The title of Michael Gove's Education White Paper, "The Importance of Teaching", gives a strong indication of where the government believes its hand is strongest - and many of the reforms to teaching it proposes have been well received The pledge to expand the training schools and teaching schools programmes is particularly encouraging, and should mean that more on the job teacher training will be complemented by a growth in the capacity, skills and knowledge of schools to train. Moreover, teaching schools will be able to develop an approach which recognises that teachers need to constantly evaluate and learn from their own practice and that of colleagues, thereby beginning to end the artificial break between initial teacher training and continuing professional development.
However, there are still unanswered questions. As more training is devolved to schools, the Government will need to find a way to maintain a strategic oversight, so it can predict and address areas of teacher shortage. The White Paper also reiterates the commitment to increasing pay flexibility, but it is not clear to what extent Ministers are willing to embark on the rocky road to ending national pay bargaining. Pay flexibility often simply becomes the norm, as all teachers simply shift up the scale according to tenure rather than performance. This rigid and hierarchical pay structure is a major obstacle to attracting top graduates.
Keen as the Government is to grant schools more autonomy, it's also eager to recognise the real capacity for self-improvement that lies within schools themselves. As Policy Exchange highlighted in Blocking the Best: Obstacles to new, independent state schools, centrally-driven initiatives, such as the School Improvement Partners (SIP) programme, impinged on the ability of headteachers and governing bodies to set a direction for their schools, and to determine their priorities. Today’s announcement that the Government plans to end this highly systematised approach is therefore welcome, and an important part of trusting schools to raise standards in and of themselves.
However, with OFSETD reporting that only 65% of our schools can be considered to be good or outstanding, we must ensure that the capacity to support underperforming schools continues to be readily accessible, albeit in a less prescriptive fashion. Today’s White Paper offers just such a route. Increasing the network of National and Local Leaders of Education, publishing "families of schools" data for each area of the country, and the establishment of an Education Endowment Fund are key to providing a more diverse range of school improvement services. None the less, one must not underestimate the task ahead of schools, and Government must ensure that such schemes are adequately supported.
James Groves is the Head of Education at Policy Exchange.
Apart from a few tabloid newspapers, the attempted disruption by extreme Islamists on last week's Remembrance Sunday was barely reported. Despite the threats to public disorder, it seems that these Islamists were allowed to burn a giant poppy, and desecrate this special day - almost with impunity.
It seems that we live in a kind of parallel universe, where only some of our citizens face punitive actions for offensive behaviour, whilst others do not. It appears that the more extreme and more difficult a situation is, the more afraid the 'authorities' are in dealing with it. How much simpler to deal with 'the easy case' - i.e. the Gareth Comptons of this world.
Last Thursday, in the House of Commons, I asked for a debate on this very subject. You might be interested in the transcript below:
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend agree to an urgent debate on extreme Islamists in the United Kingdom? As action was taken against Gareth Compton for his alleged threat to public disorder, does he agree that action should also be taken against the extreme Islamists who disrupted Remembrance Sunday last week because of their threat to public disorder?
Sir George Young: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, but the specific incident that he mentioned is a matter for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. I think we all have a role in challenging extremism. We should all stand up for our shared British values and against extremists and their bigoted, racist and false ideology.
P.S. You can read more detail about the Islamists' demonstration HERE and HERE or watch a video HERE.
If you're a British soldier fighting against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, you can earn as little as £17,000 a year. If you train with the enemy and accuse the British state of torture without having to prove it, then you can become an overnight millionaire. This was precisely what happened last week when the government came to financial agreements with former detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
Douglas Murray and I have written a piece for today's Wall Street Journal which lays out exactly what some of those the government paid out big to last week have openly admitted to (under no suggestion of duress). These men were not paragons of virtue that sections of the press would have you believe. For example:
Moazzam Begg told the U.S. Combatant Status Review Board that he visited a camp on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in 1993 that was 'responsible for training Kashmiri refugees in small arms and mountain tactics,' and that he attended a training camp in Afghanistan in 1998. He also admits fighting in Bosnia.
The Tipton Three said they went to a Taliban training camp 'on many occasions to find out what was happening.' Their explanation for why this ended up with them firing AK-47s, was that 'you want to hold it. You want to see what it's like.'
Binyam Mohamed, openly admitted to his legal representative at Guantanamo Bay that he left for Afghanistan in 2001 to receive 'paramilitary training', including in arms handling and explosives. Part of his training was from a senior al Qaida operative. Mohamed said that he intended to go on and fight in Chechnya.
Richard Belmar also accepted that he travelled to Afghanistan to attend a military training camp in July 2001 to receive basic weapons, war tactics, and navigation training. Despite seeing Osama bin Laden there, Belmar claims it was not until near the end of his training that he realized he was at a terrorist camp. He says he thought it was 'just a military training camp for Muslims'.
Both Mohamed and Belmar acknowledge they were training at al-Qaeda's al Farouq camp, where at least seven of the 9/11 hijackers trained, along with John Walker Lindh (the U.S. citizen convicted in 2002 for joining the Taliban). In the U.S., attendance at the al Farouq camp was enough for a federal court to sentence six Yemeni Americans to prison. In Britain, it is enough to ensure a huge taxpayer funded cash bonanza.
The government said they had no choice but to pay the money. Yet their reasoning was unconvincing. There is some merit to the argument that MI5 and MI6 were not going to relish having to reveal secret intelligence if the case made it to court. But what is to stop the same thing happening in the future? If the state was willing to pay out this time, when it said it as not at fault, I am not sure what will stop further accusations of British complicity in torture now it's clear what a lucrative move it is.
The argument that the payments were necessary in order to 'clear the decks' for their inquiry into British intelligence agencies colluding in torture was nonsense. The Conservatives were the ones that set up the inquiry in the first place. It is simply a matter of priorities.
The fact that it was cheaper to settle out of court than fight the case was also rolled out as an excuse. While I think most of us would agree it's time that state spending was cut, this was a case where we should have spent some money and fought our corner. Of course it's easier to crumple in front of Islamist lawfare than to push back against it. But we don't elect leaders to do with is easy. We elect them to do what is right. And no matter the morality of Guantanamo Bay, training with the Taliban and then receiving huge financial reward for it is clearly not right.
As Tim Montgomerie noted earlier today, Britain needs an agenda for keeping talented people in Britain and moving to a low tax economy should be a key part of this.
In October this year Kinetic Partners estimated that around 1,000 hedge fund managers (with an average income at £1.5 million to £2 million per year) have left the UK. They estimated that the loss to the exchequer has already reached a minimum of £500 million. City AM also recently highlighted that if bankers’ bonuses were reduced from £7 billion to £4 billion, as has been mooted, HMRC would lose £1.8 billion in revenue. One factor in these changes has been a desire to make the taxation of higher earners fairer. But should we be concerned if rich people are leaving the UK?
It is not surprising that people debate the taxation of high income earners. In an environment when many families are facing increasing costs of food, lower benefit payments and the prospect of a post-Christmas increase in VAT, attention naturally turns to ensuring that people who have incomes many, many times the pay of the average family pay their “fair share.”
Yet to have an honest debate on whether the tax system is actually fair it is necessary to first debunk certain misconceptions about taxes on higher earners. High income earners make a large contribution to tax revenue in the UK. The richest 1 per cent of taxpayers provide nearly a quarter of total income tax revenues and the richest 10 per cent provide over half. The UK relies on this group to fund a large proportion of public services.
There is concern that recent changes such as the 50p tax rate, claw-back of personal allowances and reduction in relief for pension contributions have led to the perception of the UK being a hostile (and uncompetitive) tax environment. The 50p tax rate on incomes over £150,000, for example, means the UK has the joint fourth highest top rate in the EU.
The loss of tax revenue when high earners leave the country (or decide not to come here in the first place) means that spending cuts have to be higher than otherwise, or additional tax rises are needed. So the question then becomes how do we balance fairness (such as a desire to alleviate poverty) with a desire to ensure that the tax system does not encourage the most mobile and productive workers to leave the country. One idea that has been considered in countries like New Zealand is that of a tax cap.
In 2001 a Ministerial Inquiry into the Tax System (the McLeod Review) established by a Labour Government considered the idea of a tax cap. This tax cap would limit the amount of tax that any individual would pay. The aim of the cap was to both attract high-income non-residents who may be tempted to locate to New Zealand and retain wealthy (internationally mobile) residents.
The key limitation to the tax cap (aside from the foregone revenue, which may be moderate if the gains from retaining higher earners in the tax base are considered) is the perception of fairness. How fair is it to cap the taxes of the highest income earners when so many other families are facing difficult times? The answer is, as optimal tax theory has shown, lower tax rates at the very top of the income distribution can potentially lead to higher income earners paying more, not less, tax. Given this, perhaps this is exactly the sort of approach that a fair tax system should take?
Net Neutrality is a confused term and something that means a number of different things. The left, especially in the US, uses the term to mean that all Internet traffic is created equally and should be managed equally and users of the Internet should be able to access it regardless of their connection of hardware. Though in theory this may sound like a good idea, it is not. What happens when (for example) a user buys a film on iTunes and wants to download it, and another customer who gets their connection to the Internet from the same company wants to log into and check their email? Should both of these actions be treated equally?
Both of these actions shouldn’t be treated equally and aren’t by current technical standards and business practices. Internet service providers (ISPs) manage Internet traffic in a complex and often highly technical way so that we, as end users, don’t see the buffering, offloading, and bandwidth increases and decreases on a daily basis. If all web traffic were treated equality, then it would be unlikely that I could watch an episode of Downton Abbey on the ITV player without many pauses and interruptions.
There is a wonderful passage in which Mr Laws writes how he tried to control costs by cutting first class rail travel by civil servants (in the same way as has already happened for MPs).
The reply of the civil service was glorious: cutting first class travel would mean that the taxpayer subsidy to the train operating companies would have to go up!!! An ingenious response indeed.
You can read the story below:
"In a meeting with Treasury civil servants I threw in a few ideas of my own. Why should civil servants continue to take first-class travel, I asked, when MPs were now more or less banned from doing so?"
One civil servant said:
"But Chief Secretary, the revenue from first-class ticket sales goes to the train-operating companies, under their contracts. So if there were fewer first-class ticket sales, and the revenue fell, it might simply mean greater subsidy payments to the train operators to make up the difference. That would therefore save the Exchequer little or nothing. It could turn out not to be a real economy at all, Chief Secretary'."
It was an ingenious defence, worthy of Sir Humphrey Appleby, but not one I was prepared to accept. Yet I found that this savings proposal somehow always seemed to fall off the list of agreed cuts".
It is an even better response than that of our most senior Civil Servant, Sir Gus O'Donnell, justifying - to the Public Administration Select Committee - the many millions that the Civil Service spends on management conferences (because Microsoft also have loads of conferences!).
I'm pretty sure the answer to my above question is "no".
But as the odious RMT boss reviewed the papers on Sky News just now, I couldn't help noticing that the motif on his top was a silhouette of someone on a horse playing polo - a sport which I wasn't aware had a huge following among Britain's trade union barons.
Doubtless someone will recognise the branding and tell me that he is making some kind of fashion statement, but it made me raise an eyebrow, at any rate...
Set your Sky+/video for Discovery History at 10pm tonight if you want to catch the first in a new four-part series telling the stories of some of our most courageous fellow human beings.
To coincide with the opening of the new Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum and the peer's new book George Cross Heroes (of which all royalties are going to the VC and GC Association), each episode of the TV series of the same name will see Lord Ashcroft tell the stories of some of the individuals awarded the highest medal awarded for courage outside military action.
We are promised "eyewitness testimony, gritty reconstruction and compelling storytelling, taking you on a rollercoater of suspense and jeopardy, right to the heart of each courageous story."
For a sneak preview of George Cross Heroes, click here.
By Andrew Lilico, Policy Exchange's Chief Economist.
The past few days have seen many articles in the UK press suggesting that Ireland’s current travails illustrate the dangers of excessive austerity, and constitute a warning to Britain’s Coalition Government that it should tone down its plans. These critics imagine that the argument goes something along the lines of:
Ireland had a large deficit because it had a recession
It tried to cuts its deficit because it felt its large deficit risked undermining investor confidence
The deficit cutting programme led to the economy shrinking further
Because the economy had shrunk, tax revenues shrunk further and the deficit got not better but the existing debts became larger relative to GDP
Therefore, the attempt to cut the deficit has made Ireland’s problems worse, not better
This argument completely misunderstands why Ireland needs to cut its deficit and why it currently faces concerns over its sovereign credit-worthiness.
Ireland’s creditworthiness problems are not, in the first instance, anything particularly to do with the level of the deficit. They arise because on September 29th 2008 the Irish Government chose (rightly or wrongly) to guarantee all the debts of Ireland’s banking system — all the deposits, all the bonds, all the other debts. Ireland’s banking sector was huge relative to the size of its economy — getting on for 400% of GDP (only a little less than the UK’s). Furthermore Ireland’s banking sector was epically bust, and matters got worse, fast. In 2009 alone, Irish households lost wealth of around €150bn, larger, relative to GDP even than the fall in US wealth from 2006 to 2009. House prices have fallen over 35% from peak.
I agree with Tim on a lot of the points he has made in his twoarticles this morning about the Irish bailout. It is shocking that it wasn't raised at PMQs; absolutely incredible that no one is stepping up to speak for British taxpayers.
We disagree on whether Britain should say no to a bailout, though. Tim says:
"I cannot be as implacable as the TPA, however. Osborne should try to persuade Ireland to leave the €uro but if he cannot, a bailout might be necessary to stop the Irish contagion affecting the whole European continent. We are not in ideal world scenarios here."
That is a reasonable position but the problem is that we don't stop the contagion with a bailout, we just delay it. In the United States, where a little distance helps them get some perspective on this issue, economists from Martin Feldstein to Paul Krugman all think that the Euro is fundamentally broken and have envisaged countries leaving. Just yesterday, Nouriel Roubini described the Irish bailout as an attempt to "kick the can down the road". It might be an unpleasant but necessary medicine if British taxpayers had to support a bailout that stopped contagion from Europe, but just to kick that can down the road?
Ruth Lea explained the economics of the issue yesterday:
"The eurozone cannot work with such disparate economies. Putting aside the current financial crisis, it is hard to see how Ireland, for example, can recover economically. As one of our major trading partners this is bad news for us. At some point, the EU will have to come to terms with the exit of some of their members – the sooner the better. Of course there are implications for the banks – but better to deal with their problems directly rather than struggle with propping up the unsustainable."
There isn't an opportunity here to save the eurozone. As it is one of our key trading partners, we should wish Ireland well, but propping them up in an unsustainable single currency isn't the way to help. Continental politicians with a fanatical attachment to political integration might think it is worthwhile to kick the can down the road, in the hope that they can eventually make it work with fiscal integration. They shouldn't be able to do that with British taxpayers' money on the line.
I really hope ConservativeHome readers will sign our petition (look out for the validation e-mail after you've signed, it often goes to the junk folder). We need to stop this bailout.
When the Google data harvesting was first exposed, the ICO indicated that there was little to worry about stating that:
"It is unlikely that Google will have captured significant amounts of personal data".
Only a few weeks ago, it subsequently emerged that Google had not only mapped people's personal Wi-Fi's, but also their email addresses and computer passwords.
Yet, in a Telegraph newspaper interview last week, the Commissioner still just says "Hang on, what is the scale of Google's offence? The company was collecting information about the position of wifi networks to make their geo location stuff work".
It is true that following the Parliamentary debate on this subject, and sustained pressure from Parliamentarians, the ICO has U-Turned on this position, suddenly announcing on 3 November, that Google had now committed a significant breach of the Data Protection act, would be subject to an audit and have to sign an undertaking to ensure that data protection breaches do not happen again.
This was despite the fact that the ICO issued a statement on the Google Street View issue just two days earlier (1 November), stating that "we will not be panicked into a 'knee-jerk' response to an alarmist agenda"!
But this whole episode has exposed serious flaws in the working of the Information Commission and is why I tabled more than fifty Commons Questions about the workings of the ICO to the Justice Ministry.
Some of the answers given thus far, raise even further questions:
Why is it that only one member of the Information Commissioner's Office has attended formal training on internet/computer related crime since 2008?
Why did the ICO not send experts with technical training to Google to investigate the data breach?
Why have the ICO felt the need to spend £13 million in the last ten years on PR/Marketing/Communications - but can't find the right resources to investigate breaches of our data protection?
Why did the ICO feel the need to spend £10,000 on 'refreshments' in 2008 or the Management Board need to spend £10,000 plus on taxis in the last two years?
The ICO describes itself as "the UK's independent authority... promoting openness for public bodies and data privacy for individuals".
As the Google Street view saga has shown, the organisation has failed in this lamentably. It is no longer fit for purpose and needs fundamental reform.
One last bite at this particular cherry for now. Many of you appear shocked at the thought that a Christian and a Conservative could propose that Islam become our state religion. If I thought there were any prospect of Christianity continuing in/returning to its role as our state religion, then I would leap at it. But most of my critics on this point seem to me to assume far too complacently that this is an option. As my original posting pointed out, in this country even for a Christian politician to employ a moral category is to be ruled outwith polite society. Fraser Nelson made the mistake a few months ago of quoting Deuteronomy in an argument about the 50p tax band, to widespread ridicule and the cheap rejection of his elegant point.
My argument that Islam should become our state religion is pretty simple. We need a state religion, to provide moral purpose to our politics and moral guidance to our people. As an Anglican, I obviously believe Anglican Christianity is best, but unfortunately our Establishment finds it impossible, any longer, to be respectful of Christian goals and morals. We cannot simply have no state religion, so we must try something other than Christianity. Not just anything would do, but Islam has, in past forms, served as the state religion in successful tolerant multicultural societies such as Andalusia. So there is every reason to believe that a suitably Anglicized form of Islam, willing to compromise for influence (as Protestant Christianity did) by accepting that secular rulers would select its religious leaders, could be a successful state religion for us.
The Guardian became outraged when Iain Duncan Smith suggested that it was a "sin" that society had negligently abandonned 4.5 million people to live permanently on out-of work benefits instead of find ways to get them re-integrated into working life. His "mask" was said to have slipped, though he had "almost succeeded" in pretending there was a proper basis for his policies, more acceptable to our "secular society".
The absurdity of suggesting that Iain Duncan Smith's Christian motivations were any kind of secret and of criticising the use of moral categories to justify his policy approaches - only lefties are allowed to have morals, after all; to be Right Wing is, by definition, to be evil, seeking to impose final solutions on the poor, force them to eat rotting horse-flesh, and cleansing them from beyond the sight of nice middle class folk; any right-winger employing a moral term such as "wrong" or "sin" must have some sinister ulterior motivation - has been covered already by the Editor and by Cranmer.
What I want to add, though, is a challenge to this idea, underlying the Guardian's criticisms, that our society is "secular", by which the Guardian clearly means some combination of atheist materialist and agnostic. The reality is that no free society has even been secular, though a number of state structures have been. Our Establishment cannot, any longer, find inspiration in Christianity, so it must look elsewhere. I shall argue that the best alternative is Islam.
For 24 hours, the world, and Burma’s people, were kept waiting. Every hour the media went through a tantalising “Will she? Won’t she?” cycle of analysis, commentary and speculation. Rumour abounded. Thousands of her supporters, young and old, gathered around the offices of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), and near her home in University Avenue. Then finally, the moment we had all been awaiting – the world’s most famous political prisoner stepped out from her home. Unsurpisingly, even she could not silence the waiting crowd.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s release is as visually momentous as Nelson Mandela’s walk out of prison in South Africa twenty years ago. There is, however, one key difference. Mandela was released because F.W. de Klerk knew that apartheid was unsustainable. He worked in partnership with Mandela to transition South Africa to freedom, and Mandela’s release was part of that process.
In Burma, there is no F.W. de Klerk, and no Mikhail Gorbachev. If the Generals have their way, there will be no change. Aung San Suu Kyi has been freed not because Senior General Than Shwe, Burma’s dictator, has compassion, but as a public relations fig leaf to divert attention from last weekend’s sham elections, brutal offensives against Burma’s ethnic groups and the regime’s crimes against humanity.
So while Aung San Suu Kyi’s release is certainly welcome, and will have a profound impact on her people regardless of the regime’s intentions, we must be careful not to see it as a sign of change. When she was last released in 2002, Aung San Suu Kyi herself made this point: “My release should not be looked at as a major breakthrough for democracy. For all people in Burma to enjoy basic freedom – that would be the major breakthrough.”
In June, when the Government set out how it was going to conduct the Spending Review there were high hopes for a highly engaging and constructive process - a process that would really captivate the public and involve it in public sector reform.
The Treasury’s Spending Challenge set out to create the most collaborative Spending Review ever, with over 100,000 ideas submitted from the public and a further 63,000 from the public sector. From this, however, only 25 ideas were taken forward as Government policy. This consultation should and could have gone further. Rather than just being a process of generating individual ideas for efficiency, it should have begun an honest debate on the magnitude and general nature of the budget actions that the country needs. After all whilst cutting the deficit is a priority, even before the economic crisis there was a need for a high level of structural reform.
A contrast can be made with Canada in the 1990s. In 1993 they had one of the highest debt levels bar Italy of the developed world, but by 1998 the deficit had been eliminated and the debt ratio was dropping. Central to this success was the Canadian Governments’ approach to engaging the Canadian public in the development of their fiscal plans.
This included a consultation process that began more than four months before Budget day and included the release of major background papers and public hearings by the Parliament’s Finance Committee. This stimulated an outpouring of detailed mock budgets by various interest groups, media columnists and individual citizens. The then Finance Minister, Paul Martin, has argued that this consultation contributed importantly to creating reasonable expectations about the cuts and reforms that were going to take place as well as helping ensure that no stone was left unturned in re-examining the Government’s role.
The approach in the UK has, in contrast, left local people not fully aware of the difficult decisions that lie ahead. This can be shown in the response to a public consultation that Reform held in Cannock Chase. As Julian Glover blogged for the Guardian “there was an anaesthetised acceptance of impending pain.” Surprisingly, this event was also the first time that many of the local leaders had met each other. The value of the event was that it opened up lines of communication and moved the debate from one of cuts to one of meaningful reform. A dialogue like this, between different areas of the public sector, constructively allows areas of overlap to be recognised, and solutions to be created that are shared rather than isolated.
The government has made it harder for itself to take part in a real re-examination of the role of government in society by not engaging effectively in an honest public debate. Experiences from Canada and Reform’s own work in the run up to the Spending Review have shown that sparking debate, igniting innovation and public understanding could have added real value to reforms now taking place. The Spending Challenge as much embodied an opportunity as did a threat. Unfortunately this opportunity was wasted.
My great friend Jeremy Brier was spot on in his piece yesterday about fees, and as a good debating partner I don't disagree with a word of it. All I'd like to add about the rioters is this:
* Did they think that they would change the minds of the relevant decision-makers by doing this? If so, I am sure that they were wrong. Does anyone disagree?
* Did they think that they would convince us that they need educating? If so, they were right - but I don't think that they advanced any case that others should pay for it. On the contrary, I think that they undermined their claim that they deserve anything - in this case, to have their education subsidised by non-graduates. It is difficult to make anyone who benefited from tuition-feeless free education dislike them so much that one overlooks their fundamental point, but with me at least they have succeeded.
* What should they think now? Well, this is a very old-fashioned word. I think that they should feel ashamed. I don't imagine that they will. But I cannot help but make the point that their timing is exceptionally poor. Today is Remembrance Day. I know that this is little more than cliché, but - my grandfathers fought, as did so many we remember today, to preserve freedom. Was it for this? How do these ambassadors of this generation think that they weigh up in the obvious comparison with those ambassadors of that generation?
42 years after the student riots of 1968, when NUS President Jack Straw was but a lad, student rioters are back.
The criminal damage wrought in Westminster today highlights the way in which colleges, universities and students’ unions have become hot-beds of extremism – be it Islamist groups actively preaching hate and violence or the new generation of pampered middle-class trustafarians who are desperate to separate themselves from mainstream society.
Students’ unions are not trades’ unions. They are not bound by the restrictions placed on trades’ union activities – but equally they are not protected by the laws that protect trades’ unions either. Those who were complicit in organizing the protests and who facilitated the violence stand at risk of unlimited personal liability as trustees of students’ unions.
I guess taking a year off to become a sabbatical officer wasn’t such a smart move after all, was it?
The National Union of Students, as a non-charitable federation, is even hotter water. Today’s protest was the brainchild of the NUS. Its leaders stand accused of incompetence and stupidity, as well as being branded, whether fairly or not, as co-conspirators and vicariously liable for the criminal actions of its members.
There are many ways in which rogue students’ unions and the profligate, undemocratic NUS can and should be held to account. The law is the friend of ordinary students who wish to study hard and enjoy their experience of higher education. And as the mask and hoodie-wearing thugs who rioted in London today are about to discover, the law is the enemy of those who fail to think through the consequences of their actions on their fellow students, their students’ unions, universities and the NUS.
That is a battle that I am very much enjoying preparing for.
Next month YBF is holding a workshop on students' unions and the NUS. Click here for more details.
My experience of the National Union of Students was that they were a rather self-indulgent and self-aggrandising bunch who most members of the university despised. They spent most of their time grandstanding about racial and gender equality in a University which had (rightly) bent over backwards to ensure racial and gender equality for decades and they spent the rest of their time trying to boycott Israeli academics (presumably on the basis that there was no point attacking nations which oppress women or lock up gay people when you can vilify ones with pluralistic universities, freedom of speech and the rule of law). I admit they give out lots of condoms in Freshers’ Week which is rather useful, although mine was stapled to a leaflet so kind of pointless too.
Let’s be frank. Student politics is for children. And today’s protest is no exception (although the children in question are now rather violent and inclined towards arson).
So let’s all take a big (adult) vow not to listen to them.
The Coalition’s proposals are eminently sensible on the whole. It’s right and proper, as a matter of principle, that those who will benefit from university education should be the ones who fund it. Why should someone who chooses to go out to work at 16 years old and start a business have to pay for half of his peer group who choose to study for three years? Why should someone who will reap the financial rewards of being a lawyer or a doctor not shoulder some responsibility for their costs and training? Generous bursary provision and a culture of philanthropy where ex-students contribute to their alma mater is a likely consequence of all this – just look across the Pond at the excellent schemes in place in America. But even without these protections, the scheme itself contains a number of safeguards, such as the following:
1. The student repays the loan over 25 years and according to their ability to pay.
2. Graduates earning below £21,000pa would not pay any real interest on loans.
3. Outstanding tuition fee debt that cannot be paid will be written-off after 25 years.
It also means, undoubtedly, that our universities will be better funded, will produce better research and will turn out better graduates.
So - even if CCHQ gets a bit of a battering today - the Coalition should stick to their guns in the knowledge that they are doing the right thing.
Earlier this year a coalition of domestic charities, aid agencies, unions, faith organisations and green groups proposed a global tax on financial transactions to help “fight poverty, protect public services and tackle climate change.” The extensive marketing campaign behind this proposal lacked a serious discussion of the merits or otherwise of the tax and was described by the economist Tim Harford as “evidence-free policy-making.” In the almost 40 years since a Tobin tax was first proposed this idea has never gotten off the ground. The reason for this is simple – arguments in favour of it are little more than a fairytale.
More recent commentary has suggested that a Robin Hood Tax on foreign exchange (collecting £17.6 billion world-wide (£7.7 billion from the UK) rather than the £250 billion hoped for in the earlier marketing campaign) could be viable. This is based on work by Neil McCullock and Grazia Pacillo of the Institute of Development Studies on whether a financial transaction tax is a good idea – although this is a question they do not directly answer (briefing, draft paper). Indeed, the evidence contained in this research does not justify, and in some cases contradicts, the policy prescription it draws (the need for a currency transaction tax on sterling). To illustrate this the key conclusions are discussed below.
The research notes that a tax on financial transactions would not make the financial system more stable and could increase instability. This is important as stability is the major rationale for a financial transactions tax aside from raising revenue. To illustrate how volatility can increase Tim Harford has given the analogy of paying a charge when using a cash machine. If it costs more to withdraw cash then people will tend to make fewer but larger withdrawals. The amount of cash they hold will vary more widely and volatility will increase.
The research highlights that the costs of the tax (the economic incidence) will not be limited to wealthy participants (some bankers) in financial markets (who may face the legal incidence). As economists know some agents will pass the higher costs of taxes onto their customers through higher prices or charges. Agents who cannot pass the costs on will end up paying the taxes and these agents will be likely to be smaller businesses rather than larger ones.
The research notes that changes in the ways in which transactions are settled mean that it could be technically possible (although presumably not without associated monitoring and compliance costs) to levy a tax on some foreign exchange transactions. This research also notes that this means that the UK could conceivably go it alone and introduce a tax unilaterally. Yet being technically possible does not necessarily make something a good idea.
As the research also notes the tax could be collected on a national basis (financial institutions pay the tax in their home country on their world-wide dealings) or on a market basis (taxes are paid on transactions in the countries in which they take place). Unilaterally introducing a tax on a market basis encourages the creation of tax havens and firms to migrate to these places. Unilateral introduction on a national basis disadvantages home country financial institutions relative to their competitors in other countries.
The authors of this research then argue that the UK government should design and implement a currency transaction tax on sterling. But such a prescription too heavily discounts concerns over the loss of competitiveness of the financial sector (and the possibility that firms will change their home country), the damage done to (particularly smaller) exporting firms and any increase in volatility in financial markets.
For example, as I noted in a post on this issue earlier this year, many currency transactions are for “insurance purposes,” such as exporting firms hedging against possible movements in exchange rates between the time a contract is agreed and the time when they finally get paid. This tax would make this sort of insurance more expensive. This increase in costs would hold back firms’ ability to expand into new markets, to hire more staff or pay taxes on profits. As has been shown in the case of the Great Depression taking an anti-business approach to policy will weaken the business environment and delay recovery.
The proposal also fails to address the major problem facing the UK, which is the level and poor quality of government spending. There are areas of government spending where the cost of the funds that pay for them is higher than the benefits they provide. It is nonsense to suggest that the government should increase taxes to spend money on projects that do not provide value – as the costs of higher taxes are incurred without gaining anything in return. Poor quality spending needs to be cut and we need to recognise that, as Sir Roger Douglas, a former New Zealand Chancellor of the Exchequer, has argued, "If we each pretend that we can be made wealthy through taxing others, then we’re destined for poverty."
Assuming there is a by-election in Oldham East and Saddleworth once the appeals process is complete (and I'm less sure about that than some - if telling lies about the intentions and policies of your opponents is really to invalidate elections, I'd think most of the House of Commons ought to be sweating), then the Conservatives should fight it hard and fight to win. Being only 2,500 votes behind under this scenario - in which Labour is badly damaged in the seat and the Lib Dems are suffering nationally - is certainly close enough to be in with a good chance in principle.
This speech has been reproduced elsewhere, but is so terrific that it's worth doing so again. Gabriel Latner - a 19 year old student at Cambridge - was debating at the Cambridge Union recently for the motion 'Israel is a rogue state'. He was speaking alongside Lauren Booth, recent convert to Islam and journalist at the pro-Iranian theocracy Press TV. His arguments, however, may not exactly be what you suspect.
This is a war of ideals, and the other speakers here tonight are rightfully, idealists. I’m not. I’m a realist. I’m here to win. I have a single goal this evening – to have at least a plurality of you walk out of the ‘Aye’ door. I face a singular challenge – most, if not all, of you have already made up your minds.
This issue is too polarizing for the vast majority of you not to already have a set opinion. I’d be willing to bet that half of you strongly support the motion, and half of you strongly oppose it. I want to win, and we’re destined for a tie. I’m tempted to do what my fellow speakers are going to do – simply rehash every bad thing the Israeli government has ever done in an attempt to satisfy those of you who agree with them. And perhaps they’ll even guilt one of you rare undecided into voting for the proposition, or more accurately, against Israel. It would be so easy to twist the meaning and significance of international ‘laws’ to make Israel look like a criminal state. But that’s been done to death. It would be easier still to play to your sympathy, with personalised stories of Palestinian suffering. And they can give very eloquent speeches on those issues. But the truth is, that treating people badly, whether they’re your citizens or an occupied nation, does not make a state’ rogue’. If it did, Canada, the US, and Australia would all be rogue states based on how they treat their indigenous populations. Britain’s treatment of the Irish would easily qualify them to wear this sobriquet. These arguments, while emotionally satisfying, lack intellectual rigour.
More importantly, I just don’t think we can win with those arguments. It won’t change the numbers. Half of you will agree with them, half of you won’t. So I’m going to try something different, something a little unorthodox. I’m going to try and convince the die-hard Zionists and Israel supporters here tonight, to vote for the proposition. By the end of my speech – I will have presented 5 pro-Israel arguments that show Israel is, if not a ‘rogue state’ than at least ‘rogueish’.
Let me be clear. I will not be arguing that Israel is ‘bad’. I will not be arguing that it doesn’t deserve to exist. I won’t be arguing that it behaves worse than every other country. I will only be arguing that Israel is ‘rogue’.
The word ‘rogue’ has come to have exceptionally damning connotations. But the word itself is value-neutral. The OED defines rogue as ‘Aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time ‘, while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition ‘behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way ‘. These definitions, and others, centre on the idea of anomaly – the unexpected or uncommon. Using this definition, a rogue state is one that acts in an unexpected, uncommon or aberrant manner. A state that behaves exactly like Israel.
The first argument is statistical. The fact that Israel is a Jewish state alone makes it anomalous enough to be dubbed a rogue state: There are 195 countries in the world. Some are Christian, some Muslim, some are secular. Israel is the only country in the world that is Jewish. Or, to speak mathmo for a moment, the chance of any randomly chosen state being Jewish is 0.0051% . In comparison the chance of a UK lotto ticket winning at least £10 is 0.017% – more than twice as likely. Israel’s Jewishness is a statistical aberration.
The second argument concerns Israel’s humanitarianism, in particular,Israel’s response to a refugee crisis. Not the Palestinian refugee crisis – for I am sure that the other speakers will cover that – but the issue of Darfurian refugees. Everyone knows that what happened, and is still happening in Darfur, is genocide, whether or not the UN and the Arab League will call it such. [I actually hoped that Mr Massih would be able speak about this - he's actually somewhat of an expert on the Crisis in Darfur, in fact it's his expertise that has called him away to represent the former Dictator of Sudan while he is being investigated by the ICC.] There has been a mass exodus from Darfur as the oppressed seek safety. They have not had much luck. Many have gone north to Egypt – where they are treated despicably. The brave make a run through the desert in a bid to make it to Israel. Not only do they face the natural threats of the Sinai, they are also used for target practice by the Egyptian soldiers patrolling the border. Why would they take the risk? Because in Israel they are treated with compassion – they are treated as the refugees that they are – and perhaps Israel’s cultural memory of genocide is to blame. The Israeli government has even gone so far as to grant several hundred Darfurian refugees Citizenship. This alone sets Israel apart from the rest of the world.
But the real point of distinction is this: The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets. Compare that to the US’s reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst – and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behavior anomalous is an understatement.
My Third argument is that the Israeli government engages in an activity which the rest of the world shuns — it negotiates with terrorists. Forget the late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, a man who died with blood all over his hands – they’re in the process of negotiating with terrorists as we speak. Yasser Abed Rabbo is one of the lead PLO negotiators that has been sent to the peace talks with Israel. Abed Rabbo also used to be a leader of the PFLP- an organisation of ‘freedom fighters’ that, under Abed Rabbo’s leadership, engaged in such freedom promoting activities as killing 22 Israeli high school students. And the Israeli government is sending delegates to sit at a table with this man, and talk about peace. And the world applauds. You would never see the Spanish government in peace talks with the leaders of the ETA – the British government would never negotiate with Thomas Murphy. And if President Obama were to sit down and talk about peace with Osama Bin Laden, the world would view this as insanity. But Israel can do the exact same thing – and earn international praise in the process. That is the dictionary definition of rogue – behaving in a way that is unexpected, or not normal.
Another part of dictionary definition is behaviour or activity ‘occuring at an unexpected place or time’. When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East- except for Israel. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality. In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America.
Israel’s protection of its citizens’ civil liberties has earned international recognition. Freedom House is an NGO that releases an annual report on democracy and civil liberties in each of the 195 countries in the world. It ranks each country as ‘Free’ ‘Partly Free’ or ‘Not Free’. In the Middle East, Israel is the only country that has earned designation as a ‘free’ country. Not surprising given the level of freedom afforded to citizens in say, Lebanon- a country designated ‘partly free’, where there are laws against reporters criticizing not only the Lebanese government, but the Syrian regime as well. [I'm hoping Ms Booth will speak about this, given her experience working as a 'journalist' for Iran,] Iran is a country given the rating of ‘not free’, putting it alongside China, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Myanmar. In Iran, [as Ms Booth I hoped would have said in her speech], there is a special ‘Press Court’ which prosecutes journalists for such heinous offences as criticizing the ayatollah, reporting on stories damaging the ‘foundations of the Islamic republic’ , using ‘suspicious (i.e. western) sources’, or insulting islam. Iran is the world leader in terms of jailed journalists, with 39 reporters (that we know of) in prison as of 2009. They also kicked out almost every Western journalist during the 2009 election. [I don't know if Ms Booth was affected by that] I guess we can’t really expect more from a theocracy. Which is what most countries in the Middle East are. Theocracies and Autocracies. But Israel is the sole, the only, the rogue, democracy. Out of every country in the Middle East, only in Israel do anti-government protests and reporting go unquashed and uncensored.
I have one final argument – the last nail in the opposition’s coffin- and its sitting right across the aisle. Mr Ran Gidor’s presence here is the all evidence any of us should need to confidently call Israel a rogue state. For those of you who have never heard of him, Mr Gidor is a political counsellor attached to Israel’s embassy in London. He’s the guy the Israeli government sent to represent them to the UN. He knows what he’s doing. And he’s here tonight. And it’s incredible. Consider, for a moment, what his presence here means. The Israeli government has signed off,to allow one of their senior diplomatic representatives to participate in a debate on their very legitimacy. That’s remarkable. Do you think for a minute, that any other country would do the same? If the Yale University Debating Society were to have a debate where the motion was ‘This house believes Britain is a racist, totalitarian state that has done irrevocable harm to the peoples of the world’, that Britain would allow any of its officials to participate? No. Would China participate in a debate about the status of Taiwan? Never. And there is no chance in hell that an American government official would ever be permitted to argue in a debate concerning its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. But Israel has sent Mr Ran Gidor to argue tonight against [a 'journalist' come reality TV star, and myself,] a 19 year old law student who is entirely unqualified to speak on the issue at hand.
Every government in the world should be laughing at Israel right now- because it forgot rule number one. You never add credence to crackpots by engaging with them. It’s the same reason you won’t see Stephen Hawking or Richard Dawkins debate David Icke. But Israel is doing precisely that. Once again, behaving in a way that is unexpected, or not normal. Behaving like a rogue state.
That’s five arguments that have been directed at the supporters of Israel. But I have a minute or two left. And here’s an argument for all of you – Israel willfully and forcefully disregards international law. In 1981 Israel destroyed OSIRAK – Sadam Hussein’s nuclear bomb lab. Every government in the world knew that Hussein was building a bomb. And they did nothing. Except for Israel. Yes, in doing so they broke international law and custom. But they also saved us all from a nuclear Iraq. That rogue action should earn Israel a place of respect in the eyes of all freedom loving peoples. But it hasn’t. But tonight, while you listen to us prattle on, I want you to remember something; while you’re here, Khomeini’s Iran is working towards the Bomb. And if you’re honest with yourself, you know that Israel is the only country that can, and will, do something about it. Israel will, out of necessity act in a way that is the not the norm, and you’d better hope that they do it in a destructive manner. Any sane person would rather a rogue Israel than a Nuclear Iran. [Except Ms Booth]
1) Danny Cohen is BBC 1's new controller, on £260,000 + benefits. It's suggested that this is worth it given his sterling and innovative work at BBC3 from 2007 to 2010 (Source: p. 13 Financial Times Magazine, 23/24 October 2010).
2) In 2008-2009, 84.4% of the programmes shown on BBC3 were repeats (Source: p. 15 Prospect September 2010, citing The Daily Telegraph, 28th April 2010).