If you read the press and internet media at the moment you might be fooled into thinking that Labour haven’t got much of a prayer in Thursday’s election.This BBC report BBC News – Election 2010: Party leaders step up campaigning shows the papers lining up behind the Tories for the most part , and for a change a few – notably the Guardian backing the Lib-Dems. Only the Mirror remains loyal to Labour. The more openly pro-Tory outlets - notably the Telegraph now crowing about the probability of David Cameron being PM come Thursday and smugly touting his divine right to be just that David Cameron: born to be prime minister – Telegraph
So I say – don’t you believe it. There’s never been much press support for Labour – and what there has has been largely done in order to gain readers – notably in the Sun. The Guardian has been more Labour friendly – but certainly no sycophant campaigner for the party, and I am sure will continue to print articles both supportive and critical of broadly left wing politics (including the Lib-Dems) – I won’t be boycotting it any more than I’ll be stopping talking to friends who vote differently to the way I do – they’re entitled to their opinion.
The real danger from the media to Labour though would appear to be led by Rupert Murdoch (apparently in concert with other news outlets) who now appear to be openly campaigning, rather than making any pretext of reporting balanced news.
There’ll be some who believe it – maybe they’ll go and vote Conservative.
There’ll also be many who, like me, will simply switch off their ears and eyes to their barrage of attacks on the Labour Party. To paraphrase the words of Alistair Campbell said last week – I don’t give a damn about your polls or biased reporting.
Let’s have quick look though at one of the things that does get reported a great deal : Opinion Polls
According to UK Polling Report the latest opinion polls over the last few days show the Tories’ lead over Labour to be variously 7% ,7%, 9% ,6% ,7% ,12%, 8% , 7%, 10%, 5%,6%
Such bad, bad news for Labour – It must be true I read it in the Daily Mail.
So what can I do ?
I could whinge on about reliability and comparing like with like and sample size, and misleading margins of error – blah, blah.
Or I could do what Sky news want me to and get all depressed about them and give up the will to support Labour
Or … I could look back to my post All to fight for in the General Election « Northernheckler’s Blog on the 24th of January when Labour supporters were virtually dancing in the streets after a supposedly “rogue” poll gave the Conservatives a lead of only 9%.
Well clearly Labour is polling a lot better than that in most polls now.
Throw in to the bargain the reported rise in Lib Dem popularity – the Tory lead over them in the above polls is as low as 2% in some – which may or may not benefit Labour or Conservative, but certainly makes everything that little bit less predictable.
And lets not forget either the video I embedded in that post of Neil Kinnock appearing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on the eve of the 92 election, which even John Major thought he’d lost (He won ! )
So I ask myself “Can we win this election for Labour ?” – and just looking at the difference between January and now, my answer has to be :
“Yes we can !”
This morning I came across this image of the world, sent via Twitter. Yfrog – u6c – Uploaded by tjerubbaal
It intrigued me – it shows areas of the world scaled according to their overall Government debt, and coloured according to the debt as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product. It carried the caption from Twitter user @tjerubbaal “Truly disturbing image: are you paying attention @conservatives, @labour, @libdems? Tinkering won’t work.”
The poster is clearly not making a party political point – not between the three main parties anyway. Which is what intrigues me – because I feel quite strongly that the understanding of this issue, is at the heart of the difference between the Labour party and the Conservative party at the current time.
Forget about whether you understand the diagram or not – it’s not particularly easy to comprehend. Just know this – the debt which the country has taken on really is large – as @tjerubbaal points out – some might say disturbing. There’s no dispute amongst the political parties about that.
You could be forgiven though, if you’ve been reading the popular press, or listening to the Conservative election campaign, that this has come about from some bungling incompetence by Gordon Brown & his chancellor Alistair Darling. You would be wrong. the scale of the debt is intentional – and marks the dividing line between the philosophies of the two major UK parties.
The tradition in recent years among Conservatives has been in favour of light touch Government – ‘small government’ as it’s now being sold. The idea being that the key players in the world’s and the nation’s affairs will effectively manage things with least intervention (interference ?) from outsiders like Governments. The ‘market’ we are told will self regulate – it will have times of lean and times of plenty – in Labour-speak times of boom and of bust. The wise prepare for this, and put by in times of plenty/boom to see them through in the lean/bust years.
This approach carries a certain logical appeal. It has a simplistic fairness, but it is harsh because in lean times, the people who suffer the most are the people who are least able to put aside plenty in the boom years – not the entrepreneurs, landowners, and businessmen – but the workers who work for those people. This was the case in the early 1980′s when Margaret Thatcher argued “There is no alternative !” and allowed market forces to work through the hardship of a recession, meaning millions of people faced mid to long term unemployment.
It also has the disadvantage that, as we have seen recently, the market doesn’t always work well in regulating itself, and there are those operating within the market, who take reckless risks, which put the prosperity of whole nations at risk.
The new Labour approach, under the Blair & Brown government, embraced some aspects of the Conservative free market approach. Labour realised that the nation as whole tended to benefit from being a prosperous trader – but sought to smooth out the cyclical peaks and troughs of a totally free market approach, whilst allowing the market to benefit the economy. (It is a significant shift from a traditional socialist approach).
No return to boom and bust was Gordon Brown’s mantra as chancellor – one which is now often ridiculed.
It was however a highly successful approach – but it fell foul of a factor over which no chancellor can truly have control – the UK economy is not isolated from the World economy. We can dampen the effects of the outside world, we can ignore them for a time, but ultimately we are interdependent with the economies of every other nation, and we are prone to the booms and busts of their economies as well as our own.
As Gordon Brown yesterday acknowledged one of the errors which was made was to grant the financial institutions too much freedom, and provide too little intervention (interference ?) in their affairs. BBC News – Brown admits he made a mistake over bank regulation . The unfettered actions of those institutions then led in large part to the Global recession from which we are now slowly recovering.
For the Conservatives then to blame Gordon Brown for the recession is grossly unfair – in the first place the errors to which he admits, are ones which any Conservative chancellor would have been clamouring for – small Government, free market, and giving business the opportunity to manage its own affairs. These are actually the self same philosophies which the Conservatives wish to re-impose.
Secondly to blame Gordon Brown for the actions of banks, because he didn’t regulate them is akin to blaming householders, who didn’t have the right locks or alarm systems for having their house burgled. Sure they could have made things more difficult for the burglars – but the blame lies with the house breakers. Similarly, whether regulated or not, financial institutions in Britain and around the world, took irresponsible actions which have affected everyone.
Personally though I don’t feel it’s helpful to apportion blame – we are where we are. What is important is how we react to this. This brings us back to the debt which Gordon Brown has incurred.
Margaret Thatcher said “There is no alternative”. (There is no alternative – Wikipedia, )
She was wrong – Gordon Brown has shown this. His actions have been taken to dramatically reduce the impact of the recession, to prevent long term mass unemployment, to keep the economy active, and to put off the difficulties of repaying to a time when the nation will be more easily able to bear it.
The Conservatives still argue that this is wrong. That things should be left to take their course, and massive cuts in public spending should be imposed as soon as possible in order to hasten the economic recovery – but that this is the only way that recovery can happen. The mass unemployment and prolonged economic hard ship for many are seen as the price that has to be paid.
Whilst blaming Gordon Brown for the recession may be unfair, the Conservatives’ criticism of his borrowing to tackle the recession is not without logic. Their policy is philosophically defensible.
It is however a philosophy to which I do not subscribe, and which I feel is morally reprehensible.
So be in no doubt – that huge debt that is illustrated in the diagram in the link above is not there by accident. It’s there because there is an alternative, and that alternative has protected us from the worst ravages of the recession – which may well still come back to bite us if we are foolish enough to elect a Tory government on May 6th.
[ Just as a test I've got Labour's Eddie Izzard election video - let me know if you can't see it ]
A little over a week ago I was present to hear Conservative MP & Shadow Minister for Schools Nick Gibb address an invited audience – largely made up of Head teachers, Chairs of Governors, and others with an involvement in schools, at Glaziers Hall, in London, courtesty of solicitors Winckworth Sherwood Winckworth Sherwood – Tories aim to boost ‘prestige and esteem’ of teaching
He presented a short outline of future plans for “Schools under the Conservatives”.
His talk focussed on structure and standards, with some of the key points arising being:
- the introduction of new “not-for-profit” providers who will establish schools using the academy model; plans are already under way under the New Schools Network;
- the extension of academy status to other schools who wish to obtain it;
- planning laws are to be altered to facilitate the establishment of new schools;
- school heads are to be given more freedom, with powers being devolved to them; the right to appeal against exclusions to the local independent appeal panel is to be abolished;
- there will be no “voucher” system and there are no plans to curtail the admissions current code;
- BSF schemes which have reached financial close will be guaranteed but there could be no guarantee for other schemes given the current national budget situation.
(abstract e-mailed to me by Winckworth Sherwood)
Now I’m no Tory – and it’s perhaps to be expected that I wasn’t overly impressed, but having mulled this over for a while, I started to come round to thinking that what was lacking from these proposals was not so much content, as a little bit of enthusiasm. There is actually plenty in there to make voters sit up and think – if only it was presented more enticingly.
It’s not about chucking out the progress that Labour has made; and it does promise a fairly radical expansion of the academies scheme – which although many on the left oppose, is seen by a large number of voters as a positive development.
It also puts paid to the voucher system – thus demonstrating that there’s no lurch to the right, and that if independent providers want to educate pupils from the state sector then they’ll need to run state schools – again a fair bit of “progressive” thinking- especially considering that this is the Conservative Party
Whether you like those ideas or not, there should be plenty there to sell to the electorate.
I do think the abandonment of BSF would be a disaster – and feel that this could possibly be challenged in law – but to be fair, I’m not exactly part of the Tories’ core vote strategy – and this policy is in line with their plans for radical spending cuts sooner rather than later. No matter how I disagree with them, there’s clearly a consistency with their wider aims there.
Of course since then there have been all kinds of hiccups for the Conservatives – criticism of the campaign, narrowing poll leads, the furore over Lord Ashcroft’s tax status etc.
I was nevertheless shocked to read Michael Gove’s proposals for education on the Times website today Gove unveils Tory plan for return to ‘traditional’ school lessons – Times Online – coming a mere 10 days after I’d heard Nick Gibb spell out a very different picture.
Now Michael Gove – Shadow Secretary of State for Children – says they’re going to :
- Instruct children to learn poetry by heart , in a return to a “traditionalist” education, with children sitting in rows, learning the kings and queens of England, the great works of literature, proper mental arithmetic, algebra by the age of 11, and modern foreign languages.
- Rewrite the national curriculum to restore past methods of teaching history, English, maths and science
- Teach History “in order” – as a narrative
- Put more emphasis on the classics in English classes
Mr Gove says that Teachers entering the profession “don’t love abstract thinking skills”, but that “what draws people into teaching is that they love history or physics, and they want to communicate that love“
He goes on “A lot of the ‘great tradition’ is locked in a cupboard marked ‘too difficult’ and that’s quite wrong. I’ve been talking to the RSC about bringing Shakespeare into primary schools,”
Mr Gove asserts that “Most parents would rather their children had a traditional education, with children sitting in rows, learning the kings and queens of England”
I don’t know how he knows this – certainly it’s not what I want as a parent, not that anyone’s ever asked me.
It does all rather remind me though of another chapter in Conservative education. A period between 1992 and 1994 in which the then Education Secretary John Patten wrote to all teachers in state schools extolling the virtues of formal “traditional” teaching – sitting in rows, as researched by one Neville Bennett in his work ” Teaching Styles and Pupil Progress blissfully unaware that most if not all qualified teachers had studied Bennett’s work – and also knew of his later work in which he cast doubt over his original findings.
It was a difficult time for the Conservatives – the approach to education being part of the wider “Back to Basics” campaign. There’s lots of stuff out there on the Internet to read about it - make a start with the Wikipedia entry Back to Basics – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia which commences thus :
“Back to Basics was an ill-fated attempt to relaunch the government of British Prime Minister John Major in 1993…
… the initiative was intended to focus on issues of law and order, education and public probity (especially single mothers) … was widely interpreted as a moral campaign, and hence was ridiculed by political opponents”
So – when the going gets tough, it would appear that the Tories lurch to the right, and go back to the tried and tested. Except that when it was tested – it failed miserably and disastrously.
If this is Michael Gove’s honest approach to Education policy, then it is sadly misguided, and frankly more than a little stupid.
The Tories election campaign is rapidly becoming a train wreck