Posts Tagged ‘Vox Politicals’

Beeb’s John Sweeney Attack Parliamentary Lobby System as Source of Fake News

November 14, 2019

Very interesting article in next week’s Radio Times for 16th-22nd November 2019. John Sweeney, a former journo with the Corporation’s Panorama, has written a piece attacking the parliamentary lobby system, ‘Time to name your sources’, on page 9. The subtitle states very clearly why he objects to it ‘Why are political reporters feeding us fake news?’

The article runs

As the country gears up for a general election, TV viewers and newspaper readers are being lied to from within a secretive system that reduces political journalists and Westminster correspondents to underbutlers, protects power and poisons our democracy. It’s called the lobby and its two most powerful players are a career psychopath (Conservative) and a neo-Stalinist (Labour).

The lobby was created after an Irish terrorist bomb in 1885 caused MPs to lock out the journalists who used to mingle freely inside Westminster. Reporters complained and a permitted few were allowed back, so long as they followed rule number one: when a source says a story is on lobby terms, you don’t identify that source.¬†

The lobby’s most elegant defender, Andrew Marr, wrote in his book, My Trade: A Short History of British Journalism, “Sophisticated social animals are necessarily hypocrites… who really wants to know less?”

But Marr wrote that before King Brexit turned everything it touched to Novichok. So where do those political stories based on anonymous oft-quoted “sources close to…” come from?

The PMS (the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman) is a many-headed beast, but one set of jaws is snapped by James Slack, who, as Nick Cohen pointed out in the The Spectator, in a previous life wrote the words underneath the infamous 2016 Daily Mail headline “Enemies of the People”, attacking three judges. Another set of jaws are those of Rob Oxley, Boris Johnson’s press secretary, but the sharpest teeth belong to “career psychopath” Dominic Cummings. David¬† called him that five years ago. It was an understatement.

Cummings, Slack and Oxley jointly and separately use reporters in the lobby system to tell unattributable whoppers while the system as a whole is given coverage by BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Sky and the papers. Veteran political reporter Peter Oborne nailed a series of lies about Brexit on “lobby terms” recently. Perhaps the most poisonous was the “lobby terms” claim, reported in the Mail on Sunday in October, that Remainers Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin and Hilary Benn were being investigated by the government because of their involvement with foreign powers. The story was a lie. The BBC, etc, didn’t tell that lie. But they prop up the system in which the lie could be told.

That system also encourages acquiescence among political hacks. If you don’t toe the line and ask awkward questions instead you are excluded from the regular drip-feed of anonymous briefings. It was reported that Boris Johnson when Foreign Secretary was considered a security risk by MI6 because of his dodgy private life. But has the lobby asked if Boris will launch an inquiry into himself? Nyet.

Another potential security risk is Jeremy Corbyn’s spin commissar, Seumas Milne. He oversees Labaour’s lobby operation but the system shields his shenanigans behind the arras. In 2014 Milne appeared on a panel at a summit in Sochi alongside Vladimir Putin. Milne, a former Guardian journalist, has in the past bigged up both Stalin and East Germany. Creepy.

Has the lobby asked Putin’s pal Milne if he is a security risk? Again, nyet.

In these toxic times, the lobby has become a lie factory. We need to scrappy “lobby terms”. If power speaks with a forked tongue, we need to know whose tongue it is that’s lying.

Okay, Sweeney’s correct to call out the lobby system. I’m irritated myself by stories that begin ‘sources close to the Prime Minister’ or ‘Ministers are considering’, as quite often this means that the source is sounding out a policy. And that policy is quite often something monstrous. I remember a story in the Sunday Express back in the early 1980s, when AIDS first appeared and everyone really was afraid it would decimate the global population like a new Black Death. It was so strongly associated with gays that a Beeb science documentary on it had the title ‘AIDS: The Gay Plague’. In this climate of fear, the Sunday Depress announced that ‘ministers’ – who were never named – were considering a radical solution to the problem. This was the construction of an ‘AIDS island’ following the Swedes’ example, where AIDS victims could be isolated and treated. It harkens back to the location of lazarettos – leper hospitals – on islands. But it was also frightening coming as it did from a government that had very far right tendencies and a reputation for aggressive homophobia. Maggie had just tried to introduce her law banning the positive teaching of homosexuality in schools. To many people, this seemed like the beginning of a campaign against homosexuals and the left which would end up with internment camps. The nightmare Fascist Britain of Alan Moore’s and Dave Lloyd’s V for Vendetta, running in the comic Warrior, seemed all too possible.

Others have also challenged the very close relationship between the press and the political class. When David Cameron was PM, it was pointed out that many leading journos, including editorial staff at the Guardian, I believe, also lived in Cameron’s village of Chipping Norton. Over on the other side of the Pond, some of the left-wing news shows on the Net, like The Young Turks, Sam Seder’s Majority Report and the David Pakman Show, have also commented on the way the press is content to parrot stories and claims by right-wing politicians, because they’re afraid that if they start challenging them, those politicians will simply stop talking to them and they’ll lose their stories. The result has been a decline in journalistic standards, as papers no longer attempt to hold politicos to account, but simply repeat their lines and lies. I’ve no doubt that this also partly accounts for the utter complicity of the press in repeating the claims and assumptions of the neoliberal right over here.

But this also doesn’t exonerate the Beeb. Despite the protestations of its political editor, the Beeb does platform right-wing figures over the left. Mike put up a graphic from Tory Fibs a few days ago, which showed very clearly how massively biased the Beeb was in its inclusion of figures and spokesmen for the right on its news shows and panels. Its newsroom is stacked full of Conservatives, like Nick Robinson, and Fiona Bruce and her producers on Question Time scarcely hide their right-wing bias. And the Beeb is still under investigation for the massive bias in its Panorama documentary on anti-Semitism in the Labour party.

The lobby system is a major part of the problem, but not the whole. The whole journalistic system and its cosy relationship with right-wing politicians is rotten, and needs to be overturned. And the Beeb is very much part of it.

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.