The Times's bizarre attack on Ed Miliband

Miliband criticised for not packing the House of Lords with party donors.

Another day, another anti-Ed Miliband story in the Times. The paper, which was a firm supporter of David Miliband, has been running a series all week on divisions within the Labour Party. But today's splash (£) is more bizarre than most. The paper effectively criticises Miliband for not packing the House of Lords with party donors.

It reports:

The Labour leader was allowed to nominate ten people for a new list of working peers published yesterday. But he decided against handing seats in the House of Lords to Nigel Doughty and Sir Ronald Cohen -- who have given more than £6 million to the party since 2005 -- as well as Jon Mendelsohn, Labour's fundraising chief.

All three had been on a list drawn up by Gordon Brown, but The Times can reveal they were later told they would not be nominated. Sir Gulam Noon was the only significant donor on the new list, to show "Generation Ed was drawing a line under the past".

After reading that, one feels moved to state the obvious: party donors do not have, and should not have, any automatic right to sit in the legislature. As Sunder Katwala points out, given the damage that the "cash-for-honours" inquiry did to Labour, it's rather surprising to see Miliband under fire for not rewarding vested interests. Indeed, had he, like David Cameron, packed the upper house with party donors, one suspects he would soon face accusations of "Labour sleaze".

New Conservative peers included prominent party donor Sir Michael Bishop, the former boss of the BMI airline and Stanley Fink, the Tory treasurer who has given millions to the party. Cameron also chose to ennoble Robert Edmiston, the multi-millionaire car salesman, whose appointment was blocked in 2005 amid concerns over his tax affairs. He was later questioned by the police during the cash-for-honours affair and led the secretive Midlands Industrial Council. As Martin Bell rightly argued: "This can only add to the public's perception that high honours can be bought. We are back to the situation we were in with cash-for-honours."

The Times would do well to turn its attention to this. Does it really want a political system even more in hock to vested interests?

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The SATs strike: why parents are taking their children out of school to protest against exams

Parents are keeping their children away from school to highlight the dangers of “over testing” young pupils.

My heart is beating fast and I feel sick. I force myself to eat some chocolate because someone said it might help. I take a deep breath and open the door…

The hall is silent except for the occasional cough and the shuffling of chairs. The stench of nervous sweat lingers in the air.

“Turn over your papers, you may begin.”

I look at the clock and I am filled with panic. I feel like I might pass out. I pick up my pen but my palms are so sweaty it is hard to grip it properly. I want to cry. I want to scream, and I really need the toilet.

This was how I felt before every GCSE exam I took. I was 16. This was also how I felt before taking my driving test, aged 22, and my journalism training (NCTJ) exams when I was 24.

Being tested makes most of us feel anxious. After all, we have just one chance to get stuff right. To remember everything we have learned in a short space of time. To recall facts and figures under pressure; to avoid failure.

Even the most academic of adults can find being in an exam situation stressful, so it’s not hard to imagine how a young child about to sit their Year 2 SATs must feel.

Today thousands of parents are keeping their kids off school in protest at these tough new national tests. They are risking fines, prosecution and possible jail time for breach of government rules. By yesterday morning, more than 37,000 people had signed a petition backing the Let Our Kids Be Kids campaign and I was one of them.

I have a daughter in reception class who will be just six years old when she sits her SATs. These little ones are barely out of pull-up pants and now they are expected to take formal exams! What next? Babies taught while they are in the womb? Toddlers sitting spelling tests?

Infants have fragile self-esteem. A blow to their confidence at such an impressionable age can affect them way into adulthood. We need to build them up not tear them down. We need to ensure they enjoy school, not dread it. Anxiety and fear are not conducive to learning. It is like throwing books at their heads as a way of teaching them to read. It will not work. They are not machines. They need to want to learn.

When did we stop treating children like children? Maybe David Cameron would be happier if we just stopped reproducing all together. After all, what use to the economy are these pesky kids with their tiny brains and individual emotional needs? Running around all happy and carefree, selfishly enjoying their childhood without any regard to government statistics or national targets.

Year 2 SATs, along with proposals for a longer school day and calls for baseline reception assessments (thankfully now dropped) are just further proof that the government do not have our children’s best interests at heart. It also shows a distinct lack of common sense. It doesn’t take a PhD in education to comprehend that a child is far more likely to thrive in a calm, supportive and enjoyable environment. Learning should be fun. The value in learning through play seems to be largely underestimated.

The UK already has a far lower school starting age than many other countries, and in my opinion, we are already forcing them into a formal learning environment way too soon.

With mental health illness rates among British children already on the rise, it is about time our kids were put first. The government needs to stop “throwing books at heads” and start listening to teachers and parents about what is best for the children.

Emily-Jane Clark is a freelance journalist, mother-of-two and creator of stolensleep.com, a humorous antithesis to baby advice.