David Miliband

I’ve just got back from the double David Miliband event, and just wanted to write a report.

I thought the crowd during the first part (In Conversation with David Miliband – in the great hall) was fairly tough, there were questions about Palestine, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria and Guantanemo Bay. One of the best questions was “What would you say to David Eastwood about the Browne Review?” and David replied in a very diplomatic manner, ending with the comment that he didn’t think it was “all Professor Eastwood’s fault”. I for one hope that Eastwood noticed the resentment in the room and the general jibes against tuition fees and millionaires.

The second part (The Living Wage Launch with David Miliband) was more relaxed and entertaining. Luke asked a great question about solidarity with potential allies and recognising the real enemy. David replied “kicking Lib Dems is pleasure, kicking Tories is business. Politics is business”. He also highlighted the work of his “Movement for Change”, responding to comments that it seemed similar to the Big Society by stating that society is our turf, we have always been known as socialists not statists, and the Tories are only developing policies to promote society because they are terrified of being known as the “there is no such thing as society” party. I’m sure many of us can see through their Big Society strategy to a purely Thatcherite idealism, and recognise that grass roots activity and community organisation always has been and will remain a Labour policy area.

In conclusion, congratulations to the BULS members who helped to organise the talks, and I hope those who missed out come to the upcoming great events!



Sex is not the enemy

David Cameron is set to announce a new set of proposals for child-proofing the internet. A new opt-in scheme to be unveiled today would have internet providers blocking access to pornographic material to all but those users who request it. Clearly children, some teenagers and even adults can be shocked and upset by explicit imagery.

I don’t think we should run (seek to understand exotic acts and complex power games) before we can walk (understand a basic ideal of sex between adults who respect each other). But wouldn’t it be nice if the government were to replace one (misleading, fantasy-based) source of sex information with another (safe, inclusive) source?

The classically repressed British are living proof that ignoring sex does not make STIs or unwanted pregnancy go away. Only proper education, support networks and open adult discussion can do that.

I think we have some things to learn from our friends down under: http://www.sexparty.org.au/index.php/policies


Out of touch

Just tuned in to Woman’s hour and became outraged at views expressed by Lord Digby Jones, (formerly ‘Sir’, formerly ‘Mr’), on the subjects of education and parenting. Jones has developed a proposal of cutting benefits to all parents whose children cannot read, write, count and work a computer by age 14. He went on to say, reassuringly, that these families “will not starve, they will be given food stamps” but will be deprived of monetary benefits as they would, apparently, only be spent on “luxuries” such as cigarettes and alcohol. Stopping families’ benefits wholesale at the drop of a hat seems to be the populist policy de jour, with no concern for the serious effects such measures would have on child poverty, human rights and the development of a lawless underclass.  Aside from the fact that such a proposal would hit migrants and disabled people worst, it is unrealistic and out of touch. Lord Digby Jones turns out to be the former Minister of State for UK Trade & Investment. Perhaps he should confine his opinions to his area of expertise.

I think this is symptomatic of a larger problem. While many of the casual prejudices held against Britain by my aquaintances here in Berlin are amusing, harmless and easily refudated, the stereotype of a British political system in which the monarchy and peers have far too much say is not only damaging, but seems to be turning out to be true.

As a Briton abroad I feel humiliated over Prince Andrew’s gaffes and mood swings, concerned by Prince Charles’ several inappropriate interventions, disappointed as to the lack of progress on Clegg’s House of Lords reform.

It all puts me in mind of an Oscar Wilde quote, spoken by Lord Fermor to his nephew Dorian Gray – “When I was in the Diplomatic, things were much better. But I hear they let them in now by examination. What can you expect? Examinations, sir, are pure humbug from beginning to end. If a man is a gentleman, he knows quite enough, and if he is not a gentleman, whatever he knows is bad for him.”


Rambling all-purpose post-Guttenberg higher education rant

(it is a machine that copies)

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg´s gone at last. He´s lied denied and compromised his way through two tricky weeks of scrutiny at the hands of the media, his political opponents and even his own party the CDU. His situation reminds me of Andy Coulson´s in January, but was inherently more critical because he had been tipped as Merkel´s successor. As a campaigner for the SPD I am not an unbiased observer, but my feeling is that zu Guttenberg did not deserve a doctorate and does not deserve to remain an MP with such blatantly compromised judgement.

I hope this will be a lesson to those members of the older generation patronising enough to moan about how much easier it is these days to get good grades, or how the standard of higher education is dropping, or how this generation is lazy. Or to the traitors in our midst who decry the degrees taken by their contemporaries as worthless.

Because this kind of copying simply can´t happen anymore. Electronic submission through specific software is common practice in modern universities, and plagiarism is one of the gravest academic crimes we can be convicted of, worse than a lack of imagination, a lack of passion, or even unpunctuality. Degrees are tough and marks are harsh, and all of us have worked hard to get into and stay at the University of Birmingham.

This is why we have to keep campaigning for fairness and accessibility. Funding for all that want it, places for all that can meet reasonable requirements, and serious long term investment in all institutions of education.


Ed´s first reshuffle

A couple of thoughts…

Firstly, I genuinly believe that Johnson´s reasons are personal because he has a good relationship with Mili-E, and there have been no recent big revelations about changes to budget policy that could have worried him enough to resign.

Secondly fears of Balls-Miliband repeat of the Brown-Blair power struggle are groundless and unnecessary. There´s no secret agreement or deal, and having Cooper on the front bench is likely to make the pairing more stable.

Thirdly Miliband has shown brilliant and decisive leadership. Any surprise at his not offering chancellor to his brother is misplaced, David´s made it clear that he does not wish to be a member of the cabinet this term.

Fourthly I´m psyched for a Cooper-May standoff, I´m pretty sure Yvette is going to come victorious out of any tussle.


Equality and education

First of all I’d like to apologise for not blogging much recently, I’ve been travelling a lot and trying to get all my essays and presentations done for Humboldt, which is taking twice as long because they’re all in German!

During the holidays I’ve been talking to people in Sweden and Germany about schooling. I find it a really easy political topic to engage young people on because it’s a common and recent experience and a lot of us are concerned by the state of flux the system is tumbling into.

New Labour introduced a lot of initiatives and revolutionised the school system in many ways. These changes were not always popular with parents and teachers but the central aim of each one was greater equality. The general coalition push for the re-introduction of grammar schools and the sponsoring of free schools does not have the same aim and will not produce positive results.

Germany has had a 4-tier system in place for several decades, in which 10-year-old children are separated into achievement-based groups and sent to either a Gymnasium, Realschule, Hauptschule or Forderschule. Those who try to sell such systems as meritocracies overlook the real input and output of pupils, and the uncomfortable statistics that show that selection hits the most vulnerable hardest.

The PISA Study (Programme for International Student Assessment) was first carried out by the OECD in 2000 and showed Germany to have a highly unequal and unfair system, with bright non-native speakers of German being relegated to the Forderschule, which is essentially a school for the mentally disabled rather than those of another nationality. As British studies have shown, bright students from poor families lose out in the current system to averagely gifted children from rich families, because the parents themselves are often more highly educated, better informed, and more driven.

In Sweden independent schools set up by groups of parents resorted to television advertising to drum up interest. This was very successful in a many areas, but produced the unfortunate result that state schools had to spend taxpayers’ money on running expensive advertising campaigns in order to be able to compete.

We don’t need to worry about the high achievers, but the children who fall through the cracks. Becoming resigned to a low social strata so early in life is damaging and leads to serious consequences later in life.


The Special Relationship

The BP oil spill was a massive PR disaster for Britain, not least in the hearts and minds of ordinary America.ns. The latest Wikileaks report that Mervyn King described the ConDems as economically “out of their depth” makes us look more like the embarrassing friend or silly little brother than a special partner.

But all is not lost. Tory europhobia likely chimes in quite nicely with a USA that routinely censures EU trade protectionism, and as we know from transatlantic politics the Tories can present themselves as having quite a lot in common with both parties, as they are right-wing but as a rule a lot more moderate and civilised than many Republicans, and by and large approve of Obama’s health reforms.

And what with La Roux storming the charts, Russel Brand marrying showbiz royalty and Vernon Kay, Cat Deeley; Len Goodman, Piers Morgan and maybe even Cheryl Cole presenting primetime shows we might be gradually getting to the stage where, as the guardian puts it, our accent is no longer just for aristocrats and villians.

So where do we stand now? Will the special relationship take us as far as Iran? How will it affect our relationship with Europe? And come 2012 will Palin and Cameron egg each other on to even bigger cuts?