Cameron and the Referendum Game

Tom McGuire 

copyrigh European Union 2012 Council Union

David Cameron finally gave his long-awaited speech on Britain’s relationship with the EU last Wednesday morning promising Britain an in/out referendum on its membership of the EU. This referendum would come after the next election, and only if he does not succeed in changing the relationship as he hopes to over the coming months, and indeed years. This appeared to be a bold and surprising move from a Prime Minister usually averse to making his position so clear. Beneath the surface it was vintage David Cameron; the Prime Minister distilled into his purest form, in the shape of this one speech.

The promise of a referendum was that special type of promise: the David Cameron promise, the kind that upon closer inspection is nothing of the sort. Making any firm pledge on ‘when-I-win-the-next-election’ grounds is dubious for any politician; it is particularly problematic for David Cameron. With the Lib Dems withdrawal of support for boundary changes he seems increasingly unlikely to command an outright majority after 2015, having failed to win one in 2010 when it was his to lose. We have also seen the Prime Minister twist, turn and weasel his way out of a number of apparently firm positions on a variety of issues throughout his term of office. Most recently, most glaringly and most shockingly, when he overturned his prior assertion that he would adopt the recommendations of the Leveson Inquiry if they were not ‘bonkers’. They weren’t, he didn’t, and tellingly nobody was remotely surprised. This is a man whose promises carry little weight, even by politicians’ standards. Read more of this post

Stories, schools and statues – the Tory view of history

Robin Richardson

copyright Simon Harriyott`s photostream

First, tweeted Michael Rosen recently, they came for Mary Seacole. He was echoing a famous poem about resistance to totalitarian rule. And, he continued, because I’m not a woman and I’m not black, I didn’t speak out.

Well actually, Rosen himself has spoken out with characteristic eloquence about Mary Seacole and her place in the national curriculum in England. And well over thirty thousand people, so far, have signed a petition urging that she should continue to feature explicitly in the teaching of history in schools. There was recently a letter from Jesse Jackson and 50 others about this in The Times, the Archbishop of York has weighed in with an article in the Sun, an early day motion is currently open for signature in parliament, and the issue appears to have split the coalition government wide open, with Nick Clegg pledging he will oppose the new plans for the history curriculum which, according to leaks, Michael Gove is shortly going to announce.

Adding to a widespread sense of outrage, there are rumours that Gove’s private office has blocked access by civil servants at the Department for Education to the website of a distinguished professor of education who has dared to criticise the plans. Next, Rosen’s pastiche might continue, they came for the academics. Read more of this post

Robert Kee: History of Ireland` – No Surrender` (Episode 2)

Nora Connolly 

copyright Kyz`s photostream

In episode two Robert Kee adroitly negotiates his way through a myriad of propaganda while separating myth from reality. This episode explains why modern Ireland became such a troubled and polarised nation. He does not pull his punches; atrocities are graphically outlined, making for uncomfortable viewing. Kee begins with the `Flight of the Earls` September 1607, when Hugh O`Neill and his entourage went into self imposed exile. O`Neill the last Gaelic/Catholic leader in Ireland, had after his rebellion with England, lost all authority in his own country. We are reminded that O`Neill was made an Earl by the English Crown, an example of what eminent Irish historian RF Foster calls “the Janus-face of Ireland”. When O`Neill departs, the enormous area of land under his possession in Ulster (hitherto the most Gaelic/Catholic region) was grabbed and forfeited to the English Crown. Donegal, Tyrone, Fermanagh, Cavan and Armagh colonised or planted with largely Scottish settlers. Plantations had occurred in other parts of Ireland but this was the most successful because of its geographical proximity to Britain. Read more of this post

Has Probation a future?

Mike Guilfolyle

copyright citizensheep`s photostream

The modern Probation Service in England and Wales was accorded formal statutory footing in 1907 by a reforming Liberal Government having its embryonic Victorian antecedents in the appointment of Police Court Missionaries who worked in local Magistrates courts to redeem or act as guardians to many of those deemed by society as incorrigibles, inebriates and the socially excluded. The primary duty to ‘ advise, assist and befriend’ was enjoined on new entrants in what quickly became a more professionalised, welfare -oriented community based statutory agency. The union representing Probation staff Napo (National Association of Probation Officers) was formally established in 1912. The social work ethos that informed and shaped the widening casework responsibilities of Probation Officers was facilitated by the development of what was widely seen and lauded as the pivotal role of the professional relationship that the client/offender had with a Probation Officer( and later Assistant Probation Officer grades) . This role was strengthened with additional responsibilities that including work in prisons, parole supervision and aftercare, the provision of social enquiry reports( now known as pre-sentence reports ) to courts on Adult defendants found/pleading guilty to a range of middle ranking offences, as well as the setting up of Bail Hostels. Another significant statutory task which became integral to the Services work was the introduction of Community Service in 1972. Read more of this post

Mary Beard and Question Time – Clash, Discussion or Dialogue?

 

Lincoln Green   

Professor Mary Beard

Copyright Rose of Academe

Following the appearance of Mary Beard on the BBC’s Question Time broadcast from Lincoln on 17 January 2013 there has been an outbreak of largely anonymous abuse, directed at the Cambridge University Professor of Classics, originating from discussions which took place on the programme.

The website ‘Don’t Set Me Off’ which included some particularly offensive comments has subsequently been closed down by the website moderator who commented that friends and colleagues of the academic had been “trolling” his site and bombarding it with Latin poetry.  He also commented that Beard ought not to seek to curb freedom of speech.  Beard suggested that it was desirable to have a consensus on appropriate behaviour for on-line postings and that the nature of boundaries regarding what is acceptable should be considered.

As well as reflecting on the personal impact of the abuse on Mary Beard, a number of more general issues arise from these incidents and are perhaps worth considering: the relationship between the comments and the debate which actually took place; the quality and accuracy of reports on the debate made by sections of the press; the reasons which underscore the various controversies created by the programme; the potential inhibition of democratic debate and the willingness of individuals to place their heads above the parapet in a public forum of this type.  Read more of this post

Robert Kee: `Ireland A Television History`: Episode 1 `A Nation Once Again`

Nora Connolly 

Celtic Cross

copyright amanderson2sphotostream

And Ireland, long a province be

A NATION ONCE AGAIN. 

This song was written by Thomas Davis, one of the founders in 1842 of the nationalist periodical, `The Nation` and appeared in his paper alongside similar verse described by Robert Kee in `The Green Flag` as “trite but often of stirring quality”. In this programme he explains the song served as the unofficial national anthem of Ireland. While pointing out the melody depicts an unrealistic version of nationhood which is also inconsistent with what the nation of Ireland had been and what it became. Further, how he asks could Ireland become `A Nation Once Again`, when a significant minority oppose the very idea?

Commentators seeking to analyse Irish Nationalism dispassionately, such as Robert Kee, can find themselves subject to criticism based on the unfounded notion that they are taking sides – a problem familiar to all historians. But the issue is more potent when it concerns Irish History/Nationalism. The resurgence of interest in Robert Kee following his death has lead to a rise in viewers to his television history on Youtube. Some of the comments give a flavour of the problem, as Kee is criticised on the one hand for producing an overly sympathetic portrayal of the Irish, while on the other hand criticised for being hostile to the Irish. Both assertions are ridiculous, the programme rightly received wide-spread acclaim when broadcast.  Kee`s `The Green Flag` contains an inscription, from AG Richey,”to appreciate the history of this or any other country it is necessary to sympathise with all of the parties”. Kee`s television history achieves this but his sympathy does not inhibit him from looking at Irish nationalism with a critical analytical eye. His inquisitorial approach allows for a balanced appraisal, while outlining the adversarial history of this most distressful country and the part played by Britain.   Read more of this post

Question Time – Democracy Lite?

Lincoln Green 

BBC Question Time

Copyright UK Parliaments photostream

I was an audience member in the BBC Question Time broadcast from Lincoln on 17 January 2013, when David Dimbleby chaired a panel which included Mary Beard (Professor of Classics, Cambridge University), Nigel Farage MEP (Leader of UKIP), Caroline Flint MP (Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change), Roland Rudd (Chairman, Business for New Europe) and Grant Shapps MP (Conservative Party Chairman).

Whilst the aim of the programme is to entertain and to provoke, attendance prompted thoughts about broader issues and about the underscoring attitudes which inform opinion and which programmes such as Question Time by their very nature fail to address.

Perhaps the most well debated issue was not actually broadcast but took place earlier, chaired by the floor manager to warm up the audience and to check the broadcasting systems.  The theme of responsibility for diet was discussed for almost an hour, raising issues such as personal responsibility, education for change, busy working parents and child care, and most pertinently the nature of the food industry.  Even with the luxury of extra time allotted only hints of the real issue were addressed – that the function of the food industry is to make a profit, and the easiest way to do this is to create something on which people will spend plenty of money (junk food) which is very cheap to produce and highly addictive (fat, sugar and salt).  Read more of this post

Pensions for all and solidarity forever…

Legal Eagle

copyright Professor Megan`s photostream

I am aware that my recent comments concerning social democracy and the golden generation may have been slightly misconstrued. My intention was not to critique those now retired I was actually commending this generation for placing themselves on the right side of the poverty line, a position they and previous generations earned through struggle. I simply wished to highlight the obvious, that future generations who manage to reach the ever distant pensionable age, are going to find themselves in poverty. And we must reflect upon this as social democratic institutions wither on the vine both here and abroad. Quentin Crisp once said that in Britain the “people are cruel but the system kind; while in America the opposite was true”. If we accept this notion, then we need to ask, what happens to the poor in Britain when the system also becomes cruel? Because, I for one am tired of hearing privileged Tories bemoaning the fact that people are simply living too long in this country. We should be rejoicing in this and congratulating some of the social democratic institutions that have made this possible, such as the National Health Service, which is looking increasingly susceptible to privatisation in the future. One thing is for sure; once this privatisation kicks in we will undoubtedly see a drop in longevity levels in the UK, thus allowing the rich to make huge profits while resolving the tiresome problem of the demographic time-bomb. Read more of this post

Robert Kee: A Tribute

Nora Connolly 

Copyright Ireland

Copyright NASA Goddard photostream

Robert Kee the brilliant journalist, historian and campaigner for justice has sadly died aged 93. Kee the quintessential British liberal was also an establishment figure who along with others became involved in the setting up of TV–am in the early 1980s. Robert Kee was friends with the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire’s and the Dowager wrote a glowing testimony of Kee in her memories. Which highlighted Kee`s outstanding intelligence and communication skills. She mentioned Kee`s work with Panorama pointing out that the BBC was lucky to find someone of his calibre. Those viewing any broadcasts by Kee would have to agree with this assessment. Robert Kee spent a long time in Ireland and was a regular visitor to the Devonshire`s Irish estate, Lismore Castle. He rubbed shoulders with the aristocracy but he was no establishment toady and did not allow his grand association`s to debase an overwhelming desire to strive for truth and justice, as his publication `Trial and Error` illustrates. A book which helped bring the disgraceful miscarriage of justice concerning the `Guilford Four` and `Maguire Seven` to public prominence. The book also unddoubtly helped to right judicial wrongs and for this reason alone Robert Kee should be warmly remembered today by all striving for fairness and justice.

Robert Kee also wrote an important biography of Charles Stewart Parnell the `Laurel and the Ivy` but Kee had a vast hinterland to draw upon, he was a war hero a bomber pilot for the RAF, who was shot down over occupied Europe. He become a prisoner of war a role he occupied stoically writing about his experience in his critically acclaimed `A Crowd is not Company`Read more of this post

Social Democracy is dead but not for the Golden Generation…

Legal Eagle 

Mezza`s Photostream

Copyright Mezza`s Photostream

Don`t let me hear you say that life is taking you nowhere…Golden Years

I recently spent the day at a surprise birthday party held in honour of my partners ninety- year old Aunt. Travelling to the venue we listened to the depressing news concerning UK housing. It was reported that millions of people are struggling to cover their rents/mortgages, an estimated one million reliant on short term loans each month. This issue weighed heavily on my mind during a discussion at the party with a retired Head-teacher who said to me:

“I belong to the golden generation we had it all, we missed the war but drew all of the massive benefits from the Keynesian/Beveridge post war settlement. Meaning a grant aided education culminating in guaranteed employment post graduation. When I was a young teacher there were job adverts everywhere, pinned on the staffroom notice board pleading with you to leave your current job and go to another. I was of course able to take up my first post without debt, the very thought of having a debt was anathema to my generation. Housing was available with excellent local authority stock to choose and if you didn’t want to go into a council house then mortgage`s were an option and easily obtained because of your professional standing. My generation experienced the liberalisation of the 1960s, the end of deference, the freeing up of society a huge social and cultural shift. We had it all and now in retirement we have full pensions, live in lovely homes that we own outright, we are indeed the golden generation…” Read more of this post

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