Friday 21st October:
Sir Michael Wilshaw, HM Chief Inspector of Schools, spoke this week of his own ‘missed opportunity’ as he steps down from the office he has held with such distinction. He failed, he said, to put fire power behind the effort to provide quality vocational education and to do for apprenticeships. Yet, having backed Michael Gove’s move to liberalise the school system to bring in free schools, more academies, greater freedom for heads and introduce a more academically and intellectually rigorous curriculum and exams, he now ruefully opposes Mrs May’s grammar schools. This former head teacher, like many in his profession believes that selection will benefit only the few, leaving the many out in the cold. And besides, it will do little to alleviate the teacher shortage.
Sir Michael, in one of the paradoxes of education professionalism, both misses and makes the point.
Friday 14th October: This week’s price war between Tesco and Unilever, following the food giant’s threat to raise marmite prices by 10 per cent as the pound fell, is over. Unilever ‘settled’ after Tesco removed Unilever products from its shelves. Although Remainers seized on the episode to tell the country ‘I told you so’ and that Brexit was raising prices, they were, says the economist, Patrick Minford, wrong. Rather, says Professor Minford, leaving the EU will bring consumer prices down by 8 per cent and ministers must now focus on the free trade deals which can seal that deal for consumers.
Abolishing all the EU tariffs now levied on the rest of the world - a policy of ‘unilateral free trade’ - would dramatically raise the average living standards of consumers - massively. It would make the recent exchange rate changes, which will over time be mostly reversed, seem like small potatoes. That’s because consumer prices would fall by 8% because EU protectionism, through, for instance, the Common Agricultural Policy which ‘taxes’ consumers in order to raise the profits of producers both here and in the EU, would end. Removing this EU tax would increase competition for our manufacturers and farmers, who are well placed to raise productivity in response. Most of them are extremely efficient. Already two thirds of our car exports measured by value go to the world market, not the protected EU market. This, therefore is the policy that would acts as the supply-side spur to a better economy in the long term.
Friday 30th September: As Labour’s party conference ends, Politeia’s Director, Sheila Lawlor, suggests that the gamble on being a party of protest has damaged parliamentary government. Unless the party changes course, Labour's days could be numbered.
Labour’s party conference ended this week as it began. Jeremy Corbyn, the incumbent leader, had been re-elected to lead one of the greatest parliamentary parties of modern times. But the debate at the Liverpool conference indicates that, despite the emphasis on unity, the party is light years from returning to the centre of Britain’s political stage. For that to happen, not only must Corbyn and his faction accept their duty to lead the party back to power, but so too must the other main players, the parliamentary party (PLP) and the trade union bosses. That does not mean platitudinous promises to unify or go for the Tories. It means recognising that, for the majority of British voters, the tone, style and politics of Labour have become irrelevant, and that this must change, quickly. Unless it does, Labour’s days will be numbered.
An Oxford First!
Friday 23rd September: This week’s World University Rankings put UK universities at the top of the list. But, as Jonathan Clark explains, all may not be as well as it seems. Professor Clark writes:
Oxford University has just come top of the World University Rankings, as conducted by the Times Higher Education Supplement, a first for any UK university; Cambridge is ranked fourth, Imperial College eighth. This should be a matter of celebration: the UK is certainly a superpower in university terms, and has many excellent institutions. But is everything as it seems? Is all well? What is the overall picture? What will happen next?