Lerr-ning to Ree-ad

With yet another version of the primary school curriculum on its way, the use of synthetic phonics continues to be prescribed as if this is the only way to learn to read. For a long time I have thought it strange that intelligent adults, who mostly claim to have learned to read before they went to school by look-and-say techniques, are so keen on telling others to learn by sounding out words without context or meaning. I’ve also been pleased to note the disquiet about the research on phonics and its effectiveness. The original Clackmannanshire research is now assumed by phonics enthusiasts to have been the right answer achieved in not quite the right way but, then, if you want to prove that people can sound out words because they have been trained to sound out words you will probably find the evidence. What you can’t discover is whether they have learned to read.

Is it fair to ask whether – if the teaching of reading by phonics has been an increasing success since, let’s say 2000, as national testing would imply – more teenage children should be reading in 2014? It seems a fair question but the clear answer is that they aren’t.

There are always a few middle-class anecdotes to suggest something different but they are the exception and, overall, reading by teenagers and young people has plummeted. The standard response is that other distractions have taken over so that children are busy reading online messages and texts and moving towards more visual stimuli. Well, those distractions are there for everyone yet adult reading is expanding exponentially with kindles and e-readers and large format phones. You can evidence that by travelling on a train where everyone over around 30 is likely to be reading while everyone under 25 is fiddling with their ‘phone or listening to music. You can also ask your friends to check this anecdotal evidence out, but be careful as it’s worth noticing that middle-class parents like to overestimate the reading their children do. If you want harder data, look at Amazon’s book revenues!

I can trace this reading divide to the obsession with phonics which really started to have an impact on teaching in the mid-1990s. My contention is that many of the children who learned to read after that time don’t read as adults. The effort of sounding out individual words make them slow readers and that makes reading for pleasure less enjoyable. Reading was taught to them as a chore and it remains one. Of course, that’s a generalisation but I cannot see much evidence to the contrary.

Other factors might have played a part. Since the introduction of the national curriculum, wider reading and reading for pleasure have both been systematically denigrated. When I was teaching English in the 1980s in a typical secondary comprehensive school, we had class libraries, silent reading lessons and a coursework based examination that encouraged children to read both classic and modern literature widely and for pleasure. I’ve always felt that it was the move towards 100% coursework in English which fostered the popularity of what is insultingly referred to as chick-lit, as well as a whole series of writers producing crime, science fiction and military novels aimed at young men. And that’s a lot of reading which, although it has never been given much credence by literary snobs, continues to flourish.

I don’t think we need another research project to prove the point either way but I do think it would be useful to have a national debate about approaches to reading that encourage reading and not decoding. It will be hard to have one. Saying the things I’ve said here will attract a backlash from publishers who say teenage fiction is healthy rather than recognising how books are purchased by parents and relatives and not read. Also, the advocates of phonics have a kind of evangelical zeal about them which does not tolerate any alternative. You can find these advisers in primary schools berating the staff and being totally dismissive of any other practice. Politicians also support phonics because they like easy hooks to hang their coats on and, just possibly, a few of them might see reading by the common people as slightly subversive. And, as for Guardian readers, they keep their heads in the sand and will be happy to tell us how their nieces simply love reading Jane Austen since they gave them a copy for Christmas. Personally, I’m not so sure!


Sorting out our Schools

It is increasingly likely that we are going to have a Labour government within the next year and a bit and, while there is a lot to be done in many policy areas, we need to think about our schools. Previously, Labour has not got education right, assuming that we have to go for higher standards and more inspection and more curriculum requirements than the other lot in order to get elected. That was a wrongheaded policy and now we need a substantive change and a big policy debate so that in government we get things right from the start.

So what’s wrong currently with education and schools? Conservative policy has been to fragment and break up the education system into different varieties of schools, free schools and a range of academies. This has been done allegedly in the interests of parental choice and raising standards but, in the long run, it is a device to increasingly monetise education, centralise control and to allow a declining private system to profit from parts of the state system. It isn’t feasible to come into government and take education back to 1945 but we do have to have a debate about how to make schools properly accountable to communities and the public at large. Realistically, it is not necessary to unravel the way schools are but it is perfectly proper to ask them to explore their own accountability structures and to expect them to represent both local communities and the interests of the state.

The next big problem is what to do with standards, improvement, testing and examinations. We have somehow created an absurd testing and examination system where the stakes are impossibly high for schools. Schools are judged on test and examination performances which ignore what they’re supposed to do for children. Having discarded it once as ineffective, we have reinvented a system where cramming is the norm, where the short, timed examination is the only measure of knowledge and skills, and one where we have ramped up the expectations in tests and examinations so that they are increasingly unrelated to the skills that, as a society, that we want our future citizens to master. The inspection agency, OFSTED, relies on test and examination outcomes for its judgements so that schools are tempted to exclude low achievers, head teachers end up in disgrace for altering papers and we arrive at a situation where the presence of one or two bright pupils in a class of thirty children in a primary school can significantly distort results. We need to unpack the complicated and unhelpful relationship between setting high standards and trying to show that schools have improved by lowering outcomes. Currently, it’s a mess.

To sort it out we have to go back to the school curriculum which has been regularly tampered with since the 1990s and mostly in the wrong directions. The current curriculum is irrelevant to most children and even more absurdly so in relation to those, around half of all children, who receive the lower grades. The curriculum fails to take into account the expectations of employers, the need for practical and vocational skills, our multicultural society, the importance of initiative and thought, and the value of the arts. We need to have a curriculum which covers the essentials and allows schools to be creative in how it is delivered. We need parents and communities to monitor the quality of this not a government agency.

Then, we have to do something for teachers because if we do not improve their working conditions and put them under increasing pressure while not improving pay and conditions there will soon be none left. In many parts of the country, it is already almost impossible to recruit teachers in some subjects. How stupid and short-sighted is it to make increasing demands in modern languages when we aren’t training anybody to teach the subject? We don’t have to give teachers a bundle of money but we do have to give them more autonomy to teach, show more respect for what they do and offer them effective pathways and career structures.

Somewhere further down the list, we have to think about the fabric of schools and maintaining the estate. That’s another debate to be had but it needs to involve all of the stakeholders including local and national government, communities, parents and teachers. We also need to confront what we do about religion and sex education in schools. Very few people engage in the former and nearly everyone has problems engaging with the latter so we need to have a healthy debate about whether education needs to be secular and the links between education, health and social policy.

This is all stuff that needs to be talked about and then we have to articulate the reforms and devise a plan to put things right. There is a bit of a hard right wing lump which influences education policy and always sounds plausible when it wants to beat or isolate naughty children, make the clever ones work in monastic silence, distinguish the wealthy with daft uniforms and waffle on about how it can be that no one understands quadratic equations and the semi-colon any more. Luckily, they are an increasingly isolated and elderly gang of remote elitists so while they might resist reform they are not a barrier to it.

So, let’s get on with it.


Bringing Up Another Body

Fresh from doing her best to stab her fellow novelists in the back and front for writing genre-based novels (something where she appears to be blind to her own scribbling) Hilary Mantel has now started on Princess Diana.

In a long piece in the Guardian, she does what can only be called a hatchet job, the gist of which is well she bought a ticket so if the plane crashes too bad. Mantel manages to be knowing, supercilious and smug. She saw it coming and Diana walked into it with her childish, inexperienced eyes open. The piece is essentially about how she constructed her own destiny and fate but along the way there is a kicking for the British public and their hankering for sentimental claptrap and there are a few digs at people who make money writing books about other people (funny, I thought she did that as well).

Hilary Mantel talks to the Prince of Wales during her investiture

(The Guardian)

Is she an innocent, detached and objective commentator? Well, she clearly subscribes to the Great Man theory of history in her novels even when she writes about women! And, she is pretty clearly a royalist, understanding the importance of monarchs in the social order and the need for everyone else to know their place.

Has she got Diana right? This is probably an impossible question to answer. Princess Diana has been so overwritten and so many lies and untruths have gradually been uncovered about things which were said about her that is fairly easy for anyone to hang their own coat on her hook. However, Ms Mantel does head off in what we might call the ‘dizzy blonde tart who falls flat on her face’ genre without much hanging about.
Psychics, flash outfits, pouty faces are the order of the day rather than eating disorders characterised by the disgraceful behaviour of a member of the Royal family whose upbringing was so chaotic and dysfunctional that he had no idea what he was doing was wrong.

What inspires her to write this kind of bile? That is a really tricky question but assume there is a shadowy establishment in this country which really doesn’t like boats being rocked by the hoi polloi is it possible that somebody, somewhere might have mentioned to Ms Mantel that she does seem to have a poisonous tongue and Princess Diana might be good for a pasting. Any evidence? Well, she seems pretty cosy with the future king who is an avowed fan of her novels and this is an area where she can simper rather than scowl, and she owes his Mrs an apology for accidentally dissing her in the past as you might put it.

Why does the Guardian print it. Another difficult one but there has been a lot of what might be termed pro-Diana stuff in other newspapers (the kind Guardian readers only see on the shelf in Waitrose). Some of it is about the rather dodgy accident which ended her life but much of it reflects the recent documentary where, however snotty you want to be about her mannerisms, she didn’t come over as loony. There is also a kind of middle-class liberal who really likes the novels of Hilary Mantel. She brings history to life in such evocative ways and makes good television blah blah blah but in doing so she also points out the stability of the Crown and how it holds up our country allowing the persistence of those wonderful British values and a class system where everyone knows their place. Who would ever want to live in France where they had a revolution! In other words, she is the ideal person to write this article which I assume is second-hand drivel unless she had a word with the office of the soon to be king who are quite clearly constantly active in media manipulation around this story. It would be nice to be told.

I find it somehow unsavoury. If this is a non-story then ignore it but if it is an issue that reflects on our constitution and how we operate as a nation then investigate it without taking sides.

Princess Diana and how we don’t like to talk about stuff

It has been fascinating this week to see the response to the programme about Princess Diana from Channel 4. I’m not bothered about whether people think it was a good programme or whether it was in the best taste to reveal these tapes but I’m surprised at a lot of the reaction to it which has been, predominantly, to ignore it. There’s the odd intellectual comment about Diana’s legacy playing off the back of programmes like these and there has also been the media counteroffensive with the young princes and the BBC setting out to celebrate the depth of public mourning in the week after she died (quietly ignoring the antagonism to the monarchy and to Charles). No-one seems to have noticed the timing of that either!

Of course, we say this really isn’t newsworthy or even worthy of our attention but that’s a funny attitude. First, it’s strange that these tapes have never been aired in the UK before as if they might frighten the horses. Second, they reveal a picture of Diana which has been systematically edited from the record. She was scared of losing access to her children, she wasn’t bonkers and her bulimia was directly related to the fact that her husband was knocking off Camilla – possibly before the wedding and, certainly, shortly after it. Third, we don’t seem to think it’s strange that the chap who organised the procession for the wedding also seems to have condoned the feudal droit de seigneur which tolerated his wife being shared with the future king although most of us think that the monarchy still epitomises our morality as a nation and the foundation stone of the Church of England! Four, there is a stark admission here that Diana was not only having an affair with her security officer but professed to be in love with him. Five, most of us have edited from our own memories or maybe never really knew that a few weeks after he left the job with her he died in a motorcycle accident involving dazzling lights and a car whose driver says she was pressured into accepting a careless driving charge.

The other odd thing we keep being persuaded to agree with is that the monarchy has changed, reviewed itself and come out better for the experience although there is precious little actual evidence of this. And, the likelihood is that within a relatively short period of time Charles will get the throne, some Dimbleby or other will do a grovelling commentary and old ladies will weep in the streets.

I still think it’s also possible that, at some point in the future, someone is going to blab about the events in Paris which led up the death of Diana – another vehicle crash involving dazzling lights etcetera. It’s funny how these things shift around. I think that with a bit of help from the manipulative media we all believed at the time that Lord Lucan drowned in the English Channel after murdering the nanny but, in retrospect, that is frankly laughable and we were conned by a coterie of aristocrats who saved the skin of one of their own kind. Cleverly, the death of Diana is now lumped with lots of other conspiracy theories like alien landings and the Bermuda Triangle as something to chuckle over but that’s wrong. Even if you don’t believe that the men in grey suits were capable of bumping her off you shouldn’t overlook what a shameful series of events it all was and how, as a nation, we still can’t be totally honest about it.

A cleft stick but not one of Labour’s making

There is a good deal of rumbling comment at the moment about Labour Party policy on Brexit and there was, what might be termed, a clarification yesterday. The party website changed from saying ‘We’ll fight to secure single market membership’ to ‘We’ll fight for tariff free access to the single market’. You might think this is not a very significant change but it’s being used by those people who have always wanted to undermine Jeremy Corbyn to attempt to put a wedge between what he wants from Brexit and what Keir Starmer might be hoping to achieve. There seems to be a suggestion that Labour Party policy is divided and the core of the problem is the dogged determination of Jeremy Corbyn to be out of Europe.

Now, if you’re one of these people who never wanted him to be leader of the Labour Party in the first place, who supported the Parliamentary Labour Party sniping at him, who thinks he is managed by crazy lefties and who didn’t mind The Guardian constantly citing unattributable sources within the party to criticise him and his leadership then this supports your case. You can conveniently forget that he came very close to winning a general election and that he is now in a position where he would win one it was called today. He has achieved substantive policy climbdowns from the Tories whose leadership is currently in disarray. That is actually quite an achievement! But if now you’re using Europe to backup the case you made six months ago and all that blah blah blah, he will never win an election then maybe you just ought to reflect for five minutes.

First off, why the clarification? It is straightforward really. Labour is, and has always been, a party that respects democracy. It votes on everything and it respects majority voting. There is simply no way for the party to indicate, one way or another, that it has abandoned that principle. If it did, imagine the fun the right-wing media would have. At the same time, the single market is a function of the EU and you cannot be a member of the single market without being a member of the EU although terms are sometimes bandied about in a casual way. The change to the website wording is a helpful clarification because what Labour wants, having accepted the vote of the majority of the British people, is the best possible disengagement from Europe, and tariff free access to the single market is the next best thing to being part of it. None of this is difficult and it certainly doesn’t need party members to make it problematic.

That can all be said without assuming that the Tory Brexit is a done and dusted deal. On the contrary, it is anything but. If a stroppy right-wing cast of negotiators walks away in eighteen months time their recommendations will not get through any kind of House of Commons vote, let alone the House of Lords. The government will fall and the next Labour government will be left to pick up the pieces. By then, there may well be a very strong feeling across the nation and in Parliament that the British people did not know what they were letting themselves in for and that what is on offer is not what people want. It will take strong leadership and a consensus across Parliament to stand up and say we want to play our part in a reformed Europe but it will certainly be feasible. Another referendum? Maybe or maybe not but that is one way in which the whole thing can unravel. What is clear at the moment is that that position has to evolve, the options have to be explored and the consequences made clear to people. That way, democracy is supported and delivers a better result.

In the meanwhile, what is most likely to get the country to that position is a strong united opposition to any kind of hard deal. No one would benefit from losing European human rights, a plethora of critical European organisations, the European Court, some kind of freedom of movement and it’s daft to suggest that Jeremy Corbyn wants them all to go. The party, united, wants tariff free access to the single market, so does business and finance and trying to foster divisions in that principled position is wrongheaded and unhelpful.

Grammar Schools – We don’t know how lucky we are!

Quite a few people I know have been disappointed by the election result and seem to think that Labour lost. I don’t agree. Although it will be a few weeks before we see where this lame duck administration is going, one thing we can celebrate now is that their plans for grammar schools are not going to come to fruition. Even the enthusiasts are now only talking about trialling the idea, overlooking the fact that we have had a prolonged trial with negative outcomes and no positive results for the best part of a hundred years!

I think Theresa May will be disappointed. This was her sloppy ideology but it was also cheap policy. It would only have been necessary to fund one or two grammar schools and to allow just a whiff of selection into the system for many schools to feel compelled to follow.

Of course, we like to think that schools would be far too principled but we have to remember that schools have existed in an atmosphere of government-sponsored competition since around 1990 and the notion of an outstanding school is based heavily on its academic performance. Also, there are many senior teachers who remember what it was like – or who know from their own experience – how damaging it is to reputation, to teachers and pupils to have a grammar school down the road creaming off the top 10% of the intake year on year. As if schools don’t have enough to contend with!

So, opening the doors to selection would have compelled many schools across the nation to apply to become grammar schools. The chief executives of multi-academy trusts could easily have been persuaded and good schools, feeling they did not want to be left behind, would join in. There are many schools with a strong moral purpose and determination to be the best that they can and they would have followed unwillingly. The money would have become an irrelevance. Other secondary schools would have tried to compete by introducing a grammar stream in Year 7 and torpedoing the comprehensive ideal along the way.

Then, there would be the testing. Key stage 2 testing since its introduction in the early 1990s has been an unmitigated disaster, unreliable and unfit for purpose. Giving some crackpot organisations the job of recreating the 11+ would lead to the most extraordinary botch because meeting the requirements of right-wing politicians who have no idea what children are capable of at that age while trying to devise a test where tutoring and teaching to the test would not make it easier to succeed would lead to some barmy results. And, if you are trying to divide up sheep and goats at least make sure you can recognise them accurately!

Locally, it never occurs to those who support grammar schools that in the past a grammar school in one area was very different from a grammar school in another. The differences were caused by the social characteristics – or levels of affluence and deprivation in the community – and the amount of ‘creaming off’ which the system allowed. The DFE would have a lot of trouble introducing a fair system because there simply aren’t any reliable statistics which would help them.

Politically, it is also government policy to nurture a school led system as opposed to one managed by local authorities. This policy relies on mutual support and networking and the introduction of a system where introducing selection in one school would change the performance, image and reputation of another would have destroyed it. Even with the rumours that this might happen last year, schools were preparing contingency plans and they didn’t involve collaboration! There were pious statements about everyone agreeing not to be involved but a bit of cash and the lure of some nice exclusive pupils would have been irresistible.

In the end, the people behind grammar schools also want privatisation. Conservative governments have already turned a blind eye to their own favourite schools finding devious ways to select – from churchgoing habits to expensive uniforms. They would love to see charter schools sitting somewhere between the state system, for the oiks, and the independent sector – coupled with some kind of top up fees and the end of not-for-profit schooling in the UK.

We should all be extremely pleased that all of this has been avoided. The grammar school policy, whatever it might cost, was going to be unfair, divisive and ideologically flawed. Good riddance to it!


Reasons to be Cheerful Part 4: A message for the Guardian

Labour scored a momentous victory on Thursday. It was totally unexpected because the campaign was so effective, the leadership was outstanding and a new group of young people were engaged through social media. It matters because it clipped the wings of the right-wing Conservative party making it clear that a hard Brexit, more cuts and austerity, and the UKIP racist agenda are not the flavour of the month. And, it has forced Theresa May into an understanding with the Northern Irish DUP – an appalling misnomer of a political party with extremist and abhorrent views.

Where do we go from here? The first answer is not back to where we were. There are murmurings within the Labour Party that this isn’t quite good enough and they are inspired by the people who wrote off this election because they thought Jeremy Corbyn would be pursued by his past and he was too old and too divisive to lead the party through it. They were proved totally wrong and some of them are still trying to justify themselves in their reflections and comments.

I’ve heard it said that Jeremy Corbyn’s next task is to unite the party but that’s wrong. The next task for the Parliamentary Labour Party is to line up behind Corbyn and help form an even stronger shadow cabinet. It has been a fair criticism that the shadow cabinet lacks depth and I’m hopeful that Corbyn will reach out to some of the people who criticised him in the past and that they will respond warmly. It’s a shame to see a few people writing off this possibility two days after the vote.

They don’t need to lose face either because they are lining up behind a manifesto which very few in the party could not support. I’m also inclined to think that Jeremy Corbyn puts the interests of the party before personality and I’d like to see some of the bigger beasts in the grumpy camp come out clearly for him in the next few days. That will avoid a continuing political game. If members of the PLP continue to act up, the groundswell of support for deselection will split the party and none of us wants that so critical comment which pushes us in that direction is both unhelpful and damaging.

Theresa May’s ‘coalition’ is inherently insecure. It is clear that she would not win a motion of confidence if she negotiated a Brexit deal which pulled the UK out of a proper trading relationship with Europe. It could be scuppered even more quickly by chaos in Northern Ireland where, in the past, the UK has been the honest broker in the shared government negotiations. The DUP deal is not going to help with the upcoming negotiations about power-sharing and could be disastrous. Think how the balance would change if the Sinn Fein members of Parliament suddenly decided to take their seats to keep the DUP under control! And, it must be abundantly clear to many Conservative MPs that Theresa May simply lacks the charm and charisma and the ability to talk to people which are necessary for a successful election campaign. She is unlikely to win another election under any circumstances and, frankly, we are quite likely to have one within a year.

There are plenty of chances for the party to be in a state where it can win a landslide whenever it comes. One of the key positives of this election has been that social media has challenged the hegemony of the loathsome right-wing press. The BBC has falteringly come to realise that the lies perpetrated by some newspapers simply cannot make up an agenda which they follow. And, at last, there are voters to outweigh the ignorant and bigoted people who swallow what they read in the Daily Mail, Express and the rest.

So, there’s plenty to be cheerful about. I think the Guardian and Observer are absolutely key to taking this forward. They offer an alternative view to Murdoch and Dacre and for three years they have got it all wrong, quoting senior and anonymous members of the party who gripe about almost everything. They called the election wrong from start to finish and their editorial stance ought to recognise this. I’m not saying they should be gagged and I know they offer a multiplicity of views as they should but it’s time that the anonymous sneering and gossip stopped. That’s a message for the PLP as well. If you can’t be loyal, what are you doing in the party when its direction of travel is so clear and the opportunities are so evident?

A change of direction doesn’t have to be massive but it is necessary. Everyone has to encourage the PLP to get back into line and Jeremy Corbyn’s team has to make a gesture as well. None of that is impossible, particularly with positive messages of support and let’s hope that in the next couple of weeks we see it working out in the interests of the nation.

Those days when I was young enough to know the truth

I went back to Warwick University last weekend for a dinner to celebrate fifty years since the class of 1966 arrived there. I was one of them and we were the second University cohort (it opened in 1965) but we massively outnumbered the previous year’s crowd.

When I arrived back then the place was a sea of mud and construction. The student residences were not completed so I found myself a guest in the home of the pro-Vice Chancellor for most of the first term. It wasn’t exactly student life as we know it!

The new university was a strange place. There was no student union and many of the teaching staff were only a few years old than the students. The place was stuck in the countryside straddling the border between Coventry and Warwickshire as part of a peace deal over funding. It was quite a long way from Warwick!

It might have been the swinging ‘60s but I was only eighteen years and one month old with a social age of about fourteen and a half and I had only ever been further north than this once in my life. I had been to a primary school run by nuns and then a boys Grammar School so I had a fair bit of growing up to do. My only asset was an exceptional collection of American R&B which got me into some discos and University entertainments.

So, going back was an odd experience. First of all, I was surprised by how old everybody was which implied that I must’ve been that old as well. Secondly, the people who turned up mostly ended up as teachers, lecturers or other forms of public servant. If there were merchant bankers, celebrities and politicians in our number they didn’t own up to it! There was no evidence that, as a group, we had changed the world through widening access to higher education.

It was a nice enough dinner and although we paid something it was well subsidised and lubricated and you had to appreciate that. Ironically, it took place on the top floor of what we used to call the Social Building. This was the building which the student body struggled to appropriate in the early years of the University and did finally succeed in turning into the first student union against the implacable opposition of the administration. The University has taken it back now and there is a fast food franchise where the rebellion took place and the Vice Chancellor has a private dining room on the top floor. There is a student union elsewhere on the site but, symbolically, you felt that something was lost.

As a university site today, there is still mud and new development. The site oozes affluence from new international partnerships and a giant new multi-storey Warwick Business School block squats over the central site which might say something about the place’s priorities.

After the dinner, we had the customary appeal with a basic message of don’t forget us when you die coupled with a talk about how successful the place was, how international, how connected and how it now ranks just behind Oxford and Cambridge in addition to being well placed in international rankings.

That was kind of sad. Warwick and the other new universities of the 1960s were, I naively thought, established to do something different and to open up access to more students with novel courses and a sense of excitement that we were engaged in doing things differently. Warwick hasn’t done that but, instead, has emerged as a match for Oxford and Cambridge by being more like them in terms of high-level research and international relationships and not by being different. The students still come low in the pecking order and you sense that the place is still run for someone else.

The second part of the dinner was anecdotal and carefully stage managed so that we chuckled about the mud and a catering boycott over the price of egg and chips. We were treated to memories of how wonderful some of the lecturers were and invited to chuckle over the exploits of Germaine Greer. It wasn’t just that there wasn’t anything about the genuine politics of the place or what it was about but there was a sense of being part of the manufacturing of a convenient history about the rising curve and the great success of Warwick University incorporated.

I don’t think everybody felt like this. A few people openly admitted to remembering nothing from their University days and a few others looked as if they hadn’t felt anything for quite a long while! It all ended with an overnight sleep in the opulent conference centre, a place where students are not encouraged, an impossibly large breakfast and a drive home. It was a nice day so I opened the sunroof, turned up the Stones and decided I might give the next reunion a miss!

Senior Labour Party Sources are saying …

It has been another bad day for the Labour Party. Not really unexpected, just bad and, of course, Jeremy Corbyn is going to be blamed. Over the weekend, senior Labour Party sources will be calling for his immediate resignation, wondering if the new Mayor of Manchester could take over and crying into their beer. What they won’t be doing is taking the blame.

Whatever you think of Jeremy Corbyn, he was elected by the party twice under procedures which the entire party had democratically approved and which they thought would deliver a leader who the Parliamentary lead party would also approve of. It didn’t work out as expected and these influential backbench and ex-ministerial politicians and grandees started, first, to sulk and, secondly, to actively oppose his leadership.

They would be surprised to be told it and would hold up their hands in innocent amazement but they have legitimised the onslaught of media criticism and abuse and tacitly fed the flames through their journalist friends. The BBC, as it does, follows the news and does not make it but that has also meant that it has followed the Murdoch, Mail and Express headlines.

Previous Labour leaders have had a hard ride from the right-wing press and have been frequently ridiculed but the level of abuse this time has been exceptional because for every negative story there is an unnamed source to back it up. Without any proper resistance or opposition this public abuse has been coupled with the drip feed criticism from what might be thought of as the independent media so that the public on the doorstep simply cannot think anything else.

They believe that Jeremy Corbyn is old, incompetent, bumbling, too left-wing, is soft on defence and has an inexperienced team around him. Of these, the last bit is true because the PLP haven’t helped but if you hear him speak he comes across as clear and opinionated, he understands that he doesn’t make policy and he cares about people.

There is something else behind all this vilification. The networks of power in this country like to operate without being uncovered and Jeremy Corbyn has frightened them – not just the press barons but also the tycoons, the establishment, the defence industry who run the place. Maybe that’s why the process of accusation and alienation has been so bitter. Theresa May is also running scared of public debate and that is simply because she does not want Jeremy Corbyn to be heard. That’s quite a chilling thought in a modern democracy.

The really sad rub in all of this is that the Labour Party is on the way to writing a stunningly good manifesto – probably the best in the last twenty years. It will have clear messages about jobs, benefits, health, taxation, defence and care which show how the Labour Party approach is different in values, emphasis and priorities from that espoused by an increasingly right-wing Conservative party.

I’m still hopeful that in the last few weeks a few voters will realise this but the current level of abuse is just a starting point and we can expect a tidal wave. Riding on the top of it will be the unnamed Labour Party sources who, for my money, have behaved disgracefully in failing to support a party leader and as they have undermined him they have also undermined the party.

They have also been disloyal to the regular members who trudge the streets and seek to turn out the vote. These are the people have to put up with some of these received messages on the doorsteps and no wonder they feel isolated. Some of them think Jeremy Corbyn is the problem as well. Maybe he isn’t the ideal leader but he could have grown into one with a strong team around him had he been allowed to march forward over the past couple of years rather than constantly watch his back.

I can already hear Laura Kuenssberg on the BBC news bulletin on June 9 telling us how senior Labour Party sources are not surprised at the disastrous result for Labour and are calling for Jeremy Corbyn to resign. Their campaign has been cowardly and anonymous and, if I’m honest, I think they will succeed in the end but the Labour Party will lose, and lose a lot and the recovery will be slow and painful.

A Labour Party Manifesto

Europe: ‘Partnership not Exit’. Labour will respect the wishes of the British people but we will not seek a hard Brexit as our opponents will. We seek a new partnership with Europe committed to free trade and freedom of movement but we will retain the supreme right of our Parliament to make law and the Supreme Court to protect it. We will respect European legislation and within Europe we will comply with it but within our own shores will retain the right to support industry, to encourage commerce and to ensure security in our own way. Instead of making it difficult for our industry to trade with Europe, we will create a unique environment encouraging manufacturers to settle here and to trade with the EU.

Immigration: ‘Free Movement Which Is Earned’. We understand the contribution made to our culture and economy by people from other countries and we deplore racism in all its forms. However, our benefits system and welfare state was never devised to subsidise immigration. Under Labour, benefits will be earned and five years in employment within the UK will be required in order to seek state benefits. Immigrants from outside the EU will be expected to be moving to the UK to work and will be required to prove this. Free movement will allow the passage of workers from within the EU back and forth between the UK and Europe but our requirement to prove entitlement to benefits will mean that new workers earn their place in our society. Our new model of earned benefits will also apply to young people who will not automatically be entitled to unearned employment, housing or social benefits.

The NHS: ‘A Public Health Service’. We will protect the NHS by moving it to a contributory model with a visible taxation levy where employment will earn the benefits. There will be safety nets but no giveaways. Immigrants will be expected to provide their own health insurance or pay health insurance to the NHS until they have earned the entitlement to free use. Labour will continue to provide a public health service which is free at the point of delivery and with the capacity to expand in relation to the needs of a population which is growing older.

Education: ‘Less Selection, More Opportunity’. Education policy will evolve without recourse to selection and with an emphasis on improving all schools. Schoolchildren and their test results will not be used as a way of measuring the effectiveness of the system. Instead, an annual sampling of performance related to world and European measures will replace endless testing to no purpose. We will retain high level qualifications for the brightest pupils but we will radically improve educational opportunity for all of our children with a new emphasis on post-14 work-related training, and basic skill training in literacy and numeracy which relates to life and work and provides a workforce to create a new skilled manufacturing sector for the 21st-century. Student loans will be phased out but a regionalised university system will be encouraged with two-year degree courses related to research, development and employment.

Work: ‘A Planned Economy’. We will specifically encourage the development of skilled manufacturing and technology as a sector of our economy and will also expand and encourage world financial services to base themselves within the UK. We will support British heavy industry and agriculture which creates a self-sufficient model for our country. The condition for support in all of these industries will include a collaborative workforce environment and decent pay and conditions for all workers. As part of this, the minimum wage will be raised and wage gaps will be narrowed.

Our Government and Young People: ‘Rights and Responsibilities’. Society has changed and we will give all 16-year-olds the right to vote. We will also modify the House of Lords within the space of a Parliament so that the upper chamber is created on a list basis and reflects the percentages of support obtained by political parties at an election. This means that every person’s vote will count and to make this work we will introduce a compulsory ballot for general elections. We will allow online voting ‘on the day’ but scrap the postal voting system which is increasingly discredited. Constituency reform will be gradual and designed to secure approximately equivalent numbers in each constituency while respecting established local boundaries.

Social Care: ‘Compassionate Care’. Care for the elderly will come under the remit of the NHS and will be funded by a local taxation levy which is visible and transparent and subject to local scrutiny. Pensions will increase but will include a contribution to local social care to which all will be entitled. Statutory retirement ages will be discouraged so that people can continue to work for as long as they wish or retire without penalty.

Our Constitution: ‘A Changing Society’. Moving out of Europe creates the need for a new constitution and a new model of rights and responsibilities. We will consult on the shape and form of this within the first Parliament and will consider the role of the new Upper House, removing the constitutional role of the monarch and disestablishing the Church of England to reflect our social democracy and our multicultural society. These changes will not happen overnight and will be widely discussed but our direction of travel will be to create a new constitutional model for the United Kingdom.

Scotland: ‘Supporting Self-Determination’. We understand the wishes of a large number of people in Scotland to be more autonomous and we appreciate that there is not a clear majority for independence. In our constitutional changes, we will seek with our Scottish partners to find solutions which will satisfy all of the people of Scotland. As part of this and as part of our constitutional reform, it will be necessary to assign more rights and responsibilities to the Scottish parliament and to no longer have Scottish constituency MPs within the House of Commons. The Scottish parliament will be seen as the Government of Scotland within the United Kingdom.

Northern Ireland and Wales: ‘Supporting Regionalism’. We will encourage the devolution of power to the Northern Ireland parliament and respect the structures which emerge through an extending and growing democracy.

Defence: ‘Protecting the UK’. We will recognise the changing nature of the world and while retaining a nuclear deterrent we will not seek to expand or modernise it. We will commit to build, within the UK, ships and planes designed to secure our borders. We will retain a highly effective, highly mobile military capacity which can be rapidly deployed anywhere that it is required. However, our foreign policy will be to support global democracy without interference and the first principle will be our own protection so that we allow other nations to be self determining. Britain has become associated with regime change and failed interventions in other countries. We will realign our foreign policy to provide support not intervention but, if it is necessary for our protection, we will work with our allies and not take unilateral action.

Spending and Taxation: ‘Fair and Transparent’. We will not be the party of high taxation. The NHS will receive an identified share of national taxation and social care will be additionally supported by local taxation. We want to make taxation visible. We expect to make savings in the nuclear defence budget and on vanity projects such as the high-speed train link. We will consult on replacing council tax with some other form of local taxation but we consider it is right in principle that local government expenditure, local policing and social care should be locally managed.