In this week's New Statesman: The end of socialism

Education special | Lost generation of 1992

Alwyn Turner: The end of socialism

In the New Statesman Cover Story, Alwyn Turner, author of the ebook Things Can Only Get Bitter: the Lost Generation of 1992, considers that year which brought a surprise election victory for John Major and the Tories, and "when a generation finally turned its back on politics":

These were the people born a few years either side of 1960 - the biggest demographic bulge in British history - whose adult political experience was of a seemingly permanent Conservative government. Disillusioned by the unexpected victory of the Tories in the 1992 general election, this lost generation turned its attention instead to capturing the commanding heights of national culture.

After leading a brief cultural renaissance, this same age group "sowed the seeds of its own destruction", Turner says, arguing that "[their] absence from politics ceded the field to a group of homogenised professional politicians who were allowed to emerge unchallenged". The effects of this disengagement are still being felt today:

Twenty years on, as another era of mass unemployment dawns, the effects of that election can still be seen in the political world that is being bequeathed to today's school leavers and graduates.

end of socialism

Education Special: Andrew Adonis

This week's magazine also features an Education Special in which Andrew Adonis, minister for schools under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, argues that the left should be in favour of free schools because the Labour Party, in effect, created them:

They were a crucial part of our drive to promote equality of opportunity and social mobility, particularly in disadvantaged communities with low educational standards.

Labour, Adonis writes, set up dozens of "free school" academies while still in power:

The only reason why the Tories invented the term "free school" was to pretend they were doing something fundamentally different, instead of continuing one of Labour's most successful policies.

However, unlike the new free schools created under the coalition's schools agenda, Labour's academies were founded on tenets of equality and social mobility and were "located largely in areas of very high deprivation, selected with a relentless focus on overcoming disadvantage". Academies built under the Tories since 2010 owe much to Labour's legacy:

School 21, [Toby Young's West London Free School] WLFS and many other free schools are all-through, catering for children aged three to 18. Again, this builds on bold changes under Labour. Thirty of Labour's academies are all-through; before academies, there were virtually no all-through state schools.

Adonis argues that, with such claims to success, Labour must debate "credibly and constructively" with the Tories on their "wrong" and "deeply complacent" education policies, including:

. . . teacher recruitment and development, the curriculum, Sure Start and the replacement policy that will be needed for £9,000 university tuition fees . . .

Labour will get back into government by having a better plan for the future, not by opposing changes which are working well. This applies above all in education, which is one of our success stories.

Read the article here

Melissa Benn: The school wars

Also in the Education package, the journalist and campaigner for comprehensive education Melissa Benn offers a diary of the recent "school wars" she has been fighting in public.

In September 2011, Benn noted how a defence of free schools in a London Evening Standard article by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove,

. . . [described] the "principal opponents" of the policy as "Tony Benn's daughter, the Hon Melissa Benn, and Alastair Campbell's partner, Fiona Millar . . . well-connected media types from London's most privileged circles".

She takes issue with Gove's chosen description of herself and Millar:

This is a bit rich. What two middle-aged men, with years of political, journalistic and campaigning experience between them, would be described solely in relation to their mothers and wives? As for Gove, an intimate ally of Rupert Murdoch, claiming that it is his critics who are part of the privileged media establishment, well, that's laughable.

Challenges to the government's education reforms are poised to move into the mainstream of public debate, Benn writes:

Toby Young makes the absurd claim that objection to the government's policies is confined to a handful of campaigners such as myself. Discontent at coalition school policies has not reached anti-NHS reform levels but there is widespread unease at the speed of the fragmentation of state education, from a government with no overall mandate to do so. (In their 2010 election manifesto, the Lib Dems promised to scrap academies.) The most common question at the end of [parent and schools] meetings is: "What can we do?"

Elsewhere in the Education Special, Mehdi Hasan unpicks the myths and realities of academies, and in conversation with Rafael Behr, the Lib Dem children's minister, Sarah Teather, defends government cuts to Sure Start.

Elsewhere in the New Statesman

In Observations, Frank Ledwidge describes the psychology of soldiers in Afghanistan and John Ashton writes that the failure to solve the Lockerbie bombing has become, now more than ever, a gross embarrassment for the Scottish National Party. And elsewhere in the magazine, Nicholas Wapshott reports on Washington's indifference to David Cameron, David Marquand reviews two new books about John Maynard Keynes, Simon Kuper charts the decine and fall of Glasgow's "Old Firm" in the Critics, and we publish "Mind away", a new short story by the Costa shortlisted author and poet, Jackie Kay.

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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