Saturday, May 27, 2006 

Early day motion calls Brian Haw's protest an unacceptable extreme and compares him to animal rights activists.

Congratulations then to two of the Conservative party's MPs' who have decided to line themselves up on the side of Tony Blair and the government against Brian Haw. In response to the 78 police who raided Haw in the middle of the night, Peter Luff has put down the following early day motion, in opposition to one from Lembit Opik:
leave out from first `the' to end and add `way that those who carry legitimate protest to unacceptable extremes can discredit the cause they support and endanger the liberties of the majority; notes the parallels with the animal rights lobby; and reluctantly supports the action that has been taken against Mr Haw.'.
What about how Brian Haw has been conducting himself has been an "unacceptable extreme"? Is Luff referring to how Haw used to ring a bell when Blair's motorcade passed by to go to Prime Minister's Questions, which ended up with the police removing it from him and later returning it without the clapper? How has Haw's actions discredited the cause he supports? His dedication to his cause if anything shows just deeply his feeling is, and inspires many of us who would love to do what he is doing but can't because of other commitments. How has he endangered the liberties of the majority? The only people endangering the liberties of the majority were those who drew up the laws banning protests within 1km of parliament without prior permission, an arrogant example of the worst of this government's illiberal excesses. It was an act of pure spite to get rid of Haw, who has and still is a cause of embarrassment to Blair. It is the government, and those that allege that Haw and his protest are a threat that are truly endangering liberties.

Then we have the noting of the parallels with the animal rights lobby. What part of the animal rights lobby are we talking about here? Are we talking about the protest outside the Oxford laboratory, where even stricter restrictions have now been imposed by the judge? Even under those restrictions, 50 members of the public are still allowed to protest, even if only on one day. Mr Haw is just one man. Professor John Stein, while supporting the injunction there worries about protestors becoming victimised and being tarred as extremists. Maybe what Luff is actually alluding to is the animal rights extremists who dug up the body of a relative of those who ran a guinea pig farm, who led a campaign of terror? If so, it amounts to an outrageous slur against a man who has never used violence or intimidatory tactics.

Lembit Opik's EDM sets out exactly what is behind the removal of Haw's banners and possible removal:
symbolic of the erosion of liberty in a country where the freedom to protest should be fundamental to democracy.
The likes of Peter Luff, Peter Bottomley and any others who subsequently sign his EDM are complicit in the erosion of liberties which has gone on under "New" Labour.

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Friday, May 26, 2006 

Moron interviews cat: cat miaows.



Dear oh dear. George Galloway just can't help putting his foot right in it. This time, in a interview with everyone's favourite ex-tabloid editor, Piers "Morgan" Moron, he's said that the assassination of Tony Blair would be morally justifiable.

Just for a moment, forget that the war on Iraq started with a decapitation strategy, namely to kill Saddam Hussein. It failed. What he is justifying is in essence a vigilante attack, an act of murder as a policy of revenge for what he ordered in Iraq. Galloway claims that this would be morally justifiable. Does Galloway therefore believe in the death penalty? Even if Blair was to be tried for war crimes at the Hague, he would not face the death penalty, and rightly so. Nothing morally justifies the death of another person, whatever the original actions. It may make us feel better, it may satisfy our anger and lust for the blood of the perpetrator, but it is not justice, and we should be trying to end the death penalty worldwide, not fan the flames of hatred by justifying it.

Galloway does then go on to slightly clarify his comments by saying that he would inform the authorities of such a plot, and says some wise words about what would happen in the aftermath, but it doesn't make his justification any more acceptable.
"My goodness, this is a moral maze. Er, yes, I would because such an operation would be counter-productive because it would just generate a new wave of anti-Arab sentiment whipped up by the press. It would lead to new draconian anti-terror laws, and would probably strengthen the resolve of the British and American services in Iraq rather than weaken it. So, yes, I would inform the authorities."
He also makes some deeply embarrassing comments, like Blair did to the Sun, about how virile he is:
GQ: So there's life in the old dog yet ?

GG: Absolutely, oh yes, I'm 51, I'm younger than Tony Blair. I don't have a dicky heart, I'm up like a broom handle in the morning. I don't drink or gamble - I'm still a catch.

As Michael White points out, this all seems like very adolescent postering. The enmity with Blair seems more than anything to be like teenage rivalry, both competing for the same girl who in this case doesn't exist. The only difference is that while Blair has his odd moments, his image was carved out in stone, how he was a pretty straight kinda guy. By contrast, while Galloway has endured smear after smear and still came out on top, he's also been completely naive, something he doesn't admit to, especially over his Big Brother appearance. His vanity is also one of his stumbling blocks. In essence, both are the ultimate politicians; strong on spin and charisma, rather than substance. Galloway is gallivanting around the world, just like Blair, but without the power back here at home. Both could have achieved so much more than they actually have, and that's really the most sad thing about them.

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Torygraph wins most memorable front page of last 100 years.

One wonders whether editors of all three of the other broadsheets, as well as the Sun are feeling rather peeved about the Telegraph winning the Newsnight vote for most memorable front page of the last 100 years with its September the 12th 2001 issue. After all, they all used the exact same photograph.

Dame Pauline Double-Barreled Name advocated it because:
An unforgettable image, of New York's Twin Towers ablaze and falling, together with a simple headline, and covering the entire page of a broadsheet newspaper.

Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, former diplomat and chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee, argues that an event that seemingly ushered the world into a new era of uncertainty, has enduring significance.

Well yes, but that's lauding the event rather the front page itself isn't it? Her other reason was that the front page was clean. Yet the Guardian, Independent and Sun front pages were arguably even cleaner; they didn't have any other text apart from the headline, while the Torygraph had the start of the article.

Obsolete voted for the Sun's Gotcha!, mainly because it sums up everything bad about tabloid journalism in one handy front page. The Guardian front page on Jonathan Aitken and the Mail front page on the killers of Stephen Lawrence were the best actual front pages, which were not just depending on the event, but putting it in context of top class investigative and campaigning journalism.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006 

Further information about the (il)legality of the Iraq war revealed.

Last year in the run up to the general election there was a growing campaign for the full reasoning of the Attorney General in deciding that the Iraq war was legal to be published. After leaks of some of the information, the government published the attorney's thinking on the 7th of March 2003, which although the government at the time called it a "damp squib", showing that the attorney hadn't changed his mind after pressure from Blair, as alleged, did show at the very least that the Attorney was unsure of the basis for the legality of a military strike at the time. Now we have the attorney's thinking during the 7th and 17th of March 2003, following continued demands for it, which shows how he came to his much clearer decision that war was in fact "legal".

As the narrative sets out, the Attorney General had came to his original more equivocal decision that war might be legal after discussions with Foreign Office lawyers, Jack Straw, foreign secretary at the time, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, the British ambassador to the United Nations at the time, and members of the US administration who had been closely involved in the negotiation surrounding resolution 1441. The decision which the Attorney made on the 7th was based on the 4th paragraph of the resolution, which referred to what actions would be taken if there was a further "material breach" by Iraq, referring to the 11th and 12 paragraphs for what actions the security council should take. Paragraph 12 is the key. It says that the council should convene immediately in order to
consider (my emphasis) the situation. The wording is crucial, in the attorney's judgement, as it is only consider, rather than decide (my emphasis again). The attorney took this to mean that the original resolution, that authorised the original war against Iraq in 1990, could then be revived so that military force was legal.

Perhaps what is more key here is that Lord Goldsmith only took the advice of those who were in favour of war, whether they got the second resolution or not, except seemingly for the FCO lawyers, who were apparently opposed. Elizabeth Wilmhurst, the foreign office's deputy legal adviser resigned over Goldsmith's decision. Both Jack Straw and Jeremy Greenstock were by this point resigned to war, if they had been opposed at any time in the past. The US administration had originally not wanted to take Iraq back to the security council, but was eventually apparently persuaded by the dual efforts of Colin Powell and Tony Blair, mainly because Blair needed UN authorisation to sell any military conflict both to his own party and to the British public. Blair had seemingly already signed up to regime change at any cost, as the Downing Street memos have since made clear. The exercise at the UN was merely window dressing for what was going to come sooner or later anyway. On the eve of war Donald Rumsfeld had said that the US may well go it alone, as they were worries both at home and in Washington that Blair would not win the vote that parliament was given to authorise armed conflict. At the end, it was Lord Goldsmith's advice, along with the even more enthusiastic support for war from the Conservatives that got the vote for military action through.

Did the Attorney General then change his mind? To an extent he did, as the narrative released today makes even clearer. His 7th of March advice stated that a second resolution was the "safest" option, but that his legal analysis may change if a second resolution was not achieved. Change it did, but not because of the failure to achieve a second resolution but because of the meetings Goldsmith had at Downing Street where the Chief of the Defence Staff demanded "clear indication" of the legal position for the military forces, as paragraph 19 of the narrative makes clear. In Paragraph 20 it is recorded that the Legal Adviser for the Ministry of Defence asked the Legal Secretary to the Law Officers to clarify and make sure that the Attorney General was certain in his advice that action by the UK would "be in accordance with national and international law". Paragraph 21 shows the Treasury Solicitor made clear to the Attorney General that the legal advice had to be clearer. Pressure on Goldsmith was rising. Paragraph 24 shows the changing of Goldsmith's position. Rather than now thinking that a second resolution was the safest option, he had come round to the "better" view that there was a lawful basis for the use of force without a second resolution.

What then made Goldsmith come round to this better view? The second resolution was not forthcoming, which would have been "safest", but there had been no further material breach, and its arguable whether there had been one at all. Iraq was still involved in a tenuous co-operation with the weapons inspectors, and the missiles which exceeded the distance allowed under previous resolutions were being destroyed. Nothing had changed on the ground, or since Hans Blix's last report to the security council. What had changed is that the military and other parts of government needed something more concrete than his wishy-washy advice on the 7th, as President Bush was determined not to move back the war any further. Blair needed the vote in parliament to go his way, and the advice of the 7th was not convincing many backbench Labour MPs, and the military needed clearer advice to be sure that action was "legal". Goldsmith seemingly erred on the side of caution, and came round to the opinion that the better view was that a second resolution was now not needed, despite him say that getting one would be safest only days earlier. Paragraphs 28 and 29 show that on the 14th of March, after Goldsmith had revised his previous advice, he wrote to the Private Secretary of the Prime Minister to make sure that Blair's view was that Iraq had committed further material breaches. The next day the Private Secretary wrote back, confirming that the prime minister was of that view. This led to the Attorney over the weekend (15 and 16th) drawing up his new opinion of the legality of war in full, which was then given to parliament as a written statement on the 17th.

Was it pressure from Blair or from the military that made Goldsmith alter his opinion? Without further information, and Phillipe Sands wonders whether there is still further background data which has not yet been released that shows how Goldsmith came to change his opinion to being much more amenable to the pro-war position, then it's really impossible to tell whether he simply succumbed to pressure from both or was directly told by Blair to change his mind. As such, we're really still in the dark over the bigger picture, and both pro and anti-war camps can still argue that they are respectively in the right over the issue of the legality of the war.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006 

Deporting the easy targets.

While John Reid does everything he possibly can to suck up to the tabloids by ranting at how useless his department is, those who are searching for the foreign prisoners who were ordered to be deported at the end of their sentences seem to be picking on those who weren't even more eagerly. Two cases of this have now come to light.

The first was that of Ernesto Leal, who two years ago was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for grevious bodily harm following a fight in a pub. He was a model prisoner, released after 18 months and met all his probation requirements. His family had fled to Britain after his father had been tortured by the Pinochet regime in Chile, and was given indefinite leave to remain here. On May the 1st he was arrested and taken to Belmarsh, the high security prison which notoriously holds some of the most dangerous prisoners in the United Kingdom, awaiting a deportation hearing. Both the Met and the Home Office have made numerous mistakes in the handling of his case, and while his MP Diane Abbot has now made representations to the immigration minister, his future still hangs in the balance. You can get the early day motion about Leal sent to your MP by visiting here.

The second is that of Saqib Almas, who similarly was jailed for petty crime a few years back and had served his time. Now two years later, police and immigration officers turned up on his doorstep at 8am, ready to kick his door in. While Leal had indefinite leave to remain, Almas has dual nationality - Pakistani as well as British. This has made either no difference, or indeed, may well have been the excuse to deport him. The police, according to his sister, claim that he has no ties here - despite his whole family having lived here since he was 18 months old. He's now being held at Harmondsworth detention centre, similarly waiting to be deported.

In the hysteria surrounding the foreign criminals fiasco, it seems that as the police can't seem to find the vast majority of the 778 subject to a deportation order, that they're picking up those that have committed minor crimes who they do know the whereabouts of, so that their deportation figures are as a result slightly improved. It doesn't seem to matter to those who are ordering these raids that they're wrecking the lives of those who have contributed to this society but who have in the past had problems with the law; as long as they're pleasing their political ministers by doing their "job", anything goes. It's a sad indictment of this government that it is more inclined to listen to tabloid hysteria than to judge each case on its merits.

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Tuesday, May 23, 2006 

25 (Update: 78) police destroy Haw's vigil.

And speaking of being absolutely shameless, the police last night turned up at 2:45am (darkness covers a multitude of sins) and took away all of Brian Haw's banners and placards except for those that roughly cover 3 metres (see above photo), loading them up into a container, likely to be destroyed. Their justification is that he has been repeatedly in breach of the Serious and Organized Farce Act's banning of demonstrations without prior permission with 1km of parliament, after the appeal court made its specious ruling that he could in fact be found to breach the SOCPA act.

Bloggerheads makes the following invitation:

You are invited to attend Parliament Square in solidarity with Brian Haw tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 11am ready for 11.30 (when Blair is due to drive past on his way to PMQs).

It is suggested that bells and whistles are used. Here's why.

I am going to further suggest that, instead of being in Parliament Square (where police are sure to clamp down and round people up during this short period), you merely be in that general area with a *concealed* bell or whistle at the ready... and then let fly when Baby Blair's motorcade goes past.

And, if anybody gives you any stick, remind them that:

1) SOCPA forbids the use of loudspeakers - *not* noisemakers.
2) SOCPA also fails to define what constitutes a demonstration.
3) So if they don't get out of your face, you'll be forced to have them arrested for demonstrating their ignorance.

Indymedia has more pictures and a fuller story.

Update: From the Daily Mail, of all places:
It emerged today that 78 officers had been involved and the operation had cost 7,200 pounds - 3,000 pounds on overtime and another 4,200 pounds on transport, catering and the erection of road signs. A row over the raid erupted today at a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the body which oversees Scotland Yard, with one member suggesting it had brought the force into "disrepute". Another said it gave the impression, around the world, that Britain was "suppressing dissent by people opposed to the Iraq war".

All for the vanity of the Dear Leader. Good to know that instead of being spent on other police activites that £7,000 went on destroying one man's protest.

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Absolutely shameless.

Cherie Blair has at times had a rough deal from the media. Even so, there is no excuse whatsoever for what can only be described as heartlessness of the highest order, when at a Labour party event in Mayfair last Wednesday a copy of the Hutton report,
signed by both Cherie and Alastair Campbell was put up for auction, and fetched £400 for the Labour party coffers.

Cherie Blair is meant to be a highly intelligent woman, someone who has represented the persecuted and forgotten. Did it not go through her head, or that of any of the other Blairites who were present at this bash that auctioning a report that came about after a scientist killed himself when he was caught in the middle of a battle between the government and the BBC would be tasteless and offensive? That's without even getting into the fact that the report was a hideous whitewash which gave the government the benefit of the doubt and instead savaged the BBC, when their story was almost entirely right, resulting in the resignation of its director general and chairman of governors. We're still witnessing the fallout, as the BBC has become ever more supine in the face of government pressure, and in investigating this government's worst excesses.

The only explanation must be that power has finally managed to corrupt absolutely all those associated with New Labour. That their moral compass has been shown to be so completely lacking of late, and that Dave Cameron is stealing all the Labour party's attractive clothes, as yesterday when he promoted happiness over the pursuit of money, something that the left has told the government to focus on for years with little sign of them listening, seems to point to Labour completely losing its way. The result will be a Tory government that like Labour, is obsessed with looking good but underneath represents the same old interests and policies. Instead of promoting happiness, both parties just seem to be adding to the depression.

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Express-watch: More asylum distortions.

As is usual with the Express, the headline and the story have very little connection. In this case, the asylum seekers who sued were both torture victims who had fled from their own countries. They had been detained at the Oakington reception centre in Cambridgeshire, where they were meant to be examined by medical staff within 24 hours, as stipulated in Rule 34 of the 2001 Detention Centre Rules. They were in fact detained for six days before they were eventually released.

The judge, Mr Justice Collins ruled that "K", when eventually seen by a nurse, had injuries and scars which were consistent with inflicted injuries. While the other claimant, "D" was more difficult to assess, he ruled that an examination would have resulted in her also being released. Rule 34 had been introduced to safeguard torture victims from being detained while their claims were "fast-tracked", and as the rule introduced by the government stipulates that they must be examined within 24 hours, they were liable for damages, as they had been wrongly denied an exam within that time.

Mr Justice Collins also added:
[my] decision should not be seen “as a charter for others seeking asylum in the UK to claim, or to seek to obtain legal aid for claiming, financial compensation for allegedly unlawful detention for short periods of time under the fast-track process.”

So if others are looking to exploit this ruling, it seems unlikely that they will get very far. If the government can't guarantee that asylum seekers will be examined within 24 hours at its own detention centres, then it shouldn't have put such a restrictive time limit into the bill. Indeed, unlike recent "Human Rights" decisions, the Home Office was magnanimous:
"The Home Office accepts today's judgment and regrets that these individuals were not seen by medical practitioners within 24 hours of their arrival and is committed to learning lessons from this incident.

"The Home Office takes very seriously the issue of healthcare within its removal centres and the health of all detainees is monitored closely, which includes access to primary and secondary medical facilities, including psychiatric professionals."

By coincedence, yesterday saw the issuing of a report from the Church of England which accused the government of draconian treatment of asylum seekers.

The most savage criticism was of the treatment of asylum seekers. "The government must lead rather than follow public opinion on immigration, refugee and asylum policy. Specifically, asylum seekers should be allowed to sustain themselves and contribute to society through paid work. It is unaccceptable to use destitution as a tool of coercion when dealing with 'refused' asylum seekers."

When we have newspapers which day after day print distortions about immigrants or asylum seekers, what chance does public opinion have? Thankfully, some are trying to readdress the balance. Natasha Walter has wrote an article about female refugees and their struggle to be heard over on Comment is Free.

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Monday, May 22, 2006 

Sun-watch: A marriage made in hell.

One of Rebekah Wade's main selling points to Murdoch must have been her closeness to New Labour. She's long been a good friend of David Blunkett, who she was dining and commiserating with on the night when she smacked her husband and spent a few hours in Inspector Knacker's cells. She also had a good relationship with Blair, leading to such wonderful interviews as the notorious pre-election 2005 one, where it was revealed that Tony has a huge penis and that he can do it all night.

Changing political times lead to changing political friends. As evidenced in recent weeks by increasingly hostile and angry editorals, directed at the Human Rights Act and the Home Office, but also at Blair's wife and the government itself, we now learn that Wade managed to get Dave Cameron tickets to the Beckham's pre-World Cup bash. She's also recently ditched Blunkett as the Sun's worst columnist and replaced him with the talentless turd that is Kelvin MacKenzie. Could that have possibly been a pre-emptive move to stop Murdoch from getting rid of her and giving the editor's seat back to MacKenzie? Her brown nosing of Cameron seems to be in line with Murdoch's own thinking of backing a winner, with the paper praising him for promising to get rid of the Human Rights Act. With Labour slumped in the polls after the local elections, and the Tories maybe finally believing they can win again, all signs suggest that the Sun and Cameron may soon be getting hitched. Watch this space.

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Do the Home Office reshuffle!

McNulty comments on the size of James Dawute.
Just when they must be thinking that things can't get any worse over at the Home Office, over two days they get hit by another 3 major cock-ups, in all senses of the term.

Firstly, everyone's favourite useless computer firm, C(r)apita (yup, the same company from which Rod Alridge resigned after being caught up in the loans-for-peerages scandal after giving £1,000,000 to the Labour party) has once again messed up, and again it's at the Criminal Records Bureau, which you might remember a few year's ago was criticised after it built up a huge backlog of cases, which meant some schools had to remain shut at the start of the year because their new teachers had not been positively vetted. This time, the boot has been on the other foot. At least 1,500 people were refused jobs or college/university places after being wrongly found to have a criminal past or record. Emma Budd for one was denied two teaching posts after being told she had been convicted for shoplifting. Why being convicted for stealing should stop you being a teacher is rather besides the point when she wasn't even guilty in the first place. To add insult to injury, Crapita and the Home Office in their usual arrogant way have refused to apologise for ruining people's lives, as err, they were erring on the side of caution, and after all, 25,000 people last year were regarded as unsuitable for such jobs as a result of their checks. That's alright then.

After the story of the illegal immigrants who were working as cleaners at the Home Office through a contractor, Sunday saw a much more regular scandal. After the Sun, in one of its rare actual pieces of public interest journalism, revealed back in January that immigration officials had been offering sex for visas, an investigation had found there was no corruption racket. Enter James Dawute, who was recorded and filmed by the Observer offering an 18-year-old Zimbabwean asylum seeker, who herself had been raped, help with her claim in return for sex. One man obviously does not sum up the whole of the immigration department and those helping them with their claims, but it rather does undermine the findings of the investigation. The Tories are understandably calling for an explanation.

And now today we have the story that our open prisons, are err, open. The Liberal Democrats obtained figures that show that 13,000 prisoners have absconded in the last 10 years. Leyhill prison had records that showed 400 had walked out over the last seven years. All rather frightening, but it bears remembering that those at open prison are those either coming to the end of long sentences and who are judged at low risk to the public, or those that are judged as no threat at all. Both are often let out to work in the community to help them readjust to society before they actually are released. The figures don't say whether they include inmates who may one night been unable to get back to the prison after work, due to traffic problems or other difficulties. They have also fought back by saying that most are quickly rearrested, and that by their nature if prisoners want to escape from open prison, they can. The penalties for doing so generally don't make it worth their while.

Even so, the solution to all of these problems is to err, swap ministers, which is exactly what John "Oh fuck, not John Reid" Reid has done, by moving Tony McNulty from Immigration to Police, and Liam Bryne, who had been in charge of policing for a whole two weeks, to McNulty's former position. Someone needs to tell Blair and John Reid that tampering with the ministers isn't going to help. The Home Office needs root and branch reform, which includes splitting the department up. At the moment it is completely dysfunctional, and responds entirely to newspaper headlines, which is exactly what today's reshuffle is meant to placate. In that way it is just like Downing Street. A headline and shouty editoral in the Sun means that Blair jumps. It's not just their fault though; it's all our faults. The result of the 24 hour news environment means that we demand instant action. It can't go on that way. Institutional incompetence needs sorting out over time, and changing jobs doesn't solve it by any stretch of the imagination.

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Academies r shit.

Well, who would have thought it? The government's cure-all for failing inner city bog standard comprehensives, are themselves, failing. According to a study by Terry Wrigley, a senior lecturer at Edinburgh University, the number of pupils that have managed to achieve 5 GCSEs at A*-C has improved by a whopping 0.2% - which those kind people at the Guardian have averaged out to the equivalent of 3 pupils - across the first 11 academies.

Now, we shouldn't really be cynical. That's 3 more students that have had their life chances dramatically improved. The academies themselves are relatively new, and just having a new building isn't going to change bad teaching, behaviour or leadership problems that have built up over a number of years. However much opprobrium the disingenuous idea of giving a private company or grouping a major influence on the curriculum is for a sum which a number of them have not even paid, they deserve to be given a slightly longer chance. But wait! That isn't the worst of it, oh no. A spokesman tried to spin the results by saying the following:

the academies' GCSE results were "outstripping" those of their predecessor schools, adding that if English and maths were not included there had been an 8 percentage point rise in those getting five good GCSEs.

Yep, that's right, if you exclude those throwaway unnecessary subjects like English and Maths, then err, there's a whole 8% increase in those getting five "good" GCSEs. Perhaps the spokesman, despite working for the Department of Education, doesn't realise that English and Maths are 2 of the 3 core GCSE subjects which every student has to take, the other being Science. Then again, when those in charge already have the feeling that the kids they're teaching might well be thick, what's the point of teaching them English and Maths? All they're going to do is stack shelves and work the tills at Tesco's, where no brain power is required whatsoever. It's better that way, as they're less likely to question the amount they're getting paid as well. It seems this may well actually be what they're doing:
some academies were diverting children away from GCSEs to boost their standing in school league tables. The study found that many children had been switched from taking separate subjects at GCSE to the vocational GNVQ qualification, which counts as four GCSEs in government tables.

Indeed, shortly before Obsolete left its bog-standard comprehensive behind, all the students which were doing poorly or were evaluated to do poorly at the Key Stage 4 SATs were encouraged to take on GNVQs instead of GCSEs in their 10th year. While for some this was better than them just getting even more disillusioned and disgruntled in the more "academic" classes, there was also a reasonable amount of pressure for them to do it whether they liked it or not, purely because it helped the schools' results in the consequent league tables, and stopped the school from falling into "failing" status. As Terry Wrigley goes on:

"There seems to be something important going on here," he said. "Of course we should value vocational as well as academic learning, but false equivalents simply let down the most vulnerable young people. It may be in the school's short term interests, and the government's, to improve exam statistics in this way. However, as soon as an individual applies for a job or university place, they will face problems. How many employers regard a GNVQ in computing plus a C in art as equal to five good GCSEs in different subjects, especially if you include English and maths?"

According to Mr Wrigley the proportion of children taking GNVQ qualification has risen from 13% at the predecessor schools to around 52% at the academies.

And there lies the problem. There has undoubtedly been a lack of respect for vocational qualifications in Britain for a number of years, something that has to change. For the many the boundaries of academic schooling are both constricting and leading many to think of themselves of failures. In most places the 11+, which had done the same to children year after year, has been replaced with another system where it still fails, but at an older age. This is not to say that children should be forced into vocational subjects if they appear to be performing poorly in the likes of English and Maths. That has just as damaging repercussions at the above. There are plenty of pupils who flourish in their subjects later in life than others. Yet for many who would rather be doing something "hands on", although not in the John Prescott sense of the term, there are few opportunities. It's something which the likes of the CBI, that continues to decry poor communication and mathematical knowledge of those who leave school, both at 16 and 18, should do something about, rather than continuing to moan while doing nothing.

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