like Cabinet of Millionaires’ ‘Theresa May’, as well as past favourites like ‘Liar, Liar’, also about May and her inability to tell the truth, and ‘Nicky Morgan’s Eyes’, about her former education secretary and her attack on state schooling.

The Wobblies’ Songbook

The Chartists in the 19th century also composed songs expressing their demand for the vote for all adult men. There are also many folk songs from the 19th century celebrating strikes and attacking poverty and exploitation.
The Labour party, at least in Bristol, had a choir back in the middle of the last century or so.

The radical American syndicalist trade union, the International Workers of the World, or the ‘Wobblies’ of the early twentieth century, were particularly known for their songs. Their songbook can also be found on the web at http://www.musicanet.org/robokopp/iww.html

Many of the songs celebrate and promote the union, the power of working people and specific, heroic individuals, while others bitterly attack the owners and managers. One such is ‘The Parasites’ by John E. Nordquist. This runs

Parasites in this fair country,
Lice from honest labor’s sweat;
There are some who never labor,
Yet labor’s product get;
They never starve or freeze,
Nor face the wintry breeze;
They are well fed, clothed and sheltered,
And they do whate’er they please.

2. These parasites are living,
In luxury and state;
While millions starve and shiver,
And moan their wretched fate;
They know not why they die,
Nor do they ever try
Their lot in life to better;
They only mourn and sigh.

3. These parasites would vanish
And leave this grand old world,
If the workers fought together,
And the scarlet flag unfurled;
When in One Union grand,
The working class shall stand,
The parasites will vanish.
And the workers rule the land.

See: http://www.musicanet.org/robokopp/usa/parasite.htm

Clearly, you don’t have to be a radical syndicalist wanting to see the working class utterly replace capitalism and its owners and managers to see that the poverty it describes is coming back, and that workers do need to stand together to demand real change under some form of socialism, like the reformism of the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn here, and the radical left of the Democrats with Bernie Sanders in the US.

Mike hopes that Cabinet of Millionaires’ ‘Theresa May’ will be the new No.1 this Christmas. It won’t be, but it should, if only to see the BBC go spare and try to avoid having to play such an explicitly left-wing song. I hope it, the UC Songbook and the other ditties attacking May and the rest of the Tories and their corrupt backers also get very many views and downloads, and inspired more people to sing, strum and drum against them.

They must never silence us!

May’s Popularity with Tories in Negative Figures as Corbyn Beats Her at PMQs

June 6, 2018

Earlier today, Mike put up a piece commenting on a report by Evolve Politics and a tweet by Robert Peston that the Tories are finally losing patience with Theresa May’s spectacular lack of leadership. According to Peston, a former supporter of Tweezer said that they can’t go on with her for much longer, as her lack of leadership and inability to make decisions was creating a vacuum which allowed the Remainers to run riot. After the votes are in next week, she will have to go. The article in Evolve Politics commented on this tweet, and pointed out that only 48 signatures are needed for force the Tory chairman Brandon Lewis to hold a vote of no confidence in Tweezer. And the latest revelation of her plunging popularity means that the figure could be easily reached.

Mike himself went on to suggest that her days as PM could be numbered, and possibly in single digits at that, particularly after Corbyn scored points against her and her government again and again at Prime Minister’s Questions today. He attacked Tweezer Brexit, and her failure to publish a White Paper on it, or to negotiate it properly with the EU and also the ridiculous buffer zone idea for Northern Ireland. The Labour leader commented that her government had produced more cancellations and delays on Brexit than Northern Rail.

Mike’s article ended with another tweet from Dazza, who said that May wants to be put out of her misery. They should call another general election, which the public will use as a second referendum.

https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/06/06/weak-pmqs-performance-will-only-fuel-tory-plans-to-backstab-theresa-may/

This came after the Conservative Home website published its ‘league table’ showing how popular May and various members of her cabinet were. This was reported by RT in the video below. For some reason, Gove is in the lead, with an approval rating of 72.5 per cent. Just behind him is Sajid Javid with 70.4 per cent. Tweezer is in minus figures, -9.5. But there is someone even more unpopular than she is: Jeremy Hunt with -25 per cent.

So much for Theresa May, and the Tory party’s attempts to brand her as Margaret Thatcher Mark 2, and all that rubbish last year about her being ‘strong and stable’. Instead, as Mike pointed out in a series of articles on his website, she’s very weak and wobbly indeed.

Quite why Gove should be the favourite amongst the Tory faithful is still a mystery, however, as he’s as stupid and incompetent as she is. It was Gove, who managed to get Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s sentence increased by the Iranians when he came on TV to bail out his equally incompetent chum, Boris Johnson, who’d also managed to get her sentenced increased through his wilful ignorance. Gove declared that the government didn’t know what the poor woman was doing in Iran, which played into their hands and allowed them to claim that she had been spying. She hadn’t; she’d been there on holiday, and had taken her daughter to meet her Iranian relatives. This shabby incident shows how absolutely unfit for leadership Gove is. He is, after all, the man, who managed to run down the British educational system when he was minister for it a few years ago. If he looks better now, it’s probably only because ‘Thicky’ Nicky Morgan, his mad-eyed successor, was even worse. Nevertheless, the Tories seem to love him, at least for the moment. According to Chunky Mark, one Tory donor has even called on the party to ditch May and put Gove in No. 10 instead.

For the rest of us, this wouldn’t change anything. All of the Tories are incompetent and malign. The best thing that could happen for us is that they hold a vote of No Confidence, and then collapse amid a frenzy of backstabbing and infighting, leaving Corbyn to enter No. 10.

News Rottweiler Richard Madeley Throws Gavin Williamson Off Programme for Not Answering Question

May 31, 2018

This is a turn up for the books. Richard Madeley is probably the last person I would have considered an aggressive, uncompromising interviewer, trying to hold the government and the authorities to account. But on ITV’s Good Morning on May 29th, 2018, Madeley showed he was not prepared to put up with Gavin Williamson’s repeated failure to answer his questions about the Skripal poisoning. And so, rather than let him continue, Madeley ended the interview, wishing him good luck with his project for Africa.

Mike put up a piece about this yesterday, remarking that not only had Williamson not answered the question, he was carrying on with a smug smirk on his face. Mike wrote of Williamson’s refusal to answer the question

He was deliberately withholding, not only his opinion on his ill-chosen words about the Russian government, but information on whether the Conservative government acted prematurely in blaming Russia for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

The Tory narrative that the Russian government was responsible has collapsed beneath a barrage of factual information suggesting otherwise, with no facts to support it.

If Mr Williamson had admitted his words were ill-advised, he would have been accepting that the anti-Russia stance was a mistake – and opening the UK government to an investigation into its own activities. So he was between a rock and a hard place.

And he thought he could brazen it out on TV because mainstream media interviewers are now notoriously soft on Tories.

Mike noted that this deference to the Tories had changed with Madeley’s actions, but was unsure whether it would spread to the Beeb because so many of the Corporation’s top news team are Conservatives. However, the public are also turning away from soft interviewers like Andrew Marr and Evan Davis, and this may force the BBC to adopt a tougher stance when interviewing Tory politicians.

Mike’s article also compares it to the incident, 21 years ago, when Paxman ended an interview with Michael Portillo because the future presenter of programmes about train journeys around the globe refused to answer a question on his party’s policy towards the single European currency. The incident happened in a good-humoured way, and Paxo was probably able to do it, according to Mike, because Portillo was out of Parliament at the time, and his political influence was due to be confined for the foreseeable future to being one of the commenters on Andrew Neil’s The Week.

Mike’s article is at: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/05/30/the-madeley-moment-is-it-really-21-years-since-an-interviewer-dismissed-an-evasive-politician-for-failing-to-answer-a-question/

RT, as well as a number of other news sites on YouTube, also reported the incident. Here’s RT’s video of it.

Way back in the 1990s Jeremy Paxman was called a ‘Rottweiler’ for his persistent, aggressive questioning of politicians on his show, and his refusal to take any nonsense from them. Which was shown in his repeated questioning of Michael Howard whether he overruled another Tory minister. His ‘take no prisoners’ style of questioning enraged the Tories, and Michael Heseltine actually walked out during one interview, ‘angrily tossing his mane’ in the words of Ian Hislop later that week on Have I Got News For You.

The Tories responded as they usually do by claiming that Paxman and the BBC were biased against them. There was an article in the Spectator comparing Paxman to a similar TV interviewer in the Republic of Ireland, who went in hard with establishment politicians, but didn’t dare adopt the same stance with Sinn Fein or spokesmen for the IRA. And so eventually Paxo left Newsnight, and went instead to harass university students on University Challenge.

Then when Labour got it a few years later, the Tories showed once again how two-faced they are by lamenting how sad it was that Paxo had departed from political journalism, because now the country needed him to interrogate Blair and co with his aggressive refusal to allow his guest to get away with talking nonsense.

And so began the situation that prevails today, when members of the government turn up on television with the attitude that they can more or less say what they want, without being corrected or pressed by the interviewer. Some of us can still remember how Nicky Morgan repeatedly refused to answer one of the Beeb’s interviewer’s questions when she was minister for education. This was when Tweezer decided that every school should be an academy. The interviewer asked her a question about the number of academies, that had to be taken over again by the state, and all Thicky Nicky did was to repeat a line about how terrible it would be if children continued to be badly educated through attending failing state schools. In fact, the number of failing academies was high – about 21 or so, I seem to recall. Thicky Nicky clearly couldn’t admit that, and so she carried on repeating government propaganda. Just as the interview ended, the journo said, ‘You know the number’. He was clearly annoyed and frustrated at Morgan’s failure to answer the question, and made it very clear.

It would solve a lot of problems if interviewers did adopt a more uncompromising stance, and did throw politicians off the programme if they didn’t answer their questions. Reith was an authoritarian, who supported Mussolini, but he was right when he said that broadcasting to the nation was a privilege, not a right. This is a democracy, and the role of the press and the media – the Fourth Estate, as they’ve been called – has traditionally been to hold the government to account. Of course, this collapsed at least a decade ago, when the media became dominated by a very few big proprietors, who made sure that their papers represented their interests and those of the Conservative government, including Blair’s Thatcherite New Labour.

It’s good now that some TV interviewers are tired of giving the government such soft treatment. And as I said, it’s remarkable that this should come from Richard Madeley, who would be the last person I would have thought would do it. But obviously he decided he’d had enough, and something snapped. All hail Madeley, news Rottweiler. And I hope this attitude carries on and spread, so that we get something like the media we deserve in this country, rather than the one that’s foisted on us by the Beeb, Murdoch, Dacre and the Barclay Twins.

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.

Book Review: The Great City Academy Fraud – Part 1

July 13, 2016

Academy Fraud Pic

By Francis Beckett (London: Continuum 2007)

This is another book I managed to pick up from a cheap bookshop, in this case the £3 bookshop in Bristol’s Park Street. Although published nine years ago in 2007, it’s still very acutely relevant, with the plan of the current education minister, Thicky Nicky Morgan, to try to turn most schools into privately run academies. According to the back flap, Beckett was the education correspondent of the New Statesman from 1997 to 2005, and also wrote on education for the Guardian. The book’s strongly informed by the findings of the NUT and other teaching unions, whose booklets against academies are cited in the text. And its a grim read. It’s an important subject, so important in fact, that I’ve written a long review of this book, divided into four section.

Academies: Another Secondhand Tory Policy

Much of New Labour’s threadbare ideology was just revamped, discarded Tory ideas. This was clearly shown before Blair took power in the early 1990s, when John Major’s government dumped a report compiled by the consultants Arthur Anderson. This was immediately picked up, dusted off, and became official New Labour policy. Similarly, PFI was invented by the Tories man with a little list, Peter Lilley, who was upset ’cause private industry couldn’t get its claws into the NHS. This again was taken over by New Labour, and became the cornerstone of Blair’s and Brown’s ideas of funding the public sector. Academies, initially called ‘city academies’, were the same.

Basically, they’re just a revival of the City Technology Colleges set up in the mid 1980s by Thatcher’s education secretary, Kenneth Baker. Baker decided that the best way to solve the problem of failing schools was to take them out of the control of the local education authority, and hand them over to a private sponsor. These would contribute £2 million of their own money to financing the new school, and the state would do the rest. Despite lauding the scheme as innovative and successful, Baker found it impossible to recruit the high profile sponsors in big business he wanted. BP, which is very active supporting community projects, flatly told him they weren’t interested, as the project was ‘too divisive’. Another organisation, which campaigns to raise private money for public projects, also turned it down, stating that the money would best be spent coming from the government. It was an area for state funding, not private. The result was that Baker was only able to get interest for second-order ‘entrepreneurs’, who were very unwilling to put their money into it. From being a minimum, that £2 million funding recommendation became a maximum. And so the scheme was wound up three years later in 1990.

After initially denouncing such schemes, New Labour showed its complete hypocrisy by trying out a second version of them, the Education Action Zones. Which also collapsed due to lack of interest. Then, in 2000, David Blunkett announced his intention to launch the academy system, then dubbed ‘city academies’, in 2000 in a speech to the Social Market Foundation. Again, private entrepreneurs were expected to contribute £2 million of their money, for which they would gain absolute control of how the new school was to be run. The taxpayer would provide the rest. Again, there were problems finding appropriate sponsors. Big business again wouldn’t touch it, so the government turned instead to the lesser businessmen, like Peter Vardy, a car salesman and evangelical Christian. Other interested parties included the Christian churches, like the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, and evangelical educational bodies like the United Learning Trust. There were also a number of universities involved, such as the University of the West of England here in Bristol, and some sports organisations, like Bristol City Football club. Some private, fee-paying schools have also turned themselves into academies as away of competing with other private schools in their area.

Taxpayers Foot the Bill

While the sponsors are supposed to stump up £2 million, or in certain circumstances, more like £1.5 million, in practice this isn’t always the case. The legislation states that they can also pay ‘in kind’. Several have provided some money, and then provided the rest of their contribution with services such as consultation, estimated according to a very generous scale. For Beckett, this consists of the sponsors sending an aging executive to give his advice on the running of the new school. This particular individual may actually be past it, but the company can’t sack him. So they fob the new school off with him instead. Sometimes, no money changes hands. The Royal Haberdashers’ Society, one of the London livery companies, decided it was going to sponsor an academy. But it already owned a school on the existing site, and so did nothing more than give the site, generously estimate at several millions, to the new academy. Other companies get their money back in different ways, through tax rebates, deductions and the like.

But if the private sponsors are very wary about spending their money, they have absolutely no reservations about spending the taxpayer’s hard-earned moolah. An ordinary school costs something like £20 million to build. Academies cost more, often much more: £25 million, sometimes soaring to £37 million or beyond. Several of the businessmen sponsoring these academies have built massive monuments to their own vanity, using the services of Sir Norman Foster. Foster was, like Richard Rogers, one of the celebrity architects in favour with New Labour, whose ‘monstrous carbuncles’ (@ Charles Windsor) were considered the acme of cool. One of these was called ‘The Learning Curve’, and consisted of a long, curving corridor stretching across a quarter of mile, off which were the individual class rooms. Foster also built the Bexley Business Academy, a school, whose sponsor wanted to turn the pupils into little entrepreneurs. So every Friday was devoted exclusively to business studies, and the centrepiece of the entire joint was a mock stock exchange floor. The school also had an ‘innovative’ attitude to class room design: they only had three walls, in order to improve supervise and prevent bullying. In fact, the reverse happened, and the school had to spend more money putting them up.

Unsuitable Buildings

And some of the buildings designed by the academies’ pet architects are most unsuitable for the children they are supposed to serve. One academy decided it was going to get the local school for special needs children on its site. These were kids with various types of handicap. Their school was not certainly not failing, and parents and teachers most definitely did not want their school closed. But closed it was, and shifted to the academy. The old school for handicapped youngsters was all on the same level, which meant that access was easy, or easier, for those kids with mobility problems. The new school was on two floors. There was a lift, but it could only be used by pupils with a teacher. The parents told the sponsor and the new academy that they had destroyed their children’s independence. They were greeted with complete incomprehension.

HM School ‘Belmarshe’

In other academies, conditions for the sprogs are more like those in a prison. One of the schools, which preceded an academy on its site, had a problem with bullying. The new academy decided to combat that problem, by not having a playground. They also staggered lunch into two ‘brunch breaks’, which were taken at different times by different classes. These are taken in a windowless cafeteria. The result is a joyless learning environment, and the school has acquired the nickname ‘Belmarshe’, after the famous nick.

Book Review: The Great City Academy Fraud – Part 4

July 13, 2016

Academy Fraud Pic

Francis Beckett (London: Continuum 2007)

Academies: A Lesson in Failure

Beckett makes it very clear that academies are a failed policy. They don’t bring the improvements they are touted as bringing, and the scale of their failure is shown by the way that New Labour was determined to change, expand and prop up the system. They were originally intended to improve and turn around failing schools. That has stopped, as they are now the preferred choice for building schools. The ‘city’ part of their names has also been dropped, as that was considered to link them too closely with failing inner city schools. So now they’re just ‘academies’. He states that they are an attack on the 1944 requirement of local authorities to provide education for all children in their areas. Local authorities are now required to ‘commission’ schools, not provide them directly or run them. He also cites a New Labour crib sheet to provide spin doctors with the answer they need for critics of the system, which states that they are to take schools out of the control of Local Education Authorities, which are to be destroyed.

The Return of the 11 Plus

He wonders why the system is being promoted, when it is so obviously a failure. He speculates that, apart from undermining the 1944 education act, it serves another purpose: the return of channelling the less able into vocational education. He notes that before the abolition of the 11 Plus, the educationally able were supposed to go to grammar schools, while the less academically gifted went to technical colleges to learn manual or technical trades. This is coming back, with some academies specialising in GNVQs for their less academically gifted pupils. The private school, which became an academy, meanwhile is definitely retaining GCSEs, and will specialise in languages. So it’s effectively hanging on to its grammar school status, even if it is not, technically, a grammar school any longer.

Beckett states that the return of vocational education and what is effectively the 11 plus is not a policy any socialist party can openly admit to pursuing, and so Blair was bringing it in through the back door of the academies.

What Should Replace Them?

In the last chapter, he discusses what should replace academies. He acknowledges that they were set up to answer a real need – that of failing schools, some of which were in appalling conditions. He argues that there is a need to reform and abolish Local Education Authorities. There are too many of them, and some of them are very small, too small to be effective. Furthermore, less and less power and importance is being given to local authorities anyway, and education is just one of a number of services local councils provide. But he is impressed with how much people care about education, and how much time and energy local people invest in their schools. He therefore argues for the creation of Local Education Councils, whose members are democratically elected, with wide powers over the schools in their areas, and which are outside the stifling tangle of local government regulations. These LECs may choose to approach sponsors, but they would have ultimate control over the schools, not the other way around, as it is now with academies.

My own feeling is that academies are being promoted for much more cynical reasons by the industrial and political elites. They give power to industry, which then gives money to the political parties. It’s another part of the corporatist corruption of politics in Britain and also in America, as many of the companies seeking to set up academies over here, were also involved in setting up charter schools up on the other side of the Pond. Those angling to get a cut of the action in the academy chains include one Rupert Murdoch, through his sideline in educational publishing (don’t laugh).

Academies and Nicky Morgan’s Lies

This mess needs to be cleaned out, and cleaned out now. No new academies are to be built, and I fully agree with Beckett that ways need to be explored to return those that have been to full state control. They are a massive failure. So far 25 academy chains this year have had to be taken over by the state. But you wouldn’t know that from Thick Nicky Morgan’s interview on the Beeb, where she consistently refused to answer his question, and just kept repeating what she’d been told about how unfair it was to keep failing schools open and deny parents the opportunity of seeing their children succeed in an academy. As we’ve seen, this is rubbish. Parent’s ain’t presented with a choice so much as a command: you will get an academy, whether you like it or not.

It’s high time to throw out academies, and the Blairites and Tories with them.

The Teacher’s Strike and Questionable Superiority of Independent Schools

July 5, 2016

Today teachers in some schools were going on strike in protest against Thicky Nicky’s proposed academisation of the state school system. The woman with the mad, staring eyes had originally wanted to turn all of Britain’s schools into academies, run by private education companies outside the control of the Local Education Authorities. She’s been forced to go back on this, so that not all schools will be so transformed. Nevertheless, she still wishes more schools were handed over to private sector management.

It’s another massively daft idea, which Mike has debunked several times over at Vox Political. He’s reblogged statistic after statistic and diagram after diagram showing how schools managed by the LEAs perform better and recover quicker from poor performance than either free schools or academies. But this goes by the wayside, as it contradicts over three decades of Thatcherite orthodoxy, which insists that private industry, responding to the free market, automatically knows how to run institutions and concerns better than state managers or educational professionals. As shown by the fact that Howling Mad Morgan herself has never stood in front of a chalkboard trying to teach a group of youngsters, well, just about anything. Like pretty much just about the rest of the Tory party, with the exception of Rhodes Boyson, one of Maggie’s education ministers, who had actually been a teacher.

The Tories’ and New Labour’s entire approach to education is thoroughly wrong. Rather than bringing educational standards down, LEAs and similar state regulators and inspectors in the private sector have been responsible for raising them, including in independent schools. In the 19th century, these varied massively in quality, and it was only with the foundation of the LEAs circa 1902 that standards began to improve and the very worst were forced to close. In the 1960s the numbers of independent schools were expected to decline even further. They didn’t, because the supplied a niche market for ambitious parents wishing to get their children into the elite grammar schools. This is all stated very clearly in S.J. Curtis’ and M.E.A. Boultwood’s An Introductory History of English Education Since 1800, 4th Edition (Foxton: University Tutorial Press 1970). They write:

During the last century [the 19th] schools varied greatly in efficiency. the Newcastle Commission sharply criticised a large number of them. At that time there was no legal obstacle to prevent any individual from opening a school in his own house, even if he possessed no qualification nor experience in teaching. Some of the cases singled out by the Commissioners seem almost inconceivable to a modern reader. These schools were not open to inspection, unless they asked for it, and the inefficient ones were not likely to do this. The Report of the Newcastle Commission gives numerous instances of the terrible conditions which were encountered when the Commissioners visited the worst types of private school. They reported: “When other occupations fail for a time, a private school can be opened, with no capital beyond the cost of a ticket in the window. Any room, however small and close, serves for the purpose; the children sit on the floor, and bring what books they please; whilst the closeness of the room renders fuel superfluous, and even keeps the children quiet by its narcotic effects. If the fees do not pay the rent, the school is dispersed or taken by the next tenant”. The mistresses were described as “generally advanced in life, and their school is usually their kitchen, sitting and bedroom”. The room “was often so small that the children stand in a semicircle round the teacher. Indeed, I have seen the children as closely packed as birds in a nest, and tumbling over each other like puppies in a kennel”.

The mistresses and masters would not be tolerated for one moment at the present day “None are too old, too poor, too ignorant, too feeble, too sickly, too unqualified in one or every way, to regard themselves, and to be regarded by others, as unfit for school-keeping – domestic servants out of place, discharged barmaids, vendors of toys or lollipops, keepers of small eating-houses, of mangles, or of small lodging houses, needlewomen who take on plain or slop work, milliners, consumptive patients in an advanced stage, cripples almost bedridden, persons of at least doubtful temperance, outdoor paupers, men and women of seventy and even

Evan as late as 1869, one school was described as being held “in a small low room, in aback court. There were forty-four boys of ages varying from four to fourteen. In the middle sat the master, a kindly man, but a hopeless cripple, whose lower limbs appeared to be paralysed, and who was unable to stand up. The boys formed a dense mass around him, swaying irregularly backwards and forwards, while he was feebly protesting against the noise. In a corner the wife was sitting minding the six or eight youngest children”. One wonders what kind of education the pupils received…(pp. 301-2).

The Commissioners came straight to the point when they offered an explanation for the popularity of private schools. To send a child to one of these institutions was a mark of respectability: “the children were more respectable and the teachers more inclined to fall in with the wishes of the parents. The latter, in choosing such schools for their children, stand in an independent position, and are not accepting a favour from their social superiors”. In fact, the motives of the parents could be summed up in the one word “snobbery”. (p. 302)

This was when many other countries, such as the Netherlands, Prussia and Switzerland, had a good school systems and a much higher literacy rate than in England.

Nevertheless, a sequence of reforms began in which good schools began to receive state grants and qualifications were issued to those wishing to teach. Schools also began to be inspected and the worst closed. Further reforms began with the education act of 1944, which opened up independent schools to state inspection.

The Government did not contemplate the closing of efficient private schools. The Act of 1944 directed the Minister of Education to appoint a Registrar of Independent Schools who should keep a register of them. Certain schools which were already recognised as efficient secondary schools, and some preparatory and private schools which had previously been inspected, were exempt from registration. A school found to be inefficient because of inadequate buildings, or an unqualified staff, or for some other grave reason, could be removed from the register. The proprietor was given the right of appeal to an Independent Schools’ Tribunal consisting of a chairman appointed by the Lord Chancellor from the legal profession and two other members appointed by the Lord President of the Council from persons who possessed teaching or administrative experience. No officials, either of the Ministry or of a L.E.A. are eligible for appointment.

This section of the Act could not be brought into operation at once because of the shortage of H.M.I.s and difficulties as regards building materials and labour and the lack of teachers, which made it unreasonable that schools should be required to remedy their deficiencies within a fixed time. By March 1949 the situation had eased, and the inspection of independent schools began and continued at the rate of about 150 a month. By 1957, the Ministry had recognised 1,450 independent schools as efficient, and it was considered that this section of the Act could be put into force completely. In July of that year, proprietors were notified that they would be required to register their schools by 31 March 1958. The registration was provisional, and its continuance depended upon the kind of report rendered by the inspectors after their visit. During 1957, 145 schools were closed, of which 138 were of recent origin and which had become known to the Ministry for the first time. This is a comment on the strictness with which earlier regulations had been enforced.

It was expected that the number of private schools would rapidly decrease after 1944, but this did not happen. The reason was that many middle-class parents were faced with a difficult problem. Their children could not obtain entry to a grammar school unless they were qualified through the grammar school selection test at eleven plus. The only other way open to them was through a public or direct grant school, and these had a long waiting list. Competition was so keen that few children who failed to pass the grammar school entrance test would be considered. The result was that a number of private schools which offered an education similar to that given by the grammar school came into existence. The necessity of registration and inspection guaranteed their efficiency. Moreover, some primary schools, run by private teachers who were qualified, opened their doors to young children whose parents were anxious for them to pass the selection test. (p. 304).

I’ve also heard from talking to friends of mine that many of the smaller public schools in the 19th and early 20th century, such as those depicted in the Billy Bunter comic of a certain vintage, were in a very precarious economic position. They depended very much on fee-paying parents, and could not offer any more than a mere handful of free places to pupils or risk bankruptcy.

And instead of raising standards for schools, successive right-wing administrations from Thatcher’s onwards have actually lowered them. You don’t need a teaching qualification to teach at a private school. And the impression I’ve had that in order to make privately operated schools economically viable, the government has allowed them to make pay and conditions actually worse for the teaching and ancillary staff.

So the evidence, historical and based on contemporary statistics and conditions, points to academies actually being less efficient, and providing our children with a worse education than schools managed by the LEAs. But what’s this when measured against Thatcherite orthodoxy, and the need to provide a lucrative income stream to fat cat donors in the academy chains.

Brexit’s Depressing Effect on West Country Schoolchildren

June 29, 2016

This is really sad. One of the ladies at my local church is a school governor. She told us today that she’d been in one of the local schools in Somerset, which has a high number of foreign pupils. She said that they children were extremely sad and upset, with some almost in tears, by the ‘Brexit’ vote. The children so upset included not just those from outside the UK, but also their British friends and classmates. They felt that no-one wanted them.

I realise that some will sneer at this anecdote as just another piece of sentimentalising, and disparaging compare it to all the other times somebody has implored people to ‘think of the children’ before voting for a particular liberal policy. But this shows the devastating effect the ‘Leave’ vote has had on young people in our schools. These children are our countries future, and our actions in this will shape their attitudes and perceptions towards Europe and the rest of the British public, the public that has seemingly betrayed them.

And its not just schoolkids who’ve been depressed and demoralised by it. One of my neighbours is a headmistress. They are the true educational professionals that Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan decided shouldn’t be in charge of education, but unelected private companies instead. And my neighbour was also bitterly furious at the decision.

Our schoolchildren, whether indigenous Brits or foreign-born, have been deal a harsh blow by Brexit. I hope we can either find ways to fight against the Brexit decision, so that we can have a second referendum, which will show whether Britain truly and unambiguously wants to leave the EU, or else ameliorate its effects. And we need desperately to fight the rising tide of racism that has come with the success of the ‘Leave’ campaign.