Desert Island Arguments: Abolish Private Schools

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My last ‘Desert Island Argument’ for the Monarchy seemingly went down quite well, and seeing as it’s how I form a lot of my opinions I thought I should try and repeat the trick. Instead of going for one of my less controversial opinions, like ‘social mobility is inherently a good thing’, I thought it’d be more interesting to see how many people I can convince of some of my less popular ideas.

Thus, here follows my desert island argument for the scrapping of, or at least severely restricting the number of, private schools.

Here’s the prologue, exactly the same as all my other desert island arguments:

You’ve just discovered a new island, against all odds, and as such have complete control over it. You take it upon yourself to found a new country, and it can take any form you want. It’s completely up to you.

100,000 people decide to join you in your new venture, what do you do now…

So today the question is, ‘How do we educate young people on our island, to ensure we have the skills and knowledge we need for the future to develop and thrive?’

It’s not quite as straight forward as my case for a republic, because there are so many options here, but hopefully you’ll follow my logic. Here goes… Read the rest of this entry

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The ‘Desert Island Argument’ for a republic.

There are a great number of arguments I could put forward for republicanism on this Jubilee weekend.

I could argue about the principle of putting power and wealth in the hands of one family based on bloodlines.

I could argue about the money it costs to look after a single lucky unelected family at the expense of taxpayers who have no say in how much or how it’s spent.

I could argue that it goes against the very idea of democracy and social mobility.

Indeed, I’ve already done most of those things in previous posts.

But there’s one very easy way to demonstrate why I will never and can never be convinced of the arguments for a monarchy, and it involves a short thought exercise. Here goes:

You’ve just discovered a new island, against all odds, and as such have complete control over it. You take it upon yourself to found a new country, and it can take any form you want. It’s completely up to you.

100,000 people decide to join you in your new venture, and so you have to find a way to govern them, the design is yours. Leaving aside the extreme fringes of politics I’d hazard a guess that most people would go for some form of democracy, and it would probably be a form of representative democracy that exists widely around the world. You vote for people to represent you in a parliament. (Though you’d probably come up with a better voting system than FPTP, but that’s a different post altogether)

For many things though, it’s handy to have a figurehead for your country, someone to go to summits and meetings, who can represent the views of the new nation through a single person. They should be as representative of the population as a whole as possible. What are your options?

A) You choose the head of your parliament to be this spokesperson, the individual who most of your new populace have voted into office. The advantage being that they’ll have knowledge of the official parliamentary line on all matters and be able to represent your country well.

B) You elect another figure entirely separately, as a kind of Presidential figure. This individual could either have power of their own over parliament (which would rather undermine the representative form of democracy you’ve just created) or could simply be a figurehead, a spokesperson who takes orders from parliament, but who is apolitical themselves. Remains democratic, but doesn’t undermine the power of parliament.

C) You choose a person at random. Let’s call them Mr. Windsor. You decide that Mr Windsor will be your representative, and that when he dies, his children will be your representatives too. If he doesn’t have children, then some other relation of his will be your representative. They’ll be well recompensed for this role, and given a few palaces to live in. No-one else will ever be able to get rid of the Windsor family from this position.

If you chose C, congratulations, you’re a monarchist, and can continue celebrating the jubilee wholeheartedly knowing that you at least support the principle behind it.

If you chose A or B, then really deep down, you’re a republican in principle, even if you aren’t in practice. All your arguments for the monarchy will be based on practicalities, rather than the simple underlying idea that people should not be handed status and wealth based on which woman’s cervix they happened to travel through at the beginning of their life.

Do we live on a newly discovered island, where we can start from scratch? Of course not, there are many obstacles to creating the ideal democratic nation. But being idealistic on this issue isn’t mutually exclusive from being realistic. We could have an elected head of state, we just choose not to.

We nearly did it in the 1600’s, but somewhat screwed up that opportunity, and never really had the desire to do it again. But to create a republic now wouldn’t require us to behead old Lizzie, we’d just have to ship her off the throne to a nice retirement pad somewhere. In fact, if you so wished you could vote for Lizzie to be president, if you really thought she was so good at her job. I don’t dislike her, she seems quite pleasant, but if she wants to represent us she should be chosen by us, not picked by an accident of birth.

People who represent us, should be chosen by the people they are meant to represent. That, people, is why I am not, and will never be, a monarchist.

(Btw, if anyone has other suggestions aside from A, B, or C, I’d be intrigued to hear them. By no means an exhaustive list.)

Stepping into Feminism – Part 1

Feminism

It is only of late that I’ve taken what you might call a keen interest in feminism. I often find myself on the side of feminists in individual debates, be they about abortion or equal pay, but have never looked beyond the single issues to the bigger picture before now. These posts may sound preachy or self-righteous but it is genuinely just my attempt to summarise what little I have learnt of feminism in a short space of time. I tried to write it as if I was writing it to myself of a few weeks ago.

This is meant as an introduction to feminism as a concept, written as the very basics for people trying to understand why it’s still relevant in today’s society. Hardened feministas may find much of what is written self-evident, but they are things which others, including myself, may not have noticed without it being pointed out.

The idea of men being active within feminism is sometimes (though not by any feminists I’ve talked to) met with a raising of the eyebrow, as if it seems silly, but hopefully I’ll show why it’s something everyone should take notice of, much like it was not only black men and women who fought against slavery.

Current Opinions

The idea of women being equal to men seems to most a self-evident fact, and so the idea that feminism as a movement is needed is called into question. But whilst many would agree with the statement, ‘men and women should be treated equally’, if you then delve deeper into individual issues often that core belief is stretched and manipulated in such a way as to be meaningless.

Even our current Prime Minister, David Cameron, when asked whether or not he was a feminist replied, ‘Er, I don’t really know what it means any more, but I suspect probably not.’

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Budget 2012

(This was somewhat hurried as I’m away tomorrow, but I’ll come back and fix any bits soon, promise)

You may have seen George Osborne do a newspaper review earlier today, he helpfully summarised all the policies we’d found would be happening over the previous few days. No rabbits out of the hat, no surprises. Not unless the ‘Granny Tax’ counts, and I’m not sure that was the headline Osborne was after.

People are usually nice about Osborne’s tactical skills, frankly, I can’t see it. He briefed so many of the main measures, (the top rate tax cut, the rise in the tax threshold, the increase in stamp duty) that ll the press focussed on afterwards was what they didn’t already know, namely that he was moving over 200,000 pensioners into income tax, and making many more pay increased rates. Whatever you think of the policy, it’s a terrible tactical move which was always bound to blow up in his face. When you unite the Mirror and Mail, you’re in trouble.

As for the 50p rate, he made much of the fact that we’d be taking in 5 times more from the rich than previously. I think the numbers he bases that on are ropey at best, and deceitful at worst. One years data is nowhere near enough to analyse a new tax rate, there are measures like moving income forward to the previous year which heavily distort the figures. Any analysis, which way it pointed, would be largely guesswork. Both the OBR and IFS admitted as much.

For his priority to be a tax cut for the small number of very wealthy people in this country, based on dubious figures, just shows the Conservatives priorities in their full glory.

He argued that raising the tax threshold would undo some of his damage. I think few will argue against taking the poorest out of tax, but the question has to be raised about whether with the limited amounts of money he claims to have, is there a more effective way of bringing people out of poverty? I am not even going to pretend I know enough economics to crunch the numbers, but most of the cost of raising the threshold often goes to the middle incomes earners and wealthy, and it is yet to be seen whether George has done enough tinkering to prevent this from happening this time around. Tax credits are generally seen as a more efficient and effective way of reaching the poorest, and may have been a better alternative. (Update: A distributional analysis of the new rate suggests he hasn’t managed to be more efficient with his threshold rise)

The truly scary thing was one that isn’t happening yet, but was put in presumably as a warning for the future. The Welfare Reform Bill has passed, and will leave many of the disabled and poor fighting for survival, yet even after this George hinted at a further £10bn of cuts, not just trimming the welfare safety net, but shredding it.

I think Ed Miliband’s response to the budget was one of his strongest performances to date (any performance which gets Dan Hodges and John Rentoul supporting Ed has to be pretty spectacular) and no doubt helped by Osborne’s leaking of his entire budget, giving Ed time to get the joke men in.

He had a few particularly strong moments, his ‘raise your hands if you’re going to benefit from the cut to 45p’ was a gimmick, but a damn effective one. His jokes about Downton Abbey (“we know it’s a costume drama, they think it’s a fly on the wall documentary”) provided some red meat for the Labour benches.

He reserved his best though, for the Liberal Democrats. Everyone knows what to expect from Tories, but going after Lib Dems is too easy at times. His “The party that delivered the people’s budget of 1909 supporting the millionaire’s budget of 2012” line will hit those on the left of the party hard, they know they’ve come a long way from their proud history of leaders like Lloyd George. These days they just have Calamity Clegg.

What worried Labour strategists before the budget wasn’t that Osborne would come up with an incredible budget they couldn’t attack, (they already knew what was in it) but that they might miss the open goal. If Miliband can keep up the performances in the next couple of days to that of his response, and win the framing war, Labour might just have succeeded in sticking the ball in.

Marriage is for everyone.

There’s been a resurfacing of the debate around gay marriage recently, most notably after a senior catholic bishop said that allowing gay people to marry would ‘shame us in the eyes of the world.’ and would ‘dismantle a fundamental human right.’ Now, I don’t think many people would support such language, but there appears to be a larger number who woud argue against gays being allowed to marry, which in the 21st century I find bizarre indeed.

In particular, the ‘Coalition for Marriage’ is a group campaigning to keep marriage between a man and a woman, and has over 100,000 signatures on their online petition. I thought the easiest way to make my argument would be first to pick apart their arguments piece by piece, and then give a final positive case for gay marriage, as opposed to limiting homosexuals to civil partnerships.

[Bold text is from the C4M campaign website]

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40p a shot: Too expensive?

This post was sparked as a riposte to a late night debate and post from others opposing David Cameron’s plan to introduce a minimum price per unit on alcohol. The fact that I stand on one side of an argument with David Cameron against others in the Tory and Labour parties show that this isn’t simple partisan politics.

It seems to me that most people are of the opinion that alcohol causes a great deal of harm, both to the individual and society. Everyone sees it as a problem to be fixed, the differences emerge over how to do this. It also seems clear that no-one is seriously suggesting prohibition, and so the consensus needs to be found somewhere between, but not including, ‘things as they stand’ and prohibition. Quite a broad remit for debate.

To be clear, I am not advocating for a minimum price as some form of silver bullet which will cure all our alcohol related ills, if not used in conjunction with measures to tackle advertising and societal attitudes it will solve nothing. It is, however, a useful tool that should be used.

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NHS Bill: DNR

Tomorrow, Cameron and Lansley will once again try to resuscitate their flagging Health and Social Care Bill with a ‘health summit’ held at Downing Street. The purpose is said to be to talk and listen to “a range of national healthcare organisations and clinical commissioning groups” about the implementation of the bill. The only issue? The only people invited are people who support the health bill, which is a very tiny number of people indeed.

For a bill supposedly aimed at giving GPs more power over patient care by handing them budgets you may think that GPs would need to be present at the meeting about it’s implementation. Not so, the Royal College of GPs hasn’t been invited, presumably because of their calls to scrap the bill because of the damage it will do to patient care.

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The Lost Opportunity of Coalition Politics

We’re in something of a new age for politics, it’s been quite some time since we’ve had a coalition, and I for one am disappointed. Not just because I’m a Labour member and would very much rather we had a Labour majority, but because I really hoped that coalition politics could be something better, and it seems if anything to be worse than the partisan majority governments that came before.

Our FPTP voting system has enough problems as it is, but if it is to have any redeeming features it has to  allow the MPs elected by local communities to truly represent the views of the voters who put them there. Each MP shouldn’t be seen as representing one part of their respective party, but as the representative of the 50/60,000 people in their constituency.

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Can death ever be good?

(Written in the immediate aftermath of the operation which ended in Bin Laden’s death)

This could be one of my more controversial posts. Equally, I could be judging the mood wrong and people could find it perfectly reasonable. Either way, it’s going to be written. Though of course, I have no idea what it must feel like to be a survivor or relative of one of those in 9/11, and so my opinion counts for little.

It comes after the news broke early this morning that Osama bin Laden has been killed in his hide-out in Pakistan, after an apparent fire-fight with US Navy SEALS. What came next was a day of relentless news coverage showing scenes of jubilation around America, and world leaders congratulating Obama on his success. The question I want to look at now is the question that plagued me during the day. How am I supposed to feel about all this?

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Votes for Prisoners

I’m well aware that I’m not on the side of popular public opinion on this one, but do believe there is a case to be made that denying prisoners the right to vote is wrong. Already our prison system focusses too heavily on punishment, with very little done by the way of rehabilitation. It may make the victim of crime feel better to know that the criminal is punished, but it is of little comfort to those who are affected by crime when they are released having being insufficiently rehabilitated.

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