In praise of Donald J. Trump

During the 2015 election campaign you may remember that everyone’s favourite purple-wearer, Nigel Farage, made a number of comments linking the strain on NHS resources with immigrants being treated for HIV. It was at the time when “peak UKIP” appeared to have passed – or at least, when the surge in support necessary for them to win more than a handful of seats didn’t look like it was going to materialise. His comments attracted a disproportionate amount of media coverage, wound twitter up into a frenzy and certainly appeared to shore up the UKIP vote, even if it didn’t win him the tens of seats he desired.

At the time his comments seemed so outrageous I’d assumed they had to be part of a cleverly thought-out strategy based on the psychology of “othering” (There’s a great Radio 4 programme about this available on the iPlayer at the moment). I waited with bated breath for the ever more outrageous claims about immigrants, HIV and NHS funding to appear that would have been needed to build on his position – but fortunately, they never did. UKIP’s momentum was broken and spent, rather like the waves crashing against the breakwaters on the beach in Skegness.

Which brings me to Donald J. Trump. Unfortunately, he’s shown himself to be a genuine expert when it comes to exploiting the psychology of “othering” in a way that hasn’t been seen in the West for decades. It’s helped him to turn around a position in the polls that had appeared to be showing signs of crumbling away, into a 20 point lead over his rivals almost overnight. He’s even managed to dominate the news agenda in the UK, where (almost) no-one has a vote for or against him. That’s a truly amazing feat and even more amazingly, he’s persuaded some 550,000 people to sign a petition asking for him to be banned from the UK like some common hate-preacher.

Which, ultimately, is exactly the kind of furore that will enable him to bolster his position with those he’s seeking to sway into voting for him.

Well done Donald J. Trump. I fell for it. I signed the petition, when every bone in my body knows that the only way to defeat hate-preachers like you is not to silence debate in the way of 1980s “no platform” student politics, but to tackle the bile you spout head on.

Manifesto promises about adult education and lifelong learning

With the main political party manifestos having been published and now available on their websites(*), I’ve read them all, cover to cover, in an attempt to discover their adult education and lifelong learning commitments, so that you don’t have to.

In summary:

  • The Liberal Democrats have the best pledge – to establish a cross-party commission to address the undoubted problems of this part of the education sector.
  • The Green and Conservative Parties acknowledge that adult learners exist (explicitly in the case of the Greens and implicitly in the case of the Conservatives). However, both offer at least one policy that will damage their interests.
  • The Labour and UKIP manifestos are almost, or entirely free of content on this topic.

In detail:

Liberal Democrats

Pages 50 – 63 of their 158 page manifesto (a little under 10% of its contents) is devoted to education in general.

Page 62: “We will … Work with university ‘mission groups’ to … enable more part-time learning, and help more people to complete qualifications.” Many adult learners require part-time provision and it’s the only manifesto to acknowledge its existence and value.

Page 63: “We will … Establish a cross-party commission to secure a long-term settlement for the public funding of reskilling and lifelong learning.” There’s no doubt that a long-term settlement is required here and it’s the only manifesto to acknowledge that something needs to be done to address the problems in this sector that goes beyond party advantage.

Greens

The Green Party manifesto is an enormous 11Mb pdf file! It becomes clear why that is once you open it – it’s an image document, rather than a text document, making it impossible to read for anyone using assistive technology. They need to do better. However, the table of contents signposts the education section as being on pages 36-40 of the 84 page manifesto.

Page 36: “… the Green Party will make education free for everyone up to and including university or equivalent.” This is a bold promise, but lacking in detail. Does “university or equivalent” include masters and PhD level qualifications, and how many times would you be able to benefit from a free university education? (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that they don’t intend to put an age-cap on their promise).

Page 38: “Reverse the trend whereby 45% of apprenticeships, that is, jobs with structured training, are now taken by people over 25.” Wow. This is the only openly hostile policy towards adult education and learning I can find in any of the manifestos. In the Green’s world, it would appear that if you’re over 25 and want to better yourself through a job with structured training, you’d be too late.

Page 38: “Encourage local authorities to use some of the additional money we propose to give them to restore a full range of local adult education programmes.” Also wow. Just four bullet points after the apprenticeships bombshell, they say this – one of the few openly positive policies towards adult education and learning in any of the manifestos!

Page 39: “‘Lifelong learning’ is a phrase that is much used by politicians and educational professionals. Giving people the opportunity to be ‘second chance’ learners should be a crucial part of what universities offer to wider society.” So we have a party that claims to understand lifelong learners. But I’m not sure that ‘lifelong learning’ is a phrase that is used by all that many politicians if I reflect on my own experiences.

Page 40: “The Green Party would address this through … Restoring access to lifelong learning by supporting mature students and their families. We will reverse the 20-year programme of dismantling the lifelong learning sector.” There’s no details as to what kind of support they’re going to offer – free (taxpayer-funded) education? loans? childcare? something else? So beware – fine words butter no parsnips.

There’s a lot to mull over here and some great sentiments in the manifesto – but the openly hostile and ageist approach to apprenticeships they appear to be advocating is hugely concerning.

Conservatives

Page 35: “We will continue to replace lower-level, classroom-based Further Education courses with high quality apprenticeships …” This is bad news for returning adult learners. The policy of diverting funding from the adult skills budget to protect the apprenticeship budget is opposed for good reason by the relevant trades union and adult FE providers.

Page 35: “And we will encourage the development of online education as a tool for students, whether studying independently or in our universities”. Potentially interesting, as many adult learners benefit from the flexibility that the Open University and MOOCs provide, but there’s no detail as to what form this “encouragement” might take.

Disappointingly, there’s no explicit statement in their manifesto that any form of education or learning is needed by individuals and/or the businesses they work for past early adulthood, but I guess that ‘studying independently’ might just be an implicit acknowledgement.

Labour

Page 37: “We  will protect the entire education budget, including the early years, schools and post-16 education, so that it rises in line with inflation.” So it sounds as if the cuts made by both the coalition and the previous Labour government to adult education funding will remain in place. The context of this sentence is also from an entire section that talks about education being important for “our children”, so I do wonder if post-16 education lasts much past 21.

Page 52: “Labour will do more to increase the amount of time prisoners spend working and learning.” A laudable aim. But I’m not going to suggest that anyone should consider getting locked up to secure access to educational opportunities as an adult!

From the perspective of adult learners, the Labour manifesto is disappointingly content-free.

UKIP

There’s nothing at all in the 76 page UKIP manifesto for those wanting to understand their policies on adult education and lifelong learning. But that’s ok – their leader will simply make it up as he goes along, as usual!

 

(*) I’m speaking from an English perspective of course, so I’ve not bothered to read the manifestos of those parties only standing in specific countries or regions of the UK, as much as I’d like to find the time to read Mebyon Kernow’s manifesto.

 

Lifelong learning = political tumbleweed

Having failed to engage any of the five political parties through twitter on the subject of lifelong learning and what their policies might be, the next stage of my quest has led me onto their websites and the search capabilities that they offer.

The first problem I encountered with this approach was that both the Conservative Party and UKIP don’t appear to have this rather important function on their websites. (This is 2015 and not 1995, right?) I can only assume, at least, until their 2015 manifestos are formally published, that they have no policies in this area that they’d like people to be able to find easily.

However, the Liberal Democrats, Green and Labour party websites all have prominent search functions. And all three sites seem to have it delivered by an embedded Google search engine, which probably means that it’s likely to work.

So I thought I’d try half a dozen different search terms that someone interested in policies for lifelong learning might use and see what they turned up. The table shows the search term I used and the number of times it appears in connection with a policy document, consultation or manifesto (I’ve excluded hits on personal biographies and other items that contain the search term).

 

Search Term Liberal Democrats The Labour Party The Green Party
Adult education 0 0 1
Lifelong learning 0 1 5
Mature student 0 0 0
Older student 0 0 0
Open University 0 1 0
ELQ 0 0 0

(Note: I included ELQ – Equivalent or Lower Qualification – as it’s a technical term much-loved by many policymakers. However, it didn’t return any hits.)

At this stage in the process, I therefore (with regret, as Lord Sugar might say when firing an apprentice) added the Liberal Democrats onto the “wait until the 2015 manifesto is published” list too.

The Labour party website turns up the same document for both the lifelong learning and Open University search terms. It’s their 2008 “Partnership in Power – second year consultation document” and so probably doesn’t reflect current policy.

The hits for the Greens turn up an eclectic selection of local election manifestos (from Brent in 2005, Enfield in 2010, Camden in 2010 and London in 2012) plus a 2006 report on all manner of topics from one of their MEPs. These documents are therefore too old, too general, too local or all three of these things to rely on.

My conclusion is that I’m therefore going to have to wait a little longer until the General Election manifestos are published to see definitively what the parties are seeking to attract the lifelong learner vote with in May.

 

The US government “gets” lifelong learning – so why don’t our politicians?

After I wrote about the fall in OU student numbers for a fourth consecutive year last Saturday, I decided to see if I could get a reaction from the five largest (by membership) UK-wide political parties by asking them about their policies for promoting lifelong learning.

My first attempt was on Sunday. I sent this tweet to @LibDems, @Conservatives, @UKLabour, and @TheGreenParty. I even held my nose and sent it to @UKIP – after all, who knows what May will bring.

 

 

I didn’t get a response (or even a click on the link to my article) from this. But it was Sunday. Maybe those who run political party twitter accounts take the day off. I can understand that. So undeterred, I tried a similar tweet on Monday: 

 


… and it got exactly the same result. Nothing. Yesterday, I tried to introduce an element of competition:

 


… and no-one has responded to that tweet.

Which is a shame. Because the lack of investment in lifelong learning, at all levels of study, directly impacts our ability to compete as a nation. It means we continue to fail to make the best possible use of our greatest resource – the people who live and work here.

By contrast, the Obama administration seems to genuinely “get” lifelong learning. Their latest proposal is to provide free access to two years of higher education through their network of community colleges for eligible students. This is in addition to what seems to be a well thought out and employer supported workforce training programme.

I’m going to keep on pestering our politicians about this. I’m particularly disappointed, but not wholly surprised,  by the lack of any kind of response so far from the political party I belong to.

 

Nick v Nigel = Rational v Irrational?

One major advance in Victorian medicine was the realisation that cholera was spread through contaminated drinking water, rather than through airborne “cholera clouds”. In J.G. Farrell’s novel The Siege of Krishnapur, a heated debate is held between Dr Dunstaple who believes in cholera clouds and Dr McNab, who is able to demonstrate that contaminated drinking water is the real reason for the spread of cholera.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that he is able to muster, Dr McNab loses the debate.

I am worried that even though evidence and logic suggests that EU membership confers many more advantages than disadvantages for the UK, the ability of UKIP to capture and express the illogical fears and prejudices held by many may yet hold sway.

In The Siege of Krishnapur, Dr Dunstaple is so confident in his cholera cloud arguments that he drinks a bottle of contaminated water. The consequences of this decision are fatal, with Dr McNab’s view being proved correct. But as Farrell notes, even this turn of events still fails to swing public opinion behind Dr McNab.

For Nick to win the debate and ensure that we retain a strong Liberal voice for the UK in the EU, it seems to me that rather more than pure logic will be required. I wish Nick and the team who will be helping him to prepare all the best because, rationally or irrationally, I fear for the future of our country should the electorate decide that UKIP and its isolationist policies are the correct prescription for the challenges ahead.

Adam Hills – “UKIP is independent in the same way a recently divorced man is independent”

Given that I stole his catch phrase for the title of my recent rant about Stuart Wheeler, I hope that it is ok to repay Adam by including his UKIP rant from last Wednesday’s “The Last Leg“.

(Warning – this clip contains very strong language.)

Stop being a dick, Stuart Wheeler

Using the form of words favoured by comedian Adam Hills, Stuart Wheeler, the UKIP treasurer, needs to stop being a dick.

The latest drivel he’s reportedly spouting is that because women, in his opinion, are “nowhere near as good as men” at games like chess, bridge and poker it should somehow disqualify them from being properly represented in the ranks of business leaders.

Now, I’ve no idea how being good at games correlates with being an effective leader (nor where he gets the evidence to substantiate his claim – after all, Judit Polgar is a pretty decent chess player) but I do know that for most things, the differences found within a gender are far more significant than the differences found between genders.

As for leadership skills, the between gender differences are miniscule and vary between just favouring men or women on average depending on the measure used, as demonstrated, for example, in Janet Shilbey-Hyde’s 2005 comprehensive meta-study, The Gender Similarities Hypothesis.

Writer’s block, sex at the OU and right wing isolationism

I’ve been finding writing difficult recently, culminating in the “Meh” post of a couple of days ago.

I’m not quite sure why. It’s not as if there isn’t lots happening in my own life at the moment, nor are then any shortage of things in the wider world which are either engaging me or frustrating me. The problem is, if I were to start to write on most of these topics at any length, you’d find them a very dull read or I’d simply become incoherent with rage far too quickly – and so be a very dull read.

A few days ago, I couldn’t even manage to string together a whimsical post on the OU coming third in the “University Sex” league table. I knew that the average age of students was rapidly coming down at the OU, but with the scarcity of face to face tutorials and residential schools these days you have to wonder if it all isn’t simply virtual via the medium of Facebook and Skype. Either that, or it’s just students acting in the way that students always have done – making stuff up and shouting it loudly in a hopeless effort to impress.

Making stuff up, shouting it loudly and then killing people is what Eddie Izzard suggested that fascists do when I saw him in Nottingham a couple of weeks ago. Earlier on in his performance, and to an audience which seemed eerily quiet in parts, he’d also equated the rise of UKIP with fascism too. Surely there aren’t people who like Eddie Izzard that would vote UKIP? Yet this would seem to be the case. At least in Nottingham.

I really mustn’t get started on why a large number of my fellow citizens seem to believe that an isolationist lurch to the right is just what we need to get the economy back on its feet again. We all know how successful that tactic was in Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and Galtieri’s Argentina. (Hyperinflation, anyone? No thanks, I’ll have the cake). But, for whatever reason, large swathes of the electorate either believe that it is genuinely what we need, or alternatively, that UKIP is some kind of lovely, cuddly “anti-politics” party that is a safe home for a protest vote. I don’t know which of these explanations scares me the most.

If you’re from the “UKIP are harmless, cuddly eccentrics” school of thought, you should really read this piece from the Institute of Employment Rights on UKIP in the workplace. It certainly left me speechless and very, very worried about the future if they were ever in a position to enact their policies.

I’m going back to my bunker now. I may be some time.