Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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Culture Wars in education. How I swerved the 11+ exam & secondary modern school in 1968

In Uncategorized on August 19, 2022 by kmflett

Culture Wars in education. How I swerved the 11+ exam & secondary modern school in 1968

The current discussion on A level grades has underlined again that these are related not to the achievement of an agreed standard but by application of a sort of quota where so many get a certain grade or indeed fail, based not on how well they have done, but on how well the entire yearly cohort has done. It is a familiar method in performance management systems where grades are ‘levelled’ and that too gives rise to persistent and understandable complaints of unfairness. The post below originally appeared in the Morning Star.

Education has been a feature of the Tory leadership ‘race’. Given the age of the electorate both candidates are talking about the great grand-children of those voting.

Liz Truss has complained that the comprehensive school she went to in Leeds, Roundhay, did not provide a good education. However she ended up at Oxford. Rishi Sunak who went to Winchester College a rival to Eton has argued that Universities are about ‘earnings potential’ and the focus must be on subjects in that area.

This is existing Tory policy but it underlines a focus on the business university where learning and education in themselves are not the key point. So farewell then English literature, humanities, history and indeed Sunak’s own degree in PPE.

It begs the question of what the modern Tory Party is.

In 1961 a Tory Government commissioned the Robbins Report into higher education. It reported in 1963 and the proposals were accepted leading to a significant expansion in those going to University.

A key part of Robbins noted:

university places “should be available to all who were qualified for them by ability and attainment” (the so-called Robbins principle) and that such institutions should have four main “objectives essential to any properly balanced system: instruction in skills; the promotion of the general powers of the mind so as to produce not mere specialists but rather cultivated men and women; to maintain research in balance with teaching, since teaching should not be separated from the advancement of learning and the search for truth; and to transmit a common culture and common standards of citizenship.”.

The emphasis on a common culture is a world away from the culture wars of the Tories in 2022. Yet Robbins was not accepted by the left and criticism appeared in New Left Review and the New Statesman. The view was that Robbins was about elite education, and while higher education might expand a little the majority would not obtain degree level education.

It didn’t turn out like that, a reminder that politics and the world can on occasion change quickly.

A week before Robbins, the Newsom Report appeared. It was largely ignored by the Tory Government because it focused on that section  of the population Robbins was not interested in-the working class.

The 1944 Butler Education Act set up Grammar Schools for 25% of students who would get an academic education. The remaining 75% went to Secondary Modern schools designed to teach lower level skills and home management (teaching girls how to be housewives). Newsom’ report, Half Our Future argued that the system was under resourced and failing badly.

The Tories didn’t care then as now. However in October 1964 a Labour Government was elected.

There were already campaigners pushing for change in education, for example Caroline Benn and the communist historian of education, Prof Brian Simon. Labour introduced a new system of comprehensive education designed for all, sweeping away the Grammar/Secondary division. Labour also introduced a new category of Polytechnics which taught to degree level meaning far more students entering higher education than ever envisaged by Robbins

In 1963 British capitalism was expanding and looking for a broadly educated workforce. In 2022 the Tories with less than 200,000 members are no longer a national party but a clique focused on short term profit (often for themselves). Who needs rounded citizens with a liberal education in that context?

I have a personal interest in all this. I can still recall sitting in my North London Primary School class one day in early 1968 when the teacher announced we were the first year not to sit the 11+ and would all go to a new comprehensive school together that September

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Are Brewdog barring trade unionists from their new flagship Waterloo bar?

In Uncategorized on August 18, 2022 by kmflett

Are Brewdog barring trade unionists from their new flagship Waterloo bar?

Brewdog opened their new flagship bar at London’s Waterloo station today. I’m not part of their PR operation but if interested details are easily available on their social media.

It seemed like rather an odd day to launch a bar at a major rail station as thanks to a strike by RMT and TSSA members there were very few trains. On Friday there is a tube strike. Perhaps Brewdog just wanted a quiet opening or perhaps their anti-union reputation led them to choose the date on purpose.

Brewdog have a controversial reputation when it comes to employee culture and indeed corporate governance. Their view on this varies between rebuttal and agreement that there are issues that they are addressing. The issues continue as does one obvious way of grappling with them, recognising a union.

This post starts with a question mark because I’m posing a question to which I don’t know the answer. Two unions Unite and the Brewery Workers Union have members at Brewdog. The latter reportedly leafleted the new bar (outside) today. Its perfectly legal to make people aware of trade unions and ask them to consider joining.  There were also social media reports that when a customer who had taken a leaflet entered the bar they were escorted out by security.

Pubs and bars can exclude who they like without reason (but within reason- the law still applies) but even given Brewdog’s reputation surely they haven’t banned trade unionists from their new bar. Aside from anything else that’s an awful lot of potential customers.

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Beard of the Year Michael Rosen displays hirsute solidarity with the RMT

In Uncategorized on August 18, 2022 by kmflett

Beard Liberation Front

18th August

The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has sent hirsute solidarity to RMT members on strike over pay and conditions.

At the Enough is Enough rally in Clapham on Wednesday evening Beard of the Year Michael Rosen brought direct solidarity to RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch with a speech detailing what solidarity means from collecting for bus strikers as a teenager in the late1950s to the work of the NHS now

BLF Organiser Keith Flett said, like many trade union leaders Mick Lynch stands in a clean shaven tradition but solidarity is universal.

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Campaigners give qualified welcome to Amol Rajan as University Challenge quizmaster

In Uncategorized on August 18, 2022 by kmflett

Beard Liberation Front

18th August

Media Release

Contact BLF Organiser Keith Flett 07803 167266

Campaigners give qualified welcome to Amol Rajan as University Challenge quizmaster

The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has said following the news Jeremy Paxman is to stand down as presenter of University Challenge, it has given a qualified welcome to the appointment of Amol Rajan as the new quizmaster.

Rajan, who is currently the BBC’s media Editor, has a distinctive beard, but with an Oxbridge background might be seen as an Establishment choice

The programme has only ever had two presenters, the late Bamber Gascoigne and Jeremy Paxman. Neither has worn a beard on air.

The BLF ran a poll on some potential Paxman replacements and found several with popular backing

David Olusoga, academic, historian and broadcaster

Richard Osman, broadcaster and author

Michael Rosen, author, academic, broadcaster

Daniel Norcross- Test Match Special, quizmaster

BLF Organiser Keith Flett said, we’re pleased that someone with a beard will at last present University Challenge and we congratulate Amol Rajan. We do feel however that the net might have been cast wider not just to other beard wearers but to excellent female presenters such as Samira Ahmed.

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Inflation goes above 10%. The cost of living crisis 1840s-2020s. What was done & what is to be done?

In Uncategorized on August 17, 2022 by kmflett

Inflation goes above 10%. The cost of living crisis 1840s-2020s. What was done & what is to be done?

Britain is not at war with Russia or anyone else, although there is a war with dreadful impacts going on in Ukraine. There is however a war going on in this country and it is the Tories class war against ordinary people. Covid has been left to run unchecked, the NHS starved of the resources it needs, energy prices and general inflation rising far above wages, and little or nothing done to address the climate emergency.

Although every crisis has its specifics, capitalism is a system based on crisis, on boom and slump and the cost of living has been a significant issue for the left and working people since the development of industrial capitalism in the late eighteenth century.

Two of the most well-known refrains of the first half of the nineteenth century were for the repeal of the Corn Laws which had the effect of making bread more expensive and the traditional song ‘The Roast Beef of Old England’ sung to reflect the view that roast beef was the right of the ‘freeborn Englishman’ but in reality few could afford to eat it.

Calls to scrap the corn laws were part of Peterloo in 1819 underlining that in the popular mind calls for political democracy were allied to demands for a decent standard of living. The laws were eventually repealed in the 1840s after a campaign by led by the Anti Corn Law League, run by bourgeois liberals.

As Marx noted the reality of the repeal was that industrialists would reduce wages- as bread cost less- and make more profits. Hence a successful struggle on the political front also had to be waged industrially in the workplace, with the development of organised labour in unions to push for better pay and shorter hours.

In 2022 many might question how sensible and ethical it is to make having roast beef as a key demand for maintaining living standards is. But there are now practical alternatives to eat. In the 1830s and 1840s only better paid workers- when they were better paid which was often seasonal- could afford to regularly eat meat of any kind. Urban workers core diet often consisted of bread, poor quality cheese and beer (of a low strength to replace water). Rural workers might more usually subsist on potatoes.

Poor diet was only one element of the cost of living crisis, at it is now. There was an impact on health and this was often magnified by bad housing conditions. All this meant that the average age of death for workers was very low by modern standards.

This is a 2022 issue as well. Professor of Public Health at UCL Michael Marmott has warned that Government policies are increasing inequality and seeing a decline in the health of the poorest in society.

The Tories plan to turn all this into a Culture War against the poor

What strategies are there to grapple with this? CWU General Secretary Dave Ward has argued that a General Strike might be needed. This was tried by the Chartists in 1842 but while effective did not bring change. Another strategy was pursued as a result, what the historian E P Thompson described as ‘warrening’ capitalism from end to end with defensive structures such as trade unions, trades councils, co-ops and so on. These have worked in the 150 years since they started to develop with the TUC being formed in 1868 but they are at best imperfect. Historically in the fight to for a decent standard of living and health nothing was or should be off the agenda.

Its an urgent question for all working people and for the labour movement to develop and implement effective strategies that can push back the Tory class war on the less well off. Strikes for adequate wages are a key part of this but only a part. The Enough is Enough campaign and others have much to do.

An earlier version of this post originally appeared in the Morning Star

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Sajid Javid urged to back a Beard Friendly Britain after new beard gets abuse

In Uncategorized on August 17, 2022 by kmflett

Beard Liberation Front

Media Release

17th August

Contact BLF organiser Keith Flett 07803 167266

Sajid Javid urged to back a Beard Friendly Britain after new beard gets abuse

The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has urged ex-Chancellor Sajid Javid to back the principles of a Beard Friendly Britain.

It comes after the MP’s new beard attracted abuse when he appeared on ITV on Wednesday morning. Follicly challenged Robbie Rinder claimed that Javid looked like Brutus.

The BLF has contacted leadership contenders Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss to see if they back a Beard Friendly Britain. Responses are awaited

The BLF has several areas where it would like to see more beard friendly policies:

A luxury shaving tax on all items such as razors, shaving cream, balms. Shaving is environmentally unfriendly

A crack down on the proliferation of barbers shops on High Streets

A specific Beard Friendly policy in the Civil Service

BLF Organiser Keith Flett said,  we welcome Sajid Javid’s distinguished new beard and hope he will back our call for a Beard Friendly Britain

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Drought & watering the pitch at Lords. The 1976 decision

In Uncategorized on August 17, 2022 by kmflett

Drought and watering the pitch at Lords

Thames Water which covers the Lords cricket ground at Lords has announced a hosepipe ban from 24th August.

The issue of sports grounds was touched on in the Parliamentary debate on the 1976 Drought Act (4th August 1976) the Minister for Sport and Recreation Denis Howell said:

Hon. Members have mentioned sport and recreation. Naturally we want common sense to apply here, and we shall be telling regional authorities to exercise the maximum flexibility and discretion. But even in the regions where there is plenty of water now we shall have to take care. We do not know how long this drought will last. We have had two dry summers and one-very dry winter. It we have another, even those areas that are well off could be in difficulty. We would expect water to be available if new turf has to be laid at Lord’s or Wimbledon for next season and priority to be given, for example, to watering the greens rather than the fairways on golf courses.

But if we have to make a judgment between terminating or severely rationing the supply of water to households and the continuance of sport, we shall have to get our priorities right. We should be open to great criticism if we did not err on the side of caution. However, we shall do our best. Although there will be no blanket exceptions for sport, we are not trying to put it out of business.

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Sajid Javid’s beard throws down Tory leadership challenge

In Uncategorized on August 17, 2022 by kmflett

Beard Liberation Front

17th August

Media Release contact Keith Flett 07803 167266

Sajid Javid’s beard throws down Tory leadership challenge

The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has said it is keeping Sajid Javid’s new beard under close review.

The previously follicly challenged ex-Chancellor appeared on news programmes on Wednesday wearing a relatively distinguished beard.

The campaigners say that is very unusual for a senior Tory politician to wear a beard in recent times, with Nadhim Zahawi being the most notable exception. It seems likely that Sajid Javid is throwing down a leadership challenge to Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss to say whether or not they support a Beard Friendly Britain.

BLF Organiser Keith Flett said, given Sajid Javid represents a Worcestershire Constituency, Bromsgrove, perhaps his beard is an attempt to add some Worcester Sauce to the Tory leadership contest

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Campaigners call for new University Challenge presenter to have a beard

In Uncategorized on August 16, 2022 by kmflett

Beard Liberation Front

16th August

Media Release

Contact BLF Organiser Keith Flett 07803 167266

Campaigners call for new University Challenge presenter to have a beard

The Beard Liberation Front, the informal network of beard wearers, has said that with the news Jeremy Paxman is to stand down as presenter of University Challenge, his replacement should have a gravitas adding beard.

The programme has only ever had two presenters, the late Bamber Gascoigne and Jeremy Paxman. Neither has worn a beard on air.

The BLF has suggested some potential Paxman replacements:

Tim Dunn, transport historian and broadcaster

David Olusoga, academic, historian and broadcaster

Richard Osman, broadcaster and author

Michael Rosen, author, academic, broadcaster

Daniel Norcross- Test Match Special, quizmaster (write in below)

BLF Organiser Keith Flett said, ironically in recent years Jeremy Paxman has often worn a beard but never when presenting University Challenge. We think it’s more than time for the programme to have a hirsute presenter although there is an equally good case for a woman to pick up the role- there are many distinguished possibilities.

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Have we reached Peak ‘Craft Beer’?

In Uncategorized on August 16, 2022 by kmflett

Have we reached Peak ‘Craft Beer’?

My thanks to Pete Brown for alerting me to the piece below in today’s I Paper. As he notes it makes some reasonable points. Like him however I’d question whether we have reached peak craft beer (or indeed peak beard for that matter but that is a slightly different issue)

The article notes a decline in the numbers of craft breweries opening but that is surely hardly a surprise in the pandemic period and will remain so as we enter a recession. SIBA also note that 40-60 small breweries have closed this year. One might argue however that the survival rate for small businesses in hospitality generally is not particularly good.

There are issues though. It is hard for new and smaller breweries to get on the bar in pubs which are either tied to Big Beer, have most lines tied to Big Beer or who prefer to sell local beers where available.

This perhaps is the key to the way forward. Capitalism tends to monopoly and the pressure on any business is to expand or close. Yet that can be avoided and was indeed one of the motors of craft beer originally in most cases. Local beer brewed to local tastes and sold locally. Full stop. There are plenty of craft breweries around doing just that.

There are also other ways to market than pubs. Beer can be canned and sold in craft beer shops. It can be sold directly to drinkers on-line and breweries can open their own tap rooms. Capitalism unfortunately is resilient and I’d expect craft beer to be too

https://inews.co.uk/news/business/peak-ipa-has-the-craft-beer-revolution-hit-saturation-point-1796295