This could be the saddest dusk …

February 1 2017 was a really bad day in the history of this country. With a lot of talk about heavy hearts and misgivings and a wish for more detail and reassurances together with some platitudinous weasel statements designed to provide those, our elected members of parliament gave in to the mob.

They’ll claim it was the will of the people and that although it was less than 40% of the population that was sufficient. They’ll say that some people knew the referendum result would be binding on government. They’ll say that a better opposition at the time would have delivered a different result. So, what?

Politicians and democracy are there as a balance, as the first line of constraint against the mob and they are there because history shows that mobs are easily whipped up around single causes. It was considered the will of the people at the time which burned down the Reichstag and it was the will of the people which conveyed numbers of people to the guillotine. If the will of the people is supreme then we should have capital punishment, no rights for gay people, fewer rights for women and no speed limits. That’s nonsense!  Society and the political system are there to balance the cries of the mob.

Is it fair to describe Brexit voters as a mob. Wasn’t there a fair debate with both sides given a hearing conducted over a reasonable length of time? Well, if you live in BBC La-La Land that might seem to be the case but not if you read the papers where a racist press provided a constant repetition of bile and was able to control the agenda for any discussion. Politicians and the broadcasters fell into line with this agenda regardless of the facts. Facts? Precious few of them. Lies about the benefits to the NHS, lies about rates of immigration and refugee numbers, lies about worker and human rights dominated the discussion. In the end, the Brexit vote was very close in numbers to the reach and readership of the tabloid press

That’s how a mob is fired up. Feed it lies from what seem to be authoritative sources, constantly repeat them so that the truth gets confused, engage rabble leaders and give them platforms, and create diametrically opposed points of view. If you think this is populism or a disenchantment with politicians that Parliament must respond to then you too have swallowed the tabloid pill. This was a mob.

If we know this from history then why are our politicians so short of moral values and moral leadership? Why don’t they act as the elected representatives of the people, not by carrying out their will, but by legislating on their behalf? If they cannot understand the difference, who can? Yesterday, a large number of MPs representing constituencies where there was a majority vote to remain in the EU, supported the government. They didn’t carry out the will of the people who live in their constituencies or represent them and, worse still, a lot said they didn’t feel too good about it. That is incomprehensible. Moral leadership means standing up for what you believe, taking tough decisions, and not following the easy way or the shouts of the mob.

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Nuclear Options!

 

Today’s Parliamentary debate about the renewal of the Trident nuclear submarine system is another indication of how low down and dirty our political system has become. The Conservatives have no choice about how to vote even though they are talking about the biggest single item of expenditure they are ever going to vote on and the vote about developing an apocalyptic weapon which, if ever used, would lead to the destruction of most life on the planet has been kindly arranged not to highlight the issues and to encourage a wide-ranging debate but, instead, to embarrass the Labour Party.

Today, we’re going to hear constantly repeated tosh about how a nuclear deterrent guarantees a place at the top table, frightens our enemies whoever they may be, maintains world peace because the thing has never been used yet and, ultimately, we should have one simply because we can! These arguments were rubbish in the 1960s and are even more rubbishy today.

History agrees. The Cuban missile crisis was made worse by nuclear weapons, the Cold War was extended because of them, they didn’t stop the Falkland Islands being annexed and in all of the Arabian conflicts they have been an irrelevance.

So does strategy. If the USA, China and the USSR start popping off their weapons then that’s it, so us having one will not make any difference except to make us an easy but necessary first strike target for everyone.

If somebody drives a boat up the Thames with a dirty atomic bomb on it and blows London up just exactly where are we going to send our submarines? The sad truth is that there isn’t a neat place called Terrorist Land where we can aim our weapons.

The same thing applies if we are threatened with weapons of mass destruction by terrorists. We have no idea who to threaten back!

OK, let’s suppose somebody, takes a truck into the middle of Jerusalem and blows up the same dirty bomb are we going to take a pop at Iran on the off chance? Are we all in favour of that?

Of course, the most likely scenario is that any of the three superpowers bops off a missile by mistake. The likelihood of human error in any system like this is so small that it is certain to happen. So, when we detect an incoming nuclear missile and some president rings up the Prime Minister to say sorry, really sorry, are we really going to take the joke option of arranging to fire just one back. That isn’t really fair anyway as in exchange for London we just get Detroit! In the end, you have to decide whether you would prefer to be magnanimous.

There’s another big consideration. Any use of nuclear weapons causes absurd collateral damage to other countries or the planet and that is why we have a surprisingly effective nuclear non-proliferation treaty and how, as a world, we have achieved a significant rate of superpower disarmament to the extent that most authorities believe that Great Britain now has more weapons than China.

These kind of agreements are achieved by big powers taking sensible decisions and us joining the multilateral world decision not to develop these things would be quite different from a unilateral decision not to have them which is the way it keeps being framed. We could be a world leader in disarmament and multilateralism instead of a curmudgeonly aggressor!

If none of this convinces you and you still have an emotional attachment to these things somewhere below your belt then surely there are better options? We could have a low-level maintenance programme to extend the life of the existing deterrent, we could devise some small nuclear bombs that fitted in Ford Transits and park them in British embassies in trouble spots and we could recognise that given the amount of satellite scrutiny the world receives the notion of a surprise strike is inconceivable. If there is one coming, there will be plenty of warning! The nuclear submarine was a theoretical response to a theoretical threat and is an idea that has completely outlived its time.

Anyway, I’ve got that off my chest. I’m afraid this absurd vote will be carried but I do hope that any Labour MPs who vote for renewal are promptly deselected by their constituency parties. As for the rest of us, we need to be taking little steps to getting this country back to sanity not behaving even more stupidly.

 

A Profoundly Undemocratic Decision

We are where we are but one thing should be clear. The referendum result was not achieved by democracy. The same stubborn 30+ percent of the population which has complained about immigration since the 1960s, is largely weighted towards the elderly, is comparatively uneducated and reads right-wing tabloid newspapers day in and day out achieved more votes in the referendum for the Leave campaign than anyone predicted.

Why isn’t that democracy in action? Firstly, there isn’t a majority and there wasn’t a majority for such a substantial change in our international relationships and economy. Over 60% of the population either supports our links with Europe, doesn’t know enough to suggest they should be changed or is happy to leave things to politicians and policymakers. The overwhelming message of the campaign was that many people couldn’t make a choice between two starkly different narratives supported by shaky evidence.

The Remain campaign was a failure not because of who joined in but because the agenda was set by the press barons and because government has not engaged with the issues of inadequate housing, refugees, economic migrants, overcrowded schools and the downward drive to a low-wage zero hours economy. Perhaps it was never going to be possible for Cameron and Osborne to face these issues, but the broadcast media swallowed the Daily Mail and Murdoch agendas and made things worse. They will argue that they were only discussing the issues on the street but they should have broadened the debate and they didn’t. The Parliamentary Labour Party was disunited and bickering so the opposition wasn’t consistent or sufficiently focused on the genuine issues. But, even if the campaign was better than that, it does not make the result more or less democratic.

Secondly, there’s an irony, if not an absurdity, in all of this. Much of the campaign has been about the sovereignty of the British Parliament and yet that sovereignty has been scuppered by this vote. Parliament does not have to be bound by any expression of opinion although it has to take notice of it and the weasel statements of the past few days show Parliamentary democracy in a poor light. The setup of the referendum is partly to blame for this with a 51% majority, a confused issue and the background where it served the interests of David Cameron to secure unity in his party and win the last election without thinking about the consequences. It was a political strategy which has come disastrously unstuck but a failure in the Conservative party to manage itself and its policies should not be sufficient to usurp the primacy of Parliament. Would people really be happy to see Parliament voting through a decision to engage with Article 50 when the majority of elected members of Parliament did not want to vote in that way? That would be profoundly undemocratic and morally reprehensible.

And, thirdly, we are on the brink of a democratic crisis with far wider ramifications. David Cameron has resigned and is likely to be replaced as leader of the Conservative party by Boris Johnson. He could also, de facto, become Prime Minister and organise the nation’s departure from the European Community but it is surely questionable whether there would be a public mandate for this. In terms of the checks and balances within our system, Parliament could vote against his policies but if there was any notion that this was somehow a done deed so that opponents should abstain that would reflect very badly on the integrity of our politicians and their accountability to us for good and sound government. The Parliamentary way for Boris Johnson to proceed would be to call a general election and then there could be policy arguments around all of the issues, members of Parliament would be elected and they could vote, or not vote, to leave the EU. At least, that would restore the sovereignty and democracy of Parliament.

Finally, there’s a wider background to this. The referendum has noted, and arguably created, some stark divides in our society. The arguments have not been green and pleasant and one of the duties of Parliament is to take a balanced view and bring society back together. It hasn’t been doing this well recently not only in terms of policy but also in terms of the apparent remoteness of the political system and this should be a wake-up call before extreme views get expressed in extreme ways. We do not need strong or authoritarian leadership but we do need democratic leadership and everyone should understand the difference. In all of this, and despite everything which has happened, our democracy will be in serious trouble if we fail to protect the primacy of our elected Parliament.

 

How not to be a Catastrophist!

 

There’s no doubt that it is a bad day but it wasn’t difficult to see it coming. Every day of this campaign, and well before, five million newspapers rabidly opposed to immigration and the European project have been published every weekday. It has been a huge and uncontrolled leafleting campaign frequently bordering on lies and confusing news with ideology. Its major success has been to shift the agenda so that the campaign has all been about immigration, refugees, foreigners taking your jobs, and the EU taking your money.

You don’t need a degree in psephology to guess that the age weighted readerships of the Telegraph, Daily Mail and Express all voted for Brexit. The broadcasters haven’t challenged this agenda and, possibly, neither have many of the politicians involved. One of the most frustrating things about this whole campaign has been that we have been talking about the wrong things for most of it. The other is that the image of the UK projected by the Leave campaign has been bought hook, line and sinker by many people living in areas where there simply are no immigrants to be seen.

So, where are we now? First, this is a tiny majority and it is absurd that it should have such an impact on our national politics. When David Cameron set it up to serve his own interests and win the last election he didn’t think through the possibilities. He appears always to have thought it was a rather clever ploy to get rid of some irritating Conservative right-wingers and it has hopelessly backfired.  We shouldn’t be sorry to see him go and we should talk up the need to move slowly. I think his gradual departure is a dramatic device to allow Gove and Johnson to rip each other apart over the next three months.

I hope the result doesn’t allow the mean spirited people on the right of the Labour party to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. He has been out talking about worker rights and mutual security and the gripe is that he didn’t get involved in the right wing agenda. He took a principled stand and I respect that. I don’t think some ‘steps to curb immigration’ from Labour would have made the slightest difference against the media onslaught.

Also, we shouldn’t ignore that we have accidentally restarted the Scottish independence discussions. I think Scotland now has a mandate to stay in Europe and will be warmly welcomed by the EU and that means leaving the UK. I don’t see how anyone can argue against that if the first past the post argument applies to the rest of the UK.

Where does that leave us? Conservative grandees would like to see a smooth transition in the leadership and a strategy for withdrawal developed in the autumn which would make UKIP look pointless since it is a single issue party that has achieved its objective. They could ask people to tighten their belts a little more in the national interest and enjoy a honeymoon basking in the facade of independence before the difficult issues reared their ugly heads.

What might disrupt that? I’d like to see the SNP propose a vote of no confidence in the government. Labour would have to do a deal to support it and recognise the case for independence which would be hard but not impossible and the fractious Conservatives would have to be more united than they probably can ever be to defeat it. Then, we could have a General Election with a radical manifesto from Labour based on economic growth, housing and turning back the tide of austerity. Would it work? Who knows, but it might be worth a try!

 

Well that’s another fine mess you got me into…

There’s a lot of hot air around about the what and how of this referendum – what it might cost us to leave or stay in the EU and how many migrants might or might not flood the country but we seem to have forgotten the why.

That might be because nobody is telling us! So, let’s be clear, this referendum is taking place because some conservative MPs and party members have never accepted the decision to join the EU which was arrived at politically and democratically. This relatively small group has threatened to split the Conservative party on more than one occasion so the Cameron strategy shared by many in the middle of the party has been to promise a put up or shut up referendum. In return for that promise, which created an interim truce, an apparently united Conservative party kept its divisions under wraps and won the last election.

That promise was a mistake because, first of all, this should have been a political decision. We elect politicians to act in the national interest and in the clear understanding of their views and a parliamentary vote, which would have been won overwhelmingly by the remain camp, would have solved any possible national problem even if not the Conservative party one. It would even make more sense to have a general election now in the light of the understanding that the next Parliament would take that vote rather than to have a referendum on this issue.

That is not to say that a referendum is a bad thing as a genuine indicator of public opinion. I wouldn’t mind one on drug legalisation or the abolition of the monarchy which are social issues and there is a genuine social divide. It wouldn’t matter who won but it would get the nation talking politically and that can’t be bad. In contrast, this one simply allows people to realise that they have no idea.

Part of the reason for this is that should we remain or should we leave is a pointless question. We are in Europe geographically and the fact is that we are actually part of its politics. We’re not dithering on its borders and in time we will become a democratically governable and independent entity within the European structure. What’s wrong with that? We might even be there already.

We joined in the interests of peace, mutual trade and prosperity and to put Europe on a mutual par with the superpowers and, in general, that has worked in everyone’s interests. We also joined because we wanted to and we committed the nation to the collaborative endeavour.

This is worth saying because the subtext of the current debate is that the electorate have forgotten that and operate at a pretty low level. That disenfranchises a lot of people who think they are above this kind of catcalling. All this froth about the pound in your pocket and the immigrant floods is polemical and designed to distract people from the fact that we are already there and, really, there isn’t anything much to talk about. We live in Europe, full stop. We didn’t need a vote to stay when we weren’t thinking of going anywhere and that leaves a lot of people uninvolved.

Some people are trying to make that an issue for the Labour Party but remember that this is a Conservative party argument and always has been. It has been rewarding to see Labour and the unions constantly repeating the same message about what we currently get from being in Europe and shameful to see conservatives talking up race issues. If you think Labour hasn’t said enough or should have shared a platform with somebody it is worth remembering that the interventions have been there but aren’t newsworthy.

That’s another issue in this referendum. Large sections of the press are fundamentally anti-European so, while people differ about who can say what and is this leaflet or that leaflet distribution acceptable, the newspapers are pouring out a torrent of political rhetoric to millions of people. Even when you know the individual story is nonsense, the constant drip of bile affects people.

The defections of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove derailed the Cameron strategy in this campaign. If we vote to remain, this group is set on overthrowing him and moving the party further to the right whatever happens. And, if we vote to leave the future is catastrophic with the existing state underpinnings pulled away in the interests of greed, perceived self interest, flag waving and intolerance. As we vote to remain, or stay as I would prefer, we should be clear about who got us into this mess even as we encourage everyone to vote.

 

Forward to the Past: A Manifesto for English teaching

I have always admired the way that English teachers can appear to be going along with any school policy you might care to name while, in practice, being as subversive as ever in the business of protecting what it means to be literate, in engaging with broad definitions of culture, in subscribing to an open multiculturalism and, above all, being critical, questioning and evaluating of the world around them.

It has been hard to keep to the true path for the past few years and it seems to be getting more difficult year by year so, perhaps, it’s time to set down some fundamental truths about the nature of the subject even where these truths are not always allowed to flourish. So, here goes:

1              You learn to read by looking at books and recognising words as you go. That is where you start and learn to create meaning. You can also learn words by sounding them phonetically but that is not reading. The notion that teaching phonics is a good way to teach reading started with some discredited research in Clackmannanshire, has been supported unthinkingly by various governments because it contributes to the notion of measured improvement in league tables and is allegedly proved to be effective by research which shows without any doubt that the laboured teaching of phonics increases children’s understanding of phonics. The jury is still out as regards what it does to their reading but the empirical evidence is that it puts them off real books.

2              You learn about language by encountering it in all of its beautiful variety. Grammar is a way of categorising, describing and analysing language once you’ve written it. The study of grammatical systems can help children to reflect on their reading and writing but teaching grammar as if, in some mysterious way, good writing is predicated upon its teaching is getting things back to front. Knowing that an adjective is a describing word will not help anyone to describe better. Testing the understanding of grammar as if that is an indication of the capacity to read and write is pointless. All you measure is the understanding of grammar. Children do need to learn to spell and construct meaning in sentences and that is much better done by modelling and experiencing good writing, by learning about progression in the structuring of language and by being encouraged to be ambitious learners.

3              The slavish teaching of writing types and genres in terms of lists of features has proved to be a long and torturous blind alley. As examinations and national tests have become more doctrinaire about what genres look like and how to reproduce them by imitation, in the real world they have become more slippery and overlapped than ever. In the digital world, formal and informal writing are distinguished not by presentation but by content and tone although the English curriculum still has to catch up. Scaffolds provide representations of these flawed models of writing where filling in the gap replaces original thought but, helpfully, appears to be capable of being marked and assessed to give a grade. The teaching of writing in schools should be as authentic as possible, purposive and it should relate to the real world and new literacies. There is nothing to fear from this approach and everything to gain.

4              Children in schools need to encounter a vast range of good reading. In fiction, it is worth remembering that children have historically read as a way of encountering the world of adults and understanding how they relate, conflict and resolve. The notion of literature for children (featuring children and childish issues) has had its day and it is a true test of the best books for children that they are enjoyed by grown-ups. Teachers need to remember that quality is not measured by length or inaccessibility. Reading for pleasure is an achievement for any child and is not encouraged by set text study, the absurd notion of historical and cultural context and the cultural accident of the literary canon. Even the most able students in today’s English classrooms are often bereft as readers – working through set texts, supported by notes and commentaries with the aim of answering questions in limited time in an examination. It is a myth that children do not read because of the digital distractions around them. They fail to read because their reading habits have been straitjacketed in their schools.

5              The notion of developing literacy has always been valid but the methods have failed and continue to fail. We have not developed a literate generation. There are no young people in sixth forms and universities who look back fondly on how the literacy hour shaped and developed a love of anything. The current focus on reading and writing with its clumsy attempts to marginalise speaking and listening is stupid enough but is nothing compared to the refusal to recognise the digital literacies of the 21st-century and the variety of creative media which surround us today. English teachers should be teaching children how to read film and video, to scan websites, to search effectively and how to evaluate sources. There is a 21st-century skill set which is simply being ignored because politicians want children to learn what they did in schools and learn like they did, forgetting that in those schools only a handful succeeded and many failed completely.

6              And finally, the way English is taught in schools needs to be seen as problematic because the way in which it has always been done and the traditional models which are currently encouraged are not working. Gobbet-based lessons, filling the gap exercises and photocopied worksheets turn English lessons into sequences of activities as opposed to learning. English teachers know in their hearts that children ought to talk more and be supported to read in silence. They know the value of extended topics and the real engagement with learning which that can bring but they fear OFSTED and retreat into the old mantras, telling children what they are going to learn rather than letting them find out, chopping lessons into sections, avoiding controversial topics and questions and, in the end, simply playing safe. Children ought to enjoy English lessons, be stimulated by them and learn from them. That is not always the case currently and it is time to state the arguments for a new approach to English teaching and a new debate over what it should include.

It’s not for those who die as cattle

I don’t buy a poppy each year and I don’t wear one. I’m comfortable with that but, increasingly, I’m conscious of the insidious pressure. Suddenly, it’s not just whether you’re a politician or you work in the media but now I see that it is simply not appropriate to go un-poppied in education, the civil service or local government.

I was born almost three years to the day after the atomic bombing in Japan at the end of the two wars to end all wars. I was vaguely conscious of the Suez invasion and then I was a teenager during the Vietnam War and the Cuban missile crisis. I joined CND out of principle despite the sensitivities of my dad who admitted once that if it had not been for Hiroshima and Nagasaki his service record would have taken him into the Far East within six months.

It took me a long time to realise how damaged the post war civilisation was. I didn’t really understand why my school friend Mick’s dad licked the family plates clean after family meals – he was a tea planter imprisoned and starved by the Japanese for over five years. I thought my ex-RAF geography teacher who had mad uncontrollable rages didn’t like children – it is obvious now he had serious post-traumatic stress. The local boy who came back from national service broken, ill and deranged after some experience nobody would speak about and all those tense, angry fathers falling out with their children in the 1960s were quite unable to tell people why.

I have nothing against remembering on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. I think it’s good for all of us to do that but the hijacking of the occasion into a military festival which we have become so accustomed to is simply weird. In some peculiar way the dead become the justification for the jingoism of the present.

And, bizarrely, the dead still find it difficult to have a voice. We patrol and guard the places where the dead are buried, corral them in foreign countries but we have never let them speak. Wartime censorship, the idea that it’s better to forget and post-traumatic stress have combined to silence them. We know what happened in the Falklands because Max Hastings wrote the book and Simon Jenkins showed the scars but we don’t know what it was really like just as we don’t know about Iraq or Afghanistan. Whether it is weapons of mass destruction, securing the Suez canal or regime change the public excuses are never the true reason for going to war and, sometimes, we’ve been there on the back of the United States which has its own reasons and these are precious little to do with ours.

Have we defended freedom? Did we really do this in Malaya and Cyprus? Did we single-handedly sort out the Balkans? If we had rehoused a couple of hundred Falkland Islanders in the Scottish Highlands would it have mattered in the greater scheme of things? And, why is a military commander sounding off today about how we ought to be joining in the bombing of Syria when, at the very least, the military should be leaving the decisions to politicians – however misguided they may be.

Islamic State, whatever it really is has to be resisted equally across military, technological, political and social fronts but we need to remember the roots of that organisation in the treatment of the Palestinians, our support for some evil regimes in the area down the years, our military adventures and our military cock-ups. It hasn’t sprung up out of nowhere and we helped to create it.

War is not good. The people who ‘gave’ their lives – an absurd word given jingoism, conscription and the mad activities of generals – did not have much choice and if we could hear from them they wouldn’t say it was worth it for the most part. It’s good to remember the people who died each November but we don’t need the church bells of the bishops and the popes who legitimised the conflicts and, personally, I’d be very happy to see the politicians, commanders and royalty crawling down Whitehall on their hands and knees to say sorry and – more than that – promising to think twice before they do it again.

Reading the Booker Short List

Joshua Ferris: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Kindle Edition)

Well I finished the book but that is about all I can say. It’s quite long, the dentist is clearly unhappy (like most dentists I expect) and these bizarre intrusions into his life appear grindingly slowly to change it so at the end he might be a better person, or maybe not. The Ulms sounded like something from Dr Who and I’ve no idea after reading the book whether they are real or fictional or in any way remotely important. Is it about self discovery, religion or dentistry? I don’t really know. Should you read it? Probably not. Should it win the Booker? Definitely not!

Marlon James: A Brief History of Seven Killings (Kindle Edition)

This is a really hard book to review without a load more research! Is it fact? How true? Who knows? So some thoughts…

The Jamaican patois/slang is a bit wearing and it is hard to tell the characters apart by what they say. The book is woman hating to a horrendous degree and maybe that is Jamaican gang culture but it isn’t nice. There are lots of murders, graphically described, bits of people blown off, everyone wets and poos themselves on the way so it is messy.

Bob Marley, the Singer, is peripheral to it all. So is the CIA, trying to run various shows. I liked that bit, sleazy whites working to undermine the politics of the time but then the political culture seems beyond redemption anyway.

The writer bigs himself up at the end and gets drawn into the narrative, warned off saying some things by the gangsters. Not sure that works.

Sum up? I don’t buy this picture of deprived and depraved humanity. I think gang members have some fun, nice to their wives and kids. Maybe this book is quite racist deep down and maybe offensive? I should read a Jamaican review.

Nathan Filer: The Shock of the Fall (Kindle Edition)

The main thing about this book is that it is so insightful. Nothing gets pushed onto the reader, this is just how mental illness is, and you get drawn in deeper and deeper as it goes on. I like the way this book unfolds, the way so many of the characters are a bit mad, the kindness in it and the slow burn. It’s very sad in places. I recommend it.

Tom McCarthy: Satin Island (Kindle Edition)

The book arrived maybe on a Friday. It might have been a Thursday. I couldn’t be sure with a digital transmission who or what pressed the button that clicked massive interstices of electronic switches in some heavy functional building located in somewhere empty and motionless like Nevada or neutrally grey like Finland to sustain the sense that Amazon delivered it in a presence that contained the past of its ordering and the future of its reading. The rituals of this delivery were lost. No one carried the text from a warehouse shelf to a despatch area where supernumeraries anonymised it in brown paper while lightly brushing their DNA across the glossy cover. The production took place in the software, a place uncompromising in its refusal to engage with either time or space where once some insubstantial keyboard tap created the means and the possibility of the event of its arrival and the ritualised exploration of the pixels which embraced its significance and the codes that stalked elusively under its surface.

I hadn’t slept well. The emerging symptoms of laryngitis, nasal passages unusually bright, a faint soreness merged in dreams that were websites which I was endeavouring to connect. They spawned out in front of me manifested in pipe work and wires, growing as I tried to link them. I awoke tired to coffee made bitter by my sandpaper throat and the shifting digital pages of the kindle landscape where an altered font stretched out the pages and given my reading speed threatened to disrupt even time itself.

As an ethnographic anthropologist I prepared myself. A long flight, a rackety drive and the last stages in a primitive dug out canoe might have cleared my landscape of misconceptions, created the blind observer perspective as Wankinofski once described it in challenging a denim clad Levi Strauss to public debate before the embarrassment and professional ruin as it materialised that he was approaching the lead singer of a soul quartet. I was well aware of the dangers so I took a long shower and thought briefly of the curve of Kylie Minogue’s buttocks as I flannelled. Then I began to read.

I found out about the project but then again I failed as the project proved constantly elusive slipping over the digital surface of the page so that just as it seemed to connect and appear the activity of page turning drew it away. But then there was the other project, the creation of this digital inability to define which represented the very act of textual exploration, the darkness at the heart of reading and then the impossibility of exploring life itself where the present is actually the past reaching consciousness but otherwise unknowable and the future is simply chimerical where that glimpse of Kylie can be premeditated in as intense detail as tomorrow’s trip to work.

Things connected. The dead parachutist, the oil slicks but the warp and the weft never touched so that the connections were tenuous, slippery and evasivelike the touch of satin. Then, even those fragmentary links faded. The girlfriend, Madison, told a long and inconsequential story, the narrator went to Staten Island but never visited and I took another paracetamol and pondered the impossibility of ever telling anyone, anything about anything and whether you could have a Booker Prize for thinking about that. Probably not but you might enjoy the ride.

Computers in Schools – Are We Really Half Way to 2020

There has been a lot of negative reporting on the use of technology in classroom recently as if something was taking place wasn’t working very well. Of course, that’s nonsense. What is happening at the moment is fragmentary, peripheral, un-embedded and rarely sustained. The dominant message for society as promoted by the Daily Mail and the right-wing media is that kids in school just use computers to watch rubbish whenever they have a chance, worse still they watch bad stuff and, finally, they waste time with them when they should be ‘learning’. Meanwhile, schools accidentally reinforce all this stuff by banning mobile technology to break times or even banning it altogether. They fret about being accountable for teenagers’ browsing habits most of which allegedly involves sending naked selfies to one another without helping them learn to do something better. There’s a lot to turn round here but there is nothing to suggest that computers in education have somehow failed!

We can’t skate around it but OFSTED is part of the problem. Enquiry-based lessons using technology don’t look like the model OFSTED lesson and most teachers are scared to do anything different – perfectly understandably. Next, the teaching profession is increasingly risk averse and given the bad press that computerised learning receives there is little encouragement for teachers to change. And, of course, there are issues to do with resourcing, equity and accessibility.

What could be done differently? Firstly, I’d like to see all secondary lessons as an online programme of work. If universities can do this for complex work streams then I’m sure schools should be able to. This online programme should, as a matter of good practice, embed Internet research, make use of a wide range of Internet resources, require strategies to evaluate and incorporate resources, teach strategies for linking and handling them and encourage interesting ways to reflect the learning. Then you can have topic learning which is teacher driven but not teacher led and where pupils interact and talk. Note that this is different from an ICT lesson because you teach technology as required and as applied. Really unintelligent people don’t have any problem with Evernote, Instagram, Periscope and Twitter and if teachers go all flustered about it they need to get a life and sort themselves out!

What do you think?

I think I’m a Fan of Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn has to put up with a lot. It’s bad enough having Eamonn Holmes asking about your tie, The Daily Mail wanting to know if you screwed Diane Abbott in a field and the BBC asking puerile questions about nuclear buttons and sandals when the more left-leaning media is intent on creating divisions between you and Tom Watson, between unilateralists and multilateralists, between everybody over Syria and anything else they can manufacture a story from. I’m coming to the conclusion that people in the politics business simply don’t get Jeremy Corbyn, where he has come from, what gives him the appeal and what is possible.

First off, that was a populist election victory. It wasn’t expected and it wasn’t well-managed by the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn won because a lot of people, a huge majority actually, liked what he stood for. They liked his ideals, his appropriation of the moral high ground and an appeal to human values where austerity is concerned, and they liked his critique of modern politics and politicians. I think it’s fair to say they didn’t particularly focus on personality and in politics we do far too much of that although some people who ought to know better are still doing it. That is going to bemuse the electorate who supported him. How bizarre to go on about him being unelectable when he’s just been elected?

A lot of people gave him a week once the Labour Party split apart and the conservative press dumped on him. It didn’t happen and that’s because the Jeremy Corbyn who people think is unelectable proved himself to be a canny leader. Offered a succession of absurd baits, he ignored the lot and focused on the issues. He hasn’t not addressed the will I push the button question but he has capably defused it and John Humphrys is not untypical when he sounds increasingly weedy and desperate and, possibly, a little perplexed. It has to be said that Jeremy Corbyn is beginning to sound like an astute politician confirming what he stands for, marshalling his allies, offering invitations to those who perceive him as a threat and maintaining his persona as honest and inclusive. We haven’t seen these unnamed shadow cabinet members or anyone else for that matter rushing off to join the Lib Dems!

Everyone reckoned that the Labour Party conference would involve a lot of people tearing each other apart. It didn’t happen. The unions played the sensible card because they like what is being said about workplace rights, poverty and business. The party did well too in focusing on issues like poverty and welfare which not only unite people but are currently more important than our ageing nuclear deterrent. In the end, we saw the beginnings of a new politics in practice and people like that too. It seems that Jeremy Corbyn is able to deliver.

So, where do we go from here? It’s hard to see Jeremy Corbyn being unpopular in making a remorseless attack on austerity and supporting the poor. Another thing that people ‘in politics’ have missed is that there are a lot of middle-aged people in middle England who feel a bit guilty about their current levels of prosperity and are well aware of the wealth gap every time they go to Waitrose. They may not have the answers but they didn’t like the xenophobic tone the government encouraged about refugees and migrants or the pictures of the food banks. Most people are a bit more decent than the Daily Mail imagines and that can create a groundswell of support beyond the Labour Party.

Then, all we need are a couple of by-elections in the right places and I think – although you can disagree with me on this – there will be a significant swing towards Labour. I also think Sadiq Khan will stroll to victory in London next year because he is another excellent candidate who ‘the party’ might not have wanted.

Meanwhile, it will be good to watch the Conservatives fighting over Europe which is another place where Jeremy Corbyn has neatly positioned himself in ways which Gordon Brown or Ed Balls could never have done. Then, we need a few tight votes on issues where the SNP really has no choice and this government will start to look, as it is, unelected by the majority and out of touch with the people. Murdoch won’t stop having a go and there will be more muck and division thrown around but it’s time now for the BBC, The New Statesman and, even perhaps, the Guardian to be a bit more positive. We don’t need to see somebody who once used to be an adviser and has never been elected to anything being given space to snipe and we don’t need old Blairites mouthing off about back to the bad old days because that isn’t what the current offer is. The Labour Party, given the extent of its crushing defeat only a few months ago, should be delighted to be on a roll and in a position to do so much more and that is largely down to Jeremy Corbyn.