Tag Archives: politics

Who writes this rubbish?

11 Nov

I’m not naïve enough to think that politicians write their own speeches, but it would be a good idea if George Osborne used his supposedly superior education to read, and edit, the words that are going to come out of his mouth.

Yesterday’s Guardian reported that on Friday Osborne announced that the European Space Agency’s headquarters for telecoms satellite monitoring will be based in Britain, as part of an extra £300m investment in space science research over the next five years. In his speech he said:

“We are now at a watershed where space is transitioning from a celebration of science endeavour into a capability that impacts on our everyday lives…Prosperity and the power it brings are shifting to new corners of the globe, to countries like China, India and Brazil. So as the prime minister has said, countries like ours are in a global race…”

OK, what is wrong with that, other than it’s gobbledygook and that a globe doesn’t have corners, let alone new corners? I think what he meant to say (though it’s hard to tell) is:

“We are now at a point where space exploration is moving from being a celebration of science to something that has an impact on our everyday lives…Since the power that prosperity brings is no longer exclusive to Western countries, the UK is now in competition with expanding economies, such as those of China, India and Brazil.”

Finally, I was pleased to see that the President of the Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse, thanked the Chancellor for his speech, but urged him “not to forget to put your money where your mouth is”!

Today’s picture

It’s Remembrance Day today and this year also is the 60th anniversary of the Second World War’s North Africa campaign. I took this picture at a British war cemetery in Tunisia.





Mr Gove and educational reforms

18 Oct

In yesterday’s Guardian there was more comment on schools. Plans to build two new state schools in Coventry, funded by developers of land previously occupied by Massey Ferguson and Marconi factories, have been scrapped after Coventry city council realised that all new schools must now be academies or free schools. The Guardian comments, “A little-noticed clause in the Education Act 2011 states: ‘If a local authority in England thinks a new school needs to be established, they must seek proposals for the establishment of an academy’.” Coventry council may now decide to spend the money on upgrading existing schools.

This prompted me to look at the Department for Education’s website to find out exactly what academies and free schools are. Written (surprise, surprise) in rather ungrammatical English – mixing singular and plural in one sentence and splitting infinitives, for example – it appears that both are state funded. “Some academies, generally those set up to replace underperforming schools, will have a sponsor. Sponsors…[include] successful schools, businesses, universities, charities and faith bodies” – and followers of this blog will already know my views on faith schools, on running schools for profit (which, presumably a business would be doing), and on the Education Secretary, Michael Gove.

The DfE site continues: “Academies benefit from greater freedoms [why is this plural?] to innovate and raise standards.” These include:
freedom from local authority control
Academies and free schools receive their funding from the Education Funding Agency (EFA), rather than from local authorities. The EFA also supports “the delivery of building and maintenance programmes for schools, academies, Free Schools and sixth-form colleges”, but who controls the educational standards?
the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff
Is this an underhand way of emasculating the teaching unions, which Gove says exhibit “soft bigotry [can someone explain hard bigotry to me?] and low expectations”?
freedoms around the delivery of the curriculum
How does this conflate with raising academic standards and does it mean that schools can teach nonsensical theories, including creationism? According to the Telegraph, only 22 per cent of teachers support Gove’s plans to scrap GCSEs, although 77 per cent sensibly did agree that only one exam board should administer each subject, nationwide.
the ability to change the lengths of terms and school days
In principle, this seems logical, but how will working parents manage if they have children at different schools and those schools have different timings and holidays?

Gove was a journalist before he became an MP and (clearly) has no experience of teaching. He thinks teachers should “go the extra mile” by running after-school clubs and working on Saturdays. Teaching is tough – imagine spending all day controlling 30-or-so children as well as trying to teach them – and most teachers already “go the extra mile” by preparing lessons and marking homework out of school hours. Gove told the BBC that one of the “Five things I have learned” is that “you can’t spend too much time with your children”. Presumably, he thinks teachers don’t have children.

Today’s picture
And now for something a little more cheerful! My friends and I were excited to see this tortoise in Mallorca a couple of weeks ago. We’d only ever seen them as pets before.


Photograph by Al Taylor

That, which and who

14 Sep

Many people think “that” and “which” are interchangeable (and we’ll get to “who” later), but they really are not.

As The Economist Style Guide explains, “that defines, which informs”. For example, in the sentence, “This is the house that I bought several years ago”, I am simply stating (defining) a fact, but if I were to say, “I bought this house, which was built in 1825, several years ago”, I am giving you additional information about my house. “Which” is introducing that additional information (a subsidiary clause) and subsidiary clauses usually have commas around them. If you’re unsure, check to see if the sentence you have written works with a comma before “which” (“This is the house, which I bought several years ago”, clearly does not.)

And now on to “who”. David Cameron was recently reported as saying, “It is this government who have cut the deficit”. Leaving aside whether one agrees with that statement or not, he should have said, “It is this government that has cut the deficit”: government is a singular entity, Mr Cameron, and it is a thing, not a person.

Today’s picture

I took this in Barcelona a few years ago, primarily for the lettering above the shop.Image

Get and got

28 Aug

“Get” is a useful verb but, as The Economist Style Guide says, “it has its limits”. A politician does not get to be party leader, he/she becomes party leader; nor does an employee get a promotion, he/she is given a promotion or even, perhaps, earns one.

“Got”, the past participle of “get”, is even more frequently misused. In conversation, we all tend to say, “I’ve got” – as in “I’ve got a headache” etc – but “got” is superfluous here. All we really need to say, or write, is, “I have a headache”.

 It is particularly irritating to hear our so-called well-educated politicians banging on about education: “We’ve got to improve standards in English” is a favourite. Yes, indeed, we have – and let’s start with you!

Today’s picture

An interesting piece of lettering in Melbourne, Australia.



More on the brilliant Robert Jay QC

14 May

The Leveson inquiry continues – and the Guardian‘s reports supply, me at least, with a great deal of fascinating reading. Robert Jay appears to have an excellent command of the English language. In a short piece in the Guardian one day last week, Maev Kennedy wrote: “The QC’s style has led Jay to be hailed as the star of the inquiry…Condign as in ‘errors must be corrected and in a condign [fitting] manner’ enchanted several followers, like Thursday’s propinquity (‘the state of being close to something’).”

It’s such a pleasure to read of someone using words that one has to think about (or, even, look up). English – the world’s richest language – becomes more impoverished each day because people don’t read enough and are lazy about finding synonyms rather than continually using the same words. The argument for imprecision – synonyms: sloppiness, inaccuracy – is always, “English is a living language and is constantly changing”. True, but accepting new words into the language doesn’t mean that we have to discard those that are already there and that are often more descriptive and precise.

Today’s picture

Two days of sunshine encouraged my Rosa Banksia Lutea to begin to flower. One plant – a present some years age from fellow blogger northoneartist – has spread along one side of my garden. The photograph I took on Saturday has the added interest of a bug!


Jeremy Hunt and the Murdoch empire

25 Apr

There is brilliant, and extensive, coverage in today’s Guardian. Political editor, Patrick White, writes that Hunt “appears to have blotted his copybook beyond repair”. Far from handling the News Corp bid for BSkyB, in a way that was (as Hunt said), “completely fair, impartial and above board”, he appears to have “handed NewsCorp commercially confidential and market-sensitive information at a time when he was in a quasi-judicial capacity, repeatedly giving insight into his and the government’s thinking. At one point, Hunt’s office, according to [NewsCorp’s public affairs executive] Michel, handed over information in a way that Michel stated was ‘absolutely illegal’.”

Michael White writes in his analysis piece: “Watching James Murdoch dumping on Tory ministers at the Leveson inquiry yesterday, the political equivalent of a Relate counsellor would probably have muttered that she always knew the Cameron-Murdoch arranged marriage would end in tears. Neither party had shown much previous enthusiasm for each other…” Now, contrary to David Cameron’s assertions, James Murdoch says he discussed NewsCorp’s bid for BSkyB with him at Rebekah Brooks’s house two days before Christmas 2010.

Apart from any other considerations, it is astonishing that government ministers are so naive. I would have thought that the first rule in government, as it is in any type of business, is be careful what you say – and don’t trust anyone to protect your interests when theirs are at stake.

I was in favour of fixed-term parliaments, but I am appalled at the thought of putting up with this government for another three years, and that has as much to do with their continued displays of incompetence as with any political affiliations.

Today’s picture

And now for a bit of cheer! It continues to hammer down with rain (April showers or April torrents?) and there was a huge thunderstorm right over London N1 not long ago. So here’s some more sunshine, taken in South Africa in January 2010.Image


The church of England and state education

19 Apr

As a member of the British Humanist Association, I wrote to my (very good) MP, Emily Thornberry about a potential increase in the role of the church of England in education. She raised it with the Schools Minister, Jonathan Hill, and has sent me a copy of his reply.

He writes, “Currently, it is not possible for a maintained school without a religious designation to convert to become an Academy with a religious designation in a single process. Any maintained school that wishes to gain a religious designation must follow a clearly laid out statutory process, which includes a requirement to consult on that change locally. It is possible to publish concurrent proposals to cover the requirements of these two separate processes.

“The Department is currently looking at school organisation regulations with a view to streamlining processes and reducing bureaucracy, as far as possible. However, the current requirement for a maintained school without a religious designation to close and then re-open as a new maintained ‘faith’ school in order to obtain a religious designation is set out in primary legislation. Any change to this requirement would, therefore, be subject to Parliamentary process and agreement.”

As Emily Thornberry points out in her covering letter, “It is clear that discussions on this point are continuing, and it is quite possible that the Secretary of State might seek to change the regulations or the primary legislation.”

As an 11-year-old, I was fortunate to win a scholarship to a public school, unfortunate in that it was to a Methodist public school. On our first day we were asked what our religion was (a school friend remembers me saying I was an atheist!), there were prayers in assembly every morning, rather a lot of scripture lessons and the boarders had to go to chapel twice every Sunday (luckily I was a day girl).

While I believe it is important for schools to teach comparative religion so that children learn about, and are tolerant of, different faiths; I do not believe they should be teaching from the point of view of one faith. Have we learnt nothing from the strife between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Shia and Sunni Muslims in the Middle East, Christians and Muslims elsewhere in the world? Religion should be taught at home, not at school.

(And the Schools Minister used the dreaded “going forward” phrase: “…we believe that using collaborative structures such as Umbrella Trusts will be important going forward.”)

Today’s picture

After that rant, I think you need a calm picture and, surprisingly, a religious one. Each afternoon at the Sera monastery in Tibet, the monks debate with their novices: they ask questions and there are formalised “yes” and “no” gestures for right or wrong answers. The monk standing on the left is giving a “yes” gesture.Image