Tag Archives: Labour

The NUS are revolting

As I write this I’ve just watched a ‘peaceful’ protester throw a 10kg fire extinguisher off the roof of 30 Millbank at the Police attempting to regain order below. A low point in the protest that saw 30 odd thousand students, lecturers, anti-cuts, anti-war, anarchist, trots and others take to the street to protest about the Government’s plans to raise University tuition fees.

The plan to raise fees would see fees which currently average around £3,000 (3,500.- €) double in most cases and peak at up to £9,000 (10,600.- €) in the most outstanding institutions. This at the highest end of the scale is being reported as having the potential to leave a student £40,000 (47,000.- €) in debt at the end of their course.

It’s clearly a lot of money – but, let’s have a quick fact check at some of the things that have been said about this plan:

First – no matter what media you indulge yourself in, you can’t help but have noticed the number of students claiming they wouldn’t be able to go to university at all if the fees were raised. This simply isn’t the case – the  student funding mechanism is not going to change in the respect that it stumps up the money in the first place, no student would be unable to get this – thus no student would not be able to attend.

Second – it’s been widely ignored by the student unions and sympathetic media that the student funding mechanism is actually becoming fairer with students able to earn more initially before there student loan is deducted from their wage. This means that they can begin to establish a career using the degree before they start to pay back the loan.

Third – you can’t protest by spraying anarchy symbols on things then demand that the state pay your education fees: you’re misunderstanding the very concept of anarchy.

With those uncomfortable truths in the open we can continue. You see the problem here is nothing to do with university funding, it runs much deeper than that: the real problem lies in why so many of our young people today believe vehemently that they’ll not be able to get a job without a degree, and further that they must attend university to study (it does not matter what) in order to complete the educational tick-list.

The truth is that the degree has been entirely devalued. A degree used to be a symbol of professional achievement in a field – your degree almost always led directly to a particular specialism in the working world or to an academic career. Now many students study fields that they’ll never refer to in their working life, many more leave with degrees which are out of date, irrelevant or inappropriate. Labour saw the degree not as an academic key, but rather as an issue of class – so they manipulated it, it became the benchmark to which you must aspire. This was done quite cynically, it allowed the Labour party to manipulate youth unemployment figures with gay abandon, and it generated a reason to reach out to their core constituencies with a real chance of ‘betterment’.

They knew this would cost money of course, so in 1997 they controversially removed the free education at university level for those meritorious enough to warrant admission to undergraduate education and put in place a semi-affordable loan scheme that wouldn’t seem like too much money for most in good economic times and would give a decent enough level of interest to keep it looking semi-affordable for the public purse.

Except the plan backfired. University applications went through the roof – Universities simply couldn’t keep up with demand, clearing became a national news item as millions of students clammered to scoop up what was left in the bucket if they didn’t get their choice of university. Oversubscribed the system began to look very underfunded – many universities turned to commercial grants with varying degrees of success (academically, morally and economically). Others simply struggled by – safe in the knowledge that there was always a drop out rate, and that so long as they could make it to the end of the budget year without irritating too many lecturers about their pay, they’d probably get a year on year increase in next year’s money.

The youth unemployment issue moved from one demographic to another – rather than school leavers bumming around at home, kicking their heals and discovering the dole office, we had graduates cramming themselves into ruthlessly competitive graduate schemes, willing to take, in some cases, unimaginably poor contractual employment conditions in order to wedge their foot in the door of super-brand-name PLC or Sherlock, Watson, Ironside and Poroit LLP.

On the other side of this catastrophic backfiring was the unforgivable profligacy of certain educational institutions – courses cropped up in just about everything: from things that were once considered to be valuable vocational training areas, to the mickey mouse degrees ranging from Media Studies to Klingon. All guaranteed to give a few letters after your name, a semi-respectable university certificate and the ‘pride’ of saying your got a 2:1.

Pandora’s box was firmly opened, and the government were now up against the wall – they made vocational training a dirty word, traditional apprenticeships almost totally disappeared, replaced with decidedly doublethink term of the ‘Modern Apprenticeship’ which at times was used as little more than a bribe to get people off one sort of benefit and onto another.

The students that were on the streets today were for the most part peaceful – it is unfair to tar them all as violent – what isn’t unfair however is to say that the arguments these students have don’t add up. In one breath they say “we need to go to university to get a job that pays properly” and then in another they say “but we’re not willing to pay for it, and furthermore everyone – regardless of whether they have a university education or not should pay for my education.”.  If they truly believe that a university degree will result in a lifetime of significantly higher earning potential then it’s not unreasonable that they should contribute more to that education in line with the market and actual value of the services that they’re being provided with? It’s hypocrisy on a massive scale to say anything other than that.

I think however that if a significant number of the students that were protesting today had a long and considered think about their future, they’d come to the uncomfortable truth. Many degrees are done blindly, many are just vanity papers. Indeed research by human resources departments of our major firms often find that the majority of degrees held in the corporate world in the UK have virtually nothing to do with the day to day operation of the corporation. The vanity of having a degree has been built up by a whole generation of teaching staff – it’s been drummed into our young people and they’re suffering for it financially – a graduate in many areas of work can be 4 years behind their non-graduate colleagues, and experience is worth so much more to employers that being a graduate could be seen as being a positive barrier to competing at a job interview.

Where the truth becomes properly painful, is that we’re all paying for this – we’re paying for education that isn’t worth the paper the certificate is printed on, we’re paying for poor institutions doling out bog-standard degrees to below standard students. Our academic research and talent development is flagging behind our international competitors because we’re not funding our top-flight institutions properly and we’re not investing in the truly gifted, preferring instead an adequate, average, middle-class, middle-england 24 year old with a degree in sociology. Most important though, until we change this obsession with a university education or bust we’re losing a valuable asset in our economic society – vocationally trained artisans and specialists.

Bottom line, We’re letting down our young people – they know this, they’re just not quite sure where yet.

Labour’s Next Leader

Well it’s shaping up to either be an interesting fight, or the greatest fix since the last time they fiddled the votes: yes – once again, we’re choosing a Labour leader, and yes, you’ll have needed to be a Labour party member for an awfully long time to remember the last time they did that with any real dignity.

The contenders are the usual suspects for the most part, Ed Miliband, David Miliband and Ed Balls are the bookies choice at the moment, but there’s a few dark horses, not least Andy Burnham, Diane Abbott, and the seemingly very angry John McDonnall – they’d have also had John Cruddas if he hadn’t bottled it (again).

As an amused bystander you could dismiss this charade as a chance to crown another anointed leader, but I’m not sure that the grass roots is quite that stupid: they’ve seen what that gets them – so I’m a little confused that the Milibandits and Balls ticket is simply more of the same, with some toe-curling apologies thrown in: and if that were me, and I was a Labour voter, the sight of all three prostrating themselves in the popular press saying how wrong Iraq was the week my blood would be boiling: these people were in senior positions – they could have voted against Iraq, they could have spoken out, but they didn’t. And that’s not because they were blind to the issue, it’s because they were utterly spineless. So when voting for your next leader just remember that. Think carefully; does the country honestly need a spineless apologist as the leader of the opposition, and does the party need someone that can talk to the middle classes or reconnect with the C2 working class who entirely abandoned the Labour party (perhaps for good) at the last election.

If they’ve any sense they’ll look at the dark horses, Andy Burnham is a bit of an enigma to me – I’d be hard pressed to say where his priorities lay, and his low key press launch didn’t help: but the quietly spoken man shouldn’t be underestimated. His no-glitz approach might pay dividends (although someone should tell his web designer as the current design inspired this). Diane Abbott is a fascinating other runner: deeply entrenched in Labour’s London heartlands she’s popular with the people and the press, and although not entirely unfamiliar with controversy, you get the feeling that if she doesn’t crash and burn then she might do unexpectedly well: she’s certainly advocating a slight turn to the left for the party, and a reform of policy, especially where civil liberties are concerned. Finally there’s (at this moment) John McDonnall, he seems the most angry candidate, angry with the party, it’s policies, it’s centrism and the rise of focus group politics. He’d certainly move the party left – quite a long way left if he had the chance: and I think he is the one to watch to gauge how happy the party is with being in opposition.

It’s a long game – no resolution until September at the earliest: so it’s going to be a long dissection, and I get the feeling it won’t be a particularly pleasant one for the Labour party. If I were remotely interested in this in anyway beyond my own personal amusement my money would be on Ed Miliband: centerist enough generally but with a firm lean to the left when he needs it he’s remote enough from New Labour (compared to Balls and Miliband D) to potentially escape the brush that he’s just as tainted as all the others.

Scorched Earth

I predicted this would happen some time ago, and it turns out, not wanting to blow my own trumpet, that I was horribly right. The Times this morning is reporting that a significant amount of government ‘spending’ was rushed through just before Labour’s election defeat and kept secret and off the balance sheet’s that were publicaly available to the other parties.

These include a £13 billion tanker aircraft programme whose cost has “astonished and baffled” ministers. £420 million of school building contracts almost all of which are targeted at key Labour marginals – this was signed off by Ed Balls only a week or two before the general election was called against the public advice of the Treasury that further new build investment should be controlled. £1.2 billion seems to have gone up in smoke on the disastrous “e-borders” IT project for the immigration service, which is running even later and more over-budget than Labour ministers had previously admitted. £600 million has been committed to (yet another) computer service for the new personal pensions account scheme which was rushed through by Labour this spring: the real scandal of this is after 13 years and a dozen hugely expensive IT failures the contract is written in such a way that it’ll cost at least £25 million even if it is cancelled. The crisis-laden Student Loans Company looks like it’ll now require extra to avoid the chaos of last year’s systems failure which left tens of thousands out of pocket as they started their courses, and finally (although likely far from finally!) the multi-billion-pound cost decommissioning project of our aging nuclear power plant has exploded all over the balance sheet, the Government paying private industry to clean up their own mess which in-coming ministers claim has not been properly accounted for in Whitehall budgets.

If you thought the cuts were going to have to be brutal, think again. This is a bomb that’s just going to keep going off for the next few months, and what it means to you and me – the taxpayer – is that we’re going to get hammered time and time whether we like it or not to avoid Britain defaulting on it’s debts. The gilt markets won’t remain buoyant off the back of the election forever, and if the Euro continues to slide the ratings agencies will look at all of the European economies for cracks, and if this is anything to go by it would appear our economy is fatally undermined.

Brown Resigns

We’re watching history, New Labour is coming to an end, a lecturn has been placed outside downing street, and any second now we’re expecting Gordon Brown to address the crowds of hacks outside Downing Street announcing his intention to submit his resignation to The Queen.

And so here we are, Brown is addressing the nation – he’s just said

I have informed the Queen’s private secretary that it is my intention to tender my resignation to the Queen. In the event that the Queen accepts, I shall advise her to invite the leader of the Opposition to form a government.

For the good of the nation let’s hope Her Majesty accepts! This is actually all very dignified it must be said, it’s a good speech – maybe his best as prime minister: it’s quite moving and I think @benarchibald on twitter has just put it more poetically than I can.

He became his rank only in the giving up of it.

And so with the words, thank you, and goodbye – with a tear in his eye he takes his Boys, his Wife and himself from Downing Street, next stop the Palace, then presumably back to Scotland tonight?

TV Coverage

This really is something I’ve waited to see for 13 years, the end of Labour rule – don’t get me wrong, they’ve done many great things – but among the great things they’ve made huge mistakes, they’ve forgotten who really holds the balance of power, and in what seems to be an entirely uncharacteristic move on Brown’s part he’s taking the nation by surprise, his party by surprise, and certainly Cameron & Clegg by surprise by jumping before he was pushed. A final act, that I must say I respect enormously.

Scorching the Earth?

My sources tell me that very senior Conservatives are telling their shadow ministers to dig around and question everything that their respective ministers in Government are spending. The Conservatives – and a significant number of centre/right leaning blogs – are now really concerned that Labour are going to ‘lose track’ of public spending over the coming months as we approach the general election.

It’s clear Brown won’t go to the country any time soon, it’ll be as late as it possibly can be and that means just one thing: desperation. Desperation will spread through all departments in government, and I guarantee that pet projects in key marginals will be high on (almost certainly out-going) minister’s agendas. Profligate spending is going to be the norm – call it what you will, but if Labour’s history is anything to go by we’re going to see nothing short of an economic scorched earth policy right up until Parliament is dissolved.

Great Britain PLC is screwed

I’m almost too depressed to blog about politics at the moment, the current situation looks like it’s lurching toward what we all feared as a worst case scenario; that being Brown staying in power until the the most bitter of ends. He and his cronies have done absolutely nothing but panic the markets spinning out expensive nonsense while actually spending more time fighting disent within their own party. The Labour party is spinning into oblivion as the sparkly nu-labour types fight for little more than their expenses and perks knowing that they’ve got another 12 months of piss-taking before they’re going to be booted out at the next election; and at the opposite end of the scale the hard left of the party who never reformed seem to be gleefully rubbing their hands together at the opportunity to launch a scorched earth campaign on Britain, devestating the economy with poor choices and inaction so as to push through some Soviet style laws that’ll hold back the recovery of our ecomony for years to come.

People have been calling for bankers to be called to book, it’d be nice to see the political class also brought to book, unfortunately it’s not going to happen until the next election, but when it does let’s hope that not only do they get booted out in a landslide, but also that the powers that be step in to open up the books, dig around for the bodies and make sure that those that stood by fiddling their expenses while the economy was going tits up get locked up for a long time. </rant>

We’re doomed

Flint's real message!So the cat has been let out of the bag, not that it wasn’t already obvious, the “economic prudence” which ended the cycle of boom and bust has ended up in what’s looking increasingly like a bust, as Caroline Flint carelessly left her files open to the prying lenses of the political paparazzi, showing the world just how worried they all are that we’re heading for a 10% drop in house prices and potentially a corresponding slump in the rest of the economy.

This is, of course, especially bad news for Brown, who’s entire reputation has been built on his financial ‘genius’ as if he didn’t have enough to cope with at the moment worrying about the ten pence tax debacle, his chancellor frantically giving away money the government can’t afford to lose, while all at once embarrassing Britain in the eyes of the liberal world by not inviting the Dali Lama to Downing St when even the knuckle dragger in the White House managed to keep his appointment with the Tibetan spiritual leader at the big house.

Add to this the stress of watching his back at all times from the press, the opposition, and his own (rightfully) livid backbenchers, but also from former colleagues and acquaintances in Blair (Mrs), Levy (Lord) and Prescott (Two Jags and a bucket of lard) all revealing semi-salacious memoirs of their time in and around Number 10, all of which don’t paint a favourable picture of dear Gordon, he must be counting the days until he can quit this job.

It’s been interesting watching the various media channels today, the tone has swung from quiet resignation to outraged and shocked in the announcement that the economy is probably screwed. I don’t think anyone will be able to keep up outraged and shocked for too long, no matter how much damage they might wish to inflict on Brown, simply because anyone with half a brain has been able to see that you can’t continue to inflate the countries economy with ultra-cheap credit propping up all retail and property spending, let alone the state spending that was coming out of coffers unknown, we’ve been in a bubble for some time; we can now only hope that the landing for most will be softer than predicted.

Photo borrowed for a spot of Tuesday afternoon photoshopping from The Times.

Party Decapitation

It’s with a certain sense of disbelief that we’re currently watching the Labour Party implode on itself, as if they didn’t have the lessons of the breakdown of the Thatcher Era to look to for a definite way not to unseat one’s leader. As fat-faced junior ministers resign and the rumour mill over Blair’s almost certain departure go into overdrive we’re once again watching a party tear itself to shreds trying to ditch the one person that made them ‘votable’.

Not that I’d have a heavy heart if the Labour party were booted out of power into the political wilderness for the next 20 years, it’s just the bit between Blair leaving and the next general election that I’m worried about, let’s face it the country could be tossed back to practical communism with a hint of Scottish nationalism if Brown ascends to number 10, and with Reid banging his immigration and terrorism drum to a frenzied beat it’ll be fascism meets Big Brother if he gets in – and I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if that’s not also tinged with a hint of Scottish nationalism too…

The rest of the runners in the battle to become the next leader of the not-quite-yet leaderless Labour Party are political nobodies, the nearest they get to well-profiled is David Milliband, who’s hardly a major player; so it would seem that it’ll be down to Reid and Brown when Blair either goes, or the party decapitates itself – the real question of course it which of those will it be, can Teflon Tone hang on grimly or will there be some action in the coming weeks that relegate him to the after-dinner speech market permanently.

Labour aides predict an election catastrophe

An excellent piece of political news this morning: Labour Aides are saying that it’s highly likely they’ll lose the next election!