(Sorry but I had to move the video – I couldn’t stop it playing automatically on following blogs – Click on the link above or vist Pete Bower’s blog for the original – I know it’s a pain !)
I originally missed this post :
This man could be a brilliant Labour leader
on Peter Bower’s “Pete’s Politics” blog the other day – and also missed the speech by Gordon Brown which it features.
In my own post yesterday about whether Labour can win a 4th term in office, I mentioned John Major’s election victory in 1992. One of the factors in his victory that was cited was that he was seen regularly standing quite literally on a ‘soap box’ with his shirt sleeves rolled up, talking passionately to the public about what he believed in.
Neil Kinnock meanwhile held the celebration rally BEFORE the victory, and left us with the immortal soundbite “Well AAAALL right !, Well AAAALL right !, Well AAAALL right !”
Well I’m not saying that Gordon Brown should literally get on a soap box, (and I’m certainly not saying he should be ordering the balloons for the victory party yet) but the speech in this video is the speech of a natural born leader not a lame duck. If it can be engineered so that Gordon Brown is regularly seen in the public eye talking as passionately, intelligently and with as much skill as he is in this video, then he will radically shorten the odds on a Labour victory at the next General Election.
It’s achievable – but it’s going to be a long hard slog.
If you’ve been watching the political twittersphere since the Norwich North by-election, and probably before, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the next general election is in the bag for the Tories and a lost cause for Labour.
But is it ?
Well no it’s not. There are some fairly recent precedents for saying that. Seasoned hacks may will recall Margaret Thatcher being extremely unpopular at a time when the newly formed Social Democratic Party – headed by the Gang of Four, were streets ahead in the polls. We just couldn’t wait for the election.
But what happened ? Well General Galtieri invaded the Falkland Islands, and Margaret Thatcher invoked the blitz spirit in order to get them back and secure a Conservative government until 1997. Hell it seems had perhaps not quite frozen over – but it was pretty chilly.
Wind forward to 1992, and Thatcher’s successor as both Tory leader and PM – John Major did not it seemed have a cat in hell’s chance against the slick camapaign run by Neil Kinnock. At the time I had a friend working in Conservative Central Office, who even as the votes were half counted was still under the impression that the Conservatives had lost – but they hadn’t. What went wrong ? Who knows – with hindisght we can see that there was a gradual swing over several elections and that the victory which never happened wasn’t quite the potential walk over it seemed.
So what of Brown’s chances. Well while it’s fair to say that a hell of a lot could happen to change the way things look between now and next May. But it is clutching at straws a bit. Short of ending the recession by October, getting the world cup brought forward to April and England winning, and the entire shadow cabinet being convicted of armed robbery – it’s difficult to see what random act of political astonishment will save his bacon.
No – it will have to come from hard slog and convincing people not to vote for the opposition.
How will he do it ? Well it beats me – but one thing I’m certain of, is that it won’t be by lurching to the left.
There are plenty of voices out there amongst the labour bloggerati ready to denounce the Blairite tendency, and speaking of New Labour as the spawn of the devil.
But let’s face facts – to be electable – and to be fair and equitable – Labour must be supportable by all sections of society – not narrowly defined sections such as the “poor” or the “working class” – but everyone who believes in fairness and a just society.
New Labour is no longer new – it’s just a not so old version of old Labour, and for voters who’ll be voting for the first time in the next General Election, there’s no Brownite or Blairite either – there’s just Labour (oh and don’t forget the other parties – these voters have no brand loyalty to our party).
If you exclude what some would call the “middle classes” then you exclude all those people who’ve spent the years since 1997 prospering and becoming part of those classes.
Contrary to what the Tories would have you believe there are quite a lot. I’m one of them – I was brought up in a council house in the heavy woollen district and am now living in the leafy home counties, commuting every day to London where I earn what I’m told is one of the top 5% of salaries in the country. Should make a good story for a Tory supporter I guess, maybe I should vote for them.
Like hell I will – I’ve succeeded because of the measures put in place by Labour Governments – the NHS, access to education, Universities – and so on and so forth. And I’d probably have done better if it hadn’t been for the Tories making me spend a year on the dole in the early 80′s.
So I’m not turning my back on Labour – but I can’t pretend that I’m working class anymore – and I don’t want Labour turning it’s back on me. I’d go so far as to say that even using expressions like “working class” and “middle class” is so counterproductive now as to be inadvisable. Such language pitches us into ground where Tories can accuse us of the politics of envy – and they have some degree of justification for that.
I don’t want to stop other people doing well for themselves – I just want everyone to have the same opportunity to do so, and to make sure that other people don’t suffer because of the prosperity of a small group of privileged individuals.
So somehow Gordon Brown, and his government has to get that across – Labour is for everyone – and everyone can be for Labour. Maybe I’ll blog later about how he might give it a go.
In the mean time I wish him luck – and hope that I can help !
I don’t often agree with the Conservatives – but this time I did – I’m writing this in the hope that it will stimulate a little thought and perhaps encourage Labour to make it plain that they are every bit as committed to these issues as David Cameron.
I felt that David Cameron’s article outlining his position with regard to provision for children with disabilities for the Independent on Thursday was a very important one.
Of course I would do – I’ve spent my whole career working in special schools – but I feel that the article has far wider importance – and signals an attempt to place the politics of disability centre stage, as we approach a general election.
If so then he has made a very good start. He rings most of the bells which families of disabled children, and those working with those children want to hear.
He also has a personal interest through his own personal experience as parent of his child Ivan who sadly died recently. The authenticity with which he relates that experience will certainly ring true with many parents and carers. I applaud his article – and hope that it kicks off a wider debate about the issues which he raises.
What I’d like to do is to look briefly at each of the 5 areas which he raises, and state how and why I’d like to go further :
Lesson 1 : The importance of early intervention and help : The next Conservative government is going to increase radically the number of health visitors
It’s hard to disagree with this – but I’d go further – we also need therapeutic input – Physios, OT’s, Psychologists and Speech & Language therapists as well.
David quite rightly tells us of the trauma which parents suffer on finding out that their children are disabled. Much of the help provided, will need to be as much for parents as for their children.
There’s no mention of who will pay for this radical increase in health visitor numbers – but I for one will not be picking holes in his suggestion.
Lesson 2 : Life for parents of disabled children is complicated enough : a crack team of medical experts – doctor, nurse, physio – [should] act as a one-stop-shop to assess families and get them the help they need.
Well he’s absolutely right about the complications – the politics of statements, about who does what, which number to ring for what service, who pays for which piece of equipment. It’s ridiculous – parents should be able to access one point of contact to deal with all of their issues. My own feeling (and I freely admit to my bias) is that this should be via the schools.
I do like the idea of a “crack team” – and I certainly endorse the “one-stop shop”. I’d caution against seeing disability as a primarily medical issue though. Some disabilities can be of course, but many are educational, psychological, and sociological in nature and the professional input most needed is often not a doctor or nurse at all. In fact a side effect of viewing disabilities as a medical issue, is that it can encourage the view that the disabled person is “ill” – and the corollary that they can be “cured” – which almost by definition is unlikely to be the case.
I’d suggest actually that in many cases these “crack teams” already exist, which is not to say they can’t be improved. One suggestion I would certainly like to see is the re-introduction of specifically trained teachers in the education of children with special educational needs.
I wonder how many people reading this think that teachers in Special Schools for example, had specialist training in order to teach there ? Well some do of course (me for one) – but the last courses leading to qualified teacher status, and specialising in “Special Needs Education” closed their doors in 1989. Most teachers in special schools are mainstream trained teachers with no prior specialist training. I think it’s time we did something about that.
Lesson 3 : we’ve got to make it easier for parents to get the right education for children with disabilities we’re going to stop the closure of special schools and give parents more information and greater choice
If I could change one thing in the world of special education it would be the way in which disputes are settled with respect to special educational needs provision. I could write a book about it – and I’ll blog another time about the specific frustrations of securing out of placements in the specialist independent sector – but briefly here’s the problem :
The local authority has the responsibility to meet the needs of a child with a statement of special educational needs. The statement is a relatively complex legal document (especially if you’ve never seen one before – which most parents haven’t) – which is drawn up by the local authority. It has to be agreed by the parents, and reviewed annually, and any dispute can ultimately be decided by a Special Needs Tribunal under the auspices of SENDIST.
Problems are usually sorted before that – but sometimes not. It can be a tough situation though.
I wouldn’t wish an educational tribunal on my worst enemy. They are heavy going even for seasoned professionals. For parents with no experience of taking on the great and the good, and worried about their children’s future they can be daunting in the extreme.
Like David Cameron, I want this situation to be improved and I suggest the following :
- SENDIST tribunals to be replaced with a non-adversarial arbitration and conciliation services, which provides a free advisory service to parents – and if necessary to local authorities.
- The removal from local authorities of the financial burden of funding non-maintained and independent special school places. This funding to be handled by regional bodies, drawing an averaged amount from LA budgets, allowing LA’s to reach decisions on suitability of placements on a purely needs driven basis.
The thinking behind the closure of special schools is a complex and philosophical one. I’m certainly encouraged that David Cameron appears to be in favour of a special school provision – but do remember : Most children with special educational needs, can and should be educated in main stream schools.
As of course they are. Some would do better in special schools though – but the nuances of where we draw the lines, how we decide who is placed where, though tiny in the national picture, are huge life changing decisions for some young people and their families. It is an area that certainly would benefit from further public debate.
I’d like to see :-
- A national review of LA policies on special school versus mainstream special needs provision, basing outcomes not on ideology, but as far as practicable on the choices of young people and their families, and the needs of individuals not populations.
Lesson 4 : Like all other carers, parents need a break.
Respite care is such a massive need for families with disabled children. It must become a major priority. Like David I feel that the voluntary sector will undoubtedly be key agents in addressing this need – but let’s not undervalue it – and if funds are needed they should be allocated.
Lesson 5 : “Here is the total budget for you or your child, you choose how it’s broken down.”
This is of course already happening for some –but not for others. I love this approach because it’s radical and progressive – in some respects extremely right wing, in others extremely left wing – it doesn’t matter. It’s an idea that is about enabling the most powerless, vulnerable, and disenfranchised people in society to make directly the decisions that will improve their lives and give them control over what happens to them. Get on the case Labour – and tell the world what we’re doing towards this !
If I was to offer a few words of caution, they would be to look at who really makes the decisions in the end – is it the parents, the person with the disabilities – or is it someone else ? Parent’s don’t always choose the things for their children that their children would choose for themselves. If you’re an able bodied teenager you tend to find that out and make yourself heard and make your choices accordingly. If you’re a severely disabled teenager you might not be able to make your feelings heard quite so easily.
In a similar way parents of disabled children are not necessarily skilled in managing the responsibilities of spending delegated budgets to meet their children’s needs – and may need help.
I hope I’ve given a brief hint of how I feel about these issues – and that it may stimulate a little debate elsewhere – hopefully within the Labour party – about these important issues. I’ve tried not get bogged down in detail – but if this article is a little on the long side it’s because I could literally write a book on each of these 5 “lessons” – they really do mean an awful lot, to an awful lot of people – who are still a tiny minority within our society.
I’d like to finish by drawing attention to a sixth area that David Cameron hasn’t covered : Our provision for children with disabilities is strong, but could be stronger. Yes – but many of them will need our services for their entire lives though, and there is a reality that provision beyond school age is no where near as intense in terms of either quality of frequency as that which they receive as children. I think this is a problem.
I’ll leave that one for people to think about.
This piece on “The Independent” website by David Cameron today (The five lessons I learned as the father of a disabled child) will resonate very powerfully with professionals working with disabled children, and with the parents of those children. Most of those people will agree with every word of it, and even those who don’t will agree with much of it.
I feel strongly that this is a powerful electoral battleground that the Conservatives are opening up, and hope sincerely that Labour responds in kind quickly and sensibly
I’m headteacher of a special school – and I’ll certainly be blogging on this in the next few days. Watch this space
For anyone who thinks David Cameron is cynically exploiting the sympathy value of his dead disabled son for a few votes – think again ! He has a well known history of championing the rights of people with learning difficulties in particular, not least in Oxfordshire where his constituency lies, and is one of only two politicians ever to have approached me as a head teacher to ask my opinion (long before he was leader by the way). The other was a certain Mr John Bercow – who I personally feel has a lot in common with David Cameron, and can’t understand what the Tories have against him. But what does a raving Socialist like me know !