Saturday, 28 November 2009

Principle vs expediency

As a complete aside, just stumbled on this great clip of Jerry Sanders, Mayor of San Diego (hat-tip: A Big Block Of Cheese).
In 2007 he changed his mind - publicly - on the subject of gay marriage. Although it might seem like a slightly "Hollywood" moment in part, there's also real emotion in this speech and nice to see principle finally triumphing over political expediency. It also shows you that bigotry can never really win in the end, because eventually everyone will know and like a few people who are gay (or black, or transsexual, or whatever). Great.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Jeremy, Jeremy - What's Left?


Also wanted to highlight this slightly old news story about Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North MP) standing in on PressTV (Iranian state mouthpiece in English) for - you guessed it - George Galloway, that nasty apologist for dodgy Islamist regimes the world over.

It does underline the point made in Nick Cohen's excellent book, "What's Left?", where he uncovers the lengths to which the right-on brigade will go in cuddling up to awful regimes, so as not to be considered anti-ethnic. I'm sorry, Iran is a pretty ugly regime right now, and Jeremy, in doing this you are going from being endearingly altruistic to just plain naive.

Disability benefits and what the Tories want you to think

I needed something to be outraged about to blog after a couple of weeks' (well-earned if you ask me!) break, so here it is: the Tories are trying to make everyone believe that Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance are going to be scrapped with nothing to replace them.

It's odd, but this seems to be taking in a lot of our own natural supporters, for an example see the discussion here, not to mention an earlier comment in this blog, from my Darlington comrades, the "two Ians".

Although it's quite obvious that, politically, Labour couldn't possibly get rid of this without replacing the funding from elsewhere (probably diverting it through local councils in this case), Labour is doing a lousy job at putting its case across. Although they quite rightly draw attention to the Tories' outrageous untruths here, what they fail to do is allay voters' concerns by even outlining anything about what they are actually going to do instead.

The Tories' campaign is being highly effective, and we need to deal with it. Fast.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

You can’t always get what you want

As a long-time music anorak, yesterday the familiar words of Mick Jagger were playing in my head as I left the Coachman Hotel after the Co-op nomination meeting, as they often do at such times.

The meeting had just voted, out of a field of two, to nominate the excellent Dan Whittle, which means, under Co-op Parliamentary Panel rules, I as the other candidate must withdraw from the race to become Darlington’s next Labour PPC. A shame, as the campaign had been going well, I’d got some solid support and was looking forward to making a showing in the three branch nomination meetings to come. But this could only have happened in the event of winning the Co-op nomination.

Firstly I’d like to thank everyone who has been kind enough to support my campaign. I’ve really enjoyed the last month or so - it’s reminded me of why I want to be in politics. I’ve really got back into the issues and learnt a whole lot about what really matters out on the streets of Britain. Being fairly selective in the seats that I go for nowadays, it seems unlikely that I’ll fight another one before the election (unless Hugh Bayley decides to stand down in York, that is). But you never know.

I also want to mention, by the way, that the selection process has been handled in a highly professional way by Steve Harker and the other candidates have been of high quality, courteous and chivalrous.

I would only question one thing (and by the way, to me personally it wouldn’t have made any difference), and it’s this: one has to question the Party Rule Book, when its selection process looks likely lead to a shortlist of only four from an original field of 11 serious candidates (i.e. those who turned up to the candidates’ event). There are easy-to-see reasons for this and, if by chance anyone’s reading this from Head Office, I’d be delighted to give you - hopefully in a spirit of complete objectivity - a list of some small changes which would certainly improve the somewhat flawed current process. I haven’t met one candidate who thinks it’s a good system, and that can’t be right.

Anyway, thanks again to those in Darlington and elsewhere who have supported this blog. The Centre Left will be continuing to blog with some political thoughts and rants, although, inevitably, not so often about Darlington. Keep in touch.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Members' concerns #6 - Letting licences

One member has raised with me the new licencing system for landlords currently being trialled in Sedgefield, article in the Echo here, and it's certainly conceivable that it could also be applicable within Darlington itself (and, indeed, any part of the country which has issues with either the quality of any of its rented accomodation or apathetic landlords).

Predictably, the Times bills it as an additional layer of bureaucracy for poor, hard-done-by landlords, which seems a little unlikely to me. It's clear the social problems are a much more important issue.

Whether it can effectively address anti-social behaviour and crime is another matter, but since the pilot is in the next-door constituency (Commons debate is being led by our very own Phil Wilson), we'll have a chance to observe it first-hand and make up our own minds. Certainly it seems to me a step in the right direction, but I'm interested to hear from members on this subject, especially any residents of areas of Darlington suffering the same sort of problems.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Members' concerns #5 - NHS: specialisation versus convenience

Had a chat with a member the other night who made an interesting point: that a relative had to go to Bishop Auckland, Darlington and Durham for three different parts of the treatment for the same condition. Another made the point that in residential care, it was seemingly impossible to find places - even private ones, which most are nowadays - which could care for patients with both physical and mental incapacity.

Are we specialising too much in our search for the Holy Grail of "centres of excellence"? Or is this a necessary price to pay for improving the expertise of medical staff? And if the solution should be somewhere in the middle, where is the right balance?

Comments please (especially anyone from the medical profession).

Members' concerns #4 - The People's Rail?

This is another issue that I know is close to some members' hearts. I know that the new renationalisation of the London-Edinburgh line (which as you all know passes through Darlington, home of the railways) is of the operating company and not the track, but isn't the second renationalisation in not-so-many years giving weight to the argument of the Co-op Party for creating a network where passengers have a say, The People's Rail?

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

OneNorthEast closure

I've just written to the Echo on the following subject, published here with the usual comments:

"I was struck by a mixture of concern and outrage to read in your newspaper this morning about the proposed effective scrapping of OneNorthEast if the Tories were to achieve power next year.

Concern, because it would be typical of the party’s centralising tendency and laissez-faire attitude to regional development, which would undoubtedly hurt the region’s chances of investment. Not that they have ever been very interested in the fate of a region they see as irreconcilably against them.

But it’s more than this - you might expect us to disagree on policy. I’m outraged, because it’s more than a political stunt. In making the announcement that they would not continue with the selection of a chairman under current terms, they are clearly trying to sabotage the recruitment process of a democratically legitimate body. Who’d apply for a job that might conceivably disappear within a few months?

The Tories are playing politics with real people and real jobs, both in OneNorthEast itself and the companies for which it helps secure investment. Beneath the veneer of Eric Pickles’ recent charm offensive towards the region, perhaps this demonstrates much more accurately the true contempt they have for the North East."


As you can see, what annoyed me most was their willingness to show contempt for a legitimate body, and try and hobble it in an opportunistic way which clearly goes against the principles of normal democratic politics. At best, we will end up merely with a period of unnecessarly stagnation, as the headless body cannot move either forward or back until after the election.

Comments please.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Discipline in schools

"The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, they show disrespect to their elders.... They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company…and are tyrants over their teachers."

This was not a quote from a concerned Darlington parent from today, but from Socrates in the 4th century BC. Humans, it seems, have a habit of overestimating the scale of the rebellion or bad behaviour of any new generation, and always seem to think it’s never happened before.

However, could it be true that in certain areas, in the early years of the 21st century, that in some specific areas it has finally come to be true? For example, in Socrates' final worry - that they are "tyrants over their teachers"?

It’s clear that in some classrooms, and certainly in many state schools, disruptive children are preventing others from working, I believe in a way that they really didn’t 20 years ago.

Here’s an example issue, that of physical contact. I've just talked to my dear friend Richard, who is a schoolteacher in Huddersfield. He is assertive, smart, streetwise and funny. A good teacher, and kids like him. But he tells me that he, like all teachers at his school, sometimes finds keeping order difficult. Why? Try the following conversation:

- “Stephen, I don’t think you should be playing MP3s on your mobile phone in the classroom, you know that’s not allowed. Please give me the phone.”
- “No, you’ll have to get it off me.”

Now Richard can’t do what my teacher would have done, simply reach over, grab the child gently by the wrist, and remove the phone from his hand. Because that’s assault. Detentions are useless because the kids don't turn up. He can send the kid to the head, but he’s already sent 3 this week for similar things. And you can’t really suspend or expel a kid for playing a mobile phone, so what will the head do (even if he did ultimately expel the kid, the school loses funding for every kid expelled)? So he’s stuck. And he’s a good teacher – someone less self-confident wouldn’t ever achieve a sensible lesson in that school.

Now, here’s the question: is it right that we are now so protective against the possibility of corporal punishment – or is it that we really secretly believe that our teachers are all trying to molest our children? – that we preclude any kind of physical contact, even when it’s quite harmless and in the interests of the whole class? And what about other things which have changed in the last 20 years which might affect order and discipline, like the seemingly ever-increasing intervention of parents on the side of the child, rather than that of the teacher?

I'm not talking about the wider issues of the curriculum, teaching standards, academic standards and so on - just whether teachers can keep order or not with the tools they're currently given. I’d be interested in your thoughts.
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