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Unity Howard: New sponsors. Targeted investment. Building talent. The next steps for school reform.

Unity Howard is Director of the New Schools Network.

According to Deltapoll, education was the third most important issue in the recent general election campaign. The manifesto commitments of the main parties focussed on funding rather than detailed specifics on policy areas: so what should we expect for education reform?

The Conservative Party won this election by targeting seats in areas that had not voted Tory before. As the Prime Minister said, these communities have “lent him their vote”. To keep them he must deliver real change – education must be central to that.

The New Schools Network has analysed the 41 seats in England which switched party to the Conservatives. Thirty-one are in local authorities that have a negative progress score at GCSE level, while only 10 exceeded the national average at end-of-primary testing.

We know that Brexit was at the heart of so many votes, but it was by no means the only factor. Indeed, I see it as merely part of a wider motive – a desperate plea for change from communities who know their local schools are not good enough, and who have placed their trust in the Conservatives to improve their lot.

We need a new vision for this next decade: one with a lifespan that exceeds just one parliamentary cycle. And if that vision is to resonate with those who voted Conservative for the first time, then it must centre on social mobility.

As a first step, the Government should initiate a new wave of sponsors for academy trusts, particularly in the Midlands and the North. We need businesses, charities, and other organisations who can bring their own expertise, and give back to the communities they serve.

For example, the FTSE 100 captains of industry should become school sponsors to play a hands-on role developing their next generation of employees in England. And we saw recently, a private donation to Winchester and Dulwich College, targeted at white working class boys, was turned down on equality concerns. The state sector is crying out for support– and will gladly be the recipient if private schools continue to turn their noses up.

Bringing outside expertise into schools was once central to the academies movement, as organisations like Dixons, the Co-op, the Merchant Venturers, and others sponsored local schools. That is a hallmark of responsible capitalism, but a new generation needs to step into the academy world, and needs to be given enough support to hit the ground running. At NSN, we are well placed to support them as we already do with new school applicants.

However, it is crucial that collaboration is at the heart of this – working with the existing school sector to create a settlement that works for everyone and that will outlast the parliamentary term. This includes allowing local authorities to open up their own multi-academy trusts, paving the way to full academisation.

Next, the Government needs to prioritise targeted investment in initiatives for the most left behind communities. This shouldn’t reinvent the wheel on new programmes, but rather leveraging better incentives to take on struggling schools, thus avoiding the spectre of ‘orphan’ schools with no willing sponsor. This includes more support for new academy trusts in underserved areas based on successful models in the rest of England.

Third, the Government must invest in building talent. Higher starting salaries are always welcome, but practical support is needed to develop the next generation of leaders to reach their full potential – help that goes way beyond just the National Professional Qualification for Headship.

Highly successful trusts should be allowed to replicate the KIPP Fisher Fellowship model in the US to identify and support new leaders. NSN has launched a CEO mentoring scheme but we cannot do this alone – we need Government intervention for every layer of school leadership and, crucially, funding.

Fourth, Onward research during the election found that further education (FE) is another pressing concern for new Tory voters. More funding for this sector is a good first step, but will not be enough of itself. That’s why the Government should use the free school model to bring much-needed innovation into this sector.

Finally, of course, the new Government needs to put its shoulder to the wheel again on the free school programme. New schools are a proven success, particularly in areas broadly untouched by other educational reforms. We must re-animate the original model, allowing charities, community organisations and groups of teachers and parents to establish their own school in the areas of the country which most need them.

The Conservatives started the revolution in education reform in schools, empowering communities to come together in areas otherwise abandoned. Instead of being content with their work to date, we need the new Government to take this even further.

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives showed that they can win the confidence of the country. Now is the time to prove they are worthy of that confidence by driving through the vital reforms that are desperately needed to ensure by 2024 every child can access a good school place in England.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Rachel Wolf: Where education reform has succeeded – and where it has failed

Rachel Wolf is a partner in Public First. She had co-charge of the 2019 Conservative Manifesto. She was an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during David Cameron’s premiership and was founding director of the New Schools Network.

A while ago my company did two in-depth projects looking at the attitude and understanding of parents with children at primary and secondary school. Most of the people we talked to were “C1 C2 D” – in other words, the people who just voted Conservative. These terms can seem a bit meaningless (and the difference between a C1 and a D is very large) so here are a a few examples: one of the men was a joiner and another drove a van; quite a few of the women had part-time administration jobs in local small businesses and a couple worked in shops.

(If this sounds sexist it is not meant to – it is just a fact that women with children from these backgrounds tend to work part time and get jobs to fit.)

I have been very involved in school reform for the past decade – including founding and running the main Free School organisation, New Schools Network. The conversations were an eye-opening measure of where we had succeeded and where, to date, we had failed.

Three discussions summed it up.

The first was with a group of enraged parents in Yorkshire. Their school was in special measures and there were no local alternatives. They had been told their school was a failure, that their children’s futures were probably blighted, but that they could do nothing. No one else seemed to be fixing the problem either. This is exactly what the academy programme was designed to address – it has worked brilliantly in some parts of the country, but we still struggle to get enough people to take over schools and turn them round in others – primarily outside of the South East and our major cities.

This is why Ofsted has just published a report on ‘stuck schools’ (those that have remained poor despite continued interventions and new leadership) with a proposal to do more to support them. Academies have not, at least yet, worked everywhere.

But it was noticeable that many of those stuck schools blamed parental disengagement (Ofsted made clear they couldn’t verify if this were true). I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with a school leader where the parents weren’t considered inadequate in some way – either too disengaged or too nagging.

Of course some schools must cope with suffering children with very troubled families. But most parents are not troubled, and in the case of the Yorkshire school they were neither disaffected or disengaged. They were impotent.

The second group was in London. It was a different world. Many of the parents fell over themselves to talk enthusiastically about particular schools. London schools have moved from being among the worst in my childhood to being the best in the country. A huge proportion of the schools that consistently get kids from very disadvantaged backgrounds (often from ethnic minorities) into elite universities are in London.

Free Schools, the project I was involved in during the coalition years, are one reason for this triumph, indeed what was striking about the London groups was how many parents could name individual free schools. Many of the best schools in the country are now Free Schools. But a lot of those – probably too many – are in London.

The third discussion was in the East Midlands. The parents we spoke to didn’t have children at terrible schools. But they weren’t particularly good either. All the schools were quite similar in standards and approach.

Those parents weren’t miserable – they didn’t know anyone who sent their kids to schools that were markedly different (private schools are another, foreign, world for these groups and are irrelevant in their mind). The primary parents dutifully did all the homework the school suggested. They were competent and loving – like almost every parent in the country. But we knew, looking at the data, that the children at these schools could be doing much, much, better.

These are the parents we have, in my view, most consistently failed in the last decade, and where we continue to have the least to say. We’ve done some important things – the children in those schools, for example, will be taught to read using better and more effective methods than a decade ago. But we haven’t empowered the parents to demand more for their children. The NHS has been on a ten year drive to help people take charge of their own health – including developing their own exercise programmes and detailed nutrition guides for children. We need the same in education. What should your children know? How do you hold your school to account? What is happening to pupils in other parts of the country?

Nor have we given them alternatives. The very original plan for Free Schools – which was to deliver new schools and therefore offer real choice– was supposed to help these areas and these parents. Instead, they focused on areas with population growth (mostly London and the South East).

In this next five years, I really hope that this quiet majority of parents and pupils are the focus of our new Conservative government. As I said in my last column, we have to remember – as we so often fail to do in education – that most people are neither part of the elite nor in troubled families. We should measure our success in the next five years not only on whether we help the most disadvantaged, but on how much better things are for most families in most areas of the country and opportunities that all children have to succeed.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Neil O’Brien: Stormzy, “niggas”, “bitches” – and scholarships. Do we really want to fund racial groups?

Neil O’Brien is MP for Harborough.

When I was a teenager I smuggled a package into my parents home.I hid it in the back of a cupboard, and gradually consumed the contents when I was sure that no one was looking. But it wasn’t a bag of drugs.  It was a copy of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, borrowed from Huddersfield public library.

I hid it because I would have been acutely embarrassed to be caught not just reading, but with clear evidence of having visited a library. Let me scratch the record at this point.  This column is not about to descend into an awful hard luck story about how I lived in a hole in the road, ate gravel as a treat and so on.

In fact, I went to an averagely performing comprehensive school in an averagely prosperous town. But even from this average background, I could feel the gravitational pull of the powerful anti-education culture which screws up the chances of so many working class kids.

It wasn’t just that trying hard was uncool and library visits embarassing.  Expectations were low. My careers teacher at school (also the remedial teacher) asked how many GCSEs I thought I’d get a C in.  When I said all of them, he implied I was cocky.

I don’t know where this culture came from.  Maybe it’s a mutant version of the Victorian public school cult of effortless achievement.  Maybe as Mike Emmerich says, it’s something to do with the low-skill nature of Britain’s early industrialisation, or a leftover of a time when unskilled men could walk straight into a decent job in a factory.

What I do know is that the anti-education culture held back people I knew: particularly white working class boys (and black) whom it gripped most strongly.

And I do mean culture, not money or class. Poorer Indian pupils on free school meals are as likely to pass their English and Maths GCSEs as black pupils who are not.  (Only nine per cent of white boys on free school meals go.)

Poorer Black and Asian girls who are eligible for Free School Meals are more likely to go to university than white and black boys who are not.

Culture and aspiration really matter, and there were two important rows about them last week. Strangely, both involved the rapper Stormzy, who was asked to do a Bible reading on BBC 1 on Christmas day.

The first started when a leading Headteacher, Katharine Birbalsingh, criticised Stormzy’s lyrics for being racist, sexist and glamorising violence. She talked about the negative effects this had on inner city pupils and suggested some more positive black role models.

Twitter-land erupted in rage. One tweeted: “This woman shouldn’t be allowed around children”. Another: “How can a “headmistress” be so uneducated?” One left wing academic asked: “So you want to ban Shakespeare?”

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. Despite his constant use of the n-word and frequent references to women as “bitches”, Stormzy has become something of a go-to figure when establishment organisations reach for “relevance”.

Earlier this year the charity “Youth Music” extolled “the benefits of students exchanging Mozart for Stormzy as part of a re-imagined music curriculum”. Indeed, why have Mozart when you can have gems like:

“We a bunch of bad niggas (bad niggas)
/

So is Jennifer with them bad bitches (bad bitches)/


Like we pour up man, we got cash nigga/


Like I get money, fuck what you have nigga.”

Stormzy is just one person.  But young black (and white) men are being fed a toxic cocktail of such messages from multiple sources, telling them they need to prove themselves with violence, that normal work is for losers, and normalising disrespect for women. Birbalsingh is surely right to want different role models, and to say that twenty years ago this stuff wouldn’t have been considered normal.  The reaction against any criticism of it is scary.

And there’s something really creepy about the idea that there are particular groups for whom “higher” culture isn’t appropriate, who should instead be served up something more “relevant” to them instead.It’s the soft bigotry of low expectations.

The second row was sort of a mirror image.

It was about trying to raise aspirations – through scholarships for particular ethnic groups. It was revealed that Dulwich College in London and Winchester College in Hampshire had declined a bequest totalling more than £1 million to support the fees of white working class boys from Bryan Thwaites, a prominent scientist and academic who himself attended both schools on scholarships.

Sir Bryan defended his proposed grant by citing none other than… Stormzy, who established a Cambridge University scholarship scheme solely for black British students earlier this year. Through the Stormzy Scholarships, black students can get up to a £18,000 grant.

Such programmes are increasingly widespread: Oxford recently announced new Arlan Hamilton scholarships for Black undergraduates.  UCL has scholarships for black and minority ethnic (BME) postgraduate research students. The Bank of England also has scholarships for African Caribbean students.

Let me be clear: Stormzy and others are trying to do a good thing.  I’m glad he is spending his money on encouraging black kids to apply to Cambridge. There is still a lot of racism out there and generally black people are worse off in lots of ways than white.

But there are some massive questions here. Commenting on the case, Trevor Phillips noted that there would be nothing illegal about scholarships for poor white pupils:

“This is not what we intended when we drafted the equality laws. As one of the authors of the [Equality] Act, and having encountered this situation before, I can see that the schools’ lawyers read the Act as though it were a law constructed purely to favour people of colour. It is not; it is designed to ensure equality, and in this specific case, the disadvantaged, under-represented group happens to be white.”

But do we want to go down a route of ringfenced funding for racial groups, be they black or white? Collecting statistics on people’s self-identified racial background is one thing.  Having ringfenced funding for one racial group is quite another, and leads into a minefield.

Last year, 44 per cent of Black African background pupils got five good GCSEs, but only 40 per cent of those from a Pakistani background.  On what basis should the latter be refused a scholarship only open to someone with slightly different skin colour? What proportion of your grandparents have to be of a particular ethnicity to count as “mixed race” and be eligible for a scholarship?

Apartheid South Africa had cruel racist laws to assign people to racial groups on the basis of things like “hair colour”, “facial features” and “eating and drinking habits”.  Could future court cases turn on such creepy arguments?

In the US, “affirmative action” has gone much further and has indeed led to court cases and legislation to control it. Issues have included discrimination against Asians who have then sued, problems with higher drop-out rates among favoured groups, arguments that it ends up helping richer members of favoured groups over poorer members of non-favoured, and arguments that it undermines members of favoured groups who would have succeeded anyway without the affirmative action.

Most leading UK universities rightly do quite a lot to “aim off” for students’ backgrounds. If you get top grades despite attending a school where few do so, you are more likely to get let in.  They look in detail at individuals’ backgrounds.

I think this fundamentally different to quotas or ringfenced grants: looking through people’s current disadvantages to assess their future potential as individuals is different to treating people as members of groups. Above all, if we want more people from some disadvantaged groups to be able to go to university, the main thing we need to do is to raise their achievement at school, which is why we need to put rocket boosters under our school reforms.

In the 2020s we should get more interested in the culture facing young people and who gets held up as a role model.  We must avoid sliding into US style quota-ism. We must do more to help people climb the ladder, but not be afraid to try and change parts of our culture that keep them down.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Northern Virginia school news to know before 2020 begins

Westlake Legal Group students-in-school-education-news-feature Northern Virginia school news to know before 2020 begins schools public schools public school news prince william county News & Updates high schools fairfax Education News Education arlington alexandria
Photo by neONBRAND

The start of a new year (although not technically a new school year) holds changes for both local students and parents. Here are the changes coming to Northern Virginia public schools in 2020 you need to know before your kids head back to school after winter break.

Arlington Public Schools

On Dec. 19, Arlington Public Schools announced the appointment of Arron Gregory, the new Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer of Arlington Public Schools. Gregory comes from Trotwood, Ohio, where he held a similar position at Trotwood-Madison City School District. When he assumes his role on Thursday, Jan. 16, he will bring over 18 years of experience in education to lead the development and implementation of a strategic plan to advance diversity, equality and inclusion across all APS schools and departments.

On Dec. 20, the Arlington Public School Board adopted fees for summer school 2020. Fees for secondary summer school will remain the same as the prior year, but the full fee for “Make Up and Strengthening” courses will rise to $150. Strengthening courses for elementary students will continue to benefit students who are performing below grade level in mathematics and reading. Registration for summer school courses will continue to be on a recommendation basis by school employees.

Fairfax County Public Schools

On Dec. 13, 12 recently elected members of the Fairfax County School Board took their oaths of office for their four-year terms, which will officially start on Wednesday, Jan. 1. The elected members include Abhar Omeish, Karen Keys-Gamarra and Rachna Sizemore Heizer. District-specific board members included Megan McLaughlin, Braddock District; Melanie Meren, Hunter Mill District; Elaine Tholen, Dranesville District; Tamara Derenak Kaufax, Lee District; Ricardy Anderson, Mason District; Karen Corbett Sanders, Mount Vernon District; Karl Frisch, Providence District; Laura Jane Cohen, Springfield District; and Stella Pekarsky, Sully District.

On Dec. 20, Fairfax County Public Schools announced its proposed fiscal year 2021-2025 Capital Improvement Program, which will require more than $1 billion for the five-year plan. Due to inconsistent growth in certain areas over others throughout the county, FCPS has identified capital projects including school renovations, additions and modular additions where needed. Funds that were previously approved in the 2019 School Bond Referendum cover $500 million of the plan, which is set to fund one new elementary school, the relocation of a modular addition, construction of three new high school additions and renovations to five local high schools and two middle schools. The school board is set to hold a public hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 7, addressing the unfunded $573 million needed to complete the Capital Improvement Program.

Loudoun County Public Schools

In December 2019, it was announced that Growth and Opportunity in Virginia (GO Virginia) would award a $2.4 million grant to Loudoun Education Foundation for the creation of a Virginia K-12 Computer Science Pipeline Program in Loudoun County Public Schools. The funding will propel a two-year project that integrates computer science and computational skills from kindergarten through 12th grade, with hopes of providing local students the opportunity to build a strong educational foundation in the growing industry (especially in the Northern Virginia area). The grant has the bandwidth to fund professional development of local educators, create a database of curriculum in computer science and related fields, as well as integrate computer science-inspired lessons into other topics, such as general math, science, technology and other STEM-related subjects.

LPCS will host its third annual Mental Health and Wellness Conference on Saturday, Jan. 11, at Independence High School. The conference is meant to offer local parents and students the chance to discuss and better understand mental health topics, such as anxiety, stress, resilience and the current programs that LCPS offers for mental health preservation and education. There will be a screening of the independent film LIKE, followed by a presentation by Dr. Edward Spector (a psychologist who specializes in compulsive technology use) who will offer practical ideas on how to help students and parents limit the amount of time and the impacts of technology on daily lives, interpersonal relationships, communication and more. There will also be three breakout sessions during the conference, which will be held from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. To register, visit the Loudoun County Public Schools website.

Prince William Public Schools

On Dec. 18, Prince William Public Schools’ newest School Board members took their oaths of office and will begin their four-year terms on Wednesday, Jan. 1. Four people of the eight-person board will remain to represent their districts, including Lillie G. Jessie of Occoquan, Diane L. Raulston of Neabsco, Justin D. Wilk of Potomac (and Vice Chairman) and Loree Y. Williams of Woodbridge. Also returning will be Chairman At-Large Dr. Barbur Lateef. New members include Adele Jackson of Brentsville, Jennifer Wall of Gainesville and Lisa Zargapur of Coles. A new vice chairman of the board will be elected at the Wednesday, Jan. 8 meeting.

For more local education coverage, subscribe to our Education newsletter. 

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Robert Halfon: For years, I’ve urged that the Conservatives become a Workers Party. Now it is one.

Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow.

It feels like I’ve woken up from a dream. Not a White Christmas, but a sea of blue-collar, spanning the length and breadth of the country, on the electoral map. For many years as MP, I’ve been campaigning for us to be the “Workers’ Party” – the representatives of blue-collar men and women up and down the country. In Essex, we use the term, “white-van conservatism”.

It is extraordinary to think that this dream has been realised by the election of MPs from all over the country, from Bishop Auckland, to my own constituency of Harlow.

Of course, the narrative from the Corbynites is that their catastrophic performance is because of Brexit. But, if you look at long-term trends, Labour have been losing the vote of working people for a number of years. The Labour movement is seen as an enemy of aspiration. In my own constituency, the Labour vote has not veered from 30 to 38 percent since 2010. Having said that, the results this time around were remarkable.

We have a real chance to fundamentally change our Party for the better. As the Prime Minister said, many people have lent us their vote, and they won’t be so generous next time if we get it wrong.

The Conservative Party must take this opportunity to become the true Workers’ Party.

That means, first, being incredibly careful with our narrative and language, and ensuring that we’re seen as the party of the ladder of opportunity and the safety net.

We should be modest, humble and kind in all our dealings with the public. Real thought and care about our language must be taken at all times, but particularly when we face the media, to ensure that Tories don’t come over as heartless or lacking emotional intelligence. Too often, we’ve allowed ourselves to be seen as out of touch and not on the side of people who are struggling. Each of us has a role to play, individually, to change this perception.

Second, let us show that we Conservatives have a real passion for our public services and are just as proud of increased funding for the NHS – as we are of the necessary tax breaks for small businesses – which we know increases investment and employment opportunities.

Third, we have to be relentless about cutting the cost of living. Lowering taxes is a moral good. We must convey that it is not all about helping rich people in the city or tycoons. This means, as the Manifesto pledged, focusing on cutting taxes for the lower paid by continuing to reduce income tax and making increases to the National Living wage a priority.

But we shouldn’t just cut taxes for lower earners, we need to ensure they know about it. On wage slips, for example, the Treasury should set out exactly how much the Government is saving taxpayers. The wage slip should read: “Your tax bill would normally be £X, but the Conservative Government has discounted it to £Y, saving you £Z.”

A simple, practical mechanism to ensure that workers on lower incomes know that it is Conservatives that are cutting their tax bill.

So, too, should the fuel duty freeze continue – again, as mentioned by the Prime Minister in the campaign. More action needs to be taken to improve Universal Credit so that its purpose of eliminating the poverty trap finally becomes a reality.

Fourth, many working people in communities that have now voted Conservative are passionate about apprenticeship opportunities for their children. Our vocational and technical education reforms should be at the forefront of policy for our Education Secretary. Every single young person should have the offer of a high-quality apprenticeship – right through from Level 2, up to degree-level.  Conservatives should aim for 50 per cent of students to take up degree apprenticeships.

Conservatives must come good on school funding and continue to provide as much parental choice of schools as possible and do everything to improve standards of reading and numeracy. Skills, Standards, Social Justice and Support for the profession should be the four s’s mantra of our education policy.

Fifth, it is high time we deal with the lack of housing in this country. We have to be bold and build hundreds of thousands more houses, recognising that 90 percent of land is not yet built on. It cannot just be about schemes like Right to Buy and Help to Buy, great though they are, but also about real affordable housing that people can rent.

Sixth and finally, whatever happens, as well as being the Workers’ Party, Tories must be a movement for social justice, too. Millions of our countrymen and women struggle everyday, whether it is a parent waiting for 39 weeks for their child to be diagnosed with a mental health issue, or people living in ghetto-type social housing, or individuals being sucked into a spiral of dependency on addictive drugs. We should do more to combat abusive relationships and domestic violence, too.

Conservatives must be the Party for these people as much as those who are already climbing the ladder of opportunity. Our job is to bring people to the ladder, to help them climb up and be ready with a safety net should they fall. The Party that enables and strengthens social capital, as much as economic capital.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

David Davis: How to keep the new working class voters we won last Thursday – and win even more

David Davis is MP for Haltemprice and Howden, and is a former Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.

The Conservative victory last Thursday was not just a landslide win: it marked the beginning of the transformation of our political landscape and our country.

The new MP for Blyth Valley, Ian Levy, won a mining constituency never previously held by the Conservatives . As a former NHS worker he is, like many of his new colleagues, anything but a toff, and signals a coming transformation in the complexion of the Party both in Parliament and the country.  A number of the new 109 MPs are Tory working class heroes.

The question on everybody’s mind, from the Prime Minister to the newest arrival, is: “now that we have won them can we hang on to them?”   If we are any good at our job, the answer to that question should be a resounding “yes”.  Many Labour MPs – not just the left-wing apologists for Jeremy Corbyn -are consoling themselves that these Labour constituencies will return to type at the next election.

But they should look at Scotland, where the SNP swept aside a previously dominant Labour Party riddled with complacency and corruption – and it still has not come back.   The same could happen in England and Wales if they are not careful.

It was clear on the doorstep during these last six weeks that the electoral base of the Conservative Party has changed dramatically. Our voters are more working class and more urban. They are more provincial and less metropolitan.  They have a no-nonsense common-sense, and are certainly not politically correct. They have a quiet unassuming patriotism – proud of their country but respectful of foreigners.  They are careful with money, and know it has to be earned.   They want tougher policing but also have a strong sense of justice.  They depend more on public services, and are the first to get hurt when these fail.  Many of them would be classified as “working poor” and dependent on welfare payments, although they themselves may not see it that way.

So what should we do in order more fully to win their trust? Obviously we should deliver on our manifesto: get Brexit done, and provide more money for the health service, for education, for the police, and for more infrastructure – not least new broadband.   But this is nowhere near enough.   A manifesto should be a lower limit on delivery, not an upper limit on aspiration.

This should be no surprise. The Thatcher manifesto of 1979 was fairly slim. It certainly did not detail the actions of most radical and eventually most successful government of the twentieth century.

What Thatcher achieved was a revolution in expectations: about our country, about ourselves, about what was possible.  We have to do the same.

And our target should be unlimited.   We should be planning to prove to our new base that we care about improving their lives, but we should also be targeting the votes of younger people, too.   There should be no no-go areas for the new Conservatives.   Fortunately, the necessary policies are similar, and they require Boris Johnson’s hallmark characteristic – boldness.

There should be a revolution in expectations in public service provision, from health care to education. This is about imagination more than money. There are massive technological opportunities opening up, from genetics to big data to diagnostic technology, and we should be enabling the NHS to make better use of it.

On the education front, the international comparisons have not shown much progress since the turn of the century, despite the best efforts of successive Education Secretaries,  Other countries from China to Belgium have seized on new technology to completely reengineer the classroom. We should be doing the same.

And we should now work to further social mobility.   None of my doorstep conversationalists mentioned this phrase, but many talked about the opportunities (or lack of) for themselves and their children, which is the same thing.   We used to be a world leader in social mobility; now we are at the back of the class.   Every government since Thatcher has paid lip service to the problem, but none has done anything about it.   Indeed, they have made it worse.

Take for example the disastrous university tuition fees and loans system introduced by Tony Blair and made worse by David Cameron.   It has delivered poor educational outcomes, high costs, enormous debt burdens and widespread disappointment, as well as distorting the national accounts.

The heaviest burden of this failure falls on young people from the poorest areas. The Augar Report gave strong hints about how to fix it, even though its terms of reference forbade it from providing an answer.   The new policy aim should be simple.  Allow children of all backgrounds a worthwhile education to get good enough qualifications to start a decent career without crushing lifetime loans. It should be an early priority of this government.  It would be the single most targeted way of helping a generation that deserves our support.

One of Thatcher’s great contributions to social mobility was to encourage home ownership: 65 per cent of young people either owned or were buying their own homes then.  Today, that number is 25 per cent.   The reason is simple.   We are just not building enough homes.  In the last 15 years the population has grown by just shy of seven million people.

We have built nowhere near enough houses to cope with that.   The current incremental strategy is not up to the job, and we need to adopt a wholesale programme of garden towns and villages around the country, and a new process to drive much of the planning gain to reducing house prices and improving housing and service quality.   We should also look very closely at reform of the Housing Association sector, to deliver more homes for both rent and sale.   We were once a proud homeowning democracy, and a return to that would not be a bad aim for a modern Conservative Party.

This would be just a start.   But it has to be paid for.   This has always been the Conservative Party’s trump card: the ability to run the economy and deliver the funding for good public services.   Brexit opens up the possibility of a new economic renaissance, which the Prime Minister believes in, and is capable of seizing with both hands.

But we will need to rediscover the Lawson lessons: that simpler, lower taxes deliver more growth, more jobs, more wealth, and eventually more tax revenue.   Our tax system is now littered with irrational anomalies – most recently demonstrated by senior doctors refusing to do extra work because they were effectively being taxed at 100 per cent as a result of covert Treasury pension taxes.

It is time we swept much of this structure away, and liberated people to gain from their own efforts without excessive state burdens.   It should also not be too hard for us to do it in a way that helps the North as well as the South.  And this does not just apply at the top: the working poor face similar anomalies under the tax credit system.

Which brings us back to the ‘new’ Conservative working classes.   We should not imagine that an appeal to them is a novel gambit bu the Conservative Party.* The most successful political organisation in the world for two centuries has been just that because for most of that time it has relied on the working class for at least half of its vote.

From Disraeli’s reforming government to Shaftesbury’s great social and industrial chang, to Lord Derby’s legalisation of trades unions, we have a long and deep commitment to caring about the welfare of the working classes.   If this were not true, one of Johnson’s old Etonian predecessors as Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, would never have won the impoverished North Eastern constituency of Stockton – and held it throughout the great depression.   And of course in modern times Margaret Thatcher inspired Essex man and held many seats in the North – not least Darlington, which we won back last week.

So we have been here before. Blue collar Conservatism has a proven track record – one we should resurrect.  In this new political battle, the greatest tension will not be left versus right or even fiscal and monetary doves versus economic hawks.   It will be a battle between creativity and convention.   I have always thought that the Prime Minister subscribes to Nelson’s maxi  that “Boldness is the safest course,” so I suspect that this will be a battle that he will relish.   If he does, these will not be the last seats we win in the Midlands Wales and the North.

A few years ago I presented a BBC Radio 4 programme which showed that the Conservative Party has been heavily dependent on working class votes for most of its 200 year lifespan.

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“Get out of London.” Now watch Johnson and Cummings turn the world upside down. Or try to.

“You guys should get outside London and go to talk to people who are not rich Remainers’.” (Dominic Cummings, September 2019.)

– – –

Britain’s political and economic model from Margaret Thatcher through Tony Blair to David Cameron had roughly the following in common.

A dominant capital city, London, with its south-eastern hinterland.  A flourishing City of London.  An economy based on services rather than manufacturing.  A high level of immigration, at least recently, to service its needs – both internally and externally.  Pressure in this wider South East on schools, hospitals, roads, rail, cohesion, and especially the price of housing.

An Ascendancy class of civil servants, lawyers, journalists, academics, and media workers doing well out of this system, whichever of the main parties governed.  Government focus on message and spin to feed the London-based newspapers and media.  A recent Ministerial and Whitehall preoccupation with Parliament, reflecting the unwillingness of voters to elect a government with a strong majority since 2005 – and the increasing rebelliousness of backbenchers.  A currency that some believe to have been overvalued (further reinforcing this system).

Outside this greater South East, a provincial Britain in relative or sometimes absolute recession.  A growing gulf between its view of this system’s success and London’s.  A sense that it has done less well out of the growth of the capital city, the universities, the media, services, the law – and infrastructure spending.  A less favourable view of immigration.  Less expensive housing but also lower wages.  Skills and employment gaps.

– – –

All this is about to change – at least, if a new post-Brexit Conservative Government based broadly on Thursday’s results, serving at least two terms and with Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings in place, has its way.

Perhaps wrongly, I read the briefing in much of Sunday’s papers about the new Government’s intentions as Classic Dom.  In the short to medium term, expect to see the following:

  • Less of a focus on Parliament and the media.  Johnson has a majority of the best part of a hundred.  He won the election despite, even arguably because of, intense media scrutiny, opposition and pressure.  I suspect that the Prime Minister won’t care much what Labour, which is likely to vanish into chaotic opposition for the best part of a year, or the Liberal Democrats, who have just lost their leader, do or say in the Commons, at least for the moment. Furthermore, Philip Hammond, Rory Stewart, David Gauke, Amber Rudd, Oliver Letwin, Dominic Grieve* and his most persistent critics are no longer there.  And Cummings won’t be remotely flustered by what’s said on a Today programme or a Newsnight or by an Andrew Neil that, in his view, only the Westminster Village bubble is bothered about.
  • A Government restructuring to concentrate on delivery.  Johnson and Cummings thus won’t worry too much if Ministers flounder in the Commons or TV studios – at least in the early part of this Parliament.  They will want delivery, delivery, delivery for the new blue seats in the Midlands and North.  That will mean tearing up the Government reshaping undertaken by Nick Timothy for Theresa May and starting all over again.  Briefing that Business and Trade will be amalgamated; that the Environment and Climate Change, a Johnson and Carrie Symonds preoccupation, will again have its own department, and that the Foreign Office will absorb much of DfId sounds about right.  A post-January post-Brexit reshuffle will reveal all.
  • Ministers appointed to govern rather than perform.  Monday’s reshuffle will see gaps filled at Culture – which will have an important role with regard to digital and the media – and Wales.  I expect the bigger January shuffle to see Cabinet Ministers appointed who Number Ten expects to work with outsiders to transform Whitehall.  There will be a big emphasis on NHS spending, police numbers, border control, northern infrastructure, skills and, maybe especially, Cummings’ spoor: the words “Invest in Science”.The sort of names to look out for include Matt Hancock, Rishi Sunak, Oliver Dowden, Robert Jenrick, Jesse Norman, maybe Chris Skidmore and the rehabilitated Michael Gove.
  • Expect the unexpected.  All those are men.  Johnson will want to appoint a lot of women – an intention made all the more intriguing by the fact that many of the Ministers currently being tipped for the sack are female.  The most senior women outside Cabinet itself are Esther McVey, Caroline Dinenage and Lucy Frazer, who could easily slot into one of the Law Officer posts.  But there is no way of knowing what Johnson, Cummings, Downing Street and the Whips will come up with. And other names in the mix include Victoria Atkins, Anne-Marie Trevelyan and a revitalised Penny Mordaunt.  Cummings’ instinct will be to bring in good outsiders as Ministers and promote quickly from the massive new intake of Tory MPs if necessary – over the head of convention and perhaps advice.

There are some oddities about bits of the briefing, or at least parts of what’s being written.  For example, if a new department for Borders and Security is to be set up, what becomes of the Home Office – which under the Theresa May/Timothy reforms became a department for security and borders?  Is it to be amalgamated once again with the Justice Department?  Might Johnson want to mull reviving an updated Lord Chancellor’s department?

And if the SNP is to campaign for a second independence referendum, with Northern Ireland undergoing huge post-Brexit change, wouldn’t it make sense to have a Secretary of State and department for the Union – perhaps headed by the ubiquitious Gove?  What becomed of the traditional power of the Treasury?

Finally, Johnson could do all the restructuring and appointing available to him with his near three-figure majority…and find that the economic and political model he inherited is too entrenched to be shifted.  Because the commanding heights of our culture have so big a stake in it that they won’t willingly let it go.  Buy your ringside seat now for the clash between the Ascendancy’s instincts and Cummings’ Nietzschean plans. With Johnson refereeing.

– – –

* Mr Grieve…we’ll see what he is right about.” (Cummings, August 2019.)

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What would a Conservative victory on Thursday mean for local government?

The Conservative message, that completing Brexit will allow us to move on and focus on other matters, has resonated with those I have spoken to on the doorstep. But some have been disappointed that the Conservative Manifesto has been cautious over what that will mean (beyond a milder and more plausible spending spree than proposed by Labour). The point has often been made that the “take back control” spirit of 2016 applies to more than Brexit. If so, then surely it would include greater individual freedom and local communities having greater autonomy. “Take back control,” should not merely mean being bossed around by the man in Whitehall rather than the man in Brussels. What would be the implications for local government if the Conservatives win the General Election?

The Conservative Manifesto says:

“Local government is the bedrock of our democracy. We are proud that Conservative councils have led the way in helping keep council taxes low, providing value for money and supporting local communities.

We will ensure that councils continue to deliver essential local services – which is why they received a substantial funding increase in the most recent Spending Round. Local people will continue to have the final say on council tax, being able to veto excessive rises. This does not prevent councils raising more – but it does ensure that they will need to have solid and convincing reasons for doing so.

We remain committed to devolving power to people and places across the UK. Our ambition is for full devolution across England, building on the successful devolution of powers to city region mayors, Police and Crime Commissioners and others, so that every part of our country has the power to shape its own destiny. We will publish an English Devolution White Paper setting out our plans next year.

Through our City and Growth Deals we have already delivered more than £9 billion of funding across England, and almost £3 billion to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Through bodies like the Northern Powerhouse, Western Gateway and Midlands Engine we will drive greater levels of foreign investment into the UK, promoting our towns, cities and counties around the world. As part of our plans for full devolution we will also invite proposals from local areas for similar growth bodies across the rest of England, such as the Oxford-Cambridge Arc.

This is an agenda which shows that the days of Whitehall knows best are over. We will give towns, cities and communities of all sizes across the UK real power and real investment to drive the growth of the future and unleash their full potential.”

As a former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson is an instinctive localist. Of course, big public sector infrastructure projects will inevitably tend to go vastly over budget and be eye-wateringly poor value for money. But some kind of regional say on capital spending might provide some kind of check on the vanity.

So far as current spending is concerned, it is worth noting that “austerity” has been illusory for central government spending overall, but genuine for local authorities. Councils have responded well to the challenge by reforming the way they operate and actually achieving higher satisfaction rates for local services. So far as “the final say on council tax” is concerned, the question is, at what point this will kick in. If councils are allowed to get away with increases above inflation it is a pretty weak protection.

On housing supply, the Manifesto grasps the need to woo the Nimbys rather than confront them. It says:

“Crucially, however, we need to make sure homes are built in a way that makes sense for the people already living in the area and for the families moving in.”

How is it to be done? By adopting the agenda of Create Streets. Or as the Manifesto puts it:

“Beautiful, high-quality homes. We will ask every community to decide on its own design standards for new development, allowing residents a greater say on the style and design of development in their area, with local councils encouraged to build more beautiful architecture.”

Regular readers will know I regard the key to making new housing popular is to break with the brutalist past and embrace a beautiful future of neo-classicism. It is to Theresa May’s credit that work on this agenda by the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission is now “oven ready”. The champions of ugliness will be the establishment forces – the planners and architects. They think they know best. The allies of beauty are the people. If people are given the power to choose they will choose beauty.

So far as boosting the chance of home ownership for those in social housing is concerned, what is needed is a right to shared ownership. This should include an initial offer of a free ten per cent stake, in return for taking on responsibility for minor repairs. But the Manifesto is rather feeble and just says:

“We will reform shared ownership, making it fairer and more transparent. We will simplify shared ownership products by setting a single standard for all housing associations, thereby ending the confusion and disparity between different schemes.”

There is also a pathetic comment that “we will evaluate new pilot areas” for the right to buy for housing association tenants. That is a retreat from the full right to buy promised to them in the 2015 Manifesto which still hasn’t been delivered.

The other crucial area is to release more surplus public sector land for housing development. This is not mentioned.

Still, it is better to over-deliver than to break promises.

The quiet revolution of independent state schools (with academies as well as free schools) would continue under the Conservatives. This is the most obvious area of retreat for municipal empires. The great unknown is social care. The plan is to “build a cross-party consensus to bring forward an answer that solves the problem, commands the widest possible support, and stands the test of time. That consensus will consider a range of options…” Will that include taking the role from councils and giving it to the NHS? That would be my guess.

The upshot could be that councils have more money and power in some areas (such as transport and basic local services) but have a diminished role when it comes to schools and social care.

Politically, the most important challenge is to stop the blockage when it comes to supplying more attractive new homes. Should the Conservatives be lucky enough to win on Thursday, it should not be treated as a chance to relax on this imperative. It should be treated as a final chance.

 

 

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James Cleverly: We need one last push, with your help, to deliver Brexit, stop Corbyn – and win

James Cleverly is Chairman of the Conservative Party, and is MP for Braintree.

On Thursday, voters will go to the polls in an election unlike any I have seen before. The stakes are high. The choice is stark. And we have just five days to secure the result we need.  Nine seats stand between us and the majority that would allow us to get things done. To deliver Brexit, bring the country back together and move forward.

All 635 Conservative candidates will back the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal – that’s the deal, by the way, that we were told he’d never get. We will re-introduce the Withdrawal Agreement by Christmas and leave the EU in January.

Just think what we could achieve then. We’d be able to refocus the efforts and energy of Government and Parliament on the ambitious agenda the Prime Minister presented in our manifesto. On levelling up education funding, helping families onto the housing ladder, supporting local businesses and boosting the number of nurses in our NHS.

A vote for any other party is a vote to put Jeremy Corbyn in Number Ten, leading a chaotic, Remain alliance propped up by the Liberal Democrats and the SNP. His promise to respect the referendum result in tatters. His flimsy commitment to the Union predictably abandoned at the first sniff of power. 2020 squandered to two divisive referendums.

Voting Conservative is the only way to end the paralysis that has characterised the last three and a half years and restore faith in the democratic system we all live by. Voters told us what they wanted in 2016. It’s a shocking indictment of contemporary politics that we are the only major party prepared to deliver it.

But the threat of Corbyn goes beyond the damage he would do to public faith in democracy. It goes beyond, even, the economic damage he would inflict on hardworking families and vital public services. Corbyn would fail in Government’s primary responsibility – which is to keep its people safe.

Whereas Labour’s post war Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, saw NATO as embodying the ‘spiritual union’ of the west, Corbyn has said the peacekeeping alliance should be scrapped. No matter that over the last 70 years it has halted Soviet aggression and helped to prevent a third world war.

He would undermine our armed forced, disempower the police and inflict irreversible damage on our closest security alliances. Under Corbyn’s leadership, Labour has turned its back on the party’s traditional support, mutating into something which an ever-rising number of former Labour MPs feel compelled to urge the British public to vote against. As Ivan Lewis put it last week, it’s not the Labour party of our parents or grandparents. And it’s led by a man entirely unfit to be Prime Minister.

Since becoming Party Chairman, I’ve visited candidates and spoken to constituents up and down the country. The fear people feel at the prospect of a Corbyn premiership is palpable. And we have five days to make sure that doesn’t happen.

We didn’t want this election, but we do need it. And we need to win it. We can’t do that without you.

General elections require a special kind of commitment from members and activists. General elections in deepest winter event more so. I’ve seen first-hand the dedication of our associations and supporters over the past five weeks, but as we enter the final five days we need one last push.

In 2017, 51 MPs were returned with majorities of less than a thousand. That’s 51 results potentially determined by an extra hour on the doorstep, an extra evening delivering or telephone canvassing. In a tight election, these ‘extras‘ makes all the difference. We need just nine more seats to get Brexit done and move our country forward.

So here’s my ask to you. I need you to find the time for just a couple more hours leafletting and on polling day to work with our candidates. Whatever you can give our candidates across the country. When we work together, the Conservative Party can deliver incredible results. Just look at the famous victories of 2015 or 1979.  Those victories were not just delivered by our Party’s leaders or manifestos.

They were delivered by you, our members. Taking the argument to the doorsteps of the UK and making the case for a Conservative majority government. I don’t want any of us on Friday thinking, ‘what more could I have done?’ as we look down the barrel of years more in-fighting, dithering and delay.

Like our candidates, I will be pounding the pavements. Like our councillors, I will be wearing my knuckles out knocking on doors. Like our association chairmen, I will be making sure that come December 13th we have the majority we need to take our country forward.  I hope you will join me.

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The campaign, week five. Johnson holds his ground – and aims to end next week where he began. With getting Brexit done.

Westlake Legal Group Screen-Shot-2019-12-05-at-16.36.15 The campaign, week five. Johnson holds his ground – and aims to end next week where he began. With getting Brexit done. War on terror ToryDiary Terrorism Tax State Schools Scotland schools North NHS National Insurance Contribution National Insurance Midlands Liberal Democrats Law and order Labour John McDonnell MP Jeremy Corbyn MP homeland security Highlights Education Economy donald trump Conservatives CCHQ Brexit Party   Source: Politico.

Lord Ashcroft’s latest General Election Dashboard, published earlier this week, found that, when it came to recent campaign events, “four in ten voters recalled nothing at all”.  Our proprietor also noted a tendency for both left and right-leaning voters to remember stories and incidents which backed up views they hold already.

This suggests that ConservativeHome’s opening position, set out when we began this series of Friday campaign summaries, has proved accurate to date: namely, that bad campaign weeks don’t usually matter in general elections – and that good and bad campaigns affect the result much less than some suppose.

Jeremy Corbyn has fought much the same operation as in 2017, doubling down and widening out on higher spending pledges, and making the centrepiece of his effort the preposterous claim that Boris Johnson plans to sell the NHS to Donald Trump.

Johnson has fought a very different campaign to that of 2017.  Admittedly, his target voters are the same as Theresa May’s were then – the “just about managings”, as they used to be called.  But his means of appealing to them have been very different.

The manifesto has been kept risk-free; the Chancellor has not been absent; TV debates have been minimised – and executed without major cock-ups (so far).  The terror attack at London Bridge didn’t derail the Prime Minister.  He seems to have got through Donald Trump’s visit without damage.

The sum of events to date is that Labour, as last time, has risen in the polls.    That is as likely to be because the party has had more media exposure than outside election time as for any other reason.  Electoral Calculus now predicts a Tory majority of 28 – well down from the 72 it recorded when we opened this series.

But the Conservatives – unlike in 2017 – have seen their ratings increase, too.  The most probable explanation is that many voters indeed believe that Britain should “get Brexit done” – and find themselves settling on that view, as polling day approaches, regardless of the day-to-day campaigning ups and downs.

If anything during the last four weeks has made a difference, it appears to have been the weakening of the third and fourth parties: the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party.  But both are still in the field and the struggle will be complex – far more so at regional and constituency level than Electoral Calculus’ headline total takes into account.

Its findings must be mediated through those local variants: in particular, the separate-but-related contests taking place in Scotland, in the Leave-backing Midlands & North, and in Remain-leaning London with its prosperous hinterland.  If Johnson can do well in all three, that majority should be higher; if does badly, it won’t be there at all.

The sum of polls suggests that the Conservatives will pull off a win.  The last five how Tory leads of ten, twelve, seven, nine and 13 points, according to Britain Elects.  As we write, there is no suggestion of Corbyn closing the gap; rather, if anything, of it opening up again.

Labour could yet close the divide for a mix of reasons: if there is large-scale tactical voting; if the vote distribution works for it; if its ground campaign is sufficiently strong; if the polls are “wrong” – and perhaps above all if there is differential turnout that favours the party.  Is all this possible? Yes. Is it likely? No.

Downing Street and CCHQ cannot afford to take the chance.  Unlike this website or other observers, they cannot afford to gamble that the campaign will end up making no demonstrable difference to anything very much.  They must claw and scrabble for every vote during the final week of this campaign.

Team Johnson that the election will be won by whoever frames the question that voters will ask themselves in the polling booth.  If it’s: “let’s get Brexit done”, then they believe that Johnson will gain his majority.  That’s where the Tory campaign began.  That’s where they want it to end.

There is a quiet sense in Number Ten that Corbyn and his team haven’t developed a framing of their own for this contest.  So expect to see the Prime Minister and company return to their theme over the weekend: break the Parliamentary logjam, get Brexit done – and then Britain can move on.

Downing Street is keen to stress what might be called the populist part of its programme for the first hundred days of a new Tory Government: more education spending, tougher sentencing, higher NHS charges for migrants.  It claims not to have tried to shape yesterday’s reporting emphasis on national insurance tax cuts.

Our nagging worry is: what about voters who may not want to get Brexit done, but are nonetheless apprehensive about Corbyn and John McDonnell’s tax plans?  Will there be nothing in the last few days to help persuade them that a Corbyn Government would plunder their wallets, risk their jobs and threaten their livelihoods?

Weeks One, Two and Three of this series saw the Conservatives doing well – so much so that in that third week we warned against unrealistic expectations.  Week Four saw Corbyn make some progress.  In this final week, Week Five, he seems to have stalled.  But there are still seven tense days to go.

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