Northernheckler's Blog

A Yorkshireman's adventures in the big Smoke

Election Special

A coloured voting box

Did you vote yesterday ? You’re not alone !

I’ve decided I’m going to try and blog more often. Here’s my starter for 10 …

I’ve wrestled with my conscience about whether to vote in yesterday’s elections for Police Commissioners. It struck me right from the start that these elections would be marked by a mixture of total apathy, and by outright opposition. If I’d been keeping up to my blog I’d have been able to link to a previous post so that I could say “I told you so !”.

Well I didn’t keep up to my blog so I can’t, and I didn’t, but I could have.

It all seemed so obvious to me …

In the first instance,  the public simply don’t have the appetite for more ranks of elected officaldom. (As demonstrated by the widespread rejection of the option of having elected Mayors ). Democracy for the British people it would seem is about electing people with sufficient seniority to appoint other people that they choose on our behalf to do the donkey work for them.

And really, what’s wrong with that ?

I’m actually fine with that state of affairs.

Secondly – if you’re going to politicise any thing, then please do not make it the Police Force – it’s the last thing in the world that most people would want dominated by an elected official.

It feels very wrong in my own opinion – and also feels decidedly un-British. A bit like having a Sheriff in the Wild West.

I’m not actually sure where the idea came from – was it an issue in the general election ? If it was then I missed it. It seems we’ve had this wonderful idea dropped on us from on high – and unlike the idea of AV voting, and elected mayors, this time we weren’t given a choice of whether to accept this innovation to our democratic process – we were merely given the choice of who we wanted to do the job that had been invented.

Well I didn’t want anybody to do the job. OK – I’d prefer a Labour candidate. And I’d prefer any candidate that’s not part of a far right racist group. Really though – I’d prefer it if our time wasn’t wasted on this rubbish.

So what happened at the Ballot Boxes ?

Record low turnouts; very high numbers of spoiled ballots; and a high number of independents elected (it remains to be seen how many of them are well qualified ex-policemen, and how many are dangerous authoritarian nut cases – I’m hoping the former is the case).

We’ve also had the Electoral Commission announcing that it will launch an inquiry into the low turnouts, which they describe as “a concern for everyone who cares about democracy”.

So what does David “I’m in touch” Cameron have to say ?

David Cameron speaking after the election : “It takes time to explain a new post”

Well according to the BBC David Cameron said low turnout in a first-time election was expected. (which begs the question of why he didn’t address that before polling day). When told that ‘Numerous areas have confirmed turnouts ranging from 13-20%.’ – he said

“It takes time to explain a new post,” and he predicted voting numbers would be “much higher next time round”

What was that Prime Minister ? Next time ? Next time ? – are you having us on ?

I’m sorry Mr Cameron but you’ll have to do better than that.

Cast your minds back about a year – when various unions took ballots regarding strike action to protest against Government plans for public sector pensions.

A well reported one was this : Unison members vote for pension strike  which Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude responded to by calling on Unison members not to go ahead with a strike.

“Today’s Unison ballot received a very low turnout – with less than a third of their members even voting – which shows there is extremely limited support for the kind of strike action their union leaders want,”

So what he was saying was that despite the technical legitimacy of the mandate for strike action by Unison, they should not take the action because there was no ‘popular’ mandate – no ‘moral’ mandate if you prefer.

This on a vote of members who’d chosen to join the union, members who would not be bound by the result of the ballot; and who voted 78% to 22% in favour on a 29% turnout.

This equates to around 22.5% of the total eligible to vote. Admittedly it’s hardly overwhelming.

It stacks up well though compared to the Conservatives’ share of total possible votes in the 2010 general election – 26% – slightly more than 1 in 4 of the electorate.

And it looks very much like a landslide in comparison with the victory for new Conservative PCC  Matthew Ellis in Staffordshire. Mr Ellis described his share of the vote as “a decent mandate” – yet on the meagre 11.63% turnout his share of the vote amounted to just 6% of the electorate.

Rt Hon David Cameron, MP, Conservative Party l...

“You’ve all done very, very well !”

Mr Cameron when 6% is a decent mandate, then we have a problem. The process of appointing these commissioners needs, at the very least, to be suspended pending further parliamentary debate. While no one seriously questions the technical legitimacy of these elections, it’s clear that there is very little support for the new proposed Police Commissioners- how ill any one gain by imposing this measure on the public ?

Elsewhere all the elections went pretty much as expected. Two Labour holds in Manchester Central and Cardiff South & Penarth; from which precious little can be learned especially on the very low turnouts.

The turnout was more respectable in Corby where Labour’s Andy Sawford won with a large swing to Labour following semi-celeb Louise Mensch’s resignation recently.

It’s difficult to really divine what this means in national terms – it’s by no means an absolute death sentence for the Government – but it’s also still a pretty positive and healthy result for Labour.

What really struck me about the Corby by-election though was Louise Mensch staying

Louise Mensch MP, Corby and East Northamptonshire

Louise Mensch – It’s all about me ! (Photo credit: Stop Climate Chaos Coalition)

true to her media image by singularly failing to keep her gob shut.

Having ousted a Labour MP incumbent since 1997 at the 2010 general election, Louise handed a hard earned Conservative seat straight back to the opposition half way through the parliament. Perhaps she’d have thought today was a day to merely congratulate the victor, and offer some apology to the defeated Tory candidate.

Here’s what she said  :

Election result will not be a verdict on either Christine, or the Conservatives, but only on the decision I took to step down mid-term

Well get you Menschy !

Who the hell does she think she is ? Obviously she thinks she’s so important that the people of Corby will vote on no other issue other than her resignation – they won’t be bothered by the omnishambles of a Government, they won’t bother looking at what any of the candidates have to say – for any of the parties. No they’ll just be so furious at the loss of their darling Louise that they’ll take it out on her old party.

And with these words Louise once again illustrates that character trait running right through the Tory Party – the characteristically self-centred sense of superiority and elevated status which they feel is their entitlement. Perhaps if Louise had campaigned with Christine in Corby and told the pleb electorate to know their place and vote for who she told them to, then they might have won.

Finally we had the news of John Prescott failing in his bid to be elected as a Police Commissioner in Humberside. Conservative MP Robert Halfon exhorted to Twitter :

At least John Prescott didn’t get elected as Police Commissioner -#notalltoday’sTorynewsisbad

And yet even in this hashtag he is at least partially mistaken.

John Prescott’s defeat, was not achieved through the First Past the Post system. It was achieved through the AV system – that system that the country voted so overwhelmingly to reject, and which most of the Tory Party (including Robert Halfon) campaigned vigorously against – rejecting it as undemocratic.

English: John Prescott, British Labour politic...

A not so recent picture of John Prescott looking grumpy. The ones today were pretty much the same

On a first past the post vote, John Prescott would have been elected.

On a count of first preferences, winning candidate Matthew Grove’s 29,440 votes account for just 4% of the total electorate

Yet the Tories seem to be dancing in the street.

Do they even know what democracy means ?

Omnishambles !

Omnishambles !

Omnishambles

November 16, 2012 Posted by | politics | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pantomime, Pasties and Election failures, some observations and a moan

Ed Miliband, British politician

Come on Ed Miliband - Surely you know what to do - don't you ?

This has been one of the weirdest 10 days or so in politics for some time, and pretty much all of the bad stuff has happened to the Tory led coalition government.

Pretty much.

The Budget was always going to be a toughie for George Osborne – but because everyone knew that, to an extent the disharmony arising from it was likely to have been discounted by the spin doctors in advance. So the Tory press were at the ready, ready to tell us  what a good job he’d done, protecting the most vulnerable in a time when nothing he did was going to please many people, but he’d done his best – blah blah …

It didn’t happen though.

He made a public relations catastrophe out of cutting the 50p tax rate (even though it’s deferred a year, even though it’s almost an article of faith for Tory rank & file, and even though it’s quite obviously been a hand grenade with a long fuse lobbed by Gordon Brown in the dying days of the Labour Government, designed to cause maximum embarrassment to the Tories).

Catastrophe number two – the Granny tax – minor adjustment leaving old people worse off – Most people didn’t really understand it – but the perception that the Tories value millionaires over poor pensioners (some pensioners are millionaires too by the way) did not go down well.

And of course Pasty-gate.  A relatively minor alignment of an anomaly in VAT – should have been able to have been broken in gently, should have gained fairly little attention, but no – it again emphasises the crass prioritisation of the needs of people who lunch at the Savoy Grill, over those who grab a snack from Greggs in their 30 minute lunch break, and then goes viral – helped in no small part by the laughably pathetic attempts to justify all their moves by the Tory spokespeople who were wheeled out. The arguments about who ate which pasty where, only serving to make the whole thing – and the whole government look more and more ridiculous, and by inference totally incompetent and unable to manage their own public image. The fact that probably the biggest losers as well will not be pasty-munchers, but the entrepreneurial owners of fast food sellers such as Greggs, was again not lost on the Tory press.

Then there’s the Dosh for Dinner with Dave debacle. There we are with the Tory treasurer caught in the act, pretty much with his metaphorical pants down. He knows the jig is up, and he walks, but it doesn’t stop the rest of the senior Tories (minus the PM of course who’s too scared to show his face) frantically trying to defend an undefendable position by doing what  ? Well by blaming Labour of course !

Oh yeah, this isn’t about selling your policies to the highest bidder, it’s about Labour getting all that money from the unions. Those big bad unions ruled by unaccountable despots who pay the Labour party to do what they want.

Well actually no it’s not, and the public for once aren’t falling for it, and to their credit neither are the normally sycophantic Tory press – Labour was formed by the Unions, donations to Labour are effectively the aggregation of the many thousands of large donations from working people which are passed to the party  - and they still add up to only a fraction of the sums handed to the Tories by their wide boy spiv friends.

Then comes the biggest own goal – Francis Maude,  who uses a strike ballot and an up-coming bank holiday as an excuse to panic the whole country into hoarding petrol. Despite the fact that there’s been no strike called, nothing to suggest an imminent strike, and it being very unlikely that one can be called before the holiday weekend.

Throw into that the fact that Unite are quietly and methodically inviting the employers to get in touch with Acas in order to mediate a settlement, and have published their ballot details – which are absolutely overwhelming and on a huge turn out, and the Government starts to look very foolish in deed.

So when in a hole, what do they do ?

Naturally they do what they’ve been trained to do : Blame the mess that Labour left.

Except this time it’s not being swallowed by anyone – even The Mail and The Telegraph are now openly criticising David Cameron and his chaotic management of what isn’t really any kind of crisis, but has turned into something that looks very much like one. The pantomime that’s ensued is reminiscent of the sleazy comic chaos of the worst parts of John Major’s government. A state of affairs that led in no small part to Labour’s landslide 1997 General Election victory under Tony Blair.

So a by-election in a safe North of England seat should be signed sealed and delivered at the end of all this stuff shouldn’t it ?

Well no.

It was George Galloway that won it – the same creepy egotist that sucked up to Saddam Hussein and Rula Lenska’s outstretched hand.

So how did that happen then ?

A shift in the Muslim vote? a misunderstanding of the depth of feeling over Afghanistan ? George’s brilliant oratory skills (please – it’s just not true)

Well I don’t really know – but what I do know is that it could only happen if Labour hadn’t royally messed up.

Respect ? Not from me !

When the Tories are in disarray & fools like George Galloway can still make a monkey out of Labour - it's time for some real leadership

What we have is a Government that is as unpopular as Thatcher’s  ever was,  as chaotic and sleazy as John Major’s government ever were. More than that though – where Margaret Thatcher’s unpopularity in some quarters was unbounded. It was matched by hero worhip in others. There’s no such mandate for David Cameron – he didn’t even manage an overall majority. Even the Tories don’t like him.

In contrast to Thatcher, The Cameron government sneaks in right wing ideological change in the guise of sorting out a fictitious “mess” left behind by Labour, or on a pretext of austerity. Margaret Thatcher didn’t do that – she said what she was going to do, and she went ahead and did it – to applause and boos in roughly equal measure.

In Dave Cameron’s pantomime though there are only boos – even his loyal Tory Press are now rounding on the Government incompetence.

Which makes it all the more worrying that Labour can’t hold on to a safe seat.

So at the end of this almost unprecedented period of British politics, I have unfortunately got to conclude that our leadership in the Labour Party is not delivering.

Ed Miliband – I will always be loyal to the party leader, and wish that the rest of the party would be too; but the Bradford West by election is one which Labour should and could have won. The conditions for victory could scarcely have been more favourable for the party.

So Ed, I think you really need to do something very dramatic now to inject momentum into the party’s fortunes. I don’t know what form that should take – but if we approach the General Election with the same kind of leadership that we approached the Bradford West by election , then we will probably lose it.

There are probably lots of lessons from the Bradford by-election – but one that is clear is this : However badly the Tories and Lib Dems mess up, and however un popular they are, it’s still no guarantee that Labour will benefit.

Please Ed. Get it sorted.

April 1, 2012 Posted by | politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Child Benefit – What are the Tories up to ?

George Osborne MP, pictured speaking in 2009

Chancellor George Osborne

I woke yesterday morning to see Chancellor George Osborne on Breakfast TV announcing his plans to scrap child benefit for Higher Rate tax payers from 2013 – as detailed here BBC News – Child benefit cuts ‘tough but necessary’ say ministers

There’s been a lot of talk already about this (as one would imagine) – much of it focused on the anomaly of married couples earning just below the higher rate tax threshold being able to earn a combined income of over 80,000 without losing the benefit.

Personally I think that this is one anomaly that will be smoothed out – and not really worth getting uptight over. However there are a number of things that really puzzle me about this announcement.

What hits me straight-away is that although Mr Osborne repeatedly said that this move has got to be done urgently because things are so desperately bad, and if they had any choice they wouldn’t do it, but what with the state that Labour have left things in, we can’t afford to waste time, and we’re all on this together and I’m sorry but tough times call for tough solutions, and we’re all in this together, and it’s all Labour’s fault, but it’s really urgent, and we’re all in this together, yada yada yada …   Despite all this it’s not going to be introduced for three years. Three years ? If it was really urgent they could do this next week.

So it’s not really urgent then – it’s something that can wait three years.

But what intrigues me more is exactly why the Tories are trailing a cut which will primarily hit families with a single wage earner in the lower reaches of the higher rate tax bracket. Just the kind of people by the way, who would be likely Conservative voters.

Now there are those towards the left of the political spectrum who’d rationalise this quite easily – don’t give money to relatively wealthy people – give it to the genuinely poor who need it more

There are those on the right wing who’d defend it as well – don’t nanny us, make the state smaller and allow people to make their own way in life, without contributing to the welfare of others unless they choose to, and without resorting to ‘big state’ support.

In Britain though my feeling is that we have rather more people who don’t go with either of those views. We have rather a lot of people who are somewhere in the middle. People who don’t think there’s anything wrong with turning a profit, doing well in their chosen profession or business and becoming relatively well off, but who equally don’t have a problem with the state being structured in such a way as to help ordinary people – whatever their earnings – during the times when they need it the most – not just when they’re in desperate need, but also at strategic points in their life where they are relatively more in need of a little help.

When we think of “National Insurance” – we tend to think of it as insurance against the disaster of unemployment or disability. Insurance can provide for other less drastic eventualities though – and can be a way of providing for the future benefit of our families – and the nation’s families.

This is put fairly well (by a Conservative mind) in this article on Conservative Home : George Osborne’s child benefit cut shouldn’t be permanent – thetorydiary by Paul Goodman (who I confess I have not come across before – I believe he’s the former Tory MP for Wycombe).

I don’t think this measure naturally appeals to many in any political party right now – though perhaps some of the more extreme libertarians in the Tory party like it. It could conceivably drive a lot of middle income voters towards Labour.

It could of course be justified as an “emergency measure” – except as I said at the beginning – it’s not ! – We’ll wait three years for this.

So I really don’t what the Conservatives are up to with this – I am suspicious of the Conservative tactics. I don’t think they’ll ever implement this cut in its current form, and I worry about what they will actually do instead. I usually go for ‘cock up’ over ‘conspiracy’ every time – but this time I’m not so sure.

Just a thought !

October 5, 2010 Posted by | Disability, economy, Family, politics | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Con-Dem’s 55% rule would do Hitler proud

Have a look at the text of the coalition deal between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats :Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition deal: full text | Politics | guardian.co.uk

I could probably do a blog on every line of this, but scroll to the bit about Political Reform (No. 6) – which starts by naming the date of the next election as “The first Thursday of May 2015″. Which is of course the longest it can legally be under our current system.

If you think like I do you’ll probably have reacted to that by thinking that the coalition is unlikely to last that long – it will doubtless suffer splits and defeats and ultimately a vote of no confidence precipitating an election long before then – or perhaps the Tories sensing a surge in the opinion polls might go to the nation to try to secure a more workable majority.

Not so, according to what comes next in the coalition agreement :

“legislation will be brought forward to make provision for fixed-term parliaments of five years. This legislation will also provide for dissolution if 55% or more of the House votes in favour.”

Let’s just dissect that a little.

That means that this parliament (not a future one – THIS one) will be able to be brought down by a vote of no confidence – but only if 55% of the MPs vote to do that. Note that this is not 55% of those who vote, but 55% of all MPs. And not just a simple majority of 51% – but 55% – OK not much difference I hear you say, and it introduces a little more stability by discouraging interminable series of confidence votes designed to sabotage the Government of the day.

But how much is 55% – Well it’s 357.5 seats – so as it needs to be more than 55% it would need to be 358 – no half seats. So that would need (typically) : All 258 Labour votes; all 57 Lib Dem Votes; & all 28 of the “other” votes – totalling 343 – so it would also need a further 15 Conservative votes. Actually not quite true – it would also need a further 5 votes – because Sinn Fein would be likely not to vote at all – not to mention anyone who was ill or otherwise engaged on the day of the vote.

So the Conservative Party, with help from the Liberal Democrat party are planning to enact binding legislation -  enacted with a simple majority of those MP’s who turn up to vote – which would ensure that the Conservative Party remained in office for the next 5 years in all circumstances save that when at least 20 of their own number decided to vote against. So actually they could sell the Lib Dems down the river without a second thought – they wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it.

The Conservatives lets remember hold just 306 of the 650 seats – a mere 47% – which they gained with 36.1% of the popular vote, on a turn out of 65.1%  – this represents just 23.5% of the total electorate.

This is the kind of immunity from accountability that is the hallmark of dictators and despots. It is a manoeuvre of which Adolf Hitler would have been proud – effectively preventing opposition to the ruling party.

This is dangerous totalitarianism. It must not be allowed to take it’s place in law. (See this article in the Times Online
Plans for fixed-term Parliaments “not credible” and “dangerous” – says law expert – Law Central – Times Online – WBLG

I’m shocked that the Conservative Party could sink so low.

Astounded that the Liberal democrat party could be so stupid as to be taken in by such a proposal.

Please make people aware of this – it’s a very big issue, which could potentially threaten the liberty of all of us.

As a postscript it seems somewhat laughable that the same section of the Coalition text contains the much vaunted “Power of Recall” – intended to deal with wayward MP’s

“The parties will bring forward early legislation to introduce a power of recall, allowing voters to force a by election where an MP was found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing and having had a petition calling for a by election signed by 10% of his or her constituents.”

Why laughable ?

Well because this occurs only when an MP has been found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing. Which presumably means breaking the law.

And how many of the MPs involved in the expenses scandal have been found guilty of breaking the law ?  Well none yet. There are three on the way though, who may well be, and under the new legislation it would only take a mere 7,000 signatures or so to force a by election. Except that by then they’d probably have been expelled from their parties, and may well already have been replaced (as these three have). In other words a meaningless piece of legislation, which is presumably designed only to deflect attention from the draconian self-protective law making outlined above.

See the Moments of Clarity Blog for more on this : What a fix!! «

or here at 21st Century Fix 21stCenturyFix.org: Cameron apes Berlusconi’s Italy by making it impossible to vote him out

May 12, 2010 Posted by | politics | , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Unions – Part two

Since posting my earlier blog Labour funded by trades unions ? I wonder why ? this evening I’ve spotted a few other things out there.

Notably this on Prodicus blog, Prodicus: Taxpayers gave £12 million to Unite who gave £11 million of it to the Labour Party. moaning about a supposed channelling of £12 Million pounds to Unite vie the Union Modernisation Fund.

Very interesting that Prodicus claims that £12M made it’s way to Unite, whilst Iain Dale claims, Iain Dale’s Diary: The Tories Must Abolish the Union Modernisation Fund that the figure is 4.4 Million. Still what’s £7.6 Million amongst Tory buddies when 50% of teenagers get pregnant ?

Interesting also to see this piece on the FT website Tories would not scrap the union modernisation fund? | Westminster Blog | FT.com which points out a rather different view from David Cameron’s envoy (and former Labour MEP) Richard Balfe – which is presumably shared by David Cameron.

“He played down the cost of the UMF, saying it costs around £12-16 million a year – a drop in the ocean with national debt on course for over £1 trillion.”

The original interview – for Tribune – can be seen here Labour gives taxpayers’ money to unions? Yes, and Tories too, probably… « René Lavanchy’s Blog I’d advise reading both articles – some very interesting points cropping up regarding the barriers that exist to channelling any of the UMF fund into political activity, Tory support for this, and the equal funding for Unions not affiliated to the Labour Party.

Lest we forget, Membership of a trades union is entirely voluntary – thanks (and I do mean that – closed shops are not something I approve of) to Margaret Thatcher, and members can opt out of political funds, and also put themselves up for election.

Other Links :

Left Foot Forward addresses this issue tonight at Stop press: Unions support Labour | Left Foot Forward ;

and the TUC has published information about the Union Modernisation Fund here Trades Union Congress – The Union Modernisation Fund: A Guide To Emerging Learning

March 16, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

I don’t understand Tories

UPDATE : As if by magic Iain Dale publishes more of the same : Iain Dale’s Diary: SamCam Does NOT Vote Labour! You don’t need bait on the hook with these guys, they just bite at the hook anyway !

( I found Iain’s comment : “frankly, if that’s the most damaging allegation to emerge from the programme, I imagine everyone at CCHQ will be quite pleased.” to be enticingly ominous by the way )

I find out from Conservative Home, & a post by Tim Montgomerie tonight that Samantha Cameron has never voted Labour

This apparently because tomorrow’s Mail on Sunday is planning to lead on the front page with a story claiming that the wife of the leader of the Conservative Party voted for Tony Blair’s party in 1997.

What I don’t understand is :

  • This would make a mildly amusing story – in a Labour supporting paper ! – The Mail claim to support the Conservatives so why put out a story that can only have the purpose of causing embarrassment to the Tories ?
  • Why Tim Montgomerie , Conservative Home or any other Tory would waste their time posting anything about such a stupid non-story – nobody but Samantha Cameron knows who she voted for – and frankly why should anyone care ? I voted Liberal  or Lib-Dem until the mid-90′s by the way – I like to think my thought processes have matured – others may think I’ve changed my mind. It’s OK though  – no sin, no shame – no problem, – and none for Samantha Cameron either (whoever she voted for)
  • The commenters over at Con Home immediately lay into Cameron over this – claims that he’s a clone of Tony Blair anyway surface almost immediately, and then they start arguing amongst themselves – and as far as I can tell these are Tories not Labour interlopers. – Why are they so stupid – it’s clearly not worth getting in a tizz about.

I don’t understand them. I don’t understand them at all.

March 6, 2010 Posted by | politics | | 2 Comments

Education, Education, & Private Schools

I came across this “News” on the Conservative Party’s own website : Widening education gap between the many and the few

There are so many things about this post that niggle me that it’s difficult to know where to start – but I’ll try !

OK – first up – the language is lifted straight from Gordon Brown’s speech yesterday – fine, that’s politics. It is clear however that they seem pretty pleased that a privileged few are apparently making greater educational achievements than the rest of the school population – that’s not a GOOD thing in my book – Oh but wait – I’m missing the Tory point (not the first time that points have been missed with Tories though)  – they’re blaming this on Labour.

Right, now I see. Actually – no I don’t – the figures that they quote (which incidentally have been in the public domain since August 2009 – so why any of this is “news” I do not know) – do show some significant differences between A level performance in independent schools and state schools. They also show some similarities – state school performance at 3 A’s has roughly doubled since 1998 – (I wonder why they chose that date – and not 1996 – the year before Labour came to Government ?) – whilst performance at independent schools using the same measure has – hey ! roughly doubled. Which does make it even less newsworthy.

So really the gap hasn’t widened – it’s the same gap – except that all students are far more likely than they were in the dark days before Labour took office, of gaining 3 A’s.

So murky are the Conservatives’  figures though that it’s really difficult to work out exactly what is going on here. Now I thought that there were around 300,000 A level students last year ( A-level results: One in four A-levels passed at grade A | Education | guardian.co.uk ) but it seems the Conservative party think otherwise – If 32.6 % of students in private schools gained the 11,500 three straight A’s they claim, then that gives us, by my calculations, 35,276 A level students in private schools – so that leaves 264,724 or so in the state sector.  A little bit more than just three times as many that the Tories claim.

That of course would make the paltry figure of 9,725  students with three A’s from the state sector even worse – but hang on – 9,725 isn’t 8.1% of 264,724 – it’s only 3.6%.  8.1% would represent 21,442.

But which is it ? Something’s wrong here isn’t it ?

Well maybe they’ve got their sums wrong again.

Look closely though, I suspect that may not be it  – they’re not really doing what I’m doing – I’m comparing independent sector with state sector. Isn’t that what they’re doing ? No – they’re (deliberately ?) creating confusion by saying “comprehensive” – which of course leaves out all manner of different types of state schools. It doesn’t include grammar schools and other selective schools (obviously not important to Conservatives !) – it doesn’t presumably involve Voluntary Aided & faith schools – it may not include Foundation Schools or Academies – Who is to say what it does include ? Not the Tories that’s for sure.

I wonder if those schools were included whether things would look rather different. Perhaps if they included FE  and Sixth Form Colleges as well they would. (Don’t forget also that the Government also ultimately have a responsibility for monitoring and maintaining standards in Independent schools)

So I’m not convinced by any of this “data”

Even if I were, I would point out that a commercial organisation commanding fees on the basis of a reputation for getting students to 3 straight A’s would be hardly like to select pupils who were unlikely to do so. State schools on the other hand tend to take the students they end up with – and are obliged to adopt an approach which states that “Every Child Matters” – that’s ALL of them – not just the straight A students, not just the ones with money, not just the ones who are likely to go to university. ALL of them.

So I don’t buy the Conservative idea of turning all state schools into private schools. Private schools achieve the success they do (and I could argue extensively about narrow definitions of educational achievement) because they provide only for a moneyed elite. In just the same way as Nicholas Winterton finds that he needs to avoid the different type of people travelling in standard class, parents sending their children to private schools find their oasis of privilege by paying for something which the other ‘type of people’ can not afford (or like me – choose not to).

By making all schools into independent schools, the advantage that independent schools now hold would vanish. It would however quickly be replaced by a hierarchy of provision with the richest people receiving the most prestigious education – and the poor receiving a provision based on the minimum cost to the government, rather than the maximum benefit to the pupil.

I call that a scandalously archaic approach to education in the 21st century – I will do everything I can to oppose that.

UPDATE Comment via twitter from Secretary of State for Children, schools & Families, Ed Balls (@EdBallsMP) You’re right – FE students deliberately excluded RT @northernheckler: my latest blog on Tories & private schools http://wp.me/pycui-lU

So encouraging to get feedback from the man who is ultimately my  ‘boss’ in education, on the occasion of my 100th blog !! Thanks Ed !

February 21, 2010 Posted by | education, politics | , , , , , | 8 Comments

Tories miss the point !

I wake to the news of the Conservative party’s latest blunder BBC News – Tories criticised over teenage pregnancy figure error

In a nutshell, the Tories have published a 20 page report, which contains a statistic for teenage pregnancy in the 10 most deprived areas of Britain. The figure is based on Government statistics showing 54 pregnancies per 1000 people.

This is expressed as a per-centage : 54%

To those of us lucky enough to have had a state education, and not learned our Mathematics at Eton, it’s clear that this should be 5.4%

A mere error with a decimal point says a Conservative spokesman

“It makes no difference at all to the conclusions of a wide-ranging report which shows that Labour have consistently let down the poorest in Britain.”

Well it really should Mr Cameron !

As it stands the publication makes a claim that there has been an 800% rise in teenage pregnancies in those areas; when in fact – according to the figures on which they have based their maths, and presumably accept, there has been a fall of 10%.

I really should make a huge difference.

This will be covered all over the net today so I’m not going to spend time dissecting this.

It does remind me though of the Tories’ propensity for shooting themselves in the foot whenever they get the opportunity to make political headway. Long may it last.

I just hope they don’t get the chance to make this kind of error in Government.

That’s why I’m voting Labour !


February 15, 2010 Posted by | politics | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Yes, Dave IS losing it !

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s so called ‘withering’ attack (perhaps withered might be more apt) on Gordon Brown over MPs’ expenses (see my post yesterday : Cameron is losing it ) today the top Tory launches a poster campaign (OK these days poster campaigns tend to just get wheeled round on the side of a lorry for a while – but they get a lot of press coverage).

Just feast your eyes on this :

tory death tax poster

The Tories latest election poster

It’s difficult to count all the ways in which this so spectacularly fails to hit home. Let me try though :

1. Health Secretary Andy Burnham has categorically denied any plan to introduce such a tax :

“The Guardian’s story suggests a £20,000 flat levy and I am not currently considering that as a lead option for reform,” he said.

“That figure was used in the green paper last year, but I do not believe a flat levy of that kind would be the right way to go. So I can say to you very categorically today that is not what we are considering.”

(Source : Brown’s ‘death tax’ denied )

2. He denied it after the Guardian article which he refers to (Inheritance levy to fund social care being considered by ministers) but before the poster was unveiled – The Tories knew it was a lie before it even hit the streets -  so they’ll be accused of lying, and also not knowing what the Government’s plans are.

3. The Conservatives are in no position to draw attention to plans on inheritance tax. My post in November Just who would benefit from Cameron’s Tax cuts ? drew attention to Labour’s position re. the Conservatives’ plans pointing out that only those with estates of more than £700,000 would benefit from those plans.

4. Not only does drawing attention to Inheritance Tax reveal the unfairness of their own plans, it also reminds the public of one of David Cameron’s more spectacular trashings in PMQ’s by Gordon Brown – when GB came out with the taunt that

‘Cameron and Osborne “will know by name” almost all of the people who will benefit from these measures – and adding  “Is this what the Conservatives mean when they say ‘we’re all in this together?’

5. The poster comes on the back of the Tories’ previous disastrous own goal poster which showed an airbrushed David Cameron, and launched a whole cottage industry of edited versions of the poster – it’s hardly likely to suffer a better fate – replacing as it does, the smooth forehead of David Cameron with the smooth stone slab of a grave stone. Will it be a good swap we wonder ? – I’d imagine there’ll be alternative versions of this on the net before midnight – perhaps here : http://www.mydavidcameron.com/ . Expect Zombies !

6. The phrase “death tax” is lifted straight out of the vocabulary of right wing American politicians – and specifically conjures up the ‘Death Panels’ talked of by right wing American politician  Sarah Palin – a figure of ridicule in the UK. The expression was used in attacks on President Barack Obama’s plans to introduce universal health care in the USA, and alongside criticism of the UK’s National Health Service  – this serves to remind the UK public, not just of the opposition by some Tories to the very idea of the NHS – but specifically of the maverick extremist Daniel Hannan, who claimed that the NHS was a “60 Year Mistake” on American TV , who stands by his pronouncements, and who has not been reprimanded in any way by David Cameron, despite his claims to support the NHS. ( See my post Daniel Hannan’s outpourings on the NHS – Will Cameron slap him down ? ) – raising fears of both the Tories’ lack of commitment to the NHS, and David Cameron’s inability to control the lunatic fringe (or is it the mainstream ?) of his party.

The whole Daniel Hannan episode of course sparked the massive #WeLoveTheNHS Twitter campaign, massively embarassing for the Conservatives, and which perhaps can be seen as a turning point in the fortunes of Gordon Brown’s government.

7. And finally … It’s just not all that funny. Surely they can do better than this.

So once again I say that David Cameron is losing it – losing the plot, losing the argument – and increasingly he’s losing the election campaign.

February 9, 2010 Posted by | politics | , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Cameron is losing it

Why don't you hang 'em ?

When David Cameron was selected as leader of the Conservative Party it worried me a little. I knew a little about him, and found him to be relatively sensible, and feared that he’d be quite appealing to a wide range of voters – a real threat to Labour.

It’s interesting to think back to those times, and the more recent times when the Conservatives have been riding high in the opinion polls, lulling themselves into ever more confidence of a resounding election victory. Interesting because on the evidence of  his current performances he appears to be losing his grip, and losing the election.

Today we’re told by various sources that David Cameron attacks Gordon Brown over expenses MPs , and MPs’ expenses: Labour in ‘headlong’ retreat, says David Cameron, and DAVID CAMERON ATTACKS BROWN OVER ‘HUMILIATING’ EXPENSES CLIMBDOWN

You might be forgiven for thinking that the Tory Leader was on the up, if you just went by the headlines. I think otherwise.

The three Labour MP’s that this story relates to and who are facing prosecution for abuse of expenses – David Chaytor, Elliot Morley and Jim Devine – have all, you might recall, been barred by the Labour Party from standing at the next election as Labour candidates – so the Labour Party had already taken some action against these three.

So what ? I hear the baying mob call – they’re still due to retire with golden handshakes !

Well of course, because there’s this really quaint old fashioned old generation principle built into British law – it’s the principle that says a person is “innocent until proven guilty” – so Labour’s / the Government’s actions in not taking rash actions, without fulfilling a legal burden of prof – actually improve the chances of the law taking its course, and a fair trial for them taking place. It’s what one would expect – and the Government have presumably taken legal advice on this issue.

It would appear that Mr Cameron has taken no such legal advice  – shooting his mouth off in condemnation of both Gordon Brown and the alleged offenders. So much so, as to provoke warnings from not just Harriet Harman, the Leader of the Commons,  (who lets be honest is part of the Labour Party) :

“He’s got to be very careful what he says or his comments might actually jeopardise the trial and none of us wants to see that happen,”;

but also the Speaker of the Commons John Bercow (who despite what some Tories say, is a Conservative with one of the largest majorities anywhere)

“The House will be aware that charges have been made against three members of the House and that therefore the sub judice rule applies to their cases.

“The matter is therefore before the courts and the House and members would not wish to interfere with the judicial process, risk affecting the fairness of a criminal trial or, furthermore, prevent such a trial taking place.”

(see John Bercow warns MPs’ trials are at risk of prejudice & Labour axes three MPs facing expenses trial as privilege row grows )

I confess that I had visions of Stan Laurel standing up behind David Cameron, and shouting “Why don’t you hang ‘em !”  – it would hardly have been a greater presumption of non-innocence.

Dave’s ire seems to be raised by the rumoured intention of the three accused to invoke Parliamentary privilege as a means of avoiding prosecution. Which would be fair enough – if it were any thing other than pure conjecture. Last time I heard though, solicitors were not in the habit of disclosing what their defence tactics would be ahead of a trial. Also, Alan Johnson – speaking on The Andrew Marr programme yesterday – clearly demonstrated that the Government would have no truck with that.

So anything else he’s bothered about ? Well he doesn’t seem to want the Labour Party funding their solicitors – well the Labour party say that the party

“has not and continues to have absolutely no involvement in the legal arrangements of these MPs, who were barred from standing as Labour candidates last year”.

Seems pretty clear cut to me.

Although let’s be honest, I’m a member of a trades union (the NUT) and as such if I were accused of a crime in relation to my work, I’d probably get my legal representation via them. Innocent until proven guilty remember – and that means entitled to legal representation – so providing they’ve paid their subs (stop it !) then maybe they are entitled to help from the party. But they’re not getting it anyway – so what’s Mr Cameron on about ?

It seems that what’s bothering him most is that the timing of Gordon Brown’s announcement that the three would be suspended from parliamentary activities, beat him to the draw with his planned (and widely trailed) speech about the issue.

So now instead of complaining that Gordon hasn’t withdrawn the whip, he’s now complaining that he has. Well which is it Dave ? because if someone is in “full retreat” in the way you want them to go, you’re hardly in a position to moan about it. If it had taken a long time then perhaps he’d have had a point – but no – the decision to prosecute was announced on Friday – the decision to suspend announced on Monday – that’s the next business day. Seems pretty quick off the mark in my book.

Mr Cameron said today that

“We are a new generation – come of age in the modern world of openness and accountability”.

Well he’s not  (he was trying to get into Parliament in 1997 ), and neither is his sidekick William Hague, who’s been like an old man since he sucked up to Margaret Thatcher in 1977. William, viewers of the aforementioned Andrew Marr programme may have noticed, failed quite clearly for instance, to come of age in the modern world of openness and accountability when asked about Lord Ashcroft’s tax arrangements.

So – David Cameron – you’re losing it. Today’s bluster was a load of rubbish. I thought you could do better than that.

February 8, 2010 Posted by | news, politics | , , , , , | 4 Comments

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