Author Archives: Simon Foster

Where’s the level playing field for music festivals?

WOMAD – the independent World of Music and Dance festival became the latest victim of the Coronavirus last night. Organiser and musician Peter Gabriel said on the event’s website:

It is with great regret that we are cancelling WOMAD ’21 today (28th June). Without the simple support of a government insurance scheme or the guarantee of Test Event status, we cannot continue and put WOMAD’s long term future at risk. We feel that our audience, artists, staff, and contractors, who have been amazingly supportive throughout all this, will understand the need for us to act to guarantee our survival.

The festival was due to start on 22nd July – 72 hours after Government restrictions are due to end on the 19th July. All that WOMAD were asking for was a level playing field – to become a Government test event and qualify for Government backed insurance to be underwritten in case the festival was cancelled.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 1 Comment

Hitting the wrong note

I thought it was a joke at first, a spoof.

The project for a song for One Britain, One Nation has much wrong with it.  Innocently written by a class of primary school children (but with some help), this was an act of symbolic violence against them.   Exploited by the Government’s agenda, this song will be rammed down children’s throats on Friday who won’t understand the nationalistic political context behind this.  The British public saw through it and went for it on twitter – #hitleryouth even started trending as a result.   The jingoistic overtones of this music project contributes to the current debates on the concept of #whiteprivilege, and whether critical race theory should be taught. This is how this project is coming across.

Where was the diversity in this, and the tolerance which is an essential part of the UK’s character in the brief for this project?  Where was the recognition of diverse cultures in the UK – the Scottish pipes, the Welsh choir, the Gaelic folk music, the bagpipes, the tin drums and the wide range of music from immigrant communities such as the Windrush generation, who have made the UK better and richer place after World War II by contributing so much to our community and country?   You want to really engage children in the classroom?  A bit of rap, ska or grime – which excellent music teachers are teaching as part of a diverse range of music, would have been good here.

If I was Ofsted inspector, I would have no choice but to fail this project on the grounds of inclusivity.  Last time I checked, Northern Ireland was part of the United Kingdom.  Yet not content with one border for goods drawn down the middle of the Irish Sea, the Government is now promoting another: a cultural border running somewhere west of the Isle of Man and east of Belfast.  This shouldn’t have been a song just about Britain, it should have been a song about the UK and tolerance and diversity.

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PHOTO FEATURE: Behind the scenes at Chesham & Amersham

Simon Foster has kindly permitted us to share his following photos from behind the scenes at Chesham & Amersham. All photos are All Rights Reserved by Simon Foster.

Went staking, found a Daisy

Posted in Parliamentary by-elections | Tagged and | 19 Comments

A tale from Chesham & Amersham – double or nothing


All photos: All rights reserved by Simon Foster, used with kind permission

I’d never done stake boarding before on such a large scale. Yes, I’d put up the odd stake. So when the chance came to visit Chesham and Amersham, I thought I’d just pop in and show my face.

However, our by-election team doesn’t quite work like that.

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This issue needs examining, closely


Centre Assessed Grades are almost done.  The bane of every GCSE and A level teacher is almost over, the marking is largely done and standardisation will then occur by the exam boards.

As an economics teacher, I get curious about numbers.  Particularly when teachers, not exam boards were asked to do the marking this year.  The back of the envelope figures look roughly like this:

There are roughly 800,000 A level students in England.

Most do three subjects, so that’s 2.4 million subjects that need marking.  Exam entry fees are around £60 at a minimum.  So that’s roughly £144 million in exam fees.

Marking I’ve done for A level papers.  You tend to have a contract of between £800-£1000 and end up marking over 400.  So around £2 per paper is a rough estimate.

Students usually sit 3 papers per A level.  At 2.4 million subjects sat, that’s 7.2 million papers that need marking at a cost of £14.2 million

The situation is even worse with GCSEs.  GCSEs cost around £40 per subject.  There were 4.7 million GCSE entries in 2020.  So that’s £188 million in income. 

Most GCSE exams have on average 2 papers that need to be marked by examiners.  So that’s 9.4 million+ papers to be marked.  At £2 per paper that would be another £18.8 million.

This means that the exam boards have taken over hundreds of millions in exam fees. Headteachers estimate this to be £440 million with other qualifications added in, and they’d like half back – £220 million (Headteachers in England call for refund of £220m summer exam fees | Exams | The Guardian)

Now exam boards still have a lot to do – alternative question papers this year (although they just used a mix of the past papers in most cases), standardisation, appeals – they do need some money to function.  

But there’s still the money not spent on marking – £33 million!  This £33 million – at a bare minimum should really go to schools and FE colleges (particularly the latter as they receive lower funding than schools).  There is a strong moral case for this when schools and FE colleges are making staff redundant due to a funding crisis for education, as is the case at my college. 

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SOS – Safety 4 Our Schools

Embed from Getty Images

Thanks, Prime Minister. From Monday up to six of you can meet in your garden, but you must maintain a distance of 2 metres.  Meanwhile more Primary school teachers are due in this Monday 1st June, expected to take groups of up to 15 for hours on end, usually indoors (although this may be minimised). This ratio is compared to what the National Education Union thinks is safe and manageable of 1 teacher to 5 students.  The latter ratio is close to what Denmark has been using.

Government’s figures at the press conference on 28th May stated 564,000 people have been infected with Covid-19.  We know that around 10% of this number have died.  Some estimates put excess deaths at above 60,000 across the UK.

Independent SAGE say the risk to school staff, pupils and parents could be halved by waiting two more weeks.  Meanwhile SAGE, the Government’s own scientific body, say that we should be operating a week on, week off system where 50% of pupils go in 1 week, and 50% the next (option 7b).  The National Education Union argues that instead of three year groups, we ought to be sending back one year, for two weeks, to see how schools, pupils, teachers and parents cope before widening school attendance.

To make matters worse, rather than providing a set of timely guidelines and in consultation with schools, the Government have rushed these out at the last minute.  The result is schools are left to draw up health and safety assessments on their own, with little support.  The end result will be a mish-mash of different rules and interpretations, leaving parents, teachers, pupils, management, councils and Government all confused about what is going on.

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What really happened at the Euro-elections?

Reading the media coverage, you would have thought the forces of Leave led by the Brexit Party had swept to victory. The Remoaners had been routed. However, taking a look at three key indicators, the truth is more complicated.

The BBC has looked at three key indicators – seats won, vote share, and vote share change (there’s a pretty graphic here but it’s without Northern Ireland. So let’s use these three indicators to tell us what really happened.

On vote share, the picture isn’t clear in Great Britain. You’ve probably seen the likes of this being shared around the internet:

Even allowing for the exclusion of Northern Ireland (which we shouldn’t, congrats to Naomi Long and the Alliance), I’m not impressed by this. The problem is both sides are treating votes for parties as if they were blocks.  A small minority of Lib Dems want to leave.  Even a few protest voting Brexiters want to Remain!  Professor John Curtis observes this is particular problem with one third of SNP voters wishing to leave.

So, we can draw no clear conclusion here.  It depends how you want to calculate the figures.

Posted in Op-eds | 16 Comments

Lib Dems surge as Corbyn’s Labour falters behind Tories

Since May 2016, the Liberal Democrats have been the clear winners when it comes to taking seats in local by-elections.  Many campaigners will have seen the following graph:
bar-chart
With 21 seats gained, and only 1 lost, the net result of +20, with our vote share averaging up 9% is a good recovery which the party should be proud of.   We need to continue to work hard, but at the same time, steady progress.

Conventional thinking would have us believe that when a party is in Government, they do badly in elections.  Conversely, opposition parties should be doing well.  Therefore, if Labour were to be on a serious road to power, it should be thrashing the Conservatives by achieving net gains from them.

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Different perspectives on election results

National vote third at 15%, up  45+ Councillors!  Scottish mainland seats gained!  Overall, these elections were an important step forward in recovery for the Liberal Democrats.

However, this was not a uniform set of results.  There were disappointing results in Wales and London, along with some English areas.  We should think twice when discussing with colleagues how we did.

Candy Piercy wrote this which struck a chord with me:

The hard working candidates and teams who lost will be feeling out of step with the rest of the party. It is not just Wales and London feeling the pain. There are many candidates who bravely put themselves forward hoping against hope that they would win.

So how should we be approaching things?  Well, the field of communication skills has some suggestions.

There’s a saying “the map is not the territory.”  People have different ways of interpreting the world.  A mental map of how they interpret things.  Their map may not only different from yours, but different to what is actually going on.

We should understand these different points of view, which comes naturally to liberals.  Avoid assuming people feel the same way about these election results. Instead, ask people “How do you feel we did?”  Listen to their experience. Feel how they feel. See things from their point of view. Empathise if they have lost and you have won.

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Postcard from Orlando: Hillary sweeps the board with big wins in Florida and Ohio

Hillary Florida GOTVWhat do Florida, North Carolina and Ohio have in common? They’re AWS, which means All Winning States on this side of the pond.  As I write (0515!GMT) Hillary appears to have won Illinois and Missouri by a margin that would have any agent worth their salt screaming “Recount,” at the top of their lungs.
Whilst Florida was always polling strongly for Hillary, the big prize tonight was Ohio for her campaign.  After the shock loss of Michigan last week, Hillary’s campaign needed a big win in the rust belt.  In Ohio, she got it.
The two states are significant. Ohio is the ultimate swing state, crucial to Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012.  Florida has even more of a history since George W Bush’s controversial “win” in 2000.  At a rally for his wife on Monday, former President Bill Clinton said “You don’t need to explain to Floridians the importance of voting.”
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Inside the Hillary Campaign in Florida

Florida

ORLANDO, Florida.  A state with a rich political history, of hanging chads and contested election results back in 2000. A vital state in the primary calendar for the American Presidential election, given its winner takes all rules for delegates.  The perfect place to campaign for Hillary on International Women’s Day.

The Democratic race is fairly straightforward here. Hillary is going to beat Bernie in Florida, and Bernie knows it.  However, perception is everything in the US media, and so Bernie is campaigning to close the gap.  The Democratic debate here is on Wednesday 9th March. Barring a mishap, Clinton will be fine.  Canvassing 100 advance ballot voters (sorry, postal voters), Hillary is clearly ahead, but the talk is all elsewhere.

It’s red on red (*) Republican warfare in Florida.

Posted in Campaign Corner | Tagged and | 18 Comments

Not in my name – I’m not resigned to this

Later today, Liberal Democrat MPs will vote to support the extension of airstrikes in Syria.

Many people will disagree with this decision, as some others, who I respect, agree. Others will be upset. Some may even be on the point of resigning their party membership.

I’m writing today to explain why I’m staying to fight for what I believe in, within the Liberal Democrats.

I resigned from the party once before, over a series of events and ultimately the decision by Nick Clegg on tuition fees. The betrayal of trust I felt, rather than the actual policy was my final straw, which caused me to leave.

It’s a lonely place outside the party. You’re still a liberal, with a small l, knowing what you believe in. You acquire a different perspective, seeing all the liberals in all the parties, and wishing they would work all together more often. You quickly realise that by far the greatest number are in the Lib Dems.

Elections become difficult. You research the candidates, looking for the most liberal ones that will help your area. You vote Lib Dem, more often than not, because they still chime with your views.

However, that sense of loneliness persists. You can join a pressure group, but by their nature, they focus on one particular issue. You search for that overarching view, but it’s missing.

Above all, you miss the real Lib Dems. People who respect your views when you disagree with them. People who want to create real change in our society, like changing our voting system.

On that basis, I chose to rejoin. Warning – be careful if Liz Lynne is a social event if you’ve lapsed – she’s very persuasive. 



Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 48 Comments

A close shave. Can you help?

A good friend who was coming to Lib Dem conference was going to shave all of my hair off, for Cancer Research, at the Glee Club on the last night of conference. This has all been agreed with the Hotel and the Glee Club thanks to the efforts of Gareth Epps and the conference office.

However, my hairdresser cannot make it. So, if you know any hairdressers with a pair of clippers coming to conference who are able to give me a close shave for a good cause at the Glee Club, please put them in touch.

In the meantime, I still need sponsors, so if you can donate £5 or any amount, please do so here.

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Opinion: Liberalism – a modern answer to a classical question

Liberalism.  “You can’t define it.”  “It’s too wishy-washy. “Too centrist. “Too woolly.”

The words of my A level students when they begin their course on Political Ideologies each year. The good news here is that there is a definitive answer. One that students have to learn for their exams.

Firstly, the common values to all sorts of Liberalism. Liberalism is a centrist ideology which is based on the twin values of individualism and a negative/selfish but rational view of human nature.

All liberals also believe in democracy in some form, tolerance, some rights, freedom (see below), and limited government. Not the size of Government, but the fact that all liberals are suspicious of government. Therefore, they believe in check and balances such as codified constitutions, and a separation of powers and devolution, for example.

Liberalism’s first form was classical liberalism. When it came to the size of government, this was very small – the nightwatchman state.  Government should be like a security guard, only awake at night, to preserve our liberty.  This nightwatchman state had 3 functions:

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Opinion: Goodbye Salisbury Convention, hello UK constitutional convention

This Government is illegitimate.  We should resist it by all legal means possible.

Apparently, according to Sir Malcolm Bruce, all politicians lie at some point.  I don’t accept this is a good thing, but we should not have been surprised when the Prime Minister came out with this little gem on the day of the Queen’s Speech:

“We have a mandate from the British people.”

No Dave, you do not.

The idea of an electoral mandate is a simple one which I teach my A level Politics students.  You win a majority in the House of Commons, you claim the people have backed you, you get on with the job.

This is not democracy though.  Democracy, which I have also teach my students, means “people power.”  The idea fails for David Cameron on two levels:

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In pictures: Oxford West and Abingdon – 500th poster up for Layla Moran

Thing started well when we got the 300th stakeboard up:

Photo 1 Nathan with the first stake

Photo 1 (Nathan Khan)

Then, there’s the posters.  Activist Jan Morter decided that her stakeboard couldn’t be seen at night.  So she decided to brighten up her street, which shone some light on the campaign:

Photo 2a Jans poster

 

Photo 2 Jans poster at night

Next there’s the ducks.  Duck L’Orange, the duck of Liberal Tolerance and Justice, apart from having her own twitter account (follow @duckalorangeld) has apparently produced some offspring.  A naming competition followed.  After 2 ballots and 1 recount, Crispin Daisy Duck was declared the winner:

Photo 3 Crispin Daisy Duck

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Opinion: We don’t duck things in OxWAb

duckFollowing on from our April Fool’s Day prank a large yellow Duck has appeared in the Abingdon HQ for the Oxford West and Abingdon Liberal Democrat Campaign.  Already he has become a big hit with the activists.

Typically for Lib Dems, a discussion ensued as to what to call the duck.  A quick internet poll was held, and we now have the results:

Duck a L’Orange (write in suggestion from Neil Fawcett): 69%

Shirley Williams: 15%

Paddy Ashdown: 8%

Evan Harris: 8%

Lembit Opik: 0%

Result: Duck a L’Orange gain.  Majority: 54%

On hearing the news, the newly elected Duck said:

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Opinion: The silence of the Miliband

Yesterday I got an email from Ed Miliband, which included part of his online Q &A session:

I am stuck as to whether to vote Labour or Lib Dem. I am not interested in past records either, I am looking to the future. Many people fall in an “in-between zone”, not poor enough to receive help with living costs, but not rich enough to be able to stay on top of general living costs. How would Labour deal with this? — Zoe, Norfolk

Ed: Hi Zoe, you’re absolutely right that the problem in our economy right now is that recovery just isn’t reaching working people — just a few at the top. Many working people aren’t getting paid enough to be able to stay on top of the bills. Tackling this cost of living crisis will be the key mission of the next Labour government. Unlike the Tories, Labour understand that Britain only succeeds when working families succeed, and that’s why only a Labour government can tackle the cost of living crisis. One of the ways we will do this is by freezing your energy bills until 2017 and giving the regulator the power to cut bills this winter so that people can afford to heat their homes. To make sure work pays, we will ban exploitative zero-hours contracts, raise the minimum wage to £8, and provide 25 hours free childcare per week for working parents with three or four year olds. We’ll also introduce a new, lower 10p starting rate of tax, paid for by scrapping the unfair marriage tax allowance, which will benefit 24 million people on middle and lower incomes…”

Well the minimum wage should go up to £8.25 in the long run anyway, and the 10p tax rate is completely wrong, we should be looking at national insurance now instead.

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The Tories’ internet cartoon shows us why the ban on TV spot ads must remain.

In the last few days, the Tories have shown us a cartoon with the worst of TV campaign tactics about the SNP and Alec Salmond. I’m no fan of the SNP, and I’m a supporter of the Union.  However, this internet spot ad, at 45 seconds reveals a lot about the Tories campaign techniques.  It’s straight out of the USA Political Consultants handbook.

In 1992, whilst lecturing and researching Political Image making at the University of Marie-Curie Sklodowska in Poland, I came across the work of Laurence Rees, in his TV series “We have ways of making you think” and his accompanying book, “Selling Politics.”  Rees argued that modern political propaganda techniques were descended from the Nazi propaganda of Josef Goebbels in Germany. Goebbels had stated that “In order for propaganda to be effective, it had to be entertaining.” Entertaining, and involving the politics of fear.

Fast forward to the 1960s and 30 second TV spot advertising was being developed.  Lyndon Johnson’s Daisy Cutter ad began playing on such fear: The Democrat contender Dukakis was destroyed by the Willie Horton ad in 1988.   First hand, I saw how these attack ads formed the frontline of a Senate campaign, when volunteering for Senator John Kerry in Massachusetts against the Republican Governor William Weld, in 1996.  Both Democrats and Republicans poured millions of dollars into these ads.

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Opinion: What might happen after May 7th

This article appeared earlier as a comment on our “Electoral fruit machine” post and is reproduced here with permission from the author.

(After May 7th) I believe the Lib Dems will have more than 20 seats and less than 40, with many polls and commentators going for somewhere around the 30 mark, at the moment. From all the qualitative data I’ve seen so far that seems a fair estimate in political science. Anything less than 20 would be a shock, as Lord Ashcroft’s polling indicates that this is not going to happen.

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The Independent View: the Alternative Vote – what about the House of Lords?

The debate on whether to replace First Past the Post with AV for elections to the House of Commons certainly seems to be warming up. Both sides are seeking increasing media coverage, bloggers from both sides are debating on the internet, and public interest seems to be growing on the issue.

Yet there seems to me one thing missing – an appreciation of the role of the House of Lords, and how it might be reformed.

The reason for this is quite important – the House of Commons does not exist in a vacuum. The AS-level course I teach on …

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