Archive for the ‘United Kingdom’ Category

The Tory Dream Future for UK Higher Education Begins. Or, Inequality Commodified

June 5, 2011

David Cameron, Gideon “Call me George” Osborne, and David “No Two Brains” Willets must be wetting themselves with excitment. Their plans to open up third level education to private providers (including from the US) have received a major boost with news that a new private university has been founded in London with the aim of soon ranking alongside Oxford and Cambridge. Fees will be £18,000 per annum. The new university is called New College of the Humanities. Its website boasts that

New College of the Humanities is a new concept in university education. It offers education in excellence and an outstanding academic environment in the heart of London. The College was founded by 14 of the world’s top academics

Who are these 14 academics? It is a list drawn from people who currently work (and from the looks of things will continue to work) at some of the world’s best-known universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Princeton, and University College London. It is filled with well-known (and some might say annoying) names including AC Grayling, Niall Ferguson, Ronald Dworkin, Steve Jones and Richard Dawkins. All these people will teach, and if you are one of the lucky few who can afford it accepted, you will soon be on first name terms with all your fellow students and the staff. I’m sure that those who turn up expecting weekly one-to-one tutorials with the likes of Richard Dawkins will in no way be disappointed. Actually

New College has a world-class team of Professors with a stellar reputation for academic excellence, supported by a young, talented team of tutors and other teaching staff. All of them are committed to teaching and research.

Our Professors and tutors are international experts in their chosen fields. You will meet and hear these world-leading academics. You can attend Professorial lectures even if they are not in your own subjects.

Hmmmm.

All this for £18,000? A bargain you might think, especially if you are lucky enough to get one of the full scholarships, or to have your fees reduced by two-thirds. No numbers for these are available on the college’s website at this time, but they say more than a fifth of students will have scholarships or exhibitions, meaning no fees or reduced fees. The scholarships are means tested: the exhibitions are by competition. In other words, the richest person in the world can get one, and feel that they earned it, without having to trouble themselves about how inequality may have contributed to such a situation in the first place (to pick up a theme from Walter Benn Michael). I may have missed it, but I didn’t notice any reference to the scholarship including living expenses.

And just look at the Advisory Board.

Members are drawn from public and academy schools as well as from the private sector, and are chosen for their expertise in relevant areas.

Filled then with the heads of several of the most elite schools in England, and some random people from business, publishing and media. No need, obviously, to explain what relevant expertise to a university education they are bringing. I am sure the head of a secondary school or a publisher knows loads about running a university or teaching in one. It certainly couldn’t be that they expect the atmosphere at this new institution to be like a cross between public school and Oxbridge, and are therefore getting on board people who understand how to pander to the needs of their target audience.

Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems have also been firmly pushing this idea of opening up higher education to alternative providers. Clegg has also attached the use of old boy networks and unpaid internships. I wonder what he thinks about this reason for choosing the new institution. From the message of AC Grayling, the Master of this new institution.

Professional Skills will give you the tools to write well, present your ideas, lead and work in teams, read a balance sheet, and understand the worlds of finance, business and employment. You will be ready to make an immediate contribution in business, government, media or the arts following graduation. You will have a dedicated member of College staff who will arrange vacation internships for work experience. They will help you with CV preparation and securing interviews with leading firms as graduation approaches.

I guess you get what you pay for. But what is it, exactly, that you get? The answer is that the new institution will not, in fact, be awarding degrees of its own. It will be awarding Diplomas. The degrees will come from the University of London, and students will have access to University of London facilities.

So what we have is a private institution that will not in fact award degrees of its own, but award you the same degree that you can get from several other institutions across London, and where there seems to be as good a chance of ending up being taught for a substantial period by a world-class scholar. Maybe the Tories and their yellow LibDem allies shouldn’t be getting over-excited after all.

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Spot the Difference

February 11, 2011

A Weasel

Nick Clegg

Hypocrite

Trade Unions Must Die

February 7, 2011

Trade unions must die. Not (this time) the sentiments of the Sindo, but quite close to the call from the UK Institute of Directors for union rights to be curbed for public sector workers in the health and education sectors. This call forms part of a list of “freebies” that are

a mix of immediate measures to boost private sector growth and long-term commitments aimed at creating a positive vision for the UK

These include such great ideas as handing the green belt over to developers, reducing government spending as a percentage of GDP while simultaneously handing over huge amounts of money to private construction companies through “key national projects”, make it easier to sack people, and reduce workers’ rights generally. Not for nothing did the TUC describe this as a “Thatcherite fantasy world”.

This may well be the wish list of a bunch of right-wing nutters, but the danger here is that such ideas may gain traction with the coalition. We have seen just how right-wing the Lib Dems really are, and the Tories are hell-bent on restoring the capitalism of the nineteenth century. What we are seeing here are the opening shots in an ideological war to further erode workers’ rights, and to break up and privatise as much of the state sector as possible. The list is a joke. The intentions behind it are not. One need only look at the list of demands, and then look at the behaviour of the Dublin government over decades, and see how realistic the danger of a right-wing joke becoming a disgusting reality is.

Kids, Have the Day Off. We Can’t Afford to Teach You

February 7, 2011

Education. The key to social mobility, the big society, a fair Britain, and whatever other buzzwords you can think of from the Con/Dem coalition. Unless of course you slash budgets, and force councils into drastically reducing their services. North Ayrshire Council in Scotland is responding to the order to make cuts by considering cutting the number of school days to four, and delaying children starting school until the age of 6. Think of the consequences of this for parents suddenly needing to fund extra child care, not just one day a week, but for a whole year as well.

Carol Kirk, the council’s education director, said any plans to alter the current system would be “fully investigated and discussed”.

“The option for children to start primary school at age six has been widely discussed by education professionals across the UK for several years now and is already in operation in many other European countries,” she said.

“The option to deliver the statutory 25 hours of education per week over four rather than five days is also being explored by other local authorities in Scotland.”

I guess that the aim of returning the UK to Victorian times is going swimmingly then.

Hobsbawm on Where We Are and Where We Might Go

January 16, 2011

Just put this up on Cedar Lounge Revolution too.

The prospect of a new Eric Hobsbawm book is always one to pique your interest. And today in the Observer, there is an interview with Hobsbawm on How To Change the World: Tales of Marx and Marxism. Unfortunately, the interview is conducted by Tristam Hunt MP, but still makes for interesting reading (there’s another, and shorter, interview in the New Statesman, and a review in the Daily Telegraph here). I have to say though that one’s confidence in the publishers and those writing about it is slightly diminished by the fact no-one seems to have noticed it is 162 years since The Communist Manifesto was published, and not Das Kapital.

So what is the book about? It is a collection of previously published and new essays, including, Hunt tells us, “some fine new chapters on the meaning of Gramsci”. Hobsbawm seems to be arguing that the current crisis has breathed new life not only into interest in Marx, but also into the possibility of systemic change, though he is unclear as to how it might come about.

he rediscovery of Marx in this period of capitalist crisis is because he predicted far more of the modern world than anyone else in 1848. That is, I think, what has drawn the attention of a number of new observers to his work – paradoxically, first among business people and business commentators rather than the left. I remember noticing this just around the time of the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Communist Manifesto, when not very many plans were being made for celebrating it on the left. I discovered to my amazement that the editors of the [in-flight] magazine of United Airlines said they wanted to have something about the Manifesto. Then, a bit later on, I was having lunch with [financier] George Soros, who asked: “What do you think of Marx?” Even though we don’t agree on very much, he said to me: “There’s definitely something to this man.”

Hobsbawm sees the resurgence of Marx as coming about in particular from the fact that the crisis has proven neo-liberal economic orthodoxy completely wrong – we are in a crisis of a kind it said could not happen, in his view. The collapse of the USSR and associated countries, in Hobsbawm’s view, by removing a lot of the passion from the situation, allowed people to look at Marx afresh. Globalisation has become the victim of its own success.

You see, in a sense, the globalised economy was effectively run by what one might call the global north-west [western Europe and North America] and they pushed forward this ultra-extreme market fundamentalism. Initially, it seemed to work quite well – at least in the old north-west – even though from the start, you could see that at the periphery of the global economy it created earthquakes, big earthquakes. In Latin America, there was a huge financial crisis in the early 1980s. In the early 1990s, in Russia, there was an economic catastrophe. And then towards the end of the century, there was this enormous, almost global, breakdown ranging from Russia to [South] Korea, Indonesia and Argentina. This began to make people think, I feel, that there was a basic instability in the system that they had previously dismissed.

Hobsbawm continues his in his view that one of the main consequences of the fall of the Soviet Union has been the destruction of any meaningful form of social democracy.

In fact, one of the things I’m trying to show in the book is that the crisis of Marxism is not only the crisis of the revolutionary branch of Marxism but in the social democratic branch too. The new situation in the new globalised economy eventually killed off not only Marxist-Leninism but also social democratic reformism – which was essentially the working class putting pressure on their nation states. But with globalisation, the capacity of the states to respond to this pressure effectively diminished. And so the left retreated to suggest: “Look, the capitalists are doing all right, all we need to do is let them make as much profit and see that we get our share.”

That worked when part of that share took the form of creating welfare states, but from the 1970s on, this no longer worked and what you had to do then was, in effect, what Blair and Brown did: let them make as much money as possible and hope that enough of it will trickle down to make our people better off.

The significance, he says, of the current crisis is that living standards are clearly failling once again, and so the question of reformism will emerge once more.

Again, he continues with a pre-existing line, namely his argument that the traditional proletariat is no longer sufficient to change society on its own. Instead, it must form the backbone of progressive alliances. Hence Hobsbawm stating that

Today, ideologically, I feel most at home in Latin America because it remains the one part of the world where people still talk and conduct their politics in the old language, in the 19th- and 20th-century language of socialism, communism and Marxism.

Against some of the more excitable comments about the student protests, Hobsbawm questions the extent of the shift in student consciousness and reminds Hunt that the last major student protests (i.e. 1968) didn’t actually amount to all that much (an argument I have a great deal of sympathy for). In another argument I have some sympathy for, he seems unimpressed with Zizek as well.

I suppose Zizek is rightly described as a performer. He has this element of provocation that is very characteristic and does help to interest people, but I’m not certain that people who are reading Zizek are actually drawn very much nearer rethinking the problems of the left.

Hobsbawm, like everybody else on the left, feels that the coalition is taking the opportunity provided by the crisis to pursue a Thatcherite ideological agenda.

Behind the various cuts being suggested, with the justification of getting rid of the deficit, there clearly seems to be a systematic, ideological demand for deconstructing, semi-privatising, the old arrangements – whether it’s the pension system, welfare system, school system or even the health system. These things in most cases were not actually provided for either in the Conservative or the Liberal manifesto and yet, looking at it from the outside, this is a much more radically rightwing government than it looked at first sight.

I don’t think I’d agree with the remark that the government didn’t look this rightwing from the start. I think that was an illusion about Clegg and the Orange book LibDems, and perhaps even about Cameron, that some of the British centre-left allowed themselves to indulge in, culminating of course in the Guardian’s deluded and foolish call for progressives to vote LibDem. Hobsbawm calls for the Labour Party to concentrate on defending public services from cradle to the grave, and pointing to improvements it made in power. In other words, to move further to the left than Ed Miliband has positioned it so far.

Hunt points out that Hobsbawm’s book’s final paragraph notes that

the supersession of capitalism still sounds plausible to me

. Hobsbawm’s response suggests that he believes a move to socialism unlikely, but that he thinks the neo-liberal era may well be left in the past.

The record of Karl Marx, an unarmed prophet inspiring major changes, is undeniable. I’m quite deliberately not saying that there are any equivalent prospects now. What I’m saying now is that the basic problems of the 21st century would require solutions that neither the pure market, nor pure liberal democracy can adequately deal with. And to that extent, a different combination, a different mix of public and private, of state action and control and freedom would have to be worked out.

What you will call that, I don’t know. But it may well no longer be capitalism, certainly not in the sense in which we have known it in this country and the United States.

In a sense then, there’s not a lot new in this interview, and probably not a lot new in terms of Hobsbawm’s views on contemporary politics, as noted by the Telegraph review. I suspect that for the CLR audience, those of us who read it will find the more historical, philosophical or interpretive reflections on Marx and his followers as being of more interest than Hobsbawm’s political message, which seems perhaps unduly limited and perhaps defeatist.

Keep you’re head down and keep running

December 8, 2010

Sometimes, life is cruel

The Big Society: A Recipe for Disaster?

November 30, 2010

The Tories – and their Lib Dem lapdogs – are seeking to return the UK to the Victorian age: except without the workhouse, which would cost too much in their eyes. So we see the idea that the state can be rolled back, and replaced with private charities. Obviously not all charities are as badly run as this one, but it is an example of what can happen when you run things on a private basis, even with the best of intentions. The state must keep doing what only it can do reliably. We must protect the welfare state against the ConDem onslaught.

My Kind of Bishop

November 23, 2010

Having avoided the obvious gag in the headline, I would like to record how impressed I am by the Anglican Bishop of Willesden (wherever the hell that is), Pete Broadbent, who took great delight in having a go at all the hype about the announcement that some sinecure having RAF officer is to marry some wee girl who he partly wooed by going for a joyride in public property to her house, namely a Chinook. Try going up to Aldegrove to get a Chinook to impress your girlfriend and see how far that gets you.

Anyway, the Bishop outed himself as a republican on his facebook page, which I can’t find.

He wrote: “Need to work out what date in the spring or summer I should be booking my republican day trip to France.”
He went on to say: “I think we need a party in Calais for all good republicans who can’t stand the nauseating tosh that surrounds this event.

“I managed to avoid the last disaster in slow motion between Big Ears and the Porcelain Doll, and hope to avoid this one too.”
He said the wedding should belong to the family, as opposed to becoming “national flim-flam” paid for by tax payers. And he criticised the media for descending into “fawning deferential nonsense”.

I hope he remembers to invite the rest of us to his party. Sounds perfect.

As for the media reaction and his apology, entirely predictable. But fair play to him in the first place.

Comprehensive Attack on the Working Class

October 21, 2010

I’ve published a response to the Comprehensive Spending Review over at Cedar Lounge Revolution

Let’s Cut Straight to the New Thatcherism

October 4, 2010

And so, inevitably, the Tories have stepped up their war against the working people of the UK. We all know why child benefit was introduced, and why it has proven to be a good thing in terms of ensuring children get what they need. Sure, the thought of millionaires claiming for it is hard to take, but even in rich families, there can be an abusive and domineering partner who starves the children and their main carer of money, and for whom the child benefit can be important. Moreover, the blatantly silly fact that a single parent earning just over £44,000 can have the benefit cut while a couple with a combined income of £86,000 if they earn £43,000 each shows just what an inept and ill-thought through idea this is. That in itself is something of a sideshow compared to the idea of replaced all benefits with a universal credit. This again is not something that has been properly fleshed out, but we can be sure that the aim is to cut the amount of money paid to those who need it most. The sickening and callous attitude of the Tories is revealed in this story from the Guardian, where the prospect of uprooting families from central London due to capping benefits is blithely dismissed in terms relevant to the market and not principles of social justice.

And to go along with this, we have Boris Johnson. Good old Boris, the bumbling likeable buffoon. The nice face of the Tory party – after all hasn’t he said that immigration is a good thing, and that he supports a living minimum wage for London? Yeah. Today we get the real Boris, the vicious Thatcherite, seeking to finish off what is left of union rights after the Thatcher and Blair years.

Warning that the tube strike was an “omen for the entire country as we struggle to come out of recession”, he urged ministers to “consider a law insisting on a minimum 50% participation in a strike ballot”.

The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) claimed only 33% of those balloted supported the tube strike, with the organisation proposing legislation that would require 40% of balloted union members to be in favour of a strike.

However, the unions have pointed out that Boris is seeking to apply a higher threshold of legitimacy to union ballots than politicians are held to – simple majorities win elections in Britain, regardless of the turnout. Why should it be different for unions? Class war is the simple answer.

Final word to Bob Crow of the RMT and Gerry Doherty of the TSSA, the two unions taking industrial action on the Tube today.

The RMT leader, Bob Crow, and Gerry Doherty, of the TSSA, told Cameron: “This strike is not about ‘irresponsible militants’ taking on the coalition – it is about London Underground staff giving up a day’s pay to put safety first.

“Indeed, if the mayor simply kept to his election promises regarding adequate staffing on London Underground, there would be no dispute.”

If Boris gets his way, there will be and can be no labour movement in the UK. Miliband and his cronies, as well as the Lib Dems, have a duty to stand up and be counted if they wish to be seen as progressive.