Northernheckler's Blog

A Yorkshireman's adventures in the big Smoke

Back to bonkers ?

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

March 6, 2010 Posted by | education, politics | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All to fight for in the General Election

I read this piece on the Tory Radio blog last night : Labour giving up on being able to form a majority , produced in response to what editor Jonathon Sheppard (I’m assuming it’s him) called a “Labour reaction of glee” to the news that the newly published ComRes Poll in the Sunday Mirror : POLL EXCLUSIVE: David Cameron’s down again , was predicted to lead to a hung parliament, with the Conservatives 5 seats shy of a majority, in the next general election (Predictions from polls are hit & miss affairs by the way – but lots of fun – try Electoral Calculus to have a play around with some figures).

Well although I found the tone of the article to be childish and sneering, one does have to ask – why get so excited about the prospect of scraping a near draw ?

I feel that there are two reasons – and I look to the example of Tory ex-Prime Minister John Major for both.

John fought two general elections as Prime Minister. Let’s take the later one – the one where he was defeated – first. Major’s position before and as a result of that election, represents the doomsday scenario for any political party. Unpopular as his government had become, as the election loomed it became more and more difficult to salvage anything for his party. Like an aeroplane in free-fall, there came a point where it was impossible to pull out of the dive, and all that he could do was wait for the crash. When it came it provided Labour with possibly their most staggering victory ever – winning seats in places which had hitherto been considered untouchable.

Back last year at the time of the European elections, that was a scenario being painted by many for Labour – in third place in many areas, losing ground to fringe parties as well as established ones with cabinet ministers bickering in the wings trying to unseat the leader.

There’s another lesson from John Major though – from the 1992 election – which he won.

John Major’s Government was also unpopular then, and he was facing a slick election campaign from Labour’s Prime Minister in waiting Neil Kinnock. Neil Kinnock you may remember even managed to have the celebration before he’d won the election so sure was he of the forthcoming victory

There’s so many things in that short clip that provide echos of today’s situation – the Opposition cheered by the opinion polls, sure that the Government can’t win, but not yet sure that they can – according to the polls – but brimming with confidence, and sure that the Prime Minister is a “Box Office Disaster” to use John Smith’s words.

We know what happened – Kinnock blew the election – or was it the other way round ? I actually felt that John Major won it – he did his homework, he worked hard, and although even most of the Conservative Party didn’t really believe him until the votes were counted, he successfully delivered the goods – much to my own disappointment ( “At least he’s not Margaret Thatcher !” was my dejected thought the morning after ).

So which will it be for Labour ? Major’s 1997 Meltdown, or Major’s 1992 Rope-a-Dope ?

Back last Spring, the harbingers of doom were fairly sure of the Meltdown – but since then things have changed. In council by elections for instance there’s been no big evaporation of the Labour position. Gordon Brown, has become more vociferous and successful in his spoken comments – making Cameron look a charlie in many of the recent PMQ’s for instance.

There’ve also been a few embarrassments for the Tories as well – Cameron’s handling (or lack of handling) of anti-nhs extreme right wingers in his party such as Daniel Hannan has not gone down well publicly.

The traditional Tory press for some reason, also seem to take a delight in having a side-swipe at David Cameron, even whilst trying to rally the troops : see this in the Telegraph earlier this week  David Cameron’s Tories are a one-man band that’s playing out of tune

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that there aren’t still big, big difficiculties for Labour – just that the crash landing is not inevitable – we seem to have pulled out of the dive.

Admittedly Labour could have done without Hoon & Hewitt’s shennanigins regarding leadership challenges – but the episode does seem to have galvanised unity within the party  – for the time being at any rate.

So this opinion poll shows that yes there could be a hung parliament. Margins of error taken into account it probably also shows that the Tories could have a very small majority, or that their simple majority might be even smaller. When all’s said and done it’s just another poll – and they can be misleading as we know.

It does though, suggest that the total meltdown isn’t happening. Which suggests to me that Gordon Brown’s election may well be more similar to John Major’s more successful campaign in 1992 than to his disaster in 1997.

I think it’s this that the Labour faithful are taking heart with – because the poll hints at lessons from history which show that there is all to fight for in this election and that a Labour majority is by no means out of the question.

When you look at those airbrushed posters of David Cameron smugly looking out at you – who does it remind you of ? Tony Blair ? Margaret Thatcher ? No – for me it’s Neil Kinnock – having his party early – just as Cameron is.

It ain’t over ’til it’s over , and I’m Voting Labour !

January 24, 2010 Posted by | politics | , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Gordon Brown: Get on your soap box and lead Labour to 4th term in office !

more about “Gordon Brown: Wiring a web for global…“, posted with vodpod

(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.

July 28, 2009 Posted by | politics | , , | Leave a comment

Can Labour win a 4th term ?

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 !

July 26, 2009 Posted by | politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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