The EBacc has huge flaws, but those who oppose it are choosing the wrong arguments

By Alex Bryan

On Monday 17 September, Michael Gove officially unveiled what he hopes to be the defining policy of his time as Education Secretary, and indeed a flagship policy of a government that has so far struggled to define itself beyond its austerity measures. The introduction of an English Baccalaureate as a replacement for the much-maligned GCSE is a policy which has on the whole been greeted by a fanfare of approval chiefly motivated by the common belief that GCSEs have become ‘dumbed down’ and ‘soft’.

The initial reaction has involved little scrutiny of the proposed examination which will replace GCSE’s, with the majority of media attention being focussed on the merits of the GCSE as a qualification. The GCSE, Gove claims, is too easy, open to abuse and ‘spoon-feeding’. The steady rise in exam results over the years has been taken as a sign that the exams are failing our youth.

Of course, there are many who oppose Gove’s reforms. On news bulletins in the immediate aftermath of the announcement however, they came across terribly. Head teachers from across the land appeared on television, saying they were worried the new exam would be too rigorous, so hard that students would not pass it.

By all accounts, this is exactly the kind of opposition that Michael Gove would have hoped he would encounter when proposing these changes. The response to this kind of criticism is simply to say that an exam which all pass is failing to do its job.

This objection to the EBacc is playing into the hands of those who have been moaning about GCSE’s for years; it hardly dispels the notion that those who oppose the reforms are ‘soft’, or inclusive to the point of absurdism.

This is a shame. It is a shame because whatever one thinks about GCSE’s as qualification, there are glaring problems with Gove’s proposed replacement. To reject the status quo should not necessarily involved accepting the possible change. Indeed, upon examination, there are parts of the Ebacc which seem incoherent, and some parts which seem quite ridiculous.

Firstly, the proposed 3 hour exam length is simply preposterous. At 16 years old, there is absolutely no reason why an exam should be 3 hours, other than to make a vague point about ‘rigour’. Any French exam should cover reading, writing, listening and oral – what is the benefit of forcing a student to take these all in one mammoth 3 hour stint instead of in separate examinations? By making exams this long, Gove has placed an ability to concentrate for a long period of time above actual knowledge in the hierarchy of skills in the education system.

Secondly, the banishment of modules and coursework, whilst a politically popular move, makes little sense. In some subjects (music, art, dance, drama), modules are simply essential. In others, they are not, but they do make a lot of sense. In many subjects, coursework is the only experience a 16 year old will have of actually doing the subject, rather than learning about it. In geography, history and English, there is a very strong case for saying that coursework, done properly, advances students’ ability in the subject far more than an exam.

Thirdly, it seems that rather than address the central problems of GCSE’s, Gove has simply amended them to make them look more like O-levels. The question of why this exam is at 16, not 18, has not been answered. Now that the school leaving age is 18 rather than 16, it surely makes more sense to have exams at the end of it rather than at 16, when pupils who do badly will want to leave but be forced to stay.

Whilst the policy of the EBacc is hugely flawed, the politics of its introduction has been masterful, so much so that Gove has even been able to manage the criticism of his policy. Those who oppose the EBacc need to define themselves more clearly. One can dislike both GCSE’s and the proposed EBacc. One can think there are good ideas in both of them (the scrapping of competing examination boards is an excellent move). It is not necessary to defend every aspect of GCSE’s in order to oppose the EBacc.

What is most important is that this becomes a substantive policy debate. It is instead threatening to become an O-level love-in, in which everyone over the age of 40 complains about falling standards in the style of Monty Python’s four yorkshiremen. There are parts of the EBacc that should be opposed; instead of decrying it for being too hard, those who do oppose it should be drawing attention to its numerous flaws. It is our best hope of ending up with a better exam system.

Leighton Andrews and the WJEC Fiasco

By Matt Kilcoyne

Since devolution began in 1999 England and Wales have been drifting apart on Education. For example in England sixth forms are still encouraged whilst in Wales colleges have been championed, free schools and academies just don’t have Cambrian equivalents and the curriculum has differed so much that what students learn (in some cases a mere hop across a bridge) in schools separated by a legal border bear no resemblance to one another. Finally, after thirteen years, the two parties and their respective ministers are at loggerheads and the issue of the UK’s ‘post-code lottery’ has come to the fore after Leighton Andrews asked exam board the WJEC to regrade English Language papers if they were sat in Wales.

Leighton Andrews has been in the post as Welsh Education Minister for over 1000 days now and his record is far from glorious. Under his leadership and his party’s control of Wales (Labour has, either alone or in coalition with Plaid Cymru, been in power in Wales since Devolution began) the educational standards have been falling and falling further behind England even whilst pass rates have risen for the past thirty years though the sharper than UK average of the top grades are starting to reflect the poor PISA standards that Wales has collected over the past decade.

Now he has an opportunity to regain the political advantage he has lost with this poor record and is seeking it by adopting the populist position of siding with pupils that have lost out after an exam board cut its grade boundaries and thus the results of thousands of students. The board in question, the WJEC (formerly known as the Welsh Joint Education Committee), has come under intense criticism over the past year for being the worst culprit of grade inflation and advertising themselves as easier than their competitors in the exam market. By demanding a regrade of papers sat in Wales he is using his power of oversight over the exam system in the principality to political effect and, whilst it may mean a number of pupils receive a C grade rather than a D grade and so automatically gain access to colleges and apprenticeships that were under threat, it may have ramifications far beyond his foresight.

His announcement of a regrade from the off, rather than an inquiry or investigation highlights a quirk of devolution that is somewhat unpalatable. Namely, that the Welsh government is the exam regulator in Wales whilst our English counterparts have an independent officiator in Ofqual which, after a review, concluded no such regrade was needed. In other words, the minister who has a political (and thus his career) stake in getting marks upwardly changed actually has the direct ability (with no scrutiny or ability of recall) to demand it on a populist whim. The fact that he has now done this may mean that such a power will be fought against in future and a bizarre difference between England and Wales may lose the minister some devolved powers.

In addition to his own powers being under threat, Leighton Andrews may have inadvertently damned the WJECs future prospects. Parents, schools and employers the length and breadth of England and Wales (the WJEC exams are sat across the two countries) now know that the board has a poor record and questionable results. The consequence, as Gove himself pointed out to a committee of MPs, could mean that ‘in the future English employers could decide that a Welsh exam pass is not the equivalent of a similar pass in England’.

Welsh students may win the short battle but, with the country now aware that political interference is a possibility and reality in modern Wales, they may well lose the war as employers, universities and colleges look down on future results. The answer is to expand independent oversight of exams and to ensure its sovereignty on the issue across England and Wales, to remove politicians from pupils’ results all together and, most importantly, to reform our school and exam system so that it accurately reflects our standards going forward.

Andy Murray Triumphs In New York

Image

By Cressida Smart

After four hours and fifty eight minutes, Andy Murray triumphed against Novak Djokovic in the US Open 2012 men’s final and claimed his maiden grand slam. In a match that stretched to five sets, both players showed their undeniable talent and stamina. It was a night that saw history being made and the culmination of Murray’s hard work, patience and endurance.

At the start of the much hyped final, the first set saw Djokovic lose the first seven points on his own serve and Murray the first three on his as both men were broken in their opening service games. They made many more unforced errors than winners, but given the gusty conditions that forced both to adjust their game the word “unforced” was barely appropriate. There were some exceptionally long rallies, including one of 54 shots in the sixth game of the first set and they were both frequently forced to delay their serves and used more slice than normal.

At 2-2, Djokovic, having saved four break points two games earlier, was broken for a second time after serving two double faults. With Murray leading 4-3, Djokovic broke back and the set went to a tie-break. Djokovic went ahead at 5-3, but Murray dominated thereafter. The Serb saved four set points, the last of them after a 33-stroke rally, before sending a backhand long under attack from the Scot, who finally took the set after 87 minutes when the defending champion was unable to return serve.

In all but the very first of the 14 previous meetings between these two men, the player who won the first set had gone on to win the match. Judging by his play at the start of the second set, it was as if Djokovic was all too aware of that statistic as Murray raced into a 4-0 lead. However, Novak broke both in the next game and again two games later, with Andy sending a forehand long on break point as a gust of wind took control of the ball. Nevertheless, the new world No 3 regrouped and when Djokovic served at 5-6 and 15-30, the Serb put a smash wide. On the first break point Murray put a return of serve into the net, but on the second Djokovic hit a forehand into the tramlines.

At two sets up, it looked like Murray was storming to a straight sets victory against the defending champion. Those who thought Andy would wrap the match up in the three sets underestimated the force of Djokovic. He upped his game with ferocious defending blended with attacking moves at the net. He took the third set 6-2 in 46 minutes and in the fourth, he made the early break. When the Scot served at 3-5, a double fault and three successive errors saw Djokovic level the match. The crowd on its feet roared with excitement.

Incidentally, no one had lost in the US Open men’s final after winning the first two sets since Pancho Gonzalez defeated Ted Schroeder in 1949. It seemed that after four lost finals, Murray was at risk of cementing his reputation as the greatest player never to have won a grand slam. Tied at two sets apiece, Murray broke twice to lead 3-0, only for Djokovic to bring the score back to 3-2. Murray broke again to lead 5-2, after which Djokovic, to boos from the crowd, took a medical time-out to have his legs massaged. The Scot, however, was not to be denied and served out for victory, converting his second championship point when Djokovic hit a return long. He dropped his racket, looked up to the sky and held his head in his hands almost in disbelief. He embraced Djokovic at the net, who said, “Great job, you deserve it”, a sentiment echoed by those watching. Andy Murray finally became a grand slam champion.

In an era that has undoubtedly been dominated by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, two of the greatest players of all time, Murray has worked tirelessly to achieve his goal. Furthermore, he was facing a player who had won four of the previous seven Grand Slam tournaments, including the last three played on hard courts. The Serb had also won both his previous Grand Slam matches against Murray, his friend and rival ever since they first met at an under-12s tournament.

Those three individuals had famously won 29 of 30 tournaments dating as far back as 2005 before Murray’s victory on Monday. The trio made up an intimidating top three in the sport, a frustrating scenario for the rest of the field.

There has never been any doubt about Andy Murray’s talent nor his commitment, both of which he has in abundance. It is his temperament that has been cause for concern. When playing on level ground, Murray was as technically sound as anyone in the game. Yet all it took was a stubborn opponent or a few unforced errors for Murray to start chattering to himself out of frustration and in big games, Murray would become unravelled. He could keep his cool against a lesser opponent, but when facing players on his level or better, the psychological edge seemed to always tilt to the other end of the court for Murray. Match by match, tournament by tournament and season by season, Murray began to control his emotions. The frustration would still show as clearly on his face, but it became harder and harder to see in his game. Murray became capable of withstanding the psychological warfare waged upon him by opponents, the media and his own
expectations.

The presence of Ivan Lendl since early January of this year has been a remarkable influence upon the young Scot. He has remained by his side at matches, giving nothing away under his steel guise. A flicker of a smile came over his face as Murray accepted the US Open 2012 trophy and gave his speech. This is about as much emotion we will see from the Czech. Under his guidance, Murray reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open, the final at Wimbledon and captured Olympic gold in the singles which he did with controlled aggression. The eight-time Grand Slam winner instilled a growing confidence in Murray, encouraging him to reach his full potential. As a result, we have seen less of the angry mutterings and the slamming of the racket. Rarely have partnerships formed in such a short space of time, produced outstanding results. This year, Murray has improved physically, but more importantly, mentally, rising above the pressure from
Great Britain and the media.

When Andy Murray served for the championship, it did not matter when Fred Perry last won a Grand Slam title for Great Britain. It did not matter how many times that Novak Djokovic had psychologically bullied an opponent. It did not matter that he had already lost four title matches in his young career and had blown a 2-0 set lead in the match. He simply played tennis.

Andy Murray can now just be a tennis player. He is no longer Britain’s greatest hope to end a decades-long drought. He is no longer the black sheep of the Big Four. He is no longer tennis’ saddest story.

I will be the first to admit that Murray’s victory was impressive and well deserved. Over the past five years, I have made numerous bets against Andy winning a grand slam and up until now, I was in the money earning myself drinks, dinners and even tickets to a musical. However, I now have an expensive year ahead including treating one friend to an ice cream at Amorino, another to dinner at a Michelin starred restaurant and a third to a weekend in Paris during the French Open. Yet it is definitely worth it. I am happy to see Andy Murray finally win a grand slam and put the critics such as myself, to rest.

Forty Shades of Grey – Simon Stiel interviews Director Nicky Larkin

(C) Nicky Larkin

Simon Stiel spoke to director Nicky Larkin about his documentary Forty Shades of Grey which deals with Israel and Palestine in a “non-narrative” approach.

Millions of people across the world are emotionally invested in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Films about the issue can earn millions at the box office. Documentaries too can attract a lot of attention and long discussions are held about whether they’re pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian. Irish film-maker Nicky Larkin sought to explore the conflict in a different way in his film Forty Shades of Grey.

“I think the problem with most documentaries on this particular conflict, is that the makers already have quite a solid agenda either way, before they even pick up the camera,” Larkin said. “It’s easy to go somewhere for a week, talk only to the people you’re told to, go where you’re brought, and have all your beliefs in a cause or situation affirmed.  It’s not propaganda, it’s done in good faith, but it’s usually very one sided.”

Larkin’s approach was shaped during his studies of Fine Art at Galway-Mayo IT and  Chelsea College, London.  “I originally studied painting, then towards the last year or two of college I began to experiment with video – just playing around with little camcorders and editing and stuff like that,” he explained.  “I was also interested in sound, and began to experiment simultaneously with that too; recording sounds and making loops and layers and then juxtaposing these with images.  Gradually it became more refined, and I developed a style of making work.  I don’t think a piece of art has to be conceptual; the things I make films about are very real issues, but it doesn’t mean they have to be approached in a way that documentary has traditionally become.” Larkin’s first short film was about Pripyat near Chernobyl and he explored the Moycross and Southill estates in Limerick in Beyond the Roundabout?

The Israeli incursion into Gaza in 2009 sparked Larkin’s interest. “In the Irish media this was painted as a complete massacre; a genocide.  It really stirred up a lot of emotion. I applied for funding from the Irish Arts Council to go to the Middle East.  I wanted to see if it was as one-sided as we were told, and as I had believed it was.  I basically wanted to see it for myself, and see if I was right.”

Eight weeks were spent in Israel and Palestine and Larkin was accompanied by Gary Hoctor as the producer and sound-recordist. Through narration or by having the camera follow them on as they explore the territory, other directors have made their presence felt in film. In contrast, Larkin doesn’t appear. “I prefer to allow the subjects to do the talking,” he said.

(C) Nicky Larkin

A musical soundtrack was not recorded. In place of music, the sounds of the scene were used to link the viewer to the action on screen.

“I manipulate sounds recorded on location, loop them, layer them, so there is sometimes detached sounds going  on. With the combination of the image it creates a sort of meditative atmosphere,” Larkin said.  “It’s not to everybody’s tastes; in parts it’s designed to irritate or make the viewer feel uncomfortable – to mirror the feeling of being in some of these situations on screen.  It’s not too comfortable to be getting tear-gassed or fired upon! “

Another form of viewer interaction was through facebook. Persuading Israelis to talk to the camera was a challenge. “We understood why; we were Irish, a known hostile country and we had a camera.  I think most people thought we were there to do a hatchet-job.  So we set up the facebook page for the project and each day after we did an interview, we posted a little segment of the interview on the page.  We allowed for comment and interaction, and the page soon built up a following.  Issues we discussed and it became something of a forum.  This added legitimacy to the project in a strange way, and people trusted us a bit more.”

That trust led to discussions not just about the conflict with the Palestinians, but about the treatment of sub-Saharan African refugees and the disagreements Jewish Israelis have about Israel’s current constitutional arrangements.

“One thing that struck me while interviewing virtually all of the Israelis was how bitter they were about the situation where the Ultra Orthodox don’t serve in the army,” Larkin explained.  “There was a lot of anger on that issue, I felt it had to be included in the film because it kept coming up in every single interview.  The general consensus was that it wasn’t fair that this section of society didn’t contribute, whether that be through army service or taxes.”

When interviewing Palestinians, Larkin also recorded a discussion about domestic violence in the Balata refugee camp and the effects the separation wall in the West Bank is having on the environment.

As well as meeting Israeli and Palestinian members of the public, Larkin also met with Ultra Orthodox families who believe they have a biblical entitlement to East Jerusalem. He was also shocked by what Hind Khoury, the former Palestinian ambassador to France said about suicide bombings: “I was personally quite shocked by this woman who first went to great lengths to tell us what a westernised and modern woman she was, then refuse to condemn the suicide bombers actions as criminal.  Not only that but to label them martyrs!”

The original cut ran for seven hours and it was reduced to 83 minutes. After screenings in Dublin, London, Krakow, Ottawa, Montreal and Ontario, it is hoped to be released to more film festivals this autumn. Canamedia is responsible for the DVD release.

It’s an observation by journalists or documentary makers that if you’re attacked from both sides, you’re doing a good job. Larkin talked about the audience reactions during the Canadian tour: “I had a lot of walk-outs, mainly from elderly Jews.  They seemed to have come expecting some kind of pro-Israel propaganda piece, and were disappointed that the Arabs got their airtime too. There seems to be a bit of a discrepancy between the Jewish diaspora and the actual Israeli citizens themselves.  But what interested me was that in Ireland Forty Shades of Grey was branded as Zionist propaganda, then in Canada some of the Jews thought it was pro-Palestine propaganda!  But I must be doing something right if I piss off both sides!  At least the Jews and the Arabs can agree on something – they all hate Forty Shades of Grey!!!”

Reactions aside, Larkin wrote in the Irish Independent that he went on a “new intellectual” journey while making the film. “I think it makes for more interesting viewing.  Nobody wants to watch a propaganda piece.  Well maybe some people do!  It all goes back to what I said earlier; you can find a hundred videos on youtube that back up whatever it is you want to believe in.  But it’s more interesting and ultimately more worthwhile to challenge your prejudices; to go out and experience, see for yourself, instead of just swallowing up what’s presented to you and shitting it out for the next goon to consume and regurgitate. I think it’s ultimately more powerful for a viewer to form his/her own opinion on an issue, as opposed to being hit over the head with a sledgehammer and told what to think!  I present the information and let the viewer take it all in and come to their own conclusions.”

Cameron’s Reshuffle: A Wasted Opportunity

By Tom Hollywood

Today, David Cameron is due to announce the results of his first major reshuffle as Prime Minister. The big movers in ministerial posts appear to be Ken Clarke, Andrew Mitchell and Baroness Warsi. Although Cameron is avoiding any major changes, having told voters that he wants to give ministers time enough in their jobs to become ‘experts’ in their field, there is no doubt that the changes at the top of government today will have an effect on the coalition and their popularity with the public.

The main mover today will be Kenneth Clarke, who will be dismissed from his post as Minister for Justice and instead given a non-specific role in the coalition government. Clarke has been a wise, old head at the government’s top table. He is as far as possible a liberal Conservative and this is presumably what has caused him to be knifed by Cameron. Moving Clarke will prove a mistake for Cameron, and one I believe he will come to regret. Clarke has done some excellent work during tough economic times at the justice ministry. As colleagues of his have pointed out, Clarke has managed to reform the legal system to fit in with these tough austere times whilst implementing cuts that firstly, are largely not meant to pander to right-wing backbenchers, and secondly have stayed out of the news. Furthermore, Clarke has neutralised Prison Officers’ Association and as pointed out ‘you hardly hear a pip out of the barristers’.

The truth is that Cameron realises Clarke’s worth, otherwise he would not be retaining him as either a roving economic advisor or on the National Security Council (both of which are roles being muted for Ken at the moment). The removal of Clarke therefore is an obvious move by Cameron to rout his leadership of the liberal thinking that led him to become PM so as to placate angry Tory backbenchers and position himself closer to his right-wing. This undoubtedly populist move is a naïve one from Cameron and one he will regret.

In other news Baroness Warsi, the first Muslim member of the Cabinet is to lose her job as Tory party chair, presumably to make room for yet another full-blooded right-wing Tory. Cameron again will ensure he retains Warsi so as to ensure he maintains the presence of a face in the cabinet that can connect to minorities and women alike. It seems that Cameron is intent on repositioning the Tory right in a stronger position so as to placate his backbenchers yet ensuring that high-ranking ministers are not moved too far so as to ensure the public still sees the Cameroonians that they elected leading the coalition charge.

Andrew Mitchell has been moved to chief whip, a job he has always fancied, and as such a role has opened up at International Development. Mitchell is a close ally of the Chancellor George Osborne’s and as such will ensure that the party is kept in toe with Osborne’s plan A, although we will undoubtedly hear mutterings against the plan by those left out of the reshuffle or demoted who feel they deserve preferential treatment from Cameron. As for Mitchell’s former post, many top ministers are being tipped to move around including the likes of Jeremy Hunt and any of these could fill the role.

In other important changes Andrew Lansley is set to lose his job over the NHS debacle that has plagued the coalition from its very beginnings. It is likely however that, no matter who his successor will be, they will find changes to the NHS very hard to sell and that post is likely to be a poisoned chalice for the remainder of the government’s term. Whether Lansley himself will be retained is questionable. He certainly doesn’t deserve to and he is one of the most unpopular ministers in the government.

Within the Lib Dem’s it is unlikely that too much movement will occur. Despite calls from Tory right-wingers for Vince Cable to be chopped from Business Secretary this would infuriate Lib Dems and the public alike and as such will not happen. David Laws is expected to return and it will be interesting to see Labour’s reaction to this and likewise the public reaction to Labour’s own reaction. Any attacks on Laws, who many saw as forced out of government through little fault of his own may cause a negative reaction against the Labour Party.

We can conclude from the reshuffle that Cameron has avoided making any large scale changes. If Cameron wanted to fix the economy he would be better off removing Osborne, rather than strengthening him by moving a close ally into the position of Chief Whip. Cameron’s reshuffle is a quite blatant attempt to placate Tory right-wing unease, although how far this will work is doubtful. This is a very limited reshuffle and Cameron has made moves for all the wrong reasons. Although keeping the coalition together is undoubtedly a big job and inherently important for the government, surely Cameron must realise soon that the only way his party will remain in government at the next election is if the economy is recovering. This reshuffle has not even begun to address that issue.

Green Party Election

By Matt Kilcoyne

One more make-or-break election has just taken place in the UK that has the possibility of shaping the face of politics in this country for the next few years. Perhaps I exaggerate but that was the intended aim of the Green Party Leadership election and each of the contenders had a vision for the next decade that aimed at making the party the third largest, overtaking the embattled Liberal Democrats, in so doing bringing their members’ cares and concerns to the forefront of political discourse.

The Green party’s members had quite an array of candidates, ranging from the far-left eco-socialist Romayne Phoenix to the self-made Peter Cranie and even a jaguar driving business woman in the form of Pippa Burlotti. For a party that received a meagre 0.9% of the vote in the 2010 election, yet still managed to return an MP, the sheer variety in the four leadership contenders is either a testament to the ‘Big Tent’ of the Green Party or a sign of a lack of definition as to what the Green Party is for. This election was an attempt to change that and provide, along with their ubiquitous MP in Caroline Lucas (Brighton North, MP), a Green voice on the national stage. If those were the two aims then with their choice today of Natalie Bennett they can at least be assured of the latter if not the former.

The Australian born journalist turned politician has seemingly worked everywhere and in every industry. She professes to have worked as a cleaner in a nightclub, on a factory production line, as an ‘Austrlian Volunteer Abroad’ and as a journalist in various guises across the world, from native New South Wales to Bangkok and finally as the editor of ‘The Guardian Weekly’ from 2007 to 2012. She joined the Green Party in 2006 as part of a New Years Resolution and hasn’t looked back since, being the founding chair of Green Party Women she has forced the issue of women’s participation to the mainstream of the party.

In all of this Natalie Bennett isn’t exactly the radical new politics that the Green Party claims to promote. She has expanded female participation in the party and speaks of extending her model to ‘other under-represented groups, including working-class members’ to break with what many see as a middle class bias, although, she is vague on how this would happen apart from merely being ‘active locally’. Natalie damns the Government’s economic policy as ‘illiterate’ and calls for investment in, you guessed it, energy conservation and renewable energy production.

So far so humdrum Green but the issue of this election is what this means for the UK. I say for the UK but I mean for England and Wales; the Green Party’s structure split the UK in 1990 into three parts so there is a party of Northern Ireland, of Scotland and of ‘England and Wales’. What it means for the political discourse of the nation is that there is now two public speakers for the party to appear at events and on national television making the case for the cause. This is an essential part of the marketing strategy that the party is employing, seeing that the Liberal Democrats natural voters are being alienated having shackled themselves in government the Green Party wants to attract them and tack the nation to the left in their own vision.

At present and it must be noted that we are roughly half-way through an unpopular parliament the Greens with their first MP have failed to make many inroads into the political environment, stuck on around 2-3% in the polls (a big mark up from 0.9% perhaps but hardly a breakthrough). In the meantime Labour have hoovered up Lib Dem voters and UKIP have absorbed lost Conservative votes to take them into regularly receiving double digit polls.

It’s here that the Green Party members have perhaps been the most savvy, for its exposure that gets you listened to by the average member of the public and Natalie Bennett can deliver on that through her connections in the media (especially the left leaning media). We can expect in the coming weeks and months for the Green Party (of England and Wales) to receive a sympathetic hearing from her friends in the Guardian and perhaps with her media nous she will manage in her aim of breaking ‘out of the Guardian ghetto into the higher circulation tabloid papers’.

Time will tell but there’s a distinct possibility that is Labour ignore the working classes in favour of more fertile middle class ground that the Green Party’s position on increasing lower wages, populist higher taxes on the rich and the rhetoric of investment not austerity will, with increased media attention, start to galvanise support for this minor party. By playing safe with policy but going for gold with media savvy the Green Party might just start to be seen, heard and perhaps even listened to.

What we learned at the Republican National Convention

(C) cletch

By Alex Bryan

Given that Mitt Romney has been the Republican Presidential candidate-in-waiting for many months now, it is tempting to suggest that the Republican National Convention last week was nothing more than a rubber stamp, or an excuse for Republicans from all over the nation to come together and celebrate their vision for America. The delaying of the Convention due to adverse weather dampened the party atmosphere initially, but by the end of the event, there was a tangible sense of optimism emanating from Tampa.

Romney’s poll ratings have not had the dramatic boost that John McCain enjoyed 4 years ago, but that is to be expected; McCain’s Convention bump was essentially artificial, and based on the short-lived and limited popularity of the then little-known Alaskan Sarah Palin. However, this does not mean that nothing of substance can be taken from the convention. In fact a number of things can:

1 – The Republicans might not love Romney, but they are unified behind him.

Much has been made of the Republican Party’s lukewarm response to Mitt Romney throughout the primary period. Indeed, the process could be seen as a series of unsuccessful attempts from other Republicans to expose Romney’s obvious weaknesses. The initial enthusiasm for Rick Perry, the surprisingly sustained support for Rick Santorum and the recurrence of the names of Chris Christie and Mitch Daniels (among others) showed how little excitement there was that Romney appeared to be the candidate in pole position. As is the way of the GOP though, now that the die is cast, the party is uniting around him. Save for a few eclectic Ron Paul obsessives, the party has rallied round Romney on the basis of a common enemy; few Republicans are passionate about the prospect of President Romney, but all Republicans loathe the idea of four more years for President Obama.

2. The Tea Party is dead – for now

For the last 4 years, in the struggle to redefine itself post-George Bush, the GOP has been tempted by the ideological zeal and undoubted passion of the Tea Party movement. It could be argued that the whitewash in the 2010 elections was partly down to Tea Party turnout, even if the more radically right-wing candidates such as Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle and Ken Buck lost key Congressional races. In 2012 however, the Tea Party is no longer the dominant force of conservative politics in American politics. Rosie Gray at Buzzfeed noted that none of the primetime speakers even said the words ‘Tea Party.’ Even if the Tea Party is still the ideological support of a great deal of Republican policy, its existence as an independent body is no longer acknowledged publically; it has been subsumed by the wider Republican Party.

3. Romney’s lack of personal charisma may not be a problem

A common criticism of Mitt Romney is that he is too robotic, that he lacks the human warmth that Barack Obama so exudes. The RNC confirmed this assumption, but also suggests that this is less of a problem than some might think. Mitt Romney is not running a campaign which relies on being liked. It is an essentially nostalgic campaign – the content of Romney’s speech (such as invoking the memory of Neil Armstrong) aligned with the style of it. Romney is hoping that his lack of sparkle will work as a plus point, an attraction for an electorate looking for a Richard Nixon after discovering that President Obama is not John Kennedy.

4. Mitt Romney is running for CEO of America – and the election will hinge on whether the public thinks that is enough.

Another common criticism of Romney is that he is so focussed on business that it feels as though he is running to be CEO rather than President of American. But the fact that this is so often levied as a criticism is missing the point. Despite his rather murky record at Bain Capital, Mitt Romney knows if he can frame this election as one where the central issue is that of the economy, he has an excellent chance of winning. President Obama’s campaign has been one focussed on exposing the more radical aspects of Republican policy so far, focussing on Paul Ryan’s Medicare plans and the nationwide Republican effort to halt abortions. The candidates are fighting two different battles; whoever is President in 2013 will have been the candidate who was most successful in persuading America that theirs is the one worth joining.

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