Paris attacks highlight need for UN sanctioned action in Syria

In response to the spate of terror attacks by ISIS culminating in Paris on Friday November 13, I consider how the UK should respond.

My article about terror in Paris was first published in Brighton Argus on Tuesday November 17.

THE UN must endorse military action to eradicate Islamic State (IS) and broker peace in Syria.

Paris suffered a vicious assault on its democracy, culture and young people, innocents caught in the crossfire. Meticulously planned, indiscriminate violence.

French military action in Syria is a likely motive.

Read a longer article here about the need for a coherent diplomatic and military strategy involving the UN to defeat ISIS. First published on the News Hub on Thursday November 19.

This is the second terrorist attack on Paris this year. However, the earlier attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo was provoked by inflammatory cartoons ridiculing Prophet Mohammed and targeted.

Read my article about Charlie Hebdo here.

Last Friday’s attack was on a far greater scale.

President Francois Hollande said the attacks were “an act of war”, echoing George Bush’s “war on terror” after 9/11. This is playing into the hands of the terrorists.

Diplomacy, better relations between the US and Russia and, above all, endorsement of all military action by the UN are the best hope of eradicating Islamic State and negotiating peace in Syria and Iraq.

 Arab states, Arab Sunnis, need to participate in all military action because Nato and Western democracies are the enemy of IS and thus unable to broker peace alone.


The mistake in Iraq was to invade without UN agreement.

MPs voted against military action in Syria in 2013, shaken by the bloodbath in Iraq and their part in it and Islamic State gradually filled the vacuum left when Saddam Hussein was deposed.

Labour MP Peter Kyle for Hove voted in favour of air strikes in Syria. Read what he said here, first published in Brighton and Hove News.

Highlights from autumn in Brighton and Hove

Schools in Brighton and Hove seek to combat self-harming by young people

Hundreds of children and young people, mainly girls, are being admitted to hospital every year as a result of self-harming.

They have to wait up to 18 weeks for a referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and up to 8 weeks to see a school counsellor after they have been identified as needing help.

The number of young people self-harming has risen by 40 per cent in just a few years, with 281 under-24s admitted to hospital in 2012-13.

The level of risk and severity has also increased, according to a report to councillors yesterday (Monday 12 October.)

Read the full article in Brighton and Hove News here.

Council Housing Committee investigates living rent

Tenants across Brighton and Hove are struggling to pay their rent because the city is a “low wage economy with excessively high property costs”, according to a council housing committee report.

The Living Rent Campaign petitioned councillors last year asking them to support the aim of keeping rents to a third of a tenant’s income.

Councillors agreed to explore “ways to offer new council housing at a living rent rather than an unaffordable 80 per cent of market rent.”

Read the rest of this article published by Brighton and Hove News here.

Budget cuts in policing likely to affect Brighton residents

Central government cuts to policing are a concern across the country including in Brighton and Hove.

Local Action Teams, part of the Safe in the City Partnership, enable residents to raise concerns about crime and anti-social behaviour with the Police across Brighton and Hove.

Francis Clark-Lowes, chair of the North Laine Community Association and Peter Crowhurst, the outgoing chair, are very concerned that the Police will not routinely be represented at future Local Action Team (LAT) meetings.  “They can’t set police priorities if the Police don’t attend”, said Mr Crowhurst.

He said: “The teams were set up to allow residents to raise concerns and allay their fears. An emergency service is not good enough.”

Read the full article in Brighton and Hove News here.

Whitehall will centralise education at their peril

Whitehall will centralise education at their peril was first published on the News Hub blog.

David Cameron chose a Saturday in August to announce that he would like every existing school to become an academy.

Conservative policy is an extension of the previous Labour government’s flagship academy programme for failing schools but it has changed the marketplace.

The problem with this policy is that schools are about education and welfare not profit.

Successive Labour governments courted the wealthy as sponsors of academies but they did not relinquish their role in education.

Head teachers understandably want to manage their budgets but these Heads must be teachers not businessmen.

Mr Cameron’s conservative government has abolished the national curriculum for academies and free schools.

There will now be no common programme of study and the gap between English exam boards will widen.

In Scotland there is one exam board, everyone sits the same exam: there is no two-tier education system.  It is fair and transparent.

Mr Cameron’s free schools are unpopular because they have often been opened in places where there is a surplus of school places, rather than densely populated areas where schools are oversubscribed.

Like academies, free schools are publically funded but they are new schools.

Labour research in May 2014 found that only 28 per cent or 49 actual schools, out of 174 free schools, had reached their capacity for first year intake.

This means 72 per cent of free schools, or almost three out of four, had spare places during a national crisis where, every summer, parents wait anxiously to find out if their child has been offered a school at all, never mind the school of their choice.

It is shameful that the government is funding 1500 empty school places in free schools while other children languish on waiting lists and parents struggle to home school them.

Labour and Conservative governments have failed to plan strategically for school places from the time births are registered with GPs.

Successful schools, often maintained by local authorities, grow in a piecemeal fashion to meet fluctuating demand.

Local Authority schools become impoverished because government capital grants are for academies and free schools only.

Local Education Authorities continue to play a key role in admissions.

Taking schools out of local authority control is an abdication of Mr Cameron’s responsibility as Prime Minister and reveals how little his Conservative government cares about public services and, in particular, education.

The new world is one where profit matters more than children’s education and welfare.

Schools will sink or swim with business people making the decisions and with no prospect of a financial rescue package.

Heads will need to manage their budgets, nurture children’s intelligence, give them “roots and wings” and safeguard their welfare.

A Conservative government will centralise power in Whitehall without the expertise of teachers on the ground at their peril.

Many politicians have lost sight of the need for public services and the national curriculum.


Fees soar for tenants privately renting

This article was first published in Brighton and Hove News.

Tenants who privately rent are at the mercy of letting agents because agents need the business from landlords and offer them incentives.

The agents are increasingly passing their fees onto young people and other tenants with low incomes who are renting privately.

Matthew Bolton, a private tenant in Hove, said: “In Brighton, it is a seller’s market, they can pick and choose and want reliable tenants.”

He paid a six week deposit in advance for his rental home including a £200 holding fee per person to take the property off the market and £252 for the first person or £384 for two people in administration fees. The fees are not refundable but the deposit is.

Mr Bolton is renting a 1.5 bedroom flat with his partner who is a 32 year old lawyer.  The couple still had to provide a guarantor who was a property owner in spite of their income and age.

A friend of the couple, who has no property owning guarantor, has been told to pay six month’s rent in advance and a two month deposit.

“Some letting agents only offer six month tenancies which means there is no security for young families.  We are sometimes charged more fees to renew the tenancy,” said Mr Bolton.

Graph re letting agent fees

Read the full article here.

Journalism in Brighton & Hove

I am currently working for Brighton and Hove News.

You can view my recent articles here:


Highlights include deputy leader Ben Bradshaw’s MP to meet Labour Party members in the sunshine over a glass of wine on the beach with Hove MP Peter Kyle.  Read the full article here.


The Post Office is currently consulting on a closure of the Western Road Post Office in Brighton.  Up to 6000 residents of Brunswick have already signed petitions available in the area at City Books and other local businesses.  Read about the post office here.

Blatchington Mill A-level student


Read about students from Patcham High School and Dorothy Stringer Schools exceeding expectations as they opened their GCSE results on Thursday August 20 here.

Blatch6 students who took their A-levels at Blatchington Mill School  and Hove Park School celebrated their results.


faraway-lookRISE Refuge held a food appeal for women and children fleeing emotional abuse and domestic violence.  Read the account of Survivor Madelaine Hunter who is now a RISE community fundraiser here.

Photographs of graffiti painted in memory of Rapper Sean Price at Brighton’s i360 can be found here.

A quirky flea market has closed down in the North Laine but Brighton & Hove City Council’s Planning Committee refused an application to turn it into flats.  Read the full article here.

Dozens of disabled people hit by changes to Independent Living Fund in Brighton and Hove

An edited version of this article is available here: Brighton and Hove news

Forty disabled people with high support needs may be prevented from remaining in their homes in Brighton and Hove because of the closure of the Independent Living Fund at the end of June.

Both Green and Labour councillors in Brighton Hove proposed motions to full council yesterday to reinstate or ring fence the Independent Living Fund for disabled people with the most complex needs.

Labour Councillor Hamilton drafted a motion asking for the Independent Living Fund to be permanently reinstated and linked to inflation.

Councillor Theobald, Leader of the Conservative group, said there would be no five percent cut by Brighton and Hove councillors and Labour Councillor Hamilton said the fund is still ring fenced nationally.

Labour Councillor Barford said: “No change is easy, especially no two tier approach.  Forty people in the city now face different assessment criteria because of the closure of the Independent Living Fund.”

Green Party Councillor Page said: “People’s lives are not primarily about money and should not be determined by budgets.”

One of Councillor Page’s constituents approached him and said since he had lost his live in carer, he had become a prisoner in his own home and had no quality of life.

The Green Party would like to see a stand-alone fund in Brighton and Hove.

Section 31 of the Adult Social Care Act provides for the Independent Living Fund and £491,000 has been transferred until March 2016.

In December 2014 High Court Judge, Mrs Justice Andrews, found that as a consequence of the closure of the Fund, “independent living might well be put seriously in peril for… most ILF users.”

Councillors who voted against the reinstatement of the fund believe that additional money will not be necessary.

This is because of the transfer of almost half a million pounds to the 40 people affected in Brighton and Hove for the next nine months.

Full council voted by 26 votes to 23 not to reinstate the Independent Living Fund or ring fence ILF money for individual users in Brighton and Hove until 2019 and beyond.

Let’s track extremists without being a surveillance society

When British tourists die, we glimpse the despair which is a daily reality in many parts of the Middle East and Africa.

Up to 30 British people have died in Tunisia, including a Sussex couple, Janet and John Stocker, who are still missing.

Nothing detracts from the anguish of their families here at home.  The lives of maimed or traumatised survivors and bereaved relatives will never be the same again.

Thankfully terrorist incidents affecting British people are unusual.

However, we should not be afraid to travel abroad.  We must not give in to fear.

In Kuwait, 27 worshippers died and 227 Muslims have been wounded as they prayed for mercy, safety and comfort.

For them, there is no escape from gunfire and growing regional instability.  For them, there is no flight home.

The intractable problem is how to protect the essential right of peaceful Muslims to worship; and stamp out distorted religious extremism that legitimises mass murder.

Unfortunately, armed terrorists will continue to recruit impressionable young people and others who feel out of place in Europe, from Mosques.

Imams must be vigilant and look after their young people.

There is widespread, global concern about militant, Islamic extremists who want to live in an Islamic state, a Caliphate.

It is very clear that Britain is a more progressive place because it is multicultural.

British security services will always track possible extremists but should not over react and spy on innocent British residents.  We must not become a surveillance society.

Parliament will decide if further powers are necessary to protect British residents and their independence.  This must include freedom from observation.

This article was first published in The Argus on Saturday 4th July.

Let’s track extremists without being a surveillance society.


Lib Dem leadership contender brings hope message to Brighton

Tim Farron spoke to Lib Dem members on Thursday July 10 and told them: “Leaders need to be traders in optimism.”

Asked about the general election result, he said: “This is not our first near death experience.”

He was concerned that some politicians, primarily from UKIP, could occupy a place in politics that they didn’t deserve and become an insurgent force.

Mr Farron said: “Let’s have nuanced compassion for refugees.”

He said that migration should be treated as a blessing, not a curse.

When asked about the Greek crisis in the Eurozone, Mr Farron said: “Economics is about people.”

He said that he was apprehensive about humiliating the Greek people which may lead to a swing from the far left, Syriza party, to the far right.

“Mrs Merkel is potentially stoking a monster that we may not be able to control,” he said.

Mr Farron said: “Politics should be at the highest level necessary and the lowest level possible.”

He urged party activists to win a ward in Brighton and Hove and change lives.

Read the full article on Brighton and Hove News website by following this link: Lib Dem Leadership Contender brings message of hope to Brighton


Charles Kennedy was a giant of our time

Charles Kennedy was one of more than 50 Lib Dem MPs to lose their seats last month in the 2015 general election after five years in government with the conservatives.  This was a loss he could not bear.

The youngest member elected to Parliament in 1983, Mr Kennedy rose to become the Leader in 1999 and led the party to its finest hour with 62 Liberal Democrat MPs elected in 2005.

He had great foresight and the stubborn strength of a Scot to stand true to his principles, even if he stood alone.

In 2010 he warned Nick Clegg of the danger to the party if Liberal Democrats signed the coalition agreement with the Tories.

He was a lone voice in Parliament and the only Lib Dem MP to vote against the coalition.  Others had reservations but felt the electorate had voted for a majority conservative government.

Mr Kennedy understood what a formal coalition with the conservatives would do to the membership of the Liberal Democrat party.

The Lib Dems staunchly oppose Trident while the conservatives favour a nuclear college.

Membership of the European Union is a central pillar of the Liberal Democrats who are proud internationalists.

The conservatives, bowing to pressure from UKIP, may agree to leave the EU if unreformed.

Charles Kennedy understood the importance of fair taxation, free university education which they achieved in Scotland and above all the need to oppose the war in Iraq.

His progressive policies saw the membership of the Liberal Democrats blossom and under his leadership more than ever Lib Dem MPs were returned to Parliament.

Mr Kennedy’s force of personality, his wit including appearances on ‘Have I got news for you’, his humanity and very ordinariness, humour without pretension or pomposity won hearts and minds.  An extraordinary brain grounded by Highland crofts.

This must be Charles Kennedy’s legacy: his clear, principled desire to do what was right and what Liberal Democrat members expected of him.

Let us hope that the Liberal Democrat remnant in Parliament, those seeking new ways to influence politics and the growing membership will be mindful of this 2005 legacy: freedom, fairness and above all trust.

This blog post was sent to Lib Dem Voice and Charles Kennedy’s book of condolences for his family.

Ten reasons to vote for the Liberal Democrats

Ten reasons for voting Liberal Democrat are outlined below in an article for the Newshub but Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Liberal Democrats, speaks for himself first.

Deficit Reduction

“Importantly, Liberal Democrats will cut £50bn less than the Tories and borrow £70bn less than Labour, making our plans the fairest of the lot.”  David Laws, Head of the General Election Manifesto 2015.

Watch Nick Clegg’s economic red line here.

Liberal Democrat manifesto pledges about the tackling the economic deficit can be found here. 

Electoral Reform

The Liberal Democrats are profoundly democratic believing in greater devolution within the United Kingdom.  Proportional representation gives the smaller parties like the Greens and the nationalist parties a greater voice in Parliament.  Reform of the House of Lords will make it a majority elected rather than an appointed Chamber.  Read more about reforming politics here.

Challenger’s election debate: “a meeting of supreme Soviets.”

Read my analysis of the general election debate published on the News Hub here:  the challengers debate, a meeting of the supreme soviets.

Ed Miliband waved goodbye to his ambitions to enter Downing Street on May 8th.  Or did he?  Not everyone agrees with me.  He wants an outright majority, who doesn’t?  Mr Miliband did say: “let the people decide.”

In fighting for this, Ed Miliband categorically ruled out a coalition with the SNP because they may seek another independence referendum in the next 5 years.

Nicola Sturgeon said she would be happy to work with Labour and make Labour bolder to deliver real change:  “Don’t turn your back on that Ed.”  Nicola said that the SNP would never, ever do a deal with the Tories.

Ed Miliband was attacked for offering a “Tory light” manifesto.   Ed, like David Cameron, sought to identify Labour with Britain’s working people.

Read more here.

Churches unite to fight homelessness

VOLUNTEERS from churches across Brighton and Hove have been offering homeless people roast beef, bread and butter pudding and a bed for the night to fight homelessness.

The full article was first published in the Argus on Monday 2nd March.

Rebecca Ariaman and John Walters are among those who volunteer at Holland Road Baptist Church.

Andy is one of the homeless men.  He said many of the people who are homeless have mental health problems.  He added: “Many men go to prison and pay their debts to society but they are not allowed into the hostels when they come out.

“Society needs to trust people.”

Andy was previously a security guard, travelling to work at Old Trafford, Ascot, the Grand National and all the major music festivals. He remembers working at a David Bowie concert in 2000 and once opened the door for the Queen.

He added: “I am responsible for my life.”

Andy said a judge once told him he was a “victim of a society that doesn’t care and doesn’t understand.”

Andy Winter from Brighton Housing Trust discussed the problems and the need for investment and compassion.

First published in the Argus.  Follow this link to read the full article.

Free press should not be intimidated

First published in the Argus on Saturday 10th January 2015:

The journalists at Charlie Hebdo paid the ultimate price for their satire because humour can inflict deep wounds.  Their pen was merciless and Charb was not deterred by death threats.  No public figure has immunity.  Free speech and free press are pillars of Western democracy.  We must not be silenced by jihadists but neither should we play into their hands with ever more draconian legislation.  To read more click here.

Trade opens up a brighter future for Pakistan

Edited version of the article below published in the Argus on 6th January: Tool will aid trade routes.

The University of Sussex has developed economic trade software called TradeSift to improve trade between Pakistan, India and other emerging economies.

Pakistan’s Minister of Commerce, Mr Khalid Hanif, is experimenting with the tool while studying law at University of Sussex.

TradeSift allows countries to calculate their comparative advantage by identifying high value products that will sell well abroad.

Mr Hanif said: “When you have money in enemy territory, then you will not fight.”

Before the war in 1965 56% of imports to Pakistan came from India and there were 11 trade routes.  Now there is only one.


He explains that the diplomatic impasse is short sighted and unnecessary because Pakistan and India share culture, language, crop patterns, mountains and glaciers feeding the rivers.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was set up in 1985 to enhance trade and cooperation in the region.

SAARC consists of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Bhutan, the Maldives, Nepal and Sir Lanka with some observer nations.

Mr Hanif says: “Two countries have made SAARC a hostage: India and Pakistan.   Other countries are becoming a victim of Pakistani and Indian rivalry.”

TradeSift may be the beginning of a solution to improve diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan because trade brings prosperity according to Mr Hanif.

Dr Holmes said that the aim of TradeSift workshops is to get selected attendees together in “track two talks” before they end up meeting across the negotiating table.

650 sign petition in bid to save Brighton pub

First published in the Argus on 8th November 2014:

650 campaigners have signed a petition to save a Brighton pub from being turned into flats.

The Rose Hill Tavern, Rose Hill Terrace, off London Road, Brighton, was sold by national pub chain Enterprise Inns, to Evenden Estates, a family-run chartered surveyor business.

Follow this link to read the full story.
Continue reading 650 sign petition in bid to save Brighton pub

Fears mount over TTIP trade treaty

The European Union is on the brink of signing a transatlantic trade and investment partnership (TTIP) with the US which risks giving more power to large transnational corporations. 

A public meeting was held at Lewes Town Hall on Thursday 2nd October to discuss concerns with the TTI partnership organised by local campaigner, Ann Cross.

EU trade standards and markets are threatened by a trade treaty with US

The treaty could threaten standards of the food industry and increase the intellectual property rights of pharmaceutical companies across the EU.

Linda Kaucher, researcher into international trade at the LSE, explained that the treaty could result in regulatory harmonisation, that is: “a boiling frog.” 

If health services are already in the commercial sector, it would be more difficult to exclude US companies.  The impact of TTIP on services that are not already privatised is not yet clear.

The purpose of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership is to open up the European Union markets to the US and stimulate economic growth. 

It will also serve to simplify the large number of bilateral trade agreements between countries and could become a gold standard.    

Dr Peter Holmes who attended the meeting said: “every trade agreement is not a neoliberal conspiracy.” 

Dr Holmes is a Reader in Economics at the University of Sussex.  He believes that the negotiations will continue for some time because they have to be approved by the European Parliament, individual governments in the EU Council of Ministers, Parliaments across Europe and the US Congress. 

However, the US bans eight chemicals, the EU bans 1300.  Up to 70% of processed food produced in the US is genetically modified. 

Ms Kaucher said: “the European Union needs regulatory cooperation, not harmonisation.”   

Corporations would also be allowed to challenge governments for any discriminatory measure through arbitration known as the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS.) 

The taxpayer will have to meet the legal costs which will make regulation even more difficult.  

For example, Vattenfall, the Swedish energy company is taking legal action against Germany because of a policy change to phase out nuclear power.     

Campaigners fear that transatlantic corporations will monopolise EU and US markets.  Although it is impossible to predict the future, Dr Holmes said: “multinational companies on both sides are likely to find life more convenient.” 

This article was first published in the Argus in October 2014.


The West Lothian Question Answered by a Scot

Our system of government is like a great tree, long in the making. Tinker with its roots and you imperil the entire structure.

The question: should Scottish MP’s be allowed to vote on English issues and vice versa has an answer. It is: Yes. Why?

The answer was given in 1871 by John Stuart Mill who, expected to vote reflecting the wishes of his constituents and said that he was not put in parliament to be a puppet but to exercise his discretion. He was elected to make judgements based on his intellect, education, honesty, decency, courage and insight.  These qualities we expect in our MPs, all of whom can be expected to vote on every issue for the good of the union as a whole.

If not, MPs should not be there.

In wartime they are invariably present (recalled to Parliament today to debate Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.)  MPs are less present in times of peace. The values we Britons possess assume this care for the Union as a whole.

If every decision on the interior, domestic issues of Scotland were to be taken only by Scots that would probably be a bad idea. The expensive fiascos of the Scottish Parliament building, the Edinburgh trams  that do so little for traffic chaos and the opera house that failed to get off the ground for 40 years should cast doubt on the idea that ‘We can look after our own interests best.’ What we need looking after our interests, are the best people in the Union, a different thing.

The House of Lords is one of the glories of our system. Why should the best brains be excluded because they have no experience or taste for electioneering? While the Commons is full of self-promoters, it is a good balance to have a chamber where the unelected, excellent can be influential. What great poet or scientist could be bothered to canvass his election? He has better things to do. A chamber full of brilliant folk whose first concern is not politics is a check on the other.

The current problem of the Union is not that it requires further devolved powers. That is probably a mistake. Devolution of powers should always be temporary to see if it works and should be taken away if it does not, or adversely affects other parts of it. The extent to which powers are devolved should be reviewed from time to time.

The root cause of the 45% vote for Scottish Independence is not lack of self-governing powers but lack of respect for the English and vice versa. A union without respect on both sides can be expected to divorce.

The very word ‘English’ is a hate word to many Scottish ears. They will support any country playing England at sport but never England.  The English supported Andy Murray in his historic win at Wimbledon.

That Scots have to cross the border with Bank of England notes (instead of our own) is an outrage every Scot is aware of. There ought to be one banknote for the Union, it should have the Queen’s head on it and best of all, if the very institution is changed to ‘The Bank of Britain’. That elementary move would do much to decrease the heat of rage in many Scottish hearts. There is a perception by Scots that the English are arrogant, patronising and selfish. That needs to change. The concept of ‘The Briton’ has to be put above that of the Scot or the Englishman. The Union must come first.

A decade ago racist language was outlawed. It worked, largely. Disrespect within the union between brother nations should likewise be outlawed. Snobbery, arrogance, have no place in our union. Excellence in every dimension is what we seek and what we should stand for. A proper respect for those well off or endowed is part of it.

What must not change is Westminster itself. That is one of the glories of this Union. It should remain preeminent, no matter that there are devolved parliaments. And every one of our 650 MPs should be expected to vote on every issue.

William Scott, Rothesay, Isle of Bute

“Walk through the open door and take your place at the negotiating table.” F W de Klerk

President F W de Klerk opened the gate, ending apartheid and paving the way for democratic elections, freedom and equality.  This is part 2 of the political situation in South Africa: a ‘white South African’ perspective which in no way undermines Mandela’s mighty achievement documented in my December blog post. 

In December of last year I joined journalists and commentators from around the globe in paying tribute to Nelson Mandela.  Through his suffering, he was transformed from a passionate and happy go lucky civil rights campaigner and freedom fighter to a giant who pioneered freedom from apartheid for black South Africans.  The cost was 27 years of incarceration, solitary confinement and hard labour on Robben Island.  The prize: equality between black and white South Africans.

Nelson Mandela is the name we know who achieved international acclaim but he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with President F W de Klerk.  The white South African Leader encouraged the emancipation of black South Africans and sprung the end of apartheid upon white South Africa.  This followed protracted negotiations with Mandela and the other leaders of the ANC.  White South Africans held the power, including the Police force and the military might of the country as well as forming the Government.

President F W de Klerk ended apartheid in 1990 in one historic speech and explained why he was given the Nobel Peace Prize alongside Nelson Mandela.  F W de Klerk invited all political parties of every colour and race to, “Walk through the open door and take your place at the negotiating table.”

In 30 minutes on 2nd February 1990, ‘President F W de Klerk had dismantled apartheid.  He ‘unbanned’ 30 other political parties unconditionally, released political parties’ prisoners with immediate effect, lifted the state of emergency and suspended the death penalty.’

Most significantly of all, De Klerk ‘opened the way for South Africa’s first fully democratic election in 300 years by promising “a totally new and just constitutional dispensation in which every inhabitant will enjoy equal rights, treatment and opportunity.” De Klerk announced an independent judiciary and a commitment to equal justice for all enshrined in a new human rights manifesto.’  (Independent 02/02/10)

F W de Klerk wanted to seize his moment in history and protect his legacy.  He didn’t mention Nelson Mandela until late in the speech and only then named Mandela as a key player in negotiations, affirming Mandela’s willingness to participate in peaceful discussions.  A little known fact is that Mandela had refused unequivocally, when offered his release five years before, on condition he renounce violence.  De Klerk now confirmed Mandela’s unconditional release and promised an end to persecution.  Only then could Mandela trust F W de Klerk.

The comparison is when Gerry Adams, a former terrorist, was allowed to appear on television, write in the newspapers and eventually stand for election to the British Parliament in Westminster.

Why does this matter and what is happening now, twenty years later?

There is violence on the streets and in the townships from time to time, as before.  There is great wealth inequality but now the Black South Africans wield the power.  The giant who was Nelson Mandela has passed away in the natural cycle of life.  White South Africans hesitate to travel around South Africa for fear of reprisals and anecdotally the younger generations feel more kinship to the Germans after the Second World War than any other race or nation.

Confused, some consumed by guilt, white South African men unable to protect their women and families.  The result: they live in gated compounds with swimming pools, seeking to shelter themselves from violence on the streets, hatred and incomprehension.  The ruling White South Africans were oppressors, F W de Klerk dismantled the oppressive structures.  Mandela willed black South Africa to celebrate their freedom and forgive which is the only way that peace and true democracy will flourish in a united South Africa.

The father of a White South African friend of mine suffered the far lesser torment of relentless insomnia for 10 years before being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  This disorder is not incarceration and hard labour for 27 years but is indicative of significant trauma.  The failure to diagnose the condition underlines the complexity and everyday tragedies witnessed by Doctors working in South Africa.  My friend’s wife, who was her husband’s carer for more than 10 years, needs a garden and has moved to Britain because her husband requires the security of a flat with an armed guard and concierge.  White South Africans are afraid that the disorder in Zimbabwe may befall South Africa.

In the Western World, a house in a safe neighbourhood with a garden is the norm for a middle aged couple.  Some households cannot afford a garden but the safety of civilians including women and children is protected and enshrined in most constitutions and any racial incidents rightly herald a public outcry.  The family of Stephen Lawrence has served Britain well, in confronting institutional racism head on.

My hope is that Black South Africa will continue to be able to forgive, not seeking retribution nor reprisals but peace and understanding.  There will be corruption, anger, resentment, incomprehension and belligerence but unity must triumph.  As Desmond Tutu aptly immortalised the words in his book, ‘there is no future without forgiveness.’  The intransigence, foresight and willpower of Nelson Mandela and F W de Klerk must live on and the new nation of South Africa, now 20 years old, must become a mature democracy.


The Legacy of Michael Gove

Why did the teaching community celebrate when Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, lost the education brief?

Michael Gove will now be Chief Whip which is clearly a demotion.  David Cameron protests too much because he needs Michael Gove to be a close ally, strategist and ultimately the Rottweiler tasked with maintaining Party discipline.  Keeping order among MPs is no easy task.  It is also not glamorous.  Michael Gove’s reach will now be limited to working within the Conservative Party.  It is unwise to let a Rottweiler off the lead.

Teachers, teaching unions, and the community of the Pressare rejoicing.  Will anyone be sad to see Gove leave the frontbench?  What is Michael Gove’s legacy?

Michael Gove was right to try to drive up educational standards.  Under the Labour administration, the average child was expected to attain 5 GCSEs at grades A* to C.  The Coalition would like to see the average child attain their best 8 rather than best 5 GCSEs.

The Coalition Government has introduced the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) as the performance measure for students to reach by the age of 16 at Key Stage 4.  A student’s performance, when they take their GCSEs, will be measured across 8 subjects, not 5.

‘Expected progress’ measures a student’s progress based on prior attainment.

The English Baccalaureate (EBacc) consists of three baskets.  Basket 1 contains compulsory core subjects which are English and Maths.  Basket 2 contains a choice of three other academic EBacc subjects from a menu of Sciences, Humanities and Languages.  Basket 3 contains the last 3 options which include approved vocational qualifications, further EBacc subjects and other GCSE subjects.

The Coalition Government are right to insist on numeracy and literacy and embed this strand of learning into all GCSE subjects and post 16 provision.

ICT should include some computer programming but not at the expense of learning how to use software, cloud and social media.  Both development and understanding of software and expertise in its use matter.

It is very dangerous for Free Schools and Academies to opt out of the national curriculum.  The double standards, which are a consequence of the plethora of exam boards, demonstrates the problem.  This lack of consistency will only increase if the national curriculum applies exclusively to maintained schools.  The conservatives believe in small government.  The Liberal Democrats believe in minimum standards and a fair opportunity for all to attain their personal best.  The beauty of the Scottish system is that there is only one exam board so everyone meets this single standard.  As the educational landscape fragments, chaos will intensify until a new Government re-introduces the national curriculum.

Learning needs to be contextualised, practical and vocational to give young people skills for life as well as rigorous academic training.  Children need to learn employability skills and to keep pace with technology, as well as to think independently.

Michael Gove was wrong to take world history off the curriculum: the civil rights movement in America; the impact of communism in Russia, Eastern Europe, Cuba, Yugoslavia and China are vital in current understanding of the world today and in recognising the possible flash-points.

The previous Labour Government were right to consult teachers because teachers are highly intelligent, optimistic and humane role models in an increasingly frantic and fragmented world.

Students must learn about wealth inequalities both in Britain and abroad: the difference between the often frenetic pace of life in the West, compared with the extreme, heart rending poverty of developing countries.  Countries which are devoid of the basic necessities, enshrined in British law after the Second World War.

Beveridge was an economist and social reformer, a Liberal Advisor to Lloyd George in the landslide Liberal Government in 1906 that changed Britain forever for the better.  He was tasked with rebuilding Britain after World War II.  Beveridge identified 5 Giant Evils: Squalor, Ignorance, Idleness, Want and Disease in 1942.  He introduced the welfare state that protects the most marginalised, while encouraging individual enterprise and innovation and condemning idleness in every event.  Beveridge was fundamentally a humanitarian who understood the importance of dignity: ‘man is the measure of all things.’

Britain is one of the most civilised nations in the world with a rich democratic heritage.

The challenge for Nicky Morgan, the incoming Education Secretary is to ‘listen and learn.’  (Tony Blair, upon being re-elected in May 2005.)

Education needs to evolve and keep pace with changes in society, particularly the digital revolution, while tackling global wealth inequalities.  Only time will tell whether Nicky Morgan succeeds in her mighty endeavour.

Europe: left or right?

May 2014, local and European elections: the demise of the Liberal Democrats, the rise of UKIP?  Did voters choose UKIP out of ideological commitment?  Some chose UKIP because of their tough stance on immigration.  The majority, however, let us hope chose UKIP to give the main ‘established and establishment’ parties a bloody nose.

Why? Because many voters feel disenfranchised and unrepresented.  Alienated from the political process.  The Liberal Democrats used to be the party of protest.  Now it is UKIP, dubbed dangerously as the ‘governing party’ (read majority UK party here) in the European Union whose raison d’etre ironically, is to bring Britain out of Europe and disrupt European proceedings on every possible occasion.

The picture in Britain was replicated in parts of Europe.  In France the National Front Party won 24 seats and came top in 70% of the country’s regions.  The Golden Dawn Party under criminal investigation as a criminal organisation with several members in prison in Greece won three seats, (there is better news below: read on!)    Only Angela Merkel, it appeared, retained her moderate, pre-eminence in Germany.

The first piece of good news is that the pro integrationist parties in the European Union still hold a majority.  It is interesting that Nigel Farage decided not to join Marine Le Pen’s far right block.  It may be that the nationalists within Europe will achieve smaller government or rather mitigate the compulsion to regulate and legislate.

Secondly and significantly, there is another story less reported in this European election which merits attention.

In Greece, Syriza, the left wing opposition, won the majority of seats, following a successful campaign against the austerity policies of the Government.

In Italy, Matteo Renzi and his centre left party won 40% of the vote.  Forza Italia, Berlusconi’s party came a poor third.  The massive endorsement of Renzi is controversial:  ‘He was the elected mayor of Florence and holds no seat in parliament; he became prime minister in February at the invitation of Italian president Giorgio Napolitano. The result gives him the mandate he lacked’… perhaps.  (Guardian Shortcuts Blog.)

In Portugal, the country’s opposition Socialist party topped the poll with around 31.5% of the vote. The reason was an electorate registering its objection to austerity measures and leaving the country’s euro bailout programme earlier this month.

A new protest party Podemos (“We can”) took nearly 8% of the vote and five seats in Spain.  Coalition group United Left gained an additional four seats bringing to 9 the number of left wing representatives elected.

If there is a unifying rationale of the left-wing electorate, it seems to be opposition to austerity measures.  In Britain however, the economy is beginning to boom again, quite possibly thanks to austerity policies, but this is not reflected in the nation’s pay packet.   Disgruntled earners from every income bracket are looking for someone to blame.

Let us therefore look beyond our island and France to southern Europe and know that, “we can” make Britain great because it is in its very essence, multicultural and tolerant.  Innovation and enterprise thrive where difference is embraced and Britain is greatly enriched and enlightened by the cultural exchange.

It may be that Spain has part of the answer to the disenfranchised electorate as Errejon from Podemos explains: “We don’t just want to be part of a political system that is decomposing. Spain isn’t lacking political parties. But what’s missing is citizens engaging in politics. And we want be a tool for that.”  (Guardian, 27.05.14)  Let us hope Podemos does not become like Occupy: history will be the decider.

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