Category Archives: Schools

The Universal Benefits Sham


Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming today in such vast numbers. This is a big stadium but not big enough to accommodate the numbers clambering to come in. I want everyone to come in, to join in a scheme to get people into the world of work. To get you into work, no less. Some will say slaving away in a soul-destroying  job for a miserable wage is no way to live a life. I profoundly disagree. I am not the first person to say this: but never mind the slavery of it,  work will save you and advance the best and true interests of you and your family.

Some will say, ‘I should talk. Born with a silver spoon and a comfortable home life.’ I have to tell you that my life has not been a bowl of cherries. Far from it. My parents insisted I do my homework every night before the computer games. There was voluntary work in the Army Cadet Force and the Boy Scouts and an anxious period of seven days before uncle Jack gave me my first job.

Here I am going to say something difficult for you all. There is not enough money to go round. People like me are tired of having to support you all through the payment of high  taxes, You must do more to help yourselves. The way to do this is to get a job. Vast numbers of you have given up on work. Pull yourself together. There are jobs out there  waiting for you. You may not wish to do them BUT you must. There is no more money to keep you in fags and beer.

Now I am here to help. Before I came into this stadium I persuaded some corporate friends of mine to create some jobs. There are 167 of these jobs. As you came into the stadium you received a numbered ticket. These tickets are to be chosen at random and 167 of you will be offered a job. I cannot say where or what these jobs are. You may have to move home, retrain, go back to school to take advantage of them BUT they are jobs. No don’t thank me. It’s the least I can do.

I know some of you, despite government payouts, are hungry. Don’t despair. There are 21 exits to this stadium. At each of these will be an official with a basket containing loaves, fish and chocolate, They will give you something as you go out. It may seem to you that this is not much given your circumstances. But is not a portion of bread, a small fish and a tomato better than nothing at all? I believe in miracles. I think you will find that the food is enough for you all. And good luck with the job lottery. You deserve a little luck. Go quietly now and in an orderly manner. Britain is not North Africa and will never be so while  I am at the helm of the ship of state. (Cheers and some boos. It starts to rain.) Well that turned out well.

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The Safety of the Public (Let’s live dangerously) Bill


I am here, as I promised,  to tell you of the main features of our bill to make Britain a more liberal society. This issue of liberty has always been the driving force of the Lib Dem party. In a way it is our raison d’etre. Let us take the troublesome issue of the sexual abuse of young children by those who take every opportunity to be near them for their evil purposes. Do we really need 9 million people on a register with hundreds of others involved in processing data to achieve a reasonable level of vigilance? Of course not. Under our proposals there would be only 4.5 million on the register and thus millions of people who are in touch with children on a day to day basis will be excluded and we can all breath more easily. It is the responsibility of parents and teachers to be vigilant. The State should not seek to be an ever present guardian of behaviour. Similarly with our DNA database. It is wrong, as a matter of principle, that peope never found guilty of serious crime should have their genetic information on a large and ever growing database. Here the obsession  of our predecessors in seeking to extend, hold and grow a centralised database is unnecessary, and damaging to the peace of mind of millions of citizens. We are going to bring this practice to an end in line with the conduct of liberal societies throughout Europe and the free world.   

I am going to answer questions. You sir, with the red tie at the back. You say what price should be paid for the abuse of a child. I don’t understand. I assume you are suggesting that if 4 million people in regular contact with children were excluded from the sexual offences register, more children would  be abused? I know of no evidence to suggest that this would be the case. My own opinion? Not more than 100 children. But, sir, it is not the way to look at it. You are suggesting that I am willing to accept that the price of a saving  public expenditure of several million is the  abuse of more than 100 children a year. Well sir, I suggest that this issue of protection is best left to the governance of parents and teachers. You are wrong to look at it this way.

Another gentleman with a red tie to the left. Your question, sir, is how many previously unsolved serious crimes have been solved by the DNA evidence now available to the police over the last 12 months?  An interesting question without a precise answer. sir. The short answer is I do not know. My guess? Well I flatter myself that I am an evidence based politician. If you push me on the issue I would say not more than 30-40. A price worth paying for justice? Look I understamd your point of view but it is not my own. I do not believe in an intrusive nanny  State. Full stop. We should be grown up about this. In my opinion we should all be prepared to live dangerously. After all I joined in a Coalition with the Tories. Ha, hah!

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Getting On With It


Than you Charlie for coming along. I always value your contribution, Same as usual then, No, not the whisky. Confidential and discrete. OK?

Charlie, I would like you to report that this is  a government that is getting on with it. All those years sitting on the Opposition benches, listening to prevarication, the ifs and buts and maybe’s!. I made a resolution when we got power we would put an end to it and get things done, decisive, resolute and immovable.

Hold it Dave. Aren’t you running a very big risk. The more you do the less you think. Slap bang. Sometimes right, sometimes wrong. That’s very unfair. We do sometimes make mistakes but we are bold people – we backtrack. Take shool sports. Gove made a hopeless mess of it but we changed direction as quick as a flash. Why, you  can hardly spot the seam. What about the things you couldn’t change and can’t put right. Give me an example. Child Allowance and the absurdity of the income levels. Gotcha. Hold on Charlie. We have a budget in three week’s time. Time enough to fiddle it right.

Well done Dave I concede you a few points there. But what about bigger things than these. The NHS reform. All the experts agree that this could go horribly wrong with standards of service falling and at this time next Winter, when you are hoping for some cheer in the opinion polls,  you could have several hospital closures. Charlie boy, you are too dismal. We shall get these reforms right and by the time we get to the polls in four years time the public will begin to recognise our success. That’s the whole point really. Get the difficult things out of the way at the very beginning, endure the sniping and set backs and the sweep to victory in 2015. I learn’t that from Tony Blair.

Dave, if this was warefare and I your senior officer I would never promote  or engage you in  a  serious military campaign. Solidity, caution, a care of casualties , the awarenes that the enemy can be ingenious and resolute. These are the qualities of the successful senior officer. These qualities you have not. Well Charlie, this is not a military campaign. No its not. Let’s take big business. For these large-scale endeavours you have some good qualites: panache, confidence and quick-wittedness. But I wouldn’t have you here either. Charlie, why not?  I think I would be a big success. Sometimes I wish I had taken that route. Several reasons. Over-confidence and a lack of attention to detail, Dave. The House of Commons has cottoned on to that so why not the general public? What will happen is that there will be an almighty cock up on a matter the public cares deeply about. And that will be that Dave. You will be for the high jump.

Too dismal Charlie. I’m so quick we shall have moved on and the public will hardly notice. Have another whisky. Bottoms up.

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Welfare Compassion


The pathway to universal social benefits for those who need them has never appealed to the Right in politics. Their message has alway been, ‘very nice but the nation cannot afford it’. In their time the country could not afford a state pension, or the NHS, unemployment benefit, a minimum wage, or a guaranteed income for the disabled and the destitute. This conviction runs  in parallel with a value judgement: these benefits should only go to the deserving poor, and to its associate idea, that not many are deserving. It was once the case that poverty was considered not to be a sin but a misfortune. It was  the Victorians who branded it otherwise.

Social democrats have always considered welfare as a safety net through which the unfortunate should not fall. Human nature being infaillable it was accepted that there would always be some who abused the system but that no device of man could prevent some abuse. Taxpayers were the fortunate: after all they had income and their taxes helped the unfortunate.

Is it possible to select the deserving and weed out the spongers? One can try, it is right to attempt it, but the pathway leads to poverty, discrimination and, yes, a lack of compassion. There are a thousand reasons for some not working: mental or physical problems, looking after children or incapacitated adults – and a lack of work. Now all these people and they run to hundreds of thousands are for the high jump. If they try and fail to get a job any payment being made to them and their families will stop.  ‘Work will make you free’. Hold on, are they not the words above the entrance to the Auchwitz concentration camp? Some of these people, staring at the tellie with instant coffee to hand, know at the start they will fail. And what about the children? We shall look after them say the Coalition at the same time denying this family financial help. How will this be done? If they are shunted to a boarding house in Hastings, homeless, penniless, away from school and friends, are they being helped? Surely it is better and more compassionate to help keep this family together in its own home. It is usually better to have a home than not.

Well it is objected, I exagerate. It will not come to that. But it will for some family near to you, perhaps many near to you. What about your neighbour or your neighbour’s friend?  Let us consider the 8,500 London families whose  Housing Benefit is to be cut, some of these will lose their home and fail to find another. Not all of them you mutter, and serve them right, they, this family, should get on their bikes, assuming that they have them, and find something else. Some will, but some cannot. Perhaps no more than half, you retort, will lose out.  Oh that’s good not more than a  half, being 5,000 families in southern coast boarding houses. No problem. One would be too many, ten a mishap, but thousands of avoidable family disasters? Surely,  a shame on us all!

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Pupil Premium: the road to hell


Nick Clegg in a thoughtful and well-organised speech has released some details about the  intoduction of the long-covetted Lib Dem Pupil Premium. As stated the aim is to help disadvantaged pupils by providing 15 hours of teaching from the age of two and at various stages of their education. It is a worthy aim in itself but as we know the road to hell is paved with good intentions. As stated the policy might be expected to assist 20 percent of the 1.1 milion children who at the present time enjoy free school meals.

In his analysis Clegg makes a startling and misconceived identification of disadvantage with poverty. Is it true that all children whose families are poor are disadvantaged? Are all the disadvantaged poor? Do all poor children take free school meals? And would special teaching of the poor, as so defined, tackle the problem.

Clegg does not pose and answer these questions. So I will step in  and help him. No not all poor children are disadvantaged. We can all think of good homes and successful children from homes with limited income. I come from just such a home. But my parents were aspirational and willing to work at the difficult art of encouraging children. Not all homes are like this and many with greater resources succeed in making a mess of family life and their children’s progress. Not all poor children take school meals. Many parents prefer to us their imagination and the money they have available to provide lunches for their children. Disadvantaged children come from any family breakdown you care to mention.

The evidence on the usefulness of pre-school education is mixed. I am inclined to think it a good thing or rather to give it the benefit of the doubt BUT it is easy to quote many studies that show the opposite. Again everything depends on the kind of family they come from and what they might be learning and experiencing if they were not at school.

Of course, limited resources makes things difficult for many families. If we accept that this is a deadweight on the shoulders of the poor the solution is to ensure that ALL these families have more resources after tax. If you believe that children should have nursery education from the age of two THEN the state  should provide it for them. If you believe that disadvantaged children should be spotted early and helped then nurseries and schools should have the resources to teach in small classes and provide a high-quality pastoral care that reaches back to work with families in their homes.

If then you agree with the analysis what is needed? No cuts in educational provision, no scaling back on Sure Start, smaller classes, good teachers and organised pastoral care. What you do not want is Coaltion cuts in the education budget. Crocodile tears evoke no sympathy with me. Move over Cleggie and let the the misadventure of the Coalition grind to an end.

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The Universal Pink


This is not a an indulgent fantasy of a lost musical past. My subject is universality that magic solution that binds us one to another in a decent society: not a Big Society nor a Little Britain  but one which believes in the solidarity of its citizens, brother to brother, neighbour to neighbour. A decent universal state pension fairly earned by those who have worked and those of us who have stayed at home to care for children is just such a universal benefit so too in a National Health Service and Care for the Elderly. Speaking personally I have always believed that a free at the point of use education system came into the same category. I benefitted from such a free education system. No one in my family had enjoyed the benefits of a university education until my sister broke the mould and became one of the first women to be accepted by Barts for a medical degree. On her application form she had to list the occupation of her father: she wrote ‘Labourer’ Imagine this same wonderful individual  today. She comes home from her clerical work and anounces to her astonished parent that she intends to become a doctor. ‘Oh, that’s good dear and how much will it cost.’ ‘Well if you help me with day to day expenses and we are talking of the medical fees alone,  I shall run up a debt of over £100,000 pounds but I will not have to repay it at once. I can take a very long time to pay it off – maybe 20 years by which time it may well be twice the original debt perhaps £200,000.’ A long silence. ‘Look dear, my heart is with you, really it is. I would like to help you with this. I shall think very carefully about it because, of course, I have the duty to do so. But I can’t encourage you. All my life I have avoided debt. It is a dreadful thing I can assure you. (Ask David Cameron if you don’t believe me!) I think the answer will be no. What you might do is to approach charitable organisations. I’m sure there  are some who would wish to help you. But darling think on it how could you do such a thing?’

 What is a human life worth to us? Everything or nothing? Why stop at university education? There is more money to be made for loans to get children through school. Why should this be free? Why should we citizens pay for courses on needlework, cooking and carpentry to name but a few unnecessary courses. And why five days a week? Why not a shift system which would enable children to limit school to three days a week? Why not distance learning using standardised subject modules? After all most children spend more time at their computers playing silly games than they spend in a classroom. Just imagine the savings in public expenditure?

‘Don’t be silly’, I hear you saying, ‘there must be some service that are universally provided. ‘But not many AND not provided at my expense.’  ‘Well dear, you do not have children. This issue of education does not concern you, does it? Why should you pay for the education of those do-nothing children from the Council estate?’ Why indeed?

‘You should pay madam because you gain from the universal pink. We are one of you and, like it or not, we are one of you.’

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I Am Mr Average: 2


A short time ago, you kindly asked me to tell readers how I was getting on in these trouble economic times , and my views on the Coalition. I was chosen because I approximated to an average man: suburban semi, wife and two children, average wage and so on. Not that anyone is really average, but you know what I mean. Our family was managing quite well despite my wife losing her part-time job. My wage had been frozen but thanks to lower mortgage payments we were coping financially. I have this little habit, I hope you don’t mind, of saying I have good news and bad news, what would you like to hear first. (She, who must be obeyed,  gets mad at this and tells me to get on with it). Here is the good news: my wife has got a temporary job for the next four months. She is working on agency terms which give her lower pay and fewer rights. I see now why Labour was making a fuss about these agency conditions. They should have done more. And the bad news? I’ve lost my job. Quite suddenly and brutally one Friday afternoon after the company had altered its redundancy terms for the worse. Now I am on Job Seekers Allowance and quite a hassle that turns out to be. I have to go into town every Friday and report for duty so to speak. I have applied for over 50 jobs and have never had an interview. I expect that you might think me a loafer But you would be wrong. Of course I want a job, I would give my right arm for one.

I expect some of you will be fearful of losing your job and want to know what my familyis doing now. Well, I was entitled to a Mortage Holiday period of four months and this is now coming to an end. We have used our modest savings to keep going but they are running out. I don’t know what to do next. I hear some of you grumbling away and muttering things like get on your bike, move to East Grinstead, become a doctor – and things like that. All I can say is good luck to you mate if that is your strategy.

But it is not all doom and gloom. I see more of Wayne these days. We are despondent for him. He was to get a brand new school but the works have been cancelled and the staff demoralised. We can’t afford a tutor so I have stepped in and help him with his homework. I have to read up from his textbooks and the clue to my success is to keep one chapter ahead of him. It has drawn us closer together. I help my wife with the shopping so I really do know the price of bread and  all the cheaper options now. Test me if you like.

And looking forward? Well as you know I am a Tory and will find it hard not to vote so next May. However, if this Coalition lasts, and I expect it will, and if  you press me for an opinion,  I shall have to tell you that I do not think I will vote.

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Discretion or Confession


It used to the case, pre-internet, that a gentleman’s affairs were his own business. No longer. For some weeks now, or so we are told, rumours were circulating on the internet that William Hague was gay and was having an affair with a young man he met during the General Election campaign. Further we are told that rumours about his sexuality had been in existence for a much longer time.

Who cares, might have been the response. A person’s sexuality is his own business. Various studies in recent years suggest that 7-10 % of the population is gay in some sense of the word. In a Cabinet of 25 people 2-3 members may be gay. Given the predominance of a boarding school, single sex, education in a Tory Cabinet, perhaps half a dozen. Should they all be outed?

It used to be thought in the days when a homosexual  act could be a criminal offence that a Cabinet Minister who was a closet gay posed a security risk. William Hague is the Foreign Secretary. But a Minister only became a risk if he did not admit to being gay. Of course to admit it at times of repression presented difficulties. Even today David Laws preferred to keep silent about his male partner on an important matter and  suffered a political price for his need for discretion. Men will behave differently according to their upbringing and sensitivities.

Is William Hague’s sexuality of any interest (other than prurience)  to anyone? It may be. If his partner obtained a job paid for directly or indirectly by the taxpayer  which,  but for William Hague’s friendship,  he could not have obtained (that in some sense he had jumped a queue) that makes it a matter of public interest – but not of much consequence.

There is a broader issue. Is William Hague a dishonest man. Does he pretend to be one thing and turn out to be quite another? Is he, or has he,  in his public attitudes to homosexuality, acted  hypocritically? Is he still pretending to be one thing while being another? If this is so, a tolerant British public might become annoyed. Be honest with us, William, might be the plea. Now William Hague has been categorical about his position. If he has told the truth the door has been shut. The public will know  the outcome of this drama soo enough. What is it worth for a 25 year old man, his mum or his school chums to give an exclusive story to the News of the World? A cricketing scam might cost £150,000. What is the price of a lurid political drama in September 2010? Whatever the price, and it will be a high one, who should we blame for the publicity? Is it ‘the internet’, the Red Top rags, or the public school system of all-male education? Is it our fault? If you think the latter, shame on you for reading this blog.

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Trust State Education


I was educated at each stage in the state education system. It is my belief that the Tory inclination  to seek diversity in schools is prompted always  by, to my way of thinking, unworthy motives. They wish the state system to mirror their own fee-paying private schooling: to reproduce throughout the land a series of little Etons, Winchesters and Westminsters – they are all different you know! These fine schools, it is felt,  shoud be replicated throughout the land: independance of governance, the very best teachers (no third class graduates acceptable here) , supportive parents (no one from sink council estates need apply), selective entry systems to weed out the tidy and dutiful from the insubordinate (no dirty nails in this school) – you know the sort of thing. It is easy to make fun of it. I shall resist the temptation.

There is no good reason that I can think of for discouraging private education BUT every reason to discourage its growth by penalising state schools. The Advanced Level examination results underline the success of the last administration in improving education  standards throughout the country and signal an end to disparagement of its achievements. We on the left should be proud of these dramatic improvements in our schools. Over the coming weeks the extent of the cutbacks in school budgets will become clearer. Forget the Coalition’s fine words and announcements of good intentions. Our schools are facing hard times. Their future development will be  frozen and money  will be ciphoned off to finance the so-called Free Schools: capital funds which would have continued the modernisation of our  state schools and revenues that would otherwise be available to them are to be diverted to an expansion of school places in areas that do not need them. These rightwing, and doctrinaire attacks on state education,  are periodic and underhand; they occur whenever an opportunity presents itself. The Coalition knows that it dare not tell the whole truth about its intentions for the public does not support them. What the vast mass of the Britsh public want are fine state schools in their neighbourhoods and available free to everyone. This aspiration, which is constant and true, cannot be rejected by any government whatever its hue. But the public  can be deceived. We are deceived.

As I write the dispiriting contest for the Labour Party leadership rambles on in a welter of explanations and justifications for the past. Please wake up as soon as you can. The public knows that Labour is their education spokesman and the best guarantee of a high-class education for all. Speak to them, please. Speak to them now in unequivable  terms: hands off our state schools.

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Thatcherism with Knobs On


If you wish as a politician to tell an untruth about a matter of significance and import choose a subject about which most  people are ignorant. Even better choose one where the ignorant deceive themselves into believing they are experts and have short memories. How about the management of the economy?

Here is a statement by Nick Clegg: cutting the budget deficit [in the way the and at the speed the Coalition propose] is necessary to grow the economy. Now hold on, Cleggie. Cutting as proposed will reduce growth and  increase unemployment. Do you mean that in three to four years time the economy will  start to grow again from a lower base? You do, don’t you. And would we have lost more than we could ever regain? Well. I don’t know. What I do know is that unless we cut the deficit growth will be constrained in the future. I don’t understand you. There is no political disagreement  about the need to cut the deficit. What is at issue is how fast we do it and what we cut, isn’t that so?

And another matter. Boy George and Dave go around the world telling other countries to cut their deficits boldly so shrinking their economies and  our exports. Why don’t they shut up? Don’t be rude. Stay constructive, please.

It is difficult to be nice when all around you…so to speak. Why don’t you confess. The Lib Dems, somewhere on the road to Brighton, have had a conversion to Thatcherism. ‘Unemployment is a price worth paying!’ and all that. That’s unfair. We are committed to fairness : increases in tax credits, higher benefits at the lower end of the income scale, and so on.  And we have proposed special measures to help the disadvantaged in schools. Surely, that is not Thatcherism.

Well, if I may say so Cleggie, that is a typical Lib Dem evasion. If the budget measures are considered in the round the poor are worse off: higher unemployment, the plight of single mothers forced to stay at home in the school holidays because they are denied nursery and play facilities, increases in VAT. The poor will become poorer.

This argument is becoming tendentious. The truth is that Labour left us with a huge budget deficit and it has to be cut. No amount of wriggling can avoid it and any programme to do this will be painful. I am not ashamed to say so and neither should you or any bunch of irresponsible Labour politicians – or their journalistic friends and place-seekers. There. there. Who is  becoming ratty now Cleggie. What is going to give: reducing the size of the state, replacing professional public services by volunteers, defending the nation abroad, reducing crime at home, building a fairer society – getting re-elected. Perm any one from seven. The Lib Dems should be good at this game they have had a lot of practice.

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