Look Left – Education cuts, education cuts, education cuts…

Education cuts dominated Westminster this week; cuts to school sport, cuts to higher education, cuts to Educational Maintenance Allowances, reports Shamik Das.

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• Education cuts dominated Westminster this week; cuts to school sport, cuts to higher education, cuts to Educational Maintenance Allowances. On Wednesday, students once again took to the streets of central London, and many more university towns, demanding the government, and in particular the Liberal Democrats, think again over their plans to treble tuition fees and slash teaching grants to the bare bones. Again, however, a small band of troublemakers dominated coverage, vandalising and ransacking a police van, smashing up a bus shelter, attempting to smash their way into the Treasury, setting off smoke bombs and starting fires in Whitehall.

There were, however, peaceful occupations at several universities, including UCL, while LSE students successfully staged a sit-in at Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes’s Southwark constituency office. The students who demonstrated this week, many of them schoolchildren, were also protesting against the abolition of Educational Maintenance Allowances, with James Mills, of the Save EMA campaign, telling the Standard: “The poorest parts of London will be worst hit.”

And the campaign to save school sport also hit the headlines, with journalists, politicians and sports stars finally waking up to the reality of the government’s plans to abolish the £162 million School Sport Partnerships. Ed Miliband raised the issue at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, urging David Cameron to “overrule” education secretary Michael Gove, while shadow education minister Toby Perkins, writing on Left Foot Forward, said of the decision: “This isn’t ideology it’s idiocy.”

• Immigration was another major policy issue this week, with home secretary Theresa May announcing to the House full details of the Government’s immigration cap. But as Sarah Mulley reported on Left Foot Forward, it was set “too low for business, but too high to meet government targets”. The cap will also have no effect on EU migration. As Sarah wrote: “Total gross immigration to the UK in 2009 was estimated at 528,000. But of this total, only 292,000 was from outside the EU, and only 54,000 of that was work-related (down from 114,000 in 2004). So the cap (so far) only applies to a small proportion of total immigration to the UK.”

Also this week on Left Foot Forward, Will Somerville, a senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute in DC, wrote about new analysis on ‘Immigration under Labour‘, which revealed that immigration was a factor in the general election, but did not cost Labour the election: “Immigration was clearly an issue concerning the electorate, gaining the second-most mentions at 14 per cent among voters, but it ran a very distant second to all-encompassing economic concerns.”

• The Tories’ European problems re-emerged this week, with David Cameron left to ponder a lurch to the right in Brussels. On Wednesday, Conservative MEPs elected Martin Callanan to lead them – a man who, as Left Foot Forward reported, voted against equalities legislation, against an immediate moratorium on the death penalty worldwide, and was the only Tory to vote against a resolution which called for rape and sexual violence to be recognised as a war crime. And he was backed by Daniel Hannan.

Also this week, the leader of the Tories’ far-right ECR grouping, Michal Kaminski, resigned as leader, leaving the group on the verge of collapse, while UKIP’s Godfrey Bloom was thrown out of the European Parliament for a Nazi slur. He had shouted “Ein volk, ein reich, ein fuhrer” at German Social Democrat MEP Martin Schulz, and then called him “a national socialist“.

Just another ordinary week for the loony right in Europe then?!

Progressive of the week:

Adam Posen, a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee, who made the headlines by criticising the “excessively political” nature of the Bank’s support of Coalition cuts. He also spoke openly about the impact of the government’s cuts agenda in an appearance at the Treasury select committee this week. As reported by Left Foot Forward, Mr Posen warned that:

“It is my personal assessment that the short-term effects of the government’s fiscal plans will be quite contractionary. That is why, in my statement to the committee, and in the last minutes on the inflation report I differed from the majority forecast of the committee.”

Regressive of the week:

Mr (not yet Lord) Howard Flight, of the Tory hard-right, recently recommended for a peerage by David Cameron, who this week said: “We’re going to have a system where the middle classes are discouraged from breeding because it’s jolly expensive. But for those on benefits, there is every incentive. Well, that’s not very sensible.” Shocking comments, following which we had the usual whining about being quoted out of context, the insincere (forced) apology, the ‘shock’ of the prime minister…

An out of touch, exceedingly wealthy high Tory, a friend of Mr Cameron, out of touch, outrageously offensive; it’s just like Lord Young all over again – only this time, he’s not yet been fully defenestrated. David Cameron has it in his power to prevent this individual being elevated to the House of Lords. His likely failure to do so will speak volumes about just how much the Tories haven’t changed.

Evidence of the week:

The Resolution Foundation report, ‘Squeezed Britain: low-to-middle earners audit’, which showed that real wages are set to fall for three years, and that the “triple crunch” will see lower middle class families £720 a year worse off. The Guardian reported that “families will see their wages fall in real terms on average by almost 4% over the next year as major cuts overlap with a fragile jobs market”.

While on Left Foot Forward, Will Straw reported that the findings were reinforced by the latest ASDA income tracker, which shows “a £4 a week decline in family spending power compared with the same month a year ago and the tenth consecutive month of decline as the cost of essential goods and services rises above increases in gross incomes”.

Ed Jacobs’s Week outside Westminster:

Scotland: John Swinney was forced to apologise after it emerged that he had failed to tell MSPs that the government had decided not to pay HMRC the necessary funds to ensure it could use its tax-varying powers. The leaders of the three main opposition parties issued a joint statement calling for a formal investigation. Meanwhile, former first minister Jack McConnell launched a stinging critique at the effectiveness of Holyrood, dubbing it a “pedestrian” parliament.

Wales: Liberal Democrat Treasury minister Danny Alexander signalled a u-turn on the Barnett Formula in an appearance before the Welsh finance committee whilst a decision on the electrification of the London to Swansea main line was put on hold. Speaking of the welsh secretary, Cheryl Gillan, the Shadow Secretary of State Peter Hain concluded: “Her inaction… and the government’s decision, shows they just don’t care about jobs and prosperity in Wales.”

Northern Ireland: The first and deputy first ministers used a meeting with the deputy prime minister to express their concerns over the impact of the spending review on Northern Ireland. In a joint statement they explained: “We are particularly concerned about the capital figures that have been applied and the potentially devastating effect the reduction would have on our local economy.” Meanwhile, divisions emerged between the SDLP and the Unionists over how to address the UK government’s cut to Housing Benefit.

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