Wednesday, 1 April 2015

An everyday story

Last weekend I spent Saturday afternoon leafleting a nearby estate for TUSC. I did it in the company of a bloke I'd not met before. He was a council worker who had got involved in the election campaign largely because his job was threatened by the latest (and deepest) cuts package from Haringey Council. In the course of a few hours trudging around the estate we swapped life stories. I thought it was worth sharing his:

Pete had served an engineering apprenticeship and worked in various manufacturing jobs until he was made redundant by new technology. Then he went to work for the Post Office. He knew that he would never earn the same amount as he had as a skilled tradesman, but he was willing to trade this for security. But after ten years he was again made redundant. After sometime of unemployment, he went to work for the council as a street cleaner. Until that service was contracted out to a private firm - which is now laying people off in response to the council's budget cuts. He is now over 60 and is looking at the options of voluntary redundancy as he is not sure in any case how many years he has left when he continue to be doing manual work outdoors every day of the year. He is  pretty sure that when he does go, probably in the next few months, he will not work again.

An unremarkable story perhaps, but it encapsulates everything that has got wrong with our society over the past 20 years - and has been experienced by millions.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Richard III - whimsical historical nonsense

I suppose I am as much a history-geek as the next man. Possibly more so - in my line of work these days it's an occupational hazard. But maybe not as much as I thought I was: 

Earlier today I chanced upon some of the BBC's coverage of the re-burial of Richard III in Leicester. This seems to have been done in the manner of a 'rolling news' version of a Sunday afternoon nostalgia-fest. And I just don't get it. There seems to be a fascination with a whimsical obsession for 'days of yore' - of kings and queens, knights and heralds - and an awful lot of bollocks. 

Despite the best efforts of the weirdos of the Richard III society who have taken up his cause with all the energy of a real campaign again a real miscarriage of justice, the best that can really be said of Richard of York was that he wasn't really any worse than any of the other self-serving gangsters-in-armour that made up the competing dynasties of medieval monarchy. And that, unsurprisingly given that history has generally been written by the winners, the rival Tudor gang used their premier hack (Will Shakespeare)  to create the pantomime villain we are all familiar with.

But does any of this really merit an afternoon of ceremonial with hushed commentaries and talk about rehabilitation and reconciliation ? It is hardly as if the British people have been irrevocably divided between rival camps of Yorkists and Lancastrians. The Wars Of The Roses saw some spectacularly bloody battles between factions of the ruling class for 40 odd years.  But despite this the lives of the common people were left almost completely untouched. The average peasant or yeoman in the fifteenth century regularly witnessed the toffs slaughtering each with an attitude of detached indifference, and probably just breathed a sigh of relief when they marched their retinues off to billets in some other hapless village. 

Now I know how they felt ...

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Glimpses from my new life ...

Every now and then something gives me a jolt to remind me of the massive differences between my old life working in the print and my new life as a teacher.

I might not exactly have been a captain of industry, but as a manager I did have some degree of autonomy. Nothing spectacular, but when a piece of machinery broke I'd arrange to get it fixed - or even occasionally buy a new one. Or  sometimes if we'd have a particularly long and shitty week I'd get in a crate of beer and a few beers. 

But  now I am a 'professional' entrusted with the development of youth, I find my wings have been severely clipped: Like today,  when I tried  to sign for approximately  £5 worth of pink gel pens (yes you did read that correctly - their use is stipulated by a new marking policy). I was told that I didn't have the authority and I'd have to get my head of department's permission first. So much then  for the boxes of student's books awaiting marking - god forbid I should just do them in intimidating old-fashioned red ink.

Fortunately  I am not proud and I can see the funny side - but Jeeesus ...

Saturday, 7 February 2015

The perfect sustainable vehicle ?

I know that perhaps  bikers aren't naturally cast in the role of eco-warrriors: But then I read about the new law in Paris to ban motorcycles built before 2000 from the city centre. It is a blanket ban based purely on the age of the vehicle that ignores the actual emission figures - it is being done in the name of fighting air pollution. And apparently there are plans to adopt some sort of similar scheme in the future for London.

I know I can't claim that my old Harleys are exactly environmentally friendly. Certainly not in comparison to the MoCo's latest experimental model the "LiveWire'. But the again there are some wider considerations when it comes to green issues. 

Large capacity motorcycles tend to be owned by enthusiasts. People who cherish their vehicles and lavish a lot of their money - and  their own labour into keeping them on the road. As a result we tend to hang on to our machines rather than change them every other year. And so bikes that by rights should have been consigned to the scrap yard years ago are kept under tarpaulins in corners of garages waiting only  to be tenderly coaxed back into life and reborn in some new reincarnation. Especially the 'enthusiasts bikes' - the BMWs, Guzzi, Triumphs ...  and Harleys. We spend hours in our  garages tinkering and fettling these machines - often flying in the face of common (and economic) sense that  dictates it would be easier to simply buy more modern bikes. 

Perhaps we do it because we get a perverse kick out of working on keeping them on the road precisely because doing so is deemed to be impractical. From a sociological point of view (and at the risk of being pretentious) it gives us a sense of striking back against the sense of alienation - 'or disconnected-ness' - that is endemic in capitalism. I feel connected to my bikes because I (more or less) know how they work, I can see and feel how they work and (theoretically at least) I can fix them. In contrast, when I open the bonnet of my modern car I am confounded by a set of black plastic boxes - I can't even identify most of the engine components let alone start working on them.

But what's good for my soul is not good for big automotive business: So the manufacturers now give us sealed units and black-box engineering that uses computer diagnostics rather than spanners to fix our machines. Ultimately all this leads to the environmental obscenity of built-in obsolescence and disposable products. 

So just maybe a ratty old Harley should be the symbol of environmental sustainability rather than that favourite of the self-righteous - the Toyota Prius.

Monday, 26 January 2015

A new Greek dawn?

Waking up to the news that SYRIZA have won the Greek elections and are about to form a government is a pretty good way to start the week.

And before anybody says it, I do know that Tsipras isn't the messiah and that Greece is not on the brink of constructing a workers' paradise. 

But SYRIZA's success does  represent the most  significant development in Europe since the world economic crisis began. It is not just some  re-alignment of the forces of the Far Left - it has given voice to a mass movement that rejects the politics of austerity.

Of course  lots of questions remain, and a lot of hard messy work to replicate the same kind of force elsewhere - whether it's Podemos in Spain, the Anti-Austerity Alliance in Ireland ... or TUSC at home.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Je suis ... un ouvrier du monde

Excuse my French. 

I'll admit I rushed to publish a 'Je suis Charlie' status on Facebook in outrage at the shootings last week.  Then I very nearly posted another  'Je suis Ahmed' status. Then I saw that there was even a 'Je suis policier' status doing the rounds. And that made me think - hang on, is that the same policiers who I have witnessed routinely harassing young people of North African descent on the street of Paris? Or the paramilitary thugs of the CRS? 

Maybe we should all think a bit more carefully about some of this stuff:
There are inspiring demonstrations in London and Paris today. Displaying feelings of outrage at bigotry; and feelings of unity across communities; and  fear of  an anti-Muslim  backlash. But also displaying  political opportunism on the part of leaders like Netanyahu who want to promote anything but unity.
I am hearing a lot of genuine confusion amongst the liberal-minded:
When does ridiculing religion turn into racism?
Just because you have a right to do something does it mean that you should?
Can we really talk about freedom of speech in an unequal society with a gulf between minorities and the dominant culture?

Fair enough. These things can and must be discussed - but it's also worth remembering that the only real answer to these horrors is a radical one, and it has  been around for a while: 'Workers of all lands unite  - you have a world to win.'

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Charlie Hebdo - in defence of blasphemy

I have never understood the concept of blasphemy.

If you are in a position of authority - a teacher, a manager, a team captain or a parent there is no surer sign of your confidence and authority than to take the piss out of yourself or to allow others to do so. In fact it is almost an acid-test of your authority if it can survive ridicule. As a human being, the same ability is actually a test of your humanity - to fail it renders you at best pompous and at worst psychotic.

So why should the  (supposedly)  biggest boss of all any different? 

Woody Allen quipped that God may be omnipotent but he clearly has self-esteem issues. Which I guess is why all religions seem to have a supreme being who requires constant reassurance in the form of worship and who is strictly off-limits from any kind of ridicule.

Following the latest obscene attack in Paris by Islamo-fascists on those who dared to mock them and their ridiculous medieval world view, we are inevitably going to see a wave of vicious Islamo-phobia. However, the best, and only, response, is to emphasize the unity of our common humanity - and to continue fearlessly taking the piss. 

Just as the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo did.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Soho revisited.

Christmas is a time for nostalgia. And in that spirit I was back in my old haunts yesterday for a Soho pub crawl. The Dog & Duck, The Blue Posts, The Star & Garter, The Red Lion and finally The Clachan. 

In truth there are not many things or people  that I miss from my former life, but I do miss Soho. Or more precisely my memory of Soho rather than the hipster-theme park it increasingly resembles.

I've not been back there for almost a year but plus ca change. The place that used to sell artisan Cornish pasties now sells artisan hot dogs - and that restaurant that specialised in authentic Korean street food now specialises in authentic Cambodian street food. The same shops that still sell vinyl, the fixed wheel bike shops and of course some  more artisan coffee shops. A lot more fucking artisan coffee shops.

But there are still a few of the traditional Soho pubs. The pubs that played a central part in my working life when I was the production manager of an artwork studio.  Our clients were largely the ad agencies of Soho - and the pubs were where the deals were made, the briefs given out and the proofs taken for approval. Part Roman forum, part 18th Century coffee house. 

This is now a  lost world that disappeared rapidly with the introduction of mobile phones and the relaxation of the licensing laws. And life got more corporate, more superficially 'professional' - and ultimately much more joyless. 

In fact, come to think of it, the decline of the traditional pub pretty much parallels my prolonged disenchantment with life in the print. 

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Telling tales out of school

I know many teachers make a point of teaching 'a safe distance' away from where they teach. They cringe at the prospect of being spotted in Lidl or falling out of the pub. But I teach only about two or three miles away from where I live - and I rather like it.

Maybe it's naivety. Or maybe it's a reaction to so many years of commuting into work for the previous 20-odd years, and as a result living two separate and disconnected lives at work and home. But nowadays kids in school tell me with delight that they have seen me on the picket lines or lobbying the council,  in the local paper, in the national papers and even on the TV (actually it was only Kurdish TV). Yesterday a few of them saw me on a stall in the shopping centre selling papers and campaigning for the minimum wage. 

Obviously this is the cause of much piss-taking - although funnily enough not as much as when they  see me out and about riding my bikes  - or when they get to hear about my martial arts activities. For the average teenager there's far more comedic material in 'Sir's a Hells Angel' or 'Sir's a Ninja' - than 'Sir's a socialist'.

But it's all good. Most kids have the idea that their teachers go to sleep at night in the stock cupboard and only emerge in the morning ready  to teach period 1. Perish the thought that we are actual people. Or even if we are actual people - teachers can seem like  a species from another hemisphere doing some sort of out-reach work. This is a view increasingly perpetuated by the Teach First scheme and their all too-often achingly middle class young zealots parachuted behind enemy lines into the inner cities to do good. 

Much better then to show that we are just people who are part of the same community as those we teach - with families, outside interests, opinions - and eccentricities. It's probably not exactly what the DfE mean by 'promoting British values'  - but it should be. And it's worth having to endure a bit of piss-taking n Monday morning.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The truth about white vans.

White van man-gate has made me chuckle. Labour now seem to approach the issue of class as if they were tip-toeing their way through a minefield. Much as the liberal left used to (and often still do) when it comes to the issue of race. In both cases it is symptomatic of a profound detachment from the group they are trying to speak about. So regardless of whether it is  well-intentioned patronising or blatant snobbery, there is an in-built self-destructive impulse for Labour politicians to make  complete twats of themselves.

Miliband said that Emily Thornberry's recent tweet taking the piss out of a white van and St George's flag in Rochester made him 'absolutely furious'. Much more so apparently than the constant onslaught on ordinary people from the ConDem's austerity programme or UKIP's vicious xenophobia aimed  to split the working class vote.

In an uncharacteristically passionate speech, Miliband says in defence of the St George's flag that whenever he sees it he thinks immediately of Shakespeare and Henry V. Really Ed? I think you protest too much. 

These days there is no denying when most ordinary people see it, they think at best of English football -  and at worst they think of the EDL.

And of course there's ambiguity in all of this. 

It turns out that Thornberry herself grew up in a council house - unlike Ed who was a card carrying member of the chattering classes from birth. Then in a PR salvage exercise it was revealed that her brother is actually a builder - and there's a photo of him having a cuppa in the cafe wearing his hi-viz waistcoat. But hang on, it turns out that the brother is also an award-winning photojournalist. 

And as for all that talk about Islington-ites - only someone who has never actually been to Islington could talk that way. Come to the Hillside estate just up the road from my school - or look at the statistic that half of the children in the borough live in poverty. Despite building the spiritual homeland of New Labour, Islington is still, like much of 'gentrified' London, fundamentally a working class area.

The truth is that class is complicated: Working class 'culture' is complicated: Some of it is positive, that sense of solidarity and community - and sense of humour - that the poe-faced middle class will never get. But other aspects of it - such as ignorance and bigotry - are frankly just shit and depressing. And it's OK to say that.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

School trip to Auschwitz

I know the history. I've read the books. I've watched the documenatries. These days I even teach the history. 

But none of that prepared me for walking under the 'Arbeit Mach Frei' gate at Auschwitz. Or arriving at the railway siding in Birkenau in the   pitch dark and driving rain.

To describe what can be seen at the camp would reduce the experience to something far too ordinary. In fact it is the brief glimpses of the ordinary amongst the horror that are the most shocking. The single recognisable plait of hair in a room full of human hair. The odd pair of impractical high heels in a room filled with  battered utiliarian shoes. Or amongst the corridors of grim prison photos of the murdered - the occasional cheeky child, glamorous woman, or defiant and cocky  tough-guy. 

But most of all I have never been anywhere were the sense of place is so  overwhelming. Just the   un-remarkable brick buildings themselves ooze something that eats into you. 

Throughout the tour of Auschwitz we were fitted out with headphones and a receiver through which our guide delivered her commentary. For about an hour and a half I found myself complete absorbed in the place and my own thoughts and unaware of anyone else.  And when I did look around me, I could see that the fifty 17 and 18 year old too-cool-for-school, savvy London kids we had taken on the trip were equally absorbed. So much so that by the time we had made the short trip to the Birkenau site we didn't even need the headphones to achieve the same effect.  And then the next day the same thing happened when we went round the former Cracow ghetto , visited the Schindler factory, and met a survivor.

When you're fiddling the key stage three data input in order to demonstrate progress over time, or sitting through a CPD session listening to the latest SLT pedagogical initiative whilst everyone is ignoring the fact that it is an 180 degree turnaround from the initiative we committed to last term - it is easy to forget:  Sometimes,  just sometimes, being a History teacher is the best job in the world.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Strike !

This is the third day of me being on strike. One day last week - and now two days this week. 

Not national strikes with a day-out in central London and a few pints in the afternoon - but a proper local dispute against the school management and the local authority, complete  and some vicious national and local press coverage. And with all the fall-out and personalised bitterness that comes with it.

Not striking for pay or pensions or 'standing up for education' but over a really fundamental principle that employers do not get to chose who they negotiate with. Even bloody Boris accepted that he had to deal with Bob Crow. And what employer or manager  would not  like to negotiate with a representatitive who wasn't 'confrontational'?

Anyway - if you want the details of the case, it is well covered over here.

You'd think that after all these years I'd be immune to the lies of the press and the fuck-wittery that it produces in some people. Even so it still makes my blood boil to read some of the crap over at the Mail Online. Apparently it has come as complete revelation that such a thing as paid union facility even exists - or worse still - that unions sometimes pay strike pay. 

Saturday, 1 November 2014

That time of year - again

The problem with blogging for a number of years is - just as it is in the real world - of repeating your rants. The same shit riles me repeatedly  - and often at the same time of year. So look back over the years and most Novembers you will find a post about Remembrance.

The centenary of the Great War this year - and the cynical might also add - the on-going military involvement of the Western powers, has given a boast to the increasingly flag-waving and misappropriation of history that now passes for Remembrance. And filling the moat at the Tower of London with individual ceramic poppies to commemorate each British and Commonwealth soldier killed in WW1 is possibly the most spectacular expression of this. 

A misappropriation of history with a multiculturalism that may suit the militarist liberalism that is Blair's legacy but which is deeply flawed: In 1914-18 there was no 'Commonwealth' - only an Empire; the same British Empire that was still to approach its zenith in the 1930s. 

I doubt  many members of the Chinese Labour Corps - not trusted to carry weapons but used for heavy manual labour - were motivated by a sense of fellowship with a community of nations defending democracy from Teutonic autocracy. 

In Ireland and India where men volunteered in droves - many did so on the basis that supporting the Mother country was a prerequisite for being granting nationhood. Their optimistic trust was to be betrayed by the British at Croke Park and Amritsar.

Even in Canada, Australia and New Zealand where their status as white settler states had secured the privilege of being Dominions rather than colonies, men volunteered in their droves to prove a point and secure nationhood. At the price of the slaughter at Vimy Ridge and Gallipoli.

It is no accident that this rewriting of History is happening at a time when the West is again trying to build a consensus - if not an actual coalition - in defence of 'civilised values'.  The Great War was many things but it was not a voluntary crusade - it was a war of conscripted masses and subject nations - whose sacrifice was nothing more than a tragic waste. 

Stick that on your memorials - and maybe then I will wear a poppy. 

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Talking about his generation.

It was always dangerous to sing 'hope I die before I get old' - unless of course you actually do.

However rather than quietly retiring into the salon bar - or brilliantly reinventing himself in the manner of fellow rock-god Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey has chosen to vent his geriatric spleen in the Mail on Sunday (where else?) 

Apparently music is just not what it was in his day. He has told the readers of Middle England that  modern music lacks 'any sense of angst and purpose'. And just to tick off another tedious prejudice, he tells the paper the 'only movement that can be started nowadays is ISIS.'

What a wanker. The truth is modern music is of course  shit. And of course it is also utterly brilliant. Just as it was in the days when giants like The Who walked the earth. For every Led Zeppelin and Clash there was a David Cassidy and a Brotherhood of Man. And whilst we may have the X-Factor now, in the bad old days we had New Faces and a Eurovision contest that was actually taken seriously, and not a hilarious pieces of ironic camp kitsch.

Maybe Daltrey should heed his own lyrics and just f-fade away ...

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Tristram Hunt and the deck chairs on the Titanic

Teachers are leaving the profession in numbers because of workload stress. There is an approaching crisis in teacher recruitment and training. And an underlying agenda of privatising education with the free-school and academies programme. So how does Labour shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt respond?

With an idea that teachers should take some sort of 'hippocratic oath' pledging to uphold the nobility of their profession.

Of course that will improve standards of education. Much like the Hippocratic oath has ensured that no doctor has ever be guilty of malpractice. Or how the oath that policemen take has prevented miscarriages of justice. Or the oath that MPs take has prevented corruption....

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Playing at artisans

Amongst the bundle of Saturday papers on the breakfast table this morning there is a supplement from the Guardian this morning called  'Do Something'.

It is a series of articles of things people can try out  over a weekend - write a short story, do archery, or be a silversmith - or a printer. Obviously the last one got my attention.

Am I alone in finding it slightly nauseating that middle class people can now play at things that working class people used to be paid for ?

The same middle class people who in their own working lives as corporate managers and marketing parasites have overseen de-skilling and off-shoring of these activities as jobs that ordinary people can actually make a living from. The same middle class people who would never dream of their own children pursuing one of these trades rather than go to university. 

I know my response is  emotional and irrational. It's good to some extent that these skills are being kept alive in some way. But I do resent the belittling and disrespectful implication that the skills and values that took a time-served tradesman four or even seven years to develop are now reduced to a leisure activity to amuse people with too much time on their hands. 

Much as I also find it disrespectful when uber Tory-toff Kirsty Allsop presents a TV series encouraging yuppies homeowners to create a 'Homemade Home' by showing how in truth there is nothing to all those skilled trades and services that the middle class once paid the working classes to perform for them.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

We're all Scots now

Right now, watching the ruling class scurrying to Edingburgh in panic with 'ten days to save the union' - I am wishing I was Scottish. 

What is happening in Scotland at the moment is nothing to do with Braveheart nationalism or  tartan sentimentalism. It is about ordinary people sticking two fingers up at decades of ruling class neglect and  of being ruled by far away toffs who have no understanding of the lives of a people.  In return  these ordinary people have consistently not given a political mandate to these toffs and are now serving notice on them.

I feel the same way - and I only live a few miles up the road from Westminster.

Once Scotland gains its independence - do you think there any chance of a plebiscite in North London for us to be annexed ?

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

A tale of two police cock-ups

The bizarre and tragic manhunt for Ashya King and his parents has got me thinking about the Rotherham abuse scandal and how the police respond to complaints. 

Let's compare the two cases:

In Rotherham over the course of about six years, 1,600 victims routinely suffered appalling sexual abuse. Much of this abuse was reported to the police and we now know that it was dismissed - and appears to have been covered up.

In Southampton a little boy with cancer was not able to get the radiation treatment available in some other countries and so his parents took him out of the hospital to seek the treatment abroad. As there was no court order to prevent this at the time, there is a legal argument as to what if any offence was committed. Nevertheless a much publicised police operation was launched to track the boy and his family to Spain.

In Rotherham the people making the complaints to the police were vulnerable  young girls. People from what is stigmatised as the 'underclass' - people who lack 'advocacy'. On the other hand in Southampton the people doing the complaining were taken from a group of people at the very other end of the scale - both in status and in advocacy - doctors and medical professionals.

And in both cases a smoke screen has been thrown up to obscure institutional incompetence . In Rotherham it is the suggestion that it was political correctness and multiculturalism to blame -  and in Southampton it was the fact that Aysha's parents are Jehovah's Witnesses.

In both  instances this smacks of lazy thinking at best and racism at worst.

Friday, 29 August 2014

The undeserving great unwashed

This week I seem to have turned into one of those sad 'concerned residents' with too much time on their hands who writes letters to the council. I am engaged in a largely pointless (but entertaining) email duel with some jobs-worth from the council (or more precisely their privatised 'contacted service provider') about bin collection: 

To incentivise us all to re-cycle we now have our re-cycle bins emptied weekly and our non-recycling waste bins emptied fortnightly. Which means of course that by the end of the fortnight everyone's  non-recycle bins are smelly , overflowing, surrounded by flies and the bin bags ripped open by urban foxes. This makes  our typical inner city environment - crowded, busy,  dirty and  generally fairly grotty - just that little bit more unpleasant at best, and at worst a threat to public health. 

My complaints to the council were met with a patronising letter explaining the council policy and effectively telling me that people should suck it up and just re-cycle more. 

Setting aside the arrogance of those in authority - if we are all too stupid to re-cycle then we deserve to pay the price of rubbish on the streets - this also ignores the fact that the re-cycle bins are actually also regularly overflowing. 

In other words, we are re-cycling but the service is just not adequate for the area. It seems like a no brainer that an urban area with a denser population - multi-occupier dwellings and mixed business and residential use, simply needs more frequent services than a dormitory suburb. Yet in Tottenham our rubbish is collected as frequently as it is leafy Highgate. 

This isn't about NIMBYism or 'localism' - nor is it petty. It is exactly what is happening at every level of this recession. Again and again the people who have to put up with the worst of its effects are told that it is our own fault. 

Historically it was always so. It was much the same in Victorian times when our inner cities first developed. The feckless and insanitary masses - literally the great unwashed - were blamed for their own appalling living conditions. And we seen the same old arrogance today - with a bit of added green sanctimony thrown in just to rub salt in the wound.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Back to school

And to blogging. 

My first long Summer holiday as a proper teacher and I am just coming down from a general hiatus. 

Holidays are always a chance for a bit of stock-taking. This year more than most - it was our first holiday for 20years without the (now grown up) kids and having completed my NQT year it was the end of my three year 'journey' from my utterly different previous life.

And all this against what I see has been called the 'Summer of Hate' in Gazza, Syria, Iraq - and Missouri. There's nothing like events to put you in your place - or to paraphrase Rick in Casablanca - 'the problems of little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world'.

A sense of perspective reinforced when I took my usual historical road trip on the bike around East Anglia. I find staring in to the 3,000 year old preserved timbers of the causeway at Flag Fen does the same for me as staring at the stars does for some people. It  inevitably snaps you out of too much unhelathy  introspection. 

And so now back to work in every sense...

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Gothcha Gove

There can hardly be a teacher in the land that isn't breathing a sigh of relief at the moment. And not just because the long awaited season of sports day and DVDs is now upon us. 

Gove has gone. Probably the most hated Education Secretary in our history (Thatcher doesn't count - her hatred was earned later in her career).

Having been marched up the hill and back down again in three one day strikes this year, it is good to think that Gove's departure was in some way due to our actions.

Although his (undoubted) demotion to Chief Whip is as much to do with the internal machinations amongst the Tory leadership, it is also definitely a reflection of Gove's ability to alienate almost everybody in education from parents to teachers, with the possible exception of some SLT careerists and Teach First cultists. 

(Of course the other reason  is that even in the nasty party, Gove is simply too much of a charmless headbanger with a knack of pissing off his own colleagues as much as his opponents).

So lets enjoy a brief moment of celebration before pondering the uninspiring  prospect of a new education minister  who has no background in education, went to a private school and Oxford, a corporate lawyer who is also a homophobic fundamentalist Christian. 

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Anti-fascism and our local community

Following an attack by a Polish neo-Nazi group on a local community music event in a nearby park, I've been on a couple of protests so far: A hastily thrown together vigil at the town hall earlier in the week  and today a re-claim the park festival. All quite low key but so far so good, and I have nothing to say against anyone involved. 

Whether it's the UAF types or the  more 'direct' Anti-Fascists (and I have friends in both camps) -  all have done their bit and no doubt will continue to do so. 

But I also couldn't help noticing however that despite our self-congratulatory speeches about how genuinely diverse and happily multi-cultural Tottenham is (all quite true by the way) - a group of black lads who had been having a kick-about in the park quickly scuttled off as soon as we arrived. 

Of course it might have just been a coincidence, but it did make me think after a day  when I'd also been to the local gym, visited the local shops, and saw the crowd getting ready to watch the football in our local latin american cafe - we protesters were about the least diverse group of the lot.

It was necessary we turned out to send a message to the fascists  - and I am pleased I was there.  But there's no grounds for complacency if we want to genuinely say we speak for our community ...

Sunday, 15 June 2014

William and Angelina

If we must have celebrities then I suppose I would rather have well-intentioned liberals than vacuous self-obsessed arseholes. In other words bit more Angelina Jolie and a bit less Kim Kardashian.

But I am a little wary of the amount media attention that the newly-created Dame Angelina's campaign against rape in war is getting

Last week an entire edition of that not-usually-known-for-its-crusading-stance-publication, The Evening Standard was given over to publicising the campaign.

Let's get the caveat out of the way first: rape in war is a horrific issue that needs more exposure. But I can't help asking when I see Angelina working away with William Hague, why is it being taken up by Western governments - and why now?

Because rape in war, whilst being something we can all feel  a universal horror and outage about,  is also an issue where we cannot actually point the finger at any specific government. The whole point of rape in war in recent times is that it is the product of those conflicts where government has broken down and society fractured along ethnic or communal lines. Consequently it is pretty easy for governments to ride a moral tide of public outrage and enjoy the satisfying sense of being the 'good guys'.

Contrast this with the silence about some of the other horrific aspects of modern conflicts that are actually happening right now and that governments are  in a position to do something about: Like the use of drones that cause collateral damage to civilian targets, the use of chemical weapons, the trade in (and use of) weapons of torture, or landmines that cause indiscriminate carnage across generations. 

The vested interests of governments and the military industrial complex make it rather harder for them to pose as the good guys when in comes to these immediately fixable problems.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Gove wouldn't approve

I've got to that point in my first year of teaching where I am about to finish 'induction' - effectively my probationary period. 

For those outside of teaching it is an odd thing to explain - I am a qualified teacher but if I don't pass induction I won't be able to continue teaching in a local authority maintained school. If I don't pass - and you only get one chance to do it - then I am stuck in a kind of a limbo, a qualified teacher who can't actually work. Although thanks to Michael  Gove's bizarre policy acrobatics that permits him to reconcile raising professional standards with de-regulation and privatisation, this won't matter because you don't need to be a qualified teacher to work in an academy or a free school.

I am not unduly stressed -  at this point the hardest thing is a time-consuming evidence gathering exercise to fill up a folder to prove that I have satisfied the tick- boxes of the current 'teaching standards'. Although these standards are an exercise in truly tortuous semantics I do have to concede that they do at least relate (more or less) to good teaching practise.

Far more controversial is the sinister 'part two' of the standards which relates to personal an professional conduct of teachers - both  in and out of school. Some of this is common sense child protection stuff but some of it is downright sinister - such as

a) Teachers uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviour, within and outside school, by:

not undermining fundamental British values, including

democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty & mutual respect, tolerance of those with different faiths & beliefs

ensuring that personal beliefs are not expressed in ways which exploit pupils’ vulnerability or might lead them to break the law

I am not sure that I even meet these standards in the classroom when I teach kids about the peasants' revolt, the Levelers, the Chartists, the Suffragettes or the Civil Rights movement - certainly not when it comes to the 'rule of law'. And I am almost certain that outside of the classroom - my own and Gove's understanding of 'British values' are poles apart.

I spent a chunk of yesterday with NUT colleagues at a local festival - getting people to sign petitions and giving away 'stand up for education' balloons. Several of these people were my students and their parents. Not exactly revolutionary stuff,  but it did feel fantastic to be able to make some connection with what we were doing and what I have taught them about struggle and protest in history. 

And of course there was the knowledge that it is exactly the sort of thing that would piss off the likes of Michael Gove ...

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Post election musings

Having a rest this weekend after a few weeks of heavy campaigning with TUSC for the council elections. Don't worry though this isn't going to be one of those '4,000 votes for socialism' posts.

But it has been a good campaign -  and it feels good to have been a part of it. Maybe we are in a rare little pocket of sanity here in my bit of North London but here the SP and the SWP, community groups, independent socialists and activists and rank and file trade unionists have all genuinely worked together amicably. And that felt good. Good to break out beyond our own political ghettos. Good to be getting out on the streets of where we live. And good to reach out to many people who had all but given up hope that there was any alternative to austerity.

Certainly in London as a whole I am all too aware that we are in a pocket of sanity when it comes to UKIP. Thankfully UKIP's worst results were in London, but I fear that in the rest of the country their in-roads into the white working class heartlands vindicate my suggestion that name-calling and ridicule are no substitute for a strategy against them.

Is TUSC the future? I don't know. I hope so.  Although the ramifications of the RMT leadership contest may now  jeopardise its future. And without the weight of a trade union behind it, I fear that the project could be reduced to another left unity-style love-in of the Far Left.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Errors of judgment ...

I've made a few errors of judgment in my time, Some of them big, some of them small:

The other day I did a short journey on my bike - it was drizzling but I didn't bother with my waterproofs - and I ended up getting soaked. Or, I was depressed in my work for several years thinking it was too late to make a career change - then it was forced on me and now I regret not doing it earlier. Both these things were errors of judgement. That is to say I thought about what I was doing, made a decision and in good faith, got it wrong.

However I didn't send a series of misogyist emails (like Football boss Richard Scudamore) or recite a racist nursery rhyme on TV (like Jeremy Clarkson) or misuse public office for private gain (like my own local Labour mayor Sheila Peacock). And yet all these people within the past few days have claimed to make an 'error of judgment'.

Let's get it right. These people fucked up. They didn't have the misfortune to  make a wrong decision in good faith.  Their dark and deep-seated arsehole-ness was just publicly revealed for all to see .

Saturday, 3 May 2014

The real thing about UKP ...

UKIP continues to be over-exposed in the media - along with the very real risk that every discussion about its threat may very well turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

There now seems to be a couple of different takes on UKIP - essentially these boil down to Farage and his crew being either nasty racists or just crass and daft - or possibly all of these things.

But the thing about UKIP is  not so much that they are Oswald Mosley as that they are Jeremy Clarkson. Or Alan Partridge. Smug xenophobic and small-minded yes - but cryto-Fascists not so much. Their immigrant scape-goating is no less of a threat - but in truth the 'mainstream' parties are not so very behind in jumping on that particular band wagon.

The real danger of UKIP is not that those golf club reactionaries of Mail-land are turning to them in droves. This will only cost the Tories some votes amongst the aspirational lower middle classes. The real danger is that genuinely disaffected working class voters might just actually swallow the insidious nonsense that UKIP reflects their interests.

The real way to challenge UKIP is to expose the falsehood  that they are a party of 'real people' who stand outside the elite political class that has come to dominate all the parties. 

Farage might well be a bigot and a twat, but the most important thing you need to know about him is that he is a public schoolboy, a fat cat former city trader, the son of a stockbroker, and a politician from his early days as a Young Conservative. He is every bit as avaricious and corrupt as the rest of them. And most importantly of all, his party wholeheartedly supports a vicious austerity programme whilst also  wholeheartedly opposing any sort of workers' rights. 

In other words UKIP has absolutely fuck-all to offer the very people it is now trying to appeal to - and that is the message we need to be taking up rather than name-calling.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Decline of the Co-Op

There is some irony - and sadness - that after over a century the Labour Party is ditching the Co-Op bank.
Ironic because it all started to go horribly wrong for the Co-Op bank when they enthusiastically embraced the values of New Labour.  Corporate acquistions, speculative investment and the employment of degenerate executive reptiles were all entirely consistent with the New Labour vision.

 It's all a very far cry from the values that led a group of working people in Rochdale who came together in 1844 to create a business that shared profits and provided a honest service at fair prices to its members.

Naively I have always felt a sense of loyalty to the Co-Op bank. Back from my time as a student in the 80's when having a  Barclays account was seen as tantamount as financing the apartheid regime, to the time when I had some savings from redundancy to invest in an ISA which was at least vaguely 'ethical'.

Of course I knew that in the modern age,  all of this was  bollocks really - a moral fig-leaf that couldn't really disguise the ugly aspects of banking. The recent decay of the Co-Op has just meant that the fig-leaf has slipped a bit more ...