Saturday, 26 April 2014

After more thean 40 years, I am voting against Labour.

Part 1 29-04-2014

I read an email today from Iain McNicol, General Secretary of The Labour Party. He wrote:


It's brilliant to have you on our team — and we're relying on supporters like you to help us win the next election.

But I was talking with Ed the other day, and I realised I couldn't answer all his questions about who you are and why you're fighting to beat the Tories with us.

Ed wants that to change. You're one of hundreds of thousands of Labour members and supporters, and we want to know how you feel about our party, our politics, and our country.

So, our first question for you: How would you complete the sentence below?

"I vote because..."
The questionnaire that followed gave me no opportunity to challenge the basic premise that I still support Labour. It was the kind of assumption-loaded questionnaire that I  used  to help my students re-write before I left teaching.

I completed it though. I can imagine the research assistant trying to harvest the precious data and trying to make something  of it that would help the good cause.

Out of respect for Iain McNicol and the eager researcher I also replied to the email to explain the problem that I now have with  Labour.  This is what I wrote:


I have completed your survey, but I do not intend to vote Labour at the forthcoming European Election. The policies and leadership currently offered by Labour seem pretty similar to those promoted by Edward Heath's Conservatives in the early 1970s. Why would I vote for that?

I see no challenge whatsoever to undemocratic control of our affairs by large corporations and banks. Policies on education and welfare are pale versions of Thatcher and you have given up on the NHS. Why would I vote for you?
Given that our democratic and economic future is now beyond salvation I feel that all I can do is express my alarm at the environmental disasters that corporations are inflicting on us by voting Green.

Show me, emphatically and dramatically, that Labour has environmental issues at  its heart and I might consider coming back.
Having had to put up with Blair for so long, and seeing nothing clear or definitive to follow I feel betrayed and politically homeless.
So sorry. No donation and no vote.
Sam Saunders
Part 2  29-04-2012

I was pleased to get a reply to that email today. I was less pleased to read it. It seems to be an automated reply with a quote from my questionnaire pasted clumsily into the body of a predetermined message. If anyone did read my email, they didn't tell the robot what I was actually saying. This is what "Iain McNicol" had sent to me by a minion with a database:

  Sam —

We really appreciate you taking our survey.

We've already taken a look at some of your responses — and one in particular struck us.

You told us that the thought of another five years of Tory government made you feel "distraught".

I want to assure you that we are doing everything we can to win the election next May.

One thing you can do is make a donation now, so we can run the strongest campaign possible. It takes less than two minutes, and we will use every penny you give us to fight the Tories.

You told us in your survey that if things carry on as they are, you think life in Britain will get worse in the next 30 years.

If we work together now, we have a chance to make it better.

— Iain

Iain McNicol
General Secretary
Labour Party
If anyone reading this knows someone near the top of the Labour Party please tell them that sorting out what Labour is for and what its elected Government might try to do I would be inclined to listen. "Fighting the Tories" is a pale echo from another era, a hollow yelp of nothing at all in the face of a betrayed  political dream. Paying money for stupid email shots and automated thinking is not my idea of serious politics.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Prejudice and belief in education

When I started University in 1969 I had been reading about and arguing about education for about four years.

I had been at a Grammar School and my younger brother had won a place at a Direct Grant Public School via the 11+ system. Our father became a junior school head teacher and our mother was a secondary teacher, mostly working with troubled children. Both had come from working class backgrounds in the pre-war years. My brother and I talked and argued a lot about education. He hated his Direct Grant School but liked one or two of the teachers. I was bored with the dullness of my Grammar School teaching but I enjoyed the trips, the sport and the friendships. Neither of us learned a lot at school but we both read a lot and followed current affairs. We were both impressed by the film "If", with Malcolm McDowell playing the part of ourselves. I read things like John Holt's "How Children Fail" and A.S. Neil's "Summerhill". We both read Oz magazine and were interested in the progress of the Cultural Revolution in China.

At University I was a fringe participant in the radical politics of the time. I'm pictured near the front of the march in The Guardian's picture. Reading sociology in my university courses I became more informed of the background to the comprehensive reorganisation of secondary education that was well underway and I decided to make education my career. I was inspired by Nell Keddie and Michael F.D. Young who led some teaching on our Part II courses and I read a lot more about structures and theories of schooling and curriculum. I was influenced (but bored) by structural studies of social mobility but I read the damning survey evidence of how arbitrary the 11+ had been. I was more excited by Erving Goffman's analysis of total institutions (including Public Schools) and wider questions of the social nature of knowledge.

I then trained as a teacher and moved north to Darlington where I moved into another council house and spent five years teaching the supposedly least able children on a Darlington housing estate. I went on eventually to teach A Level to (mostly working class) sixth formers in East Middlesbrough. I did a Masters Degree in Research Methods when I was there and started to use research to improve the way I worked. "The Public School Phenomenon" by Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy impressed around this time.

As years went on I moved to the University of Leeds where I did research in new developments in teacher education, worked on research into new kinds teaching using what became the world wide web and did some teaching for the Open University. I met a lot of teachers during this period. I ended my days at Leeds working on collecting and indexing educational research literature for the University Library. This entailed a lot of reading and attendance at national and international educational research conferences.

At the end of all this, in retirement, my basic values remain unchanged. I inherited my parents' socialism (a socialism that included reading the Daily Telegraph and pretending to support the status quo to act as devil's advocate to whatever nonsense I was talking at any one period). I still retain no respect for Public Schools as a part of national life and believe that if they could be wound up it woudl be a very good thing. However, I am happier than I was in 1967 that my attitude is more consistent with good evidence and my own lifetime in education.

I can see that lots of the people who disagree with my outlook on egalitarianism through education have wide knowledge and experience that leads them to different views. I'm happy with that and see prejudice as irrelevant in both their case and mine. We see evidence differently. They see justice in one child rising to wealth and power through ability, I see the injustice of the same long queue with a majority of children still getting short shrift. We have both judged on what we experience and see. Neither are what we might call "prejudiced". We have different values.

Today I wrote two tweets in response to something else I had read in Twitter 140 characters in each one to indicate my current belief.

  1. The Public School & Oxbridge alumni have been disproportionately represented in leadership of the many failures of our national institutions
  2. Is it worth saying, for old times sake? Public Schools and Oxbridge are a blight on society. The stultifying machinery of social immobility.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Spending My Children's Health Care Inheritance to Gamble with Ladbrokes

I have reproduced in what follows, with most of the typographical errors corrected, my answers to a consultation survey that started here: 

I felt a lot better after doing it than I did before. I think "Something off my chest" is the medical term. Being a medical service dunce I felt uninhibited by any direct knowledge of day-to-day work in a busy medical practice so I guess I am on a par with the Tory Policy Wonks who dreamt up the whole farrago. It's all about my putative "Personal Health Budget" - the magic key to my kingdom of sunlit uplands in flower-decked NHS Wards and discount heart tablets.

Questions 1 and 2 wondered who I was and what my "organisation" was. So the questions and answers start at Number 3
3 Do you agree that these are the right criteria to be used to determine eligibility for a personal health budget? Should they be prescribed in regulations?

I simply disagree with the concept, so any questions about how to implement a fanciful pseudo-market discipline on health care is a non-question. All means of attempting to do so are based on a flawed model and a gross over-estimate of the ability of most people (including me) to decide on complex resource allocations in fair or morally congruent ways.

At heart, this suggestion seems to be a slightly mad attempt to make people behave as if they were the rational actors assumed by primitive economic models.

That model, having failed, should simply be discarded in favour of practices and experiments that reflect what we already know about how people and communities create their own lives.

4 Do you agree with our proposal to separate out clauses in respect of children and adults who lack capacity? Are there any other capacity related issues you would like to see addressed?

Lacking capacity is universal. Within the range of incompetence and partial understanding, the degree and consequences of such incapacity will be, to some degree, structured by patterns of power and access. A bit like "school choice", the choice is almost entirely hypothetical. In real situations some will have wide knowledge and genuine alternatives - in most others the simple reality will be that individuals have little idea of what the choices are or of what choices might be hidden or unavailable in the real context of the consultation they are engaged in.

Choosing a car is one thing - a mistake can be written off. "Choosing" a health plan is closer to being irreversible - most patients are exceptionally vulnerable to hints or suggestions that might steer them towards more readily available treatments that suit the expert they are talking to.

Again, solving a problem in a badly conceived programme is none of my business. Those whose ideologies point to this kind of silliness need to have their own strategies for making them less bad and not look for endorsement through having "widely consulted".

5 Do you agree that personal health budgets should not be allowed to be spent on the services listed above? Are there any other services which should be excluded?

The whole idea has created this dilemma. Don't go through with it and this question becomes irrelevant. Implicitly the perpetrators have acknowledged that once a complex new system is in place some kinds of people will exploit the possibilities to get even more of what they already have. This is a real inverse of the mythical "welfare dependency". Asking the public to suggest things you have forgotten is a bit rich.

6 Do you agree that the list of information, support and advice that patients are entitled to ask their CCG or the Board for should be supplemented with the items above?

The absurdity of these questions gets richer as the questionnaire goes on. Given the obvious fascination the perpetrators have with "free markets" it is ironic that they are struggling at this point with the obvious non-existence of a key aspect of the free market model - the perfect knowledge of buyer and seller. I foresee careers in health advocacy in which (for £250 pa) an individual can have all their care plan options evaluated by a qualified expert (whose medical training has been diverted from treating patients to discussing abstract costs and benefits of broadly equivalent treatments.

I am starting to wonder if this whole consultation isn't an elaborate joke.

7 Do you agree that there should be the option of paying one-off direct payments for healthcare into an individual's personal bank account?

It sounds like a great idea for maximising misuse of funds while rationing the bureaucracy.

8 Do you agree that local authorities should be included in the scope of the regulations for direct payments for healthcare?

The massive unasked question here is "Am I happy with the way that Local Authorities have been given huge responsibilities for social care while resources provided to them have been reduced for ideological reasons?"

So my answer is no.

9 What are your views on friends or family members being paid for managing complex or large healthcare packages? How should this be defined, for example should it be linked to the size of the direct payment?

It would be simpler for parents of a needy child to get a part-time job with the local authority care department that was adequately funded to manage all support services. Again, the market fallacy is the problem. Distribution of scarce resources, in some circumstances (and in the non-real models of classical economics) can be achieved by letting each participant make decisions in their own interests. Such a model, when it extended by compulsion into real life, fails to solve the problem of distribution while adding to the inefficiency of health providers who now have complex rules and recording to cover for the lack of professional autonomy and trust that made things less bad in the past.

The madness of this question should have alerted the scheme's perpetrators to the folly of what they are doing.

10 Do you agree that these regulations should remain the same? If not, what would you like to see changed?

I have now lost the will to read. Please be assured that having got this far I will do my best. Please note that I now fear for the sanity of any health professional I might need to rely on for advice in the future. When you say "enough to cover all the services that have been agreed in their care plan" I assume you mean "the fixed amount that is insufficient, but which can't be changed given the restrictions we are faced with"

11 Are there other areas that you would wish to see in regulations? If so, what are they?

I have no wish to see any regulations at all. I would rather like it if those who were really expert and acknowledged in their fields made wise consensual decisions that could be evaluated and adjusted in due course. I have a strong sense of highly articulate recent postgraduate scholars inventing stuff as they go along with precious little insight or experience in how organisations actually and normally don't work very well.

12 Could the proposals have any perceived or potential impact on equality including people sharing protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010?

A lifetime in education and research suggests to me that anything that comes from career politicians backed by Health Corporation lobbyists is going to increase the social, .economic and welfare gaps between rich and poor. Only on a different planet could the change go the other way.