Archive for April, 2019

Trump, Mueller and the Democrats

Monday, April 22nd, 2019

Democrats should be cautious about spending too much political capital chasing after Trump via the Mueller Report. There is no real polling evidence that any of this investigation has impacted the President’s popularity, which today stands at 47%. A higher percentage of Americans from both parties are tired of the whole thing and want to move on.

Whether you like or hate Trump is not important. The fact that he is a non-political outsider who snatched the presidency from Hilary Clinton, who actually got many more votes, is. Because the Democrats have never got over it. But they now have to demonstrate that their policies are better and fairer than his and under a Democrat in the White House the lot of the American middle class will be a whole bit better. If they can do that with a fresh young firebrand, man or woman, who sees the future bigger than the past, they can unseat Trump and win next year. But if they mess around with endless hearings and subpoenas about issues which have no impact at all on the lives of the people who in a democracy, hold the keys to power, those keys will remain with Trump until 2024.

Religious Violence

Sunday, April 21st, 2019

It sadly comes as no surprise, although the shock and revulsion is undiminished, that there has been a spate of bombings of Christian worshippers in Sri lanka. This comes after attacks on Mosques in New Zealand and elsewhere. The terrible thing about any religious violence is that the perpetrators believe the god they worship is on their side, justifying what they do. At the same time the victims are invariably wholly innocent and  guilty only of worshipping a different god, or another interpretation of the same one. Moderates on all sides of every faith and none unite to condemn the suffering and pain, distancing themselves from the guilty extremists.

The worst thing about religious conflicts is that they go on for a very long time, sometimes for centuries and like forest fires, can appear over before flaring up again. Above all, perhaps, the worst of everything is extremism itself, in any form, about any thing. Life and civilisation depend upon moderation. Nobody should ever forget that.

An Easter Message to the Political Class: A Perfect Storm?

Saturday, April 20th, 2019

The political class in Westminster has never been held in such low esteem, not just by the voters who elected it, but by the world at large. Right across the public services there is a failure to deliver to a sufficient standard as a direct result of endless austerity. Within the civil service there are glaring failures including Windrush and Universal Credit. Grenfell Tower residents remain unsatisfied both as to new accommodation and the lack of accountability for a clearly preventable disaster. Spending boosts are announced but the money never arrives. Consultation processes are set in everlasting train to avoid having actually to do something. And of course Brexit is an unbelievable shambles, making Britain the political laughing stock across an astonished world.

So this is pretty bad at any time, but just now in the evolving pattern of democracy world wide, when people are taking matters into their own hands through protests, demonstrations and populism of a new kind which leads them to chose wild card candidates to take over government, this is a potentially deadly moment for established political parties in general and the floundering Tory government of the UK in particular.

Watch this space.

Easter Reading: Buy or Read Free with Amazon Prime

Friday, April 19th, 2019

Sats Tests: Good or Bad?

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019

When they were introduced I thought they were good. The problem with primary education at that time was that it was lacking in focus, perhaps high on wellbeing which was good, but lacking in learning, which was bad. Spelling, reading, tables and arithmetic were often handled in such a whimsical fashion that home tutoring in the essentials by an engaged parent was a must for any sort of achievement.

Nearly twenty years later things have moved on. Mostly both parents work and for long hours. The dynamics of the nuclear family are different. There is a much better acceptance that the basics in everything have to be taught and measured with rigour. What is wrong now is how to measure. Because what happened as the consequence of tests and league tables is that the emphasis has shifted from acquiring essential knowledge and skills, to instead being taught how to pass exams. This not only applied in primary schools but in secondary schools also and, until recent reforms, the modular system for basic GCSEs, led to multi-takes and exam churning to massage the tables, at great cost to the quality and integrity of the education offer itself.  This was certainly stressful and unrewarding for many students and, strategically worse, almost a nightmare of stress and overwork for teachers, which is why half of them leave the profession after training.

I say these things with confidence because for a total of 50 continuous years I myself  had at least one child (six in total) somewhere in the British education system, from nursery school to university graduation. I now have a fully qualified teacher in the family. Twice during the period of half a century I was a school governor, on the second occasion as an Additional Governor parachuted in by the local education authority to a school in special measures. So I have seen times change for better and for worse and I am fully briefed as to the current state of play.

I therefore applaud Labour’s plan to scrap the sats they originally introduced. I would go further and abolish GCSEs, switching to a graduation system built firmly on the stages of the education journey and based on the ability to perform the task or present the knowledge, where achievement is recorded in a continuous flow.  From age 16 there should be  much more focussed options to take the academic route or, and of equal status and availability, the skills and technical pathway. In the end we need engineers and plumbers more than we need historians.

Notre Dame

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

It was one of those news moments you always remember. Switching on the TV to see rolling coverage of Notre Dame ablaze. Notre Dame is France It is the nation wrought in stone and wood. It is the very soul of the French people. So, as their President said, France itself was on fire. In our country we have great iconic buildings as old and older than Notre Dame. They have great historical traditions and personify so much that is British. We love them as our own and feel that we share in a part of them. But none quite enjoys the mystical attachment to its people as Notre Dame does to the French.

It seems that heroic efforts by both the fire services and a salvagers that both the main structure and many, but not all, the treasures and relics have been saved. The world  looked on aghast as the flames tore through the roof and the spire but the fact that all was not destroyed is a shared deliverance. Already the plan to rebuild and restore is being prepared. It will be a project to engage not just the enormous artistic and construction skills of the French people, but of those everywhere who can offer their talent in such an historic and worthy project.

Is Brexit Over?

Tuesday, April 16th, 2019

In the context of the original offer, yes it is. There may be some fudge type Brexit, or the whole thing may be abandoned. But the simple notion of a clean break, Global Britain, national independence and so on is just not possible. It was an ideal nurtured by mainly a fringe minority of English nationalists over decades , but given force by a toxic combination of austerity, free movement and the fact that for a considerable period each euro was worth less than each pound.

This all caused pressure on services in some deprived areas outside London, the undercutting of UK wages by migrant workers willing to work for less because less was more went sent to their home country and a general feeling that the establishment was getting richer while the people grew poorer. So, with a campaign that spoke to these discontents, but not always truthfully, the No side built a strident majority, based on  the nostalgia of the elderly for a faded past, given mass by the people who felt left behind, together orchestrated by right wing nationalists determined to pedal any fiction in order to win. And win they did. Just. But the big problem is delivery.

Forty five years of integration, not just of trade, industry, services, education and science, but of families, assets, social  cohesion and commercial and scientific structures, means that there is woven a web which makes GB an integral part of Europe and Europe an integral part of the UK. Whatever kind of Brexit occurs it will be little more than skin deep. The benefits will be near to zero, the inconvenience will be considerable and the worst impact will be upon those bludgeoned by austerity, who thought Brexit offered a way out. The politicians will get fed up with the experience of Global Britain left on the sidelines on nobody’s circulation list. When the prospect of Scotland and Norther Ireland dropping off the UK becomes real, people will have had enough. The door will still be open and we will go straight back in. The Brexit folly finally will be  over.

Cross Party Talks: May’s Problem

Wednesday, April 10th, 2019

Many commentators and this blog have for long castigated May for not reaching out to the opposition parties, especially to Labour, earlier. Had she done so at the beginning everything would now be sorted, or so we proclaimed. But recent events reveal a much deeper fissure in May’s power base, her party in parliament, than was clear in 2016. At that point it was accepted that there were remainers and leavers in both the main parties and it was assumed there would be a coming together in the business of leaving the EU, widely thought to be a simple process in which we could pick the bits we wanted from an a la carte menu. The EU would all be at each other’s throats anyway so we could pick them off capital by capital.

In the event this turned out to be the greatest collective political misjudgement in our country’s entire recorded history. The EU set the terms, held fast to them and remained united up to and beyond the eleventh hour. This has shown up a fissure in our own structure which makes almost everything unmanageable. The Conservative and Unionist party, to give it the full title, is actually two parties, diametrically opposed not just on the big issue but on the basic ideology of what the party stands for. There is a right wing which is nationalist, anti-foreigner, ideological, free market, primacy of the individual, pretty selfish and very self destructive. There is a left wing which is one nation, internationalist, pragmatic, emollient and ever seeking common ground for the common good. It believes in society and seeks to ever widen the notion of opportunity for all.

The membership of the split Tory party is almost all to the right, but two thirds of the MPs are to the left. May actually has fewer of her own MPs voting with her than Corbyn on very many elements of Brexit. There is no doubt that she wants to compromise with Labour, but if she does so and loses the votes of the ERG and the DUP, she will still fail, even with the majority of Labour votes, to have certainty that the resulting deal will pass. If it did scrape through she could then face defeat in the enabling legislation to follow. Labour meanwhile has its own hinterland of instability, particularly on the referendum 2 issue and can only advance by very modest strides towards May’s red lines.

So in the end these talks could get nowhere and we will be back to more indicative, but this time binding, votes. But if it comes to that there is no certainty of any plan gaining a majority. That leaves just two options, if as we assume some further delay is agreed by the EU, which now holds all the cards. A second referendum or a general election. Yet such is the disarray in the country, either could fail to be conclusive. So this blog now favours option Number 3. Revoking Article 50. If the unexpected occurs in Brussels tonight and a further extension is refused, that should happen before 11pm on Friday. That is within May’s prerogative power. Would she dare use it?

Tory MP quits Eurosceptic ERG for ‘endangering Brexit’

Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

This item is taken from the BBC News Website. A brave move and so very right.

A Tory MP has quit the Eurosceptic European Research Group, claiming a “hardcore element of ‘Unicorn’ dreamers [are] now actually endangering Brexit”.

Daniel Kawczynski voted against Theresa May’s Brexit deal twice, before deciding to back her withdrawal agreement last month.

The Shropshire MP accused the backbench Conservative group of preventing the deal from passing in the Commons.

He said he was worried this could “lead to possibly no Brexit at all”.

Mr Kawczynski told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he thought the ERG was “part of the problem in actually getting the withdrawal agreement across the finishing line”.

And he opposed a call from the group’s deputy chairman Mark Francois for Tory MPs to have a vote to show they had lost faith in Mrs May.

Under Tory party rules, another formal leadership challenge against Mrs May cannot take place until December, after she won a vote of confidence at the end of last year.

“I do disagree with Mark Francois on that,” he said. “I don’t think the time has come for another leadership contest.

“I think we have to abide by the rules our party has set.”

Brexit: Down To The Wire

Monday, April 8th, 2019

We now await news that Downing Street has made an offer of compromise to Labour which paves the way for an orderly Brexit. If this is not forthcoming and the government cannot agree with Labour a set of meaningful votes, with a voting system designed to produce a winner, we move into a vortex with a new dimension now added as mainstream. Revoking Article 50. It could come to that. If it does, Brexit will be over. That will be the end of the Tory party as we know it. The shattered government will fall on a vote of confidence. At the following general election it will be massacred in the polls. History will have gained a new anchor point. From then on everything will be either before or after the Brexit Fiasco.