Showing posts with label britain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label britain. Show all posts

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Can Grammar Schools Work?

James Dancey looks into whether grammar schools can have a context in modern day education.



Grammar schools have been a left versus right issue for many years now. However, should it be?
With more than murmurs suggesting that Theresa May is going to be the first Prime Minister in decades to create new grammar schools, many of which were converted to comprehensives in the 1960s and 1970s. There’s been an array of reaction, much criticism coming from Labour benches and support coming from more grassroots Conservative members, but is this always the way?

Speaking to another friend who was fervently centre-left, he revealed that he was in fact pro-grammar schools, and that’s a stance I can understand greatly. It's one that is dismissed too much by the modern Labourites; there is indeed a strong argument for the implementation of grammar schools which the working class would listen to. One of the prominent arguments is that they have the capacity to undermine privilege, that idea to escape the poverty loop, this concept that children can gain a significant standard of education without having to pay fees.

Statistically, this is supported by correlative data that Oxbridge intake has decreased from state schools since the abolition of many grammar schools, studies also show that social mobility has decreased. However, it’s important to note that the data is correlative, and there are plenty of other issues driving the educational decline and social divide. However, it’d be hard to argue that grammar schools don’t enhance education for the poorest who attend there.

Which also underlines the greatest problem with grammar schools; it’s often not the poorest who attend. Recent statistics released suggested that the number of students entitled to free-school meals (a barometer of how many of the poorest are in attendance) is astronomically low, and actually that grammar schools provide more of a shelter for the middle class who don’t want to pay tuition fees to go to private schools.

My friend suggested that if we implemented more grammar schools and then made comprehensive schools focused on creative ventures the system would be more efficient. I agree, to an extent, you see he also believes in the abolition of private schools, and although I empathise with that temperament I think that you’d end up flooding the grammar system with the privileged. If you want to make the grammar schools more focused on helping children out of poverty then you’d have to provide just as good education to children from wealthier backgrounds, wealth discrimination works both ways. You can’t condemn a bright student to poor education because of his upper-class background. But then the issue there is that you'd be forcibly flooding the state system with private students, private students leaving less room for the less privileged. 

Comprehensive schools are an easy option, but they are not the best option. However, if introduced, grammar schools must be done right and I’m sceptical of whether May would do them right, there are so many confounding variables that would offset any differences to undermine the systematic inequality in this country as it is.

If you did assign roles to each school, grammars as academic and comprehensive as more innovative then you would be able to have a more focused dedicated curriculum to each of them and allow students to find a niche a lot easier, giving young people inspiration is the best way to combat this disillusion that many of them hold with the system, which is, by the way, treating them terribly.  
I completely understand why people on the left are generally opposed to grammar schools; they can be futile and discriminatory in the wrong hands. However, we can’t go on with secondary education in its current state. There are a great range of issues with grammar schools, but it doesn’t mean they can’t be done right, and the only way to make progress on a flailing education system is serious reform.

I’m still cynical of whether May’s supposed reintroduction of grammar schools will do any benefit to those who are poorer but maybe in the future we’ll have a Government who will know how to handle them and realise the linear academic system is a product of the past and constrained by tradition. Regardless of grammar schools, the current arrangement has to be changed.

Friday, 15 July 2016

The Unsurprising Truth Of Blair's Toxic Legacy

Tony Blair thought that Iraq would be Labour's Falklands.


I’ve never liked Tony Blair. Never have, never will. I guess to me, Tony Blair is a bit like a British Hillary Clinton, minus the breasts, of course. He just gives me this feeling that something just isn’t quite right about him. The smile, the gestures, the character. He just seems a bit off. And I’m not doubting that in his time he was a very credible politician, his charisma, his charm, it clearly won a lot of people over. But during the time I was old enough to actually have an opinion on him, it was never favourable.  

I’m not saying that everything he did was bad, no, he passed a lot of highly constructive legislation. However, I never had the feeling that what he did was out of principle, more out of faux pas attempt to appease the masses, I’ve never liked that, never have never will.

Yes, it’s better than having someone who is principally a bad person. But saying Tony Blair is better than, say, George Osborne, is like saying the common cold is better than swine flu: they’re still both illnesses you really don’t want to deal with.

Then came Chilcot, and everything most people knew about the Iraq War was confirmed. Blair had manipulated and been rather uninformed, I don’t have enough free time to read thousands of pages unless someone’s paying. Which, unfortunately, they’re not.

Tony Blair and plenty of his allies came out and said that there were ‘no lies’ however, I’d like to quote Piers Morgan: “If I sell you my car and claim it's perfectly safe, but don't show you existing paperwork suggesting the brakes might be faulty, that's not technically a 'lie' either. But it's a serious, wilful omission of detail which can have catastrophic, lethal consequences.”

Tony Blair knew he was uninformed, but acted like he wasn’t and completely knew what he was doing, with the backing of the Tories and my all time favourite media mogul: Murdoch, all creating this image that he was the missionary to rescue the Iraqi people.  He wasn’t. Hussein’s army was finished in barely any time at all, we were left with no exit strategy and pretty much deserted them with an anarchy and a scattershot army. This subsequently provided the roots for numerous groups who have spread terror across the Eastern world.

There’s no doubting that Saddam was an evil dictator who had committed some awful atrocities, but compare it to the chaos today… nothing like it. Not even close. Why would we rush in? Well, in my opinion, it was Blair’s own narcissistic ploy to have himself written into the history books, much aligned to Thatcher’s  affair with the Falklands, just with a very different result. He wanted to be this Great British patriot, but patriotism begins at home, Tony Blair went out into Iraq with his armies, artillery and false pride, however, all he returned with was an increased terror threat on our own soil. 

A ridiculous idea in hindsight, but with all his allies and friends to tell him he was in the right who was to say otherwise? That 1.5 million strong march was ‘fatuous’ in his view. He was floating on his own cloud of self-appointed sanctity, I’m relieved we’ve finally brought him back down to earth.
What now? He’ll probably skulk his way through a few interviews and fade into the background, only time will tell. I’d be very surprised if he was actually reprimanded for his actions, politicians work on a different level than the law. That’s the sad truth.

But what can we do? He’s made enough wealth to cover for all this and he I doubt he will ever pay the full price for what he’s done, one can only hope that lessons are learned from this very sobering disaster of an intervention. 

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Labour On The Brink

According to some, Labour has never been more divided in the history of its existence. James Dancey looks into the symptoms of this crisis, and whether there is light at the end of the tunnel for the current leadership.




On Friday the 24th of June, the British people awoke to a political shock of multiple proportions. They voted to leave the EU, it was a shock, but it shouldn’t have been. The political disconnect being amplified by a chance to have their say and deliver a damning verdict on out of touch politicians.
Over the last few years, nothing has more ironically demonstrated the out of touch nature than the Westminster Labour party. Originally, set up to channel the working class beliefs all around the country, they have appeared to grow distant from the grassroots communities up and down the nation. A growing number of disenfranchised voters had turned to the Green party or UKIP as they channelled their frustration at an elitist political system that appeared to act more in self-interest rather than in the nation’s interest.

Then came Jeremy Corbyn, a man well-weathered by the political system with his beliefs firmly left-field. He galvanised and inspired thousands of Labour voters, many of whom rejoined the Labour party after the decades of political alienation. With his election on a great mandate with public support polling reasonably well for a newly elected leader, everything was going right for Corbyn.
Then, he slowly, seamlessly floated into the crosshairs of the media, and the heads began to roll. The Sun and The Daily Mail picking up on his left wing nature,  with the most popular buzzword used being ‘unelectable’.  As the Labour party began to grow more and more restless, it was clear there was a deep rift between Corbyn voters and more neo-liberal Labour members.

This rift has only magnified throughout the last few months, with the vote on Syria Airstrikes and the EU referendum being the most impacting contributors. In the last couple days, these tensions created have finally boiled over, and now Jeremy Corbyn is under threat, from unsurprisingly, many of his own former cabinet members. The knives are moving closer to his throat, but he is just as tenacious as he was on Day 1.

The Labour Party is on the brink of disaster. With divides being more and more evident day by day, is there any option? Should Corbyn stay? Should he go? Over half of Labour voters are still in favour of him but will he have the scope to reach out to undecided voters at the next election? Will the Labour party lose the Corbyn supporters if they form a coup? Never has a party seem so broken. Whereas the Conservative’s qualms are petty opinions, Labour’s issues are very deep ideological  disparities.


A lot of the blame for Corbyn has been his inaction in the recent EU referendum, one of which Labour were supposed to be fervently in the remain campaign. Many Labour MPs criticised Corbyn for his lack of his enthusiasm leading to the surprise defeat for the remain side. However, from my perspective, it appeared that Osborne and Cameron’s tactics were the ones that caused more backlash. I honestly don’t think that there’s a single thing Jeremy Corbyn could’ve done to convince the people to vote otherwise, it was clear that many people felt betrayed by the establishment.

That betrayal from the working class heartlands will become even more conspicuous if the Labour MPs eject him. The main issue that the Corbyn opposition face is the fact that Jeremy has performed reasonably well in elections so far.

So if I take the 36 metropolitan boroughs as a talking point, who have their elections once every four years, (so I can only compare these results to 4 year intervals.) Now I’m only going to compare these to when Labour was in opposition as Governments do tend to do badly in local elections.

The high point was Blair in 1996 who won 28 councils, and the low point was Neil Kinnock in 1992 who won 20. Note that Kinnock still gained seats in that general election. Corbyn won 25, which puts him bang in the middle of each council performance. Nothing is indicative of an imminent failure, however, the two divisions of the Labour party are lining up their artillery when the focus should be on the Tories.  Is there any way Labour can avoid disaster?

No. From my perspective, this is all going to end in flames for Labour, and they may not recover for years. This angers me, because, there always needs to be an opposition to a Conservative Government, if that opposition is weakened or broken. Then they risk giving the Tories free reign over the country. The Labour party has been essential for so many Conservative backtracks in the last year, and if we lose that, I dare to say I worry about the future of this country.

Labour should've survived the EU Referendum with ease, regardless of the result. They were mostly united in their message and didn't resort to the far fetched tactics of many campaigners, but unfortunately many of those in the parliamentary party saw it as an opportunity to take their own vision of the Labour party back. A vision that is more polarising then they expected it to be.

The Labour party is on the brink, and I wonder if anyone can save it.  


Thursday, 23 June 2016

Today is the EU Referendum!

Today is the day! Throughout the UK, millions will be putting their votes in between 7am and 10pm to put forward their view on whether Britain should stay in the European Union, or leave.



If you are eligible to vote, it is incredibly important to do so- the right to a vote is something we should not take for granted and we should exercise as much as we can. Whether you think Britain should stay or go, get out there, brave whatever weather you're confronted with, and VOTE!

And if you're still undecided? Well, we've got you covered.

If you'd like to hear why perhaps Britain would be BETTER IN THE EU, check out our article by Chris Hawes:
Want To Save Britain's Economy? Vote To Stay In Europe.

If you'd like to hear why perhaps Britain would be BETTER OUT OF THE EU, check out Matt Walton's article:
Mythbusters: Brexit Edition

And if you'd like to hear why perhaps this vote shouldn't have happened in the first place, check out Tom Goldsworthy's recent post:
Forget 'Leave Or Remain' - The Brexit Referendum Should Have Never Been Called In The First Place

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Forget 'Leave Or Remain' - The Brexit Referendum Should Have Never Been Called In The First Place

With just under a week to go before the vote on the question of Britain’s membership of the European Union, the country is reaching peak referendum fever. 



However, amongst all the hype and excitement, it appears that nobody has stopped to pause and ask a far more fundamental question: whether we should be having this referendum at all. Politicians and political commentators from all sides have hailed the referendum as a fantastic symbol of the strength and vibrancy of our political system. In fact, this referendum is a cynical political ploy which will serve to undermine our system of representative democracy. The referendum was tactically motivated and its merits ill thought through. We should never have called this vote in the first place.

Firstly, let’s immediately demolish this idea that the referendum is some noble expression of our democracy. It’s not. The referendum was included in the Conservative Party’s 2015 election manifesto as an attempt to diffuse the populist threat posed by UKIP. It was a cold political calculation, a cynical attempt to shore up support amongst the party's traditional base. Although some claim that the referendum was called because of the importance of the issue being debated, this is clearly false. None of the most important questions in our democracy’s history were put to referendums. Whether to go to battle in the first world war, or the second world war, or whether to invade Iraq. Nor were referendums held over which economic policies to adopt during the great depression, or the more recent financial crisis of 2008.

There is a very good reason why these huge, seismic political issues were not put to referendums. It is because we, as a nation, have chosen to abide by the principle of representative democracy. The basic idea is simple: every few years we vote in a general election where we choose representatives who vote in parliament on our behalf. These representatives have the time, resources and expertise to discuss, debate and understand the complex issues and public policy questions of the day. As such, they’re much better placed to vote on these questions than we are. And, of course, MPs must have their constituents’ interests at heart because they know that they may well be voted out of office at the next election. Well, that’s the idea at least.

This argument for representative democracy seems particularly applicable to the question of our membership of the EU. It seems bonkers to leave what is undoubtedly an incredibly complex and multi-faceted question to the direct votes of the general public. Who really has the time or expertise to pour through and weigh all the evidence on both sides of the debate? Are we, the people, really better placed to decide this monumentally tricky issue than our elected parliament?

Moreover, the complexity of the issue at hand renders a referendum completely inappropriate in this instance. It is simply not possible to reduce such a challenging and complex issue to a simple yes or no question. With so many competing visions of our post-Brexit future, what does a vote to leave the EU even signify? Does it entail us joining the EFTA, or the EEA, or leaving the single market altogether? This is far from clear. In the event of a leave vote, should we hold another referendum, or should we leave it up to MPs to decide? But what if MPs (approximately two thirds of whom support Bremain) decide to follow the model of Norway, who are outside of the EU but remain inside the single market through membership of the EFTA? Norway must accept the free movement of people and make contributions to the EU budget, but regaining control of our borders and the infamous “£350 million a week” we supposedly send to the EU (we don’t really, but that’s been discussed enough already) have been two of the key arguments propounded by the leave campaign. The inevitable public backlash that would ensue if MPs took us into the EFTA following a leave vote would raise serious constitutional issues. Are the people or parliament ultimately sovereign; who should reign supreme?

Another issue with the referendum campaign is that it has, at times, felt as if we were debating another question entirely. Namely, who should be the prime minister, rather than the question of our membership of the EU. The campaign has seen a huge focus on personalities and individual ambitions, rather than the substantive issues we should instead be discussing. But this is a consistent theme throughout referendums in the UK. During the Lisbon Treaty referendums in Ireland, abortion and conscription became major issues. During the "yes" campaign for the 1997 Welsh devolution referendum, an aeroplane flew across Wales with a banner which read, “Vote Yes, Vote Blair”. Referendums often become about something entirely different to the real question at hand.

I hope it is now clear that there is a very strong case to be made against the idea that we should be having this referendum at all. But you would think that, with such a multiplicity of issues and problems with the very idea of holding this referendum, some sort of parliamentary committee might have thought to investigate the use of referendums in the UK before we called this vote. Well, you’d be right! In fact, the House of Lords Constitution Committee looked at the merits of the use of referendums back in 2010, weighing the evidence on both sides before concluding that:

The balance of the evidence that we have heard leads us to the conclusion that there are significant drawbacks to the use of referendums. In particular, we regret the ad hoc manner in which referendums have been used, often as a tactical device, by the government of the day.”


The committee identified all the never-ending problems with the use of referendums outlined in this article, and more, before reaching the same conclusion that I have. It is abundantly clear that the EU referendum was inappropriate and misguided - a bad idea from the outset. It has undermined the axiomatic premise of the sovereignty of parliament and corroded our representative democracy.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Want To Save Britain's Economy? Vote To Stay In Europe.




As each day passes the EU referendum draws ever closer, a referendum whose outcome will undoubtedly have huge impacts on both the economic and political landscape of the whole country for years to come. A huge part of the debate that’s raging is over the political repercussions of either outcome, much of which focusses on our political sovereignty and by extension the central issue of ‘regaining control’ of our borders. I’m not going to address the potential political outcomes (the endless rhetoric clouding politicians’ true intentions makes this nigh-on impossible anyway) but instead I will focus on the economic aspect of this debate. In doing this I will seek to answer one key question: which option should the people of the United Kingdom take to ensure economic prosperity going forward?

There is no precedent to the situation the UK finds itself in, therefore nobody can state empirically exactly what the outcomes of each choice are. The complexity of prediction is further hampered by the range of trade deals the UK has if it does choose to leave, but that’s not to say we can’t build models to predict at the very least the net effect of the outcomes – whether they are positive or negative. Economically, we can split the potential impacts of a ‘Brexit’ into the short and medium-to-long term, with different potential issues presenting themselves in different time frames.

Author’s Own Calculations using data sourced from ONS
Short term issues are already presenting themselves. The referendum is still a month off but the mere possibility that the UK could leave the EU is already having tangible economic repercussions. We saw a negative trend in GDP growth in the first quarter of this year, with growth falling 0.2% compared to final quarter of 2015, and UK industry has fallen into recession after two successive periods of negative growth in Q4 (the fourth quarter) of 2015 and the Q1 in 2016. Though it would be both na├»ve and plain wrong of me to attribute this growth slowdown completely to uncertainty, it is at least partly responsible. If seen in the results for the second quarter of the year, it does pose a question – if we’re seeing this kind of trend in an economy which is merely discussing the possibility of abandoning the status-quo, then what results will we see if the UK does actually vote to leave? Further slowdowns in growth, coupled with a very real possibility of contraction of the economy are the most obvious guesses.

The uncertainty goes further. We’re already starting to see markets pricing the risk to the economy, the most obvious of which is in the CDS spreads (Credit Default Swaps – essentially the cost of insuring UK debt against a default). The spread allows the cost to be compared to other economies and the Eurozone to see how the market is pricing the individual risk of default). In the 6 months to April 2014, costs have nearly trebled, nearly reaching the Eurozone level as a whole and overtaking both the US and Japanese cost. What does this mean? The markets see the country as a risky prospect, the problem with that is that businesses don’t invest in a risky economy.

Kierzenjowski et. Al (OECD)
The long term effects are perhaps more of a significant worry, however. One such effect is the predicted impact on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) – investment by foreign investors in UK businesses or other entities. The scale of FDI in this country is huge, with FDI stock estimated to be over £1 trillion and roughly half coming from within the EU. Part of the appeal for non-EU investors is the UK’s access to the single market – access which we may or may not have if we choose to leave. EU membership has had a huge effect on the level of FDI – the Centre for Economic Performance estimates that membership has increased FDI by around 28%. 

But why does it matter? What impact will this have on our everyday lives? For a start, studies have found that (for varying reasons) FDI has (among others) the benefit of enhancing productivity . This would suggest a positive correlation between GDP and FDI levels and empirically we find that to be the case, especially in an economy with such a large service sector.

Based on a conservative model, if the UK were to leave the EU, we would expect to see a 3.4% reduction in real incomes, a loss even greater than the anticipated drop in trade and a figure which translates to £2200 per household – not small change.

Another issue I want to just briefly address is the supposed reduction in the contribution to the EU budget. The net contribution to the EU budget, once total public sector receipts have been applied, was £8.5billion in 2015- but it is a fallacy to think we will no longer have to contribute to any organisation should we leave the EU. There are thought to be four options for trade agreements – the Norwegian Model (joining the European Economic Area), the Swiss Model in which they negotiate individual treaties to take part in any initiatives, re-joining the Free Trade Association (FTA) or trading through the World Trade Organisation.

I don’t have time to describe exactly what each one entails- it’s safe to say each comes with its own disadvantages- but I’m going to briefly describe how their contributions compare to ours. Norway are part of the European Economic Area; essentially this is just jargon for saying they are part of the single market but not full paid-up EU members. Compared to the UK, the net contributions are only 17% lower and come with disadvantages in the form of having no influence over EU decision making and potentially facing higher costs in trade.

The Swiss Model is significantly ‘cheaper’ than the Norwegian model- it’s estimated that the contribution to the EU budget is 60% lower than the UK’s contribution per capita. However there’s no guarantee of market access that the EU provides, and again, the UK is shut out of influencing key EU decisions.

Rejoining the European Free Trade (FTA) agreement is the third option and, though there is no obligation to contribute to the EU budget, increased non-tariff barriers between the UK and the EU are likely to arise, as well as greater restrictions on the free movement of people (it’s worth remembering that migration has been found to have a positive net effect on the economy).
The final option is to be governed by the World Trade Organisation. This would increase the cost of exporting for UK firms relative to the EU, there would be no right of access to EU markets and the same issue with free movement of people that was present in the FTA would also apply here.

The conclusion of all this? There are trade alternatives that the UK could choose to pursue but each one has its flaws. For some, this is the insignificant reduction of contributions to the EU budget, for others it’s the increased difficulty and cost of trading within Europe. There’s no straightforward alternative.

I said that I wasn’t going to talk about the political side of this argument but I feel I must say something brief in conclusion. Economically speaking, this decision appears to be a no-brainer – the net effect of being in the EU on the UK economy is positive. However, this debate is a wider discussion than just the economic consequences and I understand that the political landscape and ‘ever-closer union’ that the EU appears to be striving for is a potential cause for concern and there are countless other issues that will influence the way people vote. All this means that I think the decision over whether to leave the EU will come down to one key battle – nigh-on ensured Economic prosperity, or political sovereignty. Which will you choose?