News From Nick Palmer 13 September 2016

Nick Palmer NewNick Palmer writes on: How will the new boundaries affect us?/Grammar schools/Personal news

The proposals from the Boundary commissioners have come out, and they carve Broxtowe in half. The southern half hops over the City boundary to merge with Nottingham South, the northern have extend northwards into Ashfield. No account is taken of either traditional communities or country/city boundaries, though one can make a case that Beeston is more like Wollaton than it’s like Awsworth, and Awsworth is more like Hucknall than it’s like Toton. The details are here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32695546

The changes are controversial because they are based on how many people in each area have recently registered, rather than on actual estimated population. This practice tilts the system towards rural and older (and hence more Conservative) representation, since in urban areas people (especially the young) move around move and are far more likely not to be on the latest register. Apparently the system would be unconstitutional in the USA – attempts by some Southern states to introduce a similar approach failed because they were seen as an attempt to disenfranchise the less heavily registered black voters.

Whether it will actually happen is hard to be sure. There are quite a few Conservative MPs whose seats will be at risk as well, and whether they’ll vote for it remains to be seen. If it happens, then the independent blog UK Polling Report estimates that it will make Broxtowe and Hucknall (the part omitting Beeston to Toton) a marginal Tory seat (by 2700 votes on 2015 figures) and Nottingham South and South a fairly safe Labour seat (by nearly 5000 votes).

Meanwhile, we’ve seen the return of the long-dormant grammar school debate, with David Cameron apparently privately citing the decision to open new grammar schools as a reason for standing down. This isn’t really an especially complex issue. There isn’t much doubt that if you are fortunate enough to pass the 11+ then you will get a school which is more likely to have lots of academically-minded kids, so people who’ve actually been to grammars and are keen on academic success tend to like them. The problem is partly the general question of whether it makes sense to divide society at age 11 into “academics” and “everyone else”, but mainly the specific point that it puts enormous weight on how well you do on a particular day at age 11 – it quite literally decides the course of much of the rest of your life. You’re a bit nervous, not feeling too well, or just a slightly later developer? Bang! – that’s probably decided your career. However the Government tweaks the system to give kids from poor households a better chance, the bottom line – given that there are fewer grammar schools than others – is that most kids will be deemed to have failed.

That might matter less if we didn’t as a society tend to underrate technical skill, so that “failing your 11+” is seen as a stigma, not a signpost to a more practical career as it night be in Germany with their good apprentice system, and the non-grammar secondaries were often really not good.

The sensible compromise is surely the method that’s common in most parts of Britain – have comprehensives but “set” pupils according to ability in each subject, so that you can move up at an appropriate speed. And it’s a great pity that the reason this has popped up seems to be not a matter of conviction but a side-effect of Brexit – Mrs May is thought to feel that by pleasing the Right of her party on this, she can get greater acceptance of necessary compromises over migration in Europe.My experience of politics is that this sort of apparently wily calculation doesn’t work – the faction you’re trying to appease pocket your concession, smile briefly, and then resume attacking you on the other things they care about.

By the way, I’m returning to the area from October – I’ve taken a house just outside the (current!) constituency, in Bulwell. This isn’t especially for political reasons – rather that now I’m mostly working freelance it makes sense to do it from a less expensive base than central London. But I do hope to contribute to local politics again, one way or another.

Best wishes

Nick

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