Ed Miliband and tuition fees

thatcher2

It is always a pleasure to be able to put up a picture of Margaret Thatcher. She was a dream to draw so any excuse to do her in black and white or in colour as here is wonderful and today, the current leader of the Labour Party (and a man I remember meeting on occasion as he flitted out of Corpus where a great friend of mine – a committed Thatcherite- was ploughing away at a doctorate), has come out with a plan that categorically demands to be slapped down by the Lady in blue. She would have said of this plan as she famously said of Socialism in general, “the problem …is that you eventually run out of other people’s money”.

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Now, Miliband proposes to cut the University tuition fee from £9000 by £3000 or so, and to do this, he plans to tax savers. In other words, all those people who have dutifully followed present Government advice and put money away for a rainy day will have it pinched and given out willy nilly to students who think the world owes them a living. I wonder how many times Ed plans to raid the piggy-bank? Specifically, the costs would be met, he said, by reducing tax-relief on pensions for anyone earning over £150,000 per year. I am sure that was greeted, even in Labour circles, by barely disguised squeals of pain! It’s like handing the teenager the family car to crash.

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Miliband is quite right that the current trail of debt that lies in the wake of our further education experiment is wrong, leaving many students with over £44000 to pay off after graduation, but it is not as simple as that. The whole system creaks because it is allowing enormous debt to build up all over the place, and some of it that must inevitably be written off. (I would make the case case, incidentally, against conscription, surely a waste of so much money in so many countries across Europe. If you want an army, you have to set one up with a serious plan, proper training on proper equipment; it is not a serious fighting force if it is simply seen as a rite of passage) At the same time, the caps on tuition fees mean that Universities cannot really charge what they feel they are worth and everyone in this deal is struggling to make ends meet. Often when there is a mess like this and on this scale, we can look around and see at least someone leaping around with a smirk of satisfied delight, but in this case there seems to be no one. Everyone suffers! It becomes even worse when you reflect that it was the Blair government that put pressure on smaller universities to expand their campuses and trade in their carefully hoarded private wealth for reliance on state funding. (Why would they do this?) You only need to look at the mess of the Stockton campus in Durham to see just how badly this sort of thing can go, and Durham was certainly not alone.

We were wrong to try to send 50% of all school leavers to university. That is the bottom line. University should be an exceptional experience and not a routine rite of passage. It is not about drinking ale and recreating scenes from the “Inbetweeners’ movies”. University life is about learning how to process information at speed and under pressure. It might also be about gathering specific skills, but it is a privileged time and we should teach students they need to value that experience. In fact, by demanding that so many students pass through the University gates, we have cheapened the further education brand, jacked up the overall cost and encouraged the development of a range of “mickey mouse courses” that beggar belief.

Miliband’s proposal is more extreme- he is taking from Peter to pay Paul. But essentially, while they maintain this fantasy that 50% of all students deserve a University place, any plans are merely an attempt to rearrange the bunting at “Freshers’ Fayre”.

UKIP does better than the other parties, demanding a reduction in that 50% aim and offering to cut the tuition fees on key subjects. I think these would be things like Physics, Medicine, Computing and engineering. While I might quibble with the subjects on offer “at discount rates”, I think the overall vision is remarkably clear. It is not yet clear how this would be funded- in my own opinion, and in the long run, if our universities were to recover their reputation for overall excellence, the number of foreign students might well provide an opportunity to raise enough money to fund scholarships to cover the tuition costs of education National students in important subjects. But this might take time and Heavens! We need to start treating foreign students better than we do now. Not only do they pay more but if we get it right, and they profit from their education here, they will be the leaders of their own countries in a few years and it will be to them that we turn for alliances and assistance. If we treat them badly, why would we expect them to want to do business with us? This was one of the great principles of the British Raj and one of the great disasters when Edward Heath turned his back on the Commonwealth. We need those committed international alliances that are forged over decades, not weeks and that are of mutual benefit. We need to know there are people across the world who speak our language, both culturally and linguistically. In short, abandoning the Tier 1 visa, like so much of the visa bullying that surrounds the education of foreign students in the UK is stabbing ourselves in the collective foot, and we will suffer greatly in years to come for our short-sightedness and parsimony. More on this later in a dedicated post!

Today, Mr Farage made it clear that cutting the deficit remains an absolute priority so again echoing the Lady: We cannot spend what we do not have. Mr Farage criticised Osborne for failing to grasp the nettle- “George Osborne was right to say he would eliminate the deficit by the start of 2015 but he failed to do it because he had coalition partners who did not appear to be very interested and he did not himself make some of the tough choices.”

Putting our house in order, not promising to spend more than we can afford, while rewarding those who put in the time to study those skills we badly need- all this is simple, as Mr Farage would say simply a matter of “Common Sense”.

the party whip

The idea that there is a “correct” or an “incorrect” way for MPs to vote in parliament is fatuous. If the party they belong to cannot make a case on paper and in debate for a particular proposition, it makes no sense at all to use threats and rewards to cajole them into voting one way or another, particularly if they have given their word to their constituents to oppose or support a particular motion when it is presented. This is the dilemma faced by people like Andrea Leadsom who promised to oppose plans to build HS2 and then, faced with the lure of promotion to the Cabinet, fled to Brussels when it came to to crucial vote. She was not alone. Another 47 Conservatives, most of whom had vigorously opposed the bill, found themselves unavoidably detained on other business when it came to the vote. Lots of Liberals, too, including Mr Clegg, were detained elsewhere that day.  There was little chance the bill would be defeated because it had backing from both the Government and the opposition, so it was simply a matter of the personal risk taken by individual MPs- were they willing to risk their careers simply in order to keep their word to their constituents?

the new
the new “treasury look”

In the end, it comes down to the power of the whip and the mystical appeal of high office.malcolm

Yesterday, there was the spectacle of two elderly Foreign Secretaries walking through the corridors of disgrace towards political exile because it looks like they wanted big business kickbacks. Looks can be deceiving, but today both of them have lost the party whip and look set to leave parliament. This is a shame. Again, it reflects badly on the way we do politics in this country that we have not provided proper assistance to two elderly and clearly infirm men.

In Shaw’s case, will this be the thing he is remembered for? Being tricked by the press into promising to table questions for a Hong Kong business that never even existed. Does he not have an assistant to research these things first? – is he so “down on his uppers”? This is a man who rachetted up the bureaucratic thumbscrews in the Foreign Office, more even than any Conservative had done to date. I think, the mix-up over the d’Hondt formula and his rulings on Double Jeopardy are probably just about excusable, but really – his judgement over at least one asylum seeker beggars belief in the face of the events that followed: Here is what Noam Chomsky said in the Irish Times:

“in 2000 there was a request from an Iraqi who had somehow escaped an Iraqi torture chamber and made it to England. He was applying for political asylum.

Straw turned him down with a letter saying “we have faith in the integrity of the Iraqi judicial process and that you should have no concerns if you haven’t done anything wrong “. In 2000!”

Within Months of becoming Foreign Secretary, the 9/11 attacks happened. Opposition from Craig Murray and Walter Wolfgang, I think was perfectly justified and time will tell whether they were right. Recently, the Jerusalem Post accused him of Anti-Semitism. Till now, however, he had come across as an honourable man who, in the heat of the moment, had made perhaps inappropriate decisions. And, to his credit, he was very helpful in the process of getting justice for Necati’s case in the European Court of Human Rights. But the Hong Kong trap suggests he was not quiet as honourable as we might have thought. I, for one, am going to go back and look more closely at the campaign of Craig Murray and see what we have to learn.

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NB: 17th September 2015: with some relief today’s news states that the two politicians have been cleared of any wrongdoing by the parliamentary standards. This is a relief because whatever their political colour, these are two men who count as history-makers and it would be inappropriate for them to be remembered for something so wearisome. We need to work harder to ensure that this sort of tittle-tattle does not dominate the news in  the future- actually it does not one any good. There are bigger things to look at!

Is there racism at the heart of UKIP?

Chuka Umunna

This is a claim made today by Labour’s shadow business Secretary Chuka Umunna, a man I admire and who was I think unreasonably attacked a few years ago by my MP Chris Heaton Harris for criticising so-called celebrities posturing in the West End. I should clarify reasons for my admiration because he is not a natural bed-fellow. I was particularly impressed with the way he handled a recent Sky interview- on a subject, about Eric Pickles’ letter to muslim leaders which I felt was misguided and which I have already discussed: here is Chuka’s response to the Sky bullying.

Today, he speaks in response to Mrs Rozanne Duncan’s absurd comments today about the “problems” she faces sitting next to black people. The lady’s problems are astonishing, of course, and the biggest problem she has- quite apart from her inability to recognise racism- is her apparent inability to filter things that emerge as thoughts in her brain and then pop unaccountably into her gaping mouth. Fish would have more common-sense. Now here is the warning- because what she says is deeply offensive, but – Do listen to her comments if you are brave enough to do so- because, once she starts, she seems unable to stop. Pity is really my first response for her and for anyone who is forced to listen to her. Is it a form of Tourette’s syndrome or is it simply rank stupidity? I don’t think she intended harm, and I suppose that is why she is so astonished anyone would accuse her of racism, but she caused harm because (a) she did not take care over what she said and (b) what she said and how she justified it was simply obnoxious. When one reflects that she is an elected Councillor, then pity must turn to rage that this is someone who wields power in our name. duncan

Would I sit next to her? Oh, most certainly I would, and I would tell her very clearly that she is a stupid bigoted woman who should immediately resign her office. I certainly trust she will be replaced in May. Mr Farage is right to expel her without any further pause.

She says she does not regret saying anything.

She went on: “I used the word ‘negroes’ as you would do Asians, Chinese, Muslims, Jews. It’s a description, it’s not an insult – in the same way as you would say, ‘What do you mean by Jewish? Well, they belong to a community, they have got a certain faith, they have usually got noses that have got a bit of a curve to them, married women – if they are orthodox Jews – wear wigs.’ It’s description.” No, this is the sort of thing said by the Nazi authorities at the height of the Shoah. It just gets worse. And as for the word “negro”, it is worth taking a moment to reflect- this is not an innocent word. It comes from Spanish or Portuguese and was used specifically to describe slaves being transported across the Atlantic. It is a word imbued with prejudice. And to refer to the Latin word for black is again to get into a linguistic muddle, because the Romans had a word for “African”. It was “Afer”. So Mrs Duncan, the word used is not “a description.” It is definitely “an insult”. She understands neither english nor history.

Then she complained she had been expelled “without being offered the courtesy of a right to reply via a disciplinary hearing”. 

So much for Mrs Duncan.

But what Chuka Umunna says is more worrying. I think there are a number of loonie activists in UKIP as in any party, and the focus of the media is on them. Certainly, the moment UKIP knew of Duncan’s outburst, they seem to have hurried to expel her, which was the right thing to do. But I would like to think this is more than damage limitation- this is because UKIP is not racist at all. After all, Stephen Woolfe, Winston McKenzie, the current Commonwealth spokesman, and even Amjad Bashir who has now gone over to the Conservatives, have all stood under the UKIP banner and Winston McKenzie even stood for leadership of the Party. This is what Stephen Woolfe said, “I am a proud Englishman, I am a proud Briton, I am a proud mixed race person and I am a proud member of Ukip.”

But there must be racists in UKIP. As indeed there have been stories of racist slips in the labour camp (remember Mr Lavery’s son? or more recently there was a so-called Labour twitterer who claimed UKIP was  full of “evil money grabbing Jews” and then another twit who accused Mandy Boylett, who is herself Jewish and a prospective candidate for Stockton North, of being anti-semitic) and probably also in the Conservatives. Some of this is historical but much of this is simply a result of stupidity and narrow-mindedness. Not right at all, but I think it can be corrected.

Just think how far we have come in the last 50 years!

And that really is the point. I salute the fact that UKIP is exposing instances of racism today and bringing up a national debate about racism and how unacceptable it is. Because, if that debate is ever silenced or forgotten, there is a chance that our children will think it is right to make racist comments and that such comments are wholly innocent. They are not. They cause offence. They betray gross ignorance and they cheapen our society.

We are a society of individuals, each of us worthy in our own right of proper consideration. We are not defined by our race, colour, religion, gender, age, or our disability. That said, we might also elect to celebrate all of these features. But that is our decision and should not be imposed on us. We are not ciphers.

The Musical South Pacific put forward the idea that racism is something that is “taught” by an abusive society, “A mean little world”. I am not so sure, but certainly we need to be reminded and taught that racism is wrong.

So the debate about racism must be stirred up occasionally and I wrote to Mr Umunna to see what more we can do. This is not a subject about which anyone can afford to be complacent.

Gazi Ahmet Pasa Camii

the ottoman troops drag their ships across the land to attack the bay and made the wall of the Golden Horn vulnerable to attack. This was followed 7 days later by building a bridge between Ayvansaray and Sutluce. On the same day, the emperor rejected an offer of peace. It was a month later before Ulubatli Hasan erected the Ottoman flag on the Byzantine wall in Belgradkapi and towards noon on 29th May, the city fell and the Emperor was killed. The first act of Fatih Sultan Mehmed II was to turn Hagia Sophia into a Mosque

Gazi ahmet pasa camii fisrst

Gazi ahmet pasa mosque istanbul

Gazi ahmet pasa mosque istanbul2

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Finished picture:

gazi ahmet pasa camii finished

This is a mosque in Fatih district in Istanbul, in the area that is named after the Column of Constantine, called “Çemberlitaş” and built by Sinan.This is part of the traditional and authentic Constantinople Proper and is enclosed by the wall, and close to one of the main sites where the wall was breached by the Turks in the conquest in 1453.

This is one of the background images we shall use in our film “Following Lear” It is also an image we are using in a series of cards we are preparing for the Istanbul council.

fatih Bellini

(22nd April: the ottoman troops drag their ships across the land to attack the bay and made the wall of the Golden Horn vulnerable to attack. This was followed 7 days later by building a bridge between Ayvansaray and Sutluce. On the same day, the emperor rejected an offer of peace. It was a month later before Ulubatli Hasan erected the Ottoman flag on the Byzantine wall in Belgradkapi and towards noon on 29th May, the city fell and the Emperor was killed. The first act of Fatih Sultan Mehmed II was to turn Hagia Sophia into a Mosque.)

The pictures above show the progress in drawing. The pictures below show the interior and architectural plans

Istanbul, Gazi Ahmet Pasa Mosque 3 northwest balcony Istanbul, Gazi Ahmet Pasa Mosque floorplan from the age of Sinan

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Mrs Malaprop

I am much given to malapropisms so it was a pleasure to see a recent production of “The rivals” and once again witness the source of this bizarre linguistic illness. Shakespeare had already played this joke, by the way, with both Mrs Quickly and Dogberry in Much Ado, but Sheridan’s 1775 version sparkles especially with lines like “as headstrong as an Allegory on the banks of the Nile”. I had forgotten that one.

Here is a quick illustration of the characters:

rivals page1

Now an interesting fact: Tolkien played Mrs Malaprop for his old school in Birmingham just after he had gone up to Oxford in Autumn 2011. This is what the St Edward’s school chronicle wrote:

“the performance was a thorough success both artistically and financially (ed note – in my line of work both items very welcome!) J R R Tolkien’s Mrs Malaprop was a real creation, excellent in every way and not least so in make-up….”

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While Mrs Malaprop lends her name to the problem, the first use of the word “Malapropism” is Lord Byron’s in 1814 though the OED cites something back in 1630 as well.

Uppingham and the problem of evil

uppingham

lecturing in Uppingham school: details to follow but, meanwhile, here are some pictures of Peter Vardy, Iris Murdoch and Parmenides! parmenides new Parmenides provides the inspiration for Plato’s theory of the unchanging “One”, the Good.

vardy Iris Murdoch

Peter Vardy adapted Iris Murdoch’s views on the Ontological argument, but more on that one later!

I gave a talk yesterday about various aspects of Philosophy of Religion.

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One of the points I made was about the Problem of evil. This is advanced first by Epicurus, but essentially asks how a Good God who also created us can allow the existence of evil, or indeed whether he might be held responsible for this. The traditional approach is to invoke one of two “theodicies”, that of Irenaeus and that of Augustine. Augustine’s defence of God rests on the value placed on our free will- that, in other words it is better for us to be free and have the opportunity to select an evil action, than for us to be automata that can only select and do good things. In addition, is the idea that evil and particularly the natural evils of ill-health, and natural catastrophes were brought on ourselves by the original sin of adam and eve or by the fall of the angels.

What I was interested in, however, was whether under British law, God might be held responsible for our evil actions. I imagined that there was a teacher in the audience who might murder me, and in the run-up to his actions, that he might confide in a pupil who was sitting fairly close. While there would be no question at all about the teacher’s guilt, we looked at the law regarding the guilt of the student- whose name was Will. (Apologies to Will for picking on him!)

This is some of the talk:

“it makes you an accomplice in the law and section 8 of the Accessories and Abettors act of 1861 (the bit that was not repealed in the criminal law act of 1967) means you are also likely to be charged

because you shared his counsel and you didn’t stop him, or didn’t alert anyone else.

It is a difficult case to prove- The actual law states: “Whosoever shall aid, abet, counsel, or procure the commission of any indictable offence, whether the same be an offence at common law or by virtue of any Act passed or to be passed, shall be liable to be tried, indicted, and punished as a principal offender.”

So if I am a good lawyer, you are also guilty of murder

this is actually a development of the old ancient roman law that would hold all my slaves responsible for my death- if you didn’t stop the assassin, then you effectively enabled him, and tomorrow morning, you would all be crucified in the gardens of your respective houses. So sorry about that.

Let’s just check the details of the modern law:

What constitutes abetting can be complex. It can be anything from presence at the scene of the crime to encouragement. After a 1971 case, merely being present at the crime, however is not enough (Clarkson) but being in a crowd can abet an offender (1951: Wilcox vs Jeffrey)

Now, the 1951 case established some guidelines- you can also abet by omission if 3 conditions are present-

  • you have knowledge of the actions of the murderer
  • you have a duty or the right to control the murderer
  • you deliberately do nothing.

Now I think  your teacher has a position of authority in the school and as you, Will are a pupil in the school, we could make a convincing case to a jury that you are not guilty of abetting- because you do not have the right to control or to stop the teacher without risking an early morning detention-

So now we have had the pleasure of that salacious and purely hypothetical spectacle, let’s apply the idea to God.

Because if God knows everything, he knows about the evil that will happen, he knows about my murder. God is either the accomplice to the teacher or he’s an enabler. Either way, he should be charged and held to account for his failure to take action to stop it. God may be a good God, but if I am murdered, he has been an accomplice to a crime and he should go to gaol. Stephen Fry, formerly of Fircroft house would now be very proud of us for reaching the conclusion that, if God exists (which Mr Fry believes is seriously in question), then he is a criminal.

stephen_fry

This is a way to embellish and flesh out the ideas in the Problem of evil. We should not rely solely on the text book to give us the answers to these issues. We also have to use our common sense and our own specific interests.”

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Heraclitus

I also sketched in very quickly the background to Plato’s theory of forms, with reference to Parmenides and Heraclitus.

This was really an excuse to bring Philosophy down a level and point out that the central idea of Heraclitus, “You can’t step in the same river twice”, is quoted at the beginning of the Disney film “Pocahontas”. Here is a link to a youtube version! When we stop to think that this central plank in Western Philosophy is passed off as entertainment for 6 year olds, then we get things into perspective.

More on Greek debt etc

Tsipras

I had a very interesting meeting today with an old friend and I found we agreed on so many things, not least of all sympathy for Greece’s current situation and the strategies of Syriza. My understanding of Economics is not as good as his at all, and I tend to think that the whole story boils down to one larger country bullying another smaller country and that seems unattractive. But let’s have a go at analysing the issues….

The fear-mongers (John Mauldin, for instance, an American pundit, who compares Syriza to the Keystone cops) continue to dominate the press while the Greek Finance Minister is busy clarifying his aims and establishing that what was reported in the run-up to election is not quite what he intends to do- he is, of course, rather brilliantly making use of the natural ambiguity of anything that is translated from Greek, a language notoriously difficult to render with absolute certainty as many Biblical and classical scholars will readily attest. Greece remains the language of poetry and mysticism. German or Latin is the language of rules. I wonder which language best reflects “common sense”? Though in this case, after the election and directly on the BBC, the splendidly telegenic Finance minister can put his case very well in English.

The Greek situation still resembles a stand-off, but actually what Varoufakis says makes perfect sense. At least, it does when I am listening to him! He is admirably convincing. He should really take over here from Mr Osborne. (Osborne might have had a recent haircut but he has rarely spent time in the gym… oh and “haircuts”. More on that as a solution another day!)

So, two points- firstly about the result of a possible default and then about the right of Greece to default.

First Point:

The first point is that if Greece defaults, it surely does not have to leave the euro or indeed leave Europe, neither of which it wants to do –

1- There are countries, like Britain, that do not use the Euro and yet are part of the EU and there are countries like Kosovo, that are not part of the EU but, nevertheless, still use the Euro; Kosovo and the like can default because they do not have to abide by EU fiscal and monetary policy’s, in the same way, it should be possible and practical for Greece to default and still retain the Euro.

2 – Greece’s economy is much smaller, by some measure, compared to many companies registered in Europe, like, for instance, Deutchebank, BlackRock, BNP Paribas and so on and these can, like all companies, default, but they are not expected to give up the Euro if they do so.

3 – In the US, where the fiscal union is consolidated between the different states (i.e. an isolated default is much more dangerous), Detroit filed for Chapter 11 last year but still, it did not give up the dollar or leave the US union. The problem with Greece defaulting is not the Euro, but that Greece’s national debt is owned by various European governments who do not want to loose their money and have the power to make or bend the rules. It is essentially political and not economic. It is about bullies.

All countries in the Euro pay different interest rates although there is a single monetary policy – Different member states in the Eurozone are perceived by the market to have different risk levels, and so, they borrow money from investors at different rates of interest. The central interest rate set by the ECB is there as a regulator for the banking industry (private not public) and, indeed, all banks across the Eurozone, by law, can borrow at the same rate at the ECB, regardless of their exposure or Nationality. It is the ECB which sets the rate of interest for the financial sector to borrow money, NOT the Governments, no matter how powerful (or self-righteous) they may feel at the moment.

Second Point:

Secondly, and Finally, local democracy must count for more than the authority of a foreign, though powerful state like Germany. The culture or limiting choice because of the repercussions of bad decisions is an invasive one. If the citizens of Greece have expressed a wish in the ballot-box to stop the austerity and default, it is undemocratic to put pressure on them to not do so and it meddles with their rightful and respected sovereignty. Is default a good decision? Probably not, but we must, nevertheless, tolerate their wish to do so and probably more than that, facilitate that wish- in other words, make it easier for them and for us to negotiate the path towards a default.

There are many companies, peoples and governments that go bankrupt over and over again, and the people and businesses and governments that had lent money to them, thereby lose their money. Nevertheless, the right to declare bankruptcy is a constitutional right and the investors must accept their losses – after all, when making an investment, the investor accepts the return while also taking on the risk. Why should different laws apply for Germany! Why, in other words, should it be impossible for Germany’s creditors to default! It sounds to me like Germany is behaving like a Mafia boss in 1930’s Chicago. Time for a flustered Mrs Merkel to embrace reality. In a time of crisis, she could take a few tips from the man who simply comes across as cool- Yannis Varoufakis.

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a fashion statement in Downing street