Tuesday, 15 November 2011

What The Internet is For

Schoolduggery is a blog brought to my attention in the last 24 hours. According to the Guardian it is the work of a primary school governor in Suffolk. There's a rather impressive post up on the site which collates data showing that the new wave of so called Free Schools have systematically admitted lower percentages of children on Free School Meals (FSM) - the standard deprivation measure used in education - and children with Special Needs than the schools which surround them. If you have any interest in education policy I encourage you to go read it.

The real joy, however, is not to be found in the hugely competent technical posting itself, but in the comments underneath. Toby Young, high profile Chair of West London Free School,  springs into action and starts off with the entirely-reasonable-and-not-in-any-way-confrontational statements that the posting is 'utter balls' and the blogger '..resort[s] to these lies to discredit the free schools policy.'

Schoolduggery then reproduces an email from one of the West London Free School's staff  which confirms the figures she has used came from the school itself.

But our hero returns to the fray, referring to the sender of the email as 'an administrative assistant' (she was the Head's PA, so  presumably answering on the school leadership's behalf) and gamely blustering on shooting from the hip about how FSM and SEN numbers are calculated.

He then gets shot to pieces again by folk who know what they're talking about.

This has everything I want from the 'net: detailed information about technical subjects; rapid exposure of unsustainable claims and a permanent record of a key member of the right-wing chatterati making a total arse of themselves. If there was a God, I'd be giving thanks to her- in the absence of one, I can only bow  in admiration to to Schooduggery .

Sunday, 13 November 2011

A Song From 1981 (Or Earlier?)

In October 1981, 250,000 people joined an anti-nuclear demonstration in London. That summer, Tony Benn had come within 1% of being elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.

Me? I was unemployed in Brighton.  So unemployed, in fact, I volunteered to work as a steward at that Labour Party conference. As a consequence, I find I am the owner of the 'Phonetappers and Punters Club Official Songbook' (a Clause 4 Publication).

Clause 4, in this context, was a grouping in the Labour Party's youth and student movements who steadfastly opposed the various array of Trotskyists, especially the Militant Tendency, who would otherwise have dominated those youth movements. Because it was a reactive grouping - e.g. anti-Trotskyist - Clause 4 spanned a fairly wide political spectrum from traditional Tribunites to hardline 'Stalinists-in-all-but-party-colours' to 'Eurocommunists-in-all-but-party-colours' and even included a few libertarian leftist/feminist/proto-green types. In student politics they were in deep alliance with the CP. ( I only mention all this as I can't find any reference to  them on the web, so I'm filling in the background). For all this heterogeneity, not to mention a fair dollop of callow youthful sectarianism, they did, in my experience, at least have a sense of humour. Several of them went onto adult political careers, including Ministerial office in a couple of cases.
The Phonetappers and Punters Club was their 'end of the pier review' for Labour Conference. The songbook is a window into a different world. CND was being reborn as a truly mass movement.  The politics of nuclear weapons was being discussed with passion and mass involvement again, for the first time in almost 2 decades. & that meant the politics of nuclear weapons on both sides of the Iron Curtain were up for debate. I don't actually know if the song below - intended to be sung to the tune of The Red Flag - was written by the Clause 4 crew in the early eighties or was an inheritance from an earlier age(1) but it captures something of the time , at least as I recall it.

Our cause is surely won this year,
Because 'the leadership' is here,
For Khrushchev's boys and Trotsky's too
Now guide us in the work we do.

Then wave the Worker's Bomb on high,
Beneath its cloud we'll gladly die
And though our critics all shout 'balls'
We'll stand beneath it when it falls.

While Western arms we'll strive to end,
The Russian bomb we will defend
Degenerated though it might be
it is the people's property

The King St comrades chant its praise,
In Clapham they love its blaze,
Though quite deformed politically
We must support it...critically

It will correct our errors past
And clarify with its blast
Deep in our shelters, holes and nooks
We'll all have time to 'read the books'

And when we leave this world of toil
And shuffle off our mortal coil
We'll thank the Bomb that set us free
To Socialist Eternity.

(1) King St was still, then, the HQ of the CPGB. But the reference to Clapham is presumably to the old Clapham grouping of Trotskyists which, in the 1950s, apparently included Ted Grant, Gerry Healey and Tony Cliff - whom by 1981 has most certainly gone their own ways. So the song may actually be older than I'm suggesting here. But there were still folk on both sides of the Stalinist/Trotskyist divide defending the 'Workers Bomb'  when I saw the review in 1981.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Pass The Parcel: Euro Edition

Gillian Tett and Paul Mason have written the two best popular books so far about the banking crisis of 2008. Perhaps significantly, neither initially started life as an economist: Tett did her doctorate in social anthropology and Mason trained as a music teacher and musical academic. With all due respect to Steph, Pesto and the starry array of proper economists @ the FT, I think these two are the best economic journos in the business.

Anyway, here they are having one of those slightly artificial discussions the Guardian likes to publish on a Saturday. Inevitably, the subject matter is the crisis in the Eurozone. The future’s cloudy and they present somewhat different emphases on lots of stuff, not least the likelihood of a breakup of the Eurozone or otherwise. That’s understandable. But where they’re absolutely as one is in their very direct answers to a simple question: the debt isn’t ever, ever going to be paid back.  It’s just a question as to whether the currently rich get to see their wealth inflated away – perhaps by being forced to buy government bonds issued at below inflation rates of interest - or whether there is a ‘slate-wiping system on systemic debt’. What they don't say, but which is implicit in the whole situation, is no one  is ready to accept that it is their current wealth that gets vaporised.

So it’s still pass the parcel time: when the music stops someone is going to have huge losses on their hands. The only thing that’s different from 2008 is that the bankers have engineered a situation where they’re not alone in the party ring, nor even necessarily in the front rank.  The explosive debt is now also being gingerly handled by whole countries and various bewilderingly-lettered orgs (ECB, IMF, and so on) which are, in essence, no more than the public faces of various layers of multi-national Finance Capital.

Part of this pass the parcel game is inflicting the losses on the bottom end and middle of society. States are needed to do this, but not necessarily democratically led ones - hence the overthrow of Berlusconi and Papendreou, sad parodies of democratic leaders though they were.

Yet this too is a gamble. States that act too far outside a certain range of norms can quickly lose their legitimacy in the eyes of their populations, and this can happened that much quicker in the absence of a government led by anyone with a  popular political mandate.  Greece, in particular, looks like a political tinderbox to my untutored eye, but little of the Mediterranean periphery of the EU can  be counted as truly 'stable' or immune to the attractions of a ‘slate-wiping system on systemic debt’, which for a small and/or deeply indebted country is a process most easily kicked off by unilateral  default. Indeed there are conceivable circumstances where  this economic  'nuclear option' might be almost the only area of economic autonomy left to such countries as the crisis develops.

There are a few more rounds to play of pass the parcel in Europe, and especially in Italy I think. More schemes to try, further complex euphemisms to emerge from the alphabet soup of  High Financial shenanigans. I'm not promising it will all turn out OK in the end, but certainly a repressive stabilisation in favour of the currently wealthy is not beyond the realms of possibility  across Europe. Yet the more the powers-that-be press this explosive parcel of debt into the unwilling hands of those who are already losing, the more attractive a  very dangerous 'mutual ruin of the contending classes' option of unilateral default might come to seem across the Mediterranean basin.