Archive for the Politics Category

The End of the Common Travel Area?

Posted in Biographical, Cardiff, Politics with tags , , on June 14, 2019 by telescoper

I’m back in Cardiff for a couple of days after flying from Dublin this morning.

When my flight arrived at Cardiff Airport there was yet again a full passport and immigration check on all passengers.

There is supposed to be a Common Travel Area including the UK and Ireland (as well as the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man), and passport checks are not supposed to be made routinely at borders within the CTA.

I have noticed passport checks happening at Cardiff Airport before (e.g. here and here) but I’ve previously imagined there was some specific reason for them. Passport checks have, however, been carried out every time I have arrived in Cardiff recently and it is now abundantly clear that there has been a material change of policy.

When I got to the desk and handed over my passport I asked the Officer whether these checks were being imposed all the time now. She said yes: there are now full passport and immigration checks on all flights to Cardiff from Dublin.

This is from the UK Government’s website:

Well, if they check all passengers on all flights then that sounds like ‘routine’ to me. In other words the British authorities are violating the Common Travel Area agreement just weeks after undertaking to uphold it.

Did someone say ‘Perfidious Albion’?

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Ten Little Englanders

Posted in Politics on June 11, 2019 by telescoper

Starring an illustrious cast of sociopaths, liars and drug addicts, Ten Little Englanders is an adaptation of one of Agatha Christie’s most famous detective stories, usually known by its less offensive title And Then They Were None.

Plot Summary: A group of of ten people find themselves on a small isolated island off the coast of Europe, lured there by the promise of a job as Prime Minister. One by one they all perish, stabbed in the back apparently by each other. But who could have struck the last blow? (continued, page 94).

Michael Gove on Drugs

Posted in Politics with tags , , on June 10, 2019 by telescoper

Michael Charlie Gove

After Michael Gove’s admission of past cocaine use, I confess I am not sure what line to take. On the one hand, a criminal offence of this type is not to be sneezed at, but on the other I may be slightly prejudiced by the fact that he has always got up my nose anyway. I imagine, however, that most readers will agree that he has made himself look a right Charlie and may have blown his chances of a position of powder. (Shurely “power”? Ed.) Unless, of course, he gets some sort of joint appointment. It’s more likely however that he will be kicked into the long grass.

On a serious note, I think there are huge problems with the way society criminalizes drug users not least because the privileged classes are far less likely to be charged than others guilty of the same offence. I don’t think custodial offences are the right way to deal with drug users, neither do I think that a person like Michael Gove should get off without punishment when others do not.

Given that Mr Gove has admitted to possession and use of a Class A drug it seems not unreasonable for him to be charged by the Police. If he pleads guilty he should perhaps get a suspended sentence but the crime he has committed should be entered on his record, with all that implies for his future job prospects (which are hopefully zero anyway).

UPDATE: Today Chris Grayling admitted to having tried coke once – but he couldn’t get the can up his nose.

The English Higher Education Funding Mess

Posted in Biographical, Education, Politics with tags , , , , on June 2, 2019 by telescoper

One of the items that sneaked out in the news last week was the Augar report on the future of post-18 education and funding in England. A review led by a former equities broker was never likely to be friendly to the higher education sector, and so it seems to have turned out.

The headline recommendation that the level of tuition fee should be reduced from £9250 to £7500 seems to me rather silly: it’s enough of a reduction to cause serious financial problems to universities if the shortfall is not replaced by increased teaching grants  but not enough to make a qualitative difference to students. In fact, since the report also recommends reducing the threshold for repaying student loans, and increasing the term over which they will be repaid, many graduates will end up paying significantly more in the long run.

To be fair the Augar report does recommend:

Government should replace in full the lost fee income by increasing the teaching grant, leaving the average unit of funding unchanged at sector level in cash terms.

Unfortunately, I can easily see a Conservative government implementing the cut in tuition fees but not making up the difference with grants.

As I have blogged about before (many times e.g here) the current level of resource is insufficient to fund teaching STEM disciplines properly. This graphic is from a few years ago, but the situation has not changed significantly:

The annual cost per student in Arts and Humanities disciplines is typically around £6K whereas for STEM disciplines the figure is typically over £10K. The former are effectively subsidizing the latter in the current system. If the maximum fee chargeable is £7.5K then this subsidy will be impossible. Bear in mind also that a slice of the fee is used to fund bursaries and other schemes for widening participation, so only a fraction of that funding is available to be redistributed. It’s a system that is stacked against STEM disciplines already, and that will only get worse if the Augar proposals are implemented.

Another problem with the stance taken by the `independent panel’ is that it seems to regard the only useful courses to be those that lead to high earnings upon graduation. There is even a call to cut funding for course that do not produce `outputs’ that are paid high wages.  I find it profoundly depressing that the purpose of a university is reduced to such an empty utilitarian level. Is this what the education system is to become?

Increasing their future earning potential may indeed be why some people go to university, and good luck to them if it is, but others are driven by quite different goals. Anyone who wants to be a research scientist, for example, faces years of low salaries and insecure contracts until, if they’re lucky, they get a secure job with a decent wage. In this case and no doubt in countless others, students go to university because learning is and end in itself.

While I am critical about the Augar review’s narrow-minded view of higher education, I will give credit where it is due and point out that it does recommend the re-introduction of maintenance grants which, if implemented, would be a positive.

When I went to University (in 1982) I was the first in my family ever to go to university. I’m also, at least as far as my immediate family goes, the last. However, in those days there was no need for a First Generation Scholars scheme: there were no tuition fees and, because I don’t come from a wealthy background, I qualified for a full maintenance grant. Life (in Cambridge) as an undergraduate student on a grant was fairly comfortable. Times have changed a lot. Many more people go to university nowadays, but the price is that support for those who don’t have access to family funds is now spread very thinly. There are no full maintenance grants, and the fees are very high. Looking back, though, I don’t think it would have been the tuition fees that might have deterred me from going to university. After all, they don’t have to be paid back until after graduation, and when one’s income exceeds a certain level. What would have made a difference would have been the withdrawal of maintenance. Without the grant, I simply wouldn’t have been able to study without getting a job. Apart from the amount of work involved in doing my degree, the recession of the early 1980s meant that jobs were very hard to come by.

In summary, then, I think UK universities are right to be worried about, especially as it comes on top of the damage already being done by Brexit. But Brexit has also induced a paralysis in Westminster that means the legislation needed to enact the Augar recommendations is unlikely to be forthcoming any time soon. Although that means that cuts – and let’s face it, that’s what this review is about – are likely to be delayed, the uncertainty will make it difficult for universities to plan their finances.

To summarize the summary: it’s a mess and I’m glad I’m out of it. As I wrote a in 2018, after I’d decided to move to my current position in Ireland:

Oh, and there’s neither a Research Excellence Framework nor a Teaching Excellence Framework nor a Knowledge Exchange Framework nor punitive levels of student tuition fees nor any of the many other idiocies that have been inflicted on UK* universities in recent years. It will be a relief to be able to teach and do research in environment which, at least for the time being, regards these as things of value in themselves rather than as means of serving the empty cycle of production and consumption that defines the modern neoliberal state. Above all, it’s a good old-fashioned professorship. You know, teaching and research?

*To clarify, these idiocies are mainly of English origin, but the devolved systems of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have had to deal with the consequences so they have been inflicted on the entire United Kingdom.

I just hope Ireland resists the temptation to destroy its own education system. Recent history does reveal a remarkable willingness to implement stupid ideas from across the Irish Sea but perhaps Brexit will put a stop to that.

 

Hondootedly John Cole…

Posted in Biographical, Politics with tags , , , on May 30, 2019 by telescoper

I mentioned that Pat Kenny mistakenly called me `John Cole’ at the start of my interview on NewsTalk Radio a couple of days ago. He admitted that he was thinking of the late and much lamented BBC Political Editor of that name. John Cole was born in Belfast and his voice was frequently heard in pieces to camera as he talked about the great issues of the day. This sparked Private Eye to run a piece in almost every issue, mocking his strong Ulster accent, entitled John Cole writes. Here’s an example, from Issue No. 641:

This one is fairly topical as it is on the subject of the 1986 Divorce Referendum in Ireland which was on whether to remove the constitutional ban on divorce. That vote failed, but the vote held on Friday went completely in the other direction with 82% in favour of removing the ban.

 

 

Winners and Losers

Posted in Biographical, Crosswords, Politics with tags , , on May 30, 2019 by telescoper

Hopefully the hecticity of the last week or so will now begin to die down and I can get on with the rest of my examination marking, which I hope to complete today.

Now to a couple of updates.

Yesterday I took delivery of the above book. Regular readers of this blog will probably not recall that I won the Financial Times Crosssword competition way back in February. The prize never arrived so I contacted them to ask what had happened. It must have got lost in the post, but they kindly sent a replacement which arrived promptly. The book is not a dictionary, but is about the story of the creation of one – the Oxford English Dictionary to be precise. I look forward to reading it!

The other matter to be updated concerns the Irish Elections to the European Parliament. The counting of these proved to be a slow process but watching the regular updates on the web as votes were transferred is actually rather fascinating. It’s surprisingly difficult to predict where second choice votes of eliminated candidates will end up. The Green Party seems rather `transfer-friendly’, for example, whereas Sinn Féin is not.

In my own constituency of Midlands-North-West it took thirteen rounds of counting to pick the four MEPs: one for Sinn Féin, two for Fine Gael and one strange but probably harmless Independent. The turnout was about 50%. I think Fianna Fáil made a tactical error by fielding two candidates: neither had enough first-preference votes to make the cut.

I was worried that the dreadful Peter Casey might sneak in in fourth place but he fell well short of the required transfers, though he still got a worryingly large number of votes. The Irish Media are making the same mistake pandering to him as they have done in the UK with Nigel Farage: he gets far more airtime than the other candidates despite being obviously unfit for office.

Elswhere, Dublin elected MEPs from the Green Party (1), Fine Gael (1) and Fianna Fáil (1) and one Independent standing under the banner of `Independents for Change’ (I4C). The incumbent Sinn Féin candidate Lynn Boylan lost her seat. The 4th candidate here will only take a seat in the European Parliament if and when the United Kingdom leaves the EU.

As I write there’s a recount going on in Ireland South, but it looks like the winners will be Fine Gael (2), Fianna Fáil (1), I4C (1) and the fifth (who will only take up a seat after Brexit) will probably be from the Green Party. It looks like incumbent Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada (and unsuccessful candidate for the Presidency) will lose her seat, but the count is very close: only a few hundred votes are in it, hence the recount. UPDATE: in fact there will be a full recount of the whole ballot, which could take weeks.

Overall it’s clear that the losers are Sinn Féin, who lost two MEPs (and also about half their councillors in the local elections). After appearing to improve their vote share in recent years this is a definite reverse for them. The party that gained the most is the Green Party, with (probably) two MEPs and a strong showing in Midlands-North-West. I wonder if they can keep this momentum going for a General Election?

Interestingly, unlike the rest of the `United’ Kingdom Northern Ireland uses the Single Transferable Vote system for European Elections too. There Sinn Féin came top of first preferences and won one seat, with another for the Alliance and one for the DUP. That’s two-to-one in favour of `Remain’.

Talking and Marking

Posted in Biographical, Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , on May 28, 2019 by telescoper

I’m taking a short break from my examination marking to have a cup of tea before I resume and make an attempt to finish it this evening. I’m late today because I had to go into Dublin to do an interview on NewsTalk Radio with a chap called Pat Kenny.

I was supposed to go on about 11.15 and was told to get to their HQ by 11am. I got there a bit earlier in fact and had to sit around a bit in the offices before going into the studio and then my bit was delayed because they wanted to play an audio recording of some bloke called Tony Blair pointing out, with devastating insight, that the United Kingdom is a very divided country.

After a bit of a delay  for that and a commercial break we finally got going nearer to 11.30. The subject of the interview was, of course, the Einstein-Eddington-Eclipse-Extravaganza taking place tomorrow. Pat Kenny introduced me as `John Coles from Maynooth University’, obviously thinking of John Cole, the former BBC political correspondent. Remember him? Anyway, I corrected him it and it went reasonably well from then on.

Unfortunately I’ve got a bit of a cold so I’ve been coughing and spluttering a bit and was a bit worried I would sneeze into the microphone but got through it reasonably well. I’ve done one or two bits of radio before, including an encounter with John Humphreys on BBC Radio 4, which that was about the anniversary of the publication of Stephen Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time.

Anyway after this morning’s interview was finished I was asked if I minded recording a little video about the topic I’d been talking about so I went with a nice young man into a very small  but very brightly lit room. I think it will probably look like a hostage video, but I’ll post it here if and when I find it. I gather they will put it up somewhere tomorrow, along with a podcast of the Pat Kenny show.

Now back to the marking.