Many years ago, in the days when Dr Who made some sense and was played by the masterful (sic) talents of David Tennant, my daughter was the proud owner of a two foot high remote control Dalek. As it moved menacingly down the landing it would repeat a number of phrases, the most frequent of which was ‘Seek, locate, annihilate’. The Dalek is now a mere ornament in the corner of a teenager’s bedroom, but its impotent chanting lives on today in the voice of Labour leader Ed Miliband, as I hear him chant his method for policy formulation: ‘Seek, locate, triangulate’.
Miliband’s new wheeze on student tuition fees (www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/sep/24/labour-tuition-fees-cut-miliband?CMP=twt_fd) can hardly be called a policy. After a year of waiting for a policy to appear from the official Opposition, it appears that all he has been able to do is take the coalition’s policy and triangulate ineffectively with some protesting ideas, resulting in almost exactly the same policy as the coalition, but with added bells. Whatever happened to the idea contained in his manifesto for Labour leader of a graduate tax? A good point, as a search for the policy on his web site will find the page has been removed. Thankfully there are always cached copies living on to remind us of Ed’s thoughts and principles just one year ago:
But the Graduate Tax is a fairer alternative, and one I’ve been arguing for for some time. This is an important matter of principle.
Those who believe in the future of our economy and the future of our young people, as I do, have a responsibility to come together and press for a fair and sustainable future for our Universities. That is the sort of Labour Party I will lead, offering real alternatives, bringing together the forces of progressive politics and turning our guiding values into real action for people.
That’s pretty clear.
There are three reasons why even the increase in maximum fees to £6,000 rather than £9,000 will make very little or no difference to those prospective students Ed seeks to beguile.
Firstly, the change is likely to benefit only two groups of people: those whose parents can afford to pay the fees up front and those who will earn a high salary, but not quite enough to pay the higher rate of interest which will be ‘asked’ of those earning over £65,000 (can they therefore say no?).
Following on from this point, as money expert Martin Lewis explains succinctly, monthly repayments are the same whether fees are £6,000 or £9,000.
Finally, tuition fees are only a small part of the costs of studying for a degree and the only one that doesn’t have to be paid immediately. The NUS estimate that the cost of living during term time for an undergraduate student for the last academic year, excluding tuition fees, was £12,233. This doesn’t include living costs during the holidays. A prospective undergraduate is far more likely to be deterred by having to find those costs from a combination of loans, part-time work, parental help and grants if lucky, than they are to be encouraged by removing a sum of money from a putative future debt, which they are never likely to have to pay anyway.
After all Labour’s hot air and hand wringing, reminiscent more of a public convenience that a political party, Ed has taken his previous distinctive policy of a direct graduate tax and binned it in favour of a small sticking plaster on the coalition’s policy of a graduate tax by another name. Both the Labour faithful and the LibDem deserters must be furious,
On reading the title, she pounced with zeal on what she believed to be a grammatical mistake – a misplaced apostrophe. no less.
Fortunately I was able to reassure that the noble Lord is simply mad, not promiscuous.
P.S. The noble Lord has since contacted me personally to say that his title is derived from the Norman French ‘de bon coeur’.
Let’s face it: no one does faux outrage better than the Daily Mail. The paper and its readers get outraged so often over so little that I wonder whether they have any energy or time left to get on with their own lives, rather than interfering in everyone else’s. Their latest rant is over Sandi Toksvig’s use of the ’most offensive word in English language’. The Mail took aim at one of its favourite ‘liberal-lefty’ tagets and blasted:
“The BBC was at the centre of a new decency row last night after ruling that the most offensive word in English is acceptable for broadcast. The Corporation decided that the word – most abhorrent to women – has lost much of its ‘shock value’ and is tolerable for radio and television.”
Now that sounds a little unlike Ms Toksvig’s usual language. So why did she utter that nasty ‘c’ word? Well of course she didn’t. In an edition of the News Quiz last Octover, the presenter used a scripted joke, saying:
“It’s the Tories who have put the “n” into cuts”
The audience laughed. If I was listening to the Saturday repeat, which I usually do, I would have laughed. My 14 year old daughter often listens to the show and she would also have laughed and I would have felt no parental embarrassment in her understanding the humour. It was a joke; an amusement. No rude words were actually used. No maiden aunts or small children were harmed in this scriptwriter’s artifice.
But that didn’t stop a complaintbeing made by an offended listener. The complaint has been rejected by the BBC and the BBC Trust have refused to take the issue further. Good for them – I am surprised, but pleased by their robust response.
I am not sure why the listener was so offended. It is one thing to actually use a rude word and another to imply it in a way that requires an adult mind to understand it. If the ‘c word’ had been used on daytime broadcasting, then I might have been a little disappointed myself. But it wasn’t. There was an indirect reference made to the word, which was mildly humorous. The complainant, Colin Harrow a retired managing editor of Mirrot Group Newspapers, said
“‘Of course they used a veil, but it was a pretty thin veil. They might as well have just said it.”
Well it wasn’t a veil, A veil is used to disguise of hide an item. In this case the item wasn’t there, no matter how hard you looked. I can point at a rusty nail and talk about gold, but that doesn’t make me an alchemist.
And whilst I’m on the subject, I’d like to argue that the word in question is not the ‘most offensive word in the English language’. There are several that I find more offensive, which are usually used to describe non-white people or LGBT people. But those are word I suspect are more likely to be in the lexicon of some of the apparently easily offended Mail readers. And if the word in question is ‘most abhorrent to women’, why was a man the only complainant?
Or maybe, as we approach the millennium of King Cnut’s capture of the English throne, Ms Toksvig was simply making an oblique reference to the Conservatives failing to turn the tide?
I may have jinxed today’s weather by planning to post my scones recipe. But we have just had some glorious weather, with the promnise of more to come. So here is my recipe – just remember to put the jam on BEFORE topping with the clotted cream. This recipe makes about a dozen rich, sweet scones.
Today’s Daily Mail caries a story bizarre even by that publication’s usual standards. So bizarre that I was not prepared to believe it until I had obtained verification from another source. But it is true. A secondary school in Glasgow has changed its school uniform regulations and in order to frighten parents itno complying has raised the spectre of their child being targetted by paedophiles.
A letter to parents warns that paedophiles are thought to be targetting pupils in certain types of clothes’. The school is therefore stopping pupils wearing those clothes to school and imposing a new uniform of knee-length pleated skirts for the girls and baggy trousers for the boys. The letter explains:
‘We believe an appropriate school uniform protects children from being targeted by sexual predators. There is recent evidence in south Glasgow of adults photographing schoolgirls in short skirts and schoolgirls/boys in tight trousers, then grooming them through the internet.
‘We must do all we can to keep our children safe. A modest school uniform is more appropriate than fashion skirts, trousers or tops.’
The local police say that they have no evidence of any such targeting by paedophiles in the area,
Now I’m one of those parents firmly in the pro-school uniform camp. I think looking smart helps pupils to feel and act smart, as well as reducing unnecessary differences amongst the children. But the tone of this letter is ridiculous. Despite the best efforts of Britney Spears and some men’s magazines, there is no evidence of a link between paedophilia and school uniform and creating such a link is rather unhelpful for everyone concerned. The implication that the victims of paedophiles are in some way to blame for their abuse is both dangerous and outdated and shows worrying similarities to the comments of Toronto police constable Michael Sanguinetti.
I feel very strongly about keeping children and young people safe. As the mother of a 14 year old daughter I am only too aware of the potential dangers lurking in the outside world, but I know that I cannot keep her protected by refusing to allow her to grow up. One day she will be free to wear and do what she wants and she needs to learn how to be streetwise, how to deal with unwanted attention and how to minimise the possibility of becoming a victim of crime. She won’t learn that by being forced into some alleged ‘anti-paedo’ outfit in order to attend school.
But is there another reason behind the school’s change of uniform rules? The new uniform is all listed as being available in Marks and Spencer. That’s not the cheapest school outfitter by a long way and although the small print states that similar clothing from other outfitters will be allowed, parents may be unwilling to take the chance. The Wikipaedia entry for the area of Kings Park states that it is ‘an affluent suburb of Glasgow, with median house prices and income well above average’. Maybe the high priced school uniform is a subliminal way of dissuading the ‘riff-raff’ from applying?
As a small child, I lived about a mile away from where Baby P, or Peter Connelly as we were later to know him, lived and died. Just a small distance, but miles away in many ways, as my family home was in the Victorian housing of Bowes Park and, maybe more significantly, the Borough of Enfield, rather than Haringey.
I’m not going to discuss the events leading up to the death of Baby Peter. I am not a specialist in social care. My expertise is in being a mother and a human being and that won’t help to end the institutional failings of Haringey Council’s children’s social services. But I do want to look at the dismissal of Sharon Shoesmith, whether it was right and whether it achieved anything.
The Laming report which followed the public inquiry into the death of another Haringey child Victoria Climbie recommended that there should be people ultimately held responsible under the law for the children under the care or supervision of the state. Two years later, the Children’s Act 2004 made both a council’s Director of Children’s Services and the elected Cabinet Member for Children’s Services legally responsible for the vulnerable people in their local authority’s care.
Following Baby Peter’s death, Cllr Liz Santry, the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Cllr George Meehan, the Leader of the council, both resigned. But Sharon Shoesmith, the Director of Children’s Services, did not, instead stating that she wished to stay on to support her colleagues and the external investigation into Haringey’s social services. We’ll never know if she would have resigned at the end of that process, as in a remarkable knee-jerk salute to the Murdoch tabloids, Ed Balls announced her dismissal and her employers meekly agreed. The decision was more illustrative of the value the Labour government placed on its relationship with the tabloids than of any value of human life. Balls put desperate populism bedfore due process and, not for the first time, has been shown to be nothing more than a bully.
The systemic failures within Haringey’s children’s social services were not the simple failure of one human being. Sharon Shoesmith should have resigned and almost certainly could have been sacked if she had refused to jump. But allowing a tabloid scapegoating to descend to an illegal and summary sacking was never going to satisfy anyone except the baying mobs who have no right to be a part of this decision-making process. And there’s no point making the top job in Haringey’s social services department seem as temporary as the managerial post at Stamford Bridge: there will never be an effective department whilst the senior staff are looking over their shoulders, waiting for the next disaster to strike.
On this morning’s Today programme, Sharon Shoesmith said that she didn’t ‘do blame’. There has been great outrage online, seeing this as Shoesmith attempting to disclaim any culpability. But in a toe-curlingly awful interview, in which Shoesmith came over as self-pitying, arrogant and without a trace of self-awareness, she did accept that she was responsible for Peter’s death. What she meant of course was that she should not take the blame individually for Peter’s death – and she is right. The worst point of the death of Baby Peter was that it was unnecessary. Almost every point raised after his death was made after the murder of Victoria Climbie seven years before, on the watch of the same social services department. All the agencies that failed Victoria, aslo failed Peter – not only social services, but also the police, GPs, hospitals and the council’s legal team.
By all accounts, Sharon Shoesmith did a reasonable job in very difficult circumstances. But someone had to take the ultimate responsibility not just for the death of Peter, but also for the systemic failure of the department that was supposedly under her control. And almost certainly that person should have been her. But we rely on following the due process of law to save us from injustice and no-one, not even Ed Balls, is ever above the law. Playing the blame game may help a minister win a few favourable tabloid headlines, but it does nothing to save a child’s life. Justice red-top style is no justice for Peter.
About once a month I volunteer at the Heart for Abbots Langley coffee morning. My coffee and walnut sponge has become a great favourite amongst the mainly elderly clientele and I am now asked to make it every time. The secret for a moist cake is to make it really thick and for a well-risen cake to fight the curiosity to peek into the oven before the time is up!
For the icing
There are always disagreements between parties about the use of bar charts on leaflets.
I don’t tend to use them very much on my leaflets, foir a variety of reasons, but I follow the debates about their use elsewhere with interest.
Last week I was given a copy of a Labour leaflet in Leggatts ward, Watford. Try and guess what the result was last time – I’ll start you off by telling you that the winner received 1,098 votes.
The full result was: Conservative 1,098, Labour 995, LibDem 935, Green 459 votes.
Like to guess who Labour really think their main opponent is…
I used wordle.net to provide a different view of Nick Clegg’s closing speech to the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference.
Ever since the coalition government was formed, political commentators and Labour hacks have been falling over themselves to suggest that it is only a matter of time until Nick Clegg defects to the Conservative Party. So the news in today’s Telegraph may have been simply the inevitable news that party members dreaded, as Clegg throws off his Lib Dem identity.
But wait: the defection is not as expected to the right, but to the ‘two Eds’ party. Do the Telegraph know something we don’t? Or, as you cast your eye down the list of Twittering MPs and allow your eye to alight on the names of Diane Abbott and Stella Creasy, is it clear that the Telegraph could do with employing a better proofreader?