The Pessimism of the Right

Labour Party

When my report on Early Years Learning recently went through the European Parliament it received 506 votes out of the 588 MEPs who were in attendance that day.  All the Tories there abstained. 

Nothing unusual there, but something that I didn’t write about at the time was Daniel Hannan’s ‘explanation of vote’.  Explanations of vote can either be submitted verbally in the chamber after the vote or in writing later.  Not everyone does them, and the people who do often reserve them for when it is particularly important that some explanation is offered for the way they voted.  I will reproduce in full what Mr. Hannan said that day, but if you would like to read it for yourself, then follow the link here:

Daniel Hannan (ECR).Madam President, last summer I had the pleasure of visiting your constituency, and one day I took my children to the beach. I remember watching my two little girls building a sand castle, oblivious to the incoming tide, so captivated were they with the shells and twigs with which they were decorating their work.

I had not the heart to point out to them that the tide was coming in, and today I felt rather the same way as I read through our voting list. We have these epochal events – this economic crisis on our border, this collapse in our share of world GDP – and here we are talking about early years learning, about our responsibilities to the International Labour Organization, and about whether Sarajevo should be a European city of culture.

Let me give you the raw and scary statistics: in 1974, the nations of Western Europe accounted for 36% of world GDP; today it is 26%; in 2020 it will be 15%. While we are worrying about early years learning, putting out all our propaganda about drawing Europe together, and producing The Raspberry Ice Cream War, and while our children are being encouraged to read the unintentionally hilarious ‘Captain Euro’, our part of the world is being overtaken by more virile countries that have learned the benefits of decentralisation and the dispersal of power.

Surely the time is coming when all our pomp of yesterday will be one with Nineveh and Tyre?

The Madam President he addressed was British Liberal-Democrat Diana Wallis who was presiding over the session that day. 

I’m beginning to worry about Mr. Hannan, I fear he may be a little melancholy.  The unbridled pessimism that he comes out with is frankly frightening.  I wrote a blog earlier this week in response to his comments on the Today programme on the sovereign debt crisis in Greece, which were in a similar vein.  If you didn’t read it, you can do so here

This pessimism is everywhere on the right.  It was discussed at length when Ed Miliband came to the European Parliament and addressed a full sitting the Socialists and Democrats group. The depressing and unavoidable fact was that most people in that room, and the S&D has at least one MEP from each member state, was from a party that was in opposition in the own country.  Indeed, the S&D is the opposition group in the European Parliament, with the centre right European People’s Party holding more seats, though not an overall majority.

As Ed said during his visit, Labour’s message and beliefs could not be more important than right now.  Across Europe there is a feeling of doom and pessimism from the centre right parties that hold government across most of the EU member states. They speak of the necessity of far-reaching cuts affecting the services that make a difference to people’s lives.  This is all being portrayed as the inevitable result of the financial crisis.  But people are beginning to feel that the cure is worse than the disease.

Mr. Hannan’s response to my report, which was simply making a number of practical suggestions how children can be given the best possible start in life, was to evoke images of his children’s sand castle being washed out to sea and the ancient cities of Nineveh and Tyre.  Perhaps he was a romantic poet in a past life.  The fact is though that you can’t get out of the crisis  if we don’t invest in things like our children’s future.  Mr. Hannan and his ilk want you to believe that the ‘tide is coming in’.  They want you to believe this because it serves their ideological interests.  If we look back to the 20th century we find moments of absolute desperation, such as the Great Depression, or the aftermath of the Second World War when leftist governments helped rebuild their countries economies and societies with policies like the New Deal or creating the NHS.

Personally I’m tired of the pessimism of the right.  I believe that Ed Miliband, the Labour party, and the rest of our colleagues in the S&D can show that there is another way.

Labour List Blog Post on Early Years Learning

Labour Party

Today I have written this piece for Labour List on my report on early years learning. You can read about the long term benefits of the Labour Party’s investment into early years learning and why it’s fundamental to keep this investment going.

Meeting with BECTU and the Federation of Entertainment Unions European Working Group

Labour Party

This is an edited version of the report I presented to BECTU and the Federation of Entertainment Unions European Working Group this week.  I have taken out elements that have been covered in the blog recently, such as a section on International Women’s Day, but thought that people interested in the Cultural and Creative Industries may be interested to read it.  Here it is:

The Culture and Education Committee in 2011

One of the big issues that we have been looking at in the first two months of 2011 is the new communication on sport. Since the Lisbon Treaty the EU has new competences in regard to sport and this communication is the beginning of a new European sport policy. It deals with, amongst other things, laws regarding player transfers. Unfortunately, due to the financial crisis, there wasn’t room in the budget for sport to get any money. The EU could be such a positive influence in terms of funding for grassroots sports initiatives but we will have wait until 2013 before we get a budget. Towards the end of last year we had a representation from Wim Wenders and a number of other people involved in cinema. There was a very interesting discussion on the importance of cinema in European culture and there was much discussion of how it should be taught in schools.

Early Years Learning

I have finished writing my report on Early Years Learning in the EU. It has been a very interesting process and I am very much looking forward to the amendments that my colleagues on the Culture and Education committee will put forward. It was very well received in the committee and the discussion was very edifying. The commission will be putting forward their own suggestions in this area soon in the form of a communication. Further more, the Hungarian presidency have taken a huge interest in this issue and I was invited to speak at a conference in Budapest recently on just this subject. I talked about the need to ensure adequate funding for Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) since all the academic theories and exchanges of good practice will not get us anywhere unless there is enough money to improve and expand ECEC services. It is my firm view that ECEC should be universal, and we have a long way to go in Britain to achieve that.

Unlocking the Potential of the Cultural and Creative Industries

The commission has released a green paper recently about the cultural and creative industries which the Culture and Education committee has written a report about. The commission has recognised that in the recent decades the world has been moving at a fast pace. For Europe and other parts of the world, the rapid roll-out of new technologies and increased globalisation has meant a striking shift away from traditional manufacturing towards services and innovation. Factory floors are progressively being replaced by creative communities whose raw material is their ability to imagine, create and innovate. This is a good time for the European Commission’s Green Paper, officially endorsing the economic and social importance of the sector, to prompt discussion on ‘unlocking the potential of the cultural and creative industries’. The growth of cultural and creative industries in the European Union since the 1990s has been exponential in terms of job creation and their contribution to GDP. In London now the creative industries have overtaken banking as the single biggest employer. We will be voting on the 17th March and I think this report will be a useful tool in getting the Cultural and Creative industries the recognition they deserve.

Future Work of the Committee

In the coming months a lot of out agenda will be defined by the commissions recent communication Youth on the Move. From that document we can expect a number of directives that will seek to improve the chances of young people getting a decent education and good job prospects. Apart from that we will also be looking at a report on the future of European cinema in the digital age. The commission has recognised that for small independent cinemas, the conversion over to the digital format is prohibitively expensive and they could be left behind with the advent of 3D and the decline of standard film distribution. Given that these independent cinemas are more likely to show European, independent films, this would be a serious loss for culture and society. Therefore the commission is planning on providing grants for our independent cinemas that wish to make the transfer over to the digital format.

Inspiring creative, happy children (and where the Tories have got it wrong)

Labour Party

Since I lead on Early Years Learning in the EU for the European Parliament, I’m always delighted when I hear that the Working Group on the Quality of Childhood has organised a seminar in Brussels. These events, which take place every few months, provide a fantastic opportunity to look at childhood in a new light or from a different perspective.

Yesterday, renowned British Professor David L. Brierley was invited by the Working Group to give his take on creativity in contemporary education. David Brierley is no ordinary speaker. He has spent over 40 years as a teacher and is passionate about education’s power to inspire creativity. This comes through clearly in his delivery. David is someone who can clearly inspire others.

His view, which I agree with, is that passion is a necessary quality for all those who want to teach children. Each individual, including each child, has what he calls a ‘unique inner nature’. The task of school, and of teachers, is to develop this.

The big problem is that across Europe there is now far too much testing of young people. Endless examinations are demoralising for pupils and they’re demoralising for teachers. David is right when he says it’s the role of the teacher to motivate children and to give artistic shape to ‘a confusing and fragmented world’. This philosophy, he thinks, will have a strong influence on teacher reforms in the future.

During his insightful presentation David came back time and again to ‘happiness’, and what it means. There’ve been lots of debates in the UK recently about what happiness is and how we can create it. David Cameron PM first floated the idea of a ‘happiness index’ in 2005, when he was running for the leadership of the Conservative Party, later pledging to invest £2m into the project. Most people, rightly so, argued that his suggestion was woolly and impractical. Happiness is not something that can be measured so easily. As David Brierley put it yesterday, happiness is linked to the ability of a person to put their footprint onto the world. It is unique, personal, and also changeable.

As I continue to work on early years education issues in Europe, I look forward to seeing many more motivated speakers at the Working Group on the Quality of Childhood in the near future.

Early Years Conference, Budapest

Labour Party

This week I am speaking at a conference on early years development in Budapest, organised by the Hungarian government.  The Hungarian government currently hold the presidency of the council of ministers and have set early years development as one of their key priorities for their six months at the helm.

 Since I have recently written a report on the subject, the Hungarian government have invited me to talk at the conference and I was very happy to do so.  It is great that this subject is being taken so seriously in the EU now.  The commission will be releasing a communication on the subject soon and I hope that along with my report and the involvement of the Hungarian presidency, we will be able to forge a new approach to early year’s development across the EU.