Thursday, 15 July 2010

Blogroll updates

Since I haven't been through it in a while, and there were a few on there that I hardly read any more, I took them off. I also realised that some flipping good ones weren't on there too - seems like I'm operating on government timescale and efficiency.

So welcome to my blogroll to Raedwald, Marmalade Sandwich, the IEA blog, Charlotte Gore, Iain Martin and The Melangerie. Do check them out - they are all good blogs.

No to the graduate tax

Since (hopefully) I'm off to university in October, I have an interest in this - and the graduate tax is a bad, bad, bad idea. Alex Barker has 4 reasons against it on the FT Westminster blog, and I agree. It's a poorly thought out idea that punishes success.

We need to fund universities properly, yes, so they need more money. We also have to recognise what university is for - to educate people to a higher level, so they can do better in life. We also, in this, have to recognise the huge effect that university educated people have on our economy, especially certain sectors, and society.

I think, though imperfect, the current tuition fees system is the best way of funding universities - students actually understand that education is not 'free', and can rationally plan - "university education will cost £X but will let me earn £XX in the future, so it's worth paying for". A graduate tax removes this - and, I would say, actually makes people work less hard, as success in higher earnings will mean paying more tax in the future - and there is no limit on when you stop paying into the fund, since it is not linked to a particular price; this says to me that graduates are in fact paying for the next students to be educated, not themselves, and this culture is not to be encouraged. It's sort of the opposite of the state pension, and relying on something similar to a Ponzi scheme to fund university education is not sustainable at all.

Which brings me on to my second point - this isn't sustainable since there is always the emigration option - work abroad, earn money there - especially when tax rates are more favourable. I can see this having a particularly bad effect on the financial sector - do we really want to destroy the City, the one area we have a particularly strong comparative advantage in? Not really. Do we really want to lose, more to the point, the high earners, the ones who give a lot of value back to our economy, and provide our economy with so much tax revenue? Could, in fact, this graduate tax make other tax revenue fall, and in fact to a level where there is a net loss? Would this really be good for the country; would it really be 'fair' to make the non-university educated pay more tax because the university educated are working less hard, or have done a runner to Switzerland?

And I've looked at the long term - what about the short term? Universities need more money now, and if introduced, the graduate tax would mean the only revenues they'd get for 3 years would be contributions from alumni.

I think, to really hit the point though, I need to go back to that third paragraph - about pricing education. Education must be seen to have a real, tangible value - and a price. Students should get used to the real world of this, where people must consider that the benefit of something X but the cost Y, and if the benefit greatly exceeds the cost, then the investment is likely to be made. Same with university education. So what if students are left with debt? Welcome to the real world! It's not a bad kind of debt, like buying an Audi and three grand worth of clothes on credit, but an investment debt, rationally considered. It's right that students know how much their education is worth, and since they are the one who primarily benefits from it (higher earnings, etc), they should pay for it.

I realise that the paragraph above isn't perfect - what about those who wish to go into academia, etc? Perhaps universities could offer scholarships of some sort to those suitable, to fund them through undergrad, postgrad and doctorate, so they could produce research for the university - a beneficial investment for the university. We could also look at philanthropists in this, who would support students through university. There's also the issue of defaulting on student debts, and I think the current student loan system of paying back once you earn above £15k is about right there - since only the biggest waster would deliberately earn less as to 'free ride' through education at others' expense.

In any case, the graduate tax is still an ill-thought out and bad idea - and, however unpopular it might sound, raising tuition fees to fill the gap is a much better idea; it doesn't push students into poverty, it's an investment based on rational expectations of the future - and how is it right that the non-university educated have to pay for the university-educated? University education primarily benefits the student, why should they not pay for it?

Saturday, 10 July 2010

CRB checks

Fair enough, I understand the point that you might want to police check your staff, especially if you haven't known them long enough to be able to trust them fully.

But is it really at all reasonable that having been issued a CRB check (an enhanced one too) 3 days ago, that I should now have to send off a new one for something else?

Absolutely crazy. And they wonder why people don't want to do children's/youth work. I'm just hoping the new ISA system is better.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Cancellation of Building Schools for the Future

I can speak with some experience on this topic, since my school was rebuilt in 2004. And I'm not convinced that the school building has such a major impact on education - it never really had one on me - and Douglas Alexander is certainly making too big a deal of it when he says cancelling the programme represents "a pre-meditated assault on the life chances and opportunities of children in some of the poorest communities in England".

Because however much money they threw at rebuilding schools, Labour's educational policy can be seen as fulfilling the above phrase (maybe not the pre-meditated bit, but the rest definitely). It's methods of education that matter, and in fact things like discipline too. If money is spent on building programmes instead of textbooks, I can't see the benefit. Unless the textbooks are rubbish.

If pupils aren't given the skills to succeed in life and at work, and are instead trained to pass exams (as has happened), they will have less opportunities. If degrees are devalued, as has happened, they will have less opportunities. If time is spent revising and taking exams, there is less time for education, and thus less opportunity. If policy favours trying to push the D grades up to C grades, and not focussing on those below and stretching those above, then opportunity will be limited. The building, 'world-class facilities', blah blah, are irrelevant.

But I also think it's been blown out of proportion for a couple of other reasons. Firstly that Gove apologised was both right but completely in contrast to what Ed Balls would have done - blamed his civil servants; and yes, it was a civil servant's (or quangocrat's) fault, but Gove took responsibility. But the second one is more important - and I think reflects why BSF has been cancelled - is that it was a terribly inefficient way of building schools - John Redwood puts it better than I would - emphasis mine:
In the statement I heard Michael Gove make he was clear in saying he was cancelling the approach of Building Schools for the future because it was an expensive, long winded and inefficient way of building schools. He did not say he was cancelling all new schools building. Indeed, if he is right and he can save substantial sums on the box ticking detailed regulatory approach of the old programme this could leave him with more money to spend on bricks and mortar. This message has got entirely lost in the broadcasts and newspaper stories about cuts, leading most people to think there will now be no new schools.
This is exactly the point - and I am confident that new schools will be built under the free schools and academy legislation anyway - and this will be at the demand of parents, with facilities parents demand. Going back to my new school building built in 2004 - the corridors aren't wide enough, and too much 'traffic' meets in the middle of the middle floor, where a staircase and 3 corridors meet. This means that there have to be teachers controlling the flow, some corridors are one-way, etc. The old school had several blocks, separate doors for different blocks - and it worked much better. And they also inexplicably built it for 1200 pupils when the school had 1500 pupils and was still growing - and there's talk of building new classrooms in the attic to rectify this. This failure I can only assume is partly because of the bureaucracy, because of some rules in place perhaps.

It's also true, as Redwood says, that less money on bureaucracy should lead to more being spent on the actual school - and maybe even more schools being built and more quickly too. It might even free up money to be spent on just improving facilities in current schools, buying new football goals maybe - the sort of investment that will produce better effects than just building a new school.

How I would love it for, in a few years, Labour to realise that their rubbish, overbureaucratic programme saw less schools built than under a Conservative government that apparently wants to destroy life chances. They might come up with a new reason for opposing it then. Maybe that the schools don't have enough bike racks and are then affecting educational opportunity. Or maybe they will have become a serious party by then, I don't know.

New Labour and the universal welfare state

This is the sort of thing I've been talking about for a fair amount of time - Labour putting people on to the public payroll, welfare state (i.e. getting tax credits when you earn £50k a year etc) - and there's an admission from one of their side (Sunny Hundal), calling it their 'greatest achievement' (emphasis mine):

And so, expanding the size of the welfare state and making it central to people’s lives, despite Thatcher’s best attempts to destroy it, was one of New Labour’s greatest achievements. And by that I mean expenditure on the NHS, on public transport, on public works, on the arts and of course on unemployment benefits.

The welfare state is key to the success of economic redistribution. And in order to maintain popularity for the welfare state it has to fulfil two criteria: it has to be universal; and it has to improve people’s lives to the point they feel they have a stake in it.

The Tories need to shrink the state for ideological reasons because the less people have contact with it, the less they’ll support it.

Ignoring the anti-Thatcher nonsense, I think this hits the nail on the head about the modern difference of Labour vs. Conservative - both support some form of welfare state, but the conservative welfare state is a safety net (as originally intended by Beveridge) while Labour's is more of a hammock, trying to make everyone feel an allegiance to it, even if it is literally taking money out of one pocket, and putting most of it into the other pocket (minus, of course, the stuff dropped on the floor as government waste).

And there was an essay in the Spectator just after the Budget, saying that Osborne wanted to move people off the welfare state to make them more self-reliant, and therefore more likely to vote Conservative.

And this is probably the key difference. It's all quite political, which isn't great, but the conservative way is to move people off the state payroll (be it direct employment or in the form of tax credits, etc) to make them more self-reliant, make them more likely to want things like corporation tax cuts and lower regulation, etc - i.e. vote Conservative. Labour's way is to move people on to that state payroll, encourage state dependency - and in that create 'client states' (see Glasgow) of people who will not vote to remove this, because it seems comfortable, it seems nice and plush, even though they are actually paying (and, since it discourages work, probably paying even more than without tax credits etc) to subsidise themselves. In short, they want people to vote Labour.

And that is a key ideological divide between the Conservatives and Labour. Modern conservatism, especially IDS, seem to see a role of government in helping people to stand on their own two feet, and not be dependent on government - and though my more libertarian strands question whether this approach is best, it is certainly a noble aim - and more noble than the idea of making people dependent on government - it's hardly helping them, and it's hardly providing any freedom.

And that's probably part of the reason that I'm a conservative - getting people off the state payroll, and to coin a phrase that a fellow canvasser said back in April, encouraging social responsibility not state dependency. It's not rabid individualism, it in fact lets people decide if they want to be self-reliant or if they want to help each other out (the social responsibility part of that phrase I just mentioned) - and I think families and communities, families especially, are incredibly important in this. I just don't think that state dependency is at all responsible, at all fair or at all helpful. The state is faceless, impersonal and doesn't generally have a clue.

A return to the Friendly Societies? No, I'm getting too optimistic.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Abu Hamza and human rights

Read the whole article on the BBC, if you can get through the whole thing without shouting as I ended up doing. So Abu Hamza's extradition to the US has been blocked by the ECJ on human rights grounds.

Abu Hamza and three other British men complained about the length of sentence they may face if convicted in the US.

How bloody pathetic? Complaining about the length of sentence? Sorry that the USA still hands out proper sentences, i.e. life means life, as opposed to our 8 years = life in this country.

The four applicants argued that the length of sentences they faced and the conditions of the prison, ADX Florence, breached their human rights.

The conditions of the prison might breach your human rights? This is the USA, not bloody Kenya or something. In fact, it's very rich of the ECJ to say this, when some prisons that UK citizens are extradited to within the EU, under the European Arrest Warrant, on dubious charges, are much worse - I'm talking Soviet-era prisons in Latvia for example. According to the Wikipedia page on the ADX Florence prison,
This penal construction and operation theory dictates that inmates remain in solitary confinement for 22–23 hours each day. They do not allow communal dining, exercising, or religious services.
So they're complaining about solitary confinement? The BBC page would confirm that, saying that the men call it 'prolonged psychological torture'. What nonsense. What about the terror they've possibly inflicted on people? And if convicted, they'll be convicted of inflicting terror on people - do I really care about their human rights, or this alleged 'psychological torture'?

In the case of Abu Hamza, the court said he had no case against the conditions at the prison because he would spend only a brief spell there because of his disabilities.

So Abu Hamza cannot be extradited because he might spend too long in prison in the USA. How pathetic are we. And what's worse, it's the European Court of Justice telling us who we can and can't extradite - isn't our national security a national matter? It's not like the ECJ is going to somehow try to protect us from terrorism anyway. About time we left the ECJ and human rights nonsense behind us - I don't care whether it's the Act itself or the interpretation that's wrong, it's about time that we got a grip and used the great British legal system that has served us so well for centuries.

How pathetic.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Incompetent teachers

Only 18 UK teachers have been struck off for incompetence in the past 40 years, the BBC's Panorama has learned.

Shocking. Altogether shocking, especially when you consider 17,000 teachers might be seen as incompetent.

Though it does bring into question what you define as 'incompetent' - there are about 70 teachers in my school, less than 5% means about 3 of them max, and there's more that I'd consider incompetent than that (in a good school too).

In fact I could probably name 18 that are incompetent.

But then, if we applied those standards, we'd probably have a shortage of teachers.