What does Leveson tell us about the Tories and their plan to wipe out state services?

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At first, they ignore an inconvenient truth.  Then they ridicule it.  Then they attack it … and finally the omnishambles of the Tory-LD government has become self-evident.

 Nevertheless, this government is very successfully dismantling the NHS, state education and what remains of the post-war consensus for the profitable benefit of the transnational corporations, the financial sector (in other words themselves, their friends and relatives); a fact still largely ignored by the mainstream media. This raises a number of important questions about the nature of our democracy.  The Leveson inquiry sheds  significant light on government’s interaction with a transnational corporation like News International, and corporate expectations of government.

Tories plan to wipe out state services

A leading Cabinet minister has admitted that the Conservatives aim to eradicate the state provision of public services in this country. Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister and a former banker, in an extraordinary gung-ho speech to Policy Exchange to mark 10 years of the centre-right think tank, said the Government wants to end state provision – even if it means they end up being run by private equity companies from tax havens….The speech comes as David Cameron’s Government is embarking on a controversial programme to extend privatisation way beyond Margaret Thatcher’s wildest dreams – to Britain’s road network and even the police. (1)

 Noun 1.   confidence trick – a swindle in which you cheat at gambling or persuade a person to buy worthless property   bunco, bunco game, bunko, bunko game, con game, confidence game, flimflam, gyp, hustle, con, sting

sting operation – a complicated confidence game planned and executed with great care (especially an operation implemented by undercover agents to apprehend criminals)  swindle, cheat, rig – the act of swindling by some fraudulent scheme; “that book is a fraud”

 

That David Cameron and George Osborne are ‘arrogant posh boys’ who know very little about economics or seemingly anything else much, has been patently obvious, from the beginning. As Martin Rowson wrote at the time of the Comprehensive Spending Review:

‘… we need to understand various things about George Osborne, this Government’s economic vandal-in-chief. First, he’s almost a victim of his own ambition…. Second, he’s actually a bit of wimp… If you combine these two aspects of his character, Osborne suddenly becomes both more and less terrifying. He’s less terrifying because it’s just an act, the calculated malevolence purely there to cow the rest of us into compliance with his programme of Thatcherite orthodoxy. However, where he becomes more terrifying is when you realise that … he really and truly doesn’t know what he’s doing … There is, in other words, a stench of deranged naivety surrounding George Osborne, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, and I fear we might be hearing the phrase “I wasn’t expecting this kind of thing” quite a lot in the next few years, as they survey the wreckage.’ (2)

Versions of this view can now be heard repeated across the political spectrum, and from the far right end, Peter Hitchins complains:

All the pillars of the Cameron delusion have now collapsed. The Tory Party cannot win a majority by any method. Nobody trusts it, and  it stands for nothing except  getting posh boys into office… 
[Mr Cameron] is exactly what he looks like, an unprincipled chancer with limited skills in public relations…. 

George Osborne is not an iron Chancellor with a severe plan to save the economy…. he’s not very good at his job. (3)

Michael Meacher on George Osborne: This man has the touch of genius if the Tory aim is now, as it seems, to lose the next election. (4)

But to be fair, it is not only Cameron and Osborne who have created the shambles of the last six weeks. Other members of the cabinet have contributed their mite, including Frances Maude and his cack-handed attempts to create antagonism to the Fuel tanker drivers and the unions; Theresa May’s inability to get the date right and the chaos at Heathrow; Caroline Spelman’s ridiculous water standpipes; Baroness Warsi comparing UKIP to the BNP; and now the U-turn on a U-turn about the new fighter aircraft.  More seriously in the last two years, we have had the Liam Fox affair; Gove’s multiple apologies to Parliament over the School Building programme; Hague’s inability to organize a boat to evacuate from Libya, the Tory fundraiser and now the emerging evidence of the Levenson inquiry.  In fact, it is quite difficult to know who from the present cabinet could possibly replace Cameron… they have all ‘messed up’.

However, all of this incompetence poses a conundrum.

How can it be that these shambolic, careless, arrogant individuals were able to supervise, let alone devise the immense sophistication of the Health and Social Care bill, the Welfare Reform bill and the Education bill? Not only are these bills profoundly (deliberately?) complicated but they are also deviously tailored to facilitate the ongoing privatization of public services… often by wrecking the state provision thus encouraging take-up of personal private insurance.  In addition, there has been accompanying legislation such as, the not much discussed ‘Henry VIII’ powers to abolish the quangos, and the Legal Aid bill which together will largely prevent any sort of challenge through the courts.

There has also been a highly synchronized time-table orchestrating the passage of these major bits of legislation, getting them swiftly in place, before the first cuts in the benefits system began to be implemented. Arguably, the intention was to get them onto statute well before the public or MPs have had a chance to fully digest their implications.

Additionally, ‘distractions’ have often been choreographed to coincide with contentious legislation.  For example the proposal to sell off the forests, which was bound to cause an outcry, coincided with the first reading of Lansley’s Health and Social Care bill.  This announcement was in itself unnecessary because the Public Bodies bill, which was designed to allow the minister to sell as much of the forests as she liked without any recourse to Parliament, was simultaneously going through the House of Lords.

Presumably, it is this ruthlessly efficient programme, aimed at selling-off what remains of state services, that caused George Osborne to be hailed as a great strategist.. (along with his three dimensional strategy chessboard). However, following his disastrously misjudged budget, few think that Osborne is a brilliant strategist anymore.

The question must be asked, therefore, to what extent is it plausible that Lansley, Gove or IDS were the primary movers in devising their respective bills?  Do we really believe that Oliver Letwin, the dumper of official mail in a public park waste-bin, was the brains co-ordinating the strategy?  It is also clear that civil servants can have had a very limited input given that the bills were up and running so quickly after the general election.

It seems so much more probable that the global management consultants, such as KPMG and McKinsey, and the transnational corporations, were simply allowed free-rein to write the legislation to suit their needs … with no apparent safeguards to secure and protect the best interests of UK* citizens from vested interests.

In this scenario, government ministers would then simply be the front-men, the PR…  which would fit with why, when criticized, the Coalition ministers peculiarly focus on the inadequacy of the way that a policy was presented.  As Douglas Alexander said:

George Osborne is apologising for spin of the budget, when he should be apologising for the substance.

The incestuous relationships between politicians, civil servants, think tanks, lobbyists, donors and corporate advisors have been discussed widely outside of the mainstream media … and also in a number of previous Think Left articles including: Welfare Reform and the US Insurance Giant Unum (5);  Lobbyists are destroying the democratic process. (6);  Transnational Corporations have not let a good crisis go to waste. (7)

The Leveson inquiry gives another level of authority to the supposition that:

‘Britain’s political class in particular and ruling class in general collude, connive and corrupt both systemically and systematically…. The evidence has laid bare the intimate, extensive and insidious web of social, familial and personal ties between the political, corporate and legal forces that govern a country: a patchwork of individual and institutional associations so tightly interwoven that to pick at one part is to watch the whole thing unravel.’ (8)

Furthermore, Gary Young writes:

… these interactions mock the very notion of democracy on which the nation’s illusions are based…. With the culture secretary described by Murdoch’s lobbyist as a “cheerleader” for News International, it seems as if the takeover was to all intents and purposes a done deal, prevented only by the fallout from the hacking scandal. All the kinks ironed out on horseback and settled in time for the main course. Parliament would have been a mere rubber stamp. Oversight reduced to an afterthought in a House of Commons…. (8)

Again as a result of Leveson, Anthony Barnett identifies a highly significant aspect about the nature of this Tory-LD government:

The scandal has now clarified a far more breathtaking question: is Britain governed by a big lie?

Of course there was not a “deal” in the narrow sense of a written contract…. It was a partnership … between people who decided to get into bed with each other and help each other obtain their interests at the expense of public life in Britain.

… no person of sound judgment could conclude anything other than that there was indeed a grand collaboration worked out before the election by the Murdochs and Cameron and Osborne and then implemented after it….

Any government whose duty is to secure and protect its citizens would necessarily seek to ensure that NewsCorp’s power is limited, checked by regulation and competition.

Today, how can Leveson pass judgment on the nature of the understandings reached by Rupert’s Rebecca when she went horse riding with David Cameron beyond the reach of judicial standards of proof? Without the clear evidence of the metaphorical ‘smoking gun’ to make a verdict of a conspiracy against the public interest simply unavoidable, it becomes his judgment-call to force the Prime Minister and Chancellor from office, for selling out the country with their utterly inappropriate relationships with team Murdoch. It is a power he’ll naturally resile from using….

But the bigger issue remains… It is one thing to kow-tow, to cultivate, to grant some concessions to (to seek not to make an enemy of) a man who controls 40 per cent of the press. This may be revolting but it is – or was – political reality in Britain. It is quite another to agree to reshape the all-important media environment of our democracy for the advantage of a player whose coverage is not only notorious for bias and the dishonourable destruction of people’s lives but who is also known to bribe the police and break the law.

This was the Rubicon that Cameron and Osborne plotted with Murdoch and Son to cross. While the Murdochs may be confounded, their agents remain in place in 10 and 11 Downing Street. They have shown themselves as people not fit and proper to run a government. (9)

So if we extrapolate from the Murdoch case, Barnett’s words could be re-written as:

But the bigger issue remains… It is one thing to kow-tow, to cultivate, to grant some concessions to (to seek not to make an enemy of) the transnational corporations and the financial sector. This may be revolting but it is – or was – political reality in Britain. It is quite another to agree to reshape the all-important public services of our democracy for the advantage of players whose primary concern is a ready, stream of profits which will doubtless end up untaxed in some offshore secrecy jurisdiction.

Without the clear evidence of the metaphorical ‘smoking gun’ to make a verdict of a conspiracy against the public interest simply unavoidable, it becomes a judgment-call to force the Prime Minister and Chancellor from office, for selling out the country with their utterly inappropriate relationships with private health providers, private employment insurers, global management consultants, private education providers and so on

Richard Murphy makes the point that the corrosiveness of offshore tax havens stems from ‘a deliberate, legally backed veil of secrecy’ (10). But at the very point that, the ‘imperative of shattering secrecy’ by transparency and country to country reporting, is beginning to be taken seriously and internationally, the Tory-LD government is making our own public services secret, unavailable to public scrutiny, by claiming commercial sensitivity.

As George Monbiot argues:

Private companies now provide services we are in no position to refuse, yet, unlike the state bodies they replace, they are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act…

Companies are once again striking remarkable deals, hatched in secret, at the expense of taxpayers, pupils and patients. Last week, for example, we learned that Circle Healthcare will be able to extract millions of pounds a year from a public hospital, Hinchingbrooke, which is in deep financial trouble. Crucial information about the deal remains secret on the grounds of Circle’s “commercial confidentiality”.

… If we are to reclaim power from the corporations that have seized it, first we need to know what that power looks like. (11)

This raises fundamental questions about the nature and power of government.

Shouldn’t there be a responsibility on political parties to spell out their intentions before they are elected?

Shouldn’t there be transparency about the authors and genesis of legislation?

Shouldn’t there be a capacity to challenge governments who have misled the electorate prior to election?  For example ‘No top down re-organisation of the NHS’ and ‘No Tuition fees’.

Shouldn’t there be a legal duty on governments to secure and protect the best interests of their citizens?

Doubtless this list is not exhaustive but the point is, that without this sort of transparency and accountability, in what way can any UK government be said to be democratically elected?  What protection is there for the electorate from a sanctioned coup d’etat?

As Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, said: “Far from being done by mutual consent, the Government’s plans rest on imposing unpopular ideas on an unwilling workforce.” (1)  At the same time, Professor Prem Sikka reports that Britain’s rate of wealth transference from employees and the state to corporations is unmatched in any developed country. (12)

It seems that this government of the Tory-LDs are intent on transforming the UK* into that which James Galbraith identifies as a Predator State: The state as monopoly collector of taxes and corrupt distributor of the spoils to the private sector. (13)

sting operation – a complicated confidence game planned and executed with great care  swindle, cheat, rig – the act of swindling by some fraudulent scheme;

* The peoples of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are to  varying degrees protected by their own legislatures. It is the NHS and public services of the English which are currently the primary targets.

Dedicated to Phil C., a greatly respected commentator on Think Left, who never did get around to writing us that promised article.  

He will be much missed – R.I.P. 10.05.12

(1) http://www.tribunemagazine.co.uk/2012/03/tories-plan-to-wipe-out-state-services/

(2) http://www.tribunemagazine.co.uk/2010/10/martin-rowson-3/

(3) http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/

(4) http://www.leftfutures.org/2012/05/osborne-sticking-to-austerity-will-the-last-one-out-turn-off-the-light/#more-9579

(5) http://think-left.org/2011/11/22/welfare-reform-and-the-us-insurance-giant-unum/

 (6) http://think-left.org/2011/12/06/lobbyists-are-destroying-the-democratic-process/

 (7) http://think-left.org/2012/03/05/transnational-corporations-have-not-let-a-good-crisis-go-to-waste/

(8) http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/may/06/leveson-murdoch-cameron-brooks-privilege

(9) http://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/anthony-barnett/murdoch-and-big-lie

(10) http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2012/05/07/paradigms-can-shift/

(11) http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/may/07/freedom-information-my-monstrous-proposal

(12) http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/apr/23/squeezing-ordinary-people-finances

(13) http://think-left.org/2012/02/16/the-nhs-and-tina-mrs-thatchers-ideological-anti-democratic-political-legacy/

Michael Gove should redo his GCSEs.

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In response to a recent speech, in which Michael Gove warned the number of pupils passing exams would fall as a result of government reforms making exams tougher, Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the traditionally moderate association of Teachers and Lecturers, accused Mr Gove of seeking an “utterly disastrous” return to the 1950’s exam system.

“Education should be about developing students’ skills and not about ensuring some students fail exams”. Dr Bousted added that top priority should be given to tackling poverty, social exclusion and social inequality as a means of improving the performance of disadvantaged pupils.

She said right-wingers laid the responsibility for tackling educational inequality upon the school … “In their world, the school exists in a bubble, unaffected by the economic forces raging around it which will put 200,000 more children below the poverty line.

“We need to understand just what schools can do but we also need to understand what needs to be done in terms of social justice to give all children a fair start in life and a fair chance to benefit from their education.”

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said “Michael Gove’s continual criticism of teachers, headteachers and pupils achievements is thoroughly undeserved…While it serves the Education secretary well in securing headlines it simply alienates and demoralises the profession which strives day in and day out, often in difficult circumstances, to achieve the best for all their pupils.” (4)

Following on from Alicia Duffy’s post (3) about restricting access to Open University degrees by tripling the fees, Think Left posts another from Liam Carr challenging the retrograde education policy of the Tory/LD government and specifically the lack of understanding of Education Minister Michael Gove:

Under-equipped? by Liam Carr

First posted http://liamrcarr.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/under-equipped.html

Michael Gove should redo his GCSEs. If he did GCSE Sciences now he would learn some important concepts about how to look at data both in the media and from other sources. He has noticed that there is a correlation between low academic achievement and ‘risky behaviour’ (1) or what a normal person might call having unprotected sex. He has made the classic mistake that GCSE science students have learned not to make, and jumped from correlation to cause. Fertilisation of an egg is the cause of teenage pregnancy, not, doing badly in class. He has then made the leap that if everyone did well in acagemic subjects there would be no need for sex education. This is yet another example of the retrograde education policy of the tory government (2). When Gove dreams up policy is he just reminiscing?

“When I was at school the Queen had a boat = we need to buy the Queen a boat”
“When I was at school everyone did Latin = We are bringing back Latin”
“When I was at school there was no sex education = We are scrapping sex education”
“When I was at school we all stood up when the an adult came in to the room = we need a policy on standing

(The lib dems could do with a policy on standing at council elections)

An education secretary must be capable of thinking in the future and not just in the past. It is one of the most important ministerial positions; ineptitude is a disservice to the next generation.

Education in the UK is not as content heavy as in some nations which are held up as ‘overtaking’ us. This, in some ways is no bad thing. Knowledge is easy to access but an understanding of how we find out the things ‘we know’ is more important for students if they are going to break new ground. The progress made in fostering skills development, particularly in Science education, is progress that we cannot afford to reverse.

The academic rigour of some subjects needs to be looked at, but unless a holistic approch is taken, we risk providing an education to our students that would equip them well for life in 1950s Britain, but leave them floundering in a rapidly changing world.

(1) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9223789/Good-grades-are-key-to-cutting-risky-behaviour-says-Gove.html

(2) http://liamrcarr.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/gove-ideological-and-educational.html

(3) http://think-left.org/2012/04/28/the-university-without-walls/

(4) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/outcry-as-michael-gove-issues-education-reform-warning-7274827.html

Michael Gove will be judged by history to be the worst education secretary ever.

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By Liam Carr http://liamrcarr.blogspot.com/

Michael Gove will be judged by history to be the worst education secretary ever. This is not vitriol or hatred .. although I do hate some of his polices which are not moving education forward but sending it back to a time of greater inequality.

Everyone is an expert in education. We are experienced in that we have all been to school. Some of us may have children who are in school. Everyone has an opinion on education. Conversations invariably start with what do you do for a living … and when people find out that I am a teacher, it always elicits a response;

“I couldn’t do that, I don’t know how you manage with kids these days”

“You only do it for the holidays”

“I was terrible at <insert subject here> when I was at school… I hated my teacher”

Occasionally parents will talk at length about their own children’s experiences at school, but often people will look worried, shake their head, and ask quietly:

“What do you think of Gove?”

This, in itself, is quite surprising.  I have been teaching for a reasonable length of time and will have had many of the ‘so what do you do for a living’ conversations but no-one really asked “What do you think of Blunkett?”

The education secretary is well known, some of which can be put down to his exploits way beyond his remit. Does anyone remember the Gove boat? A ludicrous proposal to spend £60M on a new royal yacht for the Queen.

Gove will be remembered as an education secretary because of his insatiable appetite for reform along with a failure to listen to those who may be of a different opinion to himself. Other education secretaries have made an impact.  Ken Baker, the architect of Ofsted was also a reformist, and faced great opposition at the time but he will probably be remembered for introducing teacher training days, still known as Baker days by many.

Blunkett also faced criticism but his legacy is that he left behind a more inclusive education system, and while there are many advocates of specialist provision, many students have benefited from inclusion. Blunkett opened the doors of mainstream education to those who previously would not have had the option.

There are other education secretaries who have got on with the job of improving standards of education more quietly;  Alan Milburn and Charles Clarke for example.

The flagship policy is to invest heavily in free schools which are set up by individuals who would not normally be able to access a slice of the education budget. This seems like reform for the sake of reform… and targeting funding not to the areas of greatest need, but to wherever an interested party is willing to set one up. This is the key argument against free schools.. that they do nothing to address inequality of provision across the country, or even within a local authority.

It is true that inequality in education is a difficult challenge to overcome.  Progress was made by the previous government, for whom education was certainly a priority, but it is still unfair that the strongest indicator of how a child will do at school is the socio-economic background of their parents.  While there are many aspects to this problem, some of which are beyond the control of government, equality of access and provision can and should be addressed by the government.

Inequality of provision is poisonous. It leads to parents knowing that they are not sending their children to the best school around… but also knowing that they can’t afford to move house just to get a place. It leads to students who know that their school isn’t the best around… the resulting lack of pride in the school leads to a lack of pride in the work produced. Inequality in education should be challenged, and can only be addressed in a joined up rather than a fragmented system. Gove seems at ease with inequality.  Since he took office not only has the pupil premium been cut but also diverted from schools in less affluent to those in more affluent areas. Despite the cuts, Surrey and Rutland enjoy increases between 6% and 26%, while Middlesbrough and the Wirral are hit with a reduction of 46% and 54%1 Just as Osborne did in his millionaire’s budget, Gove is intent on redistributing wealth from the have-nots to the have-lots. (or have-yachts)

There are also valid objections to Ofsted reform. He was forced to back down over ‘no notice’ inspections, but some teachers are dismayed that the satisfactory grade is being replaced by ‘requires improvement’ and a move to put more schools into special measures. My concern is that both policies are being implemented at once. Changing the criteria for observations is fine, the criteria are constantly reviewed, as we learn more about how children learn, but making the criteria more difficult to achieve and coming in with no notice and making it easier to sack teachers will simply give Gove the results he is after: ‘Teachers are not good enough’ and should be replaced, as he has suggested, with those with firsts from Oxford and ex-army officers.

There are other unhelpful policy combinations, scrapping the education maintenance allowance and raising tuition fees, has resulted in a fall in students from normal backgrounds doing A-Levels. Cutting ‘Building schools for the future’ and turning all outstanding schools into academies results in schools that are run down, in terms of facilities, becoming substandard places to learn.

There are other more minor gaffes that are listed on his Wikipedia page, such as when making a speech calling for improvement in Science and attributing some of Kelvin’s laws to Newton, but it is the return to a less equal education system that is most worrying

Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers describes an education system that is stratified on class lines:

We have schools for the elite, schools for the middle class and schools for the working class, too few schools have mixed intakes where children can learn those intangible life skills of aspiration, effort and persistence from one another… The effect of unbalanced school intake is toxic for the poorest and most dispossessed… [Blaming teachers] if the poor don’t make as much progress as the rich is a nonsense. It is a lie which conveniently enables ministers to evade responsibility for the effects of their policies.”

ATL is traditionally a Union for those who don’t like Unions.  They have been on strike for the first time in their history.  If even moderate union members will strike, then Gove and his education department need to look at the combined effect of what they are doing. There are enough staff there.  He has assigned an astonishing 133 Civil servant in his free school department and there are only 24 free schools in existence.2  That is just wasteful from the party of ‘small government’, when other departments are facing decimation.

Gove’s attack on the state education has gone fairly unnoticed by many, possibly shrouded by attacks on the NHS.  I will borrow a quote originally said of the NHS:  A truly comprehensive education system will be around as long as there are people around to fight for it.

Much is at stake here. We are risking losing a generation of young people from less privileged backgrounds who will not be able to access the opportunity that the previous generation enjoyed. The Coalition may go on to claim that standards of education under Gove have gone up but only for those whose parents can afford to take advantage of what is on offer.

  1. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2012/mar/16/pupil-premium-child-poverty-data?CMP=twt_gu
  2. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/gove-assigns-133-civil-servants-to-free-schools-project-despite-only-24-being-open-7631008.html