Worried Will Young

The best of the politics blogs as brought to you by Paul Evans

Too schooled for cool

When faced with the dilemma of my education, my parents poured over the prospectuses for Poshington College and Gasworks Comprehensive. After much anguished hand-wringing, they came to the right decision. David Cameron has been similarly wrestling with the knotty issue - and has now decided to send his sprogs to London comps (“pathetic!” barked the rather mean Labour Boy).

While the headlines focussed on Cameron's announcement regarding his own offspring, he and Michael Gove were also unveiling policy of substance – most eye-catchingly, encouraging the institutions of civil society to establish schools. Will Rhodes felt that a cross-party consensus on the future of state education is necessary to make any long-term reforms effective – and that local authorities are a malign force in the governance of comprehensive schools, explaining: “I don’t care what the LEAs say - they are as politically motivated as the parties who are kicking them around”.

Letters from a Tory was impressed by the idea of “state funding supporting independent public service providers in the name of social justice,” but concerned that Dave was creating a rod for his own back.

“You turned your nose up at around 15 primaries near your West London home to send your five-year-old daughter to an Anglican state school because you wanted to do what’s best for your children,” he recalled.

But while Cameron's pledge might be interpreted as an act of expedient solidarity with the increasingly hard-up middle classes, the role of his wife Samantha should not be underestimated. As Sam Coates noted some weeks ago on his Red Box blog – she is something of an enthusiast for state education.

In the same week, the Lib Dems unveiled their own education proposals, including a commitment to cut class sizes to 15 and more detail on the party's plans for a Pupil Premium to help disadvantaged children. Islington candidate Bridget Fox joined her party leader for the policy launch at a North London school. She later blogged that Clegg had cracked “that'll put them off,” in response to learning that pupils were to visit Westminster to learn more about politics. Never a truer word said in jest...

What have we learned this week?

On Facebook, Nick Clegg shows his yoof cred by embracing the '25 random things' meme. We learn that his great-great aunt dated HG Wells and that he once wrote a (“terrible”) novel. It couldn't have been worse than Iain Duncan Smith's 'The Devil's Tune,' surely.

Around the World

To New Zealand, where Jafapete on the left of centre Kiwipolitico has been reflecting on Waitangi, the national holiday marking the conclusion of the treaty which made the Maori people British subjects.

Jafapete expressed concern that the idea of national unity is: “often used to conceal the very real differences between the haves and the have nots in society,” while the Green Party's frogblog was impressed by the tone in which the day was observed, citing a: “civil debate about the appropriateness of our national anthem, our flag and our other national symbols without any of the polarising name calling I would have expected in the past”.

Videos of the Week

M.I.A remains pretty hot stuff and she got more records than the KGB. Heavily pregnant (indeed, actually due), her 'Paper Planes' (which samples the Clash's 'Straight to Hell') was nominated for Record of the Year at the Grammys.

M.I.A's father was a pro-Tamil independence activist and she has not been shy in using Tiger imagery – prompting one of the more interesting pop rows of last year, when Sri Lankan-American rapper DeLon accused her (through the medium of the “diss video”) of supporting terrorism - allegations which drew an angry rejection of the charge.

Quote of the Week

“You always know when someone is struggling because they say they are "worried". Will Young was "worried" about every issue, it seemed.”

Iain Dale blogging on the week's BBC Question Time.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.