A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ),1 the business newspaper of the large US corporations, argues that the glut of capital and labour throughout the global economy represents a major challenge to policy makers. The global economy, it said, ‘is awash as never before with commodities like oil, cotton and iron ore, but also with capital and labour’ – an oversupply which is creating serious difficulties for policy makers attempting to boost economic demand. As a result, we are experiencing ‘a low-growth, low-inflation, low-[interest] rate environment’ which could take a decade for the global economy to surmount.
Following the general election, Prime Minister Cameron and Education Secretary Morgan declared an ‘all-out war’ on ‘coasting schools’. All schools inspected by Ofsted will be taken out of local authority control and turned into academies and ‘free’ schools if they do not show improved results year on year.
The Ofsted inspectorate is a quango, a quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisation, funded by the state. However, since it was set up in 1992 Ofsted has been used not to support schools, nurseries and child-care provision but to attack local authorities. Ofsted publishes standardised judgments on the performance of educational institutions. Significantly Ofsted’s verdicts on the success or failure of schools closely match national test results, which in England occur at the ages of four, seven, 11 and 14. Standard Attainment Targets, or Sats, were first introduced not as tests but as a tool for tracking children’s learning. Today, Sats results, together with Ofsted inspection judgments, are combined into league tables which rate schools annually against each other. Schools are graded as ‘outstanding’, ‘good’, ‘requires improvement’ (this was ‘satisfactory’ but the term was abandoned when Ofsted realised what the word means) or ‘inadequate’. Schools judged ‘inadequate’ are put into special measures which can mean sacking the head and/or staff and/or governors, followed by loss of reputation, pupils, income, increased workload for teachers, and regular inspections.
The outcome of the General Election may have been in doubt until the final moments, but the victory of the Conservatives following five years of punishing austerity for the working class demonstrates that the Labour Party presented no real opposition. It could not credibly reconcile its pro-austerity position with satisfying the needs of the working class and sections of the middle class. While it increased its support by one million votes across England and Wales, this was far short of the five million it had lost since 1997. With the trouncing it received in Scotland, losing 40 seats to the Scottish National Party (SNP), Labour ended up with 232 seats, 26 fewer than it had in the previous parliament. The Conservatives, with 331 seats, now have an unexpected overall majority of 12. ROBERT CLOUGH reports.
‘My government will legislate in the interests of everyone in our country. It will adopt a one-nation approach, helping working people get on, supporting aspiration, giving new opportunities to the most disadvantaged and bringing different parts of our country together.’ The Queen’s speech, 27 May 2015
Like a ventriloquist’s dummy and in the fashion now familiar – describing everything as the opposite of what it actually is – the Queen announced the Conservatives’ plans for the next Parliament. With an absolute but small majority of 12, Prime Minister Cameron took the opportunity to outline what the Financial Times referred to as ‘a blue collar agenda’ ‘inspired by Margaret Thatcher and aimed at working class voters’, explicitly ‘Red Tories, Blue Collar Conservatives or White Van Man’. CAROL BRICKLEY reports.
Cameron’s ‘one nation’, however, should be strictly understood to include only his, mainly English, Tory voters, a welter of UKIP supporters who hate Europe and immigrants and could be won back to voting Conservative, and the majority of the Labour Party and their supporters who have moved rightwards at breathtaking speed following the election result. Harriet Harman, now temporary leader of the Labour Party, was quick to announce Labour’s ‘sympathetic’ support for much of the Tory programme. As the Financial Times reported: ‘“We got lucky,” said one well-connected Conservative MP. “But by the time we’ve finished, there won’t be any ground left for Labour to occupy”.’
The 7 June 2015 parliamentary election in Turkey will be critical for the country’s future. President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) need at least 330 of the 550 seats in order to change the constitution from a parliamentary system into a presidential one. Erdogan scorns what he calls the ‘many-voiced’ parliament. The choice is between increased dictatorial powers, wielded by Erdogan and the state, and the democratic forces led by the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and the Kurds.
The HDP combines Kurdish, socialist and democratic elements and is primarily Kurdish led. It must get a minimum of 10% of the overall vote to win a seat. This 10% barrier was introduced following the 1980 military coup to stop Kurdish representation in parliament. If HDP gets 10% or more of the vote it will be difficult for the AKP to get the MPs it needs to change the constitution. If HDP fails to win 10% then many of the seats it would have otherwise won will go to the AKP.
Since the Gezi Park protests in 2013 that spread across Turkey, the state has increased repression and censorship. More journalists have been gaoled; when it was revealed that the Turkish state had armed jihadists in Syria the government response was to ban reporting of the matter. The police and intelligence agencies have been given increased powers while those of the judiciary have been reduced as government loyalists are appointed to key judicial positions. By mid-May the HDP had been subject to 126 attacks during the election campaign, including the bombing of party offices. The home of HDP leader Selahattin Demirtus in Diyarbakir was raided by police on the pretext of looking for a drug smuggler and HDP rallies have been banned.
Combined with the repression against HDP has been the state’s and the government’s rejection of the attempt by the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) to develop a peace process. The PKK declared a ceasefire to the 30-year armed struggle at Newroz (New Year) March 2013. On 28 February 2015 PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan presented a ten-point programme as the basis for negotiations with the government which, if agreements were achieved, would have resulted in a congress in April 2015 that would permanently end the armed struggle. The government has stopped all visits to Ocalan, placing him in isolation in the prison on Imrali island. Turkey’s armed forces have increased operations in Kurdish areas of Turkey and are preparing attacks on the PKK with reconnaissance flights and ambushes. In response the PKK Executive Committee has announced that the peace process is de-facto over.
The election takes place amidst a deteriorating economy. The Turkish lira has lost 40% of its value against the US dollar since May 2013 and is the world’s worst performing emerging currency in 2015. Corporate debt was $6.5bn in 2002 and is now $178bn. Erdogan called the central bank governor a traitor for maintaining what he considered to be high interest rates. With its currency falling and corporate debt growing Turkey faces the prospect of capital flight if foreign investors judge the country unstable. Youth unemployment is officially at 20%. Whether Erdogan gets the seats he needs or not, Turkey is heading for turbulent times.