SamHarrisBlog

"Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and then applying the wrong remedies.” – Groucho Marx

The curtain falls on New Labour

 

David Miliband’s retirement from politics signals the departure yet another stalwart from the New Labour era, but will Ed Miliband and Ed Balls be able to successfully negotiate the curtain call.

Despite their attempts to re-re-brand the Labour party as ‘One Nation Labour’, both Balls and Miliband have found it difficult to shake their toxic ties with the New Labour era. Each week the coalition parties remind the two Ed’s of their accountability as part of Gordon Brown’s cabinet. Supporters of the Conservative party, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP are happy to hear the broken record placing ultimate blame for the ongoing economic situation at the door of The Labour Party, however it appears the vital swing voters are less sure. This month saw Labour take the biggest ever recorded lead in YouGov polls at 15 points, whilst average poll ratings from UKPR (UK Polling Report) have Labour with a 10 point lead.

Although, when looking specifically at economic performance the polls return a rather bleak picture for Labour and Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls. Only 26% believe that George Osborne is doing a good job, but when asked who would do a better job with the economy, George Osborne wins with 31% to Ed Balls’ rather embarrassing 25%. The ‘none of the above’ option comfortably beat both candidates with a sizeable 44%. Ed Balls may have proved a great success for frustrating the coalition benches, but it appears his value as candidate for Chancellor of the Exchequer has diminished.

Whilst such polling data is helpful to gauge a generalised feeling from the nation, it is often misleading. Voting intention polls have Labour 10 points ahead, yet undoubtedly the key issue at the next election will be the economy. Therefore the prospective candidates for Chancellor, and the rate of growth in the economy may well be the difference between election victory and heartache. The mid-term local election results are equally misleading. Opposition parties are expected to make huge gains, and anything else is deemed a failure. For the more radical political parties, gains made at local elections are often lost at general elections. It is therefore unlikely that UKIP will achieve the 10% of votes that are currently predicted, and it is equally unlikely that Labour will win with a 110 seat majority.

At close fought elections, mistakes and slip ups are pounced upon and exploited, and can ultimately decide the overall outcome. Therefore David Miliband’s resignation today signals a good step forward for Labour. His announcement has removed all speculation of a return to frontline politics and has put an end to the circus surrounding him and his brother Ed. The Labour PR machine now has one less worry and links to the New Labour governments are slowly disintegrating – however whilst Ed Balls sits alongside Ed Miliband on the front bench, links will be made and aspersions cast. The remaining traces of Labour’s not so popular past may be the unravelling of their 2015 election campaign.

Equal pay, a necessity

Figures released by the Chartered Management Institute claim that 57% of company executives are now female, leading undoubtedly to many thinking that gender based equality in the workplace is a problem solved. However these figures are not as straightforward as they appear. The same research by the CMI concludes that only 40% are departmental heads, with less than 1 in 4 holding the position of chief executive. Research produced by The Guardian condemns big business further, claiming that executive committees of the top 50 FTSE companies have a lowly 14% female representation.

For the select few women in these top positions, it would be understandable to expect that salaries would directly mirror that of a male counterpart, however that is not the case. The CMI figures show that on average, male company executives earn £400,000 more in basic salary over the course of a career than females doing the same job, with larger bonuses to boot.

It seems absurd that in November 2012 we are still debating how to tackle pay equality in the United Kingdom. Over forty years since the Equal Pay Act of 1970, a bill put in place to protect and support the victims of discriminatory pay, we find ourselves in a position where being born male still appears to give us the divine right to earn more money. Continued research into salaries will help to redress the balance and apply pressure to employers. But action from the government is a necessity, starting with the implementation of a more stringent procedure to check and sanction companies who breach the Equal Pay Act.

Trying to pinpoint the reasons for the continued pay inequality brings up some worrying trends. Among the most common is a belief that all female workers will want maternity leave, and will ultimately cost businesses thousands in maternity pay. This coupled with the outdated view that women want to, and should, stay at home and raise the child once born creates a stigma unfairly attached to all prospective female employees.

The announcement from Nick Clegg re maternity leave changes is undoubtedly a positive step. From 2015 parents will decide how to divide up the 12 month parental leave allocation, but to change the views of society there has to be enforced regulations. Simply allowing for men to take more time off will not necessarily result in paternity allowances being used. In Norway, such a system has been in place for the past 35 years and still only around 17% of men take more than their 10 week ‘use or lose’ allowance. However over 90% of men do use their 10 week ‘use or lose’ allowance.

To enforce real change, both parents should receive 4 months paid leave each, with the final set of 4 months to be divided between them as they see fit. The 4 months allocated to each parent should not be transferrable, and if they decide not to take that time off, it is lost.

Our economy loses out year after year due to talented and innovative women being overlooked for top jobs. By strictly enforcing the Equal Pay Act, and enacting equal maternity and paternity paid leave, we can make a huge difference in a relatively short space of time.

Steel View: Issue 1 October 2012

Click expand to view in full screen!

Caine’s Arcade

re-blogged from seanthomasdesign.wordpress.com

www.cainesarcade.com

Top 5 gaffes London 2012

5. On a visit to the UK, Republican Candidate for the US Presidency, Mitt Romney held a press conference with Ed Miliband. Although I accept that Ed may not be a household name in the US as of yet, he should be a familiar figure to any senior politician. For Mitt Romney to conduct the press conference and refer to Ed Miliband as “Mr Leader”, was unprofessional, hilarious and slightly worrying. His advisors may find themselves out of a job very soon…

4. As the North Korean women’s football players took to the pitch at Hampden Park, their pictures and names were displayed on the big screens alongside the flags of their native country. Well, they should have been. What they got instead was their pictures and names, alongside the flag of arch-enemies South Korea. Needless to say, the North Korean delegation were not impressed.

3. Welcome back, Mitt Romney. This time for the comments suggesting that London may not be capable of staging a successful Olympics. “It’s hard to know just how well it will turn out”. This comment came after he had described the staffing for the games as “disconcerting”. For a guy who openly and continuously attacks President Obama’s foreign policy record, he’s not exactly forging the greatest of relationships around the world.

2. David Cameron is desperate to try and gain some credibility and support in the wake of the Olympics. Little did he know, tweeting a photo of yourself in a Team GB polo shirt, whilst sat in a high backed arm chair, grinning conveniently for the camera, and watching the boxing was completely the wrong way to go about it. Cue a barrage of tweets mocking the hopelessly staged photograph. Oh Dave, when will you learn.

1. The top gaffe over the Olympic games is without a doubt Boris Johnson and his zip wire malfunction. Whether you like Boris or not, seeing him hang in what appears to be a rather uncomfortable harness 30 feet in the air, with multiple opportunists taking photographs was hilarious. To think that he is being touted as the next leader of the Conservatives and potential PM is terrifying.

Ed Miliband should take pointers from Hollande on staying young

The French presidential elections in May saw Francois Hollande beat Nicolas Sarkozy in close fought race. The winning margin just 3.4% in the second round. Recent polls and analysis suggest the 2015 UK election may be strikingly similar, so just what lessons can be leant from the Parti Socialiste and their successful election campaign?

As the party in Opposition, Labour stand to benefit most from implementing the tactics of the Parti Socialiste. The main lesson to be taken is to target the voters disaffected with politics.

The tactics used by team Hollande were simple; meet a diverse range of the electorate, listen to concerns/points of view, enlist a good marketing team, and don’t try too hard!

Hollande travelled to some of the poorer regions of France and spoke with a diverse range of the local population. At a time when these poorer regions are feeling abandoned and forgotten, and politicians are seen as the enemy, campaign trips proved hugely successful. Hollande didn’t just turn up and give a carefully constructed speech, he took the opportunity to listen to the concerns of a nation.

Like Hollande’s predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, David Cameron is often criticised for being out of touch with the population. Sarkozy was disliked in France for who he was, the expensive lifestyle he maintained and his unashamed arrogance. Similarly David Cameron is disliked for who he is, the tax breaks for the rich, granny/pasty taxes, and the blatant disregard for the working class. Ed Miliband has a chance to come to the fore and give members of society a voice. As shown by Hollande in France, being a man of the people would allow him to finally be taken seriously by the public as a strong candidate for PM.

Another key area of success for Hollande was his advertising campaign . Although the advert is in French (understandably), the choice of song, the way in which it is edited, the diverse range of people who feature, and the focus on voting cards is clear for all to see.

Kanye West may not be to everyones taste, however it will resonate with a large proportion of the youth vote. The editing style is very current and popular, and it works to engage the watching audience. Once engaged, it is clear that there is an emphasis on the voting cards, and that no matter who you are, where you come from, what ethnic background you may have, Francois Hollande is the man of the moment and the man who should receive your vote.

Despite the choice of music and style of edit, Mr Hollande does not pretend to be something he is not. There is nothing worse than someone trying to be ‘down with the kids’, and to see someone who wants to be president, or in our case prime minister, try to be ‘cool’ would destroy any chance of victory. Although it would be very British for Ed Miliband to don a William-Hague-style baseball cap and embarrass himself hugely, it is ill-advised. Enlisting the help of a good marketing team to create an advert similar to Hollande’s would go a long way to engaging a generation that currently feel alienated from politics.

The current government are constantly chastised for a series of mistakes; Jeremy Hunt and his News International friends, Nick Clegg and his broken promises, Liam Fox’s resignation, Theresa May’s catalogue of errors, Vince Cable’s inability to keep his thoughts to himself, Michael Gove’s love of 1960’s education, Andrew Lansley’s dismantling of the NHS, and of course Gideon’s questionable economic pedigree. While the media have a feeding frenzy over the haphazard members of the coalition, Labour have a chance to retake their position as the party of the people.

If Ed Miliband can break the view that ‘all politicians are the same, they are all as bad as each other’, and engage the youth vote then he will race to victory come 2015. There doesn’t need to be a pledge signed, or any unattainable policies drawn up, just a concerted effort to make the 18-24 year olds understand that they have a place in politics and that their voices and opinions are being heard.

The message is clear, stand with us Ed, and we will stand with you.

A day in the life of Boris Johnson

I have trawled the web, and got a selection of photos (and a video) of Boris stuck on a zip wire. So here you have it, the Mayor of London and next leader of the Conservative Party…

(via The Sun)

(via ITV)

(via ITV)

(via thehollywoodgossip.com)

(via sickchirpse.com)

(via The Huffington Post)

 

Hike in university fees to cost over £1bn

It was announced recently that 47 out of 123 institutions have been given the green light to charge the maximum tuition fees of £9,000 across all courses from the next academic year onwards. The OFFA (office for fair access) announced that they had approved the plans from each of the 47 institutions to widen access to ‘poorer students’.

On top of this, over three quarters of all universities will charge £9,000 for some courses. They attempted to come across as reassuringly expensive, and have instead been show to be disconcertingly elitist.

Vince Cable’s assurances that tuition fees would only rise above £6,000 in exceptional circumstances appear to be just as inconsequential as the Lib Dems’ election pledge to scrap tuition fees altogether.

” That was the report given to the Government. We have rejected those recommendations and proposed instead that we proceed as the statutory instrument describes. That involves the introduction of a fee cap of £6,000, rising to £9,000 in exceptional circumstances.”  – Vince Cable, 2010

The justification of the tuition fee rise was to aid the deficit reduction plan, yet due to the fact that the government cover the cost of all tuition fees it is in fact costing the nation more. The first repayments will start in 2015, when the first of the £9,000, 3 year courses finish. It is estimated that the government will have to pay over £1bn extra to cover the hike in tuition fees.

This is no mistake. To offset such a cost, the teaching budget has been cut by 80%, and this leaves a cut to university places extremely likely. Over the past 2 years David Cameron has distanced himself from any suggestion of making universities more elitist due to extremely negative press over the issue, however he has now manufactured a situation where the only obvious option is to do just that.

There have already been 15,000 full time undergraduate places cut for 2012 admission, with more expected to follow in 2013. Competition for places will increase, and with tuition fees already discouraging almost 50,000 applicants this year, a total of nearly 65,000 people have already missed out on a chance of university education.

image via The Daily Telegraph

Coalition cracks are clear to see

This weekend saw Vince Cable all but confirm the reports of internal disharmony within the Liberal Democrats, by casually throwing his hat into the ring for the leadership of the party… well, almost.

Since the aptly named ‘Con-dem’ coalition formed, there have been quite open and honest rumblings of dissatisfaction within both camps from backbenchers. So does Vince Cable’s admission of a desire to lead the party actually change anything?

The simple answer is yes. At a time when the relationship between the two coalition parties has been reported as being so fragile, with David Cameron and Nick Clegg making public shows of unity and commitment, someone as senior and well respected as Vince Cable would be naive to admit to such a claim as wanting to be the Liberal Democrat leader. Then again it isn’t the first error of judgement he has made, as he spoke rather too honestly for Nick Clegg’s liking to undercover newspaper reporters last year.

Labour now have the ammo to squeeze whatever life is left out of Nick Clegg and his party, and based on the ever improving performances in PMQs you wouldn’t put it past Ed Miliband to do so. Although on this occasion his attitude could be somewhat different. There are many, such as George Eaton author of The Staggers blog for the New Statesman, suggesting that the next general election is likely to lead to another hung parliament in which the Liberal Democrats would once again be the kingmaker. Labour have already made it clear that Nick Clegg must be the first casualty from the Lib Dem front bench if they were to enter in to a Labour-Liberal coalition, so keeping Vince Cable’s integrity intact would be a solid tactical move.

That is not to say that this incident cannot be used to further damage the credibility of the already wounded coalition. Ed Miliband is sure to point out that Vince Cable is simply staying true to his Liberal beliefs, whilst Clegg et al sell out to the Tories. But what effect will this really have on proceedings?

There is the potential for Vince’s comments to be a positive for the Liberal Democrats, if used as the outlet that the backbenchers and junior members need to voice concerns with the political direction that Nick Clegg has been dragging the party in since 2010. Supporting Vince Cable to become the leader for the 2015 general election at Septembers party conference could breathe new life into the Liberals and restore some credibility with the public. For the Lib Dems to perform well in 2015, there needs to be an appearance of delayering within the party.

However the chances are that Vince Cable will be lambasted by members of his own party, and any possibility of him succeeding Nick Clegg as party leader will be extinguished.

In reality, who can blame him for speaking out? It must be frustrating having his experience and knowledge of economics, whilst sitting under the highly inept George Osborne.

English, mathematics, science… and politics?

At present the national curriculum states that all students must have English, maths and science lessons up until the conclusion of GCSEs. Politics, at present, doesn’t even have a supporting role. The majority of schools do not actually offer any form of political education options at either GCSE or AS/A level education. To many this will not cause a great deal of concern, but perhaps it should.

Maths, English and science (and IT to a certain extent) are seen as being the most academic and useful subjects that employers and higher education institutions look for. This view is almost as draconian and outdated as Michael Gove and the curriculum itself. When I was applying to university, I was asked for relevant qualifications linked to my chosen course; none of the above subjects satisfied these parameters. My experiences were not out of the ordinary, classmates at school who chose to go straight into the workplace after GCSEs/A-Levels were asked about relevant experience for the job. The number of qualifications (GCSEs, AS levels, A levels, BTECs etc) were often asked for, but more often than not the specific subject of the qualification was not required.

It is without doubt that a basic knowledge of English as a subject, can help greatly with the ability to read and write, and structure essays. But after reading and writing skills are obtained, are there any benefits in day to day life, that justify English being a compulsory subject up to the age of 16? Essay writing is a great skill to obtain for future education courses, but the truth of the matter is that with university fees sky rocketing, the number of applicants are falling, and therefore the need for universal essay writing skills is diminishing also. Maths and science, from the age of 12, cater for the needs of a select few professions. In all honesty no topics covered in maths after basic adding/subtracting, dividing etc, have been useful to my life, and science was deathly boring. Whether that be due to the teaching styles I encountered, or the structure of the national curriculum I cannot be sure, but if you have little interest in a subject then why should you be forced to study it? 

The question of what our children want to learn is of paramount importance. Once you get past the utopian dreams of having just two lessons and a four hour lunch break each day, many of the students I spoke to are quick to point out the lack of relevance of learning the compulsory subjects, in particular maths and science (although many also felt the reading and dissection of novels in English was rather dull, and did not see the relevance). Instead they were calling for life skills, the skills that they would require and find useful in day to day life. Encompassed in these life skills is politics, quite possibly the most important subject to learn when considering the impact of politics in each of our lives.

So instead of spending over half the school week on three subjects, the consensus appears to be that the learning of life skills classes + a full choice of subjects = utopia… Whoever thought freedom of choice would be described as utopia!

A lack of political education and political knowledge can lead to some potentially dangerous outcomes. Many bloggers/journalists such as myself are quick to point out the failings of governments, or of prospective policies of political parties, in the hope that the pressure applied by the population will have a positive effect. So how do we expect to hold politicians to account for their actions, if our younger generations do not have any knowledge about our political system and how politics affects our everyday lives?

We are, in effect, building a time bomb. Over the next 30 years, that bomb will explode and shatter our claim of being a leading democratic nation, if immediate action is not taken to reverse the current trend.

Perhaps the best solution to all the above issues is to remove all compulsory subjects once students reach key-stage 3. Instead the government should insist that all LEAs ensure each state school under their authority provide the option for every student to learn English, mathematics, science, IT, politics, the arts and physical education, and at least one school or college in each local authority should offer specialist subjects.That way every child can tailor the education system to their individual needs. It is vital that the government and LEAs also understand that we are in 2012, not 1962. Therefore the proposed return of a two-tier system with GCEs and O levels was preposterous. Ironically Mr Gove shelved these ideas after a torrent of negative comments in the media, a weapon we may soon lose due to our prehistoric educational curriculum refusing to politically educate students. Hopefully Michael Gove is beginning to realise evolution is natural and positive, and regression is simply a misguided delusion of an outdated and out-of-touch bureaucrat. 

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