Category Archives: Northern Ireland

Terror is not a reason to suspend political campaigning

It is especially disheartening that Paul Nuttall’s most worthwhile contribution to this General Election campaign has been to refuse to cease political campaigning in the wake of Saturday’s London Bridge attack. Though occasions in which I find him even mildly impressive are rare.

But he is right that the country should not have to routinely disrupt its democratic procedure all thanks to the unfortunate and unsurprising persistence of jihadism in our society. Especially when polling day is just days away (perhaps it is me, but the whole thing seems to have gone very quickly indeed).

It is of course important that, for the sake of rebuilding broken spirits and reminding ourselves of the good in humanity, efforts to commemorate and remember those who have lost their lives are made. Sometimes, a period of reflection and deep thought is useful.

But these things can be achieved independently of the campaigning of political parties. Most of us do not leave our charity at the door even in times of intense political contestation. Politicisation of tragedies, I have noticed especially amongst my generation, tends to be met with the scorn that it deserves.

What interests me far more, however, is the modern obsession with suspending our daily activities in response to mindless terrorism. This is particularly apparent in the midst of political campaigning, arguably an innately more vulnerable time for the country as it is a more politically-sensitive and reactive period.

This, the country that dealt with the menacing embrace of the Luftwaffe, now appears to want to scurry about in useless panic, desperately cleaving to whichever platitude it can offer in order to make us feel better about ourselves. Well, without meaning to sound crass, I don’t think platitudes are helping anybody. Especially not those most affected.

So, why do we suspend political campaigning? Is it a mark of respect? I don’t see how. All we do is afford jihadists and those waiting to follow in their footsteps more airtime than they perhaps warrant. Candles, prayers, bouquets and momentary unity are more than enough. The democratic process need not suffer too.

Terrorism is, if we remember, politically motivated. It feeds off the cameras, the alarm and the inevitable changes to public policy that serve only to further slice away at British liberty. I am trying carefully not to pen the very slogans that we have all become so tired of hearing over the last couple of years.

Indeed, there is something to be said for preserving most what the terrorists crave to bring down. Even more so when it is as precious and as (often) irrecoverable as freedom itself. This is why I am suspicious of renewed support for internment of our enemies in Britain.

It was tried in Northern Ireland not too long ago and proved a powerful recruiting agent for the Irish Republican Army. It is also a fundamental violation of Habeas Corpus, perhaps the most profound symbol of freedom ever marked by the country. I think there are better responses at our disposal (I will be exploring internment at this blog soon).

And shutting down the British election certainly oughtn’t to be one either. If anything, the magnitude of the terror threat we face demands an intensifying of political campaigning, not an easing of it. The country deserves to know what our potential leaders plan to do to help the situation, especially before such a time that they have been elected.

As I sit here and think about Thursday’s election, of Manchester Arena and of London’s blood-stained streets, I find it unfathomable that combating terror has not played a more significant role along the campaign trail.

Issues like police cuts have rightly been raised, and Jeremy Corbyn has been quizzed on his opposition to renewing Trident, but that has been the extent of security discussion. I am appalled by this. It is as if our leaders have no answers or are frightened to voice them. How has such an issue escaped political discourse? I fear the country will regret the relative silence of its leaders at this General Election.

And the more we suspend party politics, presumably to appease victims who are in no way enamoured by our doing so, the louder the silence grows.

 


Dear Mr Corbyn, hands off my tuition fees

I wish Leftist politicians would stop lumping me in with all the other, equally Leftist students in this depressing General Election. Specifically, I don’t like to hear Jeremy Corbyn talk about tuition fees as if all students are utterly appalled by them.

He did it last night during his relatively underwhelming Question Time performance. He reiterated his desire for national funding in education before making the false claim that “the number of people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university has gone down”.

Naturally, he attributed this trend to the introduction of and rises in the cost of tuition fees. Though immediately after he said this, ‘Full Fact’ rebutted his nonsensical claim, saying:

“There are a number of ways to measure what a ‘disadvantaged pupil’ is, but on all UCAS measures young students from disadvantaged groups in England are more likely to go to university now than any other year on record.”

The reference to England is particularly interesting when you compare it to its historically hostile northern neighbour, Scotland. In May 2016, the Sutton Trust, a distinguished education agency, published a report entitled Access in Scotland, in which they found:

“The gap in university participation between young people from the most and least advantaged areas is higher in Scotland than in the other home nations. Scottish 18 year olds from the most advantaged areas are still more than four times more likely to go straight to university than those from the least advantaged areas.  In England, those from the most advantaged areas are 2.4 times as likely to go to university as those from the least, and three times as likely in Wales and Northern Ireland.”

Scotland, unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, does not charge its home students tuition fees. It seems that where tuition fees are implemented, the proportion of ‘disadvantaged pupils’ (of which I am one) attending universities actually increases.

By scrapping tuition fees, as the Labour Party plans at the cost of £8bn per year (according to the IFS), they propose not only a subsidy for the rich, but a strangulation on university funding, which relies largely on fees across both undergraduate and postgraduate study. It is unclear that, with existing cuts to teaching budgets already made, scrapping fees will not be adequately compensated for.

Research by ‘The Russell Group’ showed that between 1989 and 2005, ‘government funding did not keep pace with increasing student numbers, leading to a 40% fall in funding per student’. Even in light of compelling evidence, I do admit that funding caps have not been kept even with the rate of inflation, which has started to see decline in real term funding gains.

There is therefore a stronger argument for increases to fees than there is to scrapping them altogether. Fears over under-admitting students from poorer backgrounds simply haven’t been realised. The reality has been that tuition fees have increased ‘per student’ funding and improved the quality of education for the disadvantaged, with repayments organised on the basis of post-study income.

The system is fair as we look at things. Education cannot be free, as the Left often claim it ought to be. There is a bill to be paid, and it is a question of who pays and for whom. It is not acceptable for working taxpayers to pay for the education of students from wealthy families. And why should others pay for my degree? They do not benefit. I benefit. And thus, I should foot the bill for my studies.

My current student debt sits at £36,000 when additional, supplementary loans are factored in. I am classified by government as a ‘disadvantaged pupil’ by income measure. My journalism degree has just concluded, but when I was studying, I constantly reminded myself of the costs of study.

Tuition fees didn’t put me off or make me want to drop out in order to avoid large, growing debts. They actually had the opposite effect on me psychologically. Fees galvanised me, reminding me of the price I would pay and that I should strive to get as much out of university as I possibly could. I do not pretend to represent all students (especially as a Right-wing conservative), but I suspect I am not the only student who experienced this.

The Labour leader has repeatedly referred to his party’s manifesto as a careful and well-considered document that is both fully costed and a positive alternative for the country. Though as far as university funding is concerned, I don’t think students should see it this way.

Students may be dismayed by the prospect of sizeable debts, but they ought to consider the factors that I have outlined above. The national conversation about the costs of tuition tends to imply that scrapping fees is a policy that students universally agree with and one that will encourage poorer students to embark upon Higher Education. Neither claim is the case.

Mr Corbyn, hands off my tuition fees.


The right to smoke does not equal the right to vote

It is striking to me that Theresa May has said something so straightforwardly sensible in reaffirming her wish for the voting age to remain at 18. I had always been under the impression that, given the dwindling interest in voting and sharp decline in participation over the years, politicians would be looking to 16 and 17 year olds to help beef up turnout by now.

She needn’t have bothered trying to rally the youth ahead of this election. Mrs May doesn’t exactly possess the charm that Nick Clegg displayed in attracting the youth vote during the 2010 General Election campaign, when he promised to scrap tuition fees upon getting into government.

The Tories would have just as much success rebranding themselves as the British Communist Party. Young people consistently show Left wing, liberal biases, and remain far more at home in the Labour Party or Liberal Democrats, at least until they enter the world of work and become taxpaying citizens.

I do enjoy the usual string of arguments deployed by those in favour of lowering the voting age. Especially humorous is the idea that because 16 and 17 year olds can smoke or drive they ought to be offered the vote in order to align rights with responsibilities.

Smoking and driving do not have anywhere near the impact upon public policy that voting can have, and 16 and 17 years by and large do not have the wisdom or knowledge that older voters do. Many will vote according to their parents’ biases, and not on the backs of independent thought or comparison.

It is at least a reminder that we don’t really have any coherent societal position on what exactly our ‘rights’ are. Of course, I appreciate the nuances in this argument. A 17 year old who turns 18 in July of this year might contend that he or she doesn’t lack the wisdom or knowledge of somebody a month older, and that person would probably be right.

But we need to draw lines somewhere. If we extend this argument, we can quite reasonably ask why 15 year olds ought not to be given the vote straight afterwards. It is a bottomless pit that creates nothing but problems and is never forwarded consistently.

The Prime Minister is, though, right when she claims that there are plenty of other ways to become active in politics, though the examples she gave (youth parliaments and councillors) were horrendously uninspiring. I myself used the lure of the summer’s referendum to do so, and with great personal benefits.

Most democratisation has absolutely nothing to do with government. It is arguably the workplace that is in most need of a little more democracy, since that is where adults spend most of their daily lives. I have been encouraged, for instance, by the slow growth in worker owned cooperatives in tiny pockets of the west.

Germany and Denmark operate thousands of successful, communal energy cooperatives, with many able to invest in renewable sources without the clouds of political forces hanging over their heads. A large network of worker owned enterprises has shielded Mondragon, in Spain’s Basque region, from the worst of the country’s economic hardship.

The vote often achieves very little in the way of democratisation. This is particularly so when a largely uncaring base are offered it. On the 11th November 2016, Darragh O’Reilly, a Northern Irish member of the UK’s Youth Parliament, laughably claimed in a parliamentary sitting:

“I tell you this: votes at 16 is no one-trick pony. It is nothing short of handing young people the freedom to achieve freedom. The freedom actually to fund the NHS. The freedom actually to have a decent transport system. The freedom to tackle racism.”

His statement was an enjoyable soundbite and I admire his genuine passion, but his view is baseless and most his age simply aren’t politically enfranchised. And of course no emotive political statement would be complete without a reference to the National Health Service.

Just like most other proponents of lowering the voting age, he dressed up its importance to be something other than what it actually is: a gimmick. If a genuine campaign were to emerge proposing to allow 16 and 17 year olds in the Armed Forces alone the vote, then I would be much more interested (and likely to agree).

Until then, Theresa May is correct to ensure that the voting age stays where it is. Britain is a one-party state and appears to have entered its second era of Tory dominance in the past forty years.

And 16 year olds aren’t about to change that.


Reflections on railway renationalisation and a Tory Brexit

My apologies, firstly, to readers for the general inactivity at the blog since the middle of April. This has been down to juggling work at a new job and the completion of my journalism dissertation, which I submitted on Thursday evening.

My hope is to achieve the 2.1 that will allow me to continue my studies into Masters level, with my eyes currently set upon an MSc at Royal Holloway in ‘Campaigns, Elections and Democracy’. I should now hope to return here frequently for the foreseeable future.

In my absence, this year’s General Election has gotten under way. A portion of the Labour Party’s manifesto has been leaked, and thanks to pledges to renationalise the railways, Royal Mail and energy sector, has been described as taking the UK ‘back to the 1970s’.

It may be worth remembering for a moment that Germany, a modern and well-run country, operates nationalised rail and worker-run energy co-operatives. Northern Ireland, too, (incidentally a part of the UK) retains public control of its rail system.

For the record, I don’t support renationalising Britain’s energy sector, but local, energy co-operatives, similar to those that exist on the continent do not sound like such a bad idea. I do admit to succumbing to the appeal of democratic ownership of utilities and co-operative privatisation (worker control of industry) of Royal Mail may be popular amongst postmen and women.

As far as our railways go, the ongoing debate around public and private ownership would seem to me to be a secondary issue. The primary issue is upgrading infrastructure and investment, and cancelling the vast amounts of money we seem keen to spend on vanity projects like HS2, which stands only to increase London’s workforce and damage the rural environment of the midlands. Any strong government ought to, by now, have scrapped such madness.

Britain’s rail infrastructure is predominantly Victorian and not entirely electrified, much to our national embarrassment. The billions put aside for HS2 should be re-directed towards modernising track and signalling, and towards investing in more medium-speed, medium-distance inter-city railway lines. London is too often used as a connecting city for long-distance travellers making their way across the country (and often finding themselves paying extortionate amounts).

The question of who owns rail services is made less important still by the fact that there need not be one single system of ownership, as demonstrated by the state operating of the East Coast mainline until March 2015. Britain’s rail system is not only franchised, it is regionalised, which means that, with very few exceptions, services are all co-ordinated independently of one another. The state can retain ownership of some lines whilst allowing for others to be run privately, depending on factors like performance and quality of service.

Immediate renationalisation would not make the running of rail services particularly cheap. As I have said, it is the cost of maintaining infrastructure, due to its age, that sets the cost of British rail travel above that of the rest of the continent. Upgrades to infrastructure ought to be at the centre of any debate about Britain’s railways and present a far more pressing concern than discussions over ownership.

I will not vote for the Labour Party on June 8th, but the aforementioned leaked manifesto content doesn’t look to me as if it will take us back forty years. This is merely dishonest Tory propaganda, no doubt aided by the incompetence of figures like Diane Abbott, who do nothing but discredit the Left and its labour movement.

Meanwhile, the Tories sit firmly in the driver’s seat of this election. They are rightly standing on a platform of seeing out the Brexit process, but of course, they are doing it for the wrong reasons. Many of them do not support out withdrawal from the European Union and thoroughly resent last summer’s referendum result. My vote for them in June (if I bother or indeed remember) will be more out of obligation than anything else.

I am at least glad that the Liberal Democrat leader this time around is Tim Farron, and not a young and fresh Nick Clegg, who managed to sweet talk the country into voting for him seven years ago. Thanks to Farron’s confusing position as leader of a party with which he has profound moral disagreements, the Lib Dems are not quite the force they could be.

Knowing that I was an adamant leaver, some readers might think that I am relieved the Tories are in poll position to win this General Election. This is not quite so. Something about the party’s (and indeed the Prime Minister’s) track record over the European question is cause for concern in my mind.

A couple of days ago, David Cameron made a comment that sparked some degree of doubt in my mind. He said that Mrs May needs a big majority so that she can “stand up to the people who want an extreme Brexit, either here or in Brussels.” It is a shame that UKIP can no longer muster the strength that it did back in 2014.

UKIP formed the ideal barricade against sentiments of this kind within the Conservative Party. There are many who call themselves conservatives, despite their continued existence that Britain should not govern itself and control its own affairs, who are fanatically supportive of the European project and of ceding parliamentary sovereignty.

When these people (Michael Heseltine, Ken Clarke, Nicky Morgan and George Osborne to name a few others) use the expression ‘extreme Brexit’, they demonise the reasonable belief held by large sects of the country, including especially much of the Tory grassroots, that the United Kingdom should control its own trade, borders, lawmaking and judicial process, no matter the difficulties which undoubtedly lie ahead.

Mr Cameron’s comments reminded me that placing complete trust in the Tories and giving them a free hand over such an important issue might not be advisable after all. We’ve heard ‘Theresa May’s hard Brexit’ quite a lot in recent months, but increasingly my fear is that when it is all said and done, Britain will no longer be halfway in the EU. Instead, she may find herself perching halfway out in what will look like an especially embarrassing position.


Immediate reflections on 2017’s General Election

I suppose it made sense in the end, in spite of Mrs May’s repeated claims that there would be no early General Election. Polls were warning us for weeks that it might happen, and those warnings were only growing sterner.

And let us not pretend that the Prime Minister needed yet another mandate in order to carry out Britain’s departure from the European Union; we had a clear enough one already to those who bother to pay attention.

This decision was fundamentally, and shrewdly, party political. But it could turn into a whole lot more than that. Since Brexit is now the hallmark of British politics, I expect the upcoming campaign to be a proxy; a second referendum of sorts.

But, more than that, yesterday’s announcement from Michael Crick may have been just as important. The Crown Prosecution Service, he wrote, will investigate up to 30 Conservative MPs for electoral fraud at the 2015 General Election.

I think this will have played a role in forming Theresa May’s decision to hold a quickfire election. Her advisors are acutely aware of proceedings, and presumably, if the CPS’ investigation had led to the sacking of up to 30 Tory MPs, an election would have been thrown together anyway.

And so, regardless of the motive, we have another General Election on June 8th. I have mixed feelings towards elections. I find election night immensely thrilling to watch unfold, but there is no denying that these events are merely public relations extravaganzas.

In particular, I am dreading the prospect of listening to the Liberal Democrats droning on about remaining in the European Union for the next eight weeks, though of course, it would be wise from en electoral perspective for them to do so.

If they mobilise effectively, and their rapid membership growth since yesterday morning’s announcement suggests they may, the Lib Dems could use this year’s election to become the government’s co-opposition, or in the case of an almighty shock, the opposition.

Yesterday a colleague and I tried to find betting odds on the Lib Dems winning more seats than Labour in June, but we could find no such market. I wonder if one will open in the coming weeks, and whether or not it would be worth a punt.

For the record, I think the Liberal Democrats will do extremely well. By leading a policy of Brexit reversal, they garner the attention (and many of the votes) of many millions upset with the direction the country is headed in.

This snap General Election is the last obstacle in between Brexit voters and what they desire most. It is therefore imperative for them to support the party most willing to secure the very things the country wanted to reclaim control of last June.

Since the Tory Party (and the Tory Party alone) fills this bracket, I shall be voting for the Conservatives on June 8th. I am politically unaligned and have been for much of the year, but this election is the last port of call for those desperate to rally behind Brexit.

As far as the Labour Party is concerned, I think we should first give Jeremy Corbyn credit for sticking by his word and accepting the challenge of a snap election. Of course, he won’t win, but who in his position would lead Labour to victory?

I have for some time thought that Yvette Cooper, known for her tremendous parliamentary performances, might have been a far better candidate to lead Her Majesty’s opposition. Corbyn is a good politician, but a hopeless leader.

Labour members ought to be worried. Most polling and local election results suggest that they will take significant hits come June, but their worry should not necessarily be triggered by the Tories.

For the first time since the early 1980s under Michael Foot, the Labour Party is in very real danger of losing its status not only as opposition, but as the party of working people.

The Lib Dems, who appear much more organised and viable an opposing party, have a chance to leapfrog Labour at this election. And their members know it. Through talking to Lib Dems, as I have been, I have found the sense of optimism striking.

My one fear is that they win enough seats to make up for Labour losses in rural England that they are able to thwart a Tory majority. I don’t think this will happen, as a weakened SNP in Scotland may allow Ruth Davidson to take more marginal seats, but it is indeed a possibility.

I would also draw the attention of readers to two other interesting political developments that may have a significant impact on this summer’s election.

First, 2018’s boundary changes (which I had forgotten about entirely until I was reminded of them on Facebook last night) are a potential problem for the Conservatives. ‘Holding off until 2020 would allow the Tories to take advantage of boundary changes that come into force in 2018’, writes Will Heaven yesterday in The Spectator.

Secondly, the prominence of Sinn Fein ought not to be ignored. The Tories have always benefitted from a useful Democratic Unionist Party contingent in parliament, and they will regret the number of DUP MPs falling.

These are my most pertinent thoughts on this election. My vote, as a matter of supporting Britain’s exit from the EU, will go to the Tories, and I should expect them to win a majority. But I will keep a beady eye on the Liberal Democrats.

 


Don’t arm Britain’s police in the name of terror

After a terror atrocity, it usually takes at least a few days for rational thought to creep back into political discourse. Sometimes it can be much longer than that.

It was for this reason that I waited a little while before commenting on the horrific incident in Westminster on Wednesday afternoon. I wanted to distance myself from some of the hysteria that I feel unhelpfully attaches itself to events of this kind, especially on social media.

One of the most common post-attack and counter-terrorism suggestions from the public and members of the intelligentsia has been to arm all British police officers.

This is a policy that has been advocated for years, it doesn’t just come from the screams of statists after March 22nd. As the UK’s terror threat has heightened (somehow, a terror threat can be measured), so too have the calls for arming all officers intensified.

The trouble is that the proposal is a gimmick and not a silver bullet, is opposed by most British police officers and radically transforms the nature of the relationship between police and the public.

In 1829, Sir Robert Peel, who introduced the Metropolitan Police as Home Secretary, wrote his ‘9 principles of law enforcement’. Principle number seven will interest readers:

“The police at all times should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police are the only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the intent of the community welfare.”

Officers are citizens in uniform, not a militia that, in effect, provides the state with a monopoly of force. Policing must be carried out at the consent of the public, which it is, and not at the barrel of a gun.

I think that to arm all of Britain’s police officers is a fundamental betrayal of their purpose and the values that Robert Peel had in mind when he introduced them 187 years ago (which included a period of mass public armament, lasting until 1920).

It is no surprise to me that in a recent Metropolitan Police Federation poll[1], most officers opposed the compulsory arming of all British police officers, similar to the system that currently operates in Northern Ireland.

Of the near 11,000 police officers polled, only 26% said that they believed all Metropolitan police officers ought to be routinely armed on duty, though most reported that there should be more authorized firearms officers on the streets.

Given the trials and tribulations that follow police shootings, it is not hard to see why the majority oppose forced armament. Months of stress and lengthy investigations will take their toll on any police officer.

Difficult, too, must media coverage be to deal with. Often, a person knowingly and deliberately shot by a police officer is painted as a sympathetic figure after such an incident. Those who remember the London riots of 2011 will be fully aware of this.

Police officers do not want to have to shoot people. That is the job of soldiers or specialised units with years of training and experience. Investigations on officers who do use their firearms, no matter the circumstances, will come under incessant questioning.

This poses a huge problem for forces that increasingly have to deal with policemen and women (rightly) taking time off to ease any psychological issues that they may be having. Having relatives in the job, I have seen the physical and mental impact policing can have on those who do it.

The reality is that some officers will be far too trigger-happy and others unable to deal with the guilt and burden of having to end another person’s life. We love and idolise our police officers during times of crisis and terror, but seldom do we think about them when normality resumes.

Robert Peel visualised police officers as being men and women whom we can approach at any time, place our trust in, feel comforted by, equal to and yet at the same time revere as both a source of reasonable authority and a rallying point for the frightened and vulnerable.

Like the officers surveyed, I oppose the obligatory arming of all British police officers, and indeed oppose additional armed units, whether in busy, metropolitan areas or not. We have plenty of authorised firearms officers in Britain already.

The problem created by continually expanding upon armed units is that police forces will inevitably be sucking resources away from ordinary policing. That is to say that the more money, time and manpower diverted to armed officers, the less there will be for patrolling constables and the public will feel abandoned by a force already accused of withdrawing from the streets.

As any daily commuter into London now knows (and I reference London because it is both fertile soil for these sorts of atrocities and the jurisdiction for the officers who took part in the Met’s poll), armed officers roam the capital’s busiest regions on a daily basis.

Major train stations are crawling with them, as are landmarks and buildings of significance. Even suburban shopping centres, such as Bluewater and Lakeside, and town high streets have seen a notable increase in armed police presence in recent months.

As I walk around these sorts of places, I feel a distinct unease. This is not just thanks to the sight of assault rifles, which are designed to frighten others into obedience and drill holes in human flesh, killing mercilessly.

It is also because the very visual of watching your local neighbourhood patrolled in such a sinister manner is a telling sign that we are gradually becoming a less free society.

Take a quick look outside of Britain, and focus on what is happening in mainland Europe. France, Germany and Turkey, current experiencing problems far worse than our own, all have very heavy armed police presences.

I might argue that increasing the visibility of armed officers has perhaps encouraged terrorists. It has sent out the signal that people are afraid and need protecting, and that by engaging in these dreadful acts of violence, terrorist actions are influencing public policy, leaving a legacy of their own and appealing to the vanity of other potential attackers.

Admittedly, there are structural differences between Britain and other European countries in response to terror. Strict gun laws and the English Channel make gun smuggling and possession much more difficult for criminals in the UK.

And so I think the current Islamist threat, which I believe exists but is not anywhere near as pertinent as is often suggested by politicians who will never let a good crisis go to waste, is not comparable to problems faced in, for instance, Northern Ireland prior to police being routinely armed.

For one, and unlike problems caused by the IRA, the Islamist threat can be largely countered online, through bans and monitoring, and secondly, the nature of the radical Islamic threat is changing rapidly. I also think that Islamism is more discreet and covert than the IRA-sponsored threat faced by the UK some time ago.

But when attacks do happen, increasingly we see that vehicles are the designated weapon of choice. Cars and lorries are not easily stopped by even the most highly skilled of armed police officers.

So the latest wave of support for Britain’s unarmed police to carry anything more than tasers, which I believe (as the incident at Leytonstone tube station showed) are effective enough tools for modern police, strikes me as yet another encroachment on our liberties.

Western governments are renowned for offering us the fig leaf of security in exchange for our most prized personal freedoms. I am shocked they haven’t already started hiring the many thousands of instructors (which we don’t have and can’t afford) that will be needed in order to arm all of Britain’s police.

And as I write, I am reminded by an infamous Benjamin Franklin quote, as relevant as it has ever been.

 

 

 Notes

[1] http://metfed.org.uk/news?id=7185

 


Politicians continue their hypocritical assault on grammar schools

An astonishing article written by the former Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Labour MP for Manchester Central Lucy Powell, has appeared here https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/19/help-poorer-pupils-selection-social-mobility-education-brexit-grammar-schools in today’s ‘Observer’, thoroughly condemning plans to expand upon the tiny rump of besieged grammar schools in Britain.

Somebody should remind them that that number is a meagre 163, and since legislation introduced by Tony Blair in 1998, namely Labour’s School Standards and Framework Act, it has been illegal to open any new grammars in Britain (note that I do not include Northern Ireland in these figures). A quick history, too, on the figures for readers who are interested.

The Education Act of 1944 fundamentally reformed the organisation and availability of secondary school education in Britain. Prior to the introduction of the Act, which made state secondary education free, children over the age of 14 had to pay fees in order to continue their studies. The national system was then spliced primarily into two tiers: grammars for the more academically gifted and secondary moderns for those not considered so. There were also technical schools established for children who showcased particular skill in specific subject areas but not enough overall to go to grammars. Very few such schools were set up. The number of grammar schools in Britain then rose substantially, until in 1965 there were 1299.

Then, in 1965, the government (which comprised of Leftist egalitarians, many of whom benefited from selective education, such as Harold Wilson, then Prime Minister) ordered local authorities to cease opening new grammars and phase in new schools, called comprehensives, to replace grammars. The number of grammars began to plummet, reaching just 300 by 1978 and now stands at just over 160.

But back to today’s article.

The three politicians who penned the piece seem frustrated by present levels of selection within the British education system. “Times have moved on”, they write. “Expanding selection isn’t part of the answer to tackling social mobility.” I think this is odd, given how few officially selective schools are left. There must be more to selection within education in Britain than just grammars. And there is. The country’s best comprehensive schools, not available to children whose parents do not live in upper class catchment areas, are also highly selective. Important research recently conducted by the respected education charity ‘The Sutton Trust’ concluded that:

The top performing 500 comprehensive schools in England, based on GCSE attainment, continue to be highly socially selective, taking just 9.4% of pupils eligible for Free School Meals (FSM), just over half the rate of the average comprehensive (17.2%)”

…and that:

“Living in the catchment area of a top comprehensive school is associated with a house price ‘premium’ of around 20%. A typical house in the catchment area of a top 500 school costs £45,700 more than the average house in the same local authority. The best schools measured using Progress 8 are associated with a much lower premium of 8.3%, or £18,200.”

So, grammars are not necessarily the essence of the problem. But Ms Powell, Ms Morgan and Mr Clegg fail to point this out in their article, which, they claim, concerns an issue that should be above party politics. I wonder if they think that just because otherwise partisan politicians agree on an issue that what they say is definitively correct. Their position would be far more consistent and carry much more weight if they would collectively condemn the copious amounts of selection engaged in by other schools. Those kinds of schools, perhaps, that have been actively imposed upon children by modern generations of politicians.

A huge issue to note, and highlighted by the aforementioned quotation, is the problem of selection by house price, which stands today as the main arbiter of educational selection for parents and their children. I ask the egalitarians so mightily outraged by the prospect of more grammars why they favour a system that espouses selection by wealth rather than selection based upon academic results. And don’t give me any more nonsense about the 11 plus. I don’t much like the 11 plus either, but I will at least recognise that other systems exist which could provide a much more adequate alternative to these silly tests. In Germany, for instance, a format of co-determination continues to operate in which parents and teachers sit down and mutually assess the possibility that a given child will benefit from streamed academic selection.

The article continues, with another extraordinary claim. “Now is not the time for more division or political ideology in education.” I tend to agree. So why not offer a system that will prove an effective buffer against the now overwhelming dominance of those lucky enough to attend private schools? Since comprehensives have clearly failed in this regard, apart from the aforementioned crop that perform extremely well that, chances are, your children will not get into, why not try to bridge the so-called ‘division’ of the current climate of education. The real divide, of course, stands between those kids rich enough to attend private schools and those who do not have such a luxury.

And as far as ideology goes, the most impactful and ideological change in education in the UK has been the 1960s-led comprehensive experiment, that left many poorer children in areas without a reachable grammar school (particularly in the north of England, since grammars can now be found circulated in middle class conurbations in Kent and Buckinghamshire) at the mercy of an inferior quality of schooling.

Egalitarianism has infested British schools at every level, threatening standards and discouraging success. Prizes and certificates are now given to all students, regardless of the extent of their achievement, and no longer do teachers recognise difference between passing and failing the 11 plus. If children are told that, no matter their efforts, they will succeed, they are indoctrinated with messages that disincentivize the pursuit of excellence. This culture has a profound impact on children, who as a result of their surroundings, become too comfortable and forget the value of hard work.

I have been relatively lucky. I was a disadvantaged pupil at school by government recommendations and found myself benefitting from the Free School Meals system. I only mention this because it is often used as a metric for how many poorer students attend particular types of school. I went to Erith School, in North West Kent and South East London, officially a bilateral school offering two tiers of education: selective (that included me) and non-selective. Some subjects did not acknowledge the divide and grouped children together regardless of academic ability.

Though I cannot count personal experience as anything other than subjective anecdote, I was quite clear that in classes selected on academic merit, there was a noticeably stronger urgency for learning and an atmosphere of encouraging others and welcoming progress. In non-selective environments, academic achievement is routinely mocked and those children less academically able to grasp subject matter may find themselves distracted or holding those in front of them back, contrary to the claim made that “having the brightest children in comprehensive schools helps raise standards for all, increasing aspiration and intellectual capital in a school.” My view has always been that cleverer kids are far more likely to become frustrated by lower standards around them than ever they are incentivized to help.

So, this newly-established campaign, just one of many created by establishment politicians who are dismissive of the merits that come with academic selection (despite often being beneficiaries of it themselves), is just another example of how divide and ideology have come to stand as the pillars of British education. Those political figures who deride grammars as being instruments of these characteristics aren’t even bothering to look at the flaws in their own proposals.

Quite how anybody can stomach it is beyond me.