Green Queen v Greene King

Marina takes on a brewery and drinks them into defeat plus advice on keeping the Wolfowitz from the

Dear Marina,

I, like you, hold leadership aspirations. I am a much better future prime than that young Blairite from Eton. How can I maximise the promotion of my world class fiscal credentials on the back of this Wolfowitz saga?

GB, London

Gordie, if you with your fiscal fingers or that spliffing toff from the Dark Side are serious about leadership, gently close the door on the World Bank and walk away.

This unhealthy obsession with carting money around the globe hinders progress. At the unleashing of Transition Town Lewes this week, it became evident we need to localise cash flows, not globalise them.

As we ease gently into a low carbon economy – necessitated by post peak oil and global warming issues - communities must become more self reliant. That includes becoming self financing. What we don’t need right now is big banks telling us we can borrow money but only on conditions that favour the financial institution rather than the enterprises they purport to help.

Communities must issue their own currency that can only be spent locally. If you can’t work it out Gordie, step aside. The world needs ME right now, far more than it needs either of you two. Up the revolution!

Dear Marina

Great to see you in the Lewes Arms last night. How’s your head?
Up the revolution!

Andi, Transition Town Lewes

What do you think? So much to celebrate and we’re still six days off the culmination of Operation Destroy the Dark Side. Hangover aside, I am effervescing with the excitement of it all.

A once local brewery gets gobbled up by the international scene. Some plonker in an office somewhere makes an unfortunate decision. He removes the local grog, Harveys, from the tap because he thinks this will improve sales of the company’s non local own brand ale.

DOH! This being Lewes – epicentre of the burgeoning revolution – direct action was inevitable. Hence for months we’ve all been drinking elsewhere while the dedicated picketed the Lewes Arms.

Greene King apparently recognises the stirrings of a baying mob when confronted with it, and thus, eventually, it capitulated. Harveys is back on tap and it is once again possible to drink ethically while revolting.

Globalised capitalism nil, power to local people, one point. God, I love Lewes.

Dear Marina

I understand you are trying to organise new places to grow food in our community. I love gardening but I’m disabled and need raised beds. I couldn’t cope with an allotment. But I’d love to get involved with a shared community garden. Is that possible?

Sue, East Saltdean near Brighton

PS: I voted for you and the LibDem team and I made my dad vote LibDem as well. He normally votes Conservative

Thank you for voting for us. We will do you, your dad, our community and the world proud when we win on 3rd May.

With the collapse of Communism, that other revolutionary hotbed – Cuba – found itself without an oil supply. It was forced over night into a low carbon economy. The number one priority was to feed the people and so land, rooftops and open spaces were commandeered for food production.

A military parade ground, for instance had its paving slabs pulled up. These were used to create raised beds.

Need, in this case was the mother of invention. Here in Blighty, of course, hardly anyone has noticed a similar need hurtles towards us faster than a bolting Apocalyptic horse.

With just 20 years to save our selves - we will starve once we’ve run out of small oil rich nations to invade - now is the time to reclaim the land, start growing and pass on cultivation skills.

So yes, Sue. Together we will make this happen. But first we have to stop the Tories. For as you well know, should the Tories take over our town on 3rd May, there is, I fear, no hope for this world.

All offers of help, especially money, for Operation Destroy the Dark Side to 77 Oaklands Avenue East Saltdean Brighton BN2 8PB. Cheques made payable to Lewes LibDems. Or email votepepper@yahoo.com

Marina Pepper is a former glamour model turned journalist, author, eco-campaigner and Lib Dem politician. A councillor and former Parliamentary candidate, she lives near Brighton with her two children.
Why not e-mail your problems to askmarina@newstatesman.co.uk?
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"Michael Gove is a nasty bit of work": A Thatcherite's lonely crusade for technical colleges

Kenneth Baker, Margaret Thatcher's education secretary, has been in a war of words with one of his successors. 

When I meet Kenneth Baker, once Margaret Thatcher’s reforming education secretary, conversation quickly turns to an unexpected coincidence. We are old boys of the same school: a sixth-form college in Southport that was, in Baker’s day, the local grammar. Fittingly for a man enraged by the exclusion of technical subjects from the modern curriculum, he can only recall one lesson: carpentry.

Seven decades on, Lord Baker – who counts Sats, the national curriculum, league tables, and student loans among his innovations – is still preoccupied with technical education. His charity, the Baker Dearing Educational Trust, oversees university technical colleges (UTCs), the specialist free schools that work with businesses and higher education institutions to provide a vocational curriculum for students aged 14-19. He is also a working peer, and a doughty evangelist for technical education and apprenticeships in the upper chamber. 

But when we meet at the charity’s glass-panelled Westminster office at 4 Millbank, he is on the defensive – and with good reason. Recent weeks have been particularly unkind to the project that, aged 82, he still works full-time to promote. First, a technical college in Oldham, Greater Manchester, became the seventh to close its doors since 2015. In three years, not one of its pupils passed a single GCSE, and locals complained it had become a “dumping ground” for the most troubled and disruptive children from Oldham’s other schools (Baker agrees, and puts the closure down to “bad governorship and bad headship”). 

Then, with customary chutzpah, came Michael Gove. In the week of the closure, the former education secretary declared in his Times column that the UTCs project had failed. "The commonest error in politics," he wrote, quoting Lord Salisbury, "is sticking to the carcasses of dead policies". Baker is now embroiled in a remarkable – and increasingly bitter – war of words with his successor and one-time colleague.

It wasn't always this way. In 2013, with UTCs still in their infancy, he told the New Statesman the then education secretary was “a friend”, despite their disagreements on the curriculum. The bonhomie has not lasted. In the course of our hour-long conversation, Gove is derided as “a nasty bit of work”, “very vindictive”, “completely out of touch”, and “Brutus Gove and all the rest of it”. (Three days after we speak, Baker renews their animus with a blistering op-ed for The Telegraph, claiming Gove embraced UTCs about as warmly as “an undertaker”.)

In all of this, Gove, who speaks warmly of Baker, has presented himself as having been initially supportive of the project. He was, after all, the education secretary who gave them the green light. Not so, his one-time colleague says. While David Cameron (Baker's former PA) and George Osborne showed pragmatic enthusiasm, Gove “was pretty reluctant from the word go”.

“Gove has his own theory of education,” Baker tells me. He believes Gove is in thrall to the American educationalist E.D. Hirsch, who believes in focusing on offering children a core academic diet of subjects, whatever their background. "He doesn’t think that schools should worry about employability at all," Baker says. "He thinks as long as you get the basic education right, everything will be fine. That isn’t going to happen – it isn’t how life works!" 

Baker is fond of comparing Gove’s heavily academic English baccalaureate to the similarly narrow School Certificate he sat in 1951, as well as the curriculum of 1904 (there is seldom an interview with Baker that doesn’t feature this comparison). He believes his junior's divisive tenure changed the state sector for the worse: “It’s appalling what’s happening in our schools! The squeezing out of not only design and technology, but drama, music, art – they’re all going down at GCSE, year by year. Now children are just studying a basic eight subjects. I think that’s completely wrong.” 

UTCs, with their university sponsors, workplace ethos (teaching hours coincide with the standard 9-5 working day and pupils wear business dress), and specialist curricula, are Baker's solution. The 46 existing institutions teach 11,500 children, and there are several notable success stories. GCHQ has opened a cyber-security suite at the UTC in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, as part of a bid to diversify its workforce. Just 0.5 per cent of UTC graduates are unemployed, compared to 11.5 per cent of all 18-year-olds. 

But they are not without their critics. Teaching unions have complained that their presence fragments education provision and funding, and others point out that hard-up schools in disadvantaged areas have little desire or incentive to give up children – and the funding they bring – at 14. Ofsted rate twice as many UTCs as inadequate as they do outstanding. Gove doubts that the vocational qualifications on offer are as robust as their academic equivalents, or anywhere near as attractive for middle-class parents. He also considers 14 is too young an age for pupils to pursue a specialist course of vocational study.

Baker accepts that many of his colleges are seen as “useless, wastes of money, monuments to Baker’s vanity and all the rest of it”, but maintains the project is only just finding its legs. He is more hopeful about the current education secretary, Justine Greening, who he believes is an admirer. Indeed, UTCs could provide Greening with a trump card in the vexed debate over grammar schools – last year’s green paper suggested pupils would be able to join new selective institutions at 14, and Baker has long believed specialist academic institutions should complement UTCs.

Discussion of Theresa May’s education policy has tended to start and finish at grammar schools. But Baker believes the conversation could soon be dominated by a much more pressing issue: the financial collapse of multi-academy trusts and the prospect of an NHS-style funding crisis blighting the nation’s schools. Although his city technology colleges may have paved the way for the removal of more and more schools from the control of local authorities, he, perhaps surprisingly, defends a connection to the state.

“What is missing now in the whole education system is that broker in the middle, to balance the demands of education with the funds available," he says. "I think by 2020 all these multi-academy trusts will be like the hospitals... If MATs get into trouble, their immediate cry will be: ‘We need more money!’ We need more teachers, we need more resources, and all the rest of it!’."

It is clear that he is more alert to coming challenges, such as automation, than many politicians half his age. Halfway through our conversation, he leaves the room and returns enthusiastically toting a picture of an driverless lorry. It transpires that this Thatcherite is even increasingly receptive to the idea of the ultimate state handout: a universal basic income. “There’s one part of me that says: ‘How awful to give someone a sum for doing nothing! What are they going to do, for heaven’s sake, for Christ’s sake!’" he says. "But on the other hand, I think the drawback to the four-day working week or four-hour working day... I think it’s going to happen in your lifetime. If people are only working for a very short space of time, they will have to have some sort of basic income.” 

Predictably, the upshot of this vignette is that his beloved UTCs and their multi-skilled graduates are part of the solution. Friend and foe alike praise Baker’s indefatigable dedication to the cause. But, with the ranks of doubters growing and the axe likely to fall on at least one of its institutions again, it remains to be seen in what form the programme will survive.

Despite the ignominy of the last few weeks, however, Baker is typically forthright: “I sense a turning of the tide in our way now. But I still fight. I fight for every bloody one.”