Thursday, 23 June 2011

New pamphlet from Labour's New Generation - website now live

I'm editing a new pamphlet - Pragmatic Radicalism: Ideas from Labour's New Generation.  The website is now live -  Please take a look and get involved in the debate.

You can also follow this on Twitter #PragRad

You can join the Facebook group here.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Headlines you don't want to read if you're a Tory - Pt 2

This from The Sun...ouch...just when they thought they'd saved at least a shred of their reputation as being tough on law and order, out creeps more news of how fiscal tightening means weakening of our sentencing...

Ken Clarke...the paedophiles’ pal

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Headlines you don't want to see if you're a Tory (and a few, on occasion, you do want to see if you're Labour

This is the first of a series of posts pointing to headlines in the national British press that I believe, as a casual and slightly-informed observer, will be regarded with world-weary abhorence in the press office at Number 10.  Given that I'm entirely biased (in a non-mean-spirited way) in favour of Labour and against the Tories, I shall add in some gems which will be greeted with glee in the Labour press office.

Here we go:
Today's headline is from The Times (paywall):

Key reform stalled as No 10 gets the jitters

Or this on the front page of The Daily Telegraph:

Milburn: NHS reforms are 'car crash'

And one nice one from The Guardian for Labour:

Miliband puts Cameron under pressure over coalition plans to cut cancer patients' benefits

Monday, 6 June 2011

Shock news bulletin: students ARE deterred from university by higher fees

David Willetts MP, Universities Minister, said the following in November 2010:

"Our proposals are progressive, because they help to encourage people from poorer backgrounds to go to university..."

Yet we read today in The Times (pay wall)that:

"Tens of thousands of young people are expected to abandon plans to go to university, put off by higher fees and an ailing, graduate job market.  Vice-Chancallors are preparing for a collapse in the number of applications next year."

I am sure I am not alone in thinking that it was entirely predictable that young people, particularly those from poorer backgrounds, would be deterred from going to university by £9,000 fees. 

We must remind the Government at all opportunities that their policies are making Britain less meritocratic.  Going to university, for those who are suitably qualified, should be a right, not a privilege.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Phew, I'm not English - Naughtie's DNA journey shows it's still alright to be anti-English on the Today Programme


I just heard some baffling comments from James Naughtie, the Scottish presenter of BBC Radio 4's Today Programme. He was talking with a geneticist who has analysed his DNA to see where he is 'from' genetically. The banter with fellow presenter, John Humphrys (a Welshman) was good-humoured, but it revealed to me how making jokes about Englishness, or the English by a non-English person, is seemingly totally acceptable, while even good-humoured mocking of this kind about black people, or Jewish people, or Chinese, for example, would rightly be deemed outrageous by most people.

If I recall correctly, Naughtie said, on hearing that his ancestors left England for Scotland some 500 years ago - "that's long enough". Humphrys can be heard shouting "he's English".

He then quipped to his Welsh presenting colleague: "at least I'm not Welsh".

He also said, perplexingly, "at least I'm not a black goat from Brittany" [ie implicating that Humphrys was], to which JH said something like, "steady on, I'll have to get the Commission For Racial Equality on"...

Can you imagine if you replaced the word "Welsh, or English", with African or Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Irish or Chinese...? I know I'm conflating ethnicity with religion here, but you get my drift. If it would be wrong, for instance, for a Jewish presenter to joke about his relief at not being a Muslim, or for a white person to express relief about not having genetic links to Africa, then it should not be acceptable for Jim Naughtie to make the kind of statements he did this morning.

This was followed, bizarrely, by an interview with a social anthropoligist, who has written a book about what defines 'Englishness". The interview was basically a run-down of the English stereotype, including the fact that to be English, you must suffer 'alienation' and use the word "typical" whenever faced with a problem.  
Can you imagine English and Irish presenters of a Scottish-based radio programme joking about their relief at not being Scottish, before interviewing a social anthropologist about Scottish cultural stereotyes?  No, nor can I.

With Scottish nationalism on the rise and a sense that people on this island are increasingly defining themselves in narrow terms, we must guard against idle banter about ethnic identity which can set the cultural backdrop for much more sinister forces.  I don't like stereotypes, and feel uncomfortable with outward shows of nationalism and triumphalism - perhaps it's because I was born in England...