Politics

Too many unknowns – the Labour leadership

The Labour Party is less than a week from a shattering election defeat, and already the leadership election appears to be in full swing. Soundings are being taken, domain names registered, and backers recruited. But is the party in a position to choose the right candidate to lead it to victory in five years time?

What do we know about the 2020 election?

It will be held on 7th May 2020.

The world and the country will be a very different place five years on. Politically, we will have had the EU referendum. If we vote to leave there are huge political implications, not least the potential for Scotland to leave the UK in order to stay in the EU.

We also know that by 2020 there will be a new leader of the Conservative party, and therefore a new Prime Minister with a new leader bounce.

Plenty more will have changed. What will be the state of our economy, our public services, our security? If Labour needs a new leader to appeal beyond former coalfield areas, university towns and London, can we predict now the politics of coast and country five years out?

In any other walk of life the new leader would be appointed for around three years. She or he would stabilize the party, lead an effective Parliamentary opposition, and build a good electoral platform through the Scottish elections, the London mayoral elections and the EU Referendum.

There is much to do in terms of listening to neglected parts of the country, raising money, succession planning and changing the party structures to reflect the fragmentation of British politics.

When Tony Blair won in 1997 he had been leader for three years – not a full Parliament. John Smith had done vital preparatory work such as OMOV before he tragically died. This made Tony’s job and reforms considerably easier.

My political friends will call me naïve. But I would love to have a candidate declare that he or she will do the job we need doing for the next two or three years and then will open up a new leadership election. He or she may run again and can be judged on a record of reviving the party’s fortunes, and in comparison with the likely new Prime Minister.

The upside is that those who are dismissed as experienced but too associated with the past, have the chance to use that experience and maybe redefine themselves as leaders for the future. It would also give a chance for candidates that offer a break from the past to build experience and prove through campaigning around the country that they are the one to win in 2020.

The downside is if it became a three-year feeding frenzy for journalists. Potential leaders would need to know they would be judged on their discipline, their positive record and their ability to work with colleagues.

This is not a proposal for a caretaker leader. It is a proposal for a renewable fixed term contract. It is counter cultural, but with the known known of the next General Election and the very many known unknowns of the next five years, I think it may work.

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education

Is Democracy Good for Learning?

As the UK woke up to the political earthquake of the General Election, I was in Berlin listening to the OECD’s education guru Andreas Schleicher. As the architect of PISA test and the TALIS teacher survey he regularly gives great new insights evidenced by data.

Andreas told us some of the things that work in the best performing school systems such as Singapore and Shanghai. Here there is significant investment in teacher capacity, rewarding them well, giving them time for preparation and training funded by larger class sizes, and running a longer learning day with more self directed learning.

He has clear evidence that this focus on teaching capacity works and yet these important findings are not applied in most Western jurisdictions. Incidentally, he also finds more evidence of innovation in the leading Asian systems.

It would have been inappropriate for him, as an OECD official, to point out that the successful Asian jurisdictions were less democratic. However he added a couple of other things. He said that short electoral cycles can be a problem and that politicians are more likely to do what is urgent than what is important. He also pointed out that school choice tends to make no difference because many parents are interested in more than just academic performance – such as school neighbourhood. Andreas was speaking at the inaugural world education summit organised by the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

The previous day I also took part in the 13th Education Fast Forward debate which discussed the challenge of developing 21st Century skills in schools (such as creative, collaborative, & presentation skills). Both discussions were coming to a similar conclusion.

Howard Reingold strikingly suggested in the EFF13 debate that there is a growing conflict between education and learning, that our qualifications and schooling are hampering the development of learning. He suggested that whilst in times of stability the older generation should be passing on what it knows to young people, at times of rapid change – like now – the older generation should be passing to young people the skills to direct their own learning.

This sentiment was reinforced in Berlin by speakers from Australia, India, the U.S. and Asia.

We can carry on trying to improve the system we’ve been tinkering with for the last 70 years, and nothing will really change. Or we can design a new system based around great teaching that at its heart coaches learning.

And so I came full circle in my mind. This change in teaching may be the right thing to do that ignites the fire of learning that we need for our children to thrive. If so it is really important. But implementing the change would take much longer than a five year electoral cycle and parents, employers and teachers would all need to be persuaded to support it to sustain it.

Meanwhile countries who don’t worry so much about democratic consent are just getting on with it and gaining a competitive advantage.

But I am first and foremost a democrat. Coming back to the UK, I have to accept our election outcome.

I congratulate Nicky Morgan on being re-appointed as Secretary of State for Education. My advice to her is to focus on what is important. In this case it is both important and urgent to address teacher capacity, especially recruitment and development. Here she can build on her record, learn from the best in the world, and many of us on the left of education politics will happily work with her on that vital agenda.

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digital

This is for Dot Everyone

This evening I was lucky enough to be invited to the Science Museum to hear Martha Lane Fox’s Dimbleby Lecture. It was engaging, interesting and beautifully delivered, as I would expect. More significantly Martha used the occasion to launch the vision for a new national institution she has christened Dot Everyone.

Martha and I share a passion for digital inclusion. We regularly meet to ensure the organisations we each chair – Go On UK and the Tinder Foundation – are complementing each other in our shared aim of ending the digital divide in Britain. I am also a huge admirer of the work she did as the UK Digital Champion, and subsequently, in influencing long overdue change in the way government embraces digital technology.

It is therefore no surprise that she has used the honour of delivering the Dimbleby Lecture to re-focus on the next challenge so that:

Britain can “leapfrog every nation in the world and become the most digital, most connected, most skilled, most informed on the planet.”

Martha’s analysis starts with the proposition that the power of the Internet is defined by the balance between private companies and public bodies. The dynamism and dazzling pace comes from the private sector but they must operated in an environment regulated for the public good.

And she is right to say that the civic side of the equation needs a boost.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee at the Olympic 2012 opening ceremonyThe digital revolution could and should be “for everyone” as Sir Tim Berners-Lee defined it in the opening ceremony of London 2012. But the dominance of Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook over the net, risks civic society becoming powerless as a very few in California get richer and richer. Governments are then left as bystanders whose role is only to cheer when those that run them are generous enough to turn to philanthropy.

I want a digital society that is defined by the cultures of sharing and co-creation, not increasing control through decreasing privacy.

In her lecture Martha wants her new institution to initially focus on three things:

  • First, how we improve our understanding of the internet at all levels of our society
  • Secondly, how we get more women involved in technology, and
  • Thirdly, how we tackle the genuinely new and thorny ethical and moral issues the internet has created

The first and third go hand in glove.

There are huge security issues around the asymmetric threats caused by cyber terrorism. There are opportunities to impose surveillance on our online activity, for example to guard against grooming by both paedophiles and terrorist groups. But few senior civil servants, ministers or Parliamentarians have sufficient understanding of the infrastructure of the net to know how best to do this.

And few also see the downsides of invading our online privacy.

These are really difficult judgements and need an informed Parliamentary debate that is informed by the public. Right now it is hard to see much public debate. This is a huge failing by politicians and their friends in the media.

Dot Everyone is a bold idea to keep that debate at the forefront.

And should we worry about the paucity of women in tech? Of course we should – if we want the internet to be more collaborative, more inclusive and to grow the culture of sharing online.

I work with some brilliant women in technology – Helen Milner at Tinder Foundation, Rachel Neaman at Go On UK, Louise Rogers at TES Global, Annika Small at the Nominet Trust, Debbie Forster and Iris Lapinski at Apps For Good and Emma Mulqueeny at Young Rewired State. But I also see how imbalanced the sector is as a whole and know that Martha is right to want this fixed as a priority.

There are plenty more questions to ask about Dot Everyone. Are these the only priorities? What about inclusion? Should it be global or national? How should we find it and safeguard its independence?

But by finding myself asking these questions I know I have already accepted the need for it to exist. Which leads to the question I hope many of us will be asking:

Well done Martha – now how can I help?

PS. Visit Martha’s Doteveryone site doteveryone.org.uk and sign up to her change.org perition

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digital

Internet of Things – an opportunity for Government?

When the world’s mobile telecoms movers and shakers gather in Barcelona next week they will inevitably be thinking about the next wave of the technology revolution. The Internet of Things and Machine to Machine have been talked about for a while and there will be an impatience for the commercial impact to really be felt.

Aside from commercial judgments, what about how governments should exploit the potential of digital to solve today’s challenges. In Barcelona I will be discussing with ministers how we can realise the potential of this new technology across the public sector.

A starting point is the urgent need for governments to do things differently.

The old ways of delivering public services were forged in the post war industrial economy. They are no longer affordable. By contrast, communication with citizens has never been more affordable thanks to social technology. And the problems are now so complex that the only practical way to solve them is collaboratively with citizens.

So this is the right time to argue for a new mindset, learning from the commercial world and finding new models of service delivery. The Internet of Things offers some interesting examples.

I have been using wearable technology to monitor my health for 18 months and know it changes my health behaviour for the good. In doing so I am conscious of the trade off in terms of that health data also going to a third party. If we can find a way of building public trust in the use of their data there is huge potential in public health to save on care and on chronic diseases like diabetes.

There is plenty more. Driverless vehicles can help with congestion, and smart meters can help with affordable heating and tackling climate change. Prof Stephen Heppell has been doing very interesting analysis around the ideal learning environment – the right levels of light, heat, sound and air quality for learning – a smart school can deliver these things. There is also the great learning potential from analysing the huge amount of data created by the Internet of Things.

But I must also sound some warnings.

I have already touched on the growing concern about personal data. Connecting objects appears to be all about creating more data points. Some of that will be data about me that I may not want others to know. If my smart meter is hacked into, could thieves then surmise when my home is normally empty? How safe is my health data and my shopping data?

The technology revolution is creating economic growth but it is not evenly distributed. Recent reports suggests that the richest 1% now own 99% of the wealth. That is not sustainable. The rise of extreme politics and terrorism has to be related to a sense that the status quo is not delivering for many, and so people are looking for an alternative. Will this next technology wave of the Internet of Things lessen or exaggerate that problem?

As a schools minister in the UK, I was responsible for a huge spend on classroom technology. Unfortunately the element of the budget for training got stripped out and so we had a limited return on investment. We had become so be-dazzled by the potential of technology enhanced learning that we had forgotten about the people.

People must be at the heart of this new technology. And here I am impatient to see genuine attempts to design co-creation into public services.

In the commercial world we have seen the technology journey from producer efficiency to consumer personalisation, to now co-creation.

So the challenge is to combine the ability to connect things, with people generated design. Ministers in Barcelona would be wise not be too dazzled by the Machine to Machine technology until the loop is closed of people to machine to machine to people. Then they can get the consent and to harness technology to deliver what the people want from their public services – more for less.

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Football

Speech on Arsenal Fanshare scheme & fan involvement in football

My Lords it is a pleasure to follow my friend the noble Lord Holmes, even though he plays in blue.

I declare an interest as a lifelong supporter and current Season Ticket holder at Arsenal Football Club.

I know only too well the unique bond that exists between a supporter and a club. Often it brings frustration and despair but also the greatest moments, such as winning the Cup at Wembley.

It is a commitment for life and the power of football in people’s lives can bring many positive things including the focal point of community pride. But we must remember that without Fans football is nothing. For example at its most cynical, fans are vital wallpaper and ambient sound for lucrative TV coverage.

I was until recently a Director of the Arsenal Fanshare Scheme. This is a pioneering scheme that enabled Arsenal fans to buy a part share in Arsenal. As the price of one share is now £15,000 the scheme allowed fans to come together within the scheme to own an affordable part of a share – called a Fanshare.

The FSA regulated scheme was successful at its launch and hailed by many including the FA, the Premier League, Michel Platini of UEFA and Jeremy Hunt and Hugh Robertson who as Secretary of State and Minister for Sport respectively spoke positively of the scheme as a model for football clubs to follow in terms of supporter ownership engagement.

The scheme quickly secured almost 2,000 members and collectively they held 120 shares in Arsenal. That meant that 2000 more fans had a small share in Arsenal’s ownership and there were 120 places to attend the Annual General Meeting and hold the Club’s Directors to account. Fanshare holders received the Club’s Report and Accounts and all the information that Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis sent to Arsenal’s Supporters.

Arsenal has benefited greatly over many decades from maintaining stability in its ownership structure, and from having supporters who own shares and are actively involved in this structure. Plurality of ownership has served Arsenal well and is the best way to ensure the necessary checks and balances are in place to protect the club’s long-term future.

Sadly for Fanshare there was a takeover of Arsenal Football Club by Stan Kroenke during the early days of the scheme. This changed everything. Despite many attempts to engage Mr Kroenke has refused to meet with anyone from the Scheme and he has refused to support it to develop. With him buying up all the shares during the takeover, the scheme has struggled to find new shares to buy and was unable to market itself to new members. It is now facing closure. A final plea for him to issue new shares to the scheme has been refused.

In this regard it is a great pity that the DCMS has taken so long to establish its Expert Group on Football Ownership as recommended to it by the Arsenal Supporters Trust. If it had done so it might have found ways to provide more support to schemes like Fanshare. While Ministers spoke highly of it they have regrettably offered no tangible support when it mattered.

As the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust advised the Culture, Media and Sport Select Cttee, there are legislative barriers such as those contained in the Financial Markets and Services Act that made it more difficult to promote the scheme and I welcome that there is now finally a group to look at these barriers.

But we need to go further. We need to discuss how Supporters are given a greater say in the way that Clubs are run. That is why I welcome the proposals put forward by Clive Efford MP and my party to have Fans elected onto the Boards of Football Clubs.

In my opinion, and many other fans I meet, clubs like Arsenal are too important to be controlled solely by just one person and these measures would address that.

This could be achieved by legislation. It could also be achieved by the Premier League and the Football League making changes to their rulebooks.
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The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust has argued that these rules should reflect supporters at all Clubs being treated in the way they would if they held equity in the Club, even in cases where they do not:

Engagement would specifically cover:

1. Providing a financial and reporting format similar to that required under the Companies Act.

2. Twice yearly meetings between representatives of the supporters’ trusts and directors and/or executives of the club, at which discussion can take place on the performance of the club and the views of the wider membership can be directly reported.

I hope that the Government can make progress with these issues in the recently announced Expert Working Group. And I also hope that they will correct their omission of not including any representatives from Premier League Clubs who face these engagement barriers.

But their track record to date isn’t encouraging. For real change we have the proposals from Labour and that is why my advice would be to always support the team in Red!

Thanks to @timpayton

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lords, Politics, Uncategorized

From the Ridiculous to the Sublime – the Lords Delivers!

I must confess.

Today I voted in one of the most bizarre elections in the world. And I voted for someone who was eligible to be a candidate because he is the great grandson of Herbert Asquith, the former British Prime Minister. I was also one of an exclusive electorate, as members of the House of Lords were the only people eligible to vote.

But the Lords are not elected, I hear you cry! That is mostly true but not when it comes to the ones that are there by birth. Yes, this was the by-election for a vacancy for a hereditary peer (see my earlier blog), and on this occasion the whole House was eligible to vote (with convention saying it ought to be a Liberal).

I voted because I thought I should, but clearly this is the Lords at its most ridiculous.

redbenchesBy contrast I also picked up a copy of the Lords internal newsletter the Red Benches. This included a story telling me that they were testing a new system of recording votes using iPads. This is so that they can record them more efficiently and publish the results more quickly.

This is a very good thing for accountability.

All Lords divisions are published and are easily searchable. The public can then see how we all voted, very soon after we did.  We have nothing to hide.

The Lords have been doing this for some time. It begs the question as to why the Commons don’t do the same…

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