Sam Tomlin

By Sam Tomlin

Education is one of the most hotly debated topics in British politics. The Education Secretary Michael Gove is one of the highest profile government ministers and most people will be aware of debates around ‘academies’, ‘free schools’ and tuition fees even if they do not know the specific details. Of course this is understandable as education is vital for any society to function properly – everyone has been through it and almost everyone knows people still in it.Voc Ed

There is one area of education, however, which has consistently failed to generate any kind of sustained popular or mainstream political debate and that is vocational education.

As it says on the tin, it is essentially education which prepares people (of all ages, but traditionally younger people) for a vocation – something that they specialise in. The system, involving various types of college, university and apprenticeship courses, is not simple to understand, but still plays a vital role in educating millions of people today (in 2011 it was estimated there were around 1.8million 16-18 year olds studying for vocational qualifications). Read More

By Sam Tomlin

David Cameron, we were told in a 2011 parliament publication, ‘has placed the Big Society project at the centre of his political agenda’. The vision was bold, if a little fuzzy in practical application: ‘the term describes the Government’s intention to open up public services to new providers, increase social action and devolve power to local communities.’Big Society

So fuzzy in practical application that the same report, just a year or so after the concept was introduced, suggested ‘There is little clear understanding of the Big Society project among the public, and there is confusion over the Government’s proposals to reform public services.’

If that was the truth in 2011, it is certainly the case today. The battle has now all but been lost as the coalition enters its final stages. The term (‘BS’ as many have renamed it) mostly evokes ridicule around the country and in various opinion outlets. Read More

By Jenni Tomlin and Sam Tomlin

The recent debate on changes to social security has been and still is one of the fiercest in this generation of British politics. In many ways it has played out as a classic left v right ideological scrap, but has also prompted nuanced and wide ranging debate with the complexities of the deficit, infrastructure, unemployment and even Europe. It is not our primary intention in this article to rehash these debates, but to provide first-hand experience of events which have implications for two elements of one significant area of the debate: housing benefit.

£712-a-month worth of living space

£712-a-month worth of living space

The first concerns a good friend of ours who lived a few doors down from us until he moved out in the past week. He has been on incapacity benefit for a number of years and had lived in his (generously termed) ‘flat’ for about four of those. This ‘flat’ (see picture left) is in many ways a product of the housing boom and Thatcher’s right to buy scheme which allowed individuals to buy their own homes. The Victorian estate we live on used to be entirely council owned until right to buy; now, owner occupiers such as us are in the minority with most owners climbing the social ladder and moving to the suburbs, then selling on to rather more unscrupulous and opportunistic landlords.

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By Sam Tomlin

This article is the second in a mini SJF series: ‘Football and society, then and now’. See here for the first article in the series.

English football is about as ‘modern’ as you can get. The brand of the Premier League is known world-wide with boys and girls all over the poorest parts of Africa, Asia and South America wearing replica shirts with Rooney, Lampard and Tevez emblazoned on the back.Modern football

But football was not always this way. In many ways a microcosm of wider societal change, subject to the introduction of neoliberal thought in the Thatcher/Reagan experiment, major changes occurred in the 1980s. Many of these changes were positive: tackling the hooligan culture that had emerged was vital (although this was clearly not the fault behind the Hillsborough tragedy, as some have claimed), re-branding the game to make it more family-friendly and the insertion of some more private investment. I remember my Dad telling me going to games in the late 70s was often like going to a football fight hoping that a game might break out. Read More

More teachers are reporting high levels of stress. Gabe Palmer / Alamy

More teachers are reporting high levels of stress. Gabe Palmer / Alamy

By Sam Tomlin

This bank holiday weekend has seen delegates at the National Union of Teachers threaten to boycott classroom inspections and call for the resignation of the chief inspector of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw. Dislike of Wilshaw and the inspectorate is nothing new from many teachers and historically there has often been significant tension between Ofsted and the unions. Discord has been growing, however, since the Coalition came to power amid new measures such as significant reductions in warning before inspections. In Ofsted’s own words:

“Ofsted also announced further reductions to the notice of inspections… Under the new arrangements, schools will receive almost no notice of an inspection with inspectors calling headteachers the afternoon before an inspection takes place. Ofsted proposed conducting school inspections without any notice but listened to headteachers’ concerns about this during the consultation. Calling the working day before an inspection will enable headteachers to make any necessary logistical arrangements including notifying parents and governors of the inspection. Parents can be reassured that inspectors are seeing schools as they really are.”

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By Sam Tomlin

Israel’s hasbara efforts (public relations, disseminating information about the country) were dealt another blow last week with the publication of a report from UNICEF on the conditions of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention centres.

Unicef's report: Children in Israeli Military Detention

Unicef’s report: Children in Israeli Military Detention

In 2009, in response to evidence that children were prosecuted in adult courts, Israel established a juvenile military court, which, according to UNICEF, “is the first and only juvenile military court in operation in the world. In fact, it uses the same facilities and court staff as the adult military court.”

The analysis by UNICEF identified clear examples that amount to, “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” of children as young as 12. On a yearly basis, it reports, around 700 12-17 year olds (mostly boys) are arrested, interrogated and detained by Israeli army, police and security agents, often in conditions which it would be difficult not to describe as torture. Read More

By Sam Tomlin

richer-than-godModern football is a complex beast. The constant acclamation of achievement and triumph at the construction of a world-wide brand, bringing entertainment and happiness to millions (billions?) is commonplace among proponents of the system. While at the same time, others, observing the same phenomenon, cry betrayal and failure for an experiment which has sold its soul for self-importance and corruption. Like any political system it promotes the game of ‘6s’ and ‘9s’ where some will say it’s a ‘6’, others a ‘9’ and some a ‘a badly drawn 8’.

David Conn is an investigative sports journalist. Growing up in Manchester in the 1970’s, like many young boys he fell in love with his local team, Manchester City. Ultimately the book, Richer than God, is about this love affair with his club and coming to terms with the reality that something he felt he had ‘ownership’ of was actually little more than a commodity to be bought or sold. Weaving constantly between joyful (and painful) memories growing up as a child in the Kippax stand in Maine Road, and the modern day acquisition of the club by billionaire Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Conn reaches into the depths of the philosophy not only of football but community, loyalty and belonging. Read More

By Sam Tomlin

‘The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it…’

‘I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up against our most bitter opponents and say: ”We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, but we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”’ – Rev Dr. Martin Luther King

The history of non-violent resistance to oppression and injustice is a long one. As a Christian, the greatest expression of this, in my opinion, was of course Jesus himself, living under a brutal Roman occupation and speaking clearly of love for one’s enemy and the turning of the other cheek (which, as we will see, is not simply a passive resignation to oppression). There are surely many further examples long before Jesus’ time.

In recent times, Dr King, in the American civil rights movement, is perhaps the highest profile exponent of this philosophy or attitude, but there are almost endless examples of contemporary activists who peacefully risk their lives for justice and peace. His life and the quotes above, illustrate that there is a viable alternative, which not only exposes the myth of redemptive violence, but also seeks to win the oppressor back into relationship as a part of the justice for the wrong done. Read More

By Sam Tomlin

Politics isn’t working.  So insinuated Lord Ashdown on Monday at the Liberal Democrat party conference. Quite apart from the turmoil of economic woes and social policy, we are, he said, going through a “crisis of democracy” where politics just isn’t connecting to the electorate.

Of course, it is not new thinking to suggest that Joe or Jo Bloggs’ trust in the systems of power has decreased over the past years. The expenses scandal, banking crisis and media moral implosion have ensured public trust in institutions that help form society are perhaps at an all time low.

Re-engaging the electorate is of course a much talked about subject, and Lord Ashdown’s approach, in the fringe event on public services mentioned above, was some form of decentralisation enabling communities to take greater control. Without going into too much detail (and acknowledging a very simplified version of what was said), this of course leads us into wider debates around centralised funding, localism, the Big Society and millionaire’s mansions. Of course these are vital debates, but ultimately they are nothing new.

What did strike me, as a party conference virgin, was that nowhere in the discourse either in this event or in any others I attended, were the means by which politics achieves its goals really challenged, as opposed to the goals themselves or the ‘output’ as one might call it. Read More

By Sam Tomlin

This morning saw Conservative MP Louise Mensch publicly declare her resignation from her position as MP of Corby and East Northamptonshire. In a welcome change, no MP-scandal was behind this decision but simply the pressure of balancing the demands of a public life and prioritising her young family. She said she was “devastated by the necessary decision” amid reports that Conservatives in the constituency are worried about potential defeat in the by-election.

Louise Mensch has decided to step down from her role as an MP to focus on her family life

I, for one, have the utmost respect and admiration for Ms Mensch for making this decision, not primarily as an act of sacrifice for her party (and the possibility of the Conservatives losing a seat!), but for the message it sends to our ‘output’ and ‘productivity’ obsessed society. In a West driven by rampant materialism and unquestioning economic output, personal career progression and advancement can frequently trump dedication to family and community and Ms Mensch is certainly to be commended for taking this self-sacrificial decision.

There are of course questions around the decision for her husband to be based in the USA and the decision for the woman (again) to quit work ahead of the husband to care for children. However, we do not know the details of the family situation and consequently judgement must be suspended on this front. Read More


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