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Friday 28 May 2010
Letters: Perspectives on New Labour
The legacy lives on
There is much talk by journalists, presenters and pundits about whether or not the demise of the Brown government represents the death of New Labour. We could be forgiven for thinking that, with Gordon Brown's farewell address to staff and party faithful at Labour HQ on that frantic Tuesday evening, we were witnessing the final act of the New Labour project. However, it depends on how you look at it.
If you think of them as a cohort of individuals or as a particular administration, then perhaps it is all over, but if you see New Labour as an experiment in progressive politics, then it's very much alive and well in the centrist agenda of every mainstream party today; not least in the otherwise unlikely coalition now in government.
New Labour finally made old Labour electable in 1997, with a calculated shift from the left to left-of-centre. Its legacy lies in the lesson learned by Conservatives and Liberals alike. The Tories have reluctantly moved from right to right-of-centre under the leadership of David Cameron, supported by natural progressives such as the reformed Thatcherite William Hague – already looking like a senior, if not elder, statesman. The Liberal Democrats moved unhesitatingly to the same centre-right position under the new boy proto-Blairite Nick Clegg, to the chagrin of the Liberal old guard who'd always seen Labour as their natural bedfellows.
New Labour ushered in a new wave of politics in Britain at the end of the 20th century, riding on the wave of Bill Clinton's third way, and for all its faults, its legacy is the genuinely progressive, centrist political philosophy that now – thankfully – characterises early 21st-century British politics.
We have no need for an ideologically leftist party of the workers – for a start, we have no workers. Although, at the same time, we must guard against back-sliding, right-gravitating Tories whose true colours may already be just about visible beneath the veil of this unexpected if, for the time being, charmed coalition; a coalition welcomed optimistically by more of us than we care to admit.
Fergus Elder, Preston, Lancashire
Blair finds new opportunities
At a time when criticism of the enormous bonuses earned by bank employees is universal, I was surprised to read (26 May) that Tony Blair was being paid a consultancy fee of £3.5m by JP Morgan. Isn't that a trifle hypocritical? But, I suppose we might console ourselves with the thought and hope that if he is paying UK taxes and spending the remaining income in this country, it would be helping our economy.
Clare Cheney, Haywards Heath, West Sussex
Will school reforms work?
By now, 23,000 head teachers will have received a letter from the new Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, inviting them to consider transferring their schools to academy status. What the Secretary of State ignores at his peril are the views about the merits of the academies policy of more than 800,000 teachers and support staff in schools.
In only its second week in power, the coalition Government's "new politics" is already showing its true colours – bypassing the views of Parliament, locally elected councillors, school governing bodies and parents.
The invitation for every school to become an academy flies in the face of public opinion. An Ipsos-MORI poll found that 96 per cent of parents want a good local school run by local councils, and by a ratio of 9 to 1 the public is opposed to head teachers being given more freedom.
We believe that an essential principle for all education reform must be that it raises educational standards. All of the independent evidence confirms that academy schools do not deliver better educational outcomes for pupils; they cost more money and create widespread inequality and social segregation.
State education isn't yet broken, but it will be if this policy goes ahead.
Mary Bousted, General Secretary, ATL
Chris Keates, General Secretary, NASUWT
Christine Blower, General Secretary, NUT
Dave Prentis, General Secretary, UNISON, London WC2
I was initially completely against the free schools idea as set out by the Tories. It seemed to be a licence for religious indoctrination and corporate merchandising – and could yet prove to be. However, I have thought again. As someone who had the benefit of an education in an inner-city grammar school in the Seventies, I was lucky enough to be taught by teachers who felt able to express themselves fully and left their indelible mark on this working-class boy in subjects that now receive scant attention from the crowded curriculum, such as Latin and history.
There have been many improvements in school funding over the past 13 years. The value of this is reduced by the obsession with ticking boxes and the sidelining of languages, ancient and modern. My youngest son was desperate to learn both Latin and Spanish, but because he was unable to get a grammar school place, has had that opportunity denied – at least for now.
Maybe a bit more opportunity for free-thinking on the part of both teachers and students could work to everyone's benefit.
Gary Flowers, Shipston-on-Stour, Warwickshire
Apparently the Con-Dems want to stop interfering authoritarianism, so they're removing schools from LEAs. So local taxpayers will no longer have a say about how their taxes are spent on education.
Headteachers will now have to spend even more time as managers, trying to find replacement staff and equipment, such as vans and buses, which local authorities once provided. In our small village we only need one bus for school children; now we have six going to all the different schools.
The Con-Dems haven't done anything about central government interference. It is alleged that education professionals have complained about interference in education. Their main complaint has been about the National Curriculum and Ofsted inspections. Isn't this just another example of yet more local services being pulled under the interfering authoritarianism of central government?
Duncan Anderson, East Halton, Lincolnshire
One aspect of Michael Gove's free schools policy that hasn't been questioned is what he means by a "dark agenda".
The new freedom from local authorities could well open the door wider to inappropriate sponsors – not least the global food giants. As pressure mounts to stop junk food advertising to children, companies are coming into schools through nutrition and health education.
Commercial sponsorship of "education" is not philanthropy; it assists the corporate agenda. Not only does it blur the boundaries between advertising, marketing and education, but it helps the most dangerous corporations to build public trust and re-establish themselves as responsible forces for good. Before long the curriculum is distorted in favour of business interests – and our children start believing that companies can be trusted to regulate themselves.
At the spring Tory conference in February, I asked Michael Gove how he was going to stop such companies harming child health through involvement in education. He answered. "I have no idea."
Patti Rundall, Policy Director, Baby Milk Action, Cambridge
When I was campaigning against the school at which I was teaching, Islington Green, becoming an academy back in 2007, I wrote to then Lib Dem education spokesperson, Sarah Teather, asking why Islington's Lib Dem council was determined to create two academies in the borough – at a time when national party policy was opposed to them.
She courteously replied to me: "Liberal Democrat controlled authorities across the country must conduct their business according to the legislation of the ruling Labour party, not by legislation that a potential Liberal Democrat Government have pledged to implement."
She went on: "The Liberal Democrats have provided the only parliamentary opposition to the academies project.... I can assure you that we will continue to robustly challenge the scheme with the belief that, in the future, no local authority should have their hand forced by national government in this way."
Now that the Con-Dem coalition is set on massively extending New Labour's academy programme and removing altogether local authorities' right of veto over academy proposals, will Sarah and her fellow Lib Dem MPs be honouring their "pledges" and "assurances" and voting against the Academies Bill during its various readings?
Ken Muller, London N16
Before joining the dash for academy status, I would urge all headteachers and governors to consider the lessons of the Thatcher years.
Here in Shropshire, because of a wholly inadequate education grant, councillors were forced to take the axe to libraries, youth services, leisure and even social services to provide support to school budgets – and even this was not enough to avoid some redundancies .
Academies would not have any kind of local education authority safety net.
Gove has got things the wrong way round. He needs to resolve the longstanding unfairness of the funding formula first, then address the structural issues.
Andrew Whyte, Shrewsbury
The Thai King's principled stand
As a constitutional monarch, the King of Thailand is above politics (Profile by Peter Popham, 22 May). Throughout his reign, he has taken great care to remain above politics, as required by every Thai constitution, and has never taken sides.
For example, in 2006, he abstained from public calls, led by the People's Alliance for Democracy, for a "royally conferred Prime Minister" to replace Thaksin Shinawatra, the then Prime Minister, to break the political impasse. He explained that the constitution did not give him such power; to do so would mean overstepping his role and would hence be undemocratic.
The current political conflict shares very little with the one in 1992. At the very least, the institution of the monarchy was not brought into question by one of the disputing parties back then. Regrettably, the King's principled stand does not prevent some from interpreting his actions or silence for their own political ends.
Popham's explanation of His Majesty's royal development projects is nowhere near the truth. Contrary to being "token efforts", thousands of royal development projects have been initiated to help improve in a sustainable manner the wellbeing of countless Thais over the years, particularly vulnerable minority groups in remote areas where normal state mechanisms have not been able to respond quickly enough to their immediate needs.
Lastly, regarding the King's wealth, the Crown Property Bureau manages the Crown's assets and property "for the benefit of Thai subjects and society" by, among other things, leasing out most of its land to state agencies, charitable and non-government organisations, community housing and shop-houses, at well below market rates. By law, lands and other assets managed by the Crown Property Bureau are not considered to belong to His Majesty personally, and thus should not be counted in His Majesty's personal net worth.
Kitti Wasinondh, Ambassador, Royal Thai Embassy, London SW7
Another house of politicians
Mark Thomas's letter (27 May) advocating "simple democracy" for the House of Lords fills me with dread.
Are we then to have a second chamber filled with people of the same type that have brought such disrepute to the House Of Commons – full-time paid politicians, selected in the first instance by cronies in their constituencies, who slavishly follow the party line but need paid research assistants (family members given first refusal) to help them to do so? No thanks.
In the Sixties, when I took an interest in constitutional matters, the debate over the House of Lords was not about whether it should be an elected house but whether it should be abolished altogether. The strong argument in favour of its continuing existence was the independence and experience of its members and their ability to make a different sort of contribution to legislation passing through the Houses of Parliament from that of the elected Members of the Commons.
Given the experience in Scotland, where Bills become Acts without the need for the involvement of the House of Lords, can the coalition government include an option of either abolishing the House of Lords altogether or giving it a different role so we do not have a replica of the House of Commons, with all its failings and no other tangible benefit?
John E Orton, Bristol
Chinese workers catch up on sleep
The caption for your photograph showing Chinese workers asleep at their workstations (27 May) claims they are exhausted. It may be the case for that factory, but having worked in China, I can say it is not uncommon to find people asleep at work, and there is a distinct siesta culture.
I have been in control rooms of chemical plants with all the operators asleep, and it wasn't through overwork – there were about four times as many of them as would be needed in the West. In any rest period people will have a snooze in their office or workshop, and as a result, lunch duration can attain Spanish dimensions.
We always reckoned it was because their accommodation was poor, and people didn't get enough sleep at home.
Chris Haines, Warrington
Hiding behind PowerPoint
Farhad Manjoo (Technology, 26 May) misses a reason why some people reach for Power-Point. They are scared of being the centre of attention.
When you show lots of slides you can hide away from all those blank faces. Blank faces in an audience are absolutely normal. The biggest shift we need to make is to get our heads around that fact. At the moment we see blank faces as being bored, judgmental or aggressive. We need to turn that around.
So before we go anywhere near PowerPoint we need to learn to deal with fear of being seen. Our aim should be to connect with the audience as human beings rather than overwhelm them with technology. Connection is far more important than content.
John Dawson, public speaking coach, Bristol
Look out for the digital election
Alex Morris and Jeff Wright raised interesting points about the ending of FM and AM radio in 2015 (letters, 22 May). It would appear that almost everybody in the UK will be affected.
Given that the Government has proposed to move to fixed-term parliaments of five years, the next general election will occur in 2015, just at the time when everybody is waking up to the fact of the extra cost of replacing their trusted FM/AM radios. I would say, a sure-fire win for the opposition, if the new Culture Secretary does not put a stop to the poorly thought-out policy of doing away with FM/AM.
R E Doyle, Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex,
There is some debate going on in your letters column about the benefits of FM or digital radio. On internet radio you do not have the problems with interference of FM or the distortion of DAB. Could not internet radio be the way forward, rather than DAB?
Peter J Brown, Middlesbrough
The Rev Kim Fabricius (Letters, 24 May) is "vexed by the moral inconsistency of anti-abortionists who aren't also pacifists [and] against the death penalty". Surely the moral inconsistency is to object to the killing of the guilty – enemies of society or of civilisation – yet condone the killing of the innocent.
Tom McIntyre, Frome, Somerset
The 1922 Committee has served the Conservative Party well over the years as both a forum for backbench members and as a channel of communication with the leadership. Sadly, David Cameron has sought to impose a possible "ministerial bloc vote". Perhaps it is time to leave the 1922 Committee to Mr Cameron and for the back-benchers to set up a "2010 Committee".
Chris C Burke, Portland, Dorset
Price of drink
Nick Bish of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers said "Tesco's price promotions are opportunistic, unacceptable and in complete contrast to the highly responsible approach to drinks pricing adopted by Britain's pubs and bars" (report, 22 May). There was I, in my cynicism, thinking that that approach looked more like ripping off the punters.
Richard Madge, Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex
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