It all kicked off on Twitter after I posted a journal article

Did I see that coming? Well, possibly, but I didn’t consciously set out to provoke such a Twitter response when I posted a link to my most recent academic publication on social media. Within a few hours of my article, New Right 2.0: Teacher populism on social media in England, being published by the British Educational Research Journal (BERJ) on Friday 24th July, the article was receiving unprecedented attention on Twitter. Unprecedented, not only for me, but for BERJ and for an academic publication on education research more generally.

Colleagues and friends contacted me over the weekend to ask me if I was OK. It seems that for many of my associates, the response to my BERJ article was predominantly hostile. A ‘pile on’ as it is frequently referred to.

A screenshot of a cell phone

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A screenshot of a cell phone

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It wasn’t so one-sided, however, I was receiving at least as much support through other communication channels as I was facing robust criticism on social media.

The article itself considers how Twitter – and specifically ‘#EduTwitter’ as is my research focus – can be productive and collaborative, but it can frequently become divisive and angry. The educational schism that my paper considers is between the Trads and the Progs. The Trads or traditionalists are a consequence, I argue in the paper, of three factors: the New Right, the coalition of social conservatives and economic liberals that emerged in the 1950s in the UK and US as a reaction to post-war social democracy, Keynesianism and the welfare state; the erosion of state-sector teachers’ working conditions over the last twenty years; and as a result of effects of social media. Trads advocate for robust discipline in the classroom, educational practices that are orientated toward memorisation and for research evidence based on ‘scientific’ research methods. The political positioning of the Trads is characteristically populist, the unheeded teacher against a progressive elite. I coin the term ‘micropopulism’ to distinguish this niche populist tendency. The Progs emerged as a less coherent and less organised reaction to the Trads’ social media presence.

It was pointed out that while much of the reaction to my article denied the existence of Trad micropopulism, the actual Twitter reaction to the article provided demonstrable real-time evidence of the phenomenon and the main argument of the paper: that social media is divisive and can amplify populism in unproductive ways.

The reaction to my article did feature a populist attack on institutions – the academy (i.e. higher education institutions), the British Education Research Association (the professional association for which BERJ is the flagship academic journal) and for peer review.

A screenshot of a cell phone

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A screenshot of a cell phone

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In the reaction, I am characterised as a ‘gatekeeper’ for the progressive elite that exists in the academy and that has been central to the power that has foisted unscientific progressive education approaches on teachers. There were further important observations in the reaction to my article. I was robustly challenged as characterising Trads as right wing. In fact, at no point during the paper do I make such a suggestion. I do argue that there is a relationship between new right think tanks and Trad micropopulism on social media, but I have never believed that Trads’ primary political associations or voting have been for the Conservative party. What I do find interesting is those self-identifying leftist teachers should be so enthusiastic about the reforms of a new right politician such as Michael Gove. The apparent benefit of Gove’s curriculum reforms seemingly outweighs the transfer of millions of pounds worth of public assets to private interests as part of the ramping up of school academisation since 2010 by the Coalition and subsequent Conservative governments.

 

Notes from a rural pub

My daughter was playing badminton in an under-16 county match. I have spent enough time being the parent-on-the tramline, getting frustrated and trying not to coach her and interfere. After five of six years of badminton tournaments, I tend to make sure she is OK and then go and find a coffee shop and do some writing or reading. A couple of weeks ago I ended up in Costa in an artificial retail park somewhere near Ipswich (it could have been anywhere, a soulless and meaningless place). A few days later I received a bill from Euro Car Parks Limited for £90 for breaking some parking rule on ‘private’ land. Yet another for-fuck-sake moment, another site for exploitation and I hear David Harvey on YouTube telling me about accumulation by dispossession and rents.

But that’s not what I want to go on about, though it would be worthy of a post. No, what I want to talk about is the pub I went to in small-town Suffolk, not so far from Bury St Edmunds – where you can smell the boiling beet at this time of year. Like sweet public mash potato.

I didn’t want to go to a pub actually. My preference was for a safe sterile manufactured faux continental coffee shop. But the nearest one of those was in Bury St Edmunds about 4 miles away. I thought it was unnecessarily a bit far for a coffee and generic soullessness. When just 0.7 miles from the Badminton venue was a pub.

When I say small town, I guess this was a big village really. It has a secondary school, a Londis and within that, Google Maps tells me, is a Post Office. There are few new housing developments and a former council estate. The pub was a country pub, a village kind of pub, a rural pub. I knew these hostelries from my youth.

I have spent many years walking into pubs and bars on my own, but I have not done that much of it in the last 15 years, just occasionally though. But from the age of 15 to 26 I was a public house flaneur, not truly a flaneur. I would usually enter the pub as flaneur, after a few drinks I was voyeur, and then, often or not, I would strike up a conversation. A few drinks, community and conviviality, and I would be in conversation with someone or other. My brand of philosophy is forged amongst the wisdom and observation of ale drinkers on bar stools. True public philosophers, almost in the Socratic tradition.

I was more anxious today. I am out of practice. I am no longer familiar with the country pub, or indeed any pub, as I once was. As I drove into the carpark, I was trying to work out who would be in there. It is difficult to tell, everyone has newish cars these days because of the lease-buy credit racket and legislation that make it difficult to run old cars.

I felt awkward walking into the pub, what was it going to be like? Who would be in there? If it was a rural pub of my youth, it would be a mixture: could be landowning farmers, horsey types, the rural middle class. Young couples out for a quiet drink out of town. Blokes playing darts and dominoes. People at the bar. This is what I imagined.

This pub was more like a community centre with Sunday lunch-dining for families. I went into the community centre side of the pub. A father and his 8-(or so)-year-old son (weekend access arrangement?), playing pool eating chips with cheese melted on top. An older gent who seemingly came regularly for his Sunday lunch. A youngish man who put the England football match on the flat screen TV and then went off for a smoke.

I ordered a coffee and chips ‘n’ cheese. The women at the bar was very charming, very friendly and welcoming without any pretence. She was to have an important role in the pub as I will come to explain. The coffee tasted of cooking fat. A few more people arrived; alone, in couples and in groups, they had fairly strong Suffolk accents. It wasn’t the socially diverse rural pub that I remembered from my youth, but working class, with no pretence and no aspirations. That is, no aspirations to be anything other than who they were. I was a voyeur, with the cover of reading Will Davies’ new book Nervous States, looking at social media (the big psychodrama of the EU Withdrawal Agreement) and looking up at the flat screen as England played Croatia.

I considered my middle-class habitus – it must be so fucking obvious – I spend most of my life now at college dinners and engaged in academic conversation within the academy. I don’t know if I can relate to these people anymore. I spend so much time explaining to the liberal middle class about the limitations of rationality and politeness and what drove things like the Brexit vote was a resurgence of affectivity, the need for people to fulfil and to act upon their emotions and not to be afraid of their feelings. I was feeling really awkward in the situation. These weren’t the mores I was accustomed to. I wondered if I could every be part of this community.

It is poignant that I am reading Will Davies’ Nervous States.

As I say part of the pub has the characteristics of a community centre, where people can come along and have a drink and not feel too inhibited about who they are. I think I presented myself as something of an anomaly and curiosity in this setting. Who sits in a pub and reads a book, they might have thought? One of them was curious enough to ask me while we were urinating just before I left. “Out walking, are you?” Another man caught my eye in the pub and asked about my well-being out of friendliness and curiosity.

The main drama unfolded. The older guy was brought his roast dinner, which he began to eat at a low table by the fireplace. A middle-aged man at the bar was provoking him, clearly not trying to be friendly but not really trying to be unfriendly. It was just an ongoing: “Grandad, grandad, grandad …” baiting him. It was harassment, but also in a kind of covert and invasive way. ‘Grandad’ was getting increasingly agitated by it and protested.

The barwoman was excellent, in the way that women are often expected to be in these kinds of situation. She recognised that David, who was baiting grandad, needed attention. She knew that if she engaged with him, no matter how irritating and unpleasant he was, he would leave grandad alone. Again, this is something that women are often expected to do in order to diffuse domestic tensions. Men are likely to use force, not necessarily physical force, but confrontation. The barwoman used emotional labour, but I can’t imagine that she would get anything more than minimum wage for handling a difficult situation with such skill and intelligence. David, though, continued to harass grandad. Grandad eventually asked for his dinner to be wrapped up, so he could take it home. He was clearly distressed.

This was an everyday drama, there was nothing unusual about this in this pub.

Thirty to forty years ago I was spending a lot of time in pubs, many rural pubs. What struck me today was the class homogeneity, the middle class no longer want to be around a struggling emotionally unrestrained working class? The pub is in poor shape, it is basic. Much infrastructure remains from the past, but it is tired. Things have been replaced by cheap oddments. It’s all done on a budget. No lines of pumps with exotic ales, but a basic offering. The people are not looking toward good jobs and opportunities to enhance their lives. They are hanging on, holding on, creating and carving out a community and some form of relaxation amongst a very limited number of things to look forward to. It is really a stark monument to forty years of economic and social policy which has meant decline for so many (increased consumption and debt is not a healthy and sustainable way out of poverty). The devastation of pubs through Wetherspoonification; corporate welfare, through in-work benefits; the free market which has left behind a clear stratification of haves and have nots; and the all-round destruction of inclusive and diverse public life.

For so many people the last forty years, in terms of work opportunities, standards of living, quality of health and education, it must have felt like they have been going backward. I will give it its due, the New Labour government did try and mitigate for this decline – what was criminal is that it didn’t tackle the underlying causes.

If you really want to understand Brexit, then you should visit a pub like this. There must be thousands across the UK. Go in there, sit there and sense what is going on and wonder why we got to this.

Apparently there are too many PhD students

There have been some conversations in the University, I understand, that there are too many graduate students competing for too few academic jobs. There was some discussion also that we should reduce the number of graduate students. While the first statement might be true, I take issue with the second.

Globally, there might be finite resources and funding for academic work. Certainly in England, I suspect (I am not going to look at the data just now) investment in academic work has probably diminished over the last 40 years. If it has not diminished, then the source of that funding has increasingly come from private sources – whether that be applied research for industry and business or debt-funded undergraduate study. Higher education, in England, is a competitive market. This, I believe, is the source of the pressure. Whether that be the result of tightened funding or consequence of the business/corporate market language is immaterial. The issue is, then, the question of whether there is too much demand from people to do scholarly work. Should we be placing a limit on access to research degrees?

I think not.

As each moment passes, each day, as each year, decade or century passes, we create for ourselves a more complex world – a more complicated world. Our capacity for sophistication holds no bounds. Yet, we also create for ourselves considerable problems. The Enlightenment held for us so much promise. With our minds, we had an unlimited capacity to develop technology and prove ourselves masters of nature. The Enlightenment also gave us the belief that we would be able to solve rationally, moral conundrums. However, we have been repeatedly humbled by nature. If we think about the twentieth century, humanity experienced the most violent century in history. The horror and the destruction were way beyond the experience of being violently consumed by a predator. This was violence on a man-made industrial scale and was not designed with quick dispatch in mind. It was constructed withe cruel and horrific vision.

We do need scholarship – active/activist scholarship – that can help us address the complex problems that humanity faces. These problems while they exist in the chaos of nature are the product of human reason. There is something intuitive about nature’s chaos, as living beings, we can cope with the unknowable and the uncertain. I was saying to the trainee mathematics teachers on Friday, each of us as individuals, has a surface with an almost infinite area. The contact between each of us and our environments is infinite – or approaching infinity, to be more mathematically precise. There is an infinite exchange of data. If we were to remove our cerebrum – the part of the brain responsible for rational thought – then using our limbic brain we could continue to live our lives. We can cope – and we have to cope – without the power of reason, because there is simply too much to reason about.

Antonio Damasio’s book Descartes’ Error begins with the story of Phineas P. Gage, who suffered a life changing accident while at work in the summer of 1848. Gage was a 25-year-old construction foreman. He was working in the construction of the railroad in Vermont. As they blasted through rock to allow the railroad to proceed on a straight course, Gage was setting charge. At four-thirty on a hot afternoon, he put powder and a fuse in a hole. He was distracted momentarily and began tamping down the charge before the man helping him had had chance to cover it with sand. Gage was tamping down the powder directly with an iron bar. The iron bar as it struck the rock caused a spark. The explosion is considerable. The iron bar enters Gage’s left cheek pierces the base of his skull goes through the front of his brain and exits from the top of his head at high velocity. The iron rod apparently was found more than a hundred feet away, covered in blood and brain matter.

What was surprising was that Gage was not killed instantly. And despite serious damage to his brain, he recovered and lived for another 11 years. Of course, the accident resulted in dramatic changes to his personality, Phineas Gage was no longer able to respond to people in a measured way, and within the norms of politeness. However, he did live and Gage’s horrific accident demonstrates how much we rely on our limbic brain – or indeed how little we need our cerebrum.

Rationality in the contemporary university is so heavily influenced by Enlightenment, philosophy. I was only this afternoon listening to Terry Eagleton’s Luxembourg lecture from 2013 in which he talks about culture wars: in the post-Enlightenment, a position of privilege was given to science and there was a devaluation of the humanities. We turned our attention to rationality and treated the arts and humanities as frivolous and valueless. Now our science and our economics (and indeed the condition of contemporary societies) have led us back to a point at which we must critique the Enlightenment. We have created one big stubborn humanity-sized knot, a global scale conundrum of rationality. Our belief and thought, or the belief in the power of thought and rationality, has left us with one big mess. We face global problems with the environment, inequality, poverty and an unprecedented scale of human movement. Rationality is not going to be enough to solve it. Universities in their present form are not going to solve it, and scholars thinking in the way they do not going to solve it. We need the affective, intuitive narrative dimensions of the arts and humanities. We do need critical and embodied scholarship. Scholarship that has the boldness to go beyond the Enlightenment and go beyond Descartes’ Error. Embodied scholarship does not simply take place in the ivory tower it has to be out in the real world amongst people and amongst practice – day-to-day practice as Lefebvre stressed to us.

I know, that some of the most important work I do as a teacher educator, is with professional practitioners in public services. They experience, and they feel every day practice, they feel and experience the impact of our institutions and our policy on many individuals who are powerless. They are engaged in theory and practice. One is not privileged above the other. They must have the experience of doing pure research, but with the framing and experience of the everyday and of practice.

Or, might I be a farmer-scholar? I could spend part of the week working at growing food for me, my family and the community and for the rest the week. I could engage with work at a more theoretical level in relation to what I do now or concerned with the growing food.

The answer then to the excess of research students, is not that we have too many people wanting to be academics, it is that we have to reframe academia and what academic work actually is. To do this we have to think beyond the Enlightenment.

Workplace nursery provision: that’s a good thing right?

This post follows my previous on a proposed new nursery at the University of Cambridge. Following a campaign by staff in the Faculty of Education, the university balloted eligible staff (mainly academics and senior administrators) on the proposal. The Grace (Cambridge’s term for a proposal) was passed by 777 votes to 151. This means that the university will progress to looking for a provider to run the new nursery.

The campaign against the proposal began with very local concerns about the impact on the Faculty of Education and the staff. Those interests are set against what might be argued to be the greater good. The greater good being much-needed childcare provision in the university. As we started to look into the university’s proposal, we found that there were issues that should be of general concern:

  • Equality and diversity – the cost of nursery provision (as it is in most private nursery provision) is £1000 per child per month. Even with government subsidy and salary sacrifice, lower paid workers in the university cannot afford this or any childcare. Given the ethnic representation in the lower paid group, this provision contributes to increased inequality within the university workforce.
  • Marketisation and privatisation – nursery provision has shifted from being a public provision (often run by local councils) to being privatised provision. This results in a fragmented system that is underpinned by investor returns and what appears to be lower quality provision. Marketisation also contributes to inequality since competition results in winners and losers.

So in answer to my question: nursery provision is a good thing right? The answer here is ‘no’ – it contributes to inequality and threatens diversity in the university. It contributes to further marketisation and privatisation of nursery provision, where we should be demanding universal free childcare.

My main point is that institutions like the University of Cambridge have the power to use their institutional voice to challenge government policy on nursery and childcare provision in England. Staff can use their collective voice to demand the university do this.

The proposed nursery is a highly political issue and we should be critically informed and act appropriately.

The frustration (and anger) in my previous post was impossible to hide, especially toward what I considered to be, the self-interested behaviour of the better-paid staff in the university who supported this proposal. My anger has now subsided (a little), I am now more motivated to encourage colleagues and the university to think about the political and economic aspects of the university’s current policy toward workplace provision. It needs to be seen for what it is – a piece of austerity in our own backyard and a contribution to the continued break up of universal free public childcare and nursery provision.

These things are part of the deepening of inequality in society, the fracturing of communities and, yes, they contribute to the dissatisfaction that is fueling growing far-right sentiment. We, as staff in the university, need to be critical and take responsibility. We must act beyond our immediate self-interests. We must force the  – our – university to start making a stand.

A quick response to Lord Willetts on intergenerational equality (Resolution Foundation Report).

This is a quick response on Willetts’ talk in the Imagine 2027 series at Anglia Ruskin University last night.

It is remarkable that the liberal wing of the Conservative is being forced to respond to the Labour Party’s progressive economic turn.

Willetts’ considers that intergenerational equality is driven by birth rates, a largely Malthusian idea. It assumes that birth rate causes economic conditions, whereas the relationship is probably reciprocal i.e. birth rate is as much influenced by economic conditions as vice versa.

Willetts is insistent on fiscal conservatism, that means taxation must be greater than or equal to public spending.  Based on the accounting fact that all surpluses and deficits within an economy must sum to zero, if fiscal conservatism is pursued with an overseas trade deficit, debts in the private sector continue to accumulate. At the same time, investors become reluctant to invest in the ‘productive’ economy. Fiscal conservatism leads to inflated asset prices (like property) a rent-seeking economy and growing wealth inequality.

These are the economic conditions that we have been in since the mid-1970s and has been the source of much of what we describe as intergenerational inequality.

The solution is fiscal policy (spending in the public sector, regional investment and industrial strategy). This will encourage investment in the productive economy, create worthwhile and sustainable jobs, improve our trade deficit, lower inflated house prices and counter rent-seeking speculative investments. This should be accompanied by progressive taxation, but I don’t believe that taxation should be punitive but should support fair distribution of wealth (no, I am not that nasty socialist that wants to go after the rich that Willetts portrays). Moreover, it will reduce the demand for government bonds (national debt) because investment in the economy would be less risky, bonds become less appealing.

Willetts and the Resolution Foundation’s plan proposes increased taxation to pay for public services (fiscal conservatism is not negotiable, ergo neither are inflated asset prices nor is the rentier/ private debt economy). In some cases, the taxation is hypothecated. On the whole, the proposal for paying for public services and redressing intergenerational inequality is through taxation (in some cases hypothecated and overall regressive).

Sadly it won’t work.

Willetts is a charming and an engaging speaker and speaks with authority, but he is trying to sell snake oil and it is not to be trusted. He is trying to make a plausible case for the continuation of debt/ rentier capitalism mitigated by regressive taxation. A fool’s errand.

 

Anti-semitism: it is time to listen, reflect and learn

The issue of anti-semitism on the left has to be taken seriously. I do not believe that the Labour Party or even the left of the Labour Party is any worse than the rest of society or any other political party. But I do believe that members of the Labour Party have a special responsibility because we value and regard egalitarianism, equality and justice above all else. We have to be held to higher standards. We have to hold ourselves to higher standards.

There are lazy anti-semitic tropes, conspiracy theories, Israeli lobbies etc. We must do better. We can criticise the Isreali government, but we have to be more rigorous and more critical in the choice of language. We must become better educated in the history and culture of anti-semitism – an insidious destructive and evil form of racism.

We must be aware of the different Jewish perspectives on Zionism, nationalism and complexities of religious and political beliefs. There are orthodox Jews who consider anti-Zionism to be anti-semitism there are progressive Jews who make a distinction (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b083n15d). My point is we must not be lured into bigotry through intellectual laziness and idle appeals to conspiracy theory. It is worth reading the first part of The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt on the history of anti-semitism. Also, see this brilliant video from Eleanor Penny of Novarmedia.

For those with left views, we must remain focussed on our central project, the class struggle against capital, and for human rights and egalitarianism. We must not get drawn into a culture war by throwing around lazy tropes.

The allegations made against the left in the Labour Party are hard, the feel personal since we value morality and our morality is being questioned. It is easy – and I have seen comrades do this in the last twenty-four hours – to lash out and get drawn into mudslinging and in the worst examples, resort to anti-semitic tropes and conspiracy construct. Please don’t – pull back, reflect, read and consider the long history of anti-semitism. When our morality and moral purpose is publicly interrogated we only humiliate ourselves when we do not take the time to think or to educate ourselves. We do not humiliate ourselves when we concede that our past behaviours may have been misguided or wrong. That is the essence of education.

The last twenty-four hours have been a hard experience, but it also presents us with an opportunity to learn and adapt. If we refuse to do that, if we refuse to learn, then we adopt the bigotry of the far right.

Do I think we should ignore those that have used this situation for political gain? No, I don’t. When I see the likes of Norman Tebbit and Ian Paisley Junior standing shoulder to shoulder with Labour MPs, it makes me sick to the core. But like Mehdir Hasan, I can walk and chew at the same time, I can oppose anti-semitism, I can do what I can to make the Labour Party a safe place for Jews, but I can also call out the smears and political opportunism. The opportunism that in itself undermines and devalues the struggle against bigotry, anti-semitism and anti-racism.

It is important to see Jeremy Corbyn’s response not as a concession, as giving into bullies, but as a self-aware, reflective and intelligent response to the situation. It is an outstanding example for party members.

Out of this, we on the left will be stronger, more educated, more inclusive and even better equipped for a democratic socialist government.

On the EU, the Single Market and the Labour Party

The result of the United Kingdom European Union membership referendum on 23rd June 2016 resulted in 51.89 per cent of the electorate voting to leave. I voted remain.

The terms of the referendum stated clearly that the government would act on whatever the outcome of the referendum was.

There continue to be arguments about whether the referendum was merely advisory and that it should not be binding, or whether the Leave campaign lied and misled voters and leave won under false pretences or whether there was a sufficient majority or participation to make it clear.

My view is the result is what it is and that under the terms of the referendum, the result must be respected.  I don’t mean that people should not continue with arguments for staying in the EU, but, in my view, the outcome, prima facie, should be respected.

During the referendum campaign I was equivocal about the EU, I see its benefits but I see its drawbacks too. On balance – and because it would be a Conservative-led departure – I voted remain.

I fully acknowledge that leaving the EU is a huge undertaking, there are many risks and the scale and complexity of the task is beyond comprehension. The constitutional lawyer, Professor Michael Doughan, sets out some of the numerous interrelated constitutional matters that must be resolved. The uncertainty of the process, the lack of planning and the lack of an overall plan, could in themselves lead to a conclusion that we should simply remain in the EU. I have sympathy with that, but I don’t agree.  My two main reasons are as follows.

The first is that ignoring the referendum result would result in a crisis of democracy, perhaps even a constitutional crisis. People having made their decision and voted accordingly would rightly feel cheated if the result were overturned. Moreover, it would add to a growing sense of mistrust in politics and politicians. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer 2017:

Among the least well-off 25 per cent of the population, trust in government has fallen to just 20 per cent, one of the lowest figures ever recorded in the history of the Trust Barometer. This might not be surprising, but the sickly condition of trust seems to have infected even the wealthiest tiers of British society: last year 54 per cent of the wealthiest said they trusted government; this year that figure has plummeted to 38 per cent1Edelman Trust Barometer 2017, Crisis of Trust in post-Brexit Britain, p. 2

It is imperative that we uphold democracy. Although a worthwhile purpose in itself, it is of particular importance when it is the far right who would capitalise: the nationalists and xenophobes who trade on people’s emotions under conditions of democratic deficit and lack of opportunity.

Liberals may say that the trade off is not worth it. Sterling is falling, private debt is rising, growth is slowing and EU workers, as a consequence of uncertainty, are leaving the UK. All this, they might say, is reason enough to stop Brexit.

I disagree. While I agree with some of the above concerns; some, such as falling sterling are not as serious as is suggested. But central to our economic woes is austerity. This has the overriding influence on our economy. That is not to say our relationship with the EU and our trading arrangements is not a factor, but primarily we have to look at domestic fiscal policy as well as our own industrial strategy to see the principle drivers of our economic problems. And this is my second main reason for upholding the referendum result, political economy.

It is the UK’s commitment to liberal economics, over the past 40 years, that has put us in our current economic spot. It is based on the belief that a freemarket, with minimum regulation, generates wealth and this rising tide will float all boats. It hasn’t. Thomas Piketty’s  analysis demonstrates the growth in inequality over the last few decades in the UK, Europe and in the USA. And although some centrist governments have made greater commitments to public spending, liberal economics has been prioritised. This means a minimal role for the state, the reductions and minimisation of public deficits and controls on nationalised industry and services. Furthermore the liberalisations of finance to permit the growth in private-sector debt.

These conditions, often referred to as neoliberalism, have been the defining features of political, economic and social conditions in the US and Europe. The EU, as a supranational organisation, is of this, it has grown under these conditions, its constitution is based on the principles of liberal economics and the freemarket. The Maastricht Treaty and the Single Market are there to engender free trade, the harmonisation of regulation and law across boundaries.

Generally, the principles of the EU are intended to serve humanity and protect and represent the people of Europe fairly and with respect to human rights. But there is a fundamental clash. A clash between the liberalisation of markets, as a priority, and the needs of those who have limited representation and minimal power. We see capital within the European Single Market privileged over and above the rights of workers.

We can look at the EU as a monument to multinational liberalism, a great achievement. But, at the same time, we cannot ignore its limitations in terms of political economy. The power it has been granted means that the centre of gravity within its operations favours freemarkets and capital, over labour and workers.

The Tory vision of Brexit means one of two things, or even a combination of the two. 1) Sovereignty, returning law making and decision making back to the EU, so that the UK elite have unfettered right to exploit the working class of the UK. 2) A reduction in corporation taxes to attract business to exploit UK labour and compete with the EU.

The Labour approach is nuanced. It respects the importance of trade with the EU and the complex supply chains that exist within and without of UK territoires. Trade with the Single Market is of major importance to the UK economy. At the same time, it is important that a UK Labour government has the freedom to have a democratically agreed industrial strategy. This might require nationalisation or state aid. This has the potential to clash with the principles of the EU. It is necessary that the UK remains open-minded in its negotiation with the EU over its membership of the Single Market and the Customs Union.

It is important to be reminded that although Labour did not win the General Election in 2017, its showing was significant in both national and international politics. What the Labour Party has demonstrated is that it is in a position to win a general election with a manifesto that represents a break from neoliberalism. It has a commitment to Keynesian economincs, using public spending to create full employment and manage demand and distribute prosperity more widely and fairly.

This represents a challenge to the EU consensus. I imagine not an unwelcome one in many parts, since there must be recognition of the limitations of the EU’s economic liberalism and the problems and inequalities that has created across Europe.

Given the complexity and scale of the issues within nations and across them. It has to be welcomed that the UK Labour Party is looking to try to negotiate productively and fairly with its neighbours. It has opted to be open minded, but is committed to fundamental principles of social justice, equality, fairness and functioning democracy.

It is disappointing that fifty or so Labour MPs, including my own, supported Chuka Umunna’s amendment to commit to the EU Single Market last week. While we must not rule out such a membership, we have to commit to a more nuanced position. And, while still encouraging debate, I suggest that Labour MPs prioritise party unity. They need to be ready to govern and ready to have some grown-up discussions and debates with the country and with our EU neighbours.

References

Piketty, T. (2014). Capital in the twenty-first century (A. Goldhammer, Trans.). The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

 

 

Government has left a void in education, teachers and educators must assume responsibility

The minority Conservative government is teetering. They have no authority, they have no programme and they have no ideas. The Queen’s speech today was thin, the Conservative General Election manifesto has been ditched. The Queen’s speech intended to allow government to cling to power. So weakened is Theresa May and the Conservative government, it looks like they could collapse at any time.

Since we are without an effective government, it is time for educators to act. We have a duty to provide authority in education, to establish principles, uphold values and implement programmes, in the absence created by an ineffectual minority government. This authority must be assumed collaboratively, deliberatively and democratically, underpinned by scholarship in its broadest sense.

We have been restrained by neoliberalism and disciplined through centralised high-stakes accountability and punitive testing regimes. Consent for this has collapsed. Public acceptance of austerity and neoliberalism has dramatically declined. People want the public services to be well-funded and to serve humanity, rather than serving a few who run them as outsourced business.

Educators now have a new responsibility for their profession and for state education.

For those working in schools, further education and higher education it is time to push back against the economic and intellectual oppression that has characterised the last seven years. It is time to become active within unions and start to organise. We need education to be a democratic, values-based and a community-oriented public service.

In the last few weeks we have seen Tory economic legitimacy crumbling. The need to cut spending and impose austerity has been revealed as a mechanism of exploitation. The yolk of austerity and neoliberalism is slowly being lifted from our shoulders as we come to realise that it has no power to exploit us and exploit our public services.

We need to mobilise across education and demand that schools are properly funded. School funding must keep pace with inflation and increasing pupil numbers. We need to ensure that teachers pay and conditions are improved so that the job becomes manageable, enjoyable and a profession that teachers can sustain long term. This will improve recruitment and retention and ensure that children receive high quality education with teachers who are not overworked, tired and stressed.  We need effective democracy in state education so that teachers have a greater role in school governance, operations and in local and national policy. We need to move away from a system that puts the control of schools and policy into the hands of small numbers of people who are not directly accountable to the communities who they serve and school stakeholders.

This is a time of great change. Therefore, it is incumbent on those working in education to take responsibility and wrest control of education from centralised neoliberalism and give that control to communities, learners and education professionals.

Go now, meet with colleagues, organise and start putting forward your collective vision for an inclusive education, for greater democracy and social justice.

*Update*

Interesting addition to this. Following this post from Geoff Barton.

I recognised the ‘space’ referred to by Geoff as similar to the void I saw develop above.

Rather than trying to respond to Teach Talks in 140 characters, I thought I would do it here, since it reflects the general flavour of this post about the void left by government or as Geoff Barton said, the space created by the Queen’s Speech. I want to address the secondary questions ‘can a weak government lead to greater uncertainty?’ And ‘should we look at a Finnish multi party system?’

The government is weakened and this means that it cannot impose an ideology-driven economic, social and education policy. It is weak in the sense that it cannot set the agenda, it necessarily has to support the democratic demands of the people and show that it is being fair and reasonable in doing this and in managing conflicting interests. It is incumbent on the education sector to define, using deliberative democratic processes, what the range of educational philosophy is and how that will operationalise. This strengthens the hand of the democratic governance of state education. What it is has to be is more defined by what communities and stakeholders (including the teaching profession) want.

In terms of having a cross-party approach, I agree in principle but it is necessary that education has strong democratic governance and is able to negotiate a shared vision for education. The opportunity here for democratic self-governing system can help contribute to this.

There are great opportunities here and organisations like ASCL and the teaching unions will have a pivotal role.

Does deficit spending increase national debt?

A national economy, with a sovereign currency, is big money system. Unlike a household the independent inputs and outputs are not income and expenditure. The input to a national economy is currency that is introduced into the system through public spending. The output is the money that leaves to go abroad, as a trade deficit, currency that is saved by the private sector (households and business) and money that is removed from the system through taxation.

The diagram below illustrates this system for the UK in 2016. The government spent £745 billion2All data is approximate and values are indicative. Data was drawn from www.ukspending.co.uk into the economy on things like health, education, welfare and pensions and defence etc. It removed £680 billion in tax (income tax, corporation tax, VAT etc).

We are net importer, so our trade deficit was approximately £87 billion. In other words this currency left the domestic economy.

To balance this, private sector savings had to reduce to by $22 billion to meet the shortfall. For many individuals this means increased private debt. In other words £22 billion was introduced into the economy from the private sector. The private sector was using reserves or borrowing to deal with a private sector deficit created by government economic policy.

This model is the idea of former University of Cambridge economics professor and government adviser, Wynne Godley. Godley proposed that all surpluses had to match all deficits in the economy. This an accounting fact and not an economic theory.

A government with a sovereign currency does not borrow to spend . It simply credits the accounts of health trusts, local governments and welfare recipients.

Then, it is important to understand how the national debt arises.

Government bonds or gilts are used to reduce excess reserves accumulated in private sector saving accounts in commercial banks. This is necessary to maintain interest rates. If savings are too large then interest rates, as a result of supply and demand, will have to reduce. In order to stop them going negative the government has to reduce the amount of saving by exchanging currency reserves for bonds.

The private sector and its investors, in times of economic certainty prefer to limit risk. Government bonds are one of the least risky investments even though returns might be low. When the government cuts spending, like the Conservative-led government in the UK since 2010, demand reduces and private debt increases. Investing in business or development becomes risky, there is uncertainty that there will be sufficient demand to make the business sustainable. Currency that has gone overseas in trade or that has been accumulated in the domestic private sector ends up in banks and it is necessary for the government to exchange these for bonds, i.e. to increase the national debt.

This explains why, even when we cut spending, the national debt does not reduce and can even increase (see chart below). In fact, taking Wynne Godley’s approach demonstrates that the normal operating condition of a healthy economy is with a public sector deficit.

The period from 2010 shows a decrease in the deficit yet the national debt increased. It also happened 2004 to 2007 and 1993 to 1996. National debt is as much dependent on economic confidence as it is on public sector deficit.

Reference

Mitchell, W. F. (2016). Modern Monetary Theory and Practice: An Introductory text. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.

We all need to get out there and make sure we elect a Labour government

This is a plea, primarily, to those working in education: teachers, teaching assistants, lecturers, professors and administrative staff. This is the sector that I work in. But it is also a plea to all. The General Election, on June 8th, is probably one of the most important elections for a generation.  It may look like the Tories have already got it won with a commanding lead in the polls.  But they haven’t.  There is everything to play for yet.

If the Tories were to win another term in power, there would be further devastating cuts to public-sector education.  It would be privatized, commidified and marketized further.  This destruction would lead to a diminished service and unequal access.  The notion of a quality, free at the point of use, universal education service, from early years through to higher education would be at an end.  Replaced by a poorer outsourced system of provision.

The Tory education system will lead us to for-profit schooling, where the wealthiest will be able to extract profits, subsidized by the state, from our children’s attendance at school and college.  It is called choice, but it is no choice at all.  It is the creation of a market and commodity where there should be none.

On the other hand, the Labour Party offers a public service vision of education.  A National Education Service which will be universal, inclusive and free at the point of use.  No markets, no commodification, no privatisation.

It is not just education, it is health, welfare and the values and principles by which the citizens of the UK want to live their lives.  In the last 40 years, there has been a growing preoccupation with individual achievement and income. Competing with one another has drowned out our sense of community.  It has overridden the essential value of taking care of one another.  People are growing tired of this.  We seek a change.  A better balance between individual and collective.  One in which we can be individually successful, through our endeavours, and collectively successful, through what we share.

Not in my lifetime has the Labour Party offered such a bold, positive and hopeful vision for the future.  One in which the economy works for all, rather than for a tiny percentage of the population.  One in which we have properly funded public services.  And one in which we have full employment which offers fair reward, conditions and progress in return.

This is the vision of the Labour Party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn has been the subject of immense personal attack from the media, from other political parties and even from within his own party.  However, he has withstood this without one word of abuse in retaliation.  He has shown steely determination in pursuing a programme of reforms that have the best interests of the majority of people in the UK.

In the past, we have relied on presidential style leadership.  We have expected that, once elected, a political party will act for us all, going about their work intelligently, efficiently and effectively.  But they haven’t, they have focused on soundbite and swing voter. Too often, they have been self-interested or acted in the interests of too few.

In Corbyn, we have a very different kind of leadership.  An inclusive, consultative and collective approach.  It is a leadership style that listens and facilitates, rather than commanding and controlling.  That is not to say, should the need be, decisive action would not be taken.

We are living in a divided society, a dangerous divided society.  We need leadership that is going to bring us together and unite.  This can only be achieved through careful, thoughtful and insightful leadership.  Leadership that is sensitive to divided voices.

For these reasons, Jeremy Corbyn will make an excellent Prime Minister.

The establishment perceives the election of the Labour Party as a serious threat.  The wealthiest in society control much of our media, the financial sector and large corporations.  They will not give up their control, their power or share their wealth without a fight.  People must demand, together, that they do.

It is not like other elections, where you go and vote and express your preference.  It is not like that anymore.  We need to explain to everyone what is going on and how a positive vision for the future is possible.  We need to fight for this.

That is why I ask all educators to get involved, that is if you want change.  You need to do more than just vote.  In a hostile media environment that is opposed to change we need to get out on the doorstep and talk to people, explain to them and reassure them that another world is possible.

Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party have approached this general election campaign with a positive and hopeful vision for the UK.  Already we are seeing people become motivated by this message.  There is growing belief.  But that will not be enough.  We need everyone who wants change, who wants a better education system and a fairer society, to get involved.

Don’t let this election be lost by not acting.  It is an opportunity of a lifetime.  Let’s take it and make it work.