The Sneering Liberal Elite

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Divide and rule has been the Conservative Party’s strategy since the beginning of time – nothing unites people more than a common enemy.  In the ’60s it was black people and all their crimes – those who were around at the time of 1964 elections will remember that they distributed leaflets that said, “If you want a coloured for your neighbour – vote Labour. If you are already burdened with one – vote Tory” In the ’80s it was gay people and their promiscuous lifestyles and diseases that were the problem – nothing that Section 28 couldn’t sort out. Immigrants from Pakistan, India, Poland and Turkey have all been made scapegoats for the country’s problems by Conservative politicians. Last week Theresa May announced the latest enemy of the state: The Liberal Elite.

It’s a term we’ve heard before. During the EU Referendum campaign it was one of Nigel Farage’s catchphrases, second only to, “Austrailian-style points system.” You can say what you like about Theresa May but she is a very shrewd politician. She knows that UKIP pose the greatest threat to the Conservatives at the next General Election and is attempting to attract those voters by creating the illusion that the Conservatives are the party for the working class. In her speech, May talked about creating a country “that works for everyone.” She said, “That means tackling unfairness and injustice, and shifting the balance of Britain decisively in favour of ordinary working class people. Giving them access to the opportunities that are too often the preserve of the privileged few.” words one is more accustomed to hearing from Labour, not the Conservatives. Incredibly, May plans to create a more equal and fair country whilst building new grammar schools, refusing to raise inheritance tax or building affordable housing. I digress.

May continued, “They [the Liberal Elite] find your patriotism distasteful, your concerns about immigration parochial, your views about crime illiberal,  your attachment to your job security inconvenient. They find the fact that more than seventeen million people voted to leave the European Union simply bewildering.” You can almost hear the Daily Mail whooping with joy.

So who exactly are the “Liberal Elite” and what can we do to defend ourselves from them? I spent the afternoon reading a range of blogs, articles and essays on this subject – at one point I even googled, “Why do people hate the liberal elite?” (Yes, I’m still on my honeymoon – am I not doing it right?) I’ve trawled the best (and the worst) of the internet to find out more about who this dangerous group really are.

First off, they live in cities. You won’t find the Liberal Elite in Clacton or Hartlepool, you have to look in cities like Manchester, Sheffield and York . London in particular, is infested with them; UKIP’s Suzanne Evans blames them on her party’s poor polling in the capital arguing that, “The educated, cultured and young are less likely to vote for us.” Politically, the Liberal Elite tend to be left-of-centre, but not exclusively. They are open-minded, believe immigration is, on the whole, a good thing, they are pro gay marriage, are more concerned with reform than retribution in the justice system, more likely to identify as feminists and they voted Remain in the referendum. They read “The Guardian”, drink flat whites and their breakfast, sorry “brunch,” is likely to be something to do with avocado. In their spare time they read, attend the theatre, go to museums, watch the BBC and travel. Bastards.

It gets worse. They buy free-range, sometimes eat kale by choice and tend not to smoke. They worry about the environment and global warming  – which is why so many of them own a bike.  By day they are nurses, writers, teachers, lawyers, actors, social workers, doctors and charity workers; some have their own businesses, others even work in the financial services. By night, they go to trendy restaurants and gastro-pubs where they hand over £7 for a glass of Malbec without flinching. If you’re still struggling to picture this dangerous group of individuals they are almost perfectly represented by the family in the sitcom, “Outnumbered.”

Oh and they sneer. A lot. In fact sneering is their main pastime other than drinking their fair trade coffee and quoting Stewart Lee to each other. I’ll be honest – I’ve not actually witnessed a lot of sneering myself but the Daily Mail said they do it so it must be true.

These are the wankers who have ruined the country. Even though those wankers tend to have a history of voting for the country to be more equal. They give money to charity, campaign to keep libraries open and to protect the NHS. They must be stopped.

I’ll be honest, apart from the “ruined the country” part – most of that is fairly accurate. Although I’ve yet to meet anyone who is happy about paying £7 for a glass of wine. Particularly when a bottle from the newsagent costs a fiver. Being part of the Liberal Elite isn’t about wealth; remember that due to exorbitant rents very few young people in London have money to burn. If I could whittle it down to just two traits it would be: tolerance and open-mindedness. It’s why the sneering comment is so unfair, as a group we’re incredibly accepting of people, whether or not they are similar to us. It’s just that, if you want to be tolerant, the one thing you can’t tolerate is intolerance.

We’re often criticised as being “out of touch” with the concerns the rest of the country has about immigration. The Express in particular likes to paint a picture of us sat in our ivory towers, in our elite bubbles, calling anyone who has concerns about immigration racist.

I live in a one bedroom flat in Wood Green, Haringey – one of the few parts of North London a teacher can live in and still afford to eat. In Wood Green only 23% of the population identify as White British, which is significantly lower than the London average of 45%. Until recently, I was an assistant head teacher in East London. I taught English to children (and parents) who had just moved to the UK. I ran after school sessions and gave up my weekends and my holidays to make sure those children could succeed. To say I am liberal in my views because I don’t understand the issues of immigration is not just ignorant – it is ridiculous. Particularly when you compare Wood Green to Clacton, UKIP’s one constituency, where the percentage of people who identify as White British is 93%. For those who like a visual – I’ve created some pie charts:

clacton-pie

wood-green-pie

Which of these demographics is less likely to understand the issues surrounding immigration?

So yes – we do like delis, bicycles and flat whites but we are kind, open-minded and tolerant people – and we will never apologise for that. Theresa May is playing a very clever game and, like so many other previous scapegoats, the Liberal Elite are being framed for a crime we did not commit.

 

Kinder, gentler politics

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Last week I was asked by a journalist from the Huffington Post if I would like to feature in an article he was writing about young voters who voted for Corbyn last year but won’t vote for him again in the coming leadership elections. I agreed to be in the article for one simple reason: I think it’s really important for people to speak out about changing their mind in politics. Because, let’s be honest, the only way elections are won is by convincing a lot of voters to change their mind about the party they’re going to vote for. Accusing those who change their mind of being weak or disloyal will only result in people firmly retreating to their chosen “side”. Politics is a never-ending dialogue. It is the way in which we decide how best to live alongside each other. It’s not a war.

The response to the article was, sadly,  as I could have predicted. I was called: a vile human being, a moron, an ignorant bitch and a “traitor to the Labour Party” by some Corbyn supporters. For me, far worse than the name calling was the, “you’ll understand when you’re older dear” comments which littered my inbox.  Reading some of the comments you would have thought I had attacked these people on a personal level rather than simply expressing an opinion different to their own. I spent last Summer campaigning for Jeremy and trying to convince them to vote for him and at no point did I resort to name calling of abuse. I didn’t call my friend a “heartless Blairite” for voting for Yvette Cooper and I didn’t accuse my Kendall voting colleague of “wanting disabled people to die.” Yet these were comments thrown at me for saying I could no longer support Corbyn.

Wanting a “kinder, gentler politics” is admirable yet seems to only apply to Jeremy himself. He shows great integrity in Prime Minister’s questions and refuses to engage with personal attacks, sadly the same can not be said of some of his supporters. Of course it isn’t all of them. There are plenty of mild-mannered, polite and kind Corbyn supporters but they are being let down by a loud, minority who are behaving appallingly.

I can understand why some Corbyn supporters are angry. They think the challenge put forward by the PLP was vindictive and underhand and they’ve watched with frustration as Corbyn’s message has failed to cut through the media. Some of them joined the Labour Party at the beginning of this year, paid membership fees for 7 months only to be told they don’t have a vote in this leadership election unless they pay a further £25. They have every right to be angry. But I am angry too.

I am angry that we cannot engage in a debate about the future of the party without being shouted down. It’s not just happening online, it’s also happening at meetings.  A women in the last GC Meeting I attended was shouted down whilst speaking against a motion. She was brave and just firmly asked them to stop shouting at her which they eventually did but you’d have thought she was a fascist the way they were attacking her not a long-standing member of the same party.

I don’t want another Blair but I do want someone who can win an election; too many people are suffering as a result of this Government’s policies for winning not at least be a possibility.  Just increasing the support of Corbyn in areas that already vote Labour is not going to be enough. The General Election will not be won on the strength of members’ enthusiasm for their leader it will be won on the number of votes we can win back from people who voted Conservative last year. There is an assumption that there is huge support for Corbyn across the country and we just need to “tap into it”. One Corbyn supporter asked me to explain why I thought he couldn’t win an election “without quoting the polls” which is a bit like asking me to prove to you that my laptop screen is 30cm long without using a ruler. No polls aren’t entirely accurate and need to be taken with a pinch of salt but, even allowing for a large margin of error, this is a pretty bleak picture:

Let’s be honest – if these polls were reversed and it was the Tories falling this far behind we’d be feeling fairly confident at the moment.

The response to this from many Corbyn supporters tends to be either, “Well I meet lots of people who are going to vote for him – look how many members have joined to vote for him.” or, “It’s the fault of the main stream media. They’re working against him.” and not forgetting, “He was doing just fine until the PLP turned on him.” I don’t doubt any of those arguments – they are all true but they also don’t provide evidence that he can win a General Election.

Yes, since Corbyn was elected leader there has been a surge in Labour Party membership. At my last check it was just over 400,000. This is largest membership of any political party in the UK and something to feel proud about. If there were any correlation between the number of members and the likelihood of winning a General Election I would be feeling very optimistic right now. Sadly there isn’t. Last year the Conservative Party won a majority with only 100,000 members. Labour has always been stronger on the ground and at the grassroots but sadly elections are no longer won on the ground – they’re won in the media. Is that fair? Absolutely not. Does it mean we should stop campaigning or delivering leaflets? No but Corbyn and his team need to find a way to work with the media or, the MSM as we have to call them now because they are never going to make it easy for him. They do not portray him fairly, I accept that. However that is never going to change. If anything, if he is still leader in the run up to 2020, that is going to get a whole lot worse. What is Corbyn’s strategy for dealing with this? Last year Rupert Murdoch was able to convince swinging voters that Miliband would be an inept leader because of how he ate a bacon sandwich. “Don’t let him make a pig’s ear of the country” was the headline I seem to recall. The Conservatives won on a promise that they could offer security that Miliband could not. Just imagine what Murdoch and his buddies could do with a Labour leader who has lost the support of 80% of his MPs and refers to Hamas and Hizballuh as “his friends”.

The other acronym causing problems for Corbyn at the moment is the PLP. The week after the referendum they made very public resignations following a vote of no confidence in their leader. I’m told that Corbyn was doing just fine until that point and yet the most positive polling I was able to find had the Tories and Labour neck-and-neck the day that David Cameron resigned. The day the Conservatives were at their weakest for the last 6 years – we were able to scrape a tie. In some ways I hope Corbyn is still leader by the time of the next General Election because I’m desperate for Corbyn supporters to see how detached the majority of the Labour Party membership is from the rest of the country at the moment. John McDonnell has said Corbyn will stand down if he loses an election and I do hope he’s right. Although I can only see that promise from McDonnell as a maneuver to line himself up as Corbyn’s replacement.

“Calling us a cult is hugely offensive” one Corbyn supporter argued, in reference to the headline of the article, and I agree – name calling isn’t helpful or productive. However if you refuse to debate or even acknowledge the evidence, if you cannot accept that there are people who have legitimate doubts about the leader you defend, if you cannot even acknowledge his flaws then you are behaving no differently to a cult. If I were presented with tangible evidence that Corbyn could get the Labour Party back into power he would have my support. I won’t rule out supporting him the future. My question to Corbyn supporters is at what point would you stop supporting him?

It is most likely that Corbyn will win the leadership election in September. I can already picture the memes that will be generated and shared across social media: “They said he was unelectable and then he won an election twice!” He will be more popular than ever with the majority of members but the real fight comes once Jeremy is reelected as leader. Because if Corbyn supporters found it frustrating that people in the same party as them didn’t share their views they’ll be furious when they find out what the rest of the country think. Those members are going to have to find a way to engage with the electorate – they’ll have to convince Conservative voters in swing seats to vote for Labour – because that is the only way we can win an election. Members that shout at other Labour Party members in meetings cannot just shout in the face of people who voted Conservative next year and hope to change their mind. If they’re going to be knocking on doors or making phone calls they are going to be interacting with hundreds of people who do not share their opinion of Corbyn. Calling them names, mocking them and undermining them is not the way to convince them. What these people need more than anything is reassurance. The media are doing an excellent job as portraying Corbyn as extreme, unreliable and untrustworthy. To counteract that the members need tobe  calm, kind and open to reasoned debate.

We are the Labour Party. We sell ourselves on being kind, compassionate and fair. We’re the party that introduced the minimum wage, the NHS, the Civil Partnership Act, the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act. We have fought tirelessly to improve the lives of the most vulnerable people in our country and more people are relying on us than ever before. We are tolerant – we accept that not everyone shares the exact same views as us but they are welcome in our party. If you want a fairer, more equal society then there will always be a place for you in the Labour Party.

We are the kinder party – so let’s bloody well start behaving like it.

The Eagle Has Landed. Sort Of.

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Stereotypes are often exaggerated and unfair. Not all British people have a stiff upper lip, not all doctors have terrible handwriting and people with blonde hair don’t necessarily have more fun. The media have a huge part to play in generating these stereotypes and they love nothing more than presenting the Conservative Party and cruel but efficient and the Labour Party as kind but incompetent. Sadly, both parties seem to be embracing their stereotypes with renewed vigour.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about the need for a new leader of the Labour Party. I received some criticism from Corbyn fans (yes, fans.) It was the usual stuff: I’m a sell-out and/or a Blairite because I am willing to compromise some of my values for the sake of winning an election. Corbyn was elected on a wave of hope last Summer and in the last few weeks it has come crashing down. It is time to be realistic not idealistic – we need to address the country on their terms, not ours.

Whilst I agree that the MPs couldn’t have chosen a worse possible moment to make their point, I understand why they did it. They, like I, have reason to believe that the General Election we thought we had years to work towards may now be happening in the next few months. Our country and party are divided in two and we desperately need a leader who can unite us. I like Angela Eagle but she isn’t best placed to challenge Corbyn, in my opinion. However after a week of resignations and infighting I was just relieved that someone had finally stepped up to the plate. Whatever the result of this leadership election Labour need to sort themselves out and they need to do it quickly. Tomorrow afternoon Theresa May will become Prime Minster: the Tories are back in town.

The Conservatives have had no less drama or controversy than Labour have. It’s been a difficult few weeks for the Dark Side. The Prime Minister resigned after he was unable to convince the country to vote with him to stay in the EU. 40% of Conservative MPs voted to Leave compared to 58% of Conservative voters – Labour aren’t the only party that are heading in a different direction to their membership.

The Conservatives have been divided over Europe for decades but the difference is this: the one thing they all agree on is that they want to remain in power. Nothing is more important to them. It was hard to deny that they looked anything other than in control as they stood around steely-eyed Theresa May making her victory speech yesterday. This is a party entirely driven by a desire for power. Does it make them compassionate, or good for the country? No but it makes them bloody efficient when they need to be.

Any hope I had of a challenger being able to convince members of the public to pay £3 and vote for them was lost when Angela Eagle stepped out onto a platform that looked like the set of a Channel 5 chat show.  In case we hadn’t noticed that she’s a women, Eagle mentioned the fact repeatedly whilst sandwiched between two pink screens wearing a bright pink jacket. She may as well have carried a box of tampons on with her. I really wish the Labour Party would get into their heads that painting things pink doesn’t make women more likely to engage with them. It looks patronising, out of touch and shows a terrifying lack of awareness. We should have learnt this after the bus debacle.  It frustrates me that the party that brought in the Equal Pay Act, paid maternity leave and who have more female MPs than any other political party (42.7%) can get this so wrong. Anyway. I digress.

It was unfortunate that Eagle’s announcement came at the exact same time as Andrea Leadsom announced that she was pulling out of the Conservative leadership contest. As the journalists quickly exited, Eagle’s press conference began to look more like an afternoon with Alan Partridge, with special celebrity guest star, Sue Cook Harriet Harman, as she awkwardly called out for questions. I’m not sure who is managing her campaign but they definitely want Jeremy Corbyn to win.

Angela Eagle is unlikely to win this leadership election. And sadly, Labour is unlikely to win the next General Election even though the country desperately needs them to. As someone who voted for Corbyn there is a part of me that thinks we should give him the chance to fight a General Election although I’ve seen nothing to indicate we could win it and I worry that, with the rise of UKIP, we could face wipe out.

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The day after the Prime Minister resigned having split the country with a divisive, unnecessary and ugly referendum a poll showed Labour to be neck-and-neck. If we weren’t leading in polls when the Conservatives were at their weakest then something is very wrong.

29 Things You Should Know About Me

29 things you should know

It’s my birthday tomorrow! I’ll be 29. I’ve been nominated to complete this “29 Things You Should Know About Me” questionnaire. So here we go:

1. I’m happiest… on a long train journey with a good novel, a notebook and decent cup of coffee.

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2. …Especially if… there is some beautiful scenery to look at.

3. I’ve always wanted to… write.

4. My family is… large (as a collective not individually) loud and very loving.

5. I am a terrible… worrier. 

6. My first job was… when I was 14 I worked in the local Post Office. I worked from 9-12 on Saturdays and got paid £4 an hour.

7. I could probably eat cheese on toast everyday.

Cheese on toast

8. I stole… A rolling pin from a local pub.

9. I was born on the same day as… Bridget Jones and Sisqo… Both famous for pants.

10. My all-time favorite film is… I can’t choose between: High Society and Submarine.

11. I do a pretty mean… lasagne.

lasagne

12. I’m still annoyed that… the Conservatives have a majority.

13. I met my husband… Well, future husband, when he interviewed me for my first teaching job. I didn’t get the job.

14. I always knew I wanted… to be a teacher.

15. I’m not afraid to… go to the cinema on my own. I’ve always been very good with my own company and going to see a film alone became my way of switching off during stressful times at University (probably because I worked at the cinema so I could go for free.)

16. I wish I could… speak another language. I know, I know I have to actually take the time to learn the language for this to happen.

17. I have almost no… sense of direction. It’s a wonder I’ve survived to my 29th birthday as more than once in Venice I nearly ended up in the canal after a wrong turn.

18. I always feel sad when… I see old men eating on their own in cafes.

19. I’m (now) a Londoner but I lived up north for 4 years. 

20. I spent 12 years… believing in Father Christmas. Yes really.

21. I wish my parents… lived closer.

22. At 5, I was deeply in love with this beauty:

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23. I believe if everyone was kinder the world would be a better place.

24. I can’t stand… George Osborne.

25. Whenever Peep Show is on, I’ll watch it. It’s back on Wednesday!

26. A large Malbec is my drink of choice.

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27. If it were up to me everybody would have a home.

28. You should probably read every day. Don’t worry about high brow/low brow read widely and regularly.

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29. Lillies, coffee, cheese and my cat are a few of my favourite things. 

What I Want To Hear

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As anyone that follows me any sort of social media/anyone that would listen to me last week knows, I attended the Labour Leadership hustings on Sunday. I felt how most people probably feel waiting to see their favourite band: “I can’t believe we’re going to be in the same room as them!” “It’ll be so strange having followed them all these years to see them in the flesh” “Should I wear my “Hell Yes” t-shirt or is that too last Labour Leader?” I found the whole process fascinating and what surprised me was how my perceptions changed having watched them in the flesh. Yvette Cooper is far more impressive, Liz Kendall far less, whilst Andy Burnham and Jeremy Corbyn were pretty much what I expected. At the end of it all I was still hugely undecided about how I will cast my vote.

All four leaders seemed to agree that education needs to, once again, be at the forefront of the Labour agenda. It was barely mentioned in the 2015 campaign and given the damage Gove has done to the education system there is a lot of work to do. So I started thinking: what would I want to hear the future Labour Party leader say?

1) Boost teacher morale

This has to happen quickly and it applies to all public sector workers who have been made enemy of the state over the last few years. Nurses, doctors, social workers, midwives and teachers criticised on an almost daily basis in the media. The constant drip, drip narrative of “public sector workers are lazy“, “public sector workers are incompetent” needs to stop.


2) A qualified teacher in every classroom

Quite a simple one. Only Qualified Teachers are allowed to have a class. Allowing unqualified teachers to teach is damaging for children’s education and hugely undermining of trained, skilled professionals. I wouldn’t want an unqualified doctor performing an operation neither would I want an unqualified lawyer representing me in court. By allowing unqualified teachers to teach it suggests teaching requires no specialist training and anyone can do it.

3) Build community schools not free schools

I’m not sure what I find more distasteful: chains of soulless academies run by Whitehall that can change teacher’s pay and conditions at a drop of a hat or schools set up by groups of parents, religious fanatics, business owners and Katie Price  funded by the tax-payer. These schools do not have to follow the National Curriculum and can select their pupils which risks creating a “sink school” situation and further increases social segregation. The academy scheme was started by Labour to try and improve failing schools however has it actually worked? Other than the fact that academies can be more selective at the pupils they take on there is little evidence that suggests academy status actually improves schools. Rather than spending their budget on free schools and academies if the Government focused on building more community schools that served the children of the local community we could begin to address the school places crisis. At the moment state schools are being asked to take on extra classes in porter-cabins to try and place all these children without schools. This is a temporary solution to an ever-increasing problem. The Labour party established the Building Schools for the Future scheme and Primary Capital Programme in 2006 to prepare for the number of places that would be needed in 2011. Michael Gove famously scrapped both of these schemes in 2010.


4) Address the teacher recruitment and retention problem

Well step one is acknowledge there is a teacher recruitment and retention problem. There is a 7% shortfall expected for this September, the third in a row. We need to make teaching the job that graduates want to go for. This doesn’t mean necessarily offering more money. If teachers were given the same level of respect as lawyers or bankers I think that alone would attract people to the profession. For those that have chosen teaching we need to work hard to keep them  Currently 4 out of 10 teachers leave within their first year. Either the training is not equipping them with the skills they need or the ever increasing demands made of teachers are making the job unbearable. At the moment, unless you decide to go into leadership you are fairly capped as to the amount you can earn. I know that the Advanced Skills Teachers role was meant for teachers that wanted to stay as class teachers and would be given the career development and financial incentive to do so.

5) Address workload

Closely linked to teacher retention  the issue of workload. I’d like to start with a disclaimer: I know teaching will always be a difficult job and teachers will always be required to work outside their contracted hours. It’s the time spent on tasks that has no impact on children’s education I resent. The time spent evidencing what I do in class and updating endless spreadsheets. The endless focus on data without acknowledging we are dealing with children not numbers. It’s generally accepted by teachers entering the profession that they are giving up any hope of a work-life balance. When  first started teaching I think the adrenaline and the novelty of having my own class meant I didn’t notice I was working a 60 hour week and half of my evenings and weekends. I loved it and loved my class and would happily spend hours working. I remember going to the cinema with the same friend twice in a four month period and both times I fell asleep in the first half an hour of the film. My friends and family generally accept to get any decent time with me they need to wait until the holidays. I get a strange sort of buzz from working like this but it’s wearing off. The DFE workload survey found teacher’s workload increased by 9 hours a week between 2010 and 2013. Forget work-life balance or teacher’s mental health. Children need and deserve passionate, enthusiastic teachers with the energy to go the extra mile for them. At the moment most of the teachers I know are struggling to just get through the day.

6) Address child poverty

You can redefine it however you want but child poverty 3.5 million children live in poverty. All research shows the direct link between child poverty and low educational achievement. Children living in poverty start school 19 months behind developmentally. A study done in America found that children from more affluent backgrounds are exposed to 30 MILLION more words than children growing up on benefits. Closer to home, a study carried out by Bristol University with a sample of 12, 644 5 year-olds found children from the poorest 20% of homes had an average developmental age of about 4 and a half. In stark contrast children from the wealthiest 20% of homes had an average developmental age of 5 years and eight months approximately 15 months ahead of the poorest childrenAs the gap between rich and poor widens state funding is cut so schools have fewer resources to address this gap.  As state services are cut schools are left to pick up the pieces with ever decreasing resources. I know of schools that take pupils to the doctor and the dentist to teaching them how to use the toilet. Investing in children’s formative years is essential. Invest in the state support, health visitors, midwives, social workers. Oh and by address child poverty I don’t mean redefine it. With the cuts to tax credits, and child benefit caps I sadly don’t see how we’re going to help children out of poverty under this government,

These are, in my opinion, some of the top priorities and yet I haven’t begun to address the curriculum, changes to testing and the ever changing goal posts and Ofsted criteria. Ultimately I believe we need an education system we can feel proud of and a Government that treats public sector workers with the respect they deserve.