Sunday, 25 May 2008

Thoughts on Crewe

I'm at Gatwick airport at an internet terminal at the moment, so probably not the ideal circumstances for imparting my thoughts on the future of the Labour Party, but here goes.

It's clear - and kind of stating the obvious - that the Crewe result was about the fact that many people simply don't feel that well off at the moment. (The media would like it to be about Gordon Brown's leadership, as that lends itself far more easily to juicy gossip trading in Commons' bars, unattributed briefings, and dashed-off comment pieces; analysing policies is far more like hard work, and doesn't sell nearly as many papers).

We know voters are being hit by high petrol prices, rising food prices, high utility bills. Some are also concerned about the recent dip in house prices. It's no good telling them that they're still benefiting from comparatively low interest rates, low inflation, high employment - or to recite the mantra of Labour achievements since 1997, all designed to help people on low or moderate incomes (minimum wage, tax credits, record rises in child benefit, winter fuel payments, pensions credit, etc, etc).Nor is it the right time to draw to voters' attention what a Labour Government has done to rescue dilapidated public services, particularly health and education, although what's happening on that front in my constituency is phenomenal and we will go into the next election no doubt with leaflets adorned with pictures of brand new schools and health centres.

So what can we do about it? The simplest answer would be to say: put more money into people's pockets. Which we did with the Chancellor's announcement the week before last, about extra money for all basic rate tax payers. The Prime Minister is also taking an international lead in discussions with OPEC, trying to bring down oil prices, and similar discussions are taking place with the supermarkets... We could stop the fuel duty escalator kicking in in the autumn, having already delayed it once - or even reduce petrol taxes further, but is that the right path to go down, environmentally?

My money is running out, just as I was about to say something profound.... (!) so have to log off now!


James Barlow said...

That's an interesting turn of phrase: "put more money into people's pockets".

But you don't have any money, do you? Apart from that tithed from the electorate. And that's the core problem - you do not regard the earnings from our labour (small 'l') as our property to use as we choose, but your asset to use for your purposes.

I would propose that a better way to put it would be to say that you intend to stop taking as much money from people's pockets.

As to whether that lot in London will listen to you, well that's another matter entirely.

Anonymous said...

You are seriously departed from reality if you believe that what is happening with Bristol's hopeless state education service is phenomenal.

Even with new buildings it is going nowhere. Fast.

If that's the best you've got to crow about you're in serious trouble.

Chris Hutt said...

I can see that the pressure to reduce motoring/environmental taxes may be hard to resist, but as a society we need to adjust to the new economic and environmental realities sooner than later.

Making it later by cutting those taxes now will just make it harder in the end. The difficulties we now have adjusting to higher fuel prices are in part because we didn't raise those fuel prices more in easier times, giving people and businesses more time to adjust.

Taxation probably should be used to smooth out sudden changes in market prices, as is now occurring, to allow for a more gradual adaption. But that approach needs to be consistent and work the other way around when market prices are low.

Kerry said...

Only got time to reply to the point re Bristol schools. I agree that standards are well below what they should be, but the Government has been giving Bristol a lot of extra attention - whenever I speak to Jim Knight or Andrew Adonis (schools ministers) they are incredibly well-informed about what's happening in Bristol, and Jim seems to visit here virtually every other week. The new schools are fantastic buildings, and although that's not the answer to everything, capital investment does make a real difference. Also things like: teaching assistants and additional help in the classroom for children with special needs (it's not unusual now to see three adults in a classrom, rather than just the teacher); new technology (have you seen a 5 year old using a interactive whiteboard?); great sports facilities; programmes like Eco Schools and Creative Partnerships; the literacy/ numeracy hours; breakfast and after-school clubs... I could go on (and on). The headteachers I meet with, and the school governors, are convinced that standards can be dramatically improved - the City Academy saw a 17-18% improvement in its results in one year (2005) and it's now over-subscribed, so it is possible. I'm not saying there aren't problems, but there is a lot being done to try to tackle them.

Anonymous said...


Speaking as a parent - and I don't think I'm alone in this - I don't care about new buildings, I don't care about interactive whiteboards.

All I want for my children is a decent standard of academic education in a preferably non-religious environment.

(And - to avoid any confusion - by decent standard of academic education, I mean a school that can offer a genuine opportunity, should my kids want to take it, to get into a Russell Group University)

Is this too much to ask?

Apparently yes. The only schools realistically offering these opportunities are Redland Green and Cotham School from which my children are excluded from applying unless I can get £0.5m (about 4x the value of my current home) together quick to buy a house in the catchment area.

The only other possibility is the religious route - St Mary Redcliffe - from which my kids are excluded because I'm an atheist and my partner's a Catholic.

Come age 11 my kids will be effectively excluded by this city.

At least when there were grammars they would have had the semblance of an opportunity if they could prove they were bright enough. Now they're judged solely on my income and my beliefs.

To make matters worse, I've just read about one of my local rebuilt schools - Brislington. It says that the 'Deputy Director of humanities and head of history' will now be known as the 'deputy director of social awareness and head of hstory.'

What the hell kind of subject is 'social awareness'? And why would I want my children to learn this non-subject?

And just out of interest how many of your colleagues in parliament, colleagues in law and senior civil servants supporting your government were educated in 'social awareness' please?

Let's be honest Bristol and the Labour Party are no longer interested in educating working class kids, you just want to social engineer them and hope they go away.

Where did it all go wrong for the Labour Party?

Kerry said...

James, I think you're just quibbling over a turn of phrase - I obviously meant leaving people with more money in their pockets.

Kerry said...

Re schools... I can appreciate what the Bristol blogger is saying; I don't blame parents at all for wanting to get their kids into schools which give them the best chance of getting decent qualifications and getting into a good uni. I also entirely understand why parents who are not religious don't want to be forced into the 'faith school' route just to get that kind of schooling.

And I certainly don't think that standards are acceptable in many Bristol schools. But I do think that there are grounds for cautious optimism. Things like interactive whiteboards DO matter - it's the difference between kids sitting there in rows, learning by rote (and forgetting everything 24 hours later) and actually developing independent learning skills, where they find things out for themselves and can use their initiative and imagination. I can't recall doing anything at school other than copying off a board, copying out of a book, or watching the occasional historical TV programme.

Buildings matter too, particularly for kids who are less academic - the new schools have great sports, drama, catering, computer, art and design facilities. And they definitely engender in the pupils a greater sense of pride in their school environment - I've spoken to a lot of pupils at the new academies, and I'm convinced of this.

We've recently seen a fairly dramatic improvement in standards at the City Academy, with over 50% getting 5 GCSEs (and that's with a difficult intake), and Brunel is aiming for similar results this year. Still not good enough, of course - especially when you look at the figures for 5 GCSEs including English and Maths - but definitely heading in the right direction.

You obviously wouldn't expect me to agree with your comment about Labour and working class kids. I could point out that the focus of our school improvement plans have in fact been in the most deprived areas of Bristol, on the South Bristol estates and some parts of my constituency. In fact schools such as St Mary Redcliffe could perhaps feel aggrieved that their academic success means they've received less attention, less investment (e.g. they're getting a refurb under BSF, not a rebuild).

And no, I have no idea what social awareness is either. But I found this on the BEP website:

"Each learning community will have its own director, while traditional faculties will be replaced with four new "experience" sectors, each headed by a director - creative (English, performing arts, visual arts, PE), discovery (science and design technology), social awareness (social sciences, humanities, citizenship and health) and enterprise (maths, business and ICT)."

As to whether this will actually make any difference, I'll let you be the judge!

You don't mention how old your kids are - and you may well already have visited some of the new secondary schools, but if you haven't, I'd certainly recommend it.