Eton Mess: education the election winner for Labour

schools blog

EDUCATION is the biggest dividing line in the General Election.

And it is one battleground where Jeremy Corbyn and Labour can win big time.

Education determines an apprenticeship, a university place, job opportunity, home, happiness, health, career, earning potential and a person’s whole life.

It also divides our country on class lines and underpins the status quo, where the rich get richer and the rest of us do the best we can with what is left.

On one hand Theresa May’s Tories offer SAT tests and selection at every level, privatisation of schools via the sinister academy system, grammar schools and private institutions such as Eton and Westminster, charging up to £36,000 a year for the very wealthy to educate their offspring.

On the other hand, Labour is offering a free and fair education system for everyone, where success does not depend on wealth, social class or exam results.

Ironic, because today, MPs questioned “how much of a grip” the Tory government’s Department for Education has on providing school places where they are really needed.

The system is “increasingly incoherent and too often poor value for money,” says the Public Accounts Committee.

And the government is spending “well over the odds” on free schools or academies while other schools are in poor condition, concludes the cross-party committee.

But Theresa May has already tied her education policy to so-called free schools and the failed grammar school system.

Last September she put grammar schools back at the heart of Conservative thinking for the first time since the 1970s.

For May, the return of selection is part of an attempt to redefine the Conservatives as a party of meritocracy and exam success.

Tory Ministers also say controversial free schools are key to meeting demand for school places.

The government pledged to open 500 more free schools, which are state-funded but independently run, by 2020 and has plans for a further 110.

It is a huge mistake, which panders to their friends in big business.

For the past three months I helped campaign against the academisation of a vibrant primary school in Hastings, in East Sussex.

I saw at first-hand how schools and children’s futures were being handed into the private control of multi-millionaire businessmen, who in turn had unhealthy links to senior politicians.

Those running the academies, or free schools, earn vast salaries while the education of the children often suffers.

One head of a primary academy chain took home a salary in excess of £200,000, after being handed a massive pay rise.

He also received £28,316 in pension contributions, which took his overall remuneration package to £229,138.

This is more than the Prime Minister and many city bankers.

Last year delegates at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference in Liverpool, heard that growing numbers of academy heads were now also earning more than the PM’s salary of £149,440 a year.

“When schools were under local council control, it would have been unthinkable as well as impossible that a headteacher, of even a group of schools, could earn more than a director of education, let alone the Secretary of State for Education, let alone the Prime Minister,” Simon Clarkson from Leicestershire told the conference.

“We need to guard against the rot of greed.”

Mr Clarkson concluded: “Our state schools are paid for by the public. They need to be accountable. Let me remind you whose money is being used to do this… ours!”

Now the National Audit Office agrees that further academisation of schools is a “significant risk to long-term value for money”.

The Public Accounts Committee MPs say that having enough school places in safe, high-quality buildings, where they are needed, is crucial.

“Without this, parents may have less choice, pupils may have inconvenient journeys to school and the learning environment may be less effective, putting educational outcomes at risk,” they say.

They note that 420,000 new school places will be needed by 2021, many in secondary schools where provision is more expensive than at primary level.

“In the context of severe financial constraints, it is vital that the department uses its funding in a more coherent and cost effective way,” say the MPs, adding that too many free schools are in unsuitable temporary buildings, lacking outside space and sports facilities.

Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said the free schools programme was “diverting a lot of money” from school maintenance.

“What we want to see is a much more balanced programme of capital funding so that existing poor school buildings get the funding and investment they need and those new schools are built.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the report reflected head teachers’ concerns.

“Creating surplus places is an inefficient use of public money and damages existing schools where spare capacity is created,” he said.

Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: “Free schools do not address the school-place crisis, often being built in areas of no need and often in unsuitable premises.

“This policy is not evidenced based and is nothing to do with the wellbeing of children or providing a sound education.”

Labour’s Angela Rayner, shadow education secretary, says the free school programme was incoherent and inefficient.

“In the recent Budget, the chancellor announced plans that would only create one-sixth of the school places we will need by 2021, and even those plans were drastically underfunded,” she said.

“Tory academy plans are in complete chaos. 

“The impossible job the Department for Education has set itself in trying to directly run thousands of schools from Whitehall is fully exposed as we learn over half of existing academy chains have refused to take on schools and 70% of inadequate academies have been left languishing with poor academy chains.”

Labour’s plans for education are, in contrast, broad-reaching and inclusive.

Jeremy Corbyn made education a central theme of his campaign for re-election as Labour leader, lamenting the “commodification” of the education system.

Labour’s proposed national education service is impressive.

It starts with a principle that education is a public good. Learning should be provided from cradle to grave.

From there, it goes to universal free childcare, building on the success of Sure Start – something which has been dismantled by the Tories.

Next, Labour pledges decent schools for all, including class sizes of under 30, an idea so universal that the only question it raises is why it’s not already the case.

Labour also advocates free tertiary education and the abolition on university tuition fees.

Finally, the promise of investment in adult education is a huge vote winner – who could possibly want adults to be less skilled, less fulfilled, than they could be?

And today Labour pledged to bring back maintenance grants for the poorest students and restore the abolished financial support allowance.

Labour will reverse the decision to replace means-tested grants for university students with loans, announced by George Osborne in his final budget.

It will also reinstate the Education Maintenance Allowance, a means-tested cash payment, for 16- and 17-year-olds from poorer families choosing to remain in education.

Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank suggested the EMA, which was worth £30 a week, helped boost participation among teenagers.

But it was abolished in 2011 as part of the Tory coalition government’s efforts to reduce the deficit and replaced with a much less generous bursary system.

Ms Rayner said the twin announcements: “Show that while the Tories continue to burden our young people with debt, the Labour Party is committed to investing in our young people.

“It is only by investing in education that we can ensure that all of our young people, whatever their background, are able to succeed in whatever they aspire to.

“When we can help improve the education of over a million young people with a small increase in corporation tax, it is an investment we would be foolish not to make.”

Labour says the policy could be paid for through a 1.5% increase in corporation tax.

Analysts say such a move would raise £3billion a year.

Meanwhile education trade unions have urged all parents to turn education cuts into the election battleground.

The National Union of Teachers says the General Election offers an opportunity to fight for better resourced schools and teachers.

Kevin Courtney told the union’s annual conference the snap election was an opportunity to challenge the funding shortages in England.

“In the run-up to this election, parents must demand of all politicians: will they invest in our country, will they invest in our children?” he told delegates in Cardiff.

“I don’t believe there’s a parent anywhere in this country who voted for their child’s class size to go up, or voted for their child to lose the opportunity to do art or dance or music.

“We can reach parents with this and we can make a difference in the general election.”

The NUT’s call on funding was joined by other unions, including those representing headteachers.

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Our top message is that there is insufficient funding in the education system. We call on all political parties to commit to investing in education as part of a long-term economic plan.”

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said his union would also campaign over the school funding cuts.

“There are crises, like teacher recruitment and the £3billion of cuts the government expects schools to make, that should not be forgotten during the election campaign,” he said.

The education battle lines are drawn and it gives Jeremy Corbyn and Labour its best platform to win the General Election.

  • If you are not yet convinced, read the words of one teacher, Rebecca Bee:

“Let me start by saying that I am not concerned about my pay. I don’t want more money.

What I am concerned about are the cuts that the Conservative government makes to education are huge, life-changing cuts that are having a detrimental effect on the mental health and well-being of a massive number of children and young people.

Michael Gove started his annihilation of the A*-G GCSE system back in 2010, and this year we see the first string of examinations take place.

“More rigour” was the battle cry. However, did you know that the new GCSE English Literature exam is a closed-book?

This means that no student will be given a copy of the text in their exam – not even SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) students, many of which have recall and memory problems.

The GCSE English Language exam uses extracts from heritage texts that carry a reading age of approximately 17.

The average reading age of a GCSE-level student is 14.

So why are we asking our students to read and analyse texts that are aimed at someone with a reading age 3 years above their own? Some of my students have a reading age of 9. They cannot in any way access the papers.

We still don’t know how the new GCSEs are going to be graded.

Schools are in disarray as they know one thing to be true – if their GCSE results are bad, Ofsted will swoop in, prepared to announce them as “requiring improvement”.

Excessive testing at ages 7 and 11 has led to children prepared for tests, but little else.

These exams are completely arbitrary and do not test the skills required for success at GCSE and in adult life.

I agree that students need to leave primary school ‘secondary ready’.

But, I do not think that testing students’ ability to identify grammatical items over their ability to compose a creative piece is the best way to do it.

I have a firm belief that testing students does not make them better learners.

We do not need grammar schools. We don’t. Not until all other schools are funded well, and equally.

If we increase funding to all state schools to a level reflective of needs, we allow teachers to develop a ‘grammar curriculum’ and give schools ‘grammar resources’ and invest in better pastoral care, then we won’t need more grammar schools.

Why do we need to build more schools when we can just give more money to existing ones? Why, at a time where funding is in crisis, are we investing in new grammars and not existing schools?

When I entered teaching in 2005, most classes had a learning support assistant (you may know them as a TA).

These people were incredibly important – they worked with SEND students, BESD (behavioural, social and emotional difficulties) students, assisted with students who had been absent or were having trouble accessing the curriculum and they did this on minimal pay, with minimal complaint.

This government has cut spending on education to the point where these TAs are rare, or simply don’t exist.

The excessive cuts to education also mean that many schools are now in a situation where they are considering making cuts in the curriculum and getting rid of specific subjects, usually the arts – the subjects that make them well-rounded thinkers, evaluative learners and creative, motivated individuals.

Why the arts? Well, because they don’t add “rigour”!

These decisions are being made every damn day, because the government have headteachers over a barrel.

You must succeed. You must get above average pass rates. You must push out students with E-Baccs. If you don’t, we will academise you.

Are we here to provide exam factories that churn out identikit students?

Don’t be blinded by May. She wants you to be blinkered and she wants you to ignore the massive demolition of education. Don’t give her what she wants.”

 

The right wing media billionaires fixing the General Election

newspaper-printing blog

THE Sun’s infamous claim following the 1992 general election that “It’s the Sun Wot Won it” is widely known. 

And in almost half of all general elections since 1918 one newspaper or another has claimed to have swung the result.

So has June’s General Election already been decided by the opinion formers within our national newspapers?

And if so, who has made these decisions?

Former newspaper editor Roy Greenslade says: “Sadly, one key question not asked of people interviewed by the opinion pollsters, is their prime news provider. It would be fascinating to know whether they read a daily national newspaper and, if so, which title.”

It is easy to see without looking too far that most of our press supports Theresa May’s Tory Government, and also backed Brexit in last year’s referendum.

The big sellers, for example, all backed the Leave campaign and in doing so defined what Mrs May is determined to make the banner for this General Election.

Their power to shape opinion is both sinister and immense.

The Daily Mail (circulation: 1,544,084) has been rabid right wing Tory rag since it supported Hitler and Oswald Moseley’s Black Shirts back in the 1930s. Since the EU sceptic argument began to surface in the late 1980s, it consistently urged Britons to “Believe in Britain” and vote to leave the EU.

Last year The Sun (circulation: 1,450,523) told readers to “beleave in Britain” and back Brexit, arguing that a vote to Leave would allow voters to “reclaim our country”. It now tells us we must vote for a “strong leader” in Theresa May.

Its stablemate The Sunday Times (circulation: 777,834) also wanted Britain to leave. And today, along with its daily sister title The Times is backing the Conservatives in the General Election campaign.

Similar right wing newspapers: The Daily Express (circulation: 415,023), The Daily Telegraph (circulation: 490,800), and The Sunday Telegraph (circulation: 370,976), all supported a long-standing “crusade” to “get Britain out of Europe”.

And all now support Theresa May’s right wing Hard Brexit agenda.

Only the more left-wing British press backed the Remain campaign last year – The Guardian (circulation: 165,702), The Observer (circulation 189,091) and The Daily Mirror (circulation: 778,650).

They are likely to back Labour in the General Election, but all have been lukewarm to leader Jeremy Corbyn and sometimes have been downright hostile to his alternative policies.

But who is making these General Election opinion-forming decisions, and why?

Almost 80% of our press is owned by a handful of mostly foreign-based billionaires.

And the political position of a paper is set by its owner. Our press barons wield far more power and influence than all but a very few MPs and have, unsurprisingly, used it to further their own interests.

Rupert Murdoch’s candour at the Leveson Inquiry was revealing. He said that if someone wanted to know his opinion on a subject they should just read The Sun.

So who owns what and why do they favour the capitalist status quo?

The Sun, Sun on Sunday, Times and Sunday Times are all owned by Rupert Murdoch, a US-based billionaire who owns 24.9% of the British press and has supported the Tories since 2010, after a brief cosy-toes with Tony Blair and his New Labour brand.

Journalist Anthony Hilton once asked Murdoch why he opposed the European Union. He replied:

“That’s easy, when I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.”

Small wonder that David Cameron, George Osborne and latterly Theresa May are the first invitees to his swanky Park Lane cocktail parties.

The Daily Express, Sunday Express and Star newspapers are owned by billionaire pornographer Richard Desmond who has also supported the Tories since 2010.

“Richard Desmond was furious when, after a decade of greasing palms in Labour and the Tories, both decided not to grant him either a knighthood or a peerage”, writes media pundit Gavin Haynes.

The fallout from that colossal sulk was partly why he ended up giving a million pounds to UKIP just before the 2015 General Election. With May now in charge, he is set to revert back to the Conservatives.

The Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and Metro are all owned by Lord Rothermere (owner of 27.3% of the British press) who lives in France and is non-domiciled for tax reasons. He too is a strong supporter of the Tories.

Lord Rothermere is usually hands-off, preferring to let editor Paul Dacre run things, in his own cavalier way – remember his vicious attack on Ed Miliband’s late father, during the 2015 General Election.

The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph are owned by reclusive property billionaires David and Frederick Barclay – former close friends of Margaret Thatcher – who live on a private island near Sark.

The Barclay brothers certainly have enough experience in electoral manipulation. In 2008, the 600 people who live on Sark voted against the Barclays’ chosen candidates for the island’s governing council. As a result, the Barclays sacked vast numbers of workers at the hotels on Sark they owned.

As Bob Dylan once wrote: “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”

I believe we are witnessing a complete bankruptcy of freedom within our Fourth Estate.

And within that bankruptcy comes the manipulation of the electorate.

For the uninitiated, the Fourth Estate commonly refers to the news media, especially print journalism or “the press”.

Thomas Carlyle attributed the origin of the term to Edmund Burke, who used it in a parliamentary debate in 1787 on the opening up of press reporting of the House of Commons.

He described the journalists’ role in representing the interests of “the people” in relation to the business and political elites who claim to be doing things in our names.

The Fourth Estate was a civil watchdog to keep an eye on those in power, and provided the philosophical argument for defining the public citizenry and the nation-state as two separate entities with differing interests.

But this position has now been hi-jacked by corrupt big business ownership of our media and the aforementioned media moguls.

If we accept the premise of the Fourth Estate, we also have to ask ourselves if the “national” and the “public” interest are the same thing.

But in today’s capitalist world both are divided along class lines.

In this context, the national interest is about state secrecy and keeping things from us. On the other hand, the public interest is about disclosure and our right to know.

For instance, if we look at who trained and funded the ISIS terrorists and which countries now sustain them to carry out attacks, such as those on Paris and Beirut, the press has not been forthcoming in its reporting. Instead it focuses on Muslims, refugees, border controls, divisions within the Labour Party and the “need” to keep bombing Syria.

Sounds like Conservative Party rhetoric to you?

Well it is… formed and shaped by the same billionaires who own our media.

This separation between the people and the state becomes more important when the economic interests of the powerful so frequently dominate society.

The same interests being challenged so forcefully by Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.

Today, the state is the executive branch of the ruling class and its big business paymasters.

Our newspapers like to paint their own role as heroic – they are the brave defenders of democracy who hold our elected representatives to account.

But too often, far from protecting our democracy, our papers subvert it.

Since 2010, the press barons pushed the highly contentious argument that there is no alternative to Austerity and largely ignored the stories of the widening social divisions and the swelling numbers at food banks – the 21st century’s soup kitchens.

And editorial independence is a sham. Proprietors choose editors who they know share their views.

Likewise, the mechanisms through which owners can, and do, interfere with or shape content to promote particular viewpoints are not difficult to identify; they range from directly dictating the line a newspaper should follow on particular issues, to appointing senior staff with a shared political outlook, as well as forms of indirect influence over the ethos of the organisation which may prompt journalists to engage in ‘self-censorship’.

The Fourth Estate is now more powerful than ever, but it is no longer the once heralded “civil watchdog to keep an eye on those in power”.

It is now fake news and spin to maintain the capitalist status quo and the power of the super rich.

Trust has broken down threefold, between people and politicians, media and people, journalists and politicians, with the latter now observing each other with deep distrust and mutual antipathy.

A vicious circle has established itself.

Do we want these people deciding out future?

We need real media democracy in this country to allow a diversity of voices to be heard.

We must help generate that informed consent by providing the public with high-quality, well-researched and incisive journalism…. by the people and for the people!

So get involved… support the work of new media organisations such as: Media Diversified, Novara Media, Corporate Watch, Common Space, Media Lens, Bella Caledonia, Vox Political, Evolve Politics, Real Media, Reel News, Manchester Mule, Salford Star and many more.

The right wing British press will do all they can to ensure a Conservative victory at the General Election… only we can stop them!

  • You may find these other blog postings interesting:

Paris, Isis, Syria and The Bankruptcy of the Fourth Estate

The Loaded Language of the British Press

The Crippled Estate of BBC Spin

So Who is Frying the BBC Fish?

 

 

Celebrities flock to provide new Red Wedge for Corbyn

celebsblog

THE right wing press loves to depict Jeremy Corbyn as a dour, out-of-touch “retired geography teacher” who is more at home pottering on his allotment than connecting with real people.

Oh, how wrong they are!

Corbyn’s leadership election campaigns in 2015 and 2016 gave the electorate a glimpse of the man’s universal appeal.

And anyone who has met him or heard him speak publicly, will attest to the 67-year-old’s contagious charisma and genuine human warmth.

Small wonder therefore, that celebrities from the world of acting, music, sport, and elsewhere, are flocking to support him in his bid to become the UK’s next Prime Minister.

An unlikely quartet of multi-millionaire snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan, Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe, Welsh diva Charlotte Church and the Modfather himself, Paul Weller, are leading a 21st Century Red Wedge for Corbyn.

This new Wedge kicked off last December with the hugely successful Concert for Corbyn at Brighton’s famous Dome auditorium.

The People Powered concert was a real return to the days of Red Wedge and Rock Against Racism, when musicians publicly stood up for political causes.

In the case of Red Wedge, a collective of musicians spearheaded by Paul Weller, Jimmy Somerville and Billy Bragg, the aim was to support the left leaning Labour Party of Neil Kinnock in their battle against Margaret Thatcher and her far right Conservative government.

Red Wedge was launched in November 1985, with Bragg, Weller, Strawberry Switchblade and Kirsty MacColl invited to a reception at the Palace of Westminster hosted by Labour MP Robin Cook.

Red Wedge was not officially part of the Labour Party, but it did initially have office space at Labour’s headquarters.

And it organised a number of major tours.

The first, in January and February 1986, featured Bragg, Weller’s band The Style Council, The Communards, Junior Giscombe, Lorna Gee and Jerry Dammers, and picked up guest appearances from Madness, The The, Heaven 17, Bananarama, Prefab Sprout, Elvis Costello, Gary Kemp, Tom Robinson, Sade, The Beat, Lloyd Cole, The Blow Monkeys, Joolz and The Smiths.

It was mind-blowing in its style and political swagger – particularly with under 25 electorate.

But after the 1987 election produced a third consecutive Conservative victory, many of the musical collective drifted away and Red Wedge was formally disbanded in 1990.

Billy Bragg remembers the days clearly: “I suppose the Wedge came about because we all kept meeting at benefit gigs for Nicaragua or whatever. Those were the darkest days of the Thatcherite 80s, as well. There was a feeling that something had to be done.”

Paul Weller added: “The MPs we’d meet around the country were more showbiz than the groups. It was an eye-opener; it brought me full circle in how I feel about politics. It’s a game. I’ve very little interest in it. I’m not talking about what’s happening to our planet or our country, but about organised politics.”

But the last few years have seen an upsurge in radicalism in both music and politics as the economic conditions for the poorest in particular reach crisis point.

Now the people are hand-in-hand with celebrities speaking their minds about Theresa May, the Conservative government, austerity, homelessness, the NHS and the greater Establishment.

Last December’s Concert for Corbyn was organised by music journalist Lois Wilson and the Brighton branch of Momentum; and it persuaded Paul Weller, to take part in his first direct support of a politician since the days of Red Wedge.

The Dome was sold-out and the organisers smartly utilised both the bar area and main auditorium for a ‘revue’ type affair.

Edgar Summertyme Jones and Kathyrn Williams played to an enthralled bar; and later Ghetto Priest and his band delivered one of the sets of the evening; a superb concoction of dub, grime, percussive African-fusion, and rock, that had the audience tapping away, many with big smiles on their faces.

With many bands to get through and short turnarounds, there was very little time to relax before the quirky three-piece all-girl band Stealing Sheep took to the stage in fetching polka dot onesies.

Guitars dominated concert hall proceedings, beginning with The Coral founder Bill Ryder-Jones, who claimed on stage that he personally got the call from JC to appear.

Paul Weller, ever the rebel, puffed on a cigarette beside the stage, ready to go on with a collection of musician friends, put together for this occasion, including an exceedingly rare live gig for the wheelchair-bound Robert Wyatt.

He, Weller and Steve Pilgrim alternated songs, based around keys, guitars, drums and the double bass of the legendary Danny Thompson.

A personal highlight was Steve Pilgrim dedicating his anthem Explode the Sun directly to Jeremy Corbyn.

Meanwhile, Wyatt, like Weller, opted for a series of lesser known songs, such as Mass Medium, which originally appeared on his 1985 Old Rottenhat album, a song that Wyatt introduced saying the whole press had turned into gutter press.

Jeremy Corbyn followed them on stage and delivered a short speech; a mix of his politics and the importance of music in general.

The final words were left for The Farm front man Peter Hooton who said if he had to plant a flag in a field, he would want Corbyn on his side.

Prior to playing the Dome gig in December 2016, Weller said: “When Red Wedge came to an end I said I would never get involved in party politics again.

“’I’m doing the gig because I like what Corbyn says and stands for. I think it’s time to take the power out of the hands of the elite and hand it back to the people of this country. I want to see a government that has some integrity and compassion.”

Billy Bragg is with Weller on this.

Last August (during Corbyn’s second successful leadership campaign) he accused the Murdoch owned Times of twisting his words in a report claiming he thought Jeremy Corbyn was unable to reach enough of the electorate to become an effective political force.

In response to the Times article Bragg said he had “joined the long list of people stitched up by the Murdoch papers”.

“Don’t believe the bullshit about me in the Times,” he said, “I’m still supporting Corbyn.”

He then urged his followers to “stay calm”, adding, “don’t let Murdoch sow discord”.

He later said: “I’m a socialist which means my glass is half full. I’m encouraged by the young people being mobilised.”

But while the support of veterans, Weller, Wyatt, Bragg and award-winning film producer Ken Loach may be taken for granted, it is the new celebrity supporters who have caught the eye.

Snooker superstar Ronnie O’Sullivan has been positively verbose on Twitter about his support for Corbyn.

Recent Tweets include:

“I love paying tax. As long as it goes to the right people who need it, like the NHS and education”

And taking a swipe at Donald Trump and the Tories he tweeted: “Everyone should boycott the USA and any other country. Also the bankers who stole the tax payers’ dosh for fiddling the books.”

Ronnie Blog

In an interview last month with the Daily Mirror, O’Sullivan said people should give Jeremy Corbyn a break.

“Jeremy Corbyn is a man of his word,” he added. “He is unwavering in his beliefs whether he is criticised for them or not. I’d like to be his friend.”

And step forth Harry Potter to lend some magical support for Corbyn.

Actor Daniel Radcliffe energetically praised the Labour leader saying it was “just so nice to have people excited about somebody.”

“It seems to be more or less because they are excited about sincerity,” he said. “I think we all suddenly realised that we are so used to politicians lying. Even when they are being sincere, it feels so scripted that it is hard to get behind them.”

Singer and activist Charlotte Church is a well-known Labour supporter and is also 100% behind Jeremy Corbyn.

She called Corbyn: “A cool-headed, honest, considerate man”.

In a post on her blog, she said: “He is one of the only politicians of note that seems to truly recognise the dire inequality that exists in this country today and actually have a problem with it. There is something inherently virtuous about him, and that is a quality that can rally the support of a lot of people, and most importantly, a lot of young people.”

Shia LaBeouf, the actor from the universally acclaimed Transformers films normally delivers lines such as: “Not so tough without a head, are you?”

But for Corbyn, LaBeuf speaks plainly: “I like Jeremy Corbyn. I like him in every way.”

Former Roxy Music keyboardist Brian Eno wrote a whole opinion piece in the Guardian on his support for Corbyn, saying the Labour leader has spent many years sticking to his principles.

“He’s been doing this with courage and integrity and with very little publicity,” Eno said.

“This already distinguishes him from at least half the people in Westminster, whose strongest motivation seems to have been to get elected, whatever it takes.”

Turner prize winning artist Grayson Perry he would back Jeremy Corbyn, as he was “doing something interesting for the political debate.”

“I think he’s gold,” he added.

Comedian Josie Long has shown her support for Corbyn from the start of his 2015 leadership campaign.

“I think people are voting for Jeremy Corbyn because they like and are excited by him,” she said.

“There is so much excitement and so many people are desperate to get involved in a positive way.”

Pop star Lily Allen, is also an ardent supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, and has worked hard to highlight the plight of the refugees.

She strongly supported Mr Corbyn’s campaign to remain Labour leader in 2016, stating: “He seems to be the only dignified person in Westminster.”

At a Corbyn rally in Manchester, former Corrie star Julie Hesmondhalgh said she’d left Labour after it “parted company with its principles”, but that recently she’d “started to smell something that smelled like hope”.

She spoke at the event, telling supporters: “Welcome to the vibrant, mass movement of giving a toss about stuff.”

And Maxine Peake, star of Channel 4 drama Shameless, and The Theory of Everything, wrote in The Morning Star, that Corbyn has put Labour “back on track”.

“He has inspired a movement of young and old to fight for education, health, welfare, peace and justice and we will quickly organise and mobilise ourselves in his support”.

But let’s leave the final words to three veteran celebrities

Pink Floyd guitarist Roger Waters has nailed his colours firmly to the Corbyn mast.

“I think it is fabulous that somebody has risen to the surface who could describe themselves as being heir to Aneurin Bevan or Tony Benn or Michael Foot or one of the genuine left wing Labour Party leaders,” he said in a BBC interview, before almost vomiting the word “Blair”!

Celebrated playwright Alan Bennett – the man behind The History Boys – said he “very much approves” of Corbyn.

“I approve of him. If only because it brings Labour back to what they ought to be thinking about,” he said.

And Star Trek’s captain Jean-Luc Picard (actor Patrick Stewart) believes Corbyn can “Make It So” for a Labour victory in the General Election.

“I think that Jeremy Corbyn has begun to find a voice that’s clearly authentic and passionate,” he states with conviction.

“I’m beginning to have a feeling that there’s a route for Labour that might be very exciting for the country. I carried a placard for the first election after the war in 1945, when Clement Attlee got in, and those principles remain my principles.”

Jeremy Corbyn: unfashionable and out-of-touch?

Think again!

  • Further Concerts for Corbyn were planned for Liverpool and Manchester this summer, but Theresa May’s ‘snap’ General Election has delayed those gigs, at least for the time being.

The face of innate racism

SAFFBLOG

“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.”

Elie Wiesel

THE subjugation of one human being by another is something which has eaten at me for as long as I can remember, and is the main reason why I am a socialist and a pacifist.

That abuse of power shows itself in so many ways in our ever expanding world and not least by the innate racism that exists in white Western society.

Here in the UK, UKIP and many Conservative politicians contrived to make the 2015 General Election and the Brexit referendum of last year revolve around the issue of immigration and fear of foreigners.

UKIP leader Nigel Farage, in particular, singled out Romanians, and immigrants from other former Warsaw Pact countries, as “scroungers” and “criminals” who are taking “British jobs from British people” and putting pressure on our NHS and housing supply.

And more recently, across the Atlantic, US President Donald Trump has daily blamed Muslims and Mexicans for every conceivable problem in the world.

It is the sort of racist scapegoating we have witnessed time and again in this country since end of World War 2.

Racism is the belief that characteristics and abilities can be attributed to people simply on the basis of their race and that some racial groups are superior to others.

Racism and discrimination have been used as powerful weapons encouraging fear or hatred of others in times of conflict and during economic downturns.

You only need to look at the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s or the atrocities meted out today by Zionist Israel to Palestinians, to see the dire consequences if racism is left unchallenged.

But here I am not talking about the overt racism exhibited by Bibi Netanyahu, Donald Trump or Nigel Farage, or even the so-called ‘institutional racism’ within some of our national institutions, such as the police. But I am looking at a deeper racism which exists within almost all of us born white and British.

It exists due to 800 years of our collective history as a colonial and Christian power, hell-bent on exporting our values, religion and control on other nations.

And it exists because our collective media does nothing to challenge it.

In 2001, I was working as chief investigative reporter on The Chronicle – a daily tabloid newspaper in Newcastle upon Tyne. On 11 September, I returned from a routine job in the town to watch in horror – on the newsroom TV – the atrocities of 9/11 unfold in front of our eyes, some 3,000 miles away in New York and Virginia.

The next day, the newspaper’s senior management determined that all employees should stand and observe two minutes silence for the innocent victims of the terror attack.

I refused.

Not because I did not feel pain or sympathy for those victims, but because my company had never observed even one minute’s silence for the hundreds of thousands killed by Allied military action in Iraq in 1991, the one million murdered in Rwanda, or the thousands killed in Bosnia, just a few years earlier.

Instead I went to the newsroom toilet, sat in a cubicle and cried.

The newspaper’s reaction to 9/11 – and the wall to wall media coverage over the ensuing months – typified everything I had witnessed in my previous 16 years in journalism.

Now, 16 years later, nothing has changed.

If I take Bosnia, Iraq and Rwanda out of the equation, a few other examples may clarify what I mean:

  • Three French skiers are lost in an avalanche in the Alps. The next day there are lengthy reports in most UK national newspapers. Each of the victims is named and in-depth family stories are written.
  • A lone gunman goes berserk and kills children in a US high school. The next day it is front page news in almost every newspaper in the UK and Europe. In depth analysis of the gunman and tributes to each of the victims and their families ensues.
  • A mad man kills hostages in an Australian restaurant. It is front pages news in every newspaper in the UK, USA and Europe. Extensive coverage about the killer and each of his victims finds itself across western media.
  • An earthquake in Northern Pakistan kills thousands of inhabitants. Over the ensuing weeks there is barely a mention in any UK or western newspapers.
  • Tens of thousands of innocent civilians are murdered by US and UK bombing in Afghanistan and Syria. But there are few reports of these atrocities in UK and western newspapers.
  • Flooding in Bangladesh kills thousands of people. Over the following weeks there are just a few lines in UK broadsheet newspapers.
  • Almost weekly we read of reports about African and Syrian refugees drowning the Mediterranean. There is often news about how the accidents happen and who is to “blame”, but no attempt by any British newspaper to name the migrants or find out a little about who they were and the grieving families they leave behind.

You don’t need a microscope to see the differences in the reaction and news reporting. It has nothing to do with distance from our shores. It is all to do with white western values.

So our news media – even enlightened newspapers like The Guardian – value the life and story of an English speaking suited, white, Western person quite differently to that of an African black or Urdu speaking Asian person.

We give ‘ours’ names, identities and lives, but the ‘others’ just nationality, religion and race. It is so much easier to avoid reporting the lives and deaths of these people if we don’t identify them as human beings the same as us.

This innate racism runs deep and has been entrenched more deeply with the Islamophobia which has perpetuated within Western society since 2001.

The white mass murderer, Norwegian, Anders Brevik is reported simply as a ‘madman killer’ – despite the fact he was a zealot Christian with a white supremacist agenda.

In contrast any killing carried out by a person of even dubious Muslim faith is reported as the act of an Islamist Extremist!

Sorry for the pun, but it is clear black and white racism.

But we have 800 years to overcome.

Britain, France, Spain, Belgium, Holland and Portugal have been colonialists since the so-called Holy Crusades to Jerusalem in the 13th century, the colonial exploitation of the Americas in the 16th and 17th centuries, to the dissection of Africa, South America and Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Our imperialist ancestors conquered peaceful countries, imposed western values and Christianity upon them, murdered millions and took millions more into slavery.

And over the past 100 years we have been joined by our ‘allies’ the USA, which since the end of World War 2 has bombed: China 1945-46, Korea 1950-53, China 1950-53, Guatemala 1954, Indonesia 1958, Cuba 1959-60, Guatemala 1960, Belgian Congo 1964, Guatemala 1964, Dominican Republic 1965-66, Peru 1965, Laos 1964-73, Vietnam 1961-73, Cambodia 1969-70, Guatemala 1967-69, Lebanon 1982-84, Grenada 1983-84, Libya 1986, El Salvador 1981-92, Nicaragua 1981-90, Iran 1987-88, Libya 1989, Panama 1989-90, Iraq 1991, Kuwait 1991, Somalia 1992-94, Bosnia 1995, Iran 1998, Sudan 1998, Afghanistan 1998, Yugoslavia – Serbia 1999, Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 2003, Libya 2011 and Syria 2014-2017.

Our nations have sown war and hatred all over the world – now there is a heavy harvest.

As a white English father I despair for the future for my children and the children of Palestine, Africa, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Yemen and anywhere that is deemed by a Western government to be a target.

At the core of any working definition of racism is the unspoken ingredient of fear.

People around the world all belong to the same human race; they share the same tendencies to fear, domination, and subjugation.

We need to let everyone know, we are the same, no matter what language we speak, whatever the colour of our skin or the religion we follow.

Maybe, I am lucky.

I live in Wolverhampton in the English West Midlands. It is a city which basks in multi-culturism. It was the bed of much Afro Caribbean immigration in the 1950s. This was followed by immigration from Pakistan and India in the 1960s and 1970s.

Now decades later, those with black, brown and coffee-coloured skin mix, work, play and even marry those with white skin.

Currently there are 22,000 Sikhs, 11,000 Muslims and 7,000 Hindis in Wolverhampton. But there is no racial or religious tension.

Within a mile of my house there is a Hindi temple, a Buddhist temple, two Sikh temples, a central Mosque and at least nine Christian churches of various denominations.

Most of those with Asian or African ancestry are now third or even fourth generation immigrants and speak English as their first language, often with a thick Wolves’ accent, that Noddy Holder would recognise as his own.

But, I am not pretending it has always been like this.

I live in the parliamentary constituency which was once the seat of overt Conservative racist MP Enoch Powell (1950-74), and there has been a later history of National Front and BNP activity in the area.

But most of their racial fear, or as Powell put it: “the rivers of blood” of immigration, has now passed.

Now most inhabitants of our city realise that under the skin and religion, we are all the same… we are all human beings struggling to make a living and make sense of our lives.

Then suddenly last week something quite wonderful happened… one young woman brought all these struggles into the light.

Her name is Saffiyah Khan and in the past 10 days a photograph of her smiling bemusedly at an incensed English Defence League (EDL) protester Ian Crossland has been seen by millions of people across the globe.

Her smile has become everyone’s totem of defiance in the face of racism and the far right.

Hands in pockets, Saffiyah, intervened during an EDL rally in her home city of Birmingham after members of the fascist group threatened Muslim woman Saira Zafar, who was wearing a hijab.

The two had never met before, but Ms Khan said that when she saw that Ms Zafar was surrounded by people and looked intimidated, she felt she had to step in.

Ms Zafar explained: “They were saying, ‘You’re not English,’ ‘This is a Christian country, not your country,’ and ‘Go back to where you came from.’ I was alarmed and worried for my safety.”

“I was born and bred in this country so for these people to be saying these things was very wrong.

“There was someone behind me putting an Islamophobic placard above my head and resting it on my head and another person was shoving an EDL flag in my face.”

Facing violence with a smile, Saffiyah said she was ‘not scared in the slightest’ as she faced down Ian Crossland.

“There’s no excuse to be doing nothing,” she said later.

“Even if it just means calling the police and saying I just witnessed this. Even if there’s no violence … just reporting it to the police means it comes up on their stats and they can look at it all and start working on ways to combat it.”

And to add greater hope to this one woman beacon of hope, even our right wing press – such as the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph were embarrassed into calling her a hero.

Maybe, just maybe, the ugly face of innate British racism is beginning to unravel.

So thank you Saffiyah… and watch this space.

 

Echoes of Darkness

Beware of darkness

Beware of darkness

It eats the soul

Nightmare claws attach

Voices whisper

Wild thoughts

Trespass

Beyond sanity’s climax

 

The hopelessness surrounds you

Watch out my own sweet love

The dead of night

Darkens deeply

The shooting star

That shines

Above

 

Beware of sadness

And words that linger

Deep inside your head

Memories twisted

Vain hopes

Blistered

Beyond my own deathbed

 

The Edge

The morning dawns grey

A blanket on another day

The savage wind

Whispers

Of another place

Where time stands

Still

Like a bitter pill

Unswallowed

 

Empty Sky

Empty

Broken

Yearning

Where has the time gone?

The tears flow

And weeds grow

Hands both shake

Sat all alone

The wall

The hall

The call

Sad deserted shore

Friends now leave

Lovers grieve

Birds they fly

I don’t count the score

 

Black Dog

Black dog at my feet

The darkness drifts dreaming from another place

Been here before

But still I’m not sure

Where it all will end

 

Black dog by my side

The dawn drowns drinking hope from the daylight

Been here before

But still I’m not sure

What the morn will bring

 

Black dog on my lap

The day drags drearily to the dark of noon

Been here before

But still I’m not sure

When the sun will set

 

Black dog at my back

The evening draws draping dankly upon me

Been here before

But still I’m not sure

When the night will end

 

Blink of an Eye

Shattered pavilions

Lost in the mist of time

Broken ladders

Leading nowhere

Looking for answers

But lost for questions

Life in a broken moment

In the blink of an eye

 

Bootleg

I fought to survive the cancer

But still the boot came in

I fought to save my marriage

But still the boot came in

I fought through tears and laughter

But still the boot came in

I fought for truth and honesty

But still the boot came in

I fought with the sword of justice

But still the boot came in

I fought the nuclear dustbin

But still the boot came in

I fought to find my children

But still the boot came in

I fought for all the homeless

But still the boot came in

I fought for faith and family

But still the boot came in

I fought for Islam’s children

But still the boot came in

I fought for Labour’s heartland

But still the boot came in

I fought against Noah’s rainbow

But still the boot came in

I fought for all the others

But still the boot came in

 

Heaven can wait

Leaving Beersheba

Stumbling

Remembering

Aching

Eyeless

In Gaza

Climbing Jacob’s ladder

Reach the top

And stop

Because

There’s nothing

There

 

Top of the End

Head screams pain

Life broken again

The grey sky

Burning eyes

Hope that shone

So bright

Now

Dust under the feet

My, oh my, oh my

Let me die

 

Laughter now dead

Words are all read

Plans for the future

Solitary torture

Life that fought

So hard

Now

Lost and beaten

My, oh my, oh my

Let me die

 

The moment

I walk a fine line between sanity

And despair

Where abuse and loss

Erode

Self-confidence and self-care

The memories eat away

The small joys

Of today

And leave me sightless

Eyeless

In this land of the blind

 

Memories

Floating

Whispering

Waiting

The times lies in pieces

On this broken

Soil

A pathway

To the stars

Where the crescent

Moon

Doesn’t bend

Its light

Shines

And memories

Fade

 

Momentary Nails

Flash of anger

Howls like a

Hammer

We regret the

Past

Now

Homeward bound

It will not last

Battles won

And souls are lost

Peace is sewn

The wind is blown

Society ponders

Justice

Corruption

The sickle

Recycled

Stumbling

Hoping

Crawling

Hanging by nails

Upon your cross

And Crescent

Moon

 

Kindred recall

Sunlight dapples

Oak tree tops

Above the leaded roof

The sky screams

Infinity

Searching for the truth

 

I don’t know you

Kindred spirit

Lost refrain

Your eyes betray

Hope

And more deeply your pain

 

Victorian tiles

Line the attic

Of Dylan’s distant vision

The rain cascades

Torrential

Reaching no decision

 

Radiators rumble

Shunning silence

With dim electric noise

The heating coughs

Creative

Humanity destroys

 

Window shutters

Cause shadows

Upon the office wall

The day’s stillness

Meanders

No-one hears the call

 

I might die tonight

You smile

And your mouth says you love me

You laugh

And the world laughs with you too

You sigh

And my arms they do uphold you

You cry

And my tissues dry your tears

You break

And your eyes they see the distance

You sway

And the planet is still turning

You sleep

And I might die tonight

 

Life

Oh what a life it’s been

Even the trapped ambition

The mistakes

The gaffs

The love

The lust

The diamonds

The rust

The music

The lions

The dust

What a life

 

Oh what a life it’s been

Even the damned confusion

Despair

Regret

Depression

Recession

The beach

The waves

The reach

The illusion

The speech

What a life

 

The Poplar

The lonely poplar

Pricks holes

In the darkening

Sky

As snow cascades

And quiet songs sing

In chill white

Flakes

By a window

To the world

Outside

Just waiting

Waiting

Waiting

For the grey around

Me

To lighten

The journey

Onwards

To a place where

I can

Live

Sweet dreams

And sing quiet songs

 

Punch Drunk

Punch drunk

Been knifed in the back

Punch drunk

Dazed by distorted fact

Punch drunk

Hit between the eyes

Punch drunk

Poisoned with their lies

Punch drunk

Twisted tales that they tell

Punch drunk

Stumbled and then I fell

Punch drunk

Reeling on the ropes

Punch drunk

Left with little hope

Punch drunk

One too many blows

Punch drunk

Blood running from my nose

Punch drunk

Nothing left to lose

Punch drunk

Stand inside my shoes

Punch drunk

Depression runs too deep

Punch drunk

Fighting for some sleep

Punch drunk

Trying to stay straight

Punch drunk

The fightback is too late

Punch drunk

Dimming of the light

Punch drunk

Losing every fight

Punch drunk

The game it is too rough

Punch drunk

Think I’ve had enough

 

This is the Sea

Swirling salt water laps at my feet

The west wind finds frailties

Of what remains from the sleep

Greyness spreads to the dark horizon

Herring gulls call me to the deep

This is the end

This is my friend

This is the sea

 

Memories meander around what happened before

Questions open wounds bleakly

Yet we all know the score

Emptiness echoes as hope once evades

Waves they now crash upon the shore

This is the end

This is my friend

This is the sea

 

Academies – the nasty backdoor privatisation of our schools

THE twisted knife of privatisation today took a vibrant Sussex primary school as its latest victim.

And with it, the lives, the hopes and futures of 400 young children.

The board of governors of Castledown Primary School in Hastings had engineered a three month strategy to turn their community school into an Ark academy.

They claimed the school is failing by virtue of its recent SAT results, while failing to recognise its long held excellent reputation for music and the arts.

But the vast majority of parents disagree and formed a Hands Off Castledown group to fight the plans, which many see as a backdoor to privatisation and cherry picking of elite academic pupils.

Today’s announcement that the school will go-ahead to become an academy has been met by fury and distress by parents and teachers.

One parent said: “It is a very dark day for our children. I am furious with the school governors who have made this decision – they should all hang their heads in shame.”

A dad said: “A day of sadness, not just for our children or for us as parents, but indeed for this laughable illusion of democracy we cling to in this country. The choice of the masses ignored in favour of the chosen few.”

And distraught mum added: “How sad. I am angry and deeply upset both my boys came out and said I don’t want to go to the school no more. I am gutted at how this has affected my babies… I just want to sit and cry.”

Another parent added: “This is all about money and political connections. I am taking my child out of Castledown now, but this is not the end of the fight.”

Others have suggested now taking legal action against the academy decision.

But the twisted backdoor privatisation of Castledown has been on the cards since the turn of the year.

And many regarded it as a ‘done deal’ well before the announcement.

In January, Castledown formally announced its intention to join the Ark Academy Trust.

At the time Richard Sage, chairman of governors at Castledown, said the governors decided after meetings with various trusts that Ark was best for the school.

Castledown is in the bottom 10% of schools for 2016 SATS exam results.

But according to Hands Off Castledown, results were poor because the 2014 curriculum was implemented two years too late. Pupils sitting the exams in 2016 had not received up-to-date teaching.

Additionally, the previous Ofsted report in 2013 marked the school as Good.

But parents, teachers and local residents say there have been no consultations on any alternatives to Ark or academisation.

The Ark group already runs several other schools in the Hastings area. Nationally it had an income of £21.9 million and assets of £31.3 million in the year ending August 2015 – the last year for which full accounts are available.

Its income and assets are increasing by about £2.5 million a year.

Hands Off Castledown says it has spoken to parents who removed their children from other Ark academies because of its history of imposing restrictive and regimental behaviour policies, which many believe are not suitable for young children.

On 15 February, Hastings Borough Council gave its unanimous backing to the Hands Off Castledown campaign.

A week later campaigner Louise Hersee delivered a petition of over 1,000 signatures to East Sussex County Council, opposing the academisation.

By the time today’s announcement was made that petition had grown to a stunning 1,696 names.

“All over the country schools are turning into academies, and all over the country parents are wondering why this is happening,” said Louise.

“Here in Hastings we believe that Ark Schools is a bad fit for Castledown and that there are other options!”

Nationally, the imposition of academy status on many supposedly “failing schools” has been met with similar outrage and opposition to that currently evident in Hastings.

Many believe that academies are part of a Conservative government mantra to introduce privatisation and “grammar school type” selection on state schools.

They point to the profit margins of many academy trusts and the salaries paid to their headteachers.

One head of a primary academy chain took home a salary in excess of £200,000, after being handed a massive pay rise.

Sir Greg Martin, executive head of Durand Academy in Stockwell, south London, saw his salary rise by 56 per cent to a total of £200,822 – due to the fact he runs several schools.

He also received £28,316 in pension contributions, which took his overall remuneration package to £229,138.

Sir Greg – who is planning a boarding school in the Sussex countryside – also earned a further £160,000 from a company set up to run the school’s sports and fitness centre last year.

This is more than the Prime Minister and many city bankers.

Last year delegates at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference in Liverpool, heard that growing numbers of heads were now also earning more than the Prime Minister’s salary of £149,440 a year.

“When schools were under local council control, it would have been unthinkable as well as impossible that a headteacher, of even a group of schools, could earn more than a director of education, let alone the Secretary of State for Education, let alone the Prime Minister,” Simon Clarkson from Leicestershire told the conference.

“We need to guard against the rot of greed. Executive headteachers and headteachers have looked at their budgets and I am afraid some have decided to pay themselves excessive salaries.”

Figures showed that in 2015, a total of 41 heads were earning more than £142,000 a year.

Mr Clarkson said: “Our state schools are paid for by the public. They need to be accountable. When I started teaching, especially in the state sector, there was little or no corruption.”

He added: “Let me remind you whose money is being used to do this… ours!”

The Tory MP for Hastings and Rye, Amber Rudd, who is also the Home Secretary, did become involved in the battle over Castledown School, although she is a known supporter of academies and recently engaged the press to openly praise another primary academy in her constituency.

But shadow education minister Angela Rayner MP is a vociferous opponent of academies and grammar schools.

Last September, she said: “Tory academy plans are in complete chaos.

“The impossible job the Department for Education has set itself in trying to directly run thousands of schools from Whitehall is fully exposed as we learn over half of existing academy chains have refused to take on schools and 70% of inadequate academies have been left languishing with poor academy chains.

“Forcing all schools to become academies and introducing even more disruption into the system with new grammar schools will make this situation even worse.

“The Tories need to get a hold on this once and for all or it will be our children who pay the price.”

 

The Artist and the Stardog

 

Last November, following the unexpected death of Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, the world was united in grief at the passing of a great artist and human being.

But we were also reminded of the stupidity of some politicians.

In a feigned effort to gain some publicity from Cohen’s death, the former British Tory MP Louise Mensch put both feet and her handbag in her mouth at the same time.

Ms Mensch, who now lives in New York, tweeted out her condolences: “Leonard Cohen’s death reminds us that America’s enduring greatness is as multifaceted as a diamond.”

And to make her ignorance about his nationality worse, in a crass dig at Russia, she added: “Russia has nothing. Russia is joyless.”

The former MP for Corby was immediately ridiculed by thousands of fans of the Canadian musician, who pointed out her mistake and her absurd criticism of Russia.

Thousands of Twitter users defended Russia’s contribution to history, pointing out Russian Leo Tolstoy, often referred to as one of the greatest authors of all time.

Others named: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who helped raise global awareness of the barbaric gulag system, and Mikhail Bulgakov, who penned a novel regarded as “one of the masterpieces of the 20th century”.

And I could personally add scores of names to the list of Russian cultural greatness.

The authors: Alexander Pushkin, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Anton Chekhov, Vladimir Nabokov and Boris Pasternak will do for starters.

Then there are the Great Russian composers: Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, Borodin and Mussorgsky are known to anyone with a passing interest in great music.

We also have so many brilliant Russian visual artists: Ivan Shishkin, Wassily Kandinsky, Ilya Repin, Anna Parkina, Dmitry Shorin, Eric Bulatov, Marina Federovna, Olga Chernysheva and Vitaly Pushnitsky… the list goes on and on!

But, before I move on to the substantive part of this article, I must also mention the fabulous architecture of Moscow, St Petersburg and Smolensk. Architecture which more than matches anything found in Paris, Edinburgh, Rome, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Venice, and dare I say it: New York!

Russia blooms, full of joy and rich in culture, Ms Mensch!

My late uncle Rod Pounsett, started the first western news bureau, Andersen Consulting, in Moscow in 1990, after the end of the Cold War.

He enthused about Moscow as being the greatest city on Earth – full of vitality and culture – and urged everyone he knew to visit it before they died.

And the culture of Moscow and Russia continues to bloom as a new generation unfolds its talents.

Meet Helene Vasileva, a leading light among the bright new contemporary Russian creators.

A skilled photographer and graphic artist, her two art-related Instagram accounts (one named after her pet dog Venya) already have over 60,000 followers.

elena-stock

 

And her art knows no bounds.

Her black and white photography is stunning in its subject matter and technique, while her graphic drawings and paintings draw allusions to the work of Kandinsky, Rothko and others.

Much of her work is abstract and modern, exploring the space between darkness, form and light, while her coloured impressionist work shows reflections of Van Gogh.

Her works have been featured in many international publications and magazines.

She draws inspiration for her works from everyday life as well as from the influence of other artists and musicians.

Her graphic and 3D projects are diverse, incorporating such subjects as: Ansichten eines Clowns, Unknown Germany – Old German toys, Russian Heritage, Koningsberg and its Suburbs, German architects in Russia, and the fabulous Bear Story – a Journey to the Past. This project is focused on children’s memories about life in Moscow between 1980 and 1989.

Helene described two of her German related projects/exhibitions thus: “I’d like to tell about Germany, not touching the theme of the war and politics. During some years I selected documents, information, artifacts and decided to show that as I think reflects culture and life of usual people of Germany from 20 to 30 years of the last century.

“The first and the most favourite part of the project is Old German Toys. The main heroes of my photos are real old teddy bears. The second part of the project – books, music, movies, art and others, sometimes very usual things which can help you to imagine that time,” she adds, with obvious passion for her subject matter.

Now she has added her most recent project: Venya – Stardog, a quirky and wonderful cartoon homage to her Old English Sheepdog.

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Helene’s work has been widely displayed in her home city, while other paintings currently hang in galleries in Germany and Israel.

And some of her more experimental work has just been part of a seven day Contemporary Painting exhibition at the trendy Brick Lane Gallery in London’s Shoreditch.

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The exhibition which pitted her works with other great international contemporary artists was both flamboyant and thought provoking.

In her series of Over-painted Photographs (three examples are featured at the top) she experiments and combines different styles to produce her own aesthetic.

These creative new works use abstraction as a window that hints of what seems somehow familiar and yet perhaps not, as a mean to invite the viewer to interact with the art and to visualize their own stories, making each work their own.

But Helene is not an archetypal artist. Her passions, besides teddy bears and Venya, include British synth rockers the Pet Shop Boys, orchids, architecture, travel and animals – she shares her life with four cats and her beloved dog.

And judging by her UK, US and European fan base, Helene Vasileva is a blooming talent to watch out for!

You can find out more here: http://www.helenevasileva.com and http://www.instagram.com/helene.picture