Sunday, April 16, 2006

Dagenham Des and Miliband Dave

Wembley land earmarked by London Borough of Brent for Stadium Academy, under Andrew Rosenfeld of Minerva Properties, who lent Labour Party £1 million.

But will a Headmaster's reference cut short Dave Miliband's career ambitions?

LET me begin with my confessions. My early experience of education was blighted by a school head who seemed to enjoy inflicting fear, pain and humiliation on small children. Having scarcely veiled prejudices and a sense of class, he sought out anxious middle class parents so he could supplement his income by offering private after-school tuition before the dreaded 11-plus. I'm surprised he had the energy left after wielding his strap all day.

We dreamed of the day when we'd be big enough to beat him up. But he was dead by the time I took what revenge I could with a bitter though humourous article, "Bandits of Cheetham Hill", in the short-lived magazine Casablanca.

Education issues change like fashion. When I wrote that people were arguing whether kids could benefit with more old-fashioned discipline, i.e. more beltings like what we had (though we also got free milk and cheap but nourishing school dinners). A few years later the talk turned to giving more independence and authority to school heads.

By then some of my best friends were teachers. One of them wondered why the school rolls at his inner city school did not reflect the local population's changeing make up. He found the head was already exercising enterprise and skills in customer relations with parents and unofficial selection. She had also managed to set up a business on the side. But before staff could dig out anything worse the head stepped out from under a cloud of suspicion and into a better-paid job with OFSTED, which inspects school standards.

I'm sure most heads are decent, dedicated and hard-working, and I even know some. Gillian Cross' Demon Headmaster is just good fun in children's books and television (there, given away some of my sophisticated viewing tastes).
But as the Blair government's wheeze for handing schools and schooling over to businessmen (including some with funny religious ideas) falls over its bright ideas for dispensing honours and fundraising, one particular government minister must wish he hadn't had a mention from a helpful headmaster.

The Sunday Times (April 16, 2006), probably not the friendliest of papers to Labour, though its owner Rupert Murdoch has been close to the Blair Which project, had a story today headed:
"Loose talk from Dagenham Des that could wreck Blair's legacy"

It recounts how Des Smith, head of a school in working-class Dagenham, Essex, has had another role in the evenings, "wooing some of Britain’s wealthiest businessmen over dinner in the capital’s most exclusive restaurants on behalf of Tony Blair".

Last November, an undercover reporter approached the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, whose chairman Sir Cyril Taylor was in charge of persuading wealthy backers to pay £2m each to turn poor schools into “city academies”.
The reporter said she represented a businessman interested in sponsoring an academy. The "businessman" was really another undercover reporter using the name Malcolm Johnson.

"Within weeks the reporter found herself ushered in to a private room at Mosimann’s, an exclusive Knightsbridge restaurant in a converted church, and placed next to Smith, another member of the trust. Around the table were powerful guests. They included Sir Michael Barber, former head of delivery at No 10, two multi-millionaire businessmen and two representatives of an American multinational. Also present was 'academy sponsorship consultant' Rona Kiley, wife of Bob Kiley, former head of Transport for London.

The next day Smith e-mailed the undercover reporter, known as “Claire”, to thank her for a “stimulating and enjoyable” evening. “I would be very happy to facilitate a meeting with Malcolm [the fictitious sponsor] to discuss the issues of sponsoring an academy.”

A few weeks later, Johnson and Claire met Taylor. Over lunch he explained that Smith would be the perfect choice for Johnson to develop his academy project. But what was the payback, Johnson wanted to know.

“There’s no question that sponsors of academies have access, they get invited to No 10, meet the secretary of state and people like that,” said Taylor, who is the rare recipient of two knighthoods — one from the Tories and the other from Labour.

“Some people say, ‘I’m going to buy a knighthood by doing this,’ but I think they should not think that at all because, first of all, that’s a form of corruption. “But the fact is a lot of sponsors do get recognition.”

Nevertheless, some meetings and meals later he set out what appeared to be a tariff system, in which a benefactor who gave to “one or two” academies might receive an OBE or a knighthood while a donor who funded five of them would be “a certainty” for a peerage. “The prime minister’s office would recommend someone like Malcolm for an OBE, a CBE or a knighthood,” said Smith. “It will either be an OBE, a CBE or a knighthood . . . But also what would be great is, you could go to the House of Lords and . . . become a lord.”

Two days later The Sunday Times reported Smith’s comments under the headline: “Revealed: cash for honours scandal”. The government quickly distanced itself. John Reid, the defence minister, said: “All I can say about this story is it seems to be based on one guy who I don’t know who he is, and he certainly doesn’t speak for the government.”

Within 24 hours of the Sunday Times’s story, Smith had resigned, saying he had been “naive”. But though teaching unions, parents and MPs continued to battle Blair's education schemes, and even deputy prime minister John Prescott expressed unease, Blair won a parliamentary vote with Tory support and enough Labour MPs who came round, and punched the air in triumph.

Meanwhile Scotland Yard had been persuaded by complaints to look into whether honours had been offered in exchange for secret loans to political parties. The funding of city academies also came under scrutiny.

So far 27 academies have been opened, and eight of the financial backers have been honoured. There is no reason to think the knighthoods were their motivation, nor evidence the academies were all they did to earn them. But some people in Whitehall have not been happy with other nominations, according to the Sunday Times. Nor were the police satisfied everything was kosher. Last Thursday, at breakfast time, two officers arrested Des Smith at his home in east London. And that was not the end of the matter. It may be just a beginning.

It was reported today that in his conversation with the Sunday Times undercover reporter, thinking she represented a potential sponsor, Dagenham Des promised : "I'll introduce him to David Miliband and say 'Knighthood? This is the man'." Smith was said to have referred to Mr Miliband, a former education minister, as "mate" during their conversations. In another extract, Mr Smith said: "Miliband is going to be the next leader after Blair".

The Right Honourable David Wright Miliband (born 15 July 1965 in London) is Labour MP for South Shields., and Minister of State for Communities and Local Government. Before becoming a minister he was Blair's head of policy.
In his present job, invented last year, he shoulders deputy PM and Environment Minister John Prescott out. As a Blair protégé, one of those for whom safe seats in the North East were found, he has been tipped as a possible future Prime Minister. His younger brother, economist Ed Miliband, was elected MP for Doncaster North in 2005.

David and Ed are the sons of the late Ralph Miliband, who came to this country as a young refugee from wartime Belgium, and served in the Royal Navy before going on to an acdemic career at the LSE. Miliband pere was author of "Parliamentary Socialism, the politics of Labour",

"Of political parties claiming socialism to be their aim, the Labour Party has always been one of the most dogmatic - not about socialism, but about the parliamentary system. Empirical and flexible about all else, its leaders have always made devotion to that system their fixed point of reference and the conditioning factor of their political behaviour."

His other works included The State in Capitalist Society (1969), Marxism and Politics (1977), Capitalist Democracy in Britain (1982), Class Power and State Power (1983), Divided Societies: Class Struggle in Contemporary Capitalism (1989) and Socialism for a Sceptical Age (1994). He died on May 21, 1994.

Perhaps he was mercifully spared seeing his sons' successful careers. Relatives I met in Belgium a few years ago only asked how the books had fared. As a friend of mine, Steve Marks put it last month; Ralph Miliband spent his life arguing that the Labour Party has nothing to do with socialism. His sons are loyally committed to proving their father was right.

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