Posts Tagged ‘Nick Keehan’

The week Uncut

16/04/2011, 10:30:53 AM

In case you missed them, these were the best read pieces on Uncut in the last seven days:

Atul Hatwal presents the shadow cabinet goal of the month competition

Dan Hodges thinks blue Labour needs a spinner

Tom Watson says Rebekah Brooks should resign

Michael Dugher reports back from Leicester South

Stella Creasy says private debt is this government’s public injustice

Nick Keehan reports on Cameron’s immigration speech

Sunder Katwala says Nick Cohen is wrong on religion

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Cameron understands that immigration is a class issue

15/04/2011, 03:30:13 PM

by Nick Keehan

Language is important when it comes to integration and community cohesion. Successive governments have therefore sought to make it compulsory for all ministers delivering speeches on immigration to learn how to speak in clichés. If a prime minister or home secretary comes over here and is not even able to use simple phrases such as “open debate”, “impression that their concerns were racist”, “huge contribution to Britain”, “real pressure on communities” and “massive back-log of asylum cases”, there is a real risk to cohesion up and down this country.

And cohesion is important when it comes to immigration. A lack of government cohesion, for example, can lead to mixed messages, and this only undermines sensible and reasoned debate. As the prime minister said in his speech yesterday:

“The last government … actually helped to inflame the debate. On the one hand, there were Labour ministers who closed down discussion, giving the impression that concerns about immigration were somehow racist. On the other, there were ministers hell-bent on burnishing their hard-line credentials by talking tough”.


Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Intra-school rankings could improve social mobility

10/12/2010, 12:00:06 PM

by Nick Keehan

The first episode of Ian Hislop’s Age of the Do-Gooders broadcast on BBC Two last week told the how in 1854 Charles Trevelyan introduced the practice of competitive examination for entry into the civil service. The reform was the first step towards a system in which government positions were filled based on merit, rather than being handed out to political allies or reserved for the younger sons of the aristocracy. “From the time this measure receives Royal assent”, a Times editorial in support of the reform proclaimed, “it will be the fault of the people if the public service does not become their birthright, according to the talent, education, and industry of each”.

Not that it was expected that all parts of the public service would become the birthright of all parts of the people. Competition was open to all, but it would still only be the “lower class of appointments”, those “small posts which might recompense the industry of the head boy in the village school”, and which would be “filled by just such an examination as the readiest and best-conducted lads in these schools would succeed in”, to which young people from the lower orders could realistically aspire. Those positions “of great importance and pecuniary value, demanding the attainments and worthy [of] the pursuit of the most educated Englishmen” would in all likelihood remain the preserve of the better off, in whom, it could be safely assumed, the highest levels of talent, education and industry resided.

Attitudes towards aspiration have changed greatly since then, of course. Social mobility is the ideal of all political parties. Nowadays, very few would maintain that talent and industry are the monopoly of the offspring of upper echelons of society. So how to explain the overwhelming predominance of young people from better-off families at elite institutions?

Take universities. On Tuesday David Lammy released some research he had conducted on Oxbridge admissions. While it contained interesting details and highlighted the extent of the problem, the research, for the most part, served to confirm what was generally well-know about our elite universities in general: that they are dominated by the upper and middle classes and that the poor are generally excluded.

Commenting on Lammy’s research, education secretary, Michael Gove, stated that the reason for the lack of poor people at Oxbridge was that “our schools system is not good enough”. This is only partly right. The problem is not the overall level of quality in our schools – after all there is no shortage of applicants with the necessary grades to get into Oxbridge – but with its distribution. Put simply: children from poor families do not get to go to the best schools. The better-off do not monopolise talent and industry, but they do tend to dominate when it comes to receiving the highest standards of education.

Can it be right, however, that the quality of education received should deny young people an opportunity that their ability and hard work would in other circumstances permit them to enjoy? If their standard of education prevents them from benefitting from that opportunity to the same extent as someone who has received a higher standard of education then, maybe, yes. Research, however, suggests that this is not the case.

A five-year research study, co-funded by the department for business, innovation and skills, the national foundation for educational research, the Sutton trust and the college board, found that comprehensive pupils outperform independent and grammar pupils in university degrees. For example, a comprehensive school student with three Bs at A-level is likely to perform as well at university as an independent or grammar school student with an A and two Bs, or two As and a B. At the same time, comprehensive school pupils also performed better than similarly qualified independent and grammar school pupils in degrees from the most academically selective universities and across all degree classes.

These results suggest that it would be worthwhile for university admissions departments to consider the educational backgrounds of applicants. This has always been an option for universities and many do consider educational background and other similar factors when deciding on applications. However, given the general failure of our elite universities to ensure a socio-economically diverse student population, government could also have an important role to play in supporting these efforts.

In 1999, Peter Wilby proposed a radical reform of university admissions: give every school an Oxbridge place. Basically, the top student at every sixth form or college would be offered a place at Oxford, Cambridge or another top university. Set out in the deliberately crude way that WIlby chose to explain it, the policy was never going to be politically tenable. But the principle was, and is, sound. With some minor changes and a bit of fine-tuning it could work.

An altered version of the policy could operate as follows: alongside the traditional A-level and GCSE grades, exam boards would publish a student’s position within the school based on those grades, either as a ranking, or as a percentile or some other fraction. Universities would be under no compulsion to consider the rankings when making admission decisions. A-level grades could still form the primary basis for university offers. The rankings would, however, be a useful and readily available source of information for admissions officers that would enable them to see how applicants fared in relation to those who achieved the same standard of education. It would be one of those nudges that David Cameron and Steve Hilton like to go on about. One that would enable universities to distinguish more easily between, in the words of Michael Gove, “rich, thick kids” and “poor, clever” ones.

It would not be a panacea. Improving the performance of schools catering for the worst off and ensuring that their pupils felt that going to a top university was something to aspire to would still be necessary goals. The details would need working out. But such a policy could be useful for Labour as it seeks to promote social mobility and equality of opportunity and to further test the Tory-Liberal government’s professed commitment to those ideals.

Nick Keehan works in Parliament.

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Bilateralism is a neat policy, which doesn’t actually work

26/11/2010, 11:45:01 AM

by Nick Keehan

We live in an uncertain and dangerous world. Look at North Korea. It is a world of international terrorism, nuclear proliferation and cyber attack, as well as of good old-fashioned state-versus-state conflict. A world in which threats in one region can quickly spread to others.

As David Cameron noted in his foreign policy speech to the Lord Mayor’s banquet last week, such a world requires that Britain adopt a strategic approach to its national security. To this end, the government, immediately on entering office, established a national security council. This would bring together defence, development, diplomacy and domestic policy, “to consider Britain’s strategic interest in the round and to ensure that foreign policy runs through the veins of the whole of government”. Which would be all well and good, had not foreign policy ceased to run through the veins of the foreign office. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Sadly, it’s a graduate tax that is stupid, not Vince Cable

10/11/2010, 03:00:01 PM

by Nick Keehan

With a student demonstration marching on Westminster today, it will be tempting for Labour to throw in its lot with the protesters and embark on wholesale opposition to tuition fees. Before we do, however, we should ask ourselves a question: how stupid do we think Nick Clegg and Vince Cable are?

Really stupid, that is. Not wrong. Not dishonest or unprincipled. Not sanctimonious, smug or irritating. Not ignorant or ill-informed, but stupid. Totally useless and incompetent. So inept and ineffectual that stuck on a sinking ship they would burn the lifeboats.

Whatever else they may be, Nick Clegg and Vince Cable are not that stupid. When it comes to tuition fees, however, this is what we are expected to believe. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

A popular alternative to the Tories’ seedy foreign policy, by Nick Keehan

21/10/2010, 04:28:28 PM

The spending review leaves no doubt about the government’s priorities when it comes to foreign policy: those diplomats and civil servants remaining at the foreign office after it has undergone budget cuts of 24 per cent will focus on championing British companies abroad and increasing business links and market information for UK exporters. The foreign office will become, in effect, a consultancy and PR firm for business, underwritten by the UK taxpayer.

In this, the spending review simply reaffirms what the foreign secretary has been saying since entering the job in May. In his speech to a Tokyo audience in July, “Britain’s prosperity in a networked world”’, William Hague made it clear that promoting trade and commercial interests would be at the heart of Britain’s foreign policy. The government would “inject a new commercialism into the work of the foreign office and into the definition of our international objectives”; it would give “significant new emphasis to helping British business secure new opportunities”; and it would use its political influence “to help unblock obstacles to commercial success”.

Not any old obstacles, obviously. There would be some red lines which the government would “never, ever cross” in pursuit of British interests, as David Cameron told the Conservative party conference. Under the Tories, a devolved Scottish government would never again exercise its constitutional right to release a convicted foreign terrorist on compassionate grounds, for example. Cameron said this in a very stern voice, lest it seem like a cynical platitude which he doesn’t have the power to deliver.

If the obstacles to your commercial success include only an indictment for genocide, however, you are in luck. (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Let’s not join the Tories in going soft on sentencing, says Nick Keehan

06/10/2010, 10:30:49 AM

Ken Clarke played the hard man at the Tory conference yesterday. Prisoners will work a full forty hour week, he told them. “A regime of hard work” will teach them a lesson. It was what they wanted to hear.

He didn’t tell them that, under his watch, a wind of change has swept through the ministry of justice. No longer is there talk of ‘getting tough’ on ‘local crooks’. Instead, the ministry has taken to promoting the positive role that offenders are playing in their communities.

‘Where would we be without offenders?’ someone who reads MoJ press releases might ask. School children in Zambia would be using dangerous paraffin lamps (‘Offenders help students in Africa’, 14 June), and people in Wales would be having trouble remembering both Princess Diana (‘Offenders create fitting memorial to Princess Diana’, 31 August) and the 142 miners killed in the explosion at Old Black Vain Colliery at Risca in 1860 (‘Offenders uncover lost memorial to miners’, 29 September).

Even worse, one woman in east London would be without her handbag, had not a group of offenders doing community payback been there to chase her mugger and reclaim it (‘Offenders to the rescue as woman mugged’, 13 July). This is how the big society will work.  Police numbers will be cut and offenders, no longer crowded out by the big state, will step in and tackle crime themselves. ‘More offenders on the street’ is the pledge (‘Revolving door of crime and reoffending to stop says Clarke’, 30 June). (more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon