Politics

Too many unknowns – the Labour leadership

The Labour Party is less than a week from a shattering election defeat, and already the leadership election appears to be in full swing. Soundings are being taken, domain names registered, and backers recruited. But is the party in a position to choose the right candidate to lead it to victory in five years time?

What do we know about the 2020 election?

It will be held on 7th May 2020.

The world and the country will be a very different place five years on. Politically, we will have had the EU referendum. If we vote to leave there are huge political implications, not least the potential for Scotland to leave the UK in order to stay in the EU.

We also know that by 2020 there will be a new leader of the Conservative party, and therefore a new Prime Minister with a new leader bounce.

Plenty more will have changed. What will be the state of our economy, our public services, our security? If Labour needs a new leader to appeal beyond former coalfield areas, university towns and London, can we predict now the politics of coast and country five years out?

In any other walk of life the new leader would be appointed for around three years. She or he would stabilize the party, lead an effective Parliamentary opposition, and build a good electoral platform through the Scottish elections, the London mayoral elections and the EU Referendum.

There is much to do in terms of listening to neglected parts of the country, raising money, succession planning and changing the party structures to reflect the fragmentation of British politics.

When Tony Blair won in 1997 he had been leader for three years – not a full Parliament. John Smith had done vital preparatory work such as OMOV before he tragically died. This made Tony’s job and reforms considerably easier.

My political friends will call me naïve. But I would love to have a candidate declare that he or she will do the job we need doing for the next two or three years and then will open up a new leadership election. He or she may run again and can be judged on a record of reviving the party’s fortunes, and in comparison with the likely new Prime Minister.

The upside is that those who are dismissed as experienced but too associated with the past, have the chance to use that experience and maybe redefine themselves as leaders for the future. It would also give a chance for candidates that offer a break from the past to build experience and prove through campaigning around the country that they are the one to win in 2020.

The downside is if it became a three-year feeding frenzy for journalists. Potential leaders would need to know they would be judged on their discipline, their positive record and their ability to work with colleagues.

This is not a proposal for a caretaker leader. It is a proposal for a renewable fixed term contract. It is counter cultural, but with the known known of the next General Election and the very many known unknowns of the next five years, I think it may work.

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education

Is Democracy Good for Learning?

As the UK woke up to the political earthquake of the General Election, I was in Berlin listening to the OECD’s education guru Andreas Schleicher. As the architect of PISA test and the TALIS teacher survey he regularly gives great new insights evidenced by data.

Andreas told us some of the things that work in the best performing school systems such as Singapore and Shanghai. Here there is significant investment in teacher capacity, rewarding them well, giving them time for preparation and training funded by larger class sizes, and running a longer learning day with more self directed learning.

He has clear evidence that this focus on teaching capacity works and yet these important findings are not applied in most Western jurisdictions. Incidentally, he also finds more evidence of innovation in the leading Asian systems.

It would have been inappropriate for him, as an OECD official, to point out that the successful Asian jurisdictions were less democratic. However he added a couple of other things. He said that short electoral cycles can be a problem and that politicians are more likely to do what is urgent than what is important. He also pointed out that school choice tends to make no difference because many parents are interested in more than just academic performance – such as school neighbourhood. Andreas was speaking at the inaugural world education summit organised by the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

The previous day I also took part in the 13th Education Fast Forward debate which discussed the challenge of developing 21st Century skills in schools (such as creative, collaborative, & presentation skills). Both discussions were coming to a similar conclusion.

Howard Reingold strikingly suggested in the EFF13 debate that there is a growing conflict between education and learning, that our qualifications and schooling are hampering the development of learning. He suggested that whilst in times of stability the older generation should be passing on what it knows to young people, at times of rapid change – like now – the older generation should be passing to young people the skills to direct their own learning.

This sentiment was reinforced in Berlin by speakers from Australia, India, the U.S. and Asia.

We can carry on trying to improve the system we’ve been tinkering with for the last 70 years, and nothing will really change. Or we can design a new system based around great teaching that at its heart coaches learning.

And so I came full circle in my mind. This change in teaching may be the right thing to do that ignites the fire of learning that we need for our children to thrive. If so it is really important. But implementing the change would take much longer than a five year electoral cycle and parents, employers and teachers would all need to be persuaded to support it to sustain it.

Meanwhile countries who don’t worry so much about democratic consent are just getting on with it and gaining a competitive advantage.

But I am first and foremost a democrat. Coming back to the UK, I have to accept our election outcome.

I congratulate Nicky Morgan on being re-appointed as Secretary of State for Education. My advice to her is to focus on what is important. In this case it is both important and urgent to address teacher capacity, especially recruitment and development. Here she can build on her record, learn from the best in the world, and many of us on the left of education politics will happily work with her on that vital agenda.

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digital

Internet of Things – an opportunity for Government?

When the world’s mobile telecoms movers and shakers gather in Barcelona next week they will inevitably be thinking about the next wave of the technology revolution. The Internet of Things and Machine to Machine have been talked about for a while and there will be an impatience for the commercial impact to really be felt.

Aside from commercial judgments, what about how governments should exploit the potential of digital to solve today’s challenges. In Barcelona I will be discussing with ministers how we can realise the potential of this new technology across the public sector.

A starting point is the urgent need for governments to do things differently.

The old ways of delivering public services were forged in the post war industrial economy. They are no longer affordable. By contrast, communication with citizens has never been more affordable thanks to social technology. And the problems are now so complex that the only practical way to solve them is collaboratively with citizens.

So this is the right time to argue for a new mindset, learning from the commercial world and finding new models of service delivery. The Internet of Things offers some interesting examples.

I have been using wearable technology to monitor my health for 18 months and know it changes my health behaviour for the good. In doing so I am conscious of the trade off in terms of that health data also going to a third party. If we can find a way of building public trust in the use of their data there is huge potential in public health to save on care and on chronic diseases like diabetes.

There is plenty more. Driverless vehicles can help with congestion, and smart meters can help with affordable heating and tackling climate change. Prof Stephen Heppell has been doing very interesting analysis around the ideal learning environment – the right levels of light, heat, sound and air quality for learning – a smart school can deliver these things. There is also the great learning potential from analysing the huge amount of data created by the Internet of Things.

But I must also sound some warnings.

I have already touched on the growing concern about personal data. Connecting objects appears to be all about creating more data points. Some of that will be data about me that I may not want others to know. If my smart meter is hacked into, could thieves then surmise when my home is normally empty? How safe is my health data and my shopping data?

The technology revolution is creating economic growth but it is not evenly distributed. Recent reports suggests that the richest 1% now own 99% of the wealth. That is not sustainable. The rise of extreme politics and terrorism has to be related to a sense that the status quo is not delivering for many, and so people are looking for an alternative. Will this next technology wave of the Internet of Things lessen or exaggerate that problem?

As a schools minister in the UK, I was responsible for a huge spend on classroom technology. Unfortunately the element of the budget for training got stripped out and so we had a limited return on investment. We had become so be-dazzled by the potential of technology enhanced learning that we had forgotten about the people.

People must be at the heart of this new technology. And here I am impatient to see genuine attempts to design co-creation into public services.

In the commercial world we have seen the technology journey from producer efficiency to consumer personalisation, to now co-creation.

So the challenge is to combine the ability to connect things, with people generated design. Ministers in Barcelona would be wise not be too dazzled by the Machine to Machine technology until the loop is closed of people to machine to machine to people. Then they can get the consent and to harness technology to deliver what the people want from their public services – more for less.

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