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- 12/03/13--01:28: _It's time to get to...
- 12/03/13--02:28: _Books of the Year 2013
- 12/03/13--03:07: _The Lowry is proof ...
- 12/03/13--03:23: _We should say to To...
- 12/03/13--04:04: _Boris shifts his me...
- 12/03/13--04:20: _Don't abandon the w...
- 12/03/13--04:56: _Why did C S Lewis w...
- 12/03/13--05:01: _We need investment,...
- 12/03/13--05:48: _Global school ranki...
- 12/03/13--06:37: _Coalition meets jus...
- 12/03/13--07:06: _In the frame: Gener...
- 12/03/13--07:37: _Labour will always ...
- 12/03/13--08:19: _Researchers prove P...
- 12/03/13--08:28: _The future of footb...
- 12/03/13--07:12: _Please think of the...
- 12/03/13--10:49: _The lesson of the P...
- 12/03/13--11:42: _Chuka Umunna's spee...
- 12/03/13--23:29: _Morning Call: pick ...
- 12/04/13--00:54: _The Tories are stru...
- 12/04/13--02:08: _We don't have to "w...
- 12/03/13--01:28: It's time to get tough on non-payment of the minimum wage
- building a schedule that requires minimum wage payment into local authorities’ home care contracts;
- abolishing the first-year apprentice rate of the minimum wage;
- banning the advertising of unpaid internships;
- removing the cap on fines for employers flouting the minimum wage;
- prosecuting repeat offenders;
- and naming every employer found to be in breach.
- 12/03/13--02:28: Books of the Year 2013
- 12/03/13--03:23: We should say to Tom Daley “good for you, you smug git”
- 12/03/13--04:04: Boris shifts his message and admits "there is too much inequality"
- 12/03/13--04:20: Don't abandon the women of Afghanistan
- 12/03/13--04:56: Why did C S Lewis write the Chronicles of Narnia?
- 12/03/13--05:01: We need investment, not cuts, to deal with our fiscal headaches
- 12/03/13--05:48: Global school rankings: where are students happiest?
- 12/03/13--06:37: Coalition meets just 0.2% of Universal Credit target
- 12/03/13--07:06: In the frame: Generating content
- 12/03/13--07:37: Labour will always defend the rights of the disabled
- 12/03/13--08:19: Researchers prove PC viruses can spread via microphones
- 12/03/13--08:28: The future of football depends on the fans
- 12/03/13--11:42: Chuka Umunna's speech on aspiration and social mobility: full text
- 12/03/13--23:29: Morning Call: pick of the papers
- 12/04/13--00:54: The Tories are struggling in the marginals
At least 300,000 workers in the UK still do not receive the legal minimum. The current compliance system is in desperate need of reform.
The national minimum wage, now 15 years old, is one of the most significant institutional innovations in Britain’s political economy. It has established a baseline for earning that no worker should fall below. Yet according to a new report, Settle for nothing less, out today from the Centre for London, at least 300,000 workers in the UK still do not receive the bare minimum to which they are entitled. This is not good enough in 21st century Britain: no one here should have to work for less than the legal minimum.
Compliance with the minimum wage is enforced nationally by HMRC on the government’s behalf. This arrangement costs about £8m per year but only identifies roughly £4m of arrears owed to short-changed workers. As well as securing the return of these arrears, it imposes fines on non-compliant employers and, on rare occasions, pursues them further in the courts.
In too many parts of the workforce, though, this system is not working. Thousands of home carers, doing some of the most important work in our society, are not getting paid for their travel time between clients. Apprenticeships are part of the answer for the million young people in our country now out of work, but their abuse in sectors such as hairdressing is endemic. Internships too often amount to proper work yet remain unpaid. Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, especially when their employer also provides the roof over their heads. General awareness of basic entitlements is low and the current regime of sanctions for non-compliance is weak. Moreover, workers who are being exploited are unlikely to pick up the phone to report their employers to a remote and distant Pay and Work Rights Helpline.
It does not have to be this way. Today’s report argues for change to address systemic challenges to minimum wage compliance, specific concerns about migration, low levels of awareness and negligible sanctions, and an institutional framework for the delivery of minimum wage enforcement that can be improved.
The report’s recommendations include:
But the single best thing we could do to increase compliance with the minimum wage is to devolve primary responsibility for its enforcement to the local level.
Local authorities are much closer to the ground than HMRC could ever be. They already do enforcement work with local employers when it comes to trading standards, waste, health and safety, planning, licensing and more. The businesses that ignore these regulations are often the same businesses that flout the minimum wage. Local authorities know the employers in their patch – both the bad ones that may need investigating and the good ones who have a vested interest in leveling the playing field.
The current system for minimum wage enforcement is excessively centralised and exploited workers suffer as a result. From hotel cleaners paid unfair rates per room rather than per hour to migrant domestic workers treated as modern slaves, localised enforcement of the minimum wage would heighten the prospect of their unscrupulous employers getting caught.
Empowering local authorities to enforce the minimum wage would help us ensure that it is worth the paper it is written on. After all, it is supposed to be a right, not a perk.
Andy Hull is a Research Associate at the Centre for London.
The New Statesman’s friends and contributors choose their favourite books of 2013.
Each year we ask regular contributors to the Critics pages of the New Statesman, together with other friends of the magazine, to write about their favourite books of year. There are no constraints on what kinds of books they are able to choose, so the results are often intriguing.
John Gray ❦ Ali Smith ❦ Ed Balls
Stephen King ❦ Rachel Reeves ❦ Sarah Sands
William Boyd ❦ Alan Rusbridger ❦ Lucy Hughes-Hallett
Simon Heffer ❦ Andrew Adonis ❦ Craig Raine
Felix Martin ❦ Frances Wilson ❦ John Burnside
Jesse Norman ❦ Alexander McCall Smith ❦ Richard Overy
Jason Cowley ❦ Mark Damazer ❦ Lionel Shriver
Jemima Khan ❦ Geoff Dyer ❦ Laurie Penny
Vince Cable ❦ Alan Johnson ❦ Leo Robson
Jane Shilling ❦ John Bew ❦ Ed Smith ❦ Richard J Evans
David Baddiel ❦ Michael Rosen ❦ John Banville
David Shrigley ❦ Chris Hadfield ❦ Tim Farron
Toby Litt ❦ David Marquand ❦ Robert Harris
Michael Prodger ❦ Michael Symmons Roberts ❦ Sarah Churchwell
Frederick Seidel’s Nice Weather (Faber & Faber, £14.99), his first collection since Poems 1959-2009, contains some of the American poet’s most powerful and provocative work. From a smart background and formidably wealthy (he used to have Italian motorcycles hand-built for him), Seidel records the thoughts and sensations that go with his highly privileged life with a kind of savage glee. Now aged 77, he has become a great poet of mortality, spending his days looking for “green grandeur on a small enough scale to soothe your mind”. If you want a potent antidote against taking the human world too seriously, read Seidel.
I loved Chloe Aridjis’s Book of Clouds in 2009, so it was exciting to read her new novel, Asunder (Chatto & Windus, £14.99), which, in a story about art, guardianship, damage and philosophy, revealed again the deftness and depth of narrative understanding of this subtle and courageous writer.
Among the 2013 debuts, I was taken with Melissa Harrison’s Clay (Bloomsbury, £14.99). Most reviewers seem to have mistaken it for realism, whereas Harrison, a nature writer if ever there was one, is reaching after something else – a communal style (reminiscent of that of Nan Shepherd a century ago) with a formal determination to meet shared needs. It’s beautifully written and doesn’t compromise.
Is “fusion” cooking the new nouvelle cuisine, a fad that’s bound to fade? I’m not so sure. Counter-intuitive culinary crossovers generally don’t work. But the great cuisines of the world are all fusions. And Vietnamese cooking is one of the best – a wonderful mix of French and Chinese, with a dash of Japanese. My favourite (cook)book of 2013 is The Vietnamese Market Cookbook (Square Peg, £20) by Van Tran and Anh Vu, founders of the BanhMi11 street-food stalls in London. The recipes are not hard and the ingredients fairly easy to come by. But the balance of flavours is subtle and it is easy to get things out of kilter. I can recommend the pho ga noodle soup and the summer rolls, while the shaking beef with black pepper is sublime. For any amateur cook who likes new flavours and is willing to take risks, this book really is worth a try.
The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (Black Swan, £8.99) is a terrific novel, filled with characters and plot twists worthy of Dickens, but it’s also a grim and sometimes funny look behind the Bamboo Curtain, where the population has been strangled by a bankrupt ideology. A bit difficult but worth the initial effort. Once the story takes hold, the pages glide by.
Andrew Adonis’s Education, Education, Education: Reforming England’s Schools (Biteback, £12.99) is a powerful reminder of how Britain’s schools, especially our inner-city ones, were transformed by the last Labour government. An older book with a connection to my constituency in Leeds is Richard Hoggart’s A Local Habitation (Chatto & Windus), a beautiful and poignant account of growing up in the working-class back-to-back houses of inner-city Leeds in the 1920s and 1930s.
But the book I’ve most enjoyed reading this year is Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s Peepo! (Puffin, £6.99) – to my baby daughter.
For sheer delight, I have chosen Richard Holmes’s book on the history of air balloons, Falling Upwards (William Collins, £25). The author uncovers human courage, recklessness and eccentricity, just as he did in his great book on the scientific enlightenment, The Age of Wonder. My favourite chapters cover the role of balloons in the American civil war and the Hilaire Belloc-esque true story of the early-19th-century French woman who became the darling of Paris for her firework displays launched from an air balloon. One evening, inevitably, her balloon caught fire and the crowds applauded wildly, assuming it was part of the act. Her final words were: “À moi, à moi.” As Holmes writes dryly, journalists have always liked air balloons because they offer the tantalising chance of catastrophe.
The other journalistically friendly book I would pick is Robert Harris’s novel An Officer and a Spy (Hutchinson, £18.99). It is a page-turner about the Dreyfus trial, truth better suited to fiction. It builds up to Zola’s J’accuse speech, the most stirring defence of a free press, ever.
Evie Wyld’s second novel All the Birds, Singing (Jonathan Cape, £14.99) is a dark, powerfully disturbing and beautifully observed story about a haunting, both physical and temporal. More significantly it’s a technical tour de force, almost Nabokovian in its structural intricacy. Two parallel narratives, one in the present, one in the past, run contrapuntally. But the narrative in the past is going backwards through time, informing the present with accumulating revelations as the protagonist’s memories of her early life unfold. This is an incredibly hard feat of literary organisation to pull off but Wyld does it with all the aplomb and adroitness of a wily old novelist. A tremendous achievement. I can’t wait for the next one.
James Goodale’s Fighting for the Press (CUNY Journalism Press, $20) is an account, by the New York Times’s counsel, of the crucial Supreme Court battle 40 years ago for the right to publish the Pentagon Papers. The NY Times and Washington Post were accused of criminal treachery for publishing the trove of documents about the conduct of the Vietnam war. Nixon, determined to punish both newspapers for endangering national security, moved for prior restraint. The Supreme Court, by a 6-3 majority, voted that the papers should be free to publish – thereby making it almost impossible for news organisations to be censored in advance by governments. Goodale is a passionate defender of First Amendment rights and his insider account of this crucial struggle is surprisingly racy – and extremely important.
Alfred Brendel has given up performing but continues to write and lecture. His A Pianist’s A-Z: a Piano Lover’s Reader (Faber & Faber, £14.99) can be read in one sitting – in turns scholarly, practical and skittish.
I J Kay’s Mountains of the Moon (Vintage, £8.99) is a beautiful, strange novel about drab, dangerous lives. Kay’s imagination is exuberant, her language musical and her narrative both fantastically intricate and structurally sound. Modernity Britain (Bloomsbury, £25) is the latest episode of David Kynaston’s profoundly humane history of 20th-century Britain. His past is not another country inhabited by politicians and the famous. It is peopled by those whose lives are shaped, like ours, as much by food, music and weather as by wars and legislation.
Five books about wars impressed me this year: Roger Knight’s immaculately researched Britain Against Napoleon: the Organisation of Victory 1793-1815 (Allen Lane, £30); Philip Dwyer’s Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power 1799-1815 (Bloomsbury, £30), which gives, in depth, the other side of that coin; Richard Overy’s The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 (Allen Lane, £30), a superbly detailed account of a terrifying aspect of the Second World War; and, as various amateurs rehash and misunderstand how and why the Great War happened, two scholarly books that outline the truth. One, The War That Ended Peace, by Margaret MacMillan (Profile, £25), provides a thoughtful and objective account of how the war came about, with prejudices stripped away in favour of fact; the other 1914: Fight the Good Fight (Bantam, £25), by Allan Mallinson, is written by a scholarsoldier and describes with clarity and honesty the early days of the British Expeditionary Force in France. All these books exhibit the benefits of genuine research and mastery of their subjects.
The trials and tribulations of modern France yielded my two best books. Robert Harris’s An Officer and a Spy (Hutchinson, £18.99) breathes deep pathos into the Dreyfus affair, electrifying the bitter divisions of Third Republic France, which led ultimately to its disintegration in 1940. Philip Short’s Mitterrand (Bodley Head, £30) takes up the story of the rebuilding of France after the war in an equally embittered and divided republic. The socialist president is presented as a disciple of Mazarin, a political maestro of extraordinary cunning and versatility in a career spanning right and left in the halfcentury from Vichy to the mid-1990s. The supreme political quality à la Mitterrand? “Indifference.”
James Wood’s The Fun Stuff and Other Essays (Jonathan Cape, £18.99) was a source of continuous enjoyment even when I disagreed with it. Wood has high standards, he quotes well, he makes apt comparisons, he can unpick literary effects, he loves detail and he has a secret weapon – the parody. Paul Auster will never recover from Wood’s pitch-perfect imitation. Nor will Alan Hollinghurst, whose fruity cadences are caught perfectly: “Ralph’s cock was small but sincere; in the afternoon’s fading light ...” Michael Blakemore’s Stage Blood (Faber & Faber, £20) is a delightful anthology of score-settling – and why not? He seems to have forgotten nothing, including his seat “on the aisle, auditorium right in Row J”. A wonderful, detailed account of Olivier in Long Day’s Journey into Night: “he looked at me with a weak, grey smile and said, ‘That’s funny, I’ve got stage fright.’”
Geoff Mulgan’s The Locust and the Bee (Princeton, £19.95) burst with intelligence as it presented a profound reflection on capitalism and proposed practical ideas for its future: Russell Brand would approve, I reckon. James Astill’s The Great Tamasha: Cricket, Corruption and the Turbulent Rise of Modern India (Wisden, £18.99) was reminiscent of C L R James’s Beyond a Boundary, both for the way it uses sport to explain a whole modern civilisation and for its sheer literary quality. But the most unusual new book I have read this year is the most recent. Graham Robb’s The Ancient Paths: Discovering the Lost Map of Celtic Europe (Picador, £20) is an ingenious and thoroughly gripping historical and archaeological bolt from the blue.
Two books about men behaving badly top my list. Brett Martin’s Difficult Men (Faber & Faber, £14.99) is the story of how psychodads such as Tony Soprano and Breaking Bad’s Walter White turned American television into the dominant art form of the late 1990s and early 2000s. The difficult men of the title are not, however, the TV characters themselves but the madmen who created them, cooped up together for months in the writer’s room. Rupert Christiansen’s lacerating memoir, I Know You’re Going to Be Happy (Short Books, £12.99), begins on the day that his father walked out on his mother. There is nothing heroic about this difficult man, who turned his back on the wreckage and never got in touch with his family again.
For the unashamed bird-lover, Birds and People by Mark Cocker and David Tipling (Jonathan Cape, £40): a meticulous and caring study of how humans think about, imagine, use, misuse and abuse the most miraculous of our fellow creatures, might well be the book of the decade, not just for its lucid and lyrical prose but also its exquisite photography. Meanwhile, in a year that showed the continuing triumph of superstition over critical thinking, Patrick Barkham’s Badgerlands (Granta, £18.99) offered a perceptive and compassionate insight into the world of this much maligned and misunderstood animal.
Three books for 2013: one old, one recent, one new, all about politics but from very different perspectives. The old is V S Naipaul’s early novel The Suffrage of Elvira, a wonderfully vivid tale of twists and turns in a Trinidadian election of the early 1950s. The recent is Who Goes Home? A Parliamentary Miscellany (Robson, £14.99) by Sir Robert Rogers, clerk of the Commons – the perfect stockingstuffer, whether you hate politics or love it. And finally, the new: Caroline Shenton’s excellent The Day Parliament Burned Down (OUP, £10.99): this magnificent account of the great fire of 1834 will find many modern admirers ... as well as a few sympathisers.
I have admired William Dalrymple’s writing ever since I read his remarkable account of the travails of Christians in the Middle East, From the Holy Mountain. Dalrymple is a writer who can make the most recondite historical issues come alive and with each succeeding book he becomes a more entertaining and enlightening literary companion. His latest offering, Return of a King (Bloomsbury, £25) is an account of the first Afghan War, a tale of imperial plotting and folly in a region that has suffered from every sort of indignity and tragedy at the hands of local and foreign rulers. It is quite simply brilliant.
While publishers go to work overtime on the First World War, it is worth remembering that there are still unwritten histories from the Second. Two excellent books this year have illuminated very important but neglected stories. Rana Mitter’s China’s War with Japan (Allen Lane, £25) and Halik Kochanski’s The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War (Penguin, £10.99) are essential reading for anyone who wants to know more about the sacrifices made by the Chinese and the Poles as a contribution to victory.
At more than 800 pages, Simon Heffer’s High Minds: the Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain (Random House, £30) is not, to borrow the author’s description of the Northcote-Trevelyan Report, a “masterpiece of concision”, but it is the kind of elegant, accessible historical overview of a period that every young person interested in British politics and history should read.
John Gray’s The Silence of Animals (Allen Lane, £18.99) has a desolate beauty. Gray roams widely and reads closely – poetry, fiction, philosophy, politics. His vision of a godless world in which human progress is a delusion is as unsparing as it is consistent, and informs everything he writes.
I liked the Conservative MP Jesse Norman’s Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet (William Collins, £20). Norman is no Burkean stylist – his sentences can be ponderous, delivered from a lofty height – but he covers the ground and admirably attempts to contextualise the thought. He’s unusual in the modern Conservative Party in that he isn’t a Thatcherite and so his book can also be read as a kind of manifesto for a different, more compassionate conservatism. Would that David Cameron had written such a book, perhaps back in the days when he worked so assiduously in PR.
Charles Moore’s biography of Margaret Thatcher (Allen Lane, £30) is a model of research, lucid writing and mastery of context. Moore does not trade his privileged access to his subject and to documents for heroineworship. Time and again he analyses her many shortcomings – domestic, intellectual and political. At one point he even manages to write a sympathetic passage about Ted Heath. The book is also a reminder about the role of luck and chance in her early career – above all the hitherto undisclosed rigging of the vote when she was selected at Finchley.
How to Cure A Fanatic (Vintage, £3.99) by the Israeli novelist Amos Oz (first published nearly ten years ago and recently reissued) is a short, clear-sighted and unsentimental masterpiece about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Oz sees no virtue in pretending that there can be much affection between the two peoples – but clings, with not much optimism, to a two-state solution.
Three novels stand out for me in 2013: Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda (Sceptre, £16.99), an incident-based novel set in Brooklyn that involves plenty of racial elements but that never degenerates into the usversus- them cliche. Vivid, compelling and beautifully written. The Son by Philipp Meyer (Simon & Schuster, £14.99) is a memorable epic set mostly in Texas that spans multiple generations, covering a polarising history with impressive even-handedness (meaning everyone behaves badly). Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs (Virago, £14.99) is an unnerving portrait of obsession that makes you nervous about your mousiest of neighbours. Behind closed doors, those “ordinary” nobodies can get pretty weird.
Fatima Bhutto’s debut novel, The Shadow of the Crescent Moon (Viking, £14.99), spans just three hours, on a wet Friday morning in North Waziristan, the heartland of Pakistan’s tribal areas near the Afghan border. By the end of the morning the lives of three young brothers – and of two powerful, haunted women – are turned upside down. It’s a heart-stopping thriller, as well as an important political commentary about oppression, occupation and war. Most strikingly, though, it’s a devastating love story. There are drones, Taliban and men in khaki, but it’s the women caught in the turbulence of modern-day Pakistan that make this novel special.
The Unwinding by George Packer (Faber & Faber, £20) succeeds in being a fragmented yet entirely cohesive account of recent American history, built out of the stories of people both celebrated and unknown. For a combination of every kind of pleasure – laughter, meticulously delineated observations, slanted speculation about big ideas that are rooted in the smallest incidents – Billy Collins’s Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems (Picador, £9.99) is the treat of treats. Unlike the wedding guest waylaid by Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, the reader emerges from encounters with Collins as a wiser and far happier person.
Anyone sceptical that more can be wrung from the retold fairy-tale genre will be disabused by Six Gun Snow-White (Subterranean Press, limited edition), the gorgeous new novella by Catherynne M Valente. It’s a western adventure, vicious, dreamy and sad, on a par with her Hugo-nominated novel Palimpsest. On the non-fiction side, I tore through Selma James’s collected writings, Sex, Race and Class (Green Print, £15.95), and am currently enjoying Men We Reaped (Bloomsbury, £16.99), a haunting memoir by Jesmyn Ward, published in the UK in January. It’s the story of five boys she knew growing up, all of whom died young, and the time and the place that made them.
British fascism is an endangered species, if not yet quite extinct. But imagine a Britain in which the fascists won: the subject of C J Sansom’s alternative history, Dominion (Mantle, £12.99). Britain caved in in 1940, signing an unequal peace treaty with a triumphant Nazi Germany. By 1950 the British Vichy is a demoralised, defeated, dirty (smog-ridden) country run by collaborators: Beaverbrook as PM, Mosley as home secretary, Enoch Powell as India secretary. Britain’s Jews face deportation and worse. The resistance – led by Churchill and Attlee – is active but on the run. You can imagine the rest. A brilliant page-turner and chillingly plausible.
Damian Barr’s Maggie & Me (Bloomsbury, £14.99) is easily my favourite book of 2013. In a moving little speech to Baroness Thatcher at the end of this book, Barr imagines her being walked around her local park on the arm of a paid companion and tells her that “Few people passing would guess that you were once the most powerful woman in the world. I want to come to that park and watch you. I don’t want to talk to you or trouble you. I want to see you in person just once before you go. My other mother.” But Maggie went just as this book was being published and of all the biographies and memoirs of the great woman this is the most unusual and the most profound. Barr’s life developed at the rough end of Thatcher’s Britain. He is Scottish, the son of a miner and gay. But there isn’t a trace of bitterness in this beautiful book. Only the radiant eloquence of a man whose courage and humanity shine from its pages.
I loved two novels likely to be their authors’ last – Jim Crace’s Harvest (Picador, £16.99) and James Salter’s All That Is (Picador, £18.99) – and two works of non-fiction that could have been written just for me: Alwyn W Turner’s A Classless Society: Britain in the 1990s (Aurum, £25) and David Ellis’s Memoirs of a Leavisite: the Decline and Fall of Cambridge English (Liverpool University Press, £25). Hermione Lee’s biography of Penelope Fitzgerald (Chatto & Windus, £25) offers a perfect match of author and subject.
Anyone who read Emma Smith’s remarkable memoir, The Great Western Beach, must have wondered what happened next. Her sequel, As Green as Grass (Bloomsbury, £16.99) provides a partial answer, following Smith’s progress from her embattled childhood to character-forming adventures in France, India and the Bohemian world of post-war Soho and Chelsea. It is a beguiling evocation of what it is to be young, talented, hopeful and very slightly silly.
Julian Barnes’s Levels of Life (Jonathan Cape, £10.99) is a luminously strange fusion of biography, fiction and memoir, combining balloons, Sarah Bernhardt and lost love in an irresistible alchemy.
Chris Clarke’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 (Penguin, £10.99) does not quite end the historical argument about the origins of the Great War but it is the most lucid and commanding of all the books rushed out so far for the centenary. In Ireland’s Violent Frontier: the Border and Anglo-Irish Relations (Palgrave Macmillan, £57.50), Henry Patterson demonstrates how the IRA regularly used the Irish Republic as a safe haven during their campaign and raises the question of whether the Irish state did as much as it could to stop the murder.
David Epstein’s The Sports Gene (Yellow Jersey, £16.99) intelligently, rigorously and politely debunks the “10,000 hours” myth. Epstein has the footnotes to back up the wisdom of grandmothers: nature and nurture are so conjoined and interrelated that glib “laws” and percentages don’t apply. What we do know, now more than ever, is that pretending genes aren’t relevant to success isn’t liberal or optimistic, as its proponents want to believe. It’s plain wrong.
My book of the year is Richard Overy’s The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945 (Allen Lane, £30). Overy bases his account on a staggering amount of research in the archives of all the main combatant countries. He shows just how inaccurate and ineffective much of the bombing was, and provides a sober and realistic assessment of its impact on the warring nations and on the civilians who bore the brunt of its impact. It is hard to imagine a more thorough account: a masterpiece.
This recommendation is specifically for Tristram Hunt: Thinking Allowed on Schooling by Mick Waters (Independent Thinking Press, £14.99) is a stream of rational thought arising out of experience and research with evidence-based criticism of education policy with practical alternatives. Waters has been a classroom teacher, head teacher and adviser.
Norman Manea’s The Hooligan’s Return (Yale, £11.99), translated by Angela Jianu, is the first British edition of this superb memoir by one of Romania’s greatest writers, now living in the US. Manea manages to be down-to-earth and at the same time magical in summoning up the surreal realities of life under the fascists, first, and then the unspeakable Ceausescus. Kafka: the Years of Insight by Reiner Stach (Princeton, £24.95), wonderfully translated by Shelley Frisch, is Volume III of what will surely be the definitive biography. K is brought to vivid life by an author at once scholarly and entertaining.
My favourite art book of the year is Inside the Rainbow: Russian Children’sLiterature 1920-35 (Redstone Press, £35). It juxtaposes beautiful illustrations with texts from writers such as Daniil Kharms and missives from the Soviet state. The artworks are photographed: they retain the flat, matt, paper quality of the originals. It’s a lovely book and there’s nothing in it that is too familiar. I love the subheading, too: Beautiful Books, Terrible Times.
Thomas Harding’s Hanns and Rudolf: the German Jew and the Hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz (William Heinemann, £20) is an unexpected delight. The lives of the kommandant and Thomas Harding’s great uncle run in parallel, until they finally converge when Hanns tracks Rudolf down in the late 1940s. It’s amazingly well researched, resists judgement and above all is an utterly compelling read.
Stephen King’s Joyland (Hard Case Crime, £7.99) is a magnificent read. Set in the style of a golden era whodunnit, the novel succeeds not only in keeping you turning the pages, but also in captivating your thoughts long after the book is finished. While it retains the backdrop of a classic King thriller, the novel shows a departure from the niche carved out by his previous works. Joyland is not a simple, pulp-fiction means to an end but a nuanced journey that leaves you spellbound.
My book of the year was Hans Fallada’s Alone in Berlin (Penguin Classics, £9.99), the gripping tale of an ordinary man’s mundane challenge to Nazi tyranny. The book is terrifying, inspiring and even, occasionally, funny – and is based on a true story. Another favourite was a bit of “Nordic noir”, The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg (Harper, £7.99), an absorbing story about grizzly murders in the present and in the distant past that seem to be connected. It’s grim in parts but Lackberg’s pacy storylines and intriguing twists keep you going.
I’m into comics now – and there’s no better guide to the undiscovered wonders out there, between hard and soft covers, than Paul Gravett. His Comics Art, published as a gorgeous hardback by Tate (18.99), is the culmination of a lifetime’s reading, collecting and thinking. There are mind-blowing images on every page turn – from George Herriman’s Krazy Kat to Robert McGuire’s Here to Katie Green’s just-published anorexia memoir Lighter Than My Shadow.
Three very different books have impressed me most in 2013. The first is Dieter Helm’s The Carbon Crunch (Yale, £8.99) a forensically deadly attack on the failures and obfuscations of current debates on global warming. The world, he shows, now faces a “carbon crunch”, from which there is no pain-free exit. Helm’s book should be compulsory reading for the entire political class as well as for the bureaucratic elite and the commentariat. My second choice is Gwyn A Williams’s eloquent and stirring history of his (and my) native land, When Was Wales? (Penguin). It was published some time ago but is still a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the evolution of a distinctive Welsh political culture since devolution.
My third choice is Raymond Williams’s haunting The Volunteers (Parthian, £8.99) – both a dystopian picture of an imagined future in which the corruption of power is omnipresent and a fast-moving political thriller.
Not a new book but still one of my most memorable reads of the year was Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure by Matthew Algeo (Chicago Review Press, £20.99). It tells the story of how Truman, six months after he left office – without secret service protection or even a government pension – loaded up his Chrysler and went on a 2,500-mile journey from Missouri to New York, accompanied only by his wife, Bess, stopping off at ordinary motels and diners to the astonishment of the general public. A wonderful reminder of a more accessible, less mercenary age of political leadership.
In homage to the rule changes for next year’s Man Booker Prize, it’s two American novels for me. Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (Little, Brown, £20) is a big and bold mixing of Great Expectations and Dostoyevsky, with industrial quantities of drugs and a stolen Dutch Old Master painting thrown in for good measure. James Salter may now be in his late, late eighties but his powers as a stylist are undiminished. All That Is (Picador, £18.99), an account of the romantic career of a man not unlike the author himself, is Salter at his bitter-sweet best.
John Drury’s magnificent biography of George Herbert, Music at Midnight (Allen Lane, £25), has made me see the poet-priest in a new light. So often in the shadow of John Donne, Herbert comes across as a passionate, troubled, even dandyish man, whose poetry was the stage for tormented dialogues with God. As a red Mancunian, I couldn’t fail to mention Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography (Hodder & Stoughton, £25), which, along with well-aimed barbs against old enemies, contains the shocking admission that even the most feared manager in football was scared of Roy Keane.
George Packer’s The Unwinding (Faber & Faber, £20) tells the story of the unravelling of America’s social and political bonds over the course of the past century, the hollowing out of its core principles, and the corruption, greed and inequality that have rushed to fill the ensuing vacuum. Packer’s story of ordinary Americans betrayed by the powerful fairly vibrates with outrage and grief, a harrowing, heartbreaking exposé of the reality of life there today. One of the most important books about America this year.
Conceived around the millennium, The Lowry has brought life to Salford Quays – providing a cornerstone for £1.4bn of investment and proving that regeneration through the arts does work.
As someone who grew up in Salford, I followed The Lowry’s inaugural season in 2000 with great interest. A stunning international programme, including The Paris Opera Ballet, the National Theatre and a large-scale community project, took to the stage. During my childhood, I had witnessed the Quays go from one of the UK’s most vibrant docks into an industrial wasteland. It was remarkable that Salford City Council, Arts Council England and other partners had the bravery and vision to commission such an ambitious millennium project, investing £116m of public money in a state of the art venue on what, despite limited private investment, remained a largely derelict site.
By the time I returned to my home city as Chief Executive of The Lowry in 2002, the catalysing effect of this multi-million pound investment was starting to gain momentum. The Lowry built a bridge across the water to Trafford, connecting the Quays to accommodate the new Imperial War Museum North. Over the next decade, we would be part of a substantial growth in business and employment opportunities on the Quays, as well as a 30 per cent growth in the number of residents. By 2011, the infrastructure and opportunity now in place on the Quays was recognised in the best way possible with the opening of MediaCityUK. With international brands including the BBC and ITV now making their home in Salford, the Quays took its place as one of the world’s foremost cultural and media destinations. This vibrant landscape houses hundreds of emerging creative SMEs, a growing retail offering and a state of the art campus for the University of Salford. Since opening, The Lowry has been a cornerstone to a further £1.4bn worth of public and private investment in the Quays.
What Salford City Council recognised all those years ago is that investment in the arts has the power to catalyse regeneration. But they didn’t just look at physical regeneration, buildings and infrastructure, it was about social regeneration: changing the ambitions and outlook of communities in the city.
On 27 November 2013, Beyond the Arts: Economic and Wider Impacts of The Lowry and its Programmes was published – an independent report by New Economy into the financial, artistic and social impact of The Lowry. The results surprised even us.
The Lowry receives annual funding from Arts Council England and Salford City Council and, in the current financial environment, not only is this funding all the more crucial, but we have to ensure this investment goes further than ever. Only 11 per cent of The Lowry’s budget comes from public funding, while the report shows an average of 40 per cent across regularly funded arts organisations. The Lowry is also able to have a substantial economic impact both regionally and nationally, showing £29m in GVA contributed to the economy every year whilst supporting 533 full time equivalent jobs. And possibly more importantly, each year The Lowry engages with around 35,000 people, especially young people, from the communities around us.
Like many inner-city areas, Salford has its challenges. But Beyond the Arts shows that investment in culture in the city has provided opportunities that wouldn’t be there otherwise. The Lowry is an example of an imaginative city council using public funding to leverage significant economic and social benefit for the City, the people of Salford and our region.
Julia Fawcett OBE is Chief Executive of The Lowry
There’s no doubt that Tom Daley's coming out is marker of just how far we’ve come in terms of LGBT visibility, but it highlights how far we still have to go.
There’s always a story. Coming out is never a case of, “One day I started dating someone with the same genitals as me, then I ate some chicken and went to bed.” Some people come out to families who shun them, some people come out to unsupportive friends, and some people come out via YouTube video, not just to those who know them personally, but to the entire world.
On Monday, teenage Olympic medallist Tom Daley came out as bisexual. When I last checked, his “Something I want to say…” video had just under two million views. In a five minute broadcast, Daley announces that he’s in a relationship with a man and is extremely happy. The message is overwhelmingly positive, so why did it make me sad?
I have nothing but respect for Tom Daley. Have you seen the guy doing that jumping headfirst into water thing? He’s really, really good at it. In fact, here’s another five minute video of him, doing what he does best while just so happening to be a man who fancies men. Interestingly, this has been a big year for gay athletes. Former Leeds United winger, Robbie Rogers became one of football’s very first openly gay players in April. He was followed in May by American basketball player Jason Collins, who made history when he came out.
Women, of course, have a much stronger history of being openly gay in the world of running, jumping and hitting things with sticks. From Billie Jean King to Nicola Adams, sporting lesbians are hardly a rarity. But in the drainingly macho realm of male sport, coming out is still hazardous. So it’s no surprise that Daley is only one of the first few British Olympic athletes to do so. And of course, he subsequently had to endure the usual turdy deluge of abuse from some sentient beings who just about qualify as human. Probably.
Every time someone high profile comes out, millions of LGBT people are reminded of their own coming out “stories.” We’re told, yet again, that our sexuality is repugnant to so many people that we need to tread carefully wherever we go. That the question of our queerness is an issue that needs to be “dealt with”. Coming out is a process so often blighted by shame and stinking of apology. Unfortunately, we’re forced to “come out” if we want to be open about our sexuality, but when we do so, we pander to homophobes. In a less groaningly hateful world, we wouldn’t come out as LGBT; they would come out as bigoted.
You’d have to be pretty callous to think that Daley’s video is anything other than incredibly brave. There’s no doubt that it’s a marker of just how far we’ve come in terms of LGBT visibility. That is to say, we’ve gone from having no LGBT male athletes to having some. At the same time though, it highlights just how far we still have to go. At this stage, a public figure in a same-sex relationship makes the news. The actual news. That thing where they report wars, revolutions and genocide. Perversely, a more enlightened response to Daley’s announcement that he’s in a happy same-sex relationship would be, “Good for you, you smug git.”
I hope that athletes continue to come out. I hope that Daley, Rogers and Collins have instigated something massive, loud and rainbow-coloured. But, most of all, I hope that one day no one will give a shit.
After previously denouncing efforts to reduce inequality as "futile", the mayor concedes that the gap between the rich and the poor is too large.
As well as failing an IQ test and revealing that he doesn't know the price of a tube ticket, Boris Johnson's appearance on LBC this morning also saw him subtly shift his message on inequality. In his Margaret Thatcher lecture last week, the mayor presented inequality as both inevitable and desirable, denouncing efforts to reduce it as "futile". But today he qualified this message by conceding that at the moment "there is too much inequality".
He said: "[I]f you look at what’s happened in the last 20 to 30 years, there’s been a widening in income between rich and poor – there’s no question about that, and what hacks me off is that people with ability have been finding it very difficult to progress in the last 20 years and we’ve got to do something about that."
Boris's declaration that the gap between the rich and the poor is too large sets him apart from Tony Blair and other New Labour figures, who tended to respond to questions on the subject by quipping that they didn't go into politics to make David Beckham earn less money. He is also entirely right to recognise the link between social mobility and inequality. As I noted last week in response to his Thatcher lecture, it is the most unequal countries, such as the UK and the US, that have the lowest levels of social mobility, while the most equal, such as Sweden, Canada and Japan, that have the highest.
But Boris's belated acknowledgment that inequality is too high only intensifies the question of why he is in favour of policies, such as a reduction in the top rate of tax (he has called for the government to consider a 30p top rate) and the return of grammar-style schools, that would make the gap even wider.
The Afghan government’s move to consider reintroducing stoning for adultery may be a sign of things to come. Britain must act now to protect the women of Afghanistan.
Next year UK troops will leave Afghanistan after a long campaign. While many people have mixed feelings about our presence there, most I think would welcome the advancements we have seen in women’s rights. The women and girls of Afghanistan are now protected by law from rape within marriage, they can seek justice and support if they are sexually abused, and millions of girls now have access to education. But these transformative changes are at risk.
The Afghan Justice Ministry delivered a fundamental blow to years of human rights achievements by suggesting a few days ago that public stoning for adultery could be reintroduced. The sentence for married adulterers, along with flogging for unmarried offenders, appeared in a draft revision of the country's penal code being managed by the ministry of justice. The regular stoning of women in Kabul’s football stadium during Taliban rule was a defining symbol of the oppressive and cruel practices of that regime. We cannot let it return.
Though President Karzai has now sought to reassure us that this proposal is going nowhere, the very fact it was even being considered is a deeply worrying sign, and part of a wider trend. The environment for women and girls in Afghanistan is becoming increasingly hostile. Last year, the President endorsed a code of conduct that makes it legal for husbands to beat their wives. And only a few months ago, an effort to secure parliamentary ratification of the country’s Elimination of Violence Against Women Law backfired when conservative Afghan MPs took the opportunity to try to amend it, allowing for rape within marriage to take place legally. The amendment failed only when the Speaker of Parliament shut down the debate.
12 years since the Taliban’s repressive grip on Afghan society ended, we are confronted with the reality of the country’s fragile future. Following some very positive initial steps taken by the Karzai Government, it beggars belief that we have come full circle, discussing the very practices which existed under the Taliban’s brutality.
It may be a sign of things to come. President Karzai is going to come under ever more pressure to abandon the women of Afghanistan. As Western forces leave, he will need the support of conservative hardliners to strengthen his increasingly vulnerable Government. And he will be tempted to offer the abandonment of women’s rights as a concession to the Taliban as part of a deal to end the war. Going back to a society in which people accused of adultery are routinely stoned to death, in which women are banned from leaving the house on their own, and in which girls are not allowed to fulfil their potential and access education, suddenly seems a chilling possibility. The Afghan Government appears unwilling or unable to make the protection of women a priority concern, and incidents against women remain alarmingly high.
Hundreds of British troops have lost their lives in Afghanistan. Many more bear the physical and mental scars of their experiences of war. Their sacrifices must not be in vain. We must resolutely protect the gains that have been made since 2001. By doing so, we are not imposing our values on the women and girls of Afghanistan. They want to be able to leave their homes without escort, to work, to learn, and contribute to their country’s future. A few weeks ago I heard an Afghan women’s rights activist speak in Parliament. Explaining why British people should support the rights of women in Afghanistan, she said “it gives us strength to know we are not alone…it sends a message to our Government that people all over the world are watching and they support Afghan women.”
Securing women’s rights was cited as one of the original reasons for the UK’s intervention in Afghanistan in 2001. Now, as one of the main providers of development aid and technical support to Afghanistan, the British Government has major influence. In total, Afghanistan stands to benefit from a total of US$16 billion in development aid. We have leverage, and we should be prepared to use it. Our Government must say loud and clear – we will not support you if you are no better than the Taliban, and we will not accept the rights of women and girls being sold away in any deal with the insurgency. We all want peace in Afghanistan, but a peace built on the oppression of half the country’s population is no peace at all.
Sandra Osborne is Labour MP for Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock, a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, and Co-chair of the All–Party Parliamentary Group on Afghanistan.
Plenty has been written about the themes - faith, innocence, love - but little has been said about Lewis's "need" to write the books.
A middle-aged bachelor teaching English Literature at Oxford proposes to publish a children’s fantasy: in most publishers’ offices, it is a proposal destined for the wastepaper basket. Yet no one could deny the extraordinary and continuing appeal of the Narnia stories — to adults as well as children. The enormous recent success of the series of films based on the books testifies to this. And even the ferocity of some critics of the books bears witness to their influence. Philip Pullman’s powerful trilogy, His Dark Materials, is confessedly part of a counter-campaign – as if recognising that, for once, God has the best tunes and the devil (or rather the world of strictly secular morality and aspiration) needs to catch up in imaginative terms.
Why the books go on working so effectively is no easy question to answer. It isn’t every reader, even every Christian reader, who finds them instantly compelling. Yet they bear many re-readings, and constantly disclose more things to think about. In this brief guide to some of their themes, I don’t intend to try and answer the question of why they are popular — though there are some obvious things to be said. I am more interested in what precisely C S Lewis thought he was doing in writing the books in the first place.
The question of what Lewis thought he was doing is not quite the same question as "What prompted him to write?" On this, there are various theories. Some biographers, including A N Wilson in his brilliant and contentious study of 1990, have made much of the fact that Lewis began work on The Lion at a time in his life when multiple stresses, personal and intellectual, were driving him back towards a long-lost world of childhood imagination where matters did not have to be settled by constant conflict. He had been much taken aback by a rather traumatic debate in Oxford with the formidable philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, who had severely trounced him in argument, exposing major flaws in his book on miracles. Is it wholly an accident that the Narnia books have such a quota of terrifying female figures assaulting the simplicities of faith, hope, and love? And is Lewis retreating from argument back into the world of myth and fairy-tale which meant so much to him as a child? More damagingly, John Goldthwaite claims that the Anscombe debate "stung him back into the brooding of adolescence rather than the innocence of childhood", generating a fantasy picture of noble martyrdom at the hands of evil that finds its expression in Aslan’s slaughter by the Witch.
Lewis gives a little colour to such an explanation when he says both that he was writing the sort of books he himself would have liked to read and that he felt an urgent need to write them. But the theory of an origin in some sort of panicked retreat from debate is pretty doubtful. Apart from the oddity of imagining Elizabeth Anscombe as the White Witch or the Queen of Underland (she was a passionately devout Roman Catholic who wanted simply to avoid the slightest suggestion that the faith was being defended by faulty reasoning), it is an odd reading of the books that sees them as being in flight back to the simplicities of the nursery. They are successful children’s books — but, like most truly successful children’s books, they are very far from just being comforting. Lewis wrote of The Lion, when early sales were slow, that some mothers and schoolteachers "have decided that it is likely to frighten children", and then added wryly, "I think it frightens adults, but v. few children". If these were indeed the kind of stories that Lewis felt he would like to read, it does credit to his appetite for challenge in his reading material. And in response to the notion that he is indulging in adolescent self-glorifying, we need to read all that is said again and again in the books about the dangers precisely of such melodrama.
But it is also important to recognise how much the themes of the Narnia books are interwoven with what he was thinking and writing in other contexts around the same time, and with material he had already published in the 1940s — as well as the fact that the first seeds of the actual Narnia narrative seem to have been sown as early as 1939. For example: his 1946 book, The Great Divorce, foreshadows many of the ideas in the Narnia stories — most particularly a theme that Lewis insists on more and more as his work develops, the impossibility of forcing any person to accept love and the monumental and excruciating difficulty of receiving love when you are wedded to a certain picture of yourself. It is this theme that emerges most clearly in his last (and greatest) imaginative work, the 1956 novel, Till We Have Faces. These issues are very much the issues that Lewis is trying to work out in a variety of imaginative idioms from the early 1940s onwards — the problems of self-deception above all, the lure of self-dramatising, the pain and challenge of encounter with divine truthfulness. What Narnia seeks to do, very ambitiously, is to translate these into terms that children can understand. And as to why Lewis decided to address such an audience, there is probably no very decisive answer except that he had a high view of children’s literature, a passion for myth and fantasy and a plain desire to communicate as widely as possible.
In a letter of 1945 to Dorothy L Sayers, he declares that he is "all for little books on other subjects with their Christianity latent. I propounded this in the SCR [Senior Common Room] at Campion Hall [the Jesuit House of Studies in Oxford] and was told that it was 'Jesuitical'." Against such a background, writing children’s books "with their Christianity latent" makes good sense enough. It is, we need to be clear, something rather different from simply writing standard defences of Christianity in code: he and Sayers would have agreed passionately that the writing has to have its own integrity, its own wholeness. It has to follow its own logic rather than being dictated by an argument. But this does not mean that it cannot be powerful in showing how an argument can be properly put into context. And if we turn back to his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, we shall find that this Jesuitical lack of scruple is simply a reflection of God’s unprincipled methods in nudging us towards faith. "A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading," says Lewis; apparently harmless literary works are littered with traps for the unwary, seductive style, compelling narrative and literary integrity blinding us to the doctrine that a writer takes for granted and so insinuating the doctrine when we’re not paying full attention.
This post originally appeared at blog.oup.com
Rowan Williams is Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge. His most recent book is The Lion’s World: A Journey into the Heart of Narnia, from which this blog post was exerpted.
Rather than using the forecast structural surplus to pay down the national debt, the government should invest it in science, skills and childcare.
The financial crisis and subsequent downturn had a huge impact on the public finances. In two years, from 2007-08 to 2009-10, public sector net debt jumped almost twenty percentage points from 37% to 56% of GDP. So when the current government came into power, it did so promising to mend our public finances. It set itself a fiscal mandate to eliminate the structural deficit and a supplementary target to have public sector debt falling by the start of the next parliament – 2015-16.
Poor growth has made these targets hard to achieve. But finally, after years of additional cuts have been pencilled in, there is some good news ahead of the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on Thursday. Thanks to growth picking up, borrowing is looking better than expected. There are more cuts to come, but for once it’s looking likely that the government will be on track to meet the targets as set out in the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR)’s last forecast without having to find more savings. Depending on what view the OBR takes of the growth we have had, the likelihood of meeting the mandate may even have risen.
Earlier this year, the OBR expected the fiscal mandate to be met by 2016-17. But what happens after that? The OBR forecast that the structural deficit would turn into a structural surplus of £15bn in 2017-18. It’s worth stopping to think about what this means. The structural part of the current budget is the part that doesn’t change as the economy goes through its usual cycle of downturns and upturns. A zero structural surplus would mean that the government balances its books over the course of an economic cycle. A structural surplus means that it goes even further than this – allowing it to pay down national debt. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury has pointed to the ageing population as the reason for continued austerity throughout the next Parliament. This could be a reasonable strategy. But it might not be the best one.
The OBR’s Fiscal Sustainability Report, which looks at the long-term outlook for the public finances, shows the debt-to-GDP ratio nicely falling for around a decade after 2017-18, but as the ageing population kicks in, it’s set to sharply rise again in the 2030s, driven by rising health, social care and pension costs. By the early 2060s, public sector net debt is set to hit nearly 100% of GDP.
These levels make our current problems seem rather small in comparison. And they also raise the question of whether the ageing population is something that can really be tackled through cuts alone. The OBR numbers show that if we can boost the economy’s productivity, debt wouldn’t start rising until around two decades later. But in recent years, our productivity growth has been sluggish. If it doesn’t pick up, we may even fail to meet the OBR’s central case scenario.
So there are big gains to be had from boosting our long-term productivity. The £15bn could be used to treble the science research budget, treble our adult skills budget or introduce universal childcare, enabling more parents to go out to work – with money still left over. The choice isn’t straightforward. The Chancellor – and future Chancellors – are facing a new trade-off, one where too little investment now could risk a huge fiscal headache in the future.
The UK is ranked below the top 20 in terms of science, maths, reading and - crucially - happiness at school.
There has been much concern today about the UK’s poor ranking in the OECD’s Pisa tables, which measure fifteen-year-olds’ performance in science, maths and reading. The UK has failed to make it into the top 20 for any of these three subjects. South-Asian countries including Singapore, South Korea, Japan and several cities and administrative regions of China (including Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macau, which are all ranked separately) dominate the tables, and the UK is outranked by poorer European counterparts, including Poland and Estonia.
The Pisa report reveals several failings in the UK’s school system: not only are we failing to provide young people with the educational tools they need to compete economically in an increasingly global labour market, but we’re also falling behind other countries because poorer students in the UK fare less well at school than their wealthier counterparts. On top of this, we’re not spending money efficiently on education: we spend more than the OECD average on education, but this isn’t translating into top results.
We’re also – and this point will grab fewer headlines – not making sufficiently sure that children are happy in school. The UK ranked 32nd according to the percentage of children who report feeling happy at school – which is lower than it ranked for maths, for instance. We might look enviously at the performance of South Korean students, who ranked 5th for maths and reading and 7th for science, but school children in South Korea are also the unhappiest: fewer than 60 per cent report being happy at school. Is that an education system we want to emulate?
Meanwhile, Indonesia and Peru, some of the lowest ranked countries in terms of educational performance, rank 1st and 3rd for happiness (with Albania squeezing in at number 2.) Evidently there is a balance to be struck: raising happy children who don’t have the educational tools to thrive in later life isn’t ideal either.
The problem with the Pisa league table is that when it ranks countries internationally, it separates educational attainment and happiness in school – but governments should aim to create the conditions for both. A more helpful way of comparing different educational systems could incorporate both student well-being and achievement, providing additional discouragement for results-obsessed politicians wanting to turn students into exam machines. South Korea would fall down the ranks, Indonesia and Peru would be slightly boosted and, sadly, the UK would still languish below the top 20.
New figures show just 2,150 are claiming the payment, leaving the government 997,850 short of its original target of one million.
Three and a half years after Iain Duncan Smith took the reins at the Department for Work and Pensions, how many people are claiming Universal Credit? The answer, as revealed by the DWP today, is just 2,150. That leaves Duncan Smith 997,850 claimants short of meeting his original April 2014 target of one million (since downgraded to 184,000, a target that will also not be met).
Universal Credit which was initially due apply to all new claimants of out of work benefits from October 2013, is currently only available in seven 'pathfinder' sites: Ashton-under-Lyne, Oldham, Warrington, Wigan, Hammersmith, Rugby and Inverness (the stats refer to the first four). Shadow work and pensions minister Chris Bryant said: "Today’s figures show there are just 2,000 people receiving Universal Credit despite the Department for Work and Pensions once claiming a million people would be on it by next April. It’s clear to everyone but this out-of-touch Government that Universal Credit is in chaos. It’s time for David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith to come clean and tell us how they’re going to fix this problem. Families facing a cost-of-living crisis deserve better than this." Although, of course, Labour is still committed to Universal Credit in principle.
Ministers are trumpeting the finding that 90% of people claimed their benefits online after earlier warnings that the system would prove too complicated. But it's worth noting that the only group of claimants currently included are single, non-home owning, non-disabled, childless people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance. As Labour MP Glenda Jackson noted at a recent work and pensions select committee hearing, "The people you are actually testing are a small number, the simplest of cases. How an earth are you going to achieve the evidence that you keep telling us you are going to learn from when the cohort is so narrow and so simple?"
It was in September, in an an excoriating report, that the National Audit Office warned that "throughout the programme the Department has lacked a detailed view of how Universal Credit is meant to work", that the 2017 national roll-out date is in serious doubt, that the department "has not achieved value for money", with £34m of IT programmes written off, that the current IT system "lacks the ability to identify potentially fraudulent claims" and that the DWP repeatedly ignored warnings about the viability of the project.
Duncan Smith recenty told the work and pensions select committee that he was merely following advice from MPs "not to go too fast" but as Labour chair Anne Begg replied, "There's rushing it and there's a snail pace". Having once promised a welfare revolution, it is clear that the government's priority is now damage limitation.
Update: Here's a statement I've been sent by the DWP.
Our failure to build an economy in which disabled people can play their full part leaves us all the poorer.
Ed Miliband has talked of building a One Nation Britain in which everyone’s rights are respected, everyone’s contribution recognised, and in which everyone has a responsibility to play their part. Nowhere could the notion of One Nation be more tested than in the way we treat disabled people – whether at work, at home, in the community and in our democracy.
Last year, the eyes of the world were on the UK as we hosted the successful and joyous Paralympic Games – and celebrated dozens of medal wins. There’s no question the Paralympics brought disabled people into the spotlight. According to a recent survey from the charity Scope, most think the impact on public attitudes was very positive.
But today, as we mark the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we must acknowledge that there’s still a long way to go. Scope’s survey also found that more than half of disabled people report continuing discrimination in their daily lives as the Paralympics effect begins to fade. As set out in Labour’s own report, Making Rights a Reality, disabled people experience unacceptable levels of disadvantage, exclusion, stigma, abuse, violence and hate crime.
Our failure to build an economy in which disabled people can play their full part leaves us all the poorer. Many disabled people work, and more want to. But they’re less likely to be working than non-disabled people, and when they are in work, they earn less, and they progress less.
Labour believes all disabled people who are able to work should work, and should have the chance of decent employment. That’s why we want to make work work better for disabled people, developing better support to help them gain the skills they need.
Luckily, good employers, like Sainsbury’s, which we’re visiting today, or Central Manchester Hospitals, already recognise the potential of disabled people, and the value they bring to their business. Imaginative employers work with their disabled staff to adapt their workplaces, and to give real chances to disabled people.
Beyond the workplace, disabled people fulfil many other roles in society – as family members, friends and neighbours, and as volunteers, citizens and campaigners. We should recognise and celebrate all these roles - yet too often we exclude people, judge and condemn them.
Volunteering is important to many disabled people. But too often cuts to services, like local community transport or day centres and lunch clubs, or rigid and unfair benefits rules, shut them out. And the vicious and unfair bedroom tax risks tearing many away from the roles and relationships they have developed.
The government’s lobbying bill – now "paused" for six weeks in response to widespread opposition to proposals to limit the activities of campaigning groups – could have dire effects for disabled campaigners. It is simply is unacceptable that additional obstacles should be placed in the way of disabled people.
It is the very worst and most shocking cases, like last week’s horrifying story of the murder of Bijan Ebrahimi, or the scandal at Winterbourne View, that ram home the message that every barrier we put in the way of disabled people’s participation, every derogatory comment that’s made, whenever undignified or demeaning treatment is tolerated, ultimately lead to, and help to legitimise, the most unspeakable and evil cruelties.
No civilised society should tolerate that, and Labour never will. We pledge that we will always speak out against dishonest, stigmatising, hurtful and offensive portrayals of disabled people, and that we will celebrate their lives and their contribution to our communities. And today, as we mark UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities, we are proud to do just that.
When the so-called "badBIOS" virus was found in October, transmitting itself by audio broadcasts at inaudible frequencies, it seemed incredible - and now we have proof-of-concept.
Researchers have proven that it’s possible to transmit computer viruses via sound, confirming a controversial suspicion reported earlier this year that malware was mutating into strange, unexpected new forms.
Three years ago Dragos Ruiu, a computer security expert, discovered that several of his computers were infected with some kind of virus - and, even weirder, they were managing to talk to each other even when their Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections were turned off. Disconnecting the ethernet and power cables didn’t work either. He physically removed the wireless cards from the machine and it didn’t have any effect on stopping the virus.
This was baffling. I’ll let Dan Goodin at ars technica explain why:
In the intervening three years, Ruiu said, the infections have persisted, almost like a strain of bacteria that's able to survive extreme antibiotic therapies. Within hours or weeks of wiping an infected computer clean, the odd behavior would return. The most visible sign of contamination is a machine's inability to boot off a CD, but other, more subtle behaviors can be observed when using tools such as Process Monitor, which is designed for troubleshooting and forensic investigations.
Another intriguing characteristic: in addition to jumping "airgaps" designed to isolate infected or sensitive machines from all other networked computers, the malware seems to have self-healing capabilities.
"We had an air-gapped computer that just had its [firmware] BIOS reflashed, a fresh disk drive installed, and zero data on it, installed from a Windows system CD," Ruiu said. "At one point, we were editing some of the components and our registry editor got disabled. It was like: wait a minute, how can that happen? How can the machine react and attack the software that we're using to attack it? This is an air-gapped machine and all of a sudden the search function in the registry editor stopped working when we were using it to search for their keys."
In October, Ruiu settled upon a hypothesis – this malware would first get onto a computer on an infected USB stick, where it would burrow into the machine’s BIOS (that’s the fundamental program that runs directly off its hardware). It would then take over the computer’s microphone and speakers and communicate with other computers by high-frequency sounds that humans can’t hear.
That’s right – computers that, literally, speak to each other.
It was such an unbelievable idea that, at first, many other experts has assumed Ruiu had made some fundamental mistake. Ruiu himself made it clear that his research needed to be peer-reviewed, it was such an extraordinary idea. The possibility that such a virus – which he dubbed “badBIOS” – is out in the wild is a worrying one for those who rely on air gaps to keep their machines clean.
Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, Information Processing, and Ergonomics in Germany have now provided some proof-of-concept that the mechanism Ruiu describes is possible. Using a program originally developed for transmitting information acoustically underwater, they managed to get computers exchanging inaudible broadcasts over distances of up to 65 feet, according to their paper in the Journal of Communications.
Importantly, it wasn’t just two computers talking, but also a demonstration of “how the scenario of covert acoustical communication over the air medium can be extended to multi-hop communications and even to wireless mesh networks”. That mesh network, where each computer talks to several others, would explain how Ruiu was unable to completely clear his lab of infected machines – each time he would wipe a machine then turn it back one, it would be infected by at least one of the remaining machines that had yet to be wiped.
The bandwidth of this method is incredibly small, only a few bits per second, which makes this a pretty useless tool for extracting large files from target machines. It would work well as a keylogger, though, noting down usernames and passwords. These could be used to give access for more traditional viruses.
It’s a fascinating find, although it still doesn't explain where on earth badBIOS came from – if it does exist – nor how it first infected Ruiu's computers. But, these days it isn’t unusual for the paranoid to stick tape across their webcam to stop hackers taking surreptitious pictures. Perhaps it may be wise to begin eyeing that uncovered microphone with equal suspicion.
Despite football’s efforts to hamper it, the supporter governance movement is thriving.
Last Monday, a significant discussion took place in Westminster. The subject was football governance, and the occasion was a session of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Mutuals. It’s possible you may have missed it, as important discussions about what Premier League manager should lose their job because their team hadn’t won for a couple of weeks, or whether or not a player should have cut the sleeves on his club shirt obviously took precedence. But the very fact that the discussion was happening at all is evidence that a significant turning point has been reached.
Representatives from the Football Association, the Premier League, the Football League and UEFA were present, along with Supporters Direct, the organisation set up in 2000 by the Labour government “to promote sustainable spectator sports clubs based on supporters’ involvement and community ownership”. And that, in itself, is significant. Because talking about governance is not a conversation the people who run football and football clubs wanted to happen.
Once that conversation does start to happen, questions begin to be asked and assumptions begin to be challenged. The football governing bodies like us to believe they speak for the game, and for all clubs. But they don’t. They speak for a particular set of interests and they back a particular model of ownership and governance. The Premier League said in its response to the Culture Media And Sport Select Committee that was “neutral about ownership models”. But it is not. The absence of the kind of regulation there is, for example, in Germany makes English football clubs more attractive to the kind of speculatory financial interests currently in place. Lack of regulation can shape situations as much as regulation.
Once you’ve observed the workings of the Premier League, for example, it is hard to come to any other conclusion than that what is favoured is a light touch, unfettered free-market approach. Dubbed the “greed is good” league, the Premier League’s judgement and criteria for what makes an owner suitable are clearly rooted in one world view, and slanted against others. The airy dismissal of the German model in paragraph 6.1 of that CMS committee response is telling.
But that “ownership neutral” assertion is being challenged, as is the notion that the Premier League, FA or FL speak for all clubs. There is a wider variety of views at club level about ownership and governance than is commonly acknowledged, but the governing bodies consistently push one set of views to the exclusion of others. And the membership of those bodies is largely excluded from the process of decisionmaking.
Power within football has relied upon the ability to control discussion for years. But now it is finding it is no longer able to control that discussion. Being required to appear before a select committee to discuss governance is evidence of that. The more astute elements recognise that change is afoot. And so, as power always does, those elements are trying to minimise the strength of the challenge while seeking to adopt the language of reform.
So football likes to point to the fact that it funds bodies such as Supporters Direct to show that the argument I am advancing here is without foundation. What it’s not so keen for people to know is that it funds those bodies because the government said it must. Or that, having been required to provide funding, it has tended to quibble and obfuscate for as long as possible before releasing that funding – a process one observer likened to a cat toying with an injured bird.
The big buzzword now is engagement. Power in football uses it a lot, and it seems like an attractive idea. Engagement is what the fans want, right? So who could be against it? The trouble is, engagement is only part of the answer. On its own, it means little more than nice customer service – which would admittedly be an improvement in many areas. To put it simply, it’s not just a vote on the colour of the team kit we want, it’s a vote on who gets to decide the colour of the kit.
Despite football’s efforts to hamper it, the supporter governance movement is thriving. Hardened by the battles of the last 15 years, it is increasingly sophisticated. It is asking questions such as “Are hedge funds appropriate bodies to own football clubs?” which are bewildering the game’s authorities, so used to operating in a closed circle of unquestioned power. Not only do they not have answers, they don’t understand why the questions are being asked.
Change rarely happens quickly. Looking back over the last 15 years, perhaps even further to the fanzines and independent fan movements of the 1980s, it is possible to see an idea that has grown and has now come of age. Supporters have a voice, and governance is a live issue. Those facts shouldn’t be significant, but they are and that needs to be recognised if the success is to be built on.
I’m not arguing here that, to use an oft-deployed phrase, the football bubble is going to burst. It is clearly not. The game is buoyant, popular and awash with cash. But there is discontent bubbling close to the surface. While much of the game seems in a similar state of denial to the one that characterised the banking industry before the crash, more and more people are questioning the line of march. Institutions and established theories are being questioned everywhere in the wake of the global economic crisis, so what is happening in football is a reflection of what is happening in the wider world.
There are currently 180 supporters’ trusts in the UK, with over 400,000 members. Some 32 football clubs, some professional, some not, are owned by their fans. At Premier League Swansea City supporters own 20% of the club. And at Liverpool and Manchester United, two of the biggest ‘global brands’ sophisticated, effective and well-resourced fan organisations such as the Spirit of Shankly supporters’ union and the Independent Manchester United Supporters Trust are taking the discussion into new territory.
How change happens will pan out slowly. But the presence of a supporter governance movement based in a firm set of principles provides a greater chance that, in another 15 years’ time, we may have a much healthier and more genuinely loved game.
Are free-to-play business models, which often have no ceiling for maximum spend, really an ethical way to sell children videogames?
Any topic that mixes children and manipulation has a tendency to become emotive. Free-to-play developers don't like to talk about it. The gatekeepers of the mobile marketplaces, Apple and Google, remain undrawn on the issue. And yet over the past few years you've probably read the same story many times over; a child blows hundreds or thousands of pounds buying berries in Smurf Village, or donuts in The Simpsons: Tapped Out!, or gems in Clash of Clans.
The games in question are always 'free-to-play,' and thanks to such good publicity the OFT recently published a rather coy report. But an assumption running through it troubles me. There is much discussion of principles and good practice, but the fundamental question of whether F2P is an appropriate component of children's entertainment never seems to be asked. Surely this is worth serious consideration rather than meek acceptance.
Is it appropriate for children's entertainment to be designed around psychological triggers that are proven to extract money? Stories about these games often make reproving points about passwords and permission settings. This shifts the focus from where it should be – the games and the coercive techniques they use on young players – towards the stock villains of stupid parents. In the straw man stakes this is a giant. When a child or teenager can spend hundreds of pounds on a videogame in minutes or over longer periods of time, it seems to me that the problem might be the videogame.
What sparked these thoughts was the iOS release of Tiny Death Star. Not just a perfect metaphor, this is a tower-expanding game, published by Disney, using one of the biggest children's licenses in the world as a Trojan horse; it is all-too-easy to imagine how many parents will let their kids download a free Star Wars game. Well, little Johnny is about to enter a world of 'fun pain' (to use the oxymoron credited to Zynga's Roger Dickey), where the only goal is to convince him to buy stuff.
I encourage you to look at screenshots and decide whether this game is targeted at children or adults. Tiny Death Star's design is a type referred to within the industry as 'whale-optimised.' A 'whale' is an individual who spends enormous amounts of money, and TDS is designed to encourage and facilitate such customers – the true cost of the free to play model, where the minimum is free but the maximum is infinity.
There are many psychological tricks used to this end. First, the real money side is disguised behind a layer of in-game currency – in this case, coins and 'Bux'. People tend to make much better decisions (for themselves) when in-game purchases are clearly linked to real money; Tiny Death Star's Bux are a layer of insulation from this good sense. Children do not need £7 to buy a Yoda sprite; they need 150 Bux. And consider the way in which Bux are bundled; 25 Bux for £1.49, 65 for £2.99, 150 for £6.99. Aren't the maths behind that last leap designed to baffle?
Tiny Death Star's interactions are designed to provide busywork – you add levels at the rate of one or two a day, paid for by 'stocking' levels with goods. Stocking a level can take between a minute to four or five hours, after which the shop needs to be tapped again to start selling. The game is composed of endlessly repetitive tasks like these designed to bottleneck, and itch while doing so. The game makes it hard to do anything now , because delays mean the player is tempted to spend Bux. If there is one thing children lack, it is patience.
The coup de grace is the elevator. This is the most 'gamey' element of Tiny Death Star, and designed to subtly degrade in utility the more you play – encouraging a spend on a better elevator, which of course costs Bux. What I mean by degrade is that the original is slow, but when you only have two or three floors this doesn't matter. By the time you have ten or twenty floors the speed matters a lot more, which the game also reminds you of with frequent popups. This is a nefarious piece of design, but it is hard not to admire its subtlety.
It is telling that Dream Heights by Farmville creator Zynga - a company notorious for its exploitative 'whale-optimised' designs - has similarities with Tiny Tower. The game's developers Nimblebit wrote an open letter in comic form highlighting parallels between the two products, and later revealed Zynga had tried to acquire them. Nimblebit's Tiny Death Star is just a reskin of Tiny Tower's core mechanics.
If Disney will commission and publish a free-to-play game with these mechanics, parcelled up as a cutesified version of one of their biggest brands, then anyone will. This is not about parents fiddling with device settings, or hiding their credit cards. It's about whether free-to-play is ever an ethical way to sell videogames aimed at a young audience, and in particular designs like Tiny Death Star where there's no ceiling on spending.
It is not one game or developer or publisher that got us here. It is not Nimblebit or Disney to be blamed, but the industry's ever-increasing access to a young audience, a situation that leads in incremental steps to petty dominions rather than entertainment, and eventually the presence of a £70 'microtransaction' in a My Little Pony game.
Free-to-play is not inherently an evil business model, but in games aimed at children it feels somehow grotesque – and certainly worthy of much more fundamental scrutiny than that undertaken by the OFT. Children should not be expected to have discretionary income, or sifted through for big-spending 'whales.' They are too inexperienced to know better; that's why they're children, and that's why they need adults to protect them from lousy practices. Tiny Death Star suggests we're doing a damn bad job of it.
As the top-performing countries in Asia and Europe demonstrate, excellence and equality are not in opposition – they go hand in hand.
Every three years, governments and education departments around the world await the results of a test they did not sit. The publication of the latest PISA results for 2012 – tests taken by 15 year olds across 65 countries in reading, maths and science and published today by the OECD – allow for international comparison on policies that are working well and policies that are perhaps not quite making the grade.
Headlines focus inevitably on the position of countries in the league table – and the UK’s apparent lack of progress is always of concern. But looking behind the headlines, PISA also paints a picture of just how important tackling educational inequality is.
One message has been further reinforced in these latest results: the countries with the best schools are at the top of the league table in large part because they ensure that their poorest children achieve well at school. Excellence and equality are not in opposition – they go hand in hand. In all top performing countries – many in East Asia, but also countries such as Canada and Finland – a pupil’s socio-economic background makes comparatively less difference to their ability to achieve well at school. What is more, many of the countries which have moved up the league table seem to have done so in part because they are delivering better for their poorest children - witness Germany, Turkey and Poland.
PISA also provides some lessons on which policies help combine fairness with overall excellence. As former Michael Gove adviser, Sam Freedman has noted, there is little, if any, evidence that selection is effective and there is strong evidence that the quality of teaching and a high-status teaching profession really matters. But one critical characteristic of the best schools systems in the world is that few children are allowed to fall behind. They are schools where every child is always "on the agenda" as Michael Barber puts it in his response to the results today.
Save the Children has recently published research which has highlighted exactly this argument. We have focused on the critical importance of supporting children – particularly the poorest children – early in primary school. The hard truth is that despite steady progress in recent years (under the coalition and Labour before it), too many children still fail before they have even started in life.
Our recent report revealed that nearly 80% of the gap in attainment that exists between poor and better-off pupils when they take their GCSEs is already present by the age of seven. And if you are behind at this age, the chances of catching up are slim. Fewer than one in six children from low-income families who are struggling early in primary school will go on to achieve five good GCSEs, including English and maths.
Looking beyond today's political blame game, there is in fact a big opportunity. All parties are committed to improving the attainment of our poorest pupils: they buy the argument that we must marry equality and excellence – and that this means even more focus on our poorest children. So after we have finished looking backwards, as a country we need to look ahead and ask what it would take to ensure that no child is behind by the end of primary school and all are on the road to success. This should be seen as a great progressive opportunity: it is achievable and would make Britain a significantly fairer country.
Hollie Warren is UK Poverty Policy Adviser on education for Save the Children
"We’re here because we understand – deeply – that the future of every person is diminished when the future of one person is threatened."
Thank you so much. It’s a great honour to speak here tonight.
With the support of your colleagues on the executive what you are doing at LFIG is really fantastic. Strengthening the organization, raising its profile, extending its reach across the country.
Together, you are making a very important contribution on many issues critical to our nation’s economic future: from those affecting the very biggest corporations through your work on takeovers, to the very smallest with your taskforce on freelancing.
And I think our trip to China showed the vital role you play in taking the Labour Party to places it might not otherwise go or reach when out of Government. We are better for it.
So it is for that that, above all, I must thank you David – and all of you here.
Now, I’m among friends, so let me start with an inspiring story about a dashing, young Labour candidate trying to win a crucial marginal seat in a tight election. Smart suits. Strong brows. And a bouffant of hair that, quite frankly, a man like me can only envy.
Yes, the year is 1974, the constituency is Harrow Central, and the candidate is our very own David Offenbach. And here he is!.
Yes, I like to think that – had this not been somewhat pre-Baywatch – they might have called him The ‘Off.
Now, let’s have a look at what he was running on. Ah, yes – a living standards crisis, caused by Tory economic failure.
In a phrase that seems remarkably prescient today, he says: “Can we afford another FIVE YEARS of Tory rule, after the price we have paid for the last three and a half?”
Back to the Future indeed.
Now the first thing it tells you is just how long David has been a loyal servant to the Party.
But – more than that – it shows the wisdom he had, even in the first blush of youth. Listen to what he says,
“Too many things have been devalued in recent years – not just the Pound, but truth, and faith in democracy. Very simply, and sincerely, I ask for your vote so that I may strive through Parliament to have these values honourably restored.”
Even then, well before I was even born, David was already worried about the loss of faith in politics and the dead-end policies of division. And so he spoke of the need “…to turn the hopes and exertions of the people in a new direction”.
I think he was on to something.
Sadly, David did not win that election, the first of two in 1974 – although of course the Labour Party did, just about.
Now is not the 1970s and we face new and different challenges. But, once again, it falls to us – this Labour Party – to give voice to those who are struggling under a Conservative-led government, as household bills rise faster than wages.
It falls to us – this Labour Party – to be strong in standing up to the powerful.
And, once again, it falls to us, in David’s most elegant phrase, “…to turn the hopes and exertions of the people in a new direction”.
Why? Because this is our Party’s defining purpose. Working together to lift people up, to empower them to meet their aspirations and take advantage of the opportunities today.
And that is why each of us is here tonight. Because we know how much politics matters.
It might seem obvious to say, but we all know that a lot of people are fed up with politics. That a lot of people are losing faith in it.
They think we’re all the same.
But we know it does matter. It matters who is in Number 10. And it matters in whose interests they are working.
Here tonight, we know the clock is ticking. That 2015 election is just 520 days away.
Some say it’s going to be a referendum on the Tories. Or the coalition. Or that it will be a contest of character – a contest, by the way, I am confident we would win.
But it’s not about that.
It will be about the future.
It will be about the cost of living crisis that has seen people take a £1,600 pay cut and costs increase faster than wages in 40 of the 41 months under David Cameron.
It will be about the kind of nation that we want to be, and in whose interests our country is run.
So tonight, I’m not going to talk so much about specific policies as I am about our approach.
To win in 2015, Labour must be - and we aim to be - the Party of the future, about the future, for the future. For unity of purpose, over discord and division. For the many not the few. For hope and possibility over fear and blame. For what, together, we can become.
We must be the Party that speaks to people’s ambitions, hopes and optimism.
Think about it – when you were a kid, what did you want to be? Everybody wanted to be something!
One of the things I love most about my job as an MP is going to local Primary Schools - listening to the ambitions and soaking up the excitement our kids have for the future. I went to one of those schools myself. Those kids are me… minus a few years!
I see the amazing work and effort of teachers to give kids a really strong start to life. And I’ll speak to classes and assemblies and one of my favourite things is to ask the question “So what do you want to be when you grow up?”
Whatever school you’re in, the response is always the same. All over the room, hands shoot up – kids eager to tell you. And you’ll have those wanting to be footballers, actresses, doctors, singers, astronauts etc.
Then think about when you left school and you were starting your career and trying to figure out what you actually wanted to be. Or for the entrepreneurs here – when you started on that journey of making it happen.
I think the dreams we had as kids - the hopes and ambitions we have as adults – they show an eternal human truth. Even when it’s not a formal, conscious thought. We’re always looking forward. To tomorrow – to next week – to next year and beyond. And that gaze and purpose towards our future never leaves us.
But, here’s the thing: the impulse to look to the future might be shared by us all. But not all of us have access to the means to realise our dreams.
We know that for too many people in Britain, the gates of opportunity remain firmly locked.
Think of the 18 year old, who has been unemployed for more than six months, though not for want of trying. She’s one of the 10% of her age group who lack ‘Basic Online Skills’- she can’t send an email or even search for something online. And this is supposed to be the most tech-savvy generation ever.
And all she’s thinking of is the next thing she needs to do to survive. She simply doesn’t know what next week will hold, or where her life is heading. And the unknown is uncertain – and uncertainty breeds insecurity.
Or think of the dad who works full time, but is one of the 4.8 million who earns less than a Living Wage. His vision of the future is one of stress and worry about how he’s going to put food on the table for his kids. He’s working as hard as he can, but it’s just not quite enough.
Alan Milburn’s Social Mobility Commission tells us that nearly half of all children who live in poverty are from families where at least one parent works full time.
Or think of the mother, who is working so hard that she simply hasn’t got the time or the energy to read to her daughter – though she knows that if she doesn’t, it will be her daughter who will pay for it.
Only two in five children from the poorest homes are read to every day, compared to four out of five from the richest families.
And there’s the fifty year-old, whose business has just closed down because a competitor abroad could do it cheaper. He doesn’t have the luxury of a vision of the future, when his biggest worry is what he’s doing next.
All of these people are looking to the future, but for far too many the future is bleak.
So they don’t care about the Westminster soap opera; the rhetoric of the left and right; a percentage change in the latest poll.
What they worry about is the fact that even if they do the best they can for themselves and their families, for them the padlock will remain on the gates of opportunity.
Because in modern Britain – more than in most OECD countries – your background still determines your destiny. Not your innate talent, ingenuity and sheer hard work. For too many, their future is still determined by the circumstances of their birth, not the content of their character.
That’s not good enough and changing this is our Party’s defining purpose.
Working together to bring the dreams that people have into reach, to achieve their aspirations and ambitions.
Or, as it says on all our membership cards, “…through the strength of our common endeavour…to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential”.
Yes – it’s about those words – dreams, ambitions, aspirations – made real through common endeavour.
This is Labour’s mission. Now the problem is that too often progressives - the centre left - have ceded this kind of language to our political opponents.
When I mention the words ambition or aspiration on Twitter, I usually get kick back. “Thatcher’s child”. “Are you a Tory?”. That type of thing.
But it is not about individual aspiration over community. It is about both pulling together. That is the history of our movement, the story of our struggles, and our mission today. It is that it takes a community, it takes a movement, it takes a struggle, “to create for each of us the means to realise our true potential”.
That is what Ed Miliband means when he talks about One Nation, where the gates of opportunity are truly open to all.
Now, in recent weeks, John Major has emerged from the shadows to highlight the problem.
He glosses over the fact that his and Margaret Thatcher’s administrations greatly exacerbated the situation.
Never mind. He has done us all a service in pointing out that his improbable journey – from Coldharbour Lane to Downing Street, and of his family from the music hall to the Commons chamber – has become even less likely in Cameron’s Britain.
But though he has highlighted the problem, the ideological approach of the Conservatives will only make matters worse.
Though they talk the language of aspiration and freedom, their idea of freedom is meagre. It is a vision which insists that less support is always more; that abandons people to the unpredictability of the market; that takes no account of where people start from or the resources under their control.
Their idea of freedom will serve only to bolster the power of the strong over the weak, to entrench the privilege of the few over the many.
And what this means as a programme for government is now becoming clearer. In opposition they adopted the language of modernisation, but they’ve junked that agenda in office. They once said cuts to public spending would hurt them more than it would hurt the rest of us. Tell that to the people of Britain after 3 years of regressive policies. Now David Cameron is committed to permanent austerity, not out of need but out of choice.
So under David Cameron, the spectrum of unequal futures will widen. The basic hope of giving our generation’s children a better life than ours will disappear. Ambition is replaced by stress and worry. Hope by blame.
He is making things worse now, and worse in the future.
Real freedom means freedom to pursue that vision of a bigger life. To make our ambitions possible.
That kind of freedom requires positive action and common endeavour: a community to help and an active government, creating the conditions in which people can become self-reliant, empowered to achieve their ambitions.
This is our mission, and this is the future we seek to create.
It demands we do two things.
First, it means doing what Labour has always done best: standing up to the powerful, protecting people from harm, alleviating their sources of stress and helping them to solve their problems. Providing a safety net.
Because we’ve seen, especially in recent years, that sometimes bad things happen to us and our neighbours that – despite our best efforts – we couldn’t stop.
That’s why we don’t believe you should walk away from a friend in need. That’s why we set up the NHS; it’s why we established the National Minimum Wage. And it’s why we will now scrap this
Government’s cruel and unfair Bedroom Tax and will work towards a Living Wage.
But to be the party of the future, we must go further.
Because we’re not just about the safety net, but also about giving hope and creating opportunity for people to realize their aspirations. Not just about alleviating a future of stress but going beyond it to create a future of possibility.
So when we’re on the doorstep in 2015, it’s not just about the next five years, but the five years after that. Its about explaining to the parents of those kids that I see in the schools in Streatham what their futures will look like after a decade of growing up under a Labour Government. A 2015 manifesto with an agenda for 2025.
This is why our commitment to implement a comprehensive industrial strategy is so important. Strategically working with the sectors which will deliver growth in the future. Creating the right environment for businesses to grow and innovate, with a proper British Investment Bank, regional banks, more and better quality apprenticeships and strong regional institutions for growth.
That industrial strategy will enable us to tell a story about the direction the next Labour Government wants to take our country in the long term and the opportunities, working with business, which we seek to generate for people as a result.
And you embody this side of our Party – the side that looks to create a future of opportunity. People who make things happen, but recognize society provided them with a platform to help them do it.
So we need you to go even further in advocating the values of the Labour Party; communicating, defending and arguing for the policies of the Labour Party – and the stark choice that faces the people in 2015.
And we need you to continue to be great role models of what business and industry can be – a powerful and vital member of the community that enhances every part of our country.
And that’s what we’re here for – the future of all the people in this country. We’re here because we understand – deeply – that the future of every person is diminished when the future of one person is threatened. That we are one Britain – One Nation.
We’re not here just to elect Labour, we’re here to secure our nation’s future. We’re here to create a future of opportunity for all of our people.
The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.
1. Labour needs more than empathy and catchy pledges to win power (Daily Telegraph)
Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are betting the ranch on the cost-of-living crisis trumping the feelgood Chancellor George Osborne, writes Mary Riddell.
Beijing, in its dispute with Japan, risks repeating the errors of an earlier era that led to war, says Martin Wolf.
3. Capitalism turns greed into prosperity (Times)
He didn’t express it perfectly but Boris Johnson sees how all of us benefit from free enterprise, says Daniel Finkelstein.
After grilling Alan Rusbridger, I am delighted the select committee I sit on will be summoning the security chiefs we really need to hear from, says Julian Huppert.
Tories worry that Cameron is surrendering to Lib Dem demands in order to secure a second coalition, writes Alice Thomson.
The sedation of a bipolar woman for a caesarean is a medical issue, writes Zoe Williams. It's how the judge dealt with her baby that's truly alarming.
7. Syria is breeding a new generation of terrorist (Daily Telegraph)
Scotland Yard is right to be worried about British jihadists bringing the war home, says Con Coughlin.
8. London’s mayor is half right on greed (Financial Times)
Envy is indeed both inseparable from economic progress and destructive of social cohesion, writes John Kay.
9. Britain and China: the wheel turns (Guardian)
Britain is not so far behind industrially and China not so far advanced as a comparison between 1881 and 2013 might suggest, says a Guardian editorial.
10. Why Vince Cable must break the monopoly of law’s magic circle (Independent)
Never has so much been charged by so few to so many, writes Chris Blackhurst.
New polling by Survation in Labour marginals Great Grimsby and Dudley North shows the party neck-and-neck with UKIP.
Two months after the conference season, Labour's poll lead remains stubbornly high at eight points, and there's more bad news for the Tories this morning. After last week's poll putting them in third place in marginal seat South Thanet (behind UKIP), two new surveys commissioned by UKIP donor Alan Bown, and carried out by Survation, show a similarly grim outlook for Cameron's party.
In Labour-held Great Grimsby and Dudley North (the 9th and 10th most winnable Conservative targets), support for the Tories has fallen dramatically since the election, leaving them neck-and-neck with UKIP. The party's vote share is down by 11 points to 20% in the former and by 12 points to 25% in the latter, with support for UKIP up by 16 points in Grimsby and 14 points in Dudley. Support for Labour has risen by seven points to 40% in Grimsby and by six points to 45% in Dudley.
While the Tories hope to win over UKIP defectors by warning that a divided right will put Ed Miliband in Downing Street, there's less potential than they'd like to do so. Just 30% of UKIP supporters in these seats voted Tory in 2010, with 10% voting Labour and 20% not voting.
It's further evidence, if needed, of why a Conservative majority is the least likely of all the plausible outcomes of the next election. In both seats, the swing to Labour is greater than that shown by the national polls, suggesting that Miliband's party is winning support where it most needs it. That finding is line with Lord Ashcroft's recent marginals survey, which gave Labour a 14-point lead in the 32 Tory seats where it is in second place.
No doubt after the polls in Grimsby and Dudley the Tories will do a comfort poll showing they're 2 points ahead ......— Lord Ashcroft (@LordAshcroft) December 3, 2013
Ashcroft has responded by quipping that the Tories will commission another "comfort poll", a reference to an alleged private poll showing the party two points ahead of Labour when the Tory incumbents are named.
I wrote recently to the British Polling Council asking whether the poll should be published in line with BPC guidelines which state that "in the event that the results of a privately commissioned poll are made public by a third party (i.e. external to the organisation that commissioned the survey, its employees and its agents — for example the leak of embargoed research) the survey organisation must place information on its website within two working days in order to place the information that has been released into proper context." The BPC replied that since the poll was carried out "by a non-member" (Crosby Textor?), it is not required to be published. For now, the Tories' "comfort polling" remains for their eyes only.
The idea that men and women's brains are "wired" differently is wrong. As long as our children’s brains are in the process of developing and forming connections, don’t we owe it to them to give them the best chance possible of escaping pre-determined, limited roles in an unequal society?
The first time I encountered the modern-day version of the wandering womb I was on a walk with my partner’s family. As we traipsed through the forest, my partner’s father commented that it would be easier for me to spot any berries “since women have evolved from the gatherers”. I found this bizarre so asked him to explain. In the conversation that followed I learned that not only was I an expert berry-spotter, but I was also “better at repetitive household tasks because gathering didn’t require as much mental engagement as hunting”. On a hunch I asked about low-paid jobs. Yes, I was better at those, too (“used to smaller rewards”). I considered all this to be a joke, albeit a not particularly funny one.
Later that day my partner took me to one side and asked whether I was upset about the “argument” I had had with his father. I told him I hadn’t thought it was an argument. I thought it was just an extended version of those ancient ‘back into the kitchen woman’ jokes some dads make. Apparently not.
“Those books that dare to say what no one, apart from everyone, dares say about gender?”
“Those are the ones.”
Ah yes, those books. Misogyny meets metaphor meets stereotype meets wilful extrapolation, with a good dose of circular argument to bind it all together. Those books which repackage the myths we all need to make extreme gender inequality palatable. I hate those books (but then I would, wouldn’t I? I’m a woman. They’re probably too science-y for me).
Over the past few days there have been several reports on the latest evidence for “the hardwired difference between male and female brains”. It appears that research conducted by Professor Ragini Verma at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia “has shown for the first time that the brains of men and women are wired up differently which could explain some of the stereotypical differences in male and female behaviour”. Hooray! We’ve never had research that shows that before! Well, okay, we have. But the likes of Deborah Cameron, Cordelia Fine and Lise Eliot came along and debunked it, so we had to go out and get some more.
Several people have already pointed to flaws in this study (or at least the way in which it has been presented). Our brains don’t literally have wires. The application of the metaphor is already a value judgment. It’s unclear whether data is validating stereotype, or stereotype is validating data. Most importantly, the study shows few differences between male and female brains before the ages of 14-17.
As one blogger points out, this would surely suggest that below these ages girls and boys are not “wired” differently. To assume that changes that occur after this point are all down nature rather than nurture is merely that: an assumption. Similarly, the belief that until the point at which difference is detectable difference is still there relies on faith, not evidence:
Boys and girls do exhibit differences in gendered behaviour, after a while […] but the brain science does not have an explanation for that. And yet the scientists assume that their brain science does explain the difference between the gendered behaviours of adult men and women. Reports on this study therefore hold, unwittingly, to two irreconcilable claims […]: first, that the brain science doesn’t prove gendered difference, and second that the brain science does prove gendered difference.
My children are four and six. I presume this counts as not-yet-detectably wired. Regardless of whether or not their behaviour reflects gender stereotypes, gendered interpretations of said behaviour - decisions made on whether they are being aggressive or prima donna-ish, managerial or nurturing, boisterous or over-emotional - shape their experience of the world. Given all the other things we consider to have an influence on the people they will become, why shouldn’t these responses do so too? I don’t know why and the research doesn’t tell me. And if they do, should we care? I think we should.
Verma boasts of a “complimentarity” of male and female brains, as though the “hardwiring” that takes place leads to a perfect match. Yet of course it doesn’t. We know that all is not well between the sexes. Rigid gender roles have served one group of people, women, especially badly for millennia. The “it’s just meant to be” narrative of hardwiring may make it easier for some people to accept this gross inequality, but I would ask whether we have the right to do so. As long as our children’s brains are in the process of developing and forming connections, don’t we owe it to them to give them the best chance possible of escaping pre-determined, limited roles in an unequal society?
If there is even the slightest chance that the metaphorical “hardwiring” of children’s brains is something that we influence - and there is scant evidence to rule this out - then shouldn’t research such as Verma’s be a call to arms? If it’s possible to hardwire conformity with gender stereotypes (and one wonders what other stereotypes to which this could apply), might it not be possible to do the opposite? I’m not sure whether it’s possible to encourage brains to form all the requisite connections for self-confidence and tolerance. But shouldn’t we at least try?