Confessions of a Political Animal

May 24, 2010

A Job Description

This is a joint post by Political Animal and Lost Lucan

The brave new world has dawned, and in the hard cold morning following the battle we can survey the wreckage: the promise of retrenchment with a nasty twist. Cuts, and a re-pointing of the welfare state to the benefit of the better off, with a hike in VAT rather than employer’s National Insurance being used to fill the Treasury’s coffers. From amidst the dust and rubble we rise, clutching the few belongings remaining to us, to start again down the road to government.

And so who will lead us down the twisting path ahead? In some respects it matters not: the hats already thrown into the ring, and those promised to follow adorn the heads of a talented bunch, all of whom could make a decent stab at the task. We are fortunate in having an acting leader who is more than capable of setting the tone for the months and years ahead. No, what matters more is what policies we choose to pursue, around what principles we rally.

The government we face will be nasty, brutish and, sadly, not quite so short. In these times, it is imperative that we offer our new members and the electorate a distinct and decent platform, that we provide a strong voice for employees, the less well off and everyone else who does not fit into the Cameron mould and who would otherwise comprise the great ignored.  To that end, we believe that a successful Labour leader must pursue a progressive set of policies which promote not just equality of opportunity but equality of outcome, with an acceptance that the structural causes of poverty outweigh any impacts of so-called agency in preventing social mobility.

The Whigs had four policy areas to all but sacrifice upon the altar of ambition. We also propose four areas which, in our view, a successful candidate for the Labour leadership should  pursue. They are by no means the only important ones, but they strike at our core values, values which should not be offered up for any price. (more…)

June 3, 2009

Poison Ivy

Imperial College

Imperial College

In a little-noticed (except probably where it matters) move on Monday, the relatively new rector of Imperial College, Sir Roy Anderson, fired off the latest salvo in the War of Cameron’s Ear – which the Animal discussed here last year.

Speaking to the Evening Standard, and also covered by the student media here, Sir Roy eulogised the US’ elite Ivy League institutions and called for what he claimed were the top five UK universities to be privatised and “float free” of the state.

This is part of what appears to be a carefully co-ordinated strategy on the part of the research-intensive university vice-chancellors. Their sole aim is to get as ‘favourable’ an outcome from the forthcoming review of tuition fees as possible – i.e. a total removal of the current cap. You didn’t know there was a review due? No wonder – such is the silence on the subject from both main parties that one begins to imagine a conspiracy not to discuss the subject. The problem for both of them is – time is fast running out. The commitment following the 2004 legislation bringing in top-up fees was that the current cap on fees would be sacrosanct until the 2010-11 academic year. But that surely means that any decision on the future funding of Higher Education must be made within twelve months – either late in this parliament or early in the next. All parties are going to have to deal with this hot potato in election manifestos, so the silence is ominous.  (more…)

January 20, 2009

Liberal with the spin

Norman Baker MP

Norman Baker MP

Skimming through Guardian Online yesterday, I came across this doom-and-gloom article about rail franchise holders going cap-in-hand to Geoff Hoon, waving the threat of service cuts if the Department for Transport (DfT) doesn’t show some ‘flexibility’ (for which read slashing) in the premium payments that it will be demanding from many of them in the next financial year. This has come about as a result of falling growth in passenger numbers – note falling growth, not falling numbers – due to economic circumstances pertaining.

No-one is expecting the franchises  in question to cease to be profitable (only the most lucrative routes have to pay premiums – others receive subsidies): simply that the profit margins will be a bit less comfortable than their holders bargained for. Given this, my advice to Hoon would be to wave an offer back at the franchisees – if you don’t want to pay up, hand in the keys and a new National Rail will run the services, keeping all the profit for re-investment in the railways.

But this is all as an aside. What really caught my eye was the footnote to the article, headed:

Go further in Serbia

What could this possibly have to do with the UK’s railways, wondered the Animal? Well, reading on… (more…)

November 14, 2008

Academies: selecting for easy success

Inside the Ashcroft-Vardy Creationist Academy for Boys (formerly the Plato Academy)

Inside the Ashcroft-Vardy Creationist Academy for Boys (formerly the Plato Academy)

In September The Animal wrote about the increasing lack of local authority control over secondary schools in London partially as a consequence of the inexorable march of academies, particularly in the most deprived boroughs.

Part of my concern about this was the deep-seated worry, expressed well by Fiona Millar here, that academies have far too much independence in terms of their selection policies for a state-funded school and are becoming increasingly well versed in finding ways around what rules they do have to abide to keep ‘difficult’ students out. An unwillingness to take children with statements of special educational needs and a tendency towards very high rates of expulsions (8.7 per 1000 pupils in 2006-07 compared to 3.2 per 1000 in comparable community schools) are examples of this. If you (more…)

October 18, 2008

Early Day Motion Watch #2 – Its the economy, stupid

Back in August we looked at the phenomenon of House of Commons Early Day Motions (those unfamiliar with this particular arcanity might want to look at my original post or more reliably here for enlightenment), or parliamentary graffiti as I prefer to call them, with a promise of regular analysis to come once Parliament returned from the summer recess.

Well, hold your breath no longer, for that moment has arrived. Parliament has now been sitting again for two weeks, largely overshadowed by events elsewhere. In that time MPs, returning flushed with ideas for motions hatched during the long recess, have tabled 143 early day motions, details of which are viewable here (EDM 2143 is the first tabled post-recess). Parliament’s return inevitably leads to a small glut of the most pointless type of EDMs: those celebrating the successes of local sports teams and personalities. Remarkably, however, barring an SNP motion on one particular cyclist, not one parliamentarian has chosen to table a motion congratulating Team GB in Beijing. Local rugby teams, on (more…)

October 11, 2008

A continuing question of scrutiny

A few weeks ago, I took Tory London Assembly Member Roger Evans gently to task for a low-grade ConservativeHome article in which he claimed that the Conservative Assembly group was doing a pretty good hash of their new-ish role as Boris’ cheerleaders ‘critical friends’. In that post I pointed out that the Tory group was asking a miserably low number of questions of the Mayor per member compared with the other parties and that the quality didn’t make up for the lack of quantity.

So, how goes the scrutiny of the Mayor from the ‘government’ benches? Well, the first big change is that Roger Evans himself is now the Conservative group’s leader. And the second big change…is that nothing much has changed. The Conservative group is continuing to table nearly four times fewer questions to the Mayor (questions for October 15th Mayor’s Question Time here) per member than any other party group. Even the Assembly’s increasingly delusional resident fascist Richard Barnbrook has found time – despite having single-handedly deposed Sir Ian Blair – to table five questions (and only two involve some form of race baiting! Well done Richard – you can kick the habit!). The Tories managed to piece together just 4.4 each, with Roger Evans and Brian Coleman, another (more…)

October 8, 2008

Should Transport fear its new Adonis?

One of the little surprises hidden under the big surprise of last week’s Cabinet reshuffle was the musical chairs amongst the lower ranks in the Department for Transport (DfT) and the Department for Children Schools & Families (DCSF). In particular, mildly controversial blogging MP Tom Harris lost the railways brief (and indeed, all ministerial position), with Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Schools Lord Adonis taking his place.

Adonis is, to put it mildly, an odd creature within the Labour Party. I should, briefly declare a prejudicial interest here – Adonis was the author of the most dry and uninspiring text book (now available for an inflation-busting £1.70+£2.75 P&P) on my A-level Government & Politics reading list and ten years on I’m still not quite ready to forgive.

Formerly of the SDP, Adonis, like many other such traitors turncoats Jenkinsites late developers late joiners of the Labour movement, he relied heavily on the patronage of Tony Blair on his climb of the greasy poll, with his ability to articulate and promote the most anti-progressive education policies (more…)

October 6, 2008

First Prize in Elitism

At last the Dodo said, `EVERYBODY has won, and all must have prizes.’ 

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

‘The election of a Conservative government will bring – and I mean this almost literally – a declaration of war against those parts of the educational establishment who still cling to the cruelty of the “all must win prizes” philosophy and the dangerous practice of dumbing down.’

David Cameron, Party conference speech, 2008

Of all the lines of David Cameron’s conference speech, few got quite as guttural a roar of approval from the party faithful than that quoted above. There can be little doubt that the inclusion of an out-and-out attack on something called the ‘all must win prizes’ culture in education was chosen by Cameron’s speech writers because of its ability to sound like a much more innocent statement than it really is – and because party activists crying out for a more traditional Conservatism would understand exactly what he meant.

Those of us outside Tory circles and who are not frequent readers of the more reactionary sections of the national press might see Cameron’s statement as little more than a relatively harmless assault on (more…)

September 21, 2008

Dreaming spires and nightmare admissions

The issue of access to higher education continues to receive significant levels of media attention with Universities & Skills Secretary of State John Denham issuing two slapdowns in as many weeks, first to Cambridge vice-chancellor Alison Richard, then to Oxford director of admissions Mike Nicholson. In a not wholly unprecedented pincer movement by the UK’s ‘top’ universities, Ms Richard and Mr Nicholson both criticised the apparent pressure that their institutions are under to admit a more representative cross-section of UK society, suggesting that this represented ‘government meddling’ in the running of Oxbridge. Mr Nicholson went so far as to suggest that it was actually impossible for Oxford to take a greater number of students from deprived backgrounds. This is, of course, nothing but total rubbish, but the remarks are not meant to be taken at face value, nor was Mr Denham the intended audience.

Rather, Oxbridge is engaging in an unstated game of brinkmanship with a future Conservative government, effectively giving an incoming Oxford-dominated Tory cabinet a final chance to stop the UK’s two most famous universities opting out of state funding and therefore any form of state control. Their price for this (more…)

September 10, 2008

(University) Challenged for a story?

Filed under: Conservatives,Education,Labour Party,Market failures,Media — Political Animal @ 11:37 pm
Tags: , , ,

Wake Forest University, North Carolina

Like clockwork each year, when A-level result and university admission time comes round, the media goes hunting, hoping it will find the next Laura Spence. Spence was a well-qualified state school pupil, who in 2000 was rejected from Oxford, before being accepted by Harvard on a £65,000 scholarship. The brief cause celebre briefly brought the issue of elitism within the UK university sector to the forefront of media debate. Well-known class warrior Gordon Brown controversially weighed in to the fray, describing Oxford’s rejection as ‘an absolute scandal’. Of course, for the media to find something similar happening now Brown is Prime Minister would be another minor humiliation for the beleaguered incumbent at Number 10. On current form, however, I don’t think Mr Brown has anything much to worry about on this score.

On September 5th, The Times published a rather fact-light article speculating on the ability of US universities to attract British students with large bursaries. With it was published a case study designed to illustrate this alleged trend – but there is something about it that doesn’t quite work.

Tom Gibson, 18, from Wellington College in Crowthorne, Berkshire…

A great start to the tale of woe. Mr Gibson is paying at least a mere £20,422.50 (including an extra £82.50 per term for being a sixth-former) per year for his education. OK, carry on – tell me more about poor Master Gibson.

…has accepted an offer from Wake Forest, a university in North Carolina that focuses on the liberal arts. It charges $36,500 (£20,000) a year for tuition but more than half of (more…)

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