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 ...

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Police fail again at latest Broadwater Farm fit-up.

It speaks volumes that many of us are no longer surprised at police racism and corruption - but we can still be surprised at their crass stupidity in so readily exposing themselves.

The harassment of the Steven Lawrence campaign, the knee-jerk lying after the shooting Jean Charles DeMenzes, the insensitivity to the family after the shooting of Mark Duggan, even the farcical cover-up following 'pleb-gate' - the Metropolitan Police time and time again demonstrate a staggering inability to learn from their mistakes.

So why following a prolonged and highly publicized miscarriage of justice that wrongly imprisoned three young men  almost thirty years ago over the killing of PC Blakelock in Tottenham - did  they think they would have another go?

From the start the trial of Nicky Jacobs was a farce. Three witness who the police freely admitted had been offered immunity, paid and 'looked after'. A witness apparently borrowed from the cast of a bad 70's sitcom  who actually said under oath that he thought 'all Black men looked the same'. And another witness who confidently gave an account of the murder in completely the wrong part of the Broadwater Farm estate. And all of this after god-knows-how-much preparation and grooming on the part of the police, at god-knows-how-much cost to the public. 

And by the way, the people of Tottenham who have now been given another legitimate reason to distrust the police are also a part of this 'public'.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Pickles lectures on tolerance

That unlikely self-appointed champion of tolerance and  ironically titled 'Communities Secretary' Tory Eric Pickles has said that militant atheists need to be more tolerant.  

'This is a Christian country with an established church and atheists just need to get over it' - he says in a characteristically conciliatory response to people who have quite reasonably tried to prevent local councils having prayers at their meetings.

Now I am a pretty tolerant for a militant atheist - I mean some of my best friends are believers. And I acknowledge that of all the challenges to peace justice and the pursuit of happiness that mankind faces in the early 21st Century religion is but one of many. In fact with the collapse of anything like social democracy these days, it seems to be left only too often to church leaders to mildly question the worst excesses of unfettered market forces.

But after a weekend spent in which I self-indulgently watched the wonderful 1970 'Cromwell' movie (a chap who was hardly a stranger to strong religious belief himself) championing the essentially individual and private nature of conscience and belief, it is simply unbelievable that we are still arguing about the separation of church and state.

Especially when we are arguing with a man like Pickles who looks like he would have been so at home as a bloated bigoted and corrupt Tory squire.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Tony Benn

When I was a teenager I read two books that inspired me to be a socialist - Arguments For Socialism and Arguments For Democracy - both by Tony Benn. 

It is not too melodramatic to say that what they inspired has stayed with me ever since. And in every milestone event of my political life (and thousands of other activists) Tony Benn has been there: At  the CND marches in the 1980s, at the miner's strike, at Wapping, at the Poll Tax protests, at the anti-war demos, and countless disputes, rallies and public meetings.

He was at his best when I saw him on his speaking tour. Armed with a thermos of tea and a pipe, he sat alone on a stage and simply answered questions from an audience for two hours. As always he had the genius knack of making radical -  if not revolutionary - socialism sound like nothing more than genial common sense.

Tony Benn  wasn't a Marxist. With a profound sense of history, he saw himself as part of a lineage of English radicalism that took in John Ball, the Levellers, the Chartists and William Morris. But it's a lineage that personally I find far more inspiring,  and far more  real, than that of many so-called Marxist group-lets and their sterile obsessions.

But most of all I feel a personal connection with Tony Benn because he was of the same generation as my parents. And like them, despite everything he has experienced, he maintained  an un-eroded  belief in the fundamental possibility of ordinary people making a fairer world that had been born out of the experience of the second world war and the vision of 1945. His life - and theirs - spans the subsequent betrayal of this vision.

One of his catch phrases was always that it was about politics not personalities. He would be the first to say, in the spirit of Joe Hill, that we shouldn't mourn but organise. 

Looking at the comments on social media, and talking to colleagues in school today, it is just possible that the coverage of his death may actually itself be inspiring a new generation in the way those books inspired me thirty years ago.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

A working class hero is something to be.


Disgustingly but inevitably we see those who most loathed him,  now fawning over the memory of Bob Crow.  

Toff class warriors from the other side of the conflict like Boris.  Lounge bar bigots like Farage who are opportunistically trying to identify them. And of course the class war quislings like Miliband.

In truth they despised him. Intellectually they despised his politics because he was an apologetic and unreconstructed  Marxist. And emotionally they despised his equally unapologetic working class identity. Because he personified both things.

When they mocked the idea that a working man could earn a decent wage, albeit a fraction of a banker -  and live in a council house; or occasionally enjoy a decent meal at a fancy restaurant; or an exotic foreign holiday - they mocked all of us who refuse to know our place and doff our caps to our betters. 

He wasn't perfect. No leaders ever are. But Bob Crow stood like a giant amongst  the other minnows at the head of the labour movement.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Lord Owen vindicated

I see that following New Labour's special conference yesterday to ceremonially cut the rotten umbilical cord that tenuously connected the party to the unions, Lord Owen has said that he will make a hefty donation. For the former SDP gang of four pioneer I suppose he feels that history has finally come full circle and his vision has been vindicated. And I guess he's right.

I am not even sure why I bother writing anything about Labour these days. To anyone who has been around the Left in the past thirty years this is all too painfully predictable. I suppose it is like having a flash back and being reminded that your childhood best friend has grown up to be a complete arsehole.


Thursday, 13 February 2014

They're all socilaists now

 
Ray is spot on in saying that it is not just  Middle England that is sinking  below flood waters of biblical proportions. Having grown up in Staines (before it was upon Thames) we lived in a house that was pretty close to the river and I remember nearby  flooding even back in the 70s. The truth is that ordinary working families are usually in the majority in every part of the country - and they are they ones who inevitably suffer most from any sort of setback - let alone the devastating floods we are seeing.

So I don't take any relish in seeing the suffering of people in areas that are undeniably considerably better off than us in  the inner cities. 

But I am enjoying the irony  of the Mail-reading classes rallying to the cause of 'something must be done'. They are coming out with some prettysocialist stuff; -rally around communities, organise for need not profit - and even send in the army as a civil defence force.

They say there are no atheists in foxholes - but maybe we can say there are no Tories in natural disasters.