Free School Farce

So it seems that, in the face of continuing austerity and deepening cuts to public spending, Philip Hammond has managed to find hundreds of millions of pounds to splurge on Theresa May’s pet project: free schools. One of the supposed freedoms which these schools enjoy is that they don’t have to follow the national curriculum, although quite what purpose that serves is anybody’s guess. I cannot imagine how it could be in the best interests of the pupils – unless the national curriculum is not fit for purpose, in which case I would suggest that it is in urgent need of review.

These free schools can be set up and run by independent (which is to say, private) schools or by people who really know what they’re doing, like parents or faith groups – because, in the Brexit age, everybody’s had enough of experts.

What free schools truly represent is the channelling of public money into the Tories’ cherished private sector, and their propagation contributes to the further undermining (and under-funding) of state education. Free schools are purportedly not-for-profit but that merely means that they are run as charities, which is the same outrageous tax-avoidance scam that schools in the private sector have been pulling for years. Tax free schools. Indeed, since free schools are also able to set their own pay and conditions, there can be little doubt that this programme is about little more than the creeping privatisation of state education by the back door.

As ever, the Conservative vision of a small state serves only to lead to a widening of the divisions in society – and yet somehow it always ends up being subsidised by the taxes paid by ordinary working people.

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The Great British…

Now that the BBC is set to lose The Great British Bake Off, I thought the time might be ripe to propose a slight variation to the format. As it happens, I have an idea for a programme featuring the competitive making of traditional Jamaican chicken and pork dishes, ideally to be hosted by that Boris Johnson fellow.

Unfortunately, I’m rather stuck for a title. I wonder if anyone might be able to suggest something apt…

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Burka Burks

According to a YouGov Survey, 57% of British people want a ban on burkas in public places. Here’s the thing: we live in a free country – something which we rather value – but that means that it has to be a free country for everybody: you can’t just have freedom for people who you agree with – endeavouring to follow that path means you end up having laws not only about what people can wear but on what religious beliefs they can hold, what political direction they may follow, what opinions they are allowed to express and even what they are permitted to read (in fact, I believe Theresa May already has that last one very nearly covered in her upcoming Snoopers’ Charter…). Pretty soon you’ll find yourself living in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

No, if we truly want to preserve what we perceive as being the British way of life then what we actually need to do is to defend people’s freedom of choice and of expression, and that means ensuring that nobody has anybody else’s will imposed upon them – that all of us are equally free from oppression and subjugation. The only way to achieve that, of course, is through improving education and by defending liberty. It may not be the fastest path to change but it is the only way of preserving freedom and democracy.

Meanwhile, in France…

In 1940, with fascist forces marching steadily across Europe, Winston Churchill famously gave his “We shall fight on the beaches…” speech (oft misquoted with a “them” erroneously inserted). It’s good to see that the French are today able to summon the same grit when it comes to facing down women wearing modest swimwear, although I can’t help thinking that they may have rather missed the point, which I believe was something about defending liberty from an uncompromising and authoritarian state. Liberté, égalité, fraternité, huh?

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God’s Final Message to Mankind

I am well aware that Mohammed was technically God’s last prophet, but he appeared to me in a vision the other day and asked me to pass on a few minor details to clear up some confusion:

God doesn’t care about hunger, poverty, deprivation or war; all he’s concerned about is how we wear our hair, what meat we eat, how often we shave and that we mutilate the genitals of our children. Oh, and he said to please make sure that we keep killing each other in his name.

Yours faithfully,

The Prophet Fles

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Bitter Tweet Symphony – an attempt to explain the phenomenon of the “Twitter-Storm”

Twitter is not a thing, a place or even a collective (although it is often described by the media in those terms). It is perhaps easier to think of it as a virtual soapbox: it is a far-reaching communication tool which can spread opinions and information around the world. One finds one’s audience (or, perhaps more to the point, they find you) and one chooses one’s feeds of information and opinions, much as in real life. The attraction is that people who might never encounter each other in the real world can find kindred spirits and explore ideas together.

Many of the occupants of the Twitterverse are affable and thoughtful souls; others may not even be sane. Think of them as friends and family. Now, naturally, any debate held in an open forum may attract its fair share of halfwits, bigots, racists, conspiracy theorists and even Tories, but they also have their place and are entitled to their voices. As I said, think of them as friends and family. [There are also lunatics, of course, but they can be blocked, muted or simply ignored. Think of that as locking them in the loft or cellar…]

Naturally, if one is to hold and express an opinion in this public forum – on politics, society or any other topic – then one really ought to be prepared to explain the rationale behind that position and even be ready to defend it to a potentially hostile audience. This is simple debating and it is the foundation of intellectual discourse and, indeed, democracy.

The problem with social media – well, one of the problems – is that it can occasionally whip good people into a frenzy over the merest perceived sleight. Online life seems to somehow encourage individuals to react with emotion over intelligence at times (and thus often without making the effort to understand the deeper story behind an event, let alone check sources…) but that is entirely a human failing and one which has very often been quite deliberately fostered – our tabloid media has been especially guilty in this regard.

The web is the new frontier, an unexplored environment of pure (and not-so-pure) mind, and social media is a territory upon which many people have set out on a voyage of self-discovery, often seeking to fulfil their need for “validation”. In the same way that the new frontier of America, back in the days of the Wild West, could not be held to blame for the rise of outlaws and gunslingers, nor can social media be held responsible for an occasional tide of outrage among those who populate it. A “Twitter-storm” is but a symptom, for social media merely hosts opinions; the puerile nonsense, alas, stems from humanity itself.

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Filibustering Farce

The NHS Reinstatement Bill was deliberately blocked on Friday by Tory MPs who spoke on another topic at great length in order to use up parliamentary time – and this is not the first occasion that we have seen this tactic employed. Filibustering may be considered by some of our political representatives to simply be a normal part of parliamentary procedure but the fact is that it makes a mockery of democracy and is an insult to each and every member of the electorate. The House of Commons is not some sixth form debating society; reducing the discussion of the future of our nation to the level of a college sport trivialises the issues which members of the public live and experience every day.

The future of our NHS and of other public services is important to British citizens; these institutions are held dear and if ministers are not prepared to do their duty by taking the trouble to consider the interests of the people whom they are elected to represent then they should be expelled from the House, for they have no place in a modern democracy.

Some politicians seem to think that the Commons is a venue for party political games to be played out but that isn’t the perspective of anyone outside of their tiny clique. We keep being told that the public are disengaged, disenchanted and disenfranchised from the political process but that actually couldn’t be further from the truth – most people care deeply about politics but their over-riding feelings on politicians tend towards cold anger and despair at being treated with such naked contempt by our supposed representatives.

It is evident that many of our political class see themselves as being set apart from the masses but they should take care; such shameful behaviour will not be tolerated by the people of the UK.

Sign the petition to stop this behaviour.

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Moderate Political Positions

Perhaps I’m being obtuse but I really don’t understand the basis for the constant stream of allegations I see in the media that Jeremy Corbyn is “extreme left-wing”; he’s a socialist – that’s kinda the point, surely – so he wants libraries and hospitals and social housing and a more equal society, but I’m not seeing anything extreme in what he’s talking about. Nonetheless, a great many political pundits are discounting him, insisting in print and online that the public will only elect “moderates” – and yet the only recently re-elected Tories (with a “majority” of 37% – not much of a mandate there) are selling off all our national assets and presiding over the greatest increase in levels of inequality seen in this country since Dickensian times. Perhaps it’s just me but I fail to see how that behaviour might be considered to be even remotely moderate.

Forcing the sick and disabled back into work only killed a moderate number of them, I suppose – despite all David Cameron’s claims about the faith of this country, the only concession to Christianity that his party has made was Iain Duncan Smith demanding that the lame should throw down their sticks and walk – but forcing people into deeper and deeper debt because of dogma-driven cuts also strikes me as being rather extreme. Can somebody – anybody! – please explain to me precisely what it is about the Labour party leader’s political position that is more offensive or outrageous than stripping our country of its services and infrastructure, selling its assets off to overseas (and often tax-exempt) concerns, outsourcing public services to known tax-avoiders and driving the poor into utter destitution?

Meanwhile, recent actions taken by Cameron’s government include cutting the armed forces, cutting the police force and now cutting the fire brigade – one imagines in order to get them all to sizes where they can be more easily managed by either G4S or Capita. These smaller units will presumably allow only moderate conflicts, moderate crime waves and moderate infernos to follow the moderate flooding which has engulfed Britain of late, causing hundreds of millions of pounds worth of quite immoderate damage.

Whatever criticisms one might wish to make of him, the thing that does appear to set Corbyn apart is that he only takes positions that he genuinely believes in: every statement that he issues is consistent with his behaviour ever since he first came into politics; unlike, for example, David Cameron, who persistently takes positions which are utterly at odds with those that he stated just prior to the two elections in which he has stood: no cuts to front-line services, no top-down NHS reorganisations, no plans to raise VAT, no means-testing of child benefit, no plans to scrap Education Maintenance Allowances, no plans to scrap Sure Start, no cuts to child benefit, no cuts to welfare… Please, tell me again which party it is that is in disarray and has now become unelectable.

Posted in Austerity, Capitalism, Equality, Government, Politics, Privatisation, Tax-Avoidance, Welfare | Tagged , | Leave a comment

London Weighting? Nope, London (and the rest of the UK) left waiting

Many people of late have expressed the opinion that homes in London ought to be made affordable for those in essential occupations but not so much for other ‘wannabe Londoners’ because “London is a great place to live but… if you can’t afford it find an alternative.” Well, here’s the thing: London is a great place in large part because of all the life, the vibrancy and the amenities that it has, but if you want to be able to enjoy the bars, sandwich shops, malls, cafés, gyms, cinemas and offices then they will all need to be staffed and cleaned and those are jobs which pay neither megabucks nor, very often, a commuting salary. Homes need to be made available for all and affordable to all.

And besides, who truly wants to live in a fiscally-segregated society anyway? People is people – being in a different salary bracket doesn’t make any of us any better than or even any different to one another; just more fortunate, perhaps. Inequality is the enemy of social cohesion and it is certainly not a state to be encouraged or pursued. The alternative to an integrated society is a disintegrated society, with all of the fragmentation and division which that term implies. We should be aiming to become a more whole nation, working together to make not just London but Britain a place we can all be proud to be a part of and proud to call our home, and that is why greater provision of so-called social housing is something which we all ought to be demanding.

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Civilian Surveillance

I think it’s a real shame that government cuts have led to the closure of so many of our libraries, otherwise the authorities would easily have been able to monitor what we read. As it is, to save the security services from having to pore over my internet usage too closely, I’ll gladly give them a list of all the sites worth visiting – they’ll soon understand how Abu Hamza was able to get along so well despite only having one hand…

Incidentally, if any of the security services do take the trouble to trawl through the retained data of my internet browsing history, they will find that I did indeed visit one extremist website in the last twelve months – but they needn’t worry, all of the speeches I was searching for had long since been deleted from the Conservative Home website.

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The Politics of Smears and Accusations

There’s no denying that Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t give good sound-bites. He may be a great many things but he’s certainly not a PR man. Nonetheless, I was most surprised that our Prime Minister recently described Corbyn as “the Britain-hater” when it is David Cameron himself who has presided over the decimation of our armed forces, our police force and our emergency services; who has overseen the most sustained fall in living standards for fifty years (according to the Office for National Statistics); who has authorised the intentional deprivation of funding to the NHS; who has allowed the dismantling of the Welfare State (which, let us not forget, exists as a cushion for every one of us in times of hardship); and who only at the last minute, and under intense public pressure, abandoned a plan to cut tax credits which would have had a drastic impact upon the lives of the working-poor.

One of Corbyn’s recent so-called failings was when he said that he was “not happy” for the police or military to implement a “shoot to kill” policy on British streets. To be frank, I’m not entirely sure why this is even an issue: of course there are occasions when shoot-to-kill may be the only course of action but it should never be policy. The way to deal with armed criminals and terrorists is to disable them, arrest them and put them on trial – that way nobody gets to be made a martyr. The US likes to shoot first and ask questions later, but that’s because they like to think of themselves as gung-ho action heroes. Rather tellingly, that’s not how the rest of the world sees them.

As for accusations that Corbyn is a terrorist sympathiser: I can’t help but notice that we as a nation are still supporting and arming Saudi Arabia, the greatest sponsor of terrorism in the Middle East, even as we wring our hands over how to cope with the human tragedy that is unfolding before us. Cameron actually negotiated the Saudi election onto the UN Human Rights Council in 2013 – rather odd behaviour for someone who purports to love British values such as democracy and free speech…

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