Don’t Rape Anyone Tonight

The Sussex Police tonight warned women not to walk home alone:

This is because there have been two “night-time sex attacks” in Brighton in two days.

I would have liked Sussex Police to have taken the opportunity to warn local men that one of them is a sex attacker and that they could and should act together to prevent assaults taking place.

The Department for Making Hope Possible says there are good campaigns out there which place responsibility for sexual assault where it belongs – with the perpetrator. Like this one from Lambeth:

There is also this poster from Tayside:

And this broader campaign from Scotland:

So that’s how it’s done.

Want to know what proportion of women raped while wearing short skirts were “asking for it”? That Pie Chart is here:

Have a great night. Look after each other.

Happy New Year.


New Year Honours

The Honours list is always awash with party donors, dodgy geezers and ordinary people who have done ordinary things at the behest of other ordinary people who just happen to be ‘royals’.

But the Department of Making Hope Possible would today like to celebrate these good gongs….

A CBE for Eileen Munro – for common-sense in child protection and early intervention.

Other honours to:

Sheena Byrom (midwife & writer)
Mary Mead (Yeo Valley organic dairy)
Alice Purnell (services to transgender people)
Alex Brychta (for – among other things – Oxford Reading Tree)
Jane Codona (services to Travellers)
Ann McCrea (breastfeeding support in Northern Ireland)


Tis the Friday 'fore New Year and – boozed to the hilt –
I've decided to settle someTwittery guilt.
I'm rubbish at Fridays, my followers find; 
FFS! there's no #ff, (I'm sure you must mind). 

So I'm giving myself a figurative shove
It's time to reciprocate some #ff love…
The Tweetmates below are fantastically great, 
My praise here's too little. Some might say too late…

@DearDaveandNick turns protest into art 
Get her letters into your stream for a start. 
Then try @TheGreenBenches for some counter-facts
On the Government's latest, most dastardly acts.

Follow @UKuncut and @OccupiedTimes 
For acts of resistance behind enemy lines. 
And an NHS champion who is second to none –
Follow @cpeedell as he does #Bevansrun

For social care issues, my tweeter of choice
Is @Ermintrude2, such a confident voice. 
Then @NoelMcDermott's my counsellor's view
(We'll gloss over the fact that he calls me 'mum' too)

I like legal types (for they know what is what) 
So I followed the fab @_millymoo like a shot. 
And Legal Aid is worth all @ilegal's fight
As we won't just hand justice across to the right. 

And we won't walk away from our good #spoonie friends
For whom life will be shit if DLA ends. 
So go @BendyGirl! Go @CreativeCrip! 
@wheresthebenefit knows that it's time to let rip. 

And it's not just the health service, welfare and law
That's falling to pieces, I'm sorry, there's more…
#Gove thinks we'll stand by like open-mouthed fools
While he bulldozes all our community schools. 

So follow @schooltruth and @localschools_uk 
And don't let the childcatcher get his own way. 
Add @mattpearson and @ThatIanGilbert to your mix
For a heartwarming educational fix. 

If you care about what schools put in your child's head 
Then support @P4SRE (good Sex Ed). 
And don't assume all teenage mums are a state – 
Look @prymface's tweets – she'll soon put you straight.

While we're thinking of babies, @oneworldbirth rocks
And @Thinkbirth deserves to be followed in flocks. 
@makesmilk supports breastfeeding mums everywhere
And at @hm4hb you'll find mums who will share. 

@Livable4All has a radical plan 
For a world where we don't all kowtow to 'the man' 
A future where care is more valued than money 
(I know politicians will think that idea's funny) 

@rosiecosy has faith, despite all Labour's woes,  
And you'll find lefties writing for her "LabourRose"
(Though I'm not sure that Labour can ever woo me,
I do like good guy @johnmcdonnellMP)

If I'm not tweeting politics / life in the shoe
80 minutes of quality rugby will do. 
@fromtheruck, & @quinsjim love the beautiful game
(Not London, Not Irish;  tweetmates all the same) 

Now some twitterati I can't categorise
But these are the stars in my Twittery skies: 
@helenlooise, @thatsoph, @helenmew 
@hangbitch, @lisaansell & @langtry_girl too.

@andromedababe @daninayyar (they're both babes)
@PME200, @sturdyAlex (their blogs are both faves)
There's top conversation from @CriminologyUK 
And @DayMoonRoseDawn's insect sex makes my day

@tamchan11 curates with intelligence & passion
@Puffles2010 made dragon fairies a fashion
@SimonNRicketts, @GlennyRodge, like Morecambe and Wise
(In a bed in my head where they smoke and eat pies.)

And simply and always my favourite and best
@HeardinLondon whose tweets just stand out from the rest. 

I've risked some offence by choosing so few
As the 960 others I stalk are good too. 
I hope you've found good'uns to follow right here. 
Back with another list this time next year. x 

Why we might need school commissioners…

In the Guardian today, Sir Michael Wilshaw is said to be proposing "a team of local commissioners […] to identify institutions that should lose their academy status and find headteachers who should be replaced".

Meanwhile, the IPPR calls for local schools commissioners to be champions for schools and parents.

Those of us who work in local government children's services will recognise these roles. Some of us have occupied them. Some of us may still do so. This is what LEA school improvement teams, heads of education, heads of learning and achievement, school commissioners etc. are and do. This is our work. And the massive increase in the number of Academies under this government is a testament to the success of this work, because the vast majority of 'Academy Converters' since the coalition government came into power have been 'outstanding' schools. These are schools that have achieved at the highest levels with the support and the challenge of their local authority partners. The partnership may not always have been cosy, the partners may not have always seen eye-to-eye, but every outstanding community school prior to academy conversion was evidence that community schools and local authorities in partnership can achieve great things.

Of course, funding has been removed from these local authority services, which have been significantly dismantled in response to the cuts, but which still usually have a core offer of challenge and support to local community schools. Though not Academies, because Academies, notoriously, came in to being in order to exist outside local authority 'control'. (Never mind that under Local Management of Schools local authorities haven't actually controlled schools for ages anyway, but I digress). So local authorities can't support and challenge Academies. Because Academies must be free of scrutiny. Free to…er…fail.

Wilshaw is now publicly admitting what everyone quietly already knew, which is that school performance can go down as well as up, and there is nothing – let me say that again: NOTHING! – intrinsic to Academy governance arrangements that will prevent them from 'failing' like any other school. So, now, apparently, we need a new body just like LEAs but 'non-political' to keep an eye on Academy performance. Wilshaw's definition of 'non-political' seems to be a body that reports directly to the Secretary of State. Hmmm. So much for localism, eh? Let's see the Academy reforms for what they are, an aggressive programme of centralisation and power-grabbing for the Secretary of State, with absolutely no guarantee of quality attached. Gove and his team at DfE need LEAs (or something like them), but he doesn't want awkward, determinedly independent ones, just ones that will toe his line. 'Non-political' (ha!) appointees.

Wilshaw's proposals are an admission that schools which used to be 'outstanding' when part of the local authority's 'community school' family will, after becoming Academies, perform less well. Not all of them, of course, but inevitably some of them. This is because working with, or working without local authority support and challenge never has been the thing that makes an average school good and a good school great. Nor has it been what causes a good school to 'coast' or a weaker school to go into free-fall. Stuff happens in schools. Head-teachers come and go; local demography changes; reputations, good and bad, lag behind reality. Academies, just by virtue of being schools, will need monitoring, evaluating, supporting and challenging in just the same way that community schools are monitored and evaluated by their local authority partners. The only possible reason for not recommending that local authorities do this work is in order to make sure that the Secretary of State's particular and peculiar hobby-horses are always the ones that are promoted through the partnering arrangements.

So, to sum up:

Becoming an Academy will not make a school a better one, in fact, it may (incidentally) become worse.
Work that looks a lot like what local authorities already do with community schools will also need to be done – by someone – with Academies.
The Secretary of State won't approve an arrangement that includes democratic accountability through local government because that's just not his personal cup-of-tea, and in Gove-world that's all that matters.
So we can expect a whole new super-structure of local 'intermediary bodies' who can get into Academies before Ofsted does and let them know what they need to do to make the Ofsted grade.

Where, I wonder, will they find all these 'school commissioners'? Well, of course, there's the old local authority school improvement workforce that was so recently told there was no need for them.

There is nothing new under the sun.

Casual sexism of the year 2011

BBC 'Faces of the Year'

12 male faces, 12 female faces, of people who 'made the headlines' in the UK this year.


Undercover cop
Actor (Best Actor Oscar)
Political rapper against NHS wanton destruction
Policeman killed in terrorist atrocity (victim)
Serviceman (nabs America's most wanted)
Golfer – successful
Journalist – often appears drunk
Student attacked by rioters (victim)
Someone who told a female pop-singer off for not wearing enough clothes
Self-publicising fantasist with an unhealthy influence over UK foreign policy
Football manager who sadly took his own life. (suggestions he was hounded by the press)
US politician sunk by a sex scandal.

As @little_mavis puts it "No animals, no new husbands, no rape victims".


US politician, injured in terrorist atrocity (victim)
Victim of an alleged rape
Fashion designer (linked to royal wedding)
Victim of an alleged sexual assault
Victim of an identity hoax
Bride (marries richer man)
Hackney Heroine / YouTube Sensation
Alleged murderer, hounded by press.
Bride (marries younger man)
Service woman (dates a Popstar)
Panda (female panda, but still, y'know a panda!)

Nothing more to say really.

Choice: if you want to call the tune, you need the means to pay the piper.

The invisible hand of the market is sticking up two fingers at us. From under an invisible neon sign that blinks the words 'FUCK YOU'.

FUCK YOU that is, if you are an ordinary 'customer' or a 'consumer'. FUCK YOU if you believe that 'choice' is a force for common good rather than narrow self-interest.

News story after news story today contains an implied reliance on consumer power as something that will change society for the better. The Observer headlines with: "How city fees are eating into our pensions."

After describing how the profits from one pension saver's £70,000 contributions were entirely eaten up by fees and charges, the presentation to the Treasury concludes that "the industry needs to be more transparent so that savers could effectively shop around". It does go on to say that "the government should act to make it safe and wise to save" but stops short of calling for actual regulation to prevent pension fund managers from robbing savers to line their own pockets.

No. We 'customers' can add shopping around for a better pension deal to our increasingly lengthy "shopping around" list.

Other things on the list include shopping around for lower cost energy supplies (but not if you are poor obviously, where the enforced requirement of a high cost pre-payment meter means you will pay more for your energy than your wealthier neighbours). Never mind that we used to have a wholly transparent system where the government could set energy charges from the state-owned energy supplier and all consumers knew they were getting the best (because the only) rate possible.

We should shop around for schools for our children too. Never mind that all the evidence shows that disrupting a child's education has a negative impact, Gove's 'parent-as-customer'-led schools revolution, predicated on schools competing with each other for our children, demands that we either jerk our children about in a never ending quest to pursue this year's educational A-Team or we make a choice once-only in the knowledge that if we select a school that is weak the Government isn't interested in investing in that school's improvement. It is happy to see schools wither and die in the expectation that – magically – other schools will flourish. Before you thank Gove for givng you the gift of 'choice' in Education, read this, from @ThatIanGilbert on the Swedish system Gove so admires: “Just received Xmas e-mail from friend in Sweden: 'Here in Sweden, the school system is in decay […] it's political majority for the choice of private schls run by venture capitalists whose sole purpose is to make money, they have no morals […] In some schools, they play basically computer games all day. They recruit students through the student getting a personal computer […] Sweden, Chile, US – don't need to look too hard to see where #Gove's policies could take us. But some people will get v rich so that's OK…”

So, while you're at it, add the School Prospectuses to your energy company and pensions brochure pile.

John Naughton writes today about the silent invasion of our PCs by the "cookies" of the organisations we interact with online:

The tracking and tracing of our online movements may be beneficial in some cases, but their use is supposed to be regulated to keep us safe, and very few organisations are compliant with the regulations. We can 'choose' as consumers to switch off cookies in the application we use. And those applications can 'choose' at that point to fail to serve us properly saying: the company "cannot guarantee that your experience with the site will be as quick or responsive as if you do receive cookies". Some choice!

So, when you've finished reading your brochures, don't forget to read all the online small-print as well.

Then there's the story of Cameron and Cable squabbling over how best to secure 'consumer protection' in the bloated, aggressive, profiteering 'free' marketplace.

Which of the shambling, cobbled together 'help' mechanisms invoked in this shabby quarrel will actually make sure that as customers we hold power? Er … none.

The public accounts committee had this to say about consumer protection: "people [are] increasingly falling prey to problems involving online shopping, such as email scams or fraud using credit cards […] Consumers are being ripped off to the tune of £7bn a year by sellers of defective goods, dodgy doorstep traders and online fraudsters," And this is just the illegal stuff! There's nothing in these arrangements that will protect us from the legal-but-designed-to-be-confusing-and-alienating-in-order-to-milk-us-better marketing tactics of banks, utilities, airlines, supermarkets. All of whom claim to have our consumer interests at heart, but who really have a great big gaping money pit where their own hearts should be, ever hungry, always avid to swallow every bit of cash we have to spare.

Add your till receipts to your reading list; add a supermarket price-check site to your computer favourites (carefully checking for cookies first, if you don't want to die of spam advertising overload) so you can crawl back to the supermarket of your choice and get your money back, or double the difference, or whatever the current offer is…if you can be bothered. And if it doesn't cost you more in petrol than you would save. Some choice (again)!

Its now practically a full time job just ensuring that we're not being exploited. Where's the regulation? Where's the enforcement? That's what the state should be for. Protecting individual human beings – people – in their transactions with faceless, monolithic, profit-hungry businesses. Don't tell us to read the small print! "Caveat emptor" may have been fair advice in a Roman marketplace where you can easily smell that the fish you're about to buy is days old and not freshly caught. It's nonsense in the modern world where everything smells fishy and most things are. Where the globalised supply chain means that for individual consumers there's no meaningful audit trail of what you are buying. And where every dodgy Government policy is 'sold' to us on the basis that it really, truly, worked somewhere else, honest (but no we can't lay our hands on the research right now).

This great blog by @Stavvers ( explains the use of the 'placebo' button and the illusion of control created by – among other things – voting. Government's constant harping on about people exercising their rights as a 'consumer', the complete claptrap of 'choice', is another placebo button. It's gives us the illusion that we exercise control through our consumer choices, but we don't. At least, most of us don't.

Now we have the great battle of the Localism Bill. A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesperson assures us: "The draft framework retains the protections already in place and puts power back into the hands of local people, ensuring they are in charge of deciding the areas they wish to see developed and those to be protected."

Does it really? Campaigners are agitated and some of the great campaign charities of middle England are lining up for battle: the Campaign for Rural England, The National Trust (family membership £87 per year), the RSPB (£55 per year). There are swathes of middle England for whom preservation of their own pretty views (on environmental and conservation grounds, of course) will be achieved as these powerful bodies swing into action and secure concessions through high profile, well-funded campaigning. Own a house in a a semi-rural area and you and your wealthy, powerful friends, backed by these campaigns will almost certainly be able to preserve your surrounding green space. Overlook the only green space left in a densely packed urban area and you can bet that the fact you reclaimed it from an old bomb-site will count for nothing as its "brownfield" designation will mean its ripe for development. Looking for support to preserve it? Can't afford a lawyer? Tough! Watch as the "consumer power" afforded by the localism bill leads to rich communities protecting their space and poorer communities being invaded by undesirable development. My prediction is that the Zac Goldsmiths of this world will be satisfied because local people who are wealthy and well-resourced will be able to mobilise and fund targeted campaigns that will move any nasty developments off their lawn and info the back yards of their poorer neighbours where working long hours and lack of resources make it harder to fight. If you have enough time and money in this world, you can make your 'choices' (or luck) work in your favour.

And in the end, that's what's wrong with the idea that we are all 'customers' now, busily exercising our power through our 'consumer choice'.

Anatole France noted: "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.". In classic economic theory "choice" benefits the poor and rich alike. We exercise our consumer powers in our own self-interest, maximising our own gains while  the "invisible hand" ensures that – aggregated – these personal victories translate into the benefit of society as a whole. This is a great untruth. The market, the exercising of 'consumer choice', perpetuates and reinforces inequality.

If, as a customer, you want to call the tune, you have to have enough money to pay the piper. The invisible hand shows us its middle finger and says to anyone with limited resources, FUCK YOU!

‘Gifts’ to the nation?’

Wow! A Reubens!

I’m not sneering. My childhood was enriched by many happy hours in galleries poring over the detail of paintings and sculptures, ancient and modern with a running commentary from my mother’s fantastic knowledge of art history. I think the national collections housed in our museums, galleries and libraries provide essential nourishment for the nation’s soul.

But here and now, in the middle of ‘austerity’, as we cut benefits to disabled children and argue the toss over teachers’ pensions; as we close hospitals, children’s centres and youth clubs because we say we can’t afford to keep them open, I recognise a tax scam when I see it.

Here’s the story:

If you – person who is rich enough to own a Reubens – want to make a ‘gift’ to the nation, then give the nation the painting! Don’t use it to offset your tax bill!

That one painting apparently settles a £4.4m tax bill. Nice. I could build a primary school for that.

Apparently another ‘highlight this year’ is the Mountbatten archive, which, among 130 metres of other important historical papers contains a handwritten note from Gandhi.

I’m a Southampton girl, so I remember when this archive really was a ‘gift’ to the nation. I remember how hard Southampton University Library battled other academic institutions to be able to look after this collection (Southampton already had the Duke of Wellington’s papers and the Mountbatten estate is local – at Romsey) and make it available to scholars for historical research. As far as I know, Southampton has paid for the collection to be housed and maintained safely. This is not a negligible cost, but worth it to protect such an important resource.

The plan is for the archive to remain at Southampton, so nothing has changed, nothing new has been ‘gifted’ to the UK this year. There is no new, better or different access to the documents. The Mountbatten Estate has simply side-stepped a tax bill.

If you’ve read Dava Sobel’s “Longitude” you’ll know about Nevil Maskelyne, but as the Guardian acknowledges, he’s someone few of us have heard of. Never mind. His archive is going to the Greenwich Observatory. It’s a good thing. But make no mistake, we – the people who do pay our taxes – have effectively bought it. It’s not an early Christmas present. Perhaps we should pat ourselves on the back for our generous non-philistine attitude in the middle of ‘austerity’ – choosing to enhance the collection at the Observatory above funding medical equipment, or teaching resources. I’d like to think we’d all pile down to the Observatory to see this ‘gift’ to us, but I bet more of us spend time this coming year in hospital, or a school, or on a road.

And Farnham in Surrey will get a portrait of “radical journalist and agitator” William Cobbett in payment of £1400 tax. I wonder what his radical self (battling the Corn Laws, fighting to see an end to ‘Rotten Boroughs’, advocating for a living wage for agricultural labourers) would make of that?

I’ve paid more than £1400 tax this year! No one’s written about my ‘gift to the nation’.

“That’s the strength of the scheme” says the senior adviser to the ‘Acceptance in Lieu’ scheme. What? That even tiny, modest artefacts that hardly anyone will ever see can be used by people who personally value them less than cold hard cash (because if they didn’t, they’d keep the painting and pay the tax, wouldn’t they?) to offset their tax bill? And we, the nation, in the middle of ‘austerity’ have to say thank you for the ‘gift’?

Bloody cheek!

Christmas is coming so perhaps it’s worth clarifying the meaning of the word ‘gift’? It’s a thing given willingly, without payment.

If you want to make a gift to the nation, give us the painting, the drawing, the archive.

Meanwhile pay your tax!