Saturday 2 January 2021

Why is Labour Ignoring the Teaching Unions?

Covid rates are accelerating and there's no sign tier four, announced with plenty of fanfare, is depressing the infection. With the new variant running amok in London and the South East, it's only a matter of time before the rest of the country follows suit. Unless, that is, if the loopholes left in the government's lockdown measures are eliminated. This means going back to what we went through between March and June and, yes, closing the schools. The National Education Union agrees. Teachers and school support workers are, after medical workers, those most at risk of infection. And, as is now well understood, children can pick up Coronavirus at school and bring it home to their families. Amid legal action over unsafe workplaces and unions telling teachers to stay at home, there is one notable absence: the voice of the Leader of the Opposition.

It is unfair to say Labour have been quiet. Party activists have made their support known across social media. The left bloc on the party's National Executive Committee have written to Keir Starmer, Angela Rayner, and the shadows for education, and left MPs from Claudia Webbe to Rebecca Long-Bailey are providing the support that, until recently, would have been customary from Labour's leadership. With all the pressure, surely something's going to have to break and Keir Starmer will have to say something. They can't keep their vow of silence forever.

Sadly, the studied silence smacks of backpedalling to the time before 2015. Everything was focus grouped to death, the party went on a policy holiday for two years, and there was a thither and a dither about whether to oppose something so straightforwardly awful as the bedroom tax. As per the trajectory since taking over the leadership, Keir is avoiding taking a position on a wedge issue that might involve contesting what Westminster perceives to be the common sense and, crucially, putting himself on the wrong side of where those Tory press editorials are going to be.

Plus it's the teaching unions. The NEU, NASUWT, and ASCL are not Labour affiliates, but in the rightwing imaginary they are a traditional enemy. Since Thatcher destroyed the professional autonomy of teachers in the 1980s and centralised education policy under the executive, teachers are regularly scapegoated for Tory policy failings. Early in the 2010s they were the targets of Michael Gove and a certain Dominic Cummings who believed their absurd rote learning curricula, the kings and queens bullshit, and the pushing of petty authoritarianism throughout the school system was what children needed. And now teachers are routinely cited by Tory ideologues as evil masterminds poisoning the brains of the young with ... social liberalism. This contempt for teachers and teaching was also shared by New Labour during the Tony Blair years. Again, those who knew best schools and children best were shunted aside as inspectorates, new metrics, and heavy workloads were imposed without anything pretending to a meaningful dialogue. Indeed, then education secretary Charles Clarke revelled in baiting the old NUT in particular. All so the government would look good to the Mondeo Man phantasm His Blairness took for the middle road of public opinion.

While not doing the old bait 'n' bitch, Keir's silence is of the most symptomatic kind. He wants the teaching unions kept at arm's length because he's sensitive to the accusations of "special favours" and also, as per the statism of the Starmerist project, thinks he knows best. Remember, it wasn't all that long ago when he leaped on a flimsy pretext to get shot of Rebecca Long-Bailey, who was very much opposed to his cheerleading of the government when it came to the opening of schools.

Yet what's completely mad is not only are teachers and support staff among Labour's most natural and loyal constituencies, but the public are supportive of keeping schools shut too. Even Daily Express readers are on side. So much for the patronising advice about "listening to the voters." Which begs the question: why is Keir keeping schtum? Worried about the politics? Wanting to avoid wedge issues, even when the public back one over the other? An instinctive desire to keep away from anything soundling like a trade union? Or does it, when all's said and done, come down to the complete absence of political courage?

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

It is shocking how quickly the labour party reverted back to being a centre right party of sleezy lawyers and hucksters.

Blissex said...

«All so the government would look good to the Mondeo Man phantasm His Blairness took for the middle road of public opinion.»

The original quote from Blair said "Sierra":
“I was canvassing in the Midlands on an ordinary suburban estate. I met a man polishing his Ford Sierra, self-employed electrician, Dad always voted Labour. He used to vote Labour, he said, but he bought his own home, he had set up his own business, he was doing quite nicely, so he said I’ve become a Tory.”

The problem with "centrism" is that Blair assumed that "I've become a Tory" was irrecoverable, and the New Labour's constituency was "dynastic"/"tribal" rather than ethnic, and that therefore New Labour had to pander to those tories with tory policies to regain their votes.

The alternative is to educate those voters that in practice that "self-employed" usually means that they are still "proletarians", and that voting for more business and property rentierism is less valuable to them than voting for good wages, decent pensions, more jobs, better public services. One of the arguments is that group insurance is far cheaper and less risky than self insurance, and another is that reciprocity works in their interest too.

But so many "leftoids" would rather be singing the "Red Flag" than doing actual politics, and the Mandelson Tendency entrysts run ring around them.

Graham said...

We may have to close schools for months but we have to be realistic about what this meant last time.
"On-line learning" is a myth for many children.
They don't have the laptops, internet speed or working space to learn at home.
Closing schools means excluding these children from education.

What is needed is a national plan to provide emergency education; delivered with the help of the BBC and those with expertise at creating remote learning packages, such as the Open University.

This isn't going to happen because we have a fragmented education system and because of short term thinking that only responds to the immediate crisis.

We have failed a generation of children.

Blissex said...

«the labour party reverted back to being a centre right party of sleezy lawyers and hucksters»

Many of them are hucksters, but several are people of principle, and the principle is not mere "centre right", but right-wing, and is thatcherism.

The main difference seems to me that the hucksters don't really believe in thatcherism, they just think that it wins elections, and that's their priority for their dream of ministerial careers, while the principled ones believe in thatcherism (Mandelson himself, Blair too), and claim that only thatcherism wins elections (which they probably realize it does not) to imply that "There Is No Alternative" to it, as their goal is to ensure that voters can only choose among thatcherite parties.

They don't want Labour to win, at any cost, as the hucksters do, they want thatcherism to win, that's why I think that they welcome the loss of socialdemocratic members and voters and they welcome and aim for the PASOKification of Labour. Their assumption seems to be that something like SYRIZA will not happen under FPTP. Put another way, their dream is to return to the glory days when politics was between Conservatives and Liberals, when voting was restricted to property owners. My guess is that their politics are based on the dream of restricting the effective franchise to property owners,with all parties representing mostly that constituency.

Blissex said...

«come down to the complete absence of political courage?»

If your politics are the politics of pandering and your main goal is a ministerial career, that can motivate being courageously opportunistic.

Consider Starmer position on the wedge issue of EU policy, his no-compromises alignment with the ERG position for hard brexit as in "Labour wants to get Brexit done. We want the government to succeed in securing a deal [...] making future trade deals across the world.":

* It is clear and passionate, and politically courageous given that 2/3 of Labour voters and members are for "Remain".

* At the same time, it was not much announced or discussed; many Labour members and voters seem to be unaware that Starmer is a passionate anti-EU hard brexiter; the same thatcherites at "The Guardian" who were keen to scream 1-2 articles every day accusing Corbyn of being a closet soft exiter and thus betraying the 2/3 of members of voters who voted "Remain" have been rather quiet about Starmer's explicit, passionate anti-EU policy choice, and actually fawning over him for being "electable", despite his choice for hard exit and their claims that most voters are "Remainers".

* The obvious implication is that that a courageous anti-EU commitment was meant to be user by New, New Labour MPs or candidates in "Leave"-majority seats, and to remain unknown in "Remain"-majority seats, that is to actually be purely opportunistic spivvery.

BCFG said...

Erm because Starmer et al are Tories and represent the middle classes who hate the prospect of spending time with their awful offspring (cant blame them) and want their glorified babysitter back (i.e. the state school system).

From a lifestyle point of view the most affected by covid are the affluent middle classes who like to shop, like to go to restaurants, like to fly to Italy or the South of France when it takes their fancy etc

It is amusing how their representatives are all over the place arguing that only those over 60 are dying and that 60 is really old. Yet for the past 20 years they have been telling us that 60 is really really young and that the pension age should be increased to 75!

If 60 is old and the age at which we become expendable can we please have the retirement age at maybe 45?

Dipper said...

Well, I for one was shocked that a teaching union should be demanding full pay for not turning up. If 'education' is now teaching 'white privilege' to nursery school children, then I think no pay for not turning up would be my ideal solution.