This changes everything

I was feeling numb at five minutes to ten last Thursday. I had been campaigning intensely for the Labour party – both professionally and in a personal capacity – for months. It came up on Twitter, the mainstream media were saying that exit polls predicted a hung parliament. And while the Conservative party were predicted to be the largest party, the result for me marked a major change in British politics. It was going to be an exciting night.

So it turned out. As the results came in through the night it was clear that Labour had increased its share of the vote from April polls of about 25 per cent to 40 per cent in the General Election. This was unprecedented.

What is so significant, is the election result demonstrates strong support for a radically different economic and social policy. Radically different from the consensus that had existed between the major parties since the 1970s.

Keynes is back baby. The manufactured consent around a liberal/ neoliberal political economy which focuses on controlling public-sector spending and facilitating wealth creation has been shaken to its core. Particularly because it was the cause of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and it prompted the austerity approach adopted by the Coalition government and Tory governments from 2010 to 2017. Neoliberalism and austerity has undermined public services and exacerbated inequality.

When I say Keynes is back, I mean that we stop the purblind view of the importance of wealth creators, but begin to look again at the role of government spending in creating demand. Wealth creators cannot attract wealth unless ordinary people have sufficient money to purchase things in the economy.

Government can increase that wealth through redistribution (e.g. progressive taxation), increased investment in the economy (e.g. through infrastructure, health and education) and more robust regulation of the financial sector (addressing exploitation of private debt). Since the UK government has a sovereign currency it can use its capacity to spend, tax and regulate to rebalance the economy.

Keynes is back, but it’s been upgraded by contemporary economists. I have written about it in the following posts:

http://stevenwatson.co.uk/2017/01/mmt-school-spending/

http://stevenwatson.co.uk/2017/02/spendandtax/

The consequence for teachers, educators and academics is that we have to start thinking differently. We have to think about what education might look like in a post-neoliberal world. Some of my thoughts are in the following post:

http://stevenwatson.co.uk/2017/05/laboureducationge2017/

Since the Labour Party’s positive manifesto has been welcomed by the country, we must now go further and think about how we transform our education system. Transform from a marketised, privatised and commodified system into a democratic system that serves communities and the nation in an inclusive way. Paying attention to social justice, peace, environment, community cohesion and individual and collective intellectual development. A system that must effectively serve people more and serve less those that run and control it.

Exciting times, I look forward to the debate.

 

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.

A National Education Service is exactly what we need

Jeremy Corbyn has been floating the idea of a National Education Service since his Labour leadership campaign last year. The idea is breathtakingly simple and, in fact, blindingly obvious. The formation of a fully-funded, cradle-to-grave education service is the antithesis of the outsourced fragmented and anti-democratic reforms that have been creeping in since the 1970s. These are a few of my initial thoughts on the idea.

The National Education Service would provide a coordinated high-quality education service that supports learning from early years, through schools, sixth form, further education, undergraduate, postgraduate to adult and lifelong learning.

Schools would no longer be in a position where they are artificially competing with each other, but they would coordinate their strategies and maximise the use of their resources to better serve local communities and regions. It would mean a change from the current fetishisation of leadership to promote mutual and cooperatively run services, where teachers, parents, pupils and communities are recognised as stakeholders and have a greater say in how schools function.

At present there is a recruitment and retention crisis in teaching, a National Education Service would address this. Teachers would have more professional esteem and have greater control over their work, pay and conditions. The intensity of their work would be reduced by shifting the emphasis from centralised accountability to local democratic accountability.

While some examinations would continue to be important, this would not be at the expense of developing broader skills and more holistic school contributions such as the education of the community and emphasizing inclusivity, collaboration and partnership. Certainly it would move away from excessive compulsory testing for the purpose of accountability. It would mean a departure from a narrowly defined curriculum to one which reflects the needs of the community in which the school is located. The overall aim would be to equip students with the skills and capacities to contribute to society and help them develop as individuals. An overarching aim would be to put education at the heart of making society a more effective, fairer and more inclusive functioning democracy.

In further education, it would mean an end to degenerate privatisation, but provide a service that supports post-16 education, both academic and vocational – without necessarily drawing strong distinctions between the two. It would offer adult learning, whether it be developing skills, allowing people to develop their interests or in helping them prepare for advanced studies. University education would be freely available to all and include opportunity to blend academic and vocational studies. The Open University would be restored to a position where it can offer low-cost and flexible approaches to university-level education.

This is ambitious and the main objection is, simply, that we cannot afford it. My argument is that we cannot afford not to do this. Education is not having the impact on society that it should be, it can do more to improve the quality of outcomes for communities; developing skills and knowledge and helping people make a difference in their lives and to the people around them. While all society’s problems cannot be solved by schools, education can be at the heart of improvement, by equipping the next generation to be more active and effective participants in democracy.

In terms of cost, it has been estimated that the bank bail-out, with all things considered was as much as £1.2 trillion1. Much of this investment went toward the preservation of these institutions and the preservation of the wealth of their key stakeholders. The National Education Service would be fraction of this investment. Of the order of tens of billions each year. Investment that would go directly into the economy but at the same time would result in considerable growth. If it were done carefully this kind of investment would have little impact on the deficit but would have considerable economic and social benefits2.

1. https://soundcloud.com/weeklyeconomicspodcast/endofhistory  Episode 5, The End of History. Economist James Meadway citing IMF estimates

2.  I discuss the economics of school spending in the following blog post: https://sw10014.wordpress.com/2016/02/24/how-much-should-we-spend-on-schools-part-1/

I published this post on the Cambridge Area Momentum site previously