Kitchen sink politics

After the taunting of Ed Miliband over his two (or is it three?) kitchens, you’d have thought “Dave” Cameron would approach giving an interview in his own (only?) kitchen with extreme caution. But no, there he goes, foot in mouth, not thinking properly and lets slip that he doesn’t intend to go for a third term. The campaign chiefs in the Tory party must be having apoplexy – how did they let that happen, driving a coach and horses through their carefully constructed election strategy?

It’s supposed to be Miliband who doesn’t have what it takes to govern, not Cameron. But Cameron has always been a bit superficial, never quite focussing his mind properly on the job: the “essay crisis” Prime Minister who almost broke up the Union because he didn’t put a proper strategy in place for the Scottish referendum. Left it all to the last minute.

Does he really want to be Prime Minister? I get the feeling he finds the whole thing a bit of a bore.

OFSTED at no notice

Had one of those “drop everything” moments this week when a school where I have a governance role had a no-notice inspection. Can’t discuss the details at the moment, but it was an interesting experience.

My previous exposure to OFSTED inspections has always involved some degree of warning (even if just a day). So this was new, and initially quite frightening for everybody involved. Immediate responses needed when everybody is getting on with the job of teaching and running the school, and can’t necessarily “drop everything” to deal with the needs of the inspection team.

However, it does mean that the inspectors get a true picture of the school. This is what it is really like on a normal day (excepting the look of panic on everybody’s faces). No special preparation, no time to tweak the lesson plans. Could it be that I’m coming round to the idea?

Homes for Britain?

The housing crisis goes from bad to worse. In London today there was a rally organised by Homes for Britain to campaign to get housing up the priority list for politicians in the forthcoming General Election.

Where I live in North Essex, many people agree we desperately need more affordable homes. Home ownership is fast becoming a luxury and market rents keep on increasing. The problem is that nobody wants the housing where they live. It’s more than just a NIMBY (“Not in my backyard”) thing. Towns like Saffron Walden and Great Dunmow are already taking huge housing developments, and the politicians have singularly failed to explain how the infrastructure needed for these is to be provided.

At a recent Public Inquiry, the Planning Inspector threw out the Draft Local Plan and told the Council to start again!

Rather than building so much onto existing towns and villages that they collapse under the load, perhaps we should consider a high quality, well designed, new settlement. If so, where should it go? The obvious locations are along the M11 motorway and the railway. Several possibilities, but it needs to be resolved soon if we are to plan effectively for the future.

Sages of our time?

Since listening to Will Self and Andrew Neil at a National Housing Federation conference last week I’ve been reflecting on the social commentary that both of them offered.

Will Self speculated as to whether we are entering a “neo feudal society.” If I understood him correctly, this was an observation about how the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the very few and the growing disintegration of the middle classes were creating a society where a new type of feudalism was at work. This is the reality of the world in which we live and that we have little choice but to accept. We can’t turn the clock back to create a more socialist or “Bevanite” society that is based on a greater degree of equality because it won’t work in the world of today.

Andrew Neil speculated that we are heading for a long period of uncertainty after the election in May. Neither of the two largest parties believe they can win an out-right majority and so both are scrabbling in an increasingly fractious way to be the largest party in the House of Commons. It is unlikely that they will then be able to command a majority with the support of just one other party, so we will see potentially unstable and uncertain government. Labour may try to do a deal with the Scottish Nationalists at its peril, and the Conservatives might try and carry on with the Liberal Democrats and others, although not with an overall majority.

Both speakers were insightful and stimulating – sages of our time. I hope I have represented what they said accurately.

The fragmentation of our political allegiances highlighted by Andrew Neil is an interesting development seen in recent political history. It strikes me that it might link to the “neo feudal society” identified by Will Self. It is a society in which few feel they carry much political clout, many feel they are not served by the political classes and a large proportion of the population work harder and harder for a poor return. It is all rather depressing.

Do you believe in angels?

The gospel reading used by many churches today was from Mark (chapter 1, verses 9 to 15). Mark crams a lot of story into very few words. No sooner has Jesus been baptised than the spirit drives him in to the wilderness.

One line in this reading is often overlooked. It tells us that Jesus was waited on by angels. Mark’s account doesn’t tell us what the angels actually did, and in today’s world believing in angels seems to go a bit against the grain. However, their popularity in terms of our language remains undimmed, we refer to angels when we use phrases such as ‘someone was watching over you’ and ‘my guardian angel.’ We often refer to people working in the health service, particularly nurses, as ‘angels of mercy.’

So, what does it mean to allow ourselves to be waited upon by angels? Do we notice those who minister to us, those who are there to catch us or support us when we fall?

Whenever we are in trouble, may we be waited upon by angels and, as we journey into the wilderness of Lent, may we discover where we are needed to wait upon others. Go on, be an angel!

Church rampant

Good to see the Church of England bishops taking a stand about the need for a “fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be.”

All too often our politicians seem to be descending in to a bitter and negative debate where they try and take pieces out of each other verbally, turning much of the nation off the whole idea of voting. Grievances are exploited as they seek to secure political gain and various groups are scapegoated as a diversion from tackling the real issues.

Our democracy has been hard won and we should be using our democratic freedoms to build a society that is fair, just and in which all can share and participate.


Thanks to an extra screening of the Imitation Game at Saffron Walden’s excellent community cinema, Saffron Screen, I’ve finally managed to see this outstanding and moving film. Not only does it show the achievement of Alan Turing in building what we would today call a computer to crack the Nazi Enigma code during the second world war, but it also shows how his life was eventually destroyed because of the laws that made homosexuality a crime.

All too often we are faced by the appalling consequences of prejudice and intolerance towards those who are  described as being ‘different.’ Today’s world still has much to learn: will we ever realise that there really is no problem with people having different sexualities, being of a different race or following different religions?


Outstanding leadership

No matter how many times governments change the governance of schools and the rules around the exam system, good education is really only achieved in schools that provide great teaching and that understand how students learn. A really good school fosters an appetite for learning and provides an environment in which it is supported and encouraged.

To achieve this, schools require excellent leadership. That is what Saffron Walden County high School has had under head teacher John Hartley for the last twelve years. He will be retiring at the end of 2015, having made a huge impact on the lives of many young people and leaving North West Essex with one of the very best state schools and sixth forms in the country.


Shed a small tear for the last episode of Foyle’s War, having watched the final episode last night. Always good for a thoughtful Sunday evening in front of the fire with a glass of wine.

The storyline (suitably explosive) left me reflecting sadly on the subject of what our nation was left with at the end of the Second World War. In Foyle’s world we found ourselves contemplating a Special Operations Executive that deliberately sent agents to their death rather than admit their networks had been compromised, and an austerity gripped nation that was in the hands of violent spivs on the make working hand in hand with corrupt police officers.

Fast forward to today and Oxfam have published a report saying half of global wealth will be held by 1% of the population as soon as next year. As wealth is concentrated in the hands of the few our world becomes increasingly dangerous, leaving ordinary people powerless, voiceless and unable to secure a fair reward for their labour.  This is hardly the vision that we had for a fairer society after the war. It’s time we listened to Oxfam and all the other organisations arguing for change and a fairer sharing of the world’s resources.



The dreadful events in Paris were supposedly perpetrated in the name of religion. Believers in the world’s major faiths cover a wide spectrum. Sadly when people of any faith adopt fundamentalist positions these can easily result in a lack of tolerance or understanding of those with views different from their own.

Tolerance and understanding are foundations for a civilised society and we lose them at our peril.