Slightly sexist?

Hazel Blears's height, the Zimmers and Tinky Winky's sexual orientation

Dear Marina,

I was watching the deputy hustings on Newsnight the other day and thought that Cruddas was gorgeous. But why was Hazel Blears sitting on a chair all the way through. Do you know why?
 
Confused of the North East
 
At 4ft 10 inches Ms Blears punches well above her height in the Labour party. But she obviously lacks influence at the BBC where the Newsnight director could easily have arranged for candidates to be seated, thus allowing the cameras to track smoothly along the line up without skimming across the top of her head and on to the next candidate.

Or they could have given her a soap box to stand on. There’s not enough of that sort of business in politics these days. I call upon the chair of the Labour Party to carry her own in future. I may not agree with all she says (suggesting criminals be dressed orange boiler suits for community work – I ask you) but she’s a feisty female and I have to respect her ilk. As for you, confused of North East, I suspect you are slightly sexist and really, quite rude.

Dear Marina,

Pop music has sunk to a new low. I thought we'd seen it all with Mr Blobby but now fame - hungry pop artists are dressing up as pensioners just to get in the top ten. What next, people in terrorist bomb belts singing Auld Lang Syne?

Angry of Peckham

Don’t be crass. The Zimmers, a band with a collective age of over 3000, has released a cover version of The Who’s My Generation to raise awareness of the plight of the elderly and cash for Age Concern.

The elderly are a much maligned and extremely lonely demographic mainly due to them living too long to be much use, not being able to resist voting Tory and hating young people.

But Age Concern does much good, for example electric blanket checking and podiatry sessions. So go out and buy the record. These people were active in the war, for which we must be grateful. And how have they been repaid? Their pensions don’t keep up with fuel price and council tax rises, they pass on still waiting for hearing aids, cataracts and hip operations on the NHS and get rewarded for their voting habits by continued council tax rises and cuts to essential adult social services.

Either they’ll learn, or die trying.

Dear Marina,

I am a bloke who likes to wear a purple babygrow with a coat hanger sticking out of my head, so imagine my shock when Ewa Sowinska who is influential in the Polish government took issue with my handbag saying it made me seem like a poofter. Has the world gone mad?
 
Tinky Winky

I think what Ewa Sowinska actually said is you and your purse could possibly promote homosexuality. Interesting, given the majority of those watching are babies – could their sexuality really be influenced by an actor in a purple jump suit carrying the kind of handbag made iconic by Maggie T?

I have only two concerns: firstly Teletubbies encourages students to smoke too much dope. Secondly, the programme inculcates TV viewing habits which is soooooo bad for young tots, stifling communication skills and setting them up for a life on the sofa watching crap.

Swing your handbag with pride, Tinky Winky. If Teletubbies gets banned in Poland we’ll have more communicative plumbers and bar staff and the skunk will go further in a drought.

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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Sooner or later, a British university is going to go bankrupt

Theresa May's anti-immigration policies will have a big impact - and no-one is talking about it. 

The most effective way to regenerate somewhere? Build a university there. Of all the bits of the public sector, they have the most beneficial local effects – they create, near-instantly, a constellation of jobs, both directly and indirectly.

Don’t forget that the housing crisis in England’s great cities is the jobs crisis everywhere else: universities not only attract students but create graduate employment, both through directly working for the university or servicing its students and staff.

In the United Kingdom, when you look at the renaissance of England’s cities from the 1990s to the present day, universities are often unnoticed and uncelebrated but they are always at the heart of the picture.

And crucial to their funding: the high fees of overseas students. Thanks to the dominance of Oxford and Cambridge in television and film, the wide spread of English around the world, and the soft power of the BBC, particularly the World Service,  an education at a British university is highly prized around of the world. Add to that the fact that higher education is something that Britain does well and the conditions for financially secure development of regional centres of growth and jobs – supposedly the tentpole of Theresa May’s agenda – are all in place.

But at the Home Office, May did more to stop the flow of foreign students into higher education in Britain than any other minister since the Second World War. Under May, that department did its utmost to reduce the number of overseas students, despite opposition both from BIS, then responsible for higher education, and the Treasury, then supremely powerful under the leadership of George Osborne.

That’s the hidden story in today’s Office of National Statistics figures showing a drop in the number of international students. Even small falls in the number of international students has big repercussions for student funding. Take the University of Hull – one in six students are international students. But remove their contribution in fees and the University’s finances would instantly go from surplus into deficit. At Imperial, international students make up a third of the student population – but contribute 56 per cent of student fee income.

Bluntly – if May continues to reduce student numbers, the end result is going to be a university going bust, with massive knock-on effects, not only for research enterprise but for the local economies of the surrounding area.

And that’s the trajectory under David Cameron, when the Home Office’s instincts faced strong countervailing pressure from a powerful Treasury and a department for Business, Innovation and Skills that for most of his premiership hosted a vocal Liberal Democrat who needed to be mollified. There’s every reason to believe that the Cameron-era trajectory will accelerate, rather than decline, now that May is at the Treasury, the new department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy doesn’t even have responsibility for higher education anymore. (That’s back at the Department for Education, where the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, is a May loyalist.)

We talk about the pressures in the NHS or in care, and those, too, are warning lights in the British state. But watch out too, for a university that needs to be bailed out before long. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.