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Showing posts from May, 2016

A national policy framework for independent candidates?

Whigs and Tories - political merry-go-round By Gilray (image via Wikipedia) Wednesday's meeting in Totnes, organised by South Devon Watch  to discuss strategies for political change, was inspiring and challenging in equal part. The inspiration came from so many committed people, all seeking to bring authentic democracy to a system widely seen as unaccountable, if not corrupt. The challenge is to find a way of beating the current system without repeating its manifest failings. The meeting focused on independent candidates, both at local and national level. Among the speakers was  Claire Wright , the independent Devon county councillor who came a good second in East Devon at the general election last year. Also present was Martyn Greene of the  Free Parliament campaign , which is putting up serious money  to support independent candidates at the next national election. There can be little doubt that the tribal, adversarial party system typifies much that is wrong with our

EU referendum: a false dichotomy obscuring a far more vital struggle

Continuing the Referendum theme , a friend wishes they knew what the E.U. really does for us. This is not a Life of Brian moment but a measured desire to understand the pros and cons in order to make an informed decision. The leaflet circulated to every household by the Electoral Commission offers little help. The page on the Yes side says "More jobs. Lower prices. NHS protected." while the one for No says "Our last chance to take back control". Yes is appealing to economic self-interest, No to a sense of nationhood. Such different value systems are difficult to compare. This was reinforced in a research paper by Neil Smith that came my way this week. It makes the fascinating point that the UK is a member of the European Economic Area (EEA, which includes EU members and a few non-EU countries such as Switzerland, Norway and Iceland) independently of its membership of the EU, so leaving the EU does not, legally speaking, mean leaving the single market. If

In a single sentence, the DfE tells us everything that is wrong with both the education system and our socio-economic structures

“The evidence is clear that every extra day of school missed can affect a pupil’s chance of gaining good GCSEs, which has a lasting effect on their life chances.” So said the Department for Education, responding to a High Court judgement that children who regularly attend school may be permitted family absences. Let's think that through. Start with the assertion that a person's "life chances" depend on their GCSE results. Is that by accident, or design? If by accident, then it is high time that we do something to correct the error; but if by design then how come we've created a system that values only the narrow range of not particularly useful and sometimes harmful attributes that GCSEs assess. The ability to memorise, for example, and then reproduce in a specified format some pre-cooked "facts" that can easily be looked up on a smartphone does not seem like an essential life skill. The "skill" of suppressing ones enthusiasm - ones desir

Let's not weep for the departing oligarchs - resilience begins at home

Posh London addresses... Yesterday, billionaire hedge fund managers ; today, the nameless super-rich buying into London's property market . All our instincts are screaming that these people do not operate in the best interests of society, and yet the refrain is the same: the rich are "wealth-creators" and we should be grateful to them rather than making them account for their wealth. The rich are not wealth-creators, but wealth accumulators, and buying premium London property is part of that process. Having to reveal themselves under Cameron's much touted anti-corruption measures , will, it seems, frighten them off. Estate agents and lawyers - and doubtless interior decorators, security companies, limousine drivers and many others - fear for the crumbs that drop their way from these rich people's tables. The UK is a dependent economy. It imports far more than it exports , and somehow it has to pay for it. Like those estate agents to the oligarchs it canno

Extreme wealth is not a "victimless crime"

Warning! Wealth-creators at work! Twenty-five hedge fund managers took home $13 billion in earnings last year, according to a new report . Easy enough to be appalled, outraged, disgusted - or even impressed - but what does this really mean for the rest of us? The assumption is that these people with the Midas touch are applying their hard work, ingenuity and good fortune to generating vast quantities of wealth, of which they then take a substantial cut. They are merely the most successful of the millions of people across the world who are trying to make money in investment markets. But that phrase "generating vast quantities of wealth" is misleading. The wealth that comes through managing investments is not "created" or "generated" from new, but is reallocated away from other people. This might mean other professional investors losing out, but more often it means society at large. As employees, customers and tax-payers we all contribute to invest

Housing crisis: there's only one boat, and we're all in it.

Prices are rising, but who is winning? Having spent the weekend debating the divisiveness of party politics, let's cut to the chase and talk about one of the big political issues of the day, which is housing. Conventional political thinking assumes that this is a generational matter, pitting the interests of older house owners against those of younger renters. Since older people are more likely to vote, that makes for a political no-brainer. We could buy into that convention, which would make this an issue of inequality, or rich versus poor. This is what the political establishment would like us to do, because it suits the adversarial framing of party politics (in which the rich generally win). Or we could look at it another way, and try to work out what would be in everyone's best interests. Research published last week shows that the "Bank of Mum and Dad" will help to finance 25% of all UK mortgage transactions in 2016, to the tune of £5 billion. To add to

People don't vote, because the system offers no solutions

Limited attraction: "Did not vote" the biggest winner by far In our tribal, divisive electoral system it's no surprise that the biggest group of all is completely absent. In London on Thursday, 54% did not vote; in Scotland the figure was 44% and in Wales 56%. In English local elections the figures are similar or worse. And these figures are for registered voters. They do not include the  hundreds of thousands of (generally young) people of voting age who do not make it onto the electoral roll . Meanwhile, two election stories are dominating the news cycle. One is the failed Conservative "dog whistle" campaign against Sadiq Khan; the other is the " state of the parties " - who's up, who's down and can Labour win the next General Election under Jeremy Corbyn (or anyone else). Actually, they're the same story. Politics in the media is all about big-name politicians and the parties they belong to, rather than improving the quality of

Time to challenge the divisive values of party politics

Winners take all? How the UK is divided by the party system. Allegations that the Tories stole the last election by cheating on their spending  are far more than a storm in an over-heated social media teacup. They point to an overweaning sense of entitlement in a system that disproportionately favours the big parties. The Conservatives, as the richest party, feel the most entitled, and their dismissal of the cheating claim as an "administrative oversight" suggests that they see rules as an irritation to be brushed off rather than an attempt to level an ever more uneven playing field. Today is polling day. some people, in Scotland, Wales, London and elsewhere, have important decisions to make. Me - I get to vote for a Police and Crime Commissioner and my first instinct is not to bother, but then I'm reminded that alongside candidates from the main parties is an independent who looks like they know what they're doing. Here's a chance to challenge the system

Education is a relationship between pupils, parents and teachers. The government should keep out.

So that's what it means.. . Photo: BenLaParole (Own work)  [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons If you missed the days at school when you would have learned to identify a determiner, a modal verb or a subordinating conjunction (which I fear I must have), you will drop a lot of marks in the new “harder” KS 2 SATs  that are causing such controversy . Fortunately, these are useless pieces of knowledge, of significance only if one treats education as a form of mass-production in which the absence or misplacing of any one pre-determined component is a total fail. This, presumably, is where schools minister Nick Gibb is coming from when he says “it simply isn’t fair on children to deprive them of a day of their education.” Shadow education secretary Lucy Powell also does not “condone children being taken out of school”. In this way they encapsulate the politician's view of education as a rigid framework of inputs selected and provided b

A housing lottery in which even the winners are trapped by their own good fortune

When someone buys a house for the first time their attitude to house prices changes instantly from wanting them to be as low as possible to wanting to be as high. This, in a nutshell, describes the British housing crisis. High house prices are a drug to which a big majority of the voting population are irredeemably addicted. All that, however, could be about to change. A survey for The Observer reveals that 80% of respondents think there is a housing crisis, a number that must by definition include a majority of home owners whom rising house prices can only enrich. So what has caused this change of heart? The answer is children. For whereas the early winners in the housing bonanza (early baby boomers who bought at low prices in the '70s) could afford, five or ten years ago, to help out their adult children with substantial deposits, such opportunities are rapidly closing down. People who bought in the '90s did not get such bargains, and now prices for their twenty-something