Thursday, December 30, 2010
Greece has a threefold crisis. Caught in the systemic failures of the banking and credit crisis, exacerbated by the malfunctioning of its political system and constrained by the structural weaknesses of the architecture of European monetary union, political leaders can find only one answer - cuts.
Others have noted the irony that a crisis precipitated by neo-liberal economics has resulted in its replacement by, er, neo-liberal economics. It seems crazy, like the general in Tolstoy's War and Peace who insists that the disastrous results of his strategy is solely down to the failure to implement it properly and so continues with it. However, there has been a change. Neo-liberalism is a set of assumptions about political economy. As Adam Smith would have recognised, its implementation rests on more than economics, policy is shaped by an underlying moral narrative. For a long time this was an orgiastic celebration of wealth and conspicuous consumption, underpinned by amoral 'greed is good' assumptions occasionally justified by a misreading, in my view, of The Wealth of Nations. Now, we have another moral narrative; Scrooge is back in charge.
Never underestimate the mean and miserable streak in British political life. Dickens's satire was not based on fantasy, but on an exaggeration of existing attitudes. Those quintessential Victorian virtues of thrift and parsimony, masquerading as self-help, persist to this day, reinterpreted as a response to the credit crunch. And austerity as a doctrine is not confined to the right. It has its attractions for the left too. The Methodist heritage, with its embrace of temperance and moral rectitude, is strong and is now being restated in Maurice Glasman's Blue Labour, a response to Philip Blond's incoherent Red Toryism.
Glasman advocates "a deeply conservative socialism that places family, faith and work at the heart of a new politics of reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity." That is just what is needed to energise the left, a dose of Victorian sanctimony. And it is proving influential. Depressing.*
Scrooge was haunted by a different possibility, not hedonistic greed, but another traditionally English notion of Christmas. This too was rooted in a moral tradition; one of enjoyment of life, warmth, hospitality and, above all, generosity. Asceticism and suffering were eschewed in favour of hearty pleasures shared by all. This is the moral narrative that the left needs to build an alternative political economy on, rather than more preaching about obligations and respect, faith and family. It is hugely attractive.
How I would like to see the Christmas ghosts lurking in the corridors of the IMF and rattling their chains round the comfortable beds of Merkel, Cameron, Osborne and Clegg, unsettling their sleep and changing their self-satisfied approach to the crisis. Instead, I can feel an omnipresent, chill spectral wind as it seeps through a taverna in Greece, pointing to the damage caused to well-run, viable businesses and livelihoods by the artificial and joyless withdrawal of demand from the economy in the name of a supposedly redemptive austerity.
*For more reasonable reflections on Blue Labour see here and here and for an account of why this is a natural moral opponent to turbo-capitalism see here. And it is worth noting that a welcome revival of interest in mutualism in the Labour tradition is underway, though Glasman is no Colin Ward.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
He raised doubts for me though when he wrote this:
At the heart of multicultural theory lies a trap. Of all the reasons to be wary of unelected religious leaders asking the state to suspend freedom of speech to spare their tender feelings, not the smallest is that selective censorship leaves liberals with no argument against sectarians from the dominant denomination or ethnic group. In India, multiculturalism has led to the majority — or rather demagogues claiming to represent the majority — to behave as if it were a persecuted minority.Multiculturalism has become one of the targets for parts of the anti-totalitarian left, as well as some long-standing enemies on the right. Alarmed by the rise of jihadi terrorism and sectarian violence both have been speaking loosely of the perils of multicultural policies and argued instead for that old trope of 'integration'. This always makes me anxious and then I came across this splendid piece from Anushka Asthana, a personal account of the experience of growing up in an Anglo/Indian family, defending multicultural principles to the core.
I was listening to the Today programme on Radio 4 when security minister Pauline Neville Jones came on to talk about government efforts to tackle home-grown extremism. "We do think that the previous policy... of multiculturalism, which on the whole emphasised the differences between people, was a mistaken route," she said. The presenter, Justin Webb, carried on with the conversation: no flinch; no surprise; no questions; not even a pause for breath. "For god's sake," I screeched.
Because when did we, as a society, agree that the great multicultural experiment had failed? Where is the proof that policies that specifically celebrate different identities and cultures across our nation fuel extremism in a tiny minority?
It is a great question and one that she answers well. I would go further, I would argue that the critics of multiculturalism are making two categorical errors. They are confusing diversity with relativism and cultural practice with far right ethnic and religious nationalism.
I think that we need to unpack precisely what we are talking about here. Firstly, we have always lived in multi-cultural societies. How else could Disraeli have written of Britain being two nations in the 19th Century? North and south, urban, suburban and rural, rich and poor - above all rich and poor - each have their own distinctive cultures and often separate lives and tastes. So what we really mean when we talk of multiculturalism today is something a bit different. We mean race. Opposition to multiculturalism can sometimes be soft racism.Secondly, the argument that the whole idea of multiculturalism and related official policy has got it wrong, leading to isolated communities, vastly overrates the impact of policy or even 'theory'. OK governments do not always help; faith schools seem a neat way to create segregated schooling for example and there has been some egregious grovelling to certain nasty self-appointed 'leaders'. However, what produced distinct ethnic areas was not government policy. It was both the internal pressures of choice and cohesion and, much more importantly, the external ones of exclusion, poverty and racism. Multiculturalism is about removing the racism, thus allowing for inclusion without abandoning or devaluing other cultures. It is far weaker as a device for examining economic disadvantage, yet it is, at heart, a path to integration, opening up choices and opportunities.
So the trap Nick Cohen talks about is not a trap at the heart of multicultural theory, but two traps hidden in the liberal rejection of it. One lures the unsuspecting into alliances with soft racism, despite the best of intentions. The other is a cover for a massive failure of judgement, patronising the objects of your pity, thus allowing thoroughly nasty and unrepresentative types to win an uncritical audience by claiming to speak for them.
So why did that misjudgement take place? One reason could be that multiculturalism was not seen, as it should be, as being intrinsically connected to human rights. Diversity is welcome, misogyny is not. Diversity, equality and justice link arms and march together and so if there is one area of convergence in multi-cultural Britain it is towards universal standards of human rights, something that is lost on cultural relativists.
The idiosyncratic French philosopher Henri Bergson saw progress as the narrowing of the division between 'us' and 'them'. He was writing at a time when the view that all will be made right as long as certain groups are exterminated was being widely propagated. Now the politics of extermination are with us again. There are groups willing to define others as those to be eliminated for some imagined slight, ethnic impurity or religious unbelief. They are dangerous and need confronting. And this is where confusion has crept in. The very existence of this politics is seen as the result of one of the most effective means of countering it.
Multiculturalism succeeds because it is not about separation, it is about acceptance; inclusion rather than exclusion; seeing 'them' as 'us'. The demand to integrate is not really inclusive, it is a rejection; be like 'us' and you might become one of 'us', stay as you are and you remain 'them' - a thoroughly unwelcome 'them'. Multiculturalism, in contrast, offers diversity. Yet that diversity does not mean the toleration of injustice, it demands a respect for human rights. And this is what is meant by multicultural tolerance, not accepting the unacceptable or romanticising cruelty, but enjoying diversity and respecting difference.
It is easy to misuse the idea of multiculturalism, but there is nothing new about that. Just because authoritarian neo-fascists are fond of using the word 'freedom' and highly undemocratic regimes are prone to referring to themselves as 'democracies' does not negate freedom and democracy as ideas. Similarly with multiculturalism, its exploitation by the unscrupulous should not mean its abandonment.
Globalisation has tempted us with differing visions of homogeneity; a global market, a common culture or the idea of a revived universal humanism, for example. So it is good to be reminded of the value of a cultural and linguistic diversity that does not reject the benefits of modernity, but enhances it with a variety of patterns of living. In particular, Asthana's conclusion is spot on. We do not face a choice between multiculturalism and integration, the two are complementary, one facilitating the other. We should celebrate it rather than sagely nod our heads and discuss how it has failed.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
... Philip Hammond, the transport secretary, told MPs the government needs to consider whether Britain is experiencing a "step change" in its weather which would justify continental-style winter equipment to keep roads and airports open.Don't bother, just read this and hunker down for a couple of weeks in front of the fire. And if he still feels the need to pretend that the government is in charge of everything, read this and squirm.
Monday, December 20, 2010
There is no news, so why am I posting this? To piss off people in Britain, why else?
Friday, December 17, 2010
Friday, December 10, 2010
The medium is the message? No (sic) at all. The real thing is the alphabet, the written word. That is what we mean when we say "book". In this sense we can indeed predict a long and glorious future for the book in its many shapes and metamorphoses.
Thursday, December 09, 2010
OK they have a point about the reporting being a distortion of the proposals. Peter Wilby defends them from the left here, though False Economy challenges the statistics on equity in this interesting post. However, this MP looked unbearably smug when he remembered the bit about part-time students and them now having access to loans on the same basis as full-timers, so not having to pay up-front fees. He almost grinned when he talked of how people with low incomes had been deterred from taking up part-time study by up-front fees and that they were now rectifying the situation.
That was the moment I exploded. The newscaster and the articulate seventeen-year old were flummoxed. They didn't have a clue about part-time learning. Neither did the MP. I do. It was my job for fourteen years. There is currently a national scheme, introduced in 1997, now rolled out through local authorities, that ensures that low income students' fees are paid in full - a grant not a loan. Low income students on part-time degrees now pay no fees. Under these proposals they will have to pay back a loan for much higher fees. This is one area where it is unequivocally clear that the poorest are the losers.
Treating part-time students the same as full-time is long overdue and is welcome. Part-time students should not have had to pay fees up front when it was abolished for full-timers. But the current fee regime is NOT a deterrent to low income students who paid no fees at all. As for short courses, with low fees and generous fee remission schemes, which were mainly funded from teaching grant, it is hard to see how they can survive. Even in the rhetorical battle, ignorance of part-time learning is as widespread as ever.
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Monday, December 06, 2010
Sunday, December 05, 2010
A couple and five staff spent eight days trapped inside one of Britain's highest pubs because of heavy snow.
The Lion Inn at Blakey Ridge, near Kirkbymoorside, North Yorkshire, was cut off since Friday last week, as 20ft (6.1m) of snow drifted against the pub.
When I got my old job at Hull University, nearly fifteen years ago, it was to run an adult education outreach project in the North York Moors with the catchy title, Towards a University of the Moors. I got to know this pub well. It is a brilliant place with fantastic walks all round it. Go there when the weather gets a bit better. The most important part of the report?
The beer did not run out and there was plenty of food at the inn, which stands 1,325ft (404m) above sea level.
There are many, many worse places, some infested with celebrities. Get me out of here? Eventually, but don't hurry.
Friday, December 03, 2010
It seemed more relevant when I heard the news today that the former Labour MP, David Chaytor, had changed his plea to guilty for false accounting in relation to his Parliamentary expenses claims. He is someone with whom I had worked in adult education and was a friend. For a long time he was a rebel from the left of the party, consigning himself to the back benches for crimes such as voting against cuts to lone parent benefit. I remember well his hard work and ambition to get elected, but also his idealism and decency. And yet it has come to this. A career that will be remembered only for scandal.
I really don't understand it. We all seek our own benefit, even in the most altruistic of professions, yet this is different. People in public life are more likely to become targets of other people's political agendas, their disgrace neatly deflecting the threat that might be directed elsewhere. But the action remains, now clearly defined as criminal, as does the responsibility for it. It is an old cliché that every political career ends in failure, though not in tragedy. And this is a tragedy; human weakness, the temptations of power and an idealism that dreams of a better world compromised by a touch of avarice. It is all there and yet I can't help feeling that petty, squalid betrayals end in court, whilst more serious ones win you high office.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Not many people warm to moaning undergraduates, even if they've been moaning undergraduates themselves. Maybe it's because students have got their whole lives ahead of them that it looks so churlish when they complain. Or is it society's inherent ageism that makes it unbearable to listen to someone much younger than you saying that they know best? My inner Victorian thinks they should be seen and not heard. But I don't mind seeing them piss through the letterbox of Nick Clegg's constituency office.Amidst the protests, the anguished op eds and the worries in Universities about being thrust into a market where their funding is determined by the number of students they recruit, instead of the present position where their funding is determined by the number of students they recruit, the more reasonable concern would appear to be that of students who will be asked to fund their own studies wholly, after they have graduated and started earning, rather than everyone paying for them through general taxation.
However, even the most assiduous market theorist seems to have missed the big market incentive in the proposals. Want a free University education? Dead easy. Study something that you love and is totally useless. Then use it to become a community activist, freelance writer, semi-pro musician, political agitator, poet, anything like that. Keep doing it for thirty years before you sell out. I can guarantee that you won't earn more than £21,000 so you will never have to pay a bean back. This new funding wheeze is the biggest hippy creation project in the history of education. Every cloud ...
Saturday, November 20, 2010
A French farmer has been given a one-month suspended jail sentence and fined 500 euros (£428) for feeding his ducks marijuana to rid them of worms.I wonder, does the law on intention to supply specify that you intend to supply them to humans?
Mr Rouyer, who lives in the village of Gripperie-Saint-Symphorien on France's Atlantic coast, did also admit to smoking some of the marijuana.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.One of the promised benefits of coalition was that it would moderate the more extreme tendencies of a governing party. Run that by me again. Nope … can't really see it myself, this seems a pretty radical Conservative government to me.
The latest wheeze is the welfare reforms being proposed. I haven't read them in detail, but the language is clear enough; penalties for refusing a job, compulsory community work, and the idea of unemployment as a lifestyle choice. Underpinning it all is the dreadful notion of dependency culture. I hate this concept. I can find little in the way of empirical grounding and even less of empathy and understanding. In many ways, and I intend to cover this in a subsequent post, it is anti-liberal and even authoritarian in its import. It brings no great insights, it is simply a regurgitation of the worst prejudices of the Philosophic Radicals of the early 19th Century. Its attraction lies in it being a neat way of making punitive policies sound compassionate - 'tough love' in the revolting parlance of the Clinton era. Government as Victorian father. Spare the rod and spoil the child.
I want to make a stand for dependency. What is wrong with it? Why should some people not be dependent? After all, we are all dependent at some time or other in our lives. When we are children, ill or old are obvious examples of times when we cannot function without support. And though we prize our independence, it is a sign of a civilised society that those who fall dependent at any one time are cared for in whatever way they can be. Even more, like it or not, we cannot escape the ties of emotional dependence. Actually, we treasure them and those that don't have them long for them. We are all dependent. Love is not tough.
Dependency is not a stigma, it is an inescapable part of human life. We need dignity in dependence. In political discourse, however, it is transformed into something to be sneered at. Yet this is not really what they are talking about. They really mean poverty. Then that isn't quite as cosy sounding, not nearly as capable as carrying acceptable contempt. Dependency implies individual failings; poverty is produced by structural injustice. How convenient a formula it is then to say that we need to reform individuals and not the world they live in, to talk about the redemptive power of work, of sin and fairness, rather than equity, exploitation and the desperate, inter-generational, self-perpetuating, destructive experience of grinding poverty.
As for employment being universally liberating, I have never really seen how an individual can be liberated by being removed from unemployed poverty to working poverty. What freedom is there in the fundamentally servile relationship of employment, of lousy wages, bullying bosses and the constant fear of the sack? Is this freedom? Is it a free market where of the two sides to a potential contract, one is threatened with the withdrawal of all means of support if they do not sign on the dotted line? Benefit penalties are a form of public coercion to sign a private contract.
I don't propose to enter the debate about how to alleviate poverty or the current proposals, instead I am pleading for us to use language clearly and to describe the ills of our day as they actually are, not as politicians would wish them to be. After all, if we name the disease correctly, we might have a chance of treating it.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Voters seemed to like the idea of a four-legged mayor and gave the Donkey-Ballot 37 votes. The next best ballot of an aspiring mayor took just 18 votes.Old hat. Londoners did the same years ago.
Monday, November 08, 2010
Sunday, November 07, 2010
If Greece weren't so beautiful – if we had a different climate and lived in a different environment without our nature, light and sea – this country would be a very depressing place. Instead, here in Aigio people wake up, take in the sun and somehow feel they can keep going.Well, I don't think that one will work here. Shall we go back to the cheese? No, let's just be nasty to scroungers (and make sure they can't fight back). Nothing like a bit of malicious moral superiority to perk up middle England over its marmalade in the morning.
Mind you, we are still locked in the phony war; who knows whether we will be fighting them in the dole queues or lining up to collaborate in abject surrender when the cuts start to fall. What I am sure is happening is that the right in Britain, and this includes Orange Book Liberal Democrats and not a few New Labour Third Wayers, are part of a political realignment currently taking place. Austerity may be a European fashion statement, but social policy bears an American stamp. At the same time, Labour is unsure of its direction. Does it take to the hills to mount an outright social democratic resistance or find convenient sophistries to cosy up to a consensus that it see as its only chance of winning power once more?
Much will depend on the impact of the cuts to come. Tim Horton of the Fabian Society is with the resistance.
Horton argues that if the idea of the UK coalition government is to pare down services and the role of the state too much in the name of the big society, then it will not work. The British, he says, will not accept it.
"The Tories have long looked to the US Republicans for their inspiration. But they will struggle to import the same kind of politics to the UK. Britain was not founded on a tax revolt, and Brits are highly attached to their public services. That's why David Cameron spent the election campaign promising to protect frontline services."
I'm not too sure. If the coalition hangs together - ambition and power make a pretty strong super glue - it might just deliver the anti-Labour majority in the electorate to the ballot boxes. I suppose it all depends on whether the anti-Tory majority can mobilise itself. And tonight it looks as if the Greek government may have survived its first electoral test. What will emerge from the economic test is another question altogether.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Mackay is an intriguing figure. He was an individualist anarchist and his most successful book, The Anarchists: a picture of civilization at the close of the nineteenth century, is a marvellous first-hand description of the anarchist movement in the London of his day and is a dramatisation of the debate between the individualist and communist variants of anarchism. He wrote one more political book, The Freedomseeker, which met with little commercial success. As well as his poetry he also wrote defences of pederasty, his own sexual preference, under the pseudonym, Sagitta.
Jessye Norman sings this beautifully, with intensity and tenderness. Richard Strauss wrote the music to express his love for his wife. To whom, though, was the original poem addressed?
So, I have a decision to make. Either there will shortly be a revamp or I will allow this distinctly weird habit to fade away. If you see a flash new template here in a bit, I will be continuing. If not, it's been fun.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Meanwhile, in the Hague they do things differently.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Paul Krugman keeps up his Keynesian crusade here.
No widespread fad ever passes, however, without leaving some fashion victims in its wake. In this case, the victims are the people of Britain, who have the misfortune to be ruled by a government that took office at the height of the austerity fad and won’t admit that it was wrong.And remember Clegg, Keynes was a Liberal.
The most amusing article though, and we do need a good malicious laugh at times like these, is by the cartoonist Martin Rowson in Tribune, recalling the first time he met George Osborne, "a bit of wimp, and with an unfortunately unlikable face".
His conclusion? He has,
...a mental image, of the type cartoonists experience, and it’s of an 11-year-old boy sitting in front of an Enigma machine and repeatedly hitting it with a hammer, just to see what might happen. There is, in other words, a stench of deranged naivety surrounding George Osborne, David Cameron and Nick Clegg ...Thanks to Mike
Friday, October 22, 2010
Unofficially consumers have cut spending, enterprises are running dry of cash, banks do not give loans (not even those financed by the EU), local investors hesitate to invest a single Euro, shops and smal businesses are closing down.Never mind, you could always try this.
YouTube courtesy of long running strange email conversations
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
All but the most affluent will be induced to turn away from courses in literature, history, modern languages and most social sciences ...Calm down, calm down. Let's actually read the report. At the moment funding is based on student recruitment and completion. If a university gets £6,000 for a student, currently around £3,000 comes from fees and £3,000 from teaching grant. Under Browne, the full £6,000 will come from fees, paid up front by the government and repayable only when the student is earning more than £21,000 per year. The university gets the same and the student swaps a future tax liability for an increased income-contingent debt liability. Not all that great for students, but this isn't a radical change. It isn't anything like as radical as the initial introduction of fees and loans under New Labour. You will not have to be affluent to go to university, you will have to be if you are to repay the costs. And as the report states, "The financial risk on the loans is ... borne by Government, not by the student".
People have picked up on the fact that teaching grant will remain for some subjects, notably in sciences, medicine and modern languages, and see this as reflecting an attack on other areas. Actually, this is to correct for the possibility of market failure. These subjects carry higher costs, are less popular, yet are strategically important. The grant helps them survive in a world where they may be out-competed by the demand for the humanities. And Browne is banking on the fact that graduate employment rates are just as good, if not better, for the humanities as they are for vocational subjects.
A major difference will come from the lifting of the cap on fees, which may benefit high status institutions whose market position is such that they are capable of charging more due to the status they confer on their graduates, regardless of the subject studied. Though even here the report recommends a levy on higher fees such that,
As the fee amount rises, the marginal benefit to the institutions declines. This reflects the fact that the higher the amount of the loan, the higher the number of students who will rely on the Government to write off outstanding amounts.Even so, this will reinforce a polarisation of income between wealthy elite universities and more equitable institutions.
This was written before the announcements of the funding review and I think that is something to be far more concerned about. Although my instinctive preference is for a system funded from direct taxation and for stable, predictable funding and I do not share many of the report's premises, it is relatively sane and certainly not an attack on the humanities. Browne consciously reinforces and expands already existing market competition in Higher Education, yet the report is not proposing an unregulated market, which may disappoint some of its libertarian supporters.
I have severe doubts that there will be any relaxing of the bureaucratic grip. In particular the need for information gathering and statistical evidence required to supposedly lead to informed market choice may well increase the box ticking whilst the proposed HE Council simply amalgamates all the existing bureaucracies under one roof and I am willing to bet that they will not release their hold on the beleaguered academic drowning in paper.
There are other problems too. Though I welcome the equality of funding entitlement given to part-time students, all is not rosy. Low income students on part-time courses currently get their fees paid in full by their local authority. It appears that this may no longer be the case and that, rather than getting free tuition, they will have to incur a debt. This is a big loss. In addition, the report recommends that "entitlement to Student Finance is in the future determined by a minimum entry standard, based on aptitude". This has nothing to do with "aptitude", it is all about prior achievement. And though 10% of places will be allocated to institutions to offer to those who do not meet the formal entry criteria, this is a centralising proposal and raises concerns for the future of open access recruitment.
When the Liberal Democrats pledged their souls to the ending of tuition fees before selling them in exchange for a place in the sulphurous Cabinet room, they were trying to appeal to the interests of the fabled middle England, seeking to preserve their privileges. Browne doesn't seem to want to disturb them too much either. The parents will be fine, its the kids that will have to pay.
Yet, this report is an attack on something else, the civic tradition, community engagement and adult education - mainstream funded but doing something radically different, something I spent fourteen years of my life building. This type of work relies almost entirely on the teaching grant. There is a big demand, a large potential for growth, but even within the existing funding arrangements its fees need to be subsidised to make it accessible. Without any teaching grant and with minimal fee income within a climate of cuts, it is hard to see how any institution could afford to support it. Certainly, the students would never be able to pay pro-rata fees to wholly fund short courses.
What really is depressing is that the supposed role of a university education permeating the report is more than utilitarian, it views it solely as a vehicle for personal advancement. As a result, English at Cambridge will flourish; it is historic university adult education that has been sent to its grave.
Now is the time for your tears.
Monday, October 18, 2010
The premises of the report are based on one perfectly valid argument. Unlike comprehensive public services like the NHS, used by everybody at one time or another, or those like public libraries, which may be used by a minority but are open to unlimited use by anyone who wants to use them, Higher Education is exclusive and structured in such a way as to be used by a minority, a minority who may gain considerable personal benefit. The minority may be larger than it was and drawn from a wider social background, but there is also a difference between institutions. After all, some universities are far more elitist than others. In effect, there is a public subsidy for the Bullingdon Club. So to get this minority to pay directly for the education that reinforces their elite status is not unattractive.
Browne's critics have been trying to push a mainly utilitarian defence of the status quo saying that the nation as a whole benefits from having an 'educated workforce', that Higher Education creates the skills needed for an advanced economy, although occasionally you hear other arguments about the intrinsic value of a university education. It is mainly sophistry and many of these arguments make my nostrils twitch at the unmistakable whiff of bullshit.
It is an intrinsic elitism that has made universities' public funding vulnerable. Yet it is likely to be the elite ones that suffer the least, simply because they are so damn good at supporting the rich. Institutions with a much more diverse student population are feeling worried. This is an inevitable consequence of an unequal society and a market where the scarcity value of a degree has declined, giving a premium to a qualification from an unmistakably elite institution.
The debate around Browne has been depressingly narrow and, despite his welcome support for part-time study, is dominated by the idea of higher education as being solely for full-time nineteen-year-old students. This is not an accurate picture of the university sector as a whole, where mature and part-time students form a majority, but it is one that policy makers and journalists find difficult to shake off, whilst for some institutions it is broadly true.
When the sector began to talk about widening participation it only meant that there would be more students within the system drawn from 'excluded communities', not making the system itself more comprehensive. And in all of this there were some nasty little weasel words floating around these new recruits - 'ability to benefit'. That implied that there were some people not capable of benefiting, some too thick to go to university, an assumption that a university education was confined to an elite because only the elite were capable of it. From my experience working at the wilder edges of adult education, I would say that is complete self-serving nonsense. There is not, nor has there ever been, any mystery to learning, there are different aptitudes in different areas (I have ruled out a second career in sports science for myself), but learning is a universal human activity and what we call higher education isn't that special.
The challenge for universities was not to broaden the social base from which an elite was drawn, but to become genuinely open institutions. To do this meant offering things that were very different indeed; short courses, open access, distance learning, outreach etc., together with the cultural change needed to be accessible - in short to stop being so bloody pompous. It meant becoming a community asset, building links with trade unions as well as local businesses, working in the community with community organisations, becoming public institutions in the real sense of the term. And guess what, this is what University Lifelong Learning (in all its historic guises - Continuing Education, Adult Education, University Extension etc.) had, with variable degrees of success, been attempting to do all along and look what has happened to them.
This is the great missed opportunity. I can't help feeling that if Lifelong Learning had been placed at the centre of the university instead of at its margins, Browne's options would have been very different indeed. So the question now looms as to how we rebuild from here. Thus far policy makers have only sought ways of funding universities, the point is, as it always has been, to change them.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
David Cameron sometimes entertains visitors to Number 10 in a first-floor room which looks over Horse Guards towards St James's Park. For many years, it went by the bland name of the White Room; recently, it was retitled the Thatcher Room. A portrait of the blue lady has been hung on a wall. But you'd be wrong to think it was Mr C who decided to establish this memorial to Mrs T. He stresses it was not he who turned the room into a mini-shrine to the Iron Lady; it was his predecessor. And this is true: Gordon Brown had the room renamed in honour of the Conservative prime minister who pulverised the trade unions, privatised the industries, sold off council houses, squeezed the state and routed the Labour party.What does this Thatcher fixation have to tell us? Brown is of the generation, like myself, that remembers the era only too well. Extraordinary.
Then, thanks to a surprise birthday present, I have been reading Tony Blair's memoirs. All reviewers, whether sympathetic or not, have agreed that it is dreadfully, even embarrassingly, written. They are not kidding. Take this on the night of the 1997 election victory:
Hadn't we fought a great campaign? Hadn't we impaled our enemies on our bayonet, like ripe fruit? Hadn't our strategies, like something derived from destiny, scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts?Blair is making a nice point about the sheer fear he felt on taking power with absolutely no experience of government. But the language ... and the book continues in the same vein. All I can really say is that this glimpse of some of the thinking inside 'the project' leaves me bewildered at the strangeness of it all.
In the interview he deals with the prejudice and "unreconstructed attitudes" of his team mates - not about being gay you understand, nobody was in the slightest bit bothered about that - about Rugby Union. I mean he played Rugby Union. You have to admit that they have a point.
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
Tuesday, October 05, 2010
The transformation of William Blake's poem, Jerusalem, taken from his Preface to Milton, into a national - even nationalist - anthem is even more odd. The setting of the words to sumptuous music by C H H Parry turned this subversive, strange poem into a patriotic song, taken up as their anthem by, amongst others, the Women's Institute. It is played before every Grand Final, a rousing and emotional precursor, helping build the atmosphere before the entry of the teams. Yet, whatever the use, the words remain, even if stripped of context, and perhaps it makes Jerusalem the best known English poem. And I can't help feeling that Blake would not have demurred at the thought of his words blasting out in front of seventy-one thousand Northerners, celebrating the climax of the season of a sport rooted in the experience of the working classes and born as a fight-back against the class war being waged against them by the officials of the Rugby Football Union.
As for Saturday's final, St Helens proved no match for a resurgent Wigan. Missing their first choice half backs, they were completely outplayed as Wigan took their first title since 1992. The Wigan forwards dominated and their kicking game was devastating. If ever there was a victory due to a change of coaching, this was it. Last season Wigan were a good, if unspectacular, team; a new coach turned the same players into champions. The transformation was obvious from the first match of the season when super-fit players, considerably lighter than before, tore into the opposition. And then an Australian coach surprised and delighted by picking young local players instead of expensive overseas imports. Finally, it was a tactical switch that clinched it. The veteran Paul Deacon was moved to stand-off and the wonderfully talented Sam Tomkins moved to full-back, allowing him to attack from deep.
It was a great occasion, as always, whilst the youthful English talent on display and the high standards of play gave hope that one day we might begin to match the Aussies and end their comprehensive dominance. We can but dream.
Sunday, October 03, 2010
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
There were a few questions buzzing around. Would Oldham lose their fourth successive final and miss out on promotion yet again? They did, despite being supported by a group of African drummers and featuring the extravagantly named Wayne Kerr. Would the main match see evidence of the revival of two of our traditional heartlands clubs, Featherstone Rovers and Halifax, and show that there was life outside Super League, despite the abolition of automatic promotion and relegation? Here the news was mixed. The match was by no means a sell-out as it has been in the past, but there was a reasonable gathering of supporters from two clubs that had been through difficult times.
Then the drama began - a superb hundred metre try for underdogs Halifax from Warrincy, followed by a recovery from the excellent young Featherstone side and suddenly there was an announcement, the game was halted and the crowd behind one set of posts told to evacuate on to the pitch as a fire had broken out in a cupboard under the stand.
Friday saw the last match at St Helen's Knowsley Road ground, their home since 1890. On Sunday we saw why the old grounds had to go. A fire in many of our old stadia, including Swinton's much lamented and never replaced Station Road, could have been a catastrophe, another Bradford. Here everything was managed perfectly, there was no risk of it spreading and supporters were moved away from the area safely onto the pitch and then into another stand.
After a forty minute delay the drama continued. League leaders Featherstone built a comfortable 22-4 lead with 25 minutes to go and were cruising to victory. Then came the fightback, Halifax equalising at the death to make it 22-22. Now it was golden point extra time and Halifax snatched victory with a drop goal to win 23-22 and take the title.
It was a breathtaking, strange and very long day, but all was overshadowed by the tragic news of the death of Terry Newton. He was a fine player, though one capable of some pretty bad foul play, who had wrecked his career at the end by testing positive for a banned drug. A tragedy, but not one that should have cost him his life at the age of only 31. A very strange weekend for Rugby League.
With the Grand Final, a Wigan Saints derby, coming up on Saturday in front of around 70,000 fans at Old Trafford, it's a good time to reflect on the qualities and flaws of a sport that has reinvented itself, embracing a summer season, razzmatazz and a clutch of new stadia without ever losing its roots and its unique, down-to-earth qualities. It's a great game. Roll on Saturday.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Friday, September 24, 2010
After posting an increase in growth in the first three months of the year, official data showed that the former "Celtic Tiger" sank into a double dip recession in the spring.Larry Elliott comments:
The reason for this is simple: the budget cuts have impaired the economy's ability to grow. The Irish government wants to slash the country's budget deficit from 12% to less than 3% by 2014, which would be eye-wateringly tough even if the economy were growing robustly. But when the economy is shrinking, it means the government is in effect running to stand still, hence the calls for even greater austerity to mollify the markets. That would, of course, simply weaken growth prospects still further.Then there is Greece. And Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the European Central Bank, has said, "Greece has a role model and that role model is Ireland." Ah.
Ireland, in other words, is perilously close to locking itself into permanent depression and deflation, from which the only way out may be a default that would further damage consumer and business confidence.
Much of the reporting of the Greek crisis consists of sending someone, blissfully unencumbered with knowledge, somewhere nice for a week or so to write about the crazy goings-on of those pesky foreigners. So it was great to read this thoughtful analysis of the Greek economy from Aristos Doxiadis, written with insight and respect. Doxiadis identifies the main features of the economy to be its reliance on small scale family enterprises and self-employment, a persistent rentocracy and opportunistic behaviour. This, he argues, is a consequence of the history of the modern Greek state and its very different model of development.
In the West, feudalism, monarchy and the Catholic Church interacted to create the absolutist state which was mandated to rule and guide society. The bourgeoisie inherited this state and reinforced its role of societal guidance. In parallel, during the industrial revolution large business hierarchies were developed, which assigned stable positions to workers and clerks. Such things did not happen in Greece: we overthrew the Ottoman state rather than developing it, and we resisted economic hierarchies.Instead of despairing at Greek foibles, Doxiadis makes pertinent observations about the strengths of some Greek behaviour to go with his critique of the features of the economy that are dysfunctional and in urgent need of reform.
In other words, advanced western economies were founded not only on free markets and individual incentives. They were founded on hierarchies (vertical rules) and on strategies of cooperation (horizontal rules). Successful and hegemonic capitalism is free markets embedded in a society of rules and responsibility. Otherwise, it is either a jungle, or a community of corner shops. We Greeks have subscribed neither to vertical nor to horizontal rules. We are neither obedient nor cooperative. If we have avoided the jungle, it is because we have kept the corner shops.
Within this context, we have developed some admirable economic institutions, which western-educated technocrats find peculiar.I would urge anyone interested to read the article in full, it would be well worth your time.
I harbour huge doubts about the wisdom of economic orthodoxy in any circumstances, however the imposition of an orthodoxy, conceived in the context of very different societies, on somewhere as unorthodox as Greece strikes me as destructive folly. Instead, Doxiadis argues for the recognition and support for an economy based on small-scale activities, an alternative model of development, rather than the use of the sledgehammer of austerity, accompanied by wishful thinking about the emergence of a competitive and orthodox economy from the wreckage.
A new model of development for Greece should not imitate the ones that have been most successful globally. We start from different initial conditions, and will follow a different route. Let us accept our peculiarity.UPDATE
But then again ...
Whole EUR 19.000.000 (no typo! nineteen million euros!) was spent in rubbers by eco-friendly Greek ministers in a period of five years.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
The UK and Ireland have been named as the worst places to live in Europe for quality of life, according to research published today.And I am going back there on Saturday. Oh well.
"Last year compared with our European neighbours we were miserable but rich, this year we're miserable and poor."And the weather is crap. Then we do like to moan about everything, perhaps it makes us happy after all. Perhaps.
Monday, September 20, 2010
The fire hits my throat and then goes into my ears. My ears! They ache terribly. My legs wobble. Punch-drunk, I slump on a garden chair.And then, the obvious question:
But what happens next? "Let's be honest here. It's got to come out again," he says. "But it's not going to be as bad as when it went in."
Sunday, September 19, 2010
"Whether people are in a job or not, they almost all report being happiest during leisure time. The employed, however, are least happy when at work or commuting."A new study is reported as finding that, on the whole, work is pretty crap and that not having any is not too bad on a day-to-day basis. I have to say that after three months enjoying a Greek summer I am not waking up in the morning tortured by the lack of a few hours of mind-numbing bureaucracy.
However, the piece goes on,
In line with previous research, the study found unemployed people are less satisfied with their life in general.Well, the hours may be great, but the pay is lousy and then there are all the words in the sociological lexicon - status, alienation, identity etc. Some work can be fun too, because I do miss teaching - but not marking. All of this does suggest though that leisure time, however you want to spend it, should play as important part as employment at the heart of any emancipatory ideology. In the meantime, I shall put my feet up on the patio with a good book.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
In the meantime, just as Shuggy argued:
More than a dozen people were killed and scores injured in confrontations in Kashmir today following a report on an Iranian TV channel of the desecration of the Qur'an in New York on the anniversary of 9/11.Deeply depressing.
To continue on the theme, but change the subject, I wanted to understand the references in George Szirtes' The Burning of the Books so I have just read Elias Canneti's Auto da Fé. The poem is a set of reflections on the novel and what an impressive and strange novel it is, though I have not come to terms with it in my own mind yet. At times disturbing and at others darkly funny, it is based on constant thought and communication leading to total incomprehension, collective and individual, breeding misogyny, murder and madness. And, centrally, it is about books, libraries, "those burning places of the intellect"*, their lives, their destruction.
It could not be more relevant to the folly of bigots.
It is Autumn and all we should be burning are the fallen leaves. The first poem in George's collection is Chet Baker, so this seems appropriate.
*George Szirtes - Postscriptum
Wednesday, September 08, 2010
All the while, sitting at your table looking out over the Argonafton, hawkers from Africa and Asia keep trying to sell you grim religious pictures, cheap plastic toys or knock-off DVDs. God knows what they have risked to get to the promised land of the European Union. Roma children are begging in the street and ask for the unfinished pizza slices.
There it all was, amidst the comfort and prosperity of European life, a hierarchy of hope, disillusion and discontent, as seen from a pavement café in a Greek port.
In the meantime the English press have been obsessing over the Blair memoirs. All agree as to the excruciating written style:
"On that night of the 12th May, 1994, I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct, knowing I would need every ounce of emotional power to cope with what lay ahead. I was exhilarated, afraid and determined in roughly equal quantities."Then there was Iraq, with a consensus, bordering on neurotic hatred, that the desire to bring down the regime of a brutal, mass murdering dictator and replace it with a democracy was somehow an act of unparalleled malevolence.
There was little in the coverage on Blair's social policy, other than to describe it as 'centrist' and essential to winning power. There was even less on the whole Third Way farrago, an intellectual mish-mash if ever I saw one. Few doubts were expressed about the nature of public service 'reform'. And there was nothing on the strange death of adult education, my particular obsession.
When I look at the New Labour years, what strikes me as vital is political economy. Blair was not an unsuccessful Prime Minister, but he was an unsuccessful Labour Prime Minister. Deeply attracted to fashionable nonsense (the weightless economy anyone?), the Blairite government fully accepted and accelerated the Thatcherite settlement, only moderating it through supply-side driven investment in public services. There was an easy association with wealth, privilege and a celebration of inequality, though only on 'merit' of course. And it did this at the very moment when Labour had the power and popular approval to challenge, revise and lead the country away from the prevailing neo-liberal consensus.
And all this leads to the scenes at the port. For us Europeans this isn't desperation or starvation, it isn't the hunger, disease, shortened and blighted lives of the slums of the developing world, nor is it the brutal racism directed presently against the Roma across our continent. It is a feeling of unease that things could and should be better, a nagging worry about the future, a sense of injustice at the immunity of the rich from the sacrifices now being imposed through economic austerity programmes. Lost potential, lost lives, curtailed dreams seem to be an ever present reality. Stories that highlight individual tragedies are sprinkled amongst general unease.
And when Labour bought into the political economy of Thatcherism they made themselves complicit in all this. This is the legacy awaiting the new leadership, only now they have to challenge a coalition government that Blair seems only too comfortable with. We will have to wait and see, but, like Paulie, I am not hopeful.
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
So where are you most likely to find an argument for continued struggle? The Guardian of course where this article, in a piece of psychic punditry, announces in advance the failure of the coming peace talks, or, if by any chance an agreement does emerge, that it must of necessity prove to be a disaster.
The Jerusalem Post, meanwhile, provides another platform for the practical optimism of Gershon Baskin of ICIPRI who argues that, "Failure to reach an agreement would be a crime against both peoples".
In the meantime, the current enemies of just such an agreement, in the same way as their earlier counterparts did, have announced their opposition.
Beneath my shady roof; there thou may'st rest,
And tune thy jolly voice to my fresh pipe,
And all the daughters of the year shall dance!
Sing now the lusty song of fruits and flowers.
The sun, and love runs in her thrilling veins;
Blossoms hang round the brows of Morning, and
Flourish down the bright cheek of modest Eve,
Till clust'ring Summer breaks forth into singing,
And feather'd clouds strew flowers round her head.
'The spirits of the air live in the smells
Of fruit; and Joy, with pinions light, roves round
The gardens, or sits singing in the trees.'
Thus sang the jolly Autumn as he sat,
Then rose, girded himself, and o'er the bleak
Hills fled from our sight; but left his golden load.
William Blake - To Autumn - 1783
I have never been here in September before and I will see most of the month out until I return to the UK. Already there is a sense of Autumn, the mornings and evenings are cooler and though still warm, the heat has a softer quality to it. Despite my ignorance and lack of stewardship, thin branches are bending under the weight of fruit. The village is noticeably quieter, many summer visitors have gone and it is absolutely gorgeous. As the loudspeaker on the hawker's van calls out, 'κρεμμύδια και πατάτες έχω', I have an overwhelming sense of my own good fortune and privilege. What could be better than to be here, now, on a September day?
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Wow. I am proud of that, a fine writer. So how about something else, a bit of academic writing:
Never read anything by him so I wouldn't know. So let's try another piece:
Shit! Quick, delete it this instant. The shame, the shame. Slap another passage in to take the taste away.
Who? Well what about trying something else.
There, that is more respectable, even if some of his politics were a bit dodgy.
Consistently male I suppose, but then I did a bit of cheating and found that Emily Bronte writes like James Fenimore Cooper, George Eliot writes like Charles Dickens as does Thomas Hardy, Thackeray and, I suspect, most 19th Century English novelists. Let's go earlier. Mary Shelly writes like Mary Shelly, but Laurence Sterne writes like Robert Louis Stevenson. Daniel Defoe has the style of Jane Austen. A little more populist perhaps, Agatha Christie writes like Arthur Conan Doyle. Oh well, so it goes ...
Thanks to Shuggy for helping me waste an odd half hour.