Why Grammar Schools Will Revitalise Equality of Opportunity

Theresa May and Education Secretary Justine Greening have indicated the return of Grammar Schools to the mainstream of British education. While many commentators have reacted with hostility – sometimes going so far as to argue that Grammar Schools entrench elitism – the reintroduction of such a system will both revitalise that old liberal value of equality of opportunity and continue the Cameron government’s push to expand the opportunities available to young people, with regards finding the type and style of education that best suits them.

The existing system for Grammar Schools is by no means perfect – it is true that richer parents can hire expensive tutors to help their children pass the Eleven-Plus – but that is not a reason to reject the notion of Grammar Schools. While there are elements of the current system that need reforming, the answer is to reform those faults – not reject the system as a whole. If we want to create a society where a person can achieve their maximum human potential regardless of their result in life’s first great lottery, then we need to embrace Grammar Schools.

When journalists decry Grammar Schools as a place for rich parents to send their children instead of private school, they fail to notice the converse of their argument. Grammar Schools are indeed as good as private schools, and the fact that they are free means that people who would not be able to afford to attend a private school receive the advantages of that level of education without it bankrupting them. Yes, sometimes rich students will attend Grammar Schools instead of private schools, but if even a single student gets the opportunity to enjoy a standard of education they would have been otherwise unable to receive, then that represents a victory for equality of opportunity and social mobility.

If we want to give opportunity to all, then we need to have a Grammar School system alongside our present education system – allowing students who want a more intensely academic education the chance to have such an education, and to learn alongside equally minded people who will drive them to do even better. Students who want to go to the best schools should be able to regardless of their income bracket, social class, or location – that’s why bringing Grammar Schools to more locations across the country is so important.

We need to have an education system that caters to everyone. If a student favours a vocational-specific education, they can choose to go to a college and learn a specific skill or group of skills. If a student wants to learn on the job, they can do an apprenticeship after they leave school. If a student wants a comprehensive education – combining vocational subjects and academic subjects – they can choose to go to a comprehensive school. If a student wants to specialise in a subject, they can go to university. So why should a student who wants an academically-focussed education have to pay for private school?

Reintroducing Grammar Schools into the mainstream of British education enables students to have a full range of choices about the type of education they want to have, regardless of their financial backgrounds. Students shouldn’t lose out on a high quality education because some aspects of the current system need reform – let’s reintroduce Grammar Schools and make them even more accessible to all students.

Bringing back Grammar Schools will enable us to bring opportunity to every corner of this country, and bring choice to every student.

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The Fight for a Non-Existent Throne

Squabbles over succession to royal thrones in Europe have not been uncommon over the last 1000 years – particularly over the throne of France. Since the House of Bonaparte was overthrown in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War, there has been no French crown to wear and no French throne to sit on. One would have assumed that that would be the end of conflict over who is the rightful monarch – that has not been the case.

Monarchist movements in France have failed to gain any traction among the electorate, although many royalists gravitate towards the nationalist National Front movement. Alliance Royale are the largest royalist movement, but they are still a tiny party with no representation in the French or European Parliaments. With a growing right in French politics, the monarchists may never have a greater opportunity to restore a constitutional monarchy, but unfortunately for French royalists, they are far more disunited than they need to be to have a chance at restoring relevance to the fight to be the legitimate claimant to the French throne.

Last week the Orléanist royalists broke out in a bitter dispute over who should be the successor to Henri d’Orléans as Count of Paris and Duke of France (and by extension, as the head of the House of Orléans and its claim to the French throne). The current heir, Prince François, is severely disabled and on the 1st August, Prince Jean – Henri’s second son who would become regent upon his brother’s succession – released a statement arguing that he should be considered the sole legitimate heir to the French throne upon his father’s death.

Henri remains unmoved in his belief that his eldest son should inherit his titles and his claim to the French throne, and that his second son should become the regent and administer the roles. With the Orléanist claim being the more popular one amongst French royalists, this kind of dynastic squabbling does nothing to promote the image that a monarchy would bring stability to French governance, advanced by Henri himself.

The situation becomes even more complex when you throw Louis Alphonse, second cousin to the King of Spain, into the mix. Louis Alphonse is the Head of the House of Bourbon and as such is regarded by Legitimist royalists as the rightful claimant to the French throne. His status as Head of the House of Bourbon is undisputed and he acts as the representative of Louis XVI on the Society of Cincinnati – although his claim to the Duchy of Anjou (long part of the French crown) is disputed. The Duchy of Anjou was given by Henri d’Orléans to Prince Charles Philippe, and as such the Orléanist royalists do not recognise Louis Alphonse’s claim to the Duchy.

There are also a third group of French royalists – those who support the return of the Empire ruled by the House of Bonaparte. The Bonapartist claim is as convoluted and disputed as the Orléanist one. Jean-Christophe, Prince Napoléon, was named as the heir to the House of Bonaparte and thus the Imperial House of France by his grandfather and inherited his royal claim in 1997. However, his father, Charles, also claims the Bonapartist succession.

With a multitude of claimants, the non-existent French throne does not look like the stable entity its royalist backers make it out to be. With the restoration of the monarchy an issue that could potentially return to the political agenda in France with the rise of right wing and nationalist movements, the quarrels between some of the oldest aristocratic families in Europe for the right to call themselves the true heirs of one of Europe’s oldest monarchies look set to ensure that the throne of France remains a non-existent one.

Google’s Palestine Question

The politics of the map are often overlooked. Whether it be the fact that continents on conventional maps are sized not based on their real size, but on political sensibilities; or the fact that the creation of colonies in countries such as Iraq by drawing lines on a map has led to tensions within states years later, the impact of the map on politics is often given less credit than it deserves.

Google Maps then, has a tough job balancing the way in which it labels countries and borders to reflect the various sensibilities of the regions involved. Earlier this week, social media commentators noticed that there is no ‘Palestine’ label within the borders of the state, which prompted outcry and outrage. Google faces a curious dilemma here: if they introduce a label for Palestine then they risk provoking similar outrage from pro-Israel social media commentators; if they don’t introduce a Palestine label then pro-Palestinian commentators will continue to use ‘#PalestineIsHere’.

Is there justifiable reason for people to be outraged at the lack of a Palestine label? Let’s look at some other examples on Google Maps to see if there is some precedent.

Several overseas territories and autonomous areas belonging to other nations have their own labels on Google Maps. These areas get a status above that of Palestine but they are not particularly controversial, and their being given or not being given labels on the map is unlikely to provoke strong feelings from any sovereign nations or viewers. Areas such as the Falklands Islands, claimed by both the United Kingdom and Argentina, have bracketed secondary names to avoid complaints; while Crimea is not labelled and is separated from the rest of Ukraine by a dashed line. Considering the difference in circumstances between these areas and Palestine, there are no arguments for or against so far.

No states without any recognition have any status on Google Maps, while states with limited recognition (into which category Palestine falls) have various recognition on the service. Abkhazia (recognised by 4 UN Member States), South Ossetia (also recognised by 4), and Northern Cyprus (recognised by 1) all have dotted borders outlining their location but no name label, and as such could be considered to have the closest status to Palestine.

The Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (claiming the area of Western Sahara) has international recognition from 47 UN Member States but does not have a label on Google Maps – although Western Sahara is labelled and is separated from Morocco by a dotted line, in the same way that Palestine is separated from Israel, with the Gaza Strip and the West Bank being labelled.

So far then, it seems that Palestine – internationally recognised as a sovereign state by 136 nations and an Observer State of the United Nations – has a situation which is equivalent to many similar (albeit less well-known) cases for non-UN partially recognised states.

Unfortunately for Google, deeper analysis of their Maps service suggests that Palestine may not have a label because of a political motivation, rather than as part of a wider policy dealing with partially recognised states. Taiwan, recognised as independent by 21 UN Member States and without Palestine’s status as an Observer State, has its own label on Google Maps – despite its relations with China being similar to Palestine-Israel relations. Kosovo, recognised by 109 UN Member States, also has its own label and a dashed border.

When compared to these two latter cases, it seems that the ‘#PalestineIsHere’ group might have a case for the inclusion of a Palestine label on Google Maps. Palestine has vastly more significant international recognition than Taiwan and Kosovo – both labelled – and unlike both of those cases, Palestine has some status at the United Nations. What makes Taiwan and Kosovo worthy of labelling, yet prevents Palestine from being labelled? Presumably it can only be the contentious nature of the Israel-Palestine conflict in the West, compared with that of Serbia-Kosovo and China-Taiwan.

Granting Google recognition to Palestine could be just as important as formal diplomatic recognitions. Giving a country status on a map means that more people are likely to subconsciously accept the existence of that nation. Given the importance of the map to politics, Google’s continued lack of a Palestine label can only be a political decision.

The Labour Party: Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place

You can often tell whether someone is backing Owen Smith or Jeremy Corbyn by whether they say that the Shadow Cabinet is half empty or half full. As the Labour leadership battle whimpers on, it’s clear that season two of ‘Who Wants to be Labour Leader?’ provides a real choice for Labour voters based on the two contestants policy platforms: either principles with no substance; or substance with no principles.

Over the last year Labour have often seemed like an 80s revival act, and never more so than in this leadership battle – reacting to the election of a female Prime Minister by having a Michael Foot lookalike contest. This year’s edition of ‘Who Wants to be Labour Leader?’ has been like any good TV show: the ratings have gone up and the cost of voting for your favourite candidate has increased exponentially. So desperate has the Labour NEC been for people to opt for Corbyn-lite over Corbyn, that they have performed a quite remarkable public about-face – from the self-proclaimed ‘Party of the People’ to now actively working against their wishes. One can only presume that if the Labour NEC has its way the 2020 slogan will be: ‘The Party for the People who agree with us’.

In all seriousness, it is a sign that a split in the Labour Party is almost inevitable (and probably a good thing for Corbynites) when the National Executive have been so public with their opposition to their own party leader. The divergence between Jeremy Corbyn – a man who has fought to empower young Labour Party members and ensure that everyone’s voice is heard (particularly if they’ve emailed him just before PMQs) – and the National Executive – who seem to think that an 833% increase in the cost of voting is an acceptable policy – is overwhelming.

With the Party establishment lined up against a leader who is proving far more resilient than they had imagined, the Labour NEC seem to be beginning to come to the conclusion that democracy isn’t really their thing. Indeed, Labour MPs are discovering what happens when an immovable object meets an easily resistible force. What neither the NEC nor the MPs seem to realise, is that Corbyn is shockingly and overwhelmingly more popular than they are with the Labour Party membership, and while they continue to work to overthrow their leader at the cost of providing opposition to the government, the word ‘deselection’ will continue to be whispered by the Corbynites.

Let’s have a look at this year’s contestants. Angela Eagle launched her campaign early on, but unfortunately no one noticed and she dropped out, having gained only experience and the branding for a luxury fragrance. The two remaining competitors have had markedly different campaigns thus far: while Owen Smith has managed the remarkable feat of being labelled both a Blairite and a Marxist in the same campaign; Jeremy Corbyn has been propelling Labour to victory in parish council elections up and down the country.

Smith, or ‘the lesser of two evils’ as he’s known by many of his supporters, has received the backing of over 100 Members of Parliament, and a similar number of grassroots members. With a manifesto attacking the concept of equality of opportunity, and pledging higher corporation tax, more controls and oversight on retail businesses, and a ban on ALL zero hours contracts (not just the exploitative ones, but also the ones that allow small businesses to recruit casual staff on a flexible contract that suits both employer and employee), Smith has successfully mastered the art of copying and pasting left-wing policies in a bid to appeal to Corbynites. While his policies certainly offer substance, it is difficult to believe Corbyn-lite is acting out of a sense of principle, considering that he once agreed with all of Tony Blair’s policies.

If Smith offers us all substance and no principle, then Jeremy Corbyn certainly offers the opposite. Mr Corbyn’s platform sets out ten credible principles, with the occasional suggested policy behind them. Unsurprisingly, Corbyn and Corbyn-lite both agree on the blanket ban of the zero hours contract, but surprisingly Corbyn’s manifesto contains fewer plans to place restrictions on small businesses and (excessive levels of nationalisation aside) is actually slightly more centrist than Owen Smith’s policy platform – albeit still not particularly centrist.

It wouldn’t be a review of any season of ‘Who Wants to be Labour Leader?’ without having a look at some of the ironies of the Momentum campaign. In season one they offered us the delicious irony of backing a Chippenham-born, private and grammar school educated candidate who has lived in Islington for over 40 years, while calling the other candidates privileged and out-of-touch, and this season they have excelled themselves once again. They have chosen to continually label a man whose policy platform would make Tony Blair pale as Blairite and paint him as a career politician – perhaps not noticing that Corbyn was 24 when he first contested an election, while Smith was 36. Accusations of disloyalty from Momentum are also amusing, with Jeremy Corbyn having been involved in plots to overthrow pretty much every Labour leader since he entered Parliament.

While it is often difficult to work out which candidate is the rock and which is the hard place, it is clear that the Labour Party have a no-win situation here. Whether they elect Corbyn or Corbyn-lite, the Labour NEC have pushed the definition of democracy further than at any other time in recent memory. A split seems inevitable, so at this point this is essentially a contest for the rights to the Labour Party brand and whether it is the Corbynites or the Corbyn-lites who have to break away.

Whatever happens, season two has certainly been exciting so far, and we can only look forward to the renewal of ‘Who Wants to be Labour Leader?’ for series three this time next year!

Why We Shouldn’t Ridicule Trump’s North Korean Endorsement

It seems like an unlikely alliance. One of them is a fanatic totalitarian with awful hair; the other is the ruler of North Korea. One of them hates America with a burning passion; the other wants to make it ‘Great Again’. With North Korea’s news agency – and implicitly, Kim Jong-Un – backing the 70 year old GOP nominee last week, could it prove a positive thing for the future of the world? Or, when combined with the support of Vladimir Putin, is it just another sign that Trump’s game of ‘Dictator Bingo’ seems to be continuing unabated?

The United States and North Korea have been engaged in a Cold War-style stand off since the end of the Korean War – with US forces in South Korea and US support for the government of the South. The North has retaliated by building a nuclear programme which it claims has the capability to launch an attack on North America. The Kim Dynasty have engaged in the suppression of their populace, and under their rule North Korea has become one of the least developed countries in the world – with one of the highest poverty rates. The thing that has united the North Korean populace behind the Kims has been an anti-American rhetoric and instilling both fear of America and pride in the North’s military.

So why would the North decide to back a potential President of their long-standing enemy?

Donald Trump has repeatedly indicated some support for the withdrawal of US troops from the Korean Peninsula and the North perceive this as a positive step for the potential of Korean unification. With the North having indicated their desire to open up talks over the reunification of Korea, and Trump having indicated a desire to engage in dialogue with Kim Jong-Un, it might well be that North Korea perceive their greatest chance of bringing the South to the table is through a Trump Presidency.

The backing of a crushingly totalitarian government with a horrific record on human rights will do nothing to improve Trump’s appeal to most American voters; while the sentiments that the North express over Trump’s desire to withdraw troops from South Korea will not go down well with hard-line Conservatives. More importantly, the endorsement of Kim Jong-Un suggests that Trump’s wielding of American hard power against the North will be significantly less than at present – allowing them the freedom to expand their nuclear arsenal and increasing the risk of a second Korean War.

Yet, could the Kim-Trump alliance actually spell good news for the world? For all his much-criticised domestic policy, could the GOP nominee have actually stumbled across a way to solve an American foreign policy dilemma that has existed since 1953?

With his implicit support for lessening American hard power in Korea, Trump could be in the process of ending a policy approach that has been unsuccessful since it began. American hard power in Korea has served only to increase the divisions between North and South and has given the Kim family a way to cement their control of the Hermit Kingdom. Additionally, despite their best efforts, the United States has been unable to prevent the North from pursuing the development of a nuclear programme.

By suggesting that he could be willing to engage the North in dialogue – a dialogue that the North is willing to open – Trump may be able to take the first steps towards true peace in Korea, and may be able to use soft power to coax the North Koreans into giving up their pursuit of further weapons of mass destruction. We saw the potential value of American-backed peace talks with the Camp David Accords, which ensured peace between Israel and Egypt, and in the Oslo Accords which saw President Clinton bring Palestine and Israel to the table. If a Trump presidency could bring the North and the South to the table, we could see the beginnings of a Korean peace process (and potentially reunification), which would be positive development for diplomatic relations between the two nations.

If Trump was able to open up the Hermit Kingdom to the world, it would be a major advance in securing world peace; any liberalisation of the North would be considered one of the biggest successes of American soft power in history.

Whether by luck or by design, Donald Trump has stumbled upon a foreign policy initiative with the potential to have a massive impact on world peace, and on the 25 million citizens of North Korea who languish in poverty. Rather than ridiculing Trump for achieving the support of Kim Jong-Un, perhaps the international media should be looking at the prospects such support could have for the future of North Korea – and in particular, the prospects it could have for increasing democracy and standard of living in the Hermit Kingdom in the long run. Maybe what Trump has shown is that – unlike previous Presidents – he acknowledges that America’s hard power hasn’t always had the intended effect, and that its soft power could be far more important in Korea.

For all his whacky domestic policy, if Donald Trump wins the presidency, US-North Korea relations will never have been closer – and potential dialogue between the two nations could be even more significant a breakthrough than Reagan and Gorbachev, or Obama and Castro in the pursuit of a more peaceful planet.