Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest victory: Revitalising democracy

Jeremy corbyn rally

Jeremy Corbyn rally – as big as a Gladstone or Disraeli rally. Pic Credit; Twitter

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Jeremy Corbyn’s good performance  in the polls last night was not just brilliant for Labour. It was also not just because he produced a left of centre detailed manifesto. It was not even because he avoided ” yah boo sucks”  attacks on the Tories or Liberal Democrats.

His biggest victory last night was because he galvanised democracy and got a new generation of young people to take an interest in politics and bother to register to vote. He did this in the extraordinary space of two months.

On  March 24 Tribune published an editorial highly critical of Labour’s performance in general and Jeremy Corbyn in particular. It said simply Labour isn’t working and this was from a left of centre magazine not the Daily Mail.

Lest it be forgotten then the Tories had a 19 per cent lead over Labour and crucially had a 41  to 29 per cent lead among the  18-24 year old group.  Thus at that time Theresa May even had a lead among students and young workers.

Now in the remarkable space of  just 10 weeks Jeremy Corbyn and his election campaigning team has totally transformed the picture of politics for youth.  Not since the barnstorming performances of Gladstone and Disraeli in the nineteenth century and Churchill in the early twentieth century have such huge crowds turned up at rallies to hear a party  leader speak.

And remember these huge meetings predate the invention of radio and TV let alone the internet and the smartphone.

To get youth as enthusiastic to think they can change events in an age of so many other distractions is a mega achievement which leaders of every other political party should be profoundly grateful to Jeremy. For if the idea of change through the ballot box is not passed from one generation to another democracy dies and dictatorship looms. And given it was against a background of two random terrorist attacks aimed at the young is even more remarkable.

Sadly I must say his dream of encouraging young people to participate in democracy did not seem to be shared by the Conservatives. They did not appear to be encouraging the young to  register to vote – presumably because Lynton Crosby thought it would not get many new votes for the Tories.

And worse on polling day some people – including one person with a blue rosette in Enfield and a UKIP and Tory run council in Plymouth – lied to young first time voters that they needed an ID card to vote at polling stations- presumably in a desperate move to keep  Labour from winning marginal seats. Theresa May does want to introduce ID cards for voting – but I am afraid it is not the law at the moment so it is illegal to mislead voters.

The contrast between Labour and the Tories over democratic rights is still continuing after the election. Theresa May is behaving like a headmistress of a rather badly run prep school  – by pretending that she is still running a successful operation when people are stopping paying the fees. She has lost authority and seems to be developing a  “bunker type”  mentality ignoring the reality that the game is already half up.

There appear so far to be no concessions to the democratic process from the Tories – and the main aim seems to be to ally May with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland – probably adding to division there between them and Sinn Fein. Would she ban abortion in the rest of UK if the DUP demanded it? Would she concede to some of their antiquated views about gays? How will this play out over the present crisis in Stormont?

But I profoundly believe that what Jeremy has started cannot be stopped. There may have to be yet another general election after a few months to complete the transformation – though this will be highly risky in the middle of Brexit negotiations. Theresa May called the election believing her own propaganda that Jeremy was a no hoper. Now she has found out the hard way  that he isn’t and no matter how many pages of propaganda Paul Dacre and Rupert Murdoch use to smear him it no longer works.

 

Why does this man keep secret the pay and perks for people running David Cameron’s taxpayer funded National Citizen Service scheme?

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Michael Lynas Chief Executive of the National Citizen’s Trust. Pic credit: Twitter

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This is Michael Lynas. So far he has spent £475m of taxpayer’s money as chief executive of the National Citizens Trust – a legacy project of David Cameron’s government aimed at providing community projects to aid character building  for 15 to 17 year olds across the nation.

His Linked In profile reveals that his sole qualifications  to do the job are a four year spell as a consultant for Bain and Company and just under three years in Downing Street as a policy adviser to David Cameron and Nick Clegg. He is obviously conventionally bright having studied at  Harvard and Cambridge.

Recently he appeared before MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee following a highly critical report from the National Audit Office questioning whether  National Citizen Service was value for money. The NAO pointed out that it was almost entirely funded by the state and the cost providing places on its schemes was very high. Also it has paid out money up front to organisations for places that were not taken up and was now trying to get the money back. I have written about this in Tribune magazine.

Indeed he was challenged by MPs about his ( lack of ) experience.This is the extract from the minutes:

Michael Lynas :”I have been involved in this now for eight years. I helped
to set up the first pilot. That is my ultimate experience. I have worked in
Government covering everything from the London 2012 Olympics to the same-sex marriage proposals when I was a senior policy adviser at No.10.
Chair ( Meg Hillier MP) : The same-sex marriage proposals, important as they were, are not quite the same things as running a contract with a big budget.
Michael Lynas: The Olympics had a large budget, obviously. When I was a management consultant for five years I looked at a whole range of projects, some of which were very large, but as I said, I have not managed something with this budget before.”

But the MPs were also concerned about the complete lack of transparency in declaring the salaries of directors -including himself- and senior staff  who are funded by the taxpayer. This is because  the trust was set up as a community interest company by David Cameron – so it did not have to disclose any details of the pay or perks  of directors or senior staff. Even though it was funded by you and me  –  the taxpayer.

MPs challenged him to publish the information and he agreed he could – but avoided pledging to do so. A flavour of the exchange can be seen here at the hearing.

Kevin Forster MP :”I have asked you if there is a legal bar to sharing that information and you have not said that there is.. .But you have said several times that you are waiting for the new Bill to go through. I accept that would be a new transition and structure but, if you want to sharei nformation and there is no legal bar to do doing so, and it relates to an
organisation that is taxpayer-funded, why don’t you do it?
Michael Lynas: I absolutely agree. I just thought it was a question about whether we did it under the auspices of the new arrangements or whether  we did it before then. We can do it before then.
Mr  Richard Bacon MP: This question of whether we do it under the old auspices or
the new arrangements: how profound is that question and how difficult to solve? Why does it matter? Why can’t you just do it, if it doesn’t make any difference? Are you familiar with the maxim, “Don’t ask for permission, ask for forgiveness”? Why don’t you just get on with it?”

An examination of the accounts and the original advertisement for the job of chief executive does reveal some information. Mr Lynas’s original job was advertised at £120,000 a year. The accounts reveal that in 2015 the highest paid director ( and he is also a director) received £117,688 a year and £5775 towards his pension. This increased by nearly £20,000 to £137,253 in 2016 and to £6343 towards his pension. We don’t know if that is him but it is very likely it is.

Total payments for directors increased by £45,000 in the same period from £466,608 to £511,182 whole pension contributions rose slightly from £23,025 ro £23,480.

Now there are 12 directors – eight are non-executive and four are executive – so you  might assume they share this between them. But you would be wrong because one of them, Lord David Blunkett, the former Labour home secretary, has had to declare what he gets in the House of Lords register of interests – even if the trust wants to keep it secret. And guess what, he is doing it pro bono – not claiming a penny salary for sitting on the board.

And I would be willing to bet the other seven- Dame Julia Cleverdon former chief executive of Business in the Community ; Pippa Dunn, Nick Farnhill, John Hartley, Sue Gray.,( Director of Propriety and Ethics at the Cabinet Office) Martina Milburn, ( head of the Prince’s Trust)  and Shaun Watling- may be in the same position. The Prince’s Trust confirmed that Martina Milburn also gives her time on a voluntary basis.

These leaves another four executive directors to share the spoils ,Will Gallagher ( resigned last December);Doug Fraley ( resigned June 2015); Simon Jones ( resigned January 2016) and Natasha Kizzie in the previous financial year. Indeed the disappearance of so many executive directors seems to suggest another hidden story. Particularly since Will Gallagher was NCT’s chief operating officer and Simon Jones was NCT’s finance director. Natasha who is still in post is director of communications and marketing.

The accounts also reveal that in 2015 50 staff shared a £3 million wage bill. They are now over 100 staff.

The Trust will be forced to release information once  a bill  turning it into a public body goes through Parliament under Theresa May’s government.

I asked for the trust to release these figures now  and explain how much of the millions they lost on ” ghost places” they had recovered. I got no reply – no doubt Mr Lynas was too busy to be bothered by pesky journalists.

But I might say when the public sector ( especially education) is being squeezed by cuts and wage freezes – the largesse shown  to a few here is out of proportion. Unless of  course the former PM arranged ” mates rates” for the privileged few so they could help the underprivileged masses understand their role in society.

 

 

 

Austerity Britain: How Unison has helped create Durham’s new poor

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Durham teacher assistants lobbying shadow chancellor John McDonnell at the Labour conference in Liverpool

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While the national  press depicted Labour’s policies as “la la land”  and Jeremy Corbyn as ” unelectable” down at the grass roots  a group of feisty women campaigners were lobbying union leaders and John McDonnell at the conference over the very issues that have led to the rise of Corbyn and the demise of the metropolitan elite.

The Durham teacher assistants or assistant teachers as they prefer to call themselves are just one group who have been hard done by austerity and public service cuts that followed the banking crisis and is still going on today.

Their case has been more eloquently outlined by my former colleague on the Guardian  Adita  Chakrabortty  in this long article where he describes them as the Lions of Durham. Basically they are among 2700 TA’s paid from just £14,000 to  £20,000 a year and now facing a pay cut of 23 per cent or the sack.This follows years of no or minimal pay rises that have already cut their standard of living. Even those who decide to work longer hours still face a 10 per cent cut.

The most they have been offered is some  “compensation” a deferment of the  wage cuts for two years but by the time Britain goes to the polls in 2020 they will all be far  worse off than now.

All this  is happening under a Labour controlled council and they are represented by a Labour affiliated union, Unison, which supported Corbyn for the leadership.

Durham county council – which to be fair has faced substantial cuts under the Tories – seem to have mishandled the whole affair by not implementing properly an agreement four years ago and were faced with legal advice saying they had to bring  the system into line with other authorities and impose cuts..

But probably the worst offender is Unison itself who, according to the campaigners, has done little to represent them by negotiating hard on their behalf like say the FBU does for its firefighters or the RMT for its guards.

Until the Labour conference Unison seem to expect the workers themselves to lobby local councillors and local Labour MPs to try and persuade them to change their mind. Not altogether surprisingly the councillors – faced with advice from officials that they would  be breaking the law to do so – have shied away.

And most of the MPs with one notable exception- Grahame Morris Mp for Easington  – have said they cannot negotiate themselves with Durham County Council on their behalf as it is up to their union.

This has left a load of activist voters very, very angry. It has been made worse by the patronising  and off hand treatment from some officials in Durham County Council’s human resources department who haven’t even bothered to spell out the lower rates of pay.

And while Dave Prentis, the union’s leader, makes great rousing speeches ( he did so at fringes in the conference) on the plight of the lower paid public sector workers, his officials lower down the chain have been distinctly unhelpful, patronising and some times downright rude to their own members. No wonder one of the teaching assistants described Dave Prentis as  “all mouth and no trousers”. But then he is not facing a 23 per cent pay cut from Unison.

All this is leading to damaging repercussions. Some of the assistants are planning to vote Liberal Democrat in May’s elections while supporting Corbyn at the next general election. They want revenge on the councillors and unfortunately if the Lib Dems ( who are having a local council resurgence)  win seats it will be seen as a verdict against Jeremy when it is against a local Labour council.

Following the conference the Unison TA’s have voted overwhelmingly for strike action and want union support – their GMB colleagues voted narrowly against.

It seems to me time Unison pulled its finger out and went into hard negotiations with the local council. The deal they are being offered is worse than people in many other authorities have got – where wages have been safeguarded through regrading – and it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of regional organisers like Clare Williams to organise such talks now there a vote for strike action.

My view on Unison is also shared by local Labour  MPs like Kevan Jones, who has taken stick from the teacher assistants for not intervening. As a former trade union negotiator himself, he is not impressed by Unison’s local tactics and their failure until now  to negotiate on their behalf.

If Unison do let these workers down they will not only betray their members but bear some responsibility for creating more unnecessary poverty for low paid workers and fuel resentment and anger that is already felt by people left out in the cold by the Tories.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An 11 plus failure speaks out:Theresa May wants conformity over opportunity

Theresa May

Theresa May, Prime Minister Pic Credit: conservatives.com

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Theresa May’s decision to turn the clock back five  decades by building a new generation of grammar schools makes me personally very angry. It is divisive, it will narrow opportunities for future generations and it will entrench the current Establishment by introducing a new ” gatekeeping ” role to ensure who succeeds and who fails.

Superficially it will allow a few hand picked intelligent  11 year olds from the poor to go to highly academic schools but the rest of the population can go hang.

I should know because I was one of those who would have been labelled a failure at 11. In 1958 I failed my 11 plus. Living in Streatham, South London and failing to get into Battersea Grammar meant I would be doomed to go to Dunraven Secondary Modern which then didn’t even teach enough O levels ( now GCSE’s) to get any professional job.
But I was lucky – educationalists in 1958 had this new fangled idea of  comprehensive education which was supported by Tories as well as Labour. A brand new school opened at the top of Brixton Hill called Tulse Hill – a   huge rough multi racial school that attracted idealist teachers across Britain.

Its first head came from Dulwich College, a prestigious public school (incidently where “anti establishment ” Nigel Farage later was a pupil) and teachers left cushy jobs at other elite schools to be part of the staff.

So instead of being consigned to the education scrapheap I was taught Latin by a teacher from Manchester Grammar, Spanish by a Republican fleeing Franco’s dictatorship, English by a guy who got plays on BBC radio and history by two brilliant teachers.

Even then though it took me to past 16 to really take off. As well failing my 11 plus I was a  “late developer”. I mucked  up some of my O levels but the flexibility at my school allowed me to retake some of them ( I was particularly bad at maths) while taking three A levels (one in 18 months). Even at 16 I was thought not to be university material but I was no longer thought to be a complete thickie.

I got much better A levels than people expected – though it did not surprise my history teachers- but had been rejected by every university. I used the ” clearing house” to re-apply to my first choice, Warwick University, backing it up by writing a letter.

In the meantime I was going to start my first job as a clerk with London Transport – but days before I suddenly got a place at Warwick on my chosen History and Politics course because someone dropped out. I gather the university chose me because they were heartened by my improvement at A level and thought I had more potential.

I have gone into such personal detail to illustrate why May is wrong – she may get some academically bright 11 year olds into grammars – but she will deprive thousands of other  ” late developers” like me who didn’t show their real potential until they were 16 of future opportunities available in a truly comprehensive system.

It is quite clear to me that without Tulse Hill and Warwick I would never have become a journalist. never have worked for The Times Higher Education Supplement and The Guardian. never been a lobby journalist and would not be sitting on a national independent  panel now. Neil Hamilton, Peter Mandelson. Tony Blair, Leon Brittan, Norman Fowler, Lord Ashcroft, Ed Lester and Brian Coleman to name a few, would never have been bothered by a pesky inquisitive journalist and could have slept more soundly.And talking of Tulse Hill, would Ken Livingstone, another pupil, ever had become mayor of London?

Since working at this level I have become aware of how much of a Club the Establishment is. It is dominated by public schools and old grammar school boys who share an ethos that is now miles apart from the working classes. By filtering people at 11 she will entrench this conformist view of society and help the Establishment- and that includes herself – to keep out oddballs like me – who can be a nuisance to so many people.

My view is that Theresa May’s real agenda is create a more conformist society and bolster the Establishment with a sprinkling of  academically clever working class boys and girls. Given her other main interest is pressing through a surveillance system that allows the state to keep records of every person’s digital footprint, the non conformists can easily be kept out of having a chance to shape society.

 

 

 

 

 

Why treacherous Michael Gove can’t be trusted with your money at Number Ten

Michael Gove

Michael Gove Pic Credit: Channel Four

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The extraordinary treacherous act by Michael Gove in ditching Cameron and then dumping Boris Johnson  to try to be Prime Minister has obscured another damning trait in this discredited Tory star.

While the sound and  fury surrounding the Referendum campaign dominated the headlines Whitehall quietly produced a damning finding which questions the competence of Michael Gove to stand for  high office anywhere.

Before he moved to the Ministry of Justice, where he undid some of the nasty work of Chris Grayling, Gove was secretary of state for  education.

In the run up to the  Campaign Whitehall belatedly published the Whole Government Accounts – an international accounting standard record of every pound spent of taxpayer’s money and the value of the assets held by the British government.

This report was late because of the failure of one Cabinet minister – Michael Gove – to be able to  account for a staggering £33 billion -yes billion- of public money and assets while he was in office. That’s equivalent to half the education budget or THREE years of our contributions to the European Union.

As the findings by the National Audit Office says in Whitehall officialese:

“The 2014-15 Department for Education (DfE) accounts were qualified on the basis of incomplete and inaccurate valuation of academies’ land and buildings assets.

“ In 2014-15, the number of academies continued to increase from 3,905 to 4,580, but the DfE has not addressed the difficulty in maintaining oversight over them. As a result the scope of this issue has grown to £33 billion during the year and is likely to continue to be a source of continued qualification within the Whole Government accounts (WGA ) until there are changes in the oversight and accountability regime for academies. “

The findings means the department has no accurate record of the billions of pounds of school buildings and property they have handed over to private academies and free schools in the rush to create so many academies. The man who rushed through this in such a cavalier fashion was Michael Gove.

Whoever is the next Prime Minister is going to have a head for figures to negotiate one of the most complex series of deals to disentangle ourselves from the EU and be responsible for signing off tens of billions of pounds of complex trade deals across the world.

If Michael Gove gets to  Number Ten job it would be like handing over the running of the country to a reckless  irresponsible teenager who ran up huge debts on his parent’s credit card  but couldn’t properly account for what he had done.

Gove obviously has no responsibility, interest or understanding of how to control our money. He is entitled to his ideological commitment to creating academies but in his enthusiasm for this controversial policy he is leaving a trail of muddle and mess in his wake. In my view this makes him totally unsuitable to hold this top job. This of all times is no place for incompetents.

The Archbishop admits it: sexual abuse rampant in Britain

Today my colleague Tim Wood reveals the full details of a recent private letter from Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to Marilyn Hawes,the Hertfordshire mother of three boys sexually abused at a Church of England school more than a decade ago.

The contents will confirm what everybody connected with following the child sexual abuse scandal as it has been developing, knows – that child sexual abuse has been rampant, as he puts it, across institutions in Britain.

As Tim discloses in his article on the Exaro website and in the Sunday Times the Archbishop – who is known to see this as a major problem in society – does not mince his words.

“It is now clear that in a huge number of institutions and localities, the abuse of children and vulnerable adults has been rampant. That is not in any way mitigation or excuse for the church, but is why I have been, with Paul Butler,( The Bishop of Durham) pushing for the public inquiry that the government has promised.”

“It is also clear that there is a very significant legacy of unacknowledged cases in the Church of England. We are taking all necessary steps to face these.”

The mother’s tale is very familiar to many – first denial, then being shunned, and  then receiving a brush off at the top of the Church of England until now. At least the perpetrator in  this case, a music teacher, was caught and jailed.

The tragedy of this case comes as Theresa May, the home secretary, has reluctantly finally agreed to set up an overarching child sex abuse inquiry into historic and current abuse.

Unfortunately just as something good was about to happen – after heroic efforts by MPs of almost all parties – the inquiry has now become mired in a row over the appointment of its chair, Fiona Woolf, the Mayor of the City of London. Her links with Leon Brittan, who is likely to be one of the witnesses because of documents detailing VIP abuse disappearing in the past and under his watch as home secretary in the 1980s, appear not to have been properly investigated.

Normally people could celebrate the government tasking some action to find out what has been a hidden scandal in this country for decades. But they can’t until this mess over the inquiry is sorted out.

 

 

 

What have the Germans ever given us

De La Warr  Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea, a German architect's contribution to Britain

De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea, a German architect’s contribution to Britain

The Germans have never had a particularly good press in Britain. They are traditionally presented as the ravaging Hun after we fought two world wars against them in the last century.They can be  stereotyped as brutal, beer swilling technocrats with no sense of humour and always obeying orders.

And no one has forgotten the 1966 World Cup – when England beat Germany 4-2 – though many might be happy to forget the 2010 World Cup when Germany beat England 4-1.

Yet there is another side to all this. The German contribution to Great Britain – what contribution you might ask?

There is an eye-opening exhibition organised by the Migration Museum Project at the German Historical Institute in Bloomsbury Square, London, that tells a different story. You have probably not heard of either, so if you are a passionate supporter of UKIP look away now because this is no story of EU benefit  scroungers rushing to Britain to take our jobs and squander taxpayers’ money.

Rather it is a tale of how German immigrants to Britain have created jobs,iconic buildings, boosted trade between the two countries and made us laugh and cry and fought for women’s rights. I have to declare an interest as you would guess from my name – Hencke – I am from part German descent and my great grandfather came to Britain around 1863 and I am afraid, UKIP supporters,subsequent generations  have stayed here ever since.

Indeed this exhibition reveals that in Britain’s first census in 1861 German immigrants were the largest group of immigrants , amounting to 28,644 people, just 0.09 per cent of the population. By 2011 there were 273,654 German born Brits, amounting to 0.43 per cent of the population.

The most fascinating part of the exhibition is the less familiar contributions from German immigrants. Two German chemists built London’s first gas works, the iconic and now listed De la Warr Pavilion in Bexhill on Sea was designed by a German architect, and one of the leading suffragettes, Kitty Marion (Katerina Shafer) was a German immigrant.

And there are many German academics, traders dating back to the Hanseatic League in 1300, and the big wave of Jewish immigration in the 1930s after the persecution by the Nazis.

Less well-known is that there is also a German speaking Somali and Vietnamese population in the UK, people who came as asylum seekers to Germany and have moved to Britain.

And yes there are stand up German comedians in Britain – you can watch one, Henning Wehn, on  a video – and he is funny!

All this is a real antidote to the anti-immigration frenzy sweeping the country, showing the benefits to Britain rather than harping on the horrors of immigration ruining our society.

The exhibition is on in London until October 24, times are on the German Historical Institute website (link above) and admission is free. The exhibition  will move to Manchester and Belfast later.