Monday, September 19, 2011


Posting non-existent.

OFSTED imminent.

Forms to fill in etc.

Back soon.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Miliband's turn for PMQs howler

I have been quick to criticise the Prime Minister on three occassions when I felt his attitude and language at the dispatch box have not been fitting for parliament - such as his remarks towards Tory MP Nadine Dorries last week.

Today the prize for PMQs blunder goes to Labour Leader Ed Miliband with his bizarre remarks about George Osborne "lashing himself to the mast ... not for the first time perhaps." That purile sexual innuendo might be OK between friends at a party but being shot across the Commons it isn't. Harriet Harman looked shocked, Ed Balls didn't know where to look. I think it was a genuine quip rather than a pre-prepared line. It doesn't make you cool, Ed, or win you any prizes for humour. You are not one of the lads. You are meant to be Leader of the Opposition. Start acting like it.

As for PMQs itself, clearly David Cameron wasn't on top form but luckily his opponent was (as usual) worse. Ed Miliband really must get a grip with his PMQs performances.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Can't a "third way" on elected police commissioners be found?

The EDP has a rather understated story that Norfolk County Council will oppose government moves to introduce an elected police commissioner for the county. I say understated, because at first I couldn't believe they missed the chance to plaster "Tory splits" or "Coalition Collision Course" all over the front page, but then I realised that the council were merely backing the EDP stance on the issue and they might not want to frighten their new found buddies.

Anyway, the usually very sound Cllr Ian Mackie - a good man who will one day make an excellent County Council Leader - uses the chance to sound off about his own party's plans. Unfortunately though, I believe my old friend has it wrong on three counts.

Firstly he says that we have a "high profile" Chair of the Police Authority in Stephen Bett. I am sure he is high profile - in the council chamber. But on the streets of Norwich, or rural Norfolk for that matter, outside in our communities I suspect very very few people know who he is. I am involved in politics and even I had to google him to make sure I got the right name. When the EDP did us all a service by publishing the pictures of the members of the police authority, I could name just 2 of them - my old ward colleague Paul Wells and Green Councillor Phil Hardy - and I suspect I was 2 names ahead of 99% of the county. I urge our elected County Councillors to understand that to them these people may be "high profile" but to the rest of us they are not. The members of that police authority collect handsome allowances for their positions and the county council enjoys, as they would, the status and responsibility that brings to them. Good news for the people of Bowthorpe or Thorpe Hamlet - where Wells and Hardy represent - but how should I hold the police accountable? Difficult to say. And who gave those 2 no doubt superb public servants that role in the first place? Or any of them for that matter? People doing their shopping today in Norwich Market I doubt could tell me, either.

Then Cllr Mackie urges the government to let Norfolk decide who we wish our police to be run. Quite right. But nobody asked us about the current settup either. I didn't get to choose how my police are run, nor did I get to vote for my County Council reps on the Police Authority. So why are there no plans for referenda asking the people of Norfolk which system we wish to use? We could combine it with another poll to keep costs down, perhaps, but I do object to people using as an arguement against change that localism is vital (which it is) without asking local people if they want change.

And lastly there is the wonderful news that Norfolk is the safest county in England - good news that is I am sure in no small part down to the work of people like Cllrs Wells, Hardy and Mackie. But it shouldn't be the case that just because we are a low-crime area that I as a taxpayer - or to be more precise a police precept payer - have no control over how that money is spent or what the policing priorities are. The police do a vital job but they spend public money. Schools and hospitals have boards where the public have their directly elected members, why not the police? Actually, just because something is working doesn't mean I shouldn't be able to hold that something to account.

You may read this and think I am madly in favour of police commissioners. I am not. I am in favour of democracy, accountability and open public services. I believe that like schools, the police authority should be much more open in its work. I don't want to vote for a County Councillor who then votes for another County Councillor to sit on this body. Nobody then feeds back to me, not my County Councillor or even the ones on the body itself.

Come on Norfolk, we can do better. Don't oppose this because you like the cosy relationship between the police authority and the County Council. Why not have accountability? Why not attack government plans using a plan of your own to improve the relationship between the police authority and the people of Norfolk rather than just clinging to the EDP's statist status quo ideals?

As I say, I am not wildly up for elected commissioners but they are, in my view, a darn site better than what we have at the moment. But I am surprised nobody can think of a better solution than both of them, to what is a very real democractic deficit at the heart of our public services.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Norfolk Boundary Review: "Coalition Stitch-Up"?

On my way home from work tonight I met one of Norwich Labour's hardest workers, standing on the street corner visably fuming. Little did I know that the Boundary Review had been leaked and if Guido is correct then Labour have a lot to worry about. My angry socialist friend went off on one about a "coalition stitch-up" which sees all the Tory and LibDem held seats get safer and thus more difficult for Labour to gain. Here in Norwich South there are no changes whatsoever, but Labour's view is that no matter where the boundaries took him Simon Wright is a (political) dead-man walking.

Not so long ago Labour held 3 seats in Norfolk - Norwich N, Norwich S and Yarmouth - with an outside chance of NW Norfolk in a very good year (e.g. 1997). In that year they also got very close to taking SW Norfolk it should be remembered but never actually achieved it.

And now what? With Great Yarmouth taking in the staunchly Conservative areas around the southern tip of North Norfolk, Tory MP Brandon Lewis will have even more blue-backing rural areas to "overwhelm" the Labour folk of GY. In addition, those changes would make North Norfolk safer for LibDem Norman Lamb - and even more so when the strongly LibDem (at General Elections, anyway) area around Fakenham are put back in the seat. That leaves just Norwich North where Chloe Smith will see her majority soar as she takes safe Tory territories of Drayton and Taverham back into her patch.

Despite changes, the new "Kings Lynn" seat is still well out of reach for Labour and "South Norfolk", "Broadland & Dereham" and "Thetford & Swaffham" equally so.

So for Labour their best case scenario of a Norfolk with 3 winnable seats is shot to pieces - just 1 (Norwich S) remains.

My Labour friend seethed and sweated. He believed that this is all a stitch-up to guarantee coalition seats in the county and deny Labour representation. Labour, I am told, will fight this all the way. He argued that Norfolk will have 8 safe seats and 1 marginal and so politics could become very boring indeed in the future.

We'll see. But this Boundary decision, I sense, is far from over.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Cameron, Gove, the Free School (a door and a microphone...)

Up until around 9.30pm last night I had little idea I would be spending time today with the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Education, a large chunk of the political media and their entourage at the new Free School in Norwich, where I am a Governor.

The Free School here has always been low key and quiet. It has great support from people in all 3 major parties, has quietly worked on the project behind the scenes and hasn't exploded into the pages of the national papers in spats with unions, celebrities or the local population. In fact, quite the opposite, the Free School has been welcomed by the City. Certainly, being 4 times oversubscribed suggested so.

So today to find the world and their wife camped on the doorstep was quite a surprise. The shocked looking children were more than a little surprised themselves, I am sure (in fact, twice, I was asked if I was the Prime Miniser...)

I am used to the media hunting in packs but what surprised me in the build up to the speech, which has led the bulletins on the news for much of the day, was the number of Number 10 folk and the security services that buzz around the PM. His every move, every footstep, every encounter and every chair he sits on is perfectly worked out and choreorgraphed. The Number 10 handlers are quite brutal with the press - I suppose they have to be - and the press in return seemed to me to be decent and willing to play along. The audience was made up of the press huddle plus figures from the local educational community; actually quite a risk for the PM as the public Q&A afterwards could - but didn't - turn tricky.

I was in charge of a door. Ohhhh, yes. I was instructed that when I saw somebody who resembled the Prime Minister I was to open a door for him and the school principal, Tania Sidney-Roberts. The door only opened one way so without me, a nonplussed looking PM would be left standing looking in at the classroom. What a responsibility! I was even told to open the door well before Cameron reached me, for to open the door outwards when the PM was too close *may* result in me striking, nay assassinating, the British Prime Minister. The instructions were so tight and so precise, I wondered if I was up for this herculean task.

As it happens, my door opening was quite the remarkable success and I feel that everything that followed was as a direct result. In fact, should Mr Cameron go onto success in the 2015 General Election, people may trace it back to this education speech which he gave, unharmed from being smacked in the face by a door.

As the PM spoke to the teachers and saw the school ICT Cloud in operation I whisked off to see the great-and-the-good (local MPs, Headteachers, etc etc) and also Secretary of State Michael Gove. I am, as regular readers will know, a massive - MASSIVE - Gove fan. As a teacher and as a voter, I find him impressive, lucid and intellectually on top of his brief. Being able to tell him parts of the story of the Free School was a very enjoyable conversation.

But hang on, dear blog readers, just as I thought I could settle down in the second row to watch the PM speak, another shock. The Number 10 handlers felt that following my triumph with the door, I was to be promoted to holding a microphone. Luckily, unlike a certain former PM, I had the sense to check it was off before gossiping with colleagues. Anyway, should the mic at the podeum fail, I was the backup plan!! What joy; though luckily no such disaster occurred. Then when the question session started I was to leap to my feet and offer the mic to those asking the posers to the PM. I was, if I may say, like a cat. The first question was asked by my own Headteacher, Brian Conway at Notre Dame, and I think my passing of a mic looked more like a "lunge" and I nearly smacked him on the head with the furry end. Now that would have been embarrassing. Luckily Brian - clearly a semi-pro himself - grabbed the mic and settled me on my feet. If I had of crushed Nick Robinson beneath my 16 stone frame I would never have forgiven myself, although parts of the Westminster Village may have nominated me for a CBE.

It's odd how the easiest of jobs seem incredible tense when the Prime Minister is watching and waiting for you and where the menial nature of the task is outweighed by the cringe factor should you get it wrong. Its not as if I haven't done press conferences, met David Cameron before, or been on the TV live. Just today I had the image in my head of things going wrong and was desperately trying to stop them actually happening.

Anyway, Cameron's delivery was - as always - extremely good. He is very impressive in real life; even the Labourites in the audienc said so. The speech wasn't too long and easy for the audience to engage with. Most importantly his messages of academic rigour, freedom for schools and the like were all spot on. He had new ideas to announce. The speech wasn't too detailed; I'm not sure it was meant to be. It felt more like the start of a debate than anything else. For example if you cut benefits from homes where kids truant, what would you do the parents of truants who aren't on benefits? It is slightly strange to watch a speech from 6 foot away where somebody is usuing the autocues. The new transparent ones look great on TV but up close it always looks as if the speech maker is looking into the middle distance rather than at the audience. With so many nodding heads around me, Mr Cameron might have got great faith for his ideas by looking down at us!

Michael Gove is a very warm person I find - he always remembers who I am ("a great man in so many ways," he flattered me with ... I am sure he says that to everyone he meets) and can instantly recall when you last met and what you spoke about. With Mr Cameron - and this is not a criticism because we have met about 4 times and he probably meets a hundred or more people a day - he is more about listening to your story and what you have to say on issues.

On education I find myself in 99.9% agree with this government; something not all policy areas achieve. The PM and Mr Gove were kind and generous about the Free School and were genuinely impressed with it all. They left with great knowledge that the policy, here in Norwich, was working well.

So as you settle down to watch the PM on TV tonight, think of those small moments, with doors and mics, that make great speeches what they are.

Meet the Chairman? Don't think so.

It was great to see the Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Education coming to the Norwich South constituency today. Even more so as the number of high flying government ministers, or leading Conservatives, that visit Norwich are rather few in number.

Take a look at this map, helpfully provided by the Tory Party which shows where the co-chairs of the Party have visited recently. Lots of visits in London and the South East (to be expected) but also a lot in the Midlands and the North West. Northern Ireland has been blessed, as have a few locations in Scotland and even in far-flung Cornwall. But anyone else notice the massive gap anywhere? They seem to get to Essex and stop. Nothing in Norfolk, Suffolk or Cambs. In fact it looks like we'd have to travel to Northamptonshire to see the Party Chairman.

I have spoken before about my concerns about the way the Chairmen are running the party. By choosing to stay away from the East of England - an absolute true-blue Conservative heartland awash with members - is a bizarre decision that will hardly make the party faithful feel appreciated.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

NASUWT: Strike Action "that time is now near"

I have today recieved a letter from Ms Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, which in parts almost reads as quite balanced. But Ms Keates blows it at the end, urging members to do something about workload, pay, pensions and conditions of service, budget cuts, pupil indiscipline and job security.

The letter complains that "the Coalition Government, on taking office, claimed, and continues to do so, that schools routinely fail children and young people, teaching standards are poor, sacking teachers is too difficult and the teacher's contract lacks flexibility."

In a final flourish, Ms Keates warns that "members have already indicated a willingness to take appropriate national industrial action" and that "that time is now near".

I wonder what the general public makes of the NASUWT and people like Ms Keates? Ms Keates who draws a near £140,000 renumeration package and who ignores her members on twitter and will not return our phone calls.

Academy Status

Notre Dame High School, where I work in Surrey Street, has announced that its Governing Body is consulting on conversion to Academy Status. If you have any views you can email them to or visit for updates.

Cameron vs. Dorries

I have just caught up with a rather flat PMQs in which the most bizarre sight was that of David Cameron slapping down a backbench Tory MP, Bedfordshire's Nadine Dorries.

I have blogged before that I sometimes feel Mr Cameron isn't very parliamentary; his now semi-regular slips aren't "offensive" (as some claim) or "sexist" (calm down, dear) but don't represent a very statesmanlike approach to the House of Commons.

Today, Mr Cameron I feel did overstep the mark and stuck a toe into some very murky waters. Dorries asked the PM a typically straight forward question on LibDem influence over Free Schools, NHS and abortion laws and asked him to tell DPM Nick Clegg who the boss is. That question probably summarised the way a lot of Conservative MPs, activists and members feel. David Cameron - to be fair on him trying to speak over a loud House of Commons - then suggested Ms Dorries was "frustrated". The look on his face suggested he didn't take Dorries, her question or her concern very seriously. Unable to say anymore, he then said he'd give up on it and sat down. Mr Cameron made little to no attempt to answer her question and chose to smirk rather than engage.

Where does this end - does the PM get to choose which questions he answers or doesn't? Even if he isn't very clear or detailed in the answer, he ought to give one. To not do so shows very little respect for an elected MP.

What makes it worse is that David Cameron is bigger than this. He never has any trouble dealing with Labour Leader Ed Miliband so why he feels the need to treat a backbench Tory MP at the lowest rung of the parliamentary ladder so brutally and with such discourtesy is beyond me.