Category Archives: General Thoughts

Walking the Thames Day 9 – Henley to Marlow (8.5 miles)

(Photos will be added later tonight!)

Today’s walk was a fairly short 8.5 miles from Henley-on-Thames to Marlow. Staying at the Red Lion again (so like King Charles I, staying twice) meant I was already virtually on Henley Bridge which takes the path over to the north bank and on toward Marlow.

As you cross the bridge and turn sharp left, you pass the home of one of the oldest rowing clubs in the world, the Leander Club (with it’s website here), built in 1897, it only took 100 years to decide to admit women – yes, 1997.

As you come to the river bank, you find yourself looking down the course of the Henley Regatta. The stretch of water from the bridge to Temple Island is the longest straight stretch of any river in Britain at 1 m 450 yds. It was here the first Oxford/Cambridge Boat Race (which has it’s own web site) took place in 1829. When the second race moved to Putney in 1836 the people of Henley realised they had been on to a good thing and decided to establish the Henley Regatta in 1839; it now takes place in the first week of July.

Half way along the course is the pretty hamlet of Remenham. Taking a short detour off the path brings you to St Nicholas’ Church, originally built in 13th century still stands having been almost completely rebuilt in 1870. Apparently Jenny Agutter was married there.

Temple Island is now the starting point for the Regatta races marked by the “temple”. It was built in the Etruscan Style in 1771 originally as a fishing lodge.

Over the river is the mansion of Greenlands, built in 1853 originally the home of William Henry Smith (that’s WHSmith) when he was First Lord of the Admiralty. The original 1604 building was bombarded by Oliver Cromwell’s forces. Since 1946 it has been part of the University of Reading Henley Business School.

Hambledon Lock is the first of todays three locks. The weir is vast and creates some impressive white water. Just across the weir is Hambledon Mill, which stopped work in 1955 having been operational for some 700 years . It has now been converted into 10 flats. I am

Shortly after, is the site of the Aston Ferry (not too obvious) and the path deviates form the river bank through Aston and its pub The Flowerpot.

eventually you pass the Grade II listed Culham Court, built in 1770. It was the home of Lady Barber, who founded The Barber Institute of Fine Art now part of Birmingham University. Culham Court was mentioned earlier as once owned by the “infamous” Urs Schwarzenbach who bought it for £35,000,000 – some £10,000,000 over the asking price. According to the 2015 Sunday Times Rich List, Schwarzenbach’s net worth increased from £860million to £1billion in the pervious 12 months. More on Culham Court can be seen here, and here. It is an enormous property. In its favour is the creation of a small deer park with a small herd of white deer.

Medmenham Abbey was a Cistercian abbey opened in 12107, closed in 1536 due to lack of inmates. At this point you have a choice of routes. One a shortcut avoiding a bend. I took the long cut through an attractive woodland glen.

You next pass Frogmill Farm which has been converted into an attractive stone and flint residential community.

Perched high above on the opposite bank is a white castellated mansion, Danesfield, now a hotel.

Hurley can’t be seen from the river, so a short diversion is needed. The church was used as a Benedictine chapel in 1086. Edward the Confessor’s wife is buried in the churchyard.

Hurley Lock (and here) is quite busy and is located on an island which you reach by crossing the wooden footbridge. At the far end of the island is another bridge which takes you back to the path.

Temple Footbridge follows the line taken by the ferry, which closed in 1953, and takes you over the river to the North bank past Temple Lock (and here). at 150 ft it is the longest hardwood footbridge in Britain.

Soon Bisham Abbey can be seen over the river. Going back to 1139, it was given to Anne of Cleves as part of her divorce settlement. From Henry VIII. It is now the National Sports Centre and home to the England football team.

Round one more bend Marlow comes into view. The bridge, which was based upon Hammersmith Bridge opened in 1832. It is one of the two bridges designed by William Tierney Clarke. The other Is the chain bridge linking Buda with Pest.

Percy Bische Shelley lived at Albion House in West Street, and it is here that Shelley wrote The Revolt of Islam. At the time his wife, Mary, wrote Frankenstein. Later, TS Elliot lived at No 31

At Marlow, I stayed in The Prince of Wales only a short distance off the path and cheaper than the Compleat Angler on the river by the south bank.

Why I am resigning from the Labour Party

Four years ago, at the height of optimism that the Labour Party could return to its socialist roots, I was targeted in a witch-hunt by a rather strange couple in Rushcliffe CLP. They colluded with anti-Corbyn officials at the East Midlands Region and officials in the Compliance Unit at Labour HQ. That couple have now moved to Scotland and appear to have joined the SNP, but not before their fabricated claims, falsified documents and fanciful allegations had been sent to Regional officials as “complaints” and caused serious damage to the local party. You can read all about it at petergates.org where I have placed all documentation relating to the case. On that website is clear and irrefutable evidence of the mendacity behind the so called “complaints”. Bear in mind that I had been elected as CLP Secretary and Branch Secretary at that time.

This ultimately led to my suspension along with 9 others in Rushcliffe and, due to deliberate delays by one Sam Matthews, two years later to a kangaroo court that my solicitor (a Labour Party CLP Chair) described as a fiasco. The panel ignored all evidence I had provided, refused to listen to many witnesses and recommended my exclusion for two years. The “complainants” produced no substantiating evidence against me; there was none to produce. Merely here-say fabrications from a Walter Mitty fantasy world.

I continued to argue my case and provide information of the irregularities in the Labour Party procedures. This I feel is a basic right and duty.

I applied to rejoin the Party on 20 June 2020 and with my application included letters of support from: Rushcliffe CLP Chair, the Leader of the Labour Group on Rushcliffe Borough Council, Rushcliffe PPC in the 2017 and 2019 General Elections, a previous Chair of West Bridgford Branch, and a previous BAME coordinator. After a couple of weeks I received a letter welcoming me back to the Labour Party. However shortly after, I received an email from the Legal and Governance Unit informing me that because I had disagreed with the decision to exclude me, and continued to argue my innocence, I had “demonstrated a contemptuous non acceptance of the Labour Party’s constitution, rules and procedures.” Furthermore, in making people aware of the case by presenting evidence I had “damaged the Party“.

I have made the point countless times and demonstrated with extensive irrefutable evidence that all allegations made against me and others were deliberately false, vexatious and mendacious. Indeed they were bearing on the slanderous. Of that there has never been any doubt. I have been advised by many people to take legal action against the Party, but have repeatedly refused to do so. I would not want to be a member of a Party that I needed to sue for defamation. That Party would not be worthy of my support.

That the Party is prepared to accuse me of being “contemptuous” when I was merely demonstrating my innocence and when I had offered to return to support the Party and let us all move on, indicates to me that institutionally the Labour Party takes a cavalier attitude to justice, honesty and decency. The Party’s response is petty, small minded and fails to recognise who the real enemy of socialism is; the party does really do need to get a grip.

Yet it was worse than that. I had already likened the process of suspension and exclusion to Joseph K’s experience in The Trial; it was truly Kafkaesque. Now we see this shifting into Orwellian territory where demonstrating one’s innocence against Big Brothers fanciful fabrications is itself a crime.

As someone who has an international academic reputation for equity and social justice I felt I could no longer allow myself and my reputation to be tainted by association with an organisation so lacking in political awareness and with a dubious attachment to socialism and social justice. I suppose I ought to be a little honoured that those individuals with power in the Labour Party consider me to be such a threat. Personally I only ever thought I was one small component in the fight for a better world. I must admit to enjoying The Trial and 1984. But when fiction becomes truth, it is time to move on.

Consequently and sadly, I have reached the conclusion that I have no alternative but to withdraw my application for membership and effectively resign from the Labour Party forthwith. As someone who joined in 1994 (inspired at that time by Tony Blair), and who has dedicated very many hours to the Labour Party, I am sure everyone can understand how difficult that decision has been. I have made same every good friends in that time. I feel very humbled by all those people in the party locally and nationally who have supported me throughout the past four years in very many ways. They have shown the true meaning of socialism and solidarity, and have indicated they will continue to do so.

However, I have been treated with utter contempt by The Labour Party for four years, and now faced the allegation that by demonstrating my innocence I am contemptuous. That really is deep into Stalinist territory. I now really have no other option but to part company. I really will not accept being treated that way. Like most honest socialists, I consider that I am indeed doing the Labour Party a favour by signing up to it. They should be biting my hand off. I will however be prepared to reconsider that decision but would require a full and public apology from the Labour Party over the “contemptuous” way it has treated me over these past four years. That door is still open to the Labour Party.

I wish good luck to all those socialists who are staying inside the party; you will have my support. However, that is not something I am prepared to do. After 26 years I am leaving the Labour Party to spend more time getting involved in socialist politics. In some ways the Party is correct. I do respond with contempt – contempt for Keir Starmer’s decision to apologise and pay compensation to some of those very people who were prepared to countenance lies, distortions and fabrications in order to remove socialists from the Labour Party, and lose us the 2017 General Election.

#BlackLivesMatter But Hey, Whiteys on the Moon

While the BBC and the world’s media lauds Elon Musk’s SpaceX trip to the “International Space Station“, I looked at the photographs I saw around me.

On a day I hear 75 cities in the USA are subject to anti-racist protest, whilst reading “Rule Britannia. Brexit and the End of Empire” an excellent book by Danny Dorling and Sally Tomlinson examining the racist roots of Brexit, I was reminded of this poem by Gil Scott-Heron.

Black lives don’t matter as much as whitey on the moon.

Whitey on the Moon

Whitey on the Moon

A rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face and arms began to swell.
(and Whitey’s on the moon)I can’t pay no doctor bill.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)
Ten years from now I’ll be payin’ still.
(while Whitey’s on the moon)The man jus’ upped my rent las’ night.
(’cause Whitey’s on the moon)
No hot water, no toilets, no lights.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)I wonder why he’s uppi’ me?
(’cause Whitey’s on the moon?)
I was already payin’ ‘im fifty a week.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Taxes takin’ my whole damn check,
Junkies makin’ me a nervous wreck,
The price of food is goin’ up,
An’ as if all that shit wasn’t enoughA rat done bit my sister Nell.
(with Whitey on the moon)
Her face an’ arm began to swell.
(but Whitey’s on the moon)Was all that money I made las’ year
(for Whitey on the moon?)
How come there ain’t no money here?
(Hm! Whitey’s on the moon)
Y’know I jus’ ’bout had my fill
(of Whitey on the moon)
I think I’ll sen’ these doctor bills,
Airmail special
(to Whitey on the moon)

  • Source: LyricFind
  • Songwriters: Gil Scott-Heron
  • Whitey on the Moon lyrics © Carlin America Inc

Supporting disadvantaged families through free early education and childcare entitlements in England

The National Audit Office has published (13/03/20) on their web site their research into the provision of early years education, and produced a report on the Government’s provision of free early education and childcare. Ther NAO are charged with looking at how the government achieve value for money. In this case they examined:

  • whether disadvantaged families are accessing the entitlements;
  • whether the supply of free early education and childcare is sufficient and high-quality in deprived areas; and
  • whether families and children, particularly those who are disadvantaged, are benefiting from the entitlements.

Where possible the NAO assessment focused on disadvantaged families specifically and compared their position with more advantaged families to assess variations in support.

What the NAO found, was not surprising,. The Conservative government’s strategy is not sufficiently targeting the most deprived and is likely to lead to a widening of the disadvantage gap.

Report Conclusions

Nearly all families in England with young children are getting some benefit from DfE’s entitlements to free early education and childcare. Since we last reported on this topic in 2016, take-up of the universal entitlement has remained high, the extended entitlement has become established, and the overall quality of provision has improved.

DfE has had less success in making sure disadvantaged families specifically are effectively supported through the provision of the entitlements, with lower take-up and poorer-quality provision in deprived areas. This creates a risk that the gap between the development of disadvantaged children and their peers will grow rather than narrow, with a detrimental impact on DfE’s ambitions to improve social mobility. DfE therefore needs to do more to secure value for money and ensure disadvantaged families benefit at least as much as others from the entitlements.

NAO

Deprivation, Childhood Obesity and Walking to School

Crisis? Just what Crisis is it?

It is no doubt still a shocking feature of our society that childhood obesity is one of the biggest health problems we face. “Nearly a quarter of children in England are obese or overweight by the time they start primary school aged five, and this rises to one third by the time they leave aged 11” (NHS Digital). “Our childhood obesity rates mean that the UK is now ranked among the worst in Western Europe” (OECD 2017). Indeed “childhood overweight/obesity rates have increased 10-fold in the past 40 years” (NCD-Ris).

The actual figures for obesity are reported by Rob Noonan (2020a, p. 3) as “32.4% among the most deprived neighbourhoods compared to 20.9% in the least deprived“. So even among the most well off, there is a significant level of childhood obesity. Surely we need to ask, what’s their excuse?

One might think that such a potential crisis would engender a non-partisan response from even a Conservative government widely recognised as one of the most right-wing for a generation. Of course, though, that is not to be. The Government’s response in their “Childhood Obesity Plan for Action, gives us four areas where they will focus their resources:

  • Sugar Reduction
  • Calorie Reduction
  • Advertising and Promotions
  • Schools

In particular:

We intend to ban price promotions, such as buy one get one free and multi-buy offers or unlimited refills of unhealthy foods and drinks in the retail and out of home sector through legislation, consulting before the end of 2018.

We intend to ban the promotion of unhealthy food and drink by location (at checkouts, the end of aisles and store entrances) in the retail and out of home sector through legislation, consulting before the end of 2018.

DHSC, p. 10

It is very easy, and effective to demonise the poor; it is a common and constant feature of our media. The narrative is the parents are to blame for feeding their children with sweet, fatty unhealthy foods. They either do not care what they feed their children in order to keep them quiet, or simply are ignorant and do not know about healthy food.

This is the standard ideological tactic of differentiation, and expurgation to create social fragmentation (Thompson, 1991, p. 60-67), and once you recognise this, you start to see it all over. The resulting policy and political response is to tell the poor how to live (..like the middle classes). They need to buy different food. They need to exercise more. They need to be better parents. They need to stop driving their children to school and make them walk. But hang on a minute. Aren’t these the undeserving poor, most of whom do not even have a car, (though they could have if they stopped spending on fags and booze).

But surely, it costs nothing to go outside, get exercise, go to the park. Well even that isn’t that easy when you live in a neighbourhood that is one of

the least supportive social and built environments for physical activity. For example, research shows that the most deprived neighbourhoods are perceived by parents as unsafe and have the least access to parks, playgrounds and recreational facilities for physical activity (Noonan et al., 2016).

Noonan, 2020, p. 2

What this narrative refuses to recognise is, that the poor have very little influence or control over their income and those living in the most deprived neighbourhoods are not likely to have the financial resources to support a balanced healthy diet (Jones, Tong, & Monsivais, 2017). Furthermore they are unlikely to have the resources (time, transport etc), or even the social and cultural to participate in healthy physical activities (Hardy et al., 2010). The real culprits here are the employers paying low poverty wages meaning their employees cannot even afford to feed their children in a way even the Government agree is necessary. The supermarket chain Morrisons is well aware of the effect on the retail sector:

Today, research reveals that the UK’s lowest income homes are being forced to spend a disproportionate amount of their weekly expenditure on food shopping. The average household in the UK spends 11 per cent of its weekly expenditure on food. However, 20 percent of households (those on lower incomes) are actually forced to spend proportionately at least 30 per cent more of their current weekly food spend than the national average.

(Morrisons, 2012)

Oxfam, in collaboration with the Child Poverty Action Group, put it this way:

Whilst the level of food poverty is worrying enough, what is of greater concern is the exponential growth in the numbers of people across the UK who are experiencing real hunger and hardship. Perhaps the most extreme manifestation of food poverty is the rising number of people who depend on emergency food aid.

Cooper & Dumpleton, 2013

But of course, if your entire upbringing has been one of privilege, it is very easy to not have a clue what it is like living in poverty. You might never have met or interacted with really poor people, (and probably don’t want to, other than to knock on their door and ask for their vote every few years). You might even go to the ludicrous extent of suggesting obese working class and poor children should walk to school in order to get fit. You are unlikely to even know, that most already do.

Children living in the most deprived neighbourhoods in England were most likely to commute to and from school actively but were at greatest risk of overweight/obesity and all unhealthy behaviour indicators. Active school commuting alone is unlikely to be enough to prevent and reduce inequalities and prevalence of childhood overweight/obesity in deprived neighbourhoods.

Noonan, Rob, 2020a, p. 5

So the demonisation of the lazy, work-shy proletariat, needs resisting. Children are becoming obese because they are abused by a political and economic system because we have moved into a scenario where the poor are working but being paid low wages on insecure hours.

The number of people trapped in poverty in working families has risen by over one million in the three years to 2016/17. This means almost three million children are now locked in poverty despite living in a working family. The situation is set to worsen further in future. This is simply not right

Joseph Rowntree, 2018

The rest of us bail out the employers by topping up low wages, and our children face unhealthy futures with restricted life expectancy, simply because … they really are expendable.

Indeed, it is not right.

References

Cooper, Niall and Dumpleton, Sarah (2013). Walking the breadline. The scandal of food poverty in 21st century britain. Oxfam/Child Poverty Action Group.

Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) (2018) Childhood obesity: a plan for action, Chapter 2.

Hardy, Louise; Kelly, Bridget; Chapman, Karthy; King, Lesley and Farrell, Louise (2010) Parental perceptions of barriers to children’s participation in organised sport in Australia. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 46, 197–203.

Jivraj, Stephren (2020) Are self-reported health inequalities widening by income? An analysis of British pseudo birth cohorts born, 1920–1970. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. doi:doi:10.1136/jech-2019-213186

Jones, Nicholas; Tong, Tammy and Monsivais, Pablo (2017). Meeting UK dietary
recommendations is associated with higher estimated consumer food costs: An
analysis using the National Diet and Nutrition Survey and consumer expenditure
data, 2008–2012
. Public Health Nutrition, 21, 948–956.

Morrisons (2012). Poorest budgets eaten up by food. Retrieved from https://www.morrisons-corporate.com/media-centre/corporate-news/poorest-budgets-eaten-up-by-food/.

NCD Risk Factor Collaboration (NCD-RisC). (2017) Worldwide trends in body-mass
index, underweight, overweight, and obesity from 1975 to 2016: A pooled analysis
of 2416 population-based measurement studies in 128⋅9 million children,
adolescents, and adults
. Lancet, 390, 2627–2642.

NHS Digital. (2017) National Child Measurement Programme 2016/17

Noonan, Rob; Boddy, Lynne; Knowles, Zoe and Fairclough, Stuart (2016). Cross-sectional associations between high-deprivation home and neighborhood environments, and health-related variables among Liverpool children. BMJ Open, 6, e008693.

Noonan, Rob (2018) Prevalence of childhood overweight and obesity in Liverpool
between 2006 and 2012: Evidence of widening socioeconomic inequalities
.
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 15, 2612.

Noonan, Rob (2020a) To what extent do unhealthy behaviour indicators explain the neighbourhood deprivation gradient in overweight among 11-year-old English children? Population Health, 10(100541).

Noonan, Rob (2020b) Walking to school is not enough to prevent obesity, The Conversation.

Noonan, Rob and Fairclough, S. (2018). Is there a deprivation and maternal education
gradient to child obesity and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity? Findings from
the Millennium cohort study
. Pediatric Obesity, 13, 458–464.

OECD (2017) Health at a glance 2017: OECD Indicators. Paris: OECD Publishing.

Joseph Rowntree (9018) Budget 2018: tackling the rising tide of in-work poverty.

Sullivan, Rory (2020) Poor Britons have worse health than generation born a century ago. The Independent, 22nd January 2020.

Thompson, John (1991) Ideology and Modern Culture. Critical Social Theory in the Era of Mass Communication. Stanford: Stamford University Press.

Poverty, Education Spending and Mental Health.

Do they know it’s Christmas time at all?

Sometimes deeply significant issues get published in the press, but fail to gain traction. This article by Liz lightfoot in The Guardian on 17th December 2019, was one of those. It tells is of Sammy, who wakes up on Christmas morning with little hope of a visit from Santa:

He didn’t get a present last Christmas and it is unlikely he will get one this year, because his mother struggles just to put food on the table.

The Guardian

Sammy lives on one of the largest council estates in England. It is in the top 1% of deprivation and only 1 in 3 adults have jobs, making the official unemployment rate of 3.8% rather meaningless to Sammy’s family.

We hear so much of the inflated salaries and egos of Multi Academy Trust CEOs, that decent blokes such as Chris Dyson, the headteacher of Parklands School in Leeds. too often go unnoticed. Not for Chris are pronouncements on the importance of silent corridors or isolation booths as a defining aspect of a school culture.

“[Some children] see everyone making Santa lists and yet they don’t get anything they asked for, We have children here who don’t get a present at Christmas or on their birthdays. When I came here five years ago I found very few children had been to see Santa. It broke my heart. I wanted to give them a dream, a hope, and show how invested I am in them, even in holiday times.”

Chris Dyson, The Guardian

But Chris Dyson is not alone. Over in Blackpool, Stephen Tierney (@LeadingLearner) was executive head of a small three school academy trust based on St Marys.

“Heads in Blackpool will tell you stories of family after family who make it clear there is no money for Christmas presents this year and there were no presents last year. It is hard to comprehend the hopelessness these parents feel. That is where schools come in. Should we have to? No, but if we don’t, then who will? It’s heartbreaking for some of our families. Children are going back to homes with no carpets, no heating, no food in the fridge, the place is cold, it is not in great repair, and Christmas will be about surviving. We were thinking of providing the ingredients for a Christmas lunch – but then some homes won’t have enough money for fuel to cook it and some don’t even have an oven.”

Stephen Tierney, The Guardian

Life has got so difficult for some of St Mary’s families in Blackpool that staff were handing out food parcels to parents. These are not the traditional Christmas hamper, “they will have staples such as pasta and rice and tinned tomatoes, because Christmas is survival for these families, not a bonus“.

Stephen resigned at the end of December.

Neither Chris not Stephen are scaremongering. The Department for Work and Pensions has issued a detailed 70 page report titledHouseholds Below Average Income” which describes how 12% of children are living in low-income homes and suffering severe material deprivation. That is 1 in 8; or on average, four in each class of 30. The Guardian reports this “is based on a survey of whether households can afford things such as a warm winter coat, celebrations on special occasions, and separate bedrooms for children of different genders over the age of 10“. How many of you reading this have any idea what it must be like to have no warm winter coat?

Another head, Mark Anstiss, headteacher of Felpham Community College, near Bognor Regis, in West Sussex,told the Guardian that teachers “are coping with an increase in the number of children with mental health issues“, yet there is very little schools themselves can do on stretched budgets which, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, have decreased by 8% in real terms since the Conservative Party came into office in 2010. The IFS reports a spending fall from 2010 was the worst since the 1970s.

Furthermore as reported in The Guardian on 19th December 2019, a report titled “More Money, Fewer Problems” by Luke Heselwood (@LukeHeselwood) of the Independent think tank REFORM has identified that “almost 30% of English local authority secondary schools were in revenue deficit in 2018/19” and are “teetering on the edge“. The very capacity of schools and individual teachers to respond to the needs of pupils like Sammy become ever more impossible as the effect of poverty and disadvantage mean more to children than missing a coat and breakfast:

“We are a typical comprehensive school in terms of socio-economic profile and ability intake and we are seeing a big increase in challenging behaviour and students with emotional health issues coming up from primary school.”

Mark Anstiss, The Guardian

in September 2018, Mark Anstissput his money where his mouth is“, and joined the headteacher protest in Parliament square, because like all of the 1000 headteachers on that protest, he knew the devastating effects of poverty on young people, their families and communities.

It is well known that living in poverty results in ill health and mental health issues. See for example:

The final article by Jed Boardman, Nisha Dogra and Peter Hindley, all experts in child and adolescent psychiatry, points out a chilling and damning statistic. That 3.7 million children in the UK live in poverty. That is roughly the same as the entire population of Wales. However the purpose of their article is to stress that poverty is not merely about having warm clothes and enough to eat.

Back in Leeds, Chris Dyson tells The Guardian that he has concerns about what is happening in education more generally.

Particularly over discipline and the number of children other schools are excluding. When he arrived at Parklands, more than 150 children a year were being excluded; now it is down to one – and that is one too many for Dyson, is concerned about the current “warm-strict” approach to discipline coming from the Department for Education and its behaviour tsar.

The Guardian

Tom Bennett is the Conservative Party’s chillingly titled “Behaviour Tzar“, flagging up images of the Romanovs – and we know how that ended up. Bennett who has defended a “zero-tolerance” approach to behaviour and the creation of centralised detention systems and internal inclusion unit,has endorsed a detention regime that punishes pupils for rolling their eyes and questioning decisions” an approach thankfully rejected by headteachers such as Chris.

“That way of thinking is that the only way to sort out discipline is to exclude them, to put them in isolation, ban them and put them in boot camps. No! You can do it another way. ‘Warm-strict’ is having lots of rules but trying to put a warm spin on it by saying that as long as your discipline is strong and tough, you can afford to smile at children.”

Chris Dyson, The Guardian

Chris Dyson and his staff, seem to get by pretty well with flexibility, a smile, and, yes, a hug.

“We are a huggy school: if a child us upsert, we give them a hug.”

Chris Dyson, The Guardian

Maybe, Chris needs to give Tom Bennett a hug, and softly explain to him a thing or two about running a school where children’s needs come first.

[Parklands School] is a happy place where children are allowed to wear trainers and joggers, and are not told how to wear their hair. Travis, a pupil excluded from another primary school for violence, appears now to be a model student. “Don’t run in the corridor because you might knock over someone who is disabled,” he warns some younger students. “Open the door for visitors,” he tells a girl who pushes past. He then rushes off to comfort a boy in his class who has suddenly broken down in tears in the corridor.

The Guardian

“Pass The Parcel”

{Above image created by freepik – www.freepik.com}

This post has been updated on 27/12/19.

“I feel like a parcel getting moved around all the time, getting opened up and sent back and moved on to somewhere else.”

Teenage girl, in care over 100 miles from home

I am writing this on Boxing Day, 2019 at time of year we claim is for families to get together. We are confronted with pictures of happy families sitting around a dinner table or the TV, just enjoying each others’ company. Yet for many children, Christmas is not a time for family. The NSPCC report:

In 2016/17  there were approximately 96,000 looked after children in the UK. The total number of looked after children in the UK has increased every year since 2010. In the last five years the population of looked after children in the UK has increased by 5%.

NSPCC

These figures differ somewhat from the Office for National Statistics official figures, of 78,150, in 2018 – the majority of which (almost 75%) come from ethnically white backgrounds. What isn’t contested, is that this figure has been steadily rising. (I have not yet compared this rise against the rise in the age related population however).

A very rough calculation (as accurate figures are hard to come by) puts the percentage of children in care at around 6-8% of children under 18. A very crude averaging out would mean an average of 2 children per class of 30 children.

The election of the Conservatives in 2010 set off a stringent policy of austerity, where the disadvantaged were forced to pay for the excesses and recklessness of the financiers who caused the 2008 economic meltdown. in just eight years the Conservative administration shut down 1000 Surestart Children’s centres.

The Children’s Commissioner for England, has just (December 2019) published a report on the experiences of children in the care system, titled: “Pass the Parcel. Children posted around the care system“. in their report they argue:

There are over 30,000 looked after children living ‘out of area’ in England.This is 41% of all children in care and has risen by 13% since 2014. Over 11,000 of these children are more than 20 miles from what they would call home, with over 2,000 further than a hundred miles away.

Now 40% of 8% is about 3%. So on average there will be around one pupil per class in this situation, often placed miles from home “simply because there is nowhere suitable for them to live locally(Children’s Commissioner, p. 2). Why? because cash-strapped local authorities do not have enough places for children to live meaning many of them “end up going to live in children’s homes run by private companies, often operating in cheaper and less ‘desirable’ parts of the country“. The experience of a Conservative government turns out to be a nightmare for those very children who are rarely seen and never heard.

Children living far away are likely to have more complicated and fragmented histories. They are more likely to be older children, more likely to be living in children’s homes than children placed in their local areas, and more likely to have experienced multiple moves while in care. Being so far away from their hometowns can be another trauma for children who have already had difficult upbringings. More than half of children (52%) living out of their local area have special educational needs and a quarter (24%) have social, emotional and mental health identified as their primary need. These are therefore often children who struggle to process change and need routine and consistency to stay calm and content. They may take a long time to build trust with adults and feel settled, and yet this group are at risk of chronic instability at the hands of the care system.

Children’s Commissioner, p. 2

In the mainstream media, we get told of the difficulties these “wayward” and “deviant” children pose to services: the police, NHS and education services. In my world – the world of education – teachers struggle to respond adequately in a system that is under resourced and unconcerned. The Conservatives establish a right wing “Behaviour Czar” with all the, no doubt intended, imagery that language conjures up of the brutality of the Romanovs.

What the Children’s Commissioner report provides is a narrative of the experiences of the children going through this experience, in order to “shine a light on the experiences of these children as victims of a system that is letting them down, not as ‘problems’ for the system“. Further evidence of the systematic denial of the needs of these vulnerable children was reported in The Guardian also on Boxing Day, by Sarah Marsh and Pamela Duncan in article titled “Revealed: councils paid inadequate care homes £2.3m to house children“. They identified more evidence, if indeed any was needed, of the inhumanity behind the right wing strategy of marketisation of the care system pursued by the Conservative Government.

One result is local councils are sending children into care homes that simply “do not provide a good standard of care“, but of course that in itself is of little consequence, because these inadequate ohmes are earning millions of pounds for their abuse – because that is what it surely is – of many vulnerable young children.

 Ofsted report on children’s social care in England and identify 78 providers whose properties were listed as being inadequate or in need of improvement. Their framework for Social Care Common Inspection framework (SCCIF) – Children’s Homes describes the process of inspection and their Main Findings are online. The Guardian report:

Some 58 children were placed in such homes by at least 23 local authorities in the following three-month period, handing more than £2.3m to failing providers, according to freedom of information responses and analysis of councils’ published expenditure.The figures could be much higher as a substantial number of councils did not respond, some would not say how many children on the grounds of data protection, and some would not say how much money was spent on providers citing commercial sensitivity.

Sarah Marsh and Pamela Duncan, The Guardian, 26th December 2019

The needs of these children are secondary to the profit to be made by private companies – some of which are identified by the Guardian. For any teacher, it is essential Christmas reading. Start here, and be prepared to cry.

“I’d never heard of this area.” – Teenage boy in care, around 75 miles from home

“I feel isolated. I don’t even know where I am … you feel like you have no-one” – Teenage girl in care

“I don’t even know where I am on the map” – Teenage girl in care, around 80 miles from ‘home

“I never unpack cos I know I’ll be passed on somewhere else in a few weeks” – Teenage girl in care

Children’s Commissioner

Merry Christmas

The Real Politics of the Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats put a great deal of emphasis on their social justice credentials and on their environmentally friendly stance. However, just how much does this stand up to critical scrutiny? It does appear that much of the “liberal” nature of the party’s traditions have been ditched in favour of Jo Swinson’s obsessive opposition to Jeremy Corbyn at all costs. Even being prepared to accept a “No Deal” Brexit, rather than support The Leader of the Opposition as a short-term head of a government of national unity in order to ensure the UK didn’t crash out of the EU. So, who is Jo Swinson and how has she voted since being elected as an MP? The truth might surprise many.

Jo Swinson was first elected as an MP in 2005; she served in the 2010-2015 Conservative-Liberal Coalition as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Cleg and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Employment Relations and Postal Affairs. She lost her seat in the backlash against the Liberal Democrats in 2015, regaining it in the snap election in 2017. She was elected Leader in July 2019. All the following information comes from parliamentary voting records (see: They Work For You).

Education Policy

Jo Swinson’s record on education is completely in line with Conservative Party policy and in the key votes she has always supported the Conservatives. This includes support for measures to make further study more difficult for children from disadvantaged backgrounds by raising university tuition fees to £9000, raising the interest rate on student loans to market rates and supporting the abolition of Educational Maintenance Grants.

In addition, the Liberal Democrats supported changes to electoral registration which saw almost a million people, hundreds of thousands of them young people and students, removed from the electoral register. Lisa Nandy wrote in The New Statesman in 2015:

Those cities with the largest student numbers have seen some of the largest falls in registered electors. In Liverpool there are over 20,000 fewer people on the electoral roll. In Nottingham, 13,000 fewer people are registered. In Manchester and Brighton it’s over 12,000 fewer people. In Leeds the figure is over 3,000 and in Sheffield almost 5,000 people fewer people will be registered to vote. In dozens of towns and cities across the country – including in Nick Clegg’s backyard – students are denied the chance to hold this government to account at the ballot box.

Nandy, Lisa (2015)

In school policy, Jo Swinson, and the Liberal Democrat Party, fully supported the gradual privatisation of education by voting to increase the number of Free Schools and academies including voting against restricting new Academy Schools to areas in need of additional capacity.

Welfare Benefits

The Liberal Democrat support for the Conservative “Bedroom Tax” resulted in placing the disabled and disadvantaged right in the firing line of the coalition’s brutal austerity cuts. Liberal Democrats and Jo Swinson in particular not only supported this, but helped to implement it whilst sitting in government alongside the Conservatives.

Whilst in the coalition government, Jo Swinson supported the Conservative 1% cap on public sector pay rises, setting the rate of increase of certain benefits, payments and tax credits at 1% rather than in line with prices at 2.2% for 2014 and 2015. This meant that an average health worker suffered a real-terms pay cut of almost £2,000, while an ambulance worker had their real-term pay slashed by over £5,000. At the same time, she consistently supported reducing benefits and public services for the poor and disabled, capping any increase discretionary working age benefits and tax credits at 1% in 2014-15 and 2015-16. Before losing her seat in 2015, Jo Swinson voted in favour of reducing housing benefit for those deemed to have excess bedrooms – the so called “Bedroom Tax”. She voted against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices. At the same time, Jo Swinson opposed increasing income tax for those earning over £150,000, and opposed introducing a tax on banker’s bonuses and reducing the rate of corporation tax, protecting those who need it least at the cost of the most vulnerable in society.

Whilst Jo Swinson and the Liberal Democrats support the 365-day limit on receiving contribution-based Employment and Support Allowance, she opposed making an exception for those with a cancer diagnosis or undergoing cancer treatment. Jo Swinson voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability.

Social and Economic Issues

The 2010-2015 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came into government in the aftermath of the 2008 world financial crash. Rather than introduce measures to curb financial institutions and protect the vulnerable, Jo Swinson and the Liberal Democrats, stood firmly alongside the Conservatives in favouring those who caused the crash against those who suffered as a result. Whereas taxation could have been used to redress the balance, Jo Swinson voted to increase the rate of VAT, and reduce the rate of corporation tax meaning whilst large corporations paid less tax, those on low incomes paid proportionately more. She opposed increasing the tax rate applied to incomes over £150,000, opposed introducing a 10% rate of income tax paid for by a mansion tax and opposed a tax on bank bonuses to fund guaranteed jobs for young people out of work for over a year. Jo Swinson opposed proposals to reform the banking industry.

One way out of the economic crisis would have been by strengthening the economy through stimulating greater employment opportunities and so producing greater prospects for work especially for young people. All such measures were opposed by Jo Swinson who opposed calling on the government to get more people into work and voted against introducing a compulsory job guarantee for young people and the long term unemployed. The Liberal Democrats generally opposed measures to stimulate economic growth and job creation, in particular, opposing tax breaks for small firms taking on extra workers.

Jo Swinson’s failure to support working people stretched into opposing more progressive economic measures to stimulate the economy. She consistently opposed reducing excessive rail fares and soaring energy costs, failed to stand up for families in the private rented sector. This stretched into opposing placing curbs on payday lenders, an energy price freeze, long term reforms to the energy market, free childcare for working parents of three- and four-year olds, greater regulation of gambling, and if that was not enough, opposed action to boost housing supply. Finally, Jo Swinson supported restricting the scope of legal aid making it more difficult for those on low incomes to access legal support.

The 2010 Liberal Democrat manifesto stated “Liberal Democrats will put thousands more police on the beat”. Jo Swinson supported cutting police numbers to their lowest level since September 2001.

Environmental Issues

Whilst the Liberal Democrats make great store of their environmental and green credentials, their voting record shows this appears to be little more than a sound bite. John Fergusson, writing in the Scottish Daily Record, reported that in 2014, Jo Swinson accepted £14,000 in donations from Mark Petterson, a director of Warwick Energy Ltd – a firm with fracking licences across England. Shortly after, in 2015, Jo Swinson voted against a moratorium on fracking permits and against a requirement for an environmental permit being granted for fracking. The Daily Record also showed that Jo Swinson opposed carrying out a review of the impact of fracking on climate change, the environment, the economy, and health and safety. In reality Jo Swinson generally voted against greater regulation of fracking, and against requiring permits for fracking.

More broadly, she voted for selling off state-owned forests and for cutting subsidies for renewable energy. Hardly an environmentally friendly position. Credit where it is due though. She did table a 2007 bill against excessive packaging of Easter Eggs. Admittedly the Liberal Democrats did introduce a 5p charge on plastic bags, but only by agreeing to Conservative proposals to tighten benefit sanctions against the vulnerable.

Whilst in Government, Jo Swinson voted in favour of cutting subsidies for electricity generated via renewable or low-carbon methods, and against targets for the amount of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases produced per unit of electricity generated. The Daily Record reported she voted against requiring the Green Investment Bank to support the target of reducing carbon emissions to 20% of 1990 levels by 2050. Jo Swinson also refused to support the completion of a cycle path in her constituency of Milngavie after complaints from motorists.

It is not just the Labour Party who can see through Jo Swinson, as indeed Tim Holmes in The Ecologist magazine argues “Jo Swinson has a chequered history in relation to the environment – which is somewhat eclipsed by her dire record on poverty and workers’ rights”.

Party Defections

In the 2017 General Election, the Liberal Democrats gained 12 MPs. Since then 7 more have defected from the Conservative and Change UK parties, meaning almost 40% of their MPs were not actually elected as Liberal Democrat MPs.

  • Heidi Allen (Conservative)
  • Luciana Berger (Change UK)
  • Sam Gyimah (Conservative)
  • Philip Lee (Conservative)
  • Angela Smith (Change UK)
  • Chukka Umunna (Change UK)
  • Sarah Wollaston (Conservative)

Their voting record makes it difficult to see how the Liberals Democrats deserve the name “Liberal”. By welcoming MPs who were not even elected as Liberal Democrats, and who refuse to stand in a by-election, makes it difficult to see how the Liberal Democrats deserve the name “Democrats”. Without being at all liberal and by refusing to be democrats, it is difficult to see what is left of the Liberal Democrats.

Sources

Fergusson, John (2019) “Jo Swinson branded a ‘hypocrite’ for taking fracker’s cash as Lib Dem leadership hopeful comes under fire”, The Daily Record, 9th June 2019.

https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/liberal-democrat-leadership-hopeful-dubbed-16483979

Foster, Dawn (2019) “The Galling Hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrats”, Jacobin, 17th July 2919.

https://jacobinmag.com/2019/09/liberal-democrats-uk-brexit-lib-dems-tories-labour

Holmes, Tim (2019) “Jo Swinson, fracking and social justice”, The Ecologist, 29th July 2019.

https://theecologist.org/2019/jul/29/jo-swinson-fracking-and-social-justice

Low, Jo (2019) “Jo Swinson criticised over donor links to fossil fuels and tax avoidance”, The Ferret, 30th July 2019. (Paywalled)

https://theferret.scot/jo-swinson-tax-adviser-fossil-fuel-donations/

Mason, Rowena (2015) “How much of the Liberal Democrats’ 2010 election manifesto was implemented?” The Guardian, 15th April 2015.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/apr/15/how-much-of-the-liberal-democrats-2010-election-manifesto-was-implemented

McKinstry, Leo (2013) “Lib Dems are the party of arrogant leftist hypocrites”, Daily Express, 16th September 2013.

https://www.express.co.uk/comment/columnists/leo-mckinstry/429798/Lib-Dems-are-the-party-of-arrogant-leftist-hypocrites

Nandy, Lisa (2015) “We won’t let the Lib Dems run away from their record“, New Statesman, 18th January 2015.

https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/01/we-wont-let-lib-dems-run-away-their-record

Stando, Olaf (2019) “Jo Swinson: here’s what you need to know about the new Lib Dem leader”, Scottish National Party, 22nd July 2019.

https://www.snp.org/jo-swinson-heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-the-new-lib-dem-leader/

They Work for You (nd) Jo Swinson’s voting in Parliament.

https://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/11971/jo_swinson/east_dunbartonshire

Worrall Patrick (2015) “What have the Liberal democrats ever done for us?”, Channel 4, 23rd March 2015.

https://www.channel4.com/news/factcheck/factcheck-liberal-democrats

Walking the Thames Stage 2 – Oxford to Henley-on-Thames

These blogs have now been incorporated into a website of the whole walk at https://petergates3.com/walking-the-thames/

I started walking the Thames Path on Monday 16th September 2019 (See here) and after 53 miles, I got to Oxford on Friday 29th September 2019 via Cricklade, Lechlade and New Bridge. The Coronavirus pandemic halted any further attempt from March 2020 until August 2020, when hotels had reopened.

This second stretch of the path would take me the 50 miles from Oxford (see here) to Henley-on-Thames via Abingdon, Wallingford, Pangbourne.

I journeyed up from Nottingham on Monday 10th August 2020 and stayed at The Head of the River Hotel on Folly Bridge. The weather has turned into a seasonal heatwave with temperatures over 30° on most days. The only rain expected coming as a result of the heat. The journey was rather surreal with largely empty trains – with at most 15-20% capacity, arriving at the Head of the River at 2:15.

This was the first place I had a room that provided me with a view of the river!

When I did the first section, I stopped at Olney Bridge, by the railway station, so I had to get back upstream for a mile to complete that stretch. Unlike most of the Source-Oxford section, on this stretch people were never far away, with first East Street which consists of a row of beautiful small cottages, and a pub, the Punter Inn.

Further on the path passes girder bridges, Osney Lock, the ice rink, a college residence (“alcohol free zone“?!), the mainline railway bridge built in 1850. Just by this bridge is a monument to the drowning of 21 year old Edgar Wilson, who in 1898 jumped in to save the lives of two young boys in difficulties, but lost his own in the process.

Housing is never far from view, with blocks of apartment as well as cottages as the path approaches Folly Bridge.

This is clearly a more affluent stretch of the river so far, perhaps illustrated by the castellated house on the southern end of the bridge next to the Folly restaurant. This now has acquired the title from the original folly the bridge was named after – a house in the form of an archway used as an observatory by 13th century friar Roger Bacon. It was pulled down in 1779.

After a very short trip to the local Tesco Express to get rtomorrows lunch, it was time for bed….