31 January 2011

Kleinburgerlich Schadenfreude

Middle-rankers soon learn the pluses and minuses of coming into contact with “Top Kneddies”. FLIGHT International magazine (now lovingly preserved at Flightglobal/Archive) used to feature a humorous column, Straight and Level, whose author, 'Roger Bacon', poked fun at the top people in the air industry and related government departments, for example, in 19 February 1983:
Top Kneddy: Come and see me when you've got less time.
Bottom Neddy: It's this idiot Bill Walker MP with another Parliamentary Question asking how much it costs to answer Parliamentary Questions. Money isn't everything, is it?
Top Kneddy: Tell me something it isn't.
Of course, many people at the top are exceptionally able, grasping complex problems quickly and resolving them while inspiring their Bottom Neddies who they treat decently. They deserve their knighthoods (which presumably raised them in Roger Bacon’s eyes from Neddies to Kneddies). Others, I’m afraid, are less impressive: ambitious egotists, skilled at self-advancement, usually only mildly contemptuous of their underlings but that mainly to conserve their energies for doing down their rivals. So it goes. But it's difficult to resist some kleinburgerlich schadenfreude as provided by a recent public spat between two big cheeses, Lord Dannatt (until very recently Sir Richard) and the improbable sounding Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles.  (Western Independent has never had anything to do with either of them.)

Sir Richard was head of the British army (Chief of the General Staff) from 2006 to 2009 and Sir Sherard was British Ambassador to Afghanistan from 2007 to 2009. Their row seems to stem from Sir Sherard’s evidence to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in December 2010, in particular:
... the then Chief of the General Staff, Sir Richard Dannatt, told me in the summer of 2007 that, if he didn’t use in Afghanistan the battle groups then starting to come free from Iraq, he would lose them in a future defence review. "It’s use them, or lose them", he said.
When this was published in January, Sir Richard revealed his annoyance. His reaction in The Times was widely reported:
"I have great respect for Sherard Cowper-Coles as a diplomat but believe that many of his comments with regard to the military are somewhere between mis-judged and mischievous - they are largely based on snapshots and passing conversations,"
"He has strayed out of his lane in a most unfortunate manner - particularly on issues such as unit tour lengths and Army organisation. I would not dream of telling him how to organise an Embassy."
Cowper-Coles struck back: "He is lying, I am afraid. I can recall him saying it, sitting in his office in the Ministry of Defence."

This was already well up the Richter scale for Top-Kneddy-brawling-in-public when the next blow was dealt by Dannatt on BBC Radio 4's Today programme (as reported in The Guardian). Cowper-Coles views were "somewhere between outrageous and downright horrible". However,
"Sherard Cowper-Coles has withdrawn that remark and has apologised to me personally and is trying to find a suitable place and time to do that publicly.
"Sherard Cowper-Coles and I have had conversations about that this week. He has withdrawn that allegation from me and he has done that privately and is deciding how to make that public."
On 21 January the following letter appeared in The Times:
Sir, Following your report "We went to war to keep the Army busy, senior diplomat says" (Jan l4), and the remarks by General Sir Richard Dannatt on the BBC Today programme yesterday, there is some confusion about my position.
I have apologised to General Dannatt for suggesting that he had Iied. I used that word in an immediate and off-the-cuff reaction to being told that General Dannatt had completely denied having made certain comments about the deployment of troops to Afghanistan, at a meeting with me in his office in the Ministry of Defence in the summer of 2007. I now accept that General Dannat has a very different recollection of our meeting.
I have not, however, apologised for, or withdrawn, my evidence on this subject to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee on November 9 last year.
Cowper-Coles evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee seems to have been in two parts, oral on 9 November 2010 and written. The oral evidence has no record of Questions 1 to 88, probably explained by:
Q110 Chair: Sir Sherard, may I share a problem with you? I have just been told that due to a technical glitch we failed to record the first 10 minutes of this session.
Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: Thank heavens.
Q111 Chair: Maybe you feel relieved. Do you feel that you have covered the points that you wanted to make about the role of the military after those 10 minutes?
Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles: Yes. ...
Nothing in the oral evidence as published seems to relate to Dannatt’s remarks in 2007. But these do come up in Cowper-Coles’ written evidence which is dated 23 December 2010, then “Prepared 13th January 2011”. So it’s not quite clear what at the Select Committee his Times letter is about.

Dannatt has been a controversial figure for some time, as Blair’s chief of staff, Jonathan Powell, describes in extracts from The New Machiavelli: How to Wield Power in the Modern World:
... When Mike Jackson retired as chief of the general staff in August 2006, the MoD sent over to No 10 the CV of his proposed successor, asking for the prime minister's agreement.
Tony's foreign policy and defence adviser Nigel Sheinwald came to see me and we agreed that it wasn't worth consulting Tony about such a trivial subject.
A few months later we faced a serious problem with the new chief, Richard Dannatt, when he chose to attack the government through the pages of the Daily Mail while we were in St Andrews engaged in crucial Northern Ireland peace talks. Tony complained about him to me, and I, forgetting what had happened earlier, said that it was his fault as he had appointed him. He denied that he had and said he had never been consulted. I went back to the files and discovered that he was right and had to confess to Tony.
Blair was so enraged by Dannatt's attack that he met the service chiefs for lunch at the Ministry of Defence. Powell writes that Dannatt, an evangelical Christian, dominated the meeting.
Dannatt insisted on talking, and after a few minutes it was quite clear to me that he was unsuited to his job. Tony explained to those present that politicians would not support maintaining a first-division army if they were caused too much political pain by serving generals speaking out against their mission. It was always easier for politicians not to risk soldiers' lives. But I fear he was too subtle for Dannatt, who was divinely convinced of his own rightness.
After retirement, Dannatt seems to have been much better-regarded by the Conservatives than New Labour. At the Tory party conference in October 2009, David Cameron said:
I'm proud to announce today that someone who has fought for our country and served for 40 years in our armed forces will not only advise our defence team but will join our benches in the House of Lords and if we win the election could serve in a future Conservative government: General Sir Richard Dannatt.
However, the extent of Dannatt’s advisory role seems to have been fairly limited, and when his peerage was announced in November 2010 it was made clear that he will sit as a crossbencher in the Lords.

28 January 2011

The King’s Speech

I've finally seen the most talked-about film of the moment, The King’s Speech, which I had posted about earlier. As we are told, the acting is impressive, particularly that of Colin Firth as King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, although this seemed less the case for the peripheral characters. Perhaps the actors playing Churchill, Baldwin and Archbishop Lang were aware of the contortions of history regarding Edward’s abdication and German appeasement which their parts involved. Michael White and Andrew Roberts are among those who have commented on the historical accuracy of the film since its release.

The British media like to encourage pre-Oscar optimism about home-grown films, if only as a circulation booster, and the 12 nominations for The King’s Speech sound promising. Films like The Queen, Mrs Brown and Shakespeare in Love (also with Firth), where commoners “let daylight in upon the magic”, seem to go down well in Hollywood. However, the Oscars are American Academy Awards and the voters are mostly US citizens who want their country's films to succeed. True Grit looks like a fine piece of Western mythologizing – oh dear, how many who hit on this blog are disappointed to find it so far east of the old West – and The Social Network has ten nominations. Facebook is something, like Google, that only the US could have brought the rest of the world, and an achievement that China is unlikely to emulate, at least for now. A film which underlines American exceptionalism - Facebook that is, not Wallis Simpson - will surely be well regarded.

Helena Bonham Carter, who plays Queen Elizabeth, is the great granddaughter of a British Prime Minister, Asquith, and, as well as being a fine actor, is certainly well-connected.

27 January 2011

Modern British Sculpture at the RA

Having enjoyed last year’s Wild Thing: Epstein, Gaudier-Brzeska, Gill at the Royal Academy, and being an admirer of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth and other 20C British sculptors, I had

Henry Moore's Sheep Piece at Perry Green
high hopes of this exhibition. It got off to a good start but then rapidly went downhill - Andrew-Graham Dixon and Brian Sewell say it all. There are some things worth seeing, but £11 is a lot to ask. There could have been so much more, and far better.  I'm too unsophisticated to appreciate the irony or whatever of a few 'Page 3s' from The Sun pinned to a wall – passé in a back street garage these days. So enjoy this instead from last year’s on form exhibition:

Anthony Turner Seven sweet peas
Connemara marble
50 x 100 x 20 cm

Snap Election Rumours

On 12 January, Tom Watson (Labour MP for West Bromwich East) posted:
A snap election promises Cameron the glory he craves
The Conservatives are preparing for a general election in May. That is what a devilishly well-placed conservative insider told me …
which met with a sceptical reception. However, Watson had also said:
My source has been spot on in the past. He also told me that the working assumption for Andy Coulson’s departure announcement was now 25th January. He told me this to help justify his argument that an election in May was a strong possibility. Clearing the decks and all that.
and after Coulson’s resignation on 21 January, some people are thinking again, including Guido Fawkes - 'the Tories are certainly the only ones who could afford an election' - others, like Paul Waugh, remain sceptical.

Obviously I know nothing, except for one trivial, and no doubt entirely coincidental, fact. Last year, before the election, David Willetts book The Pinch: How the Baby Boomers Took Their Children's Future - And How They Can Give it Back was published. Its theme is:
The baby boom of 1945-65 produced the biggest, richest generation that Britain has ever known. Today, at the peak of their power and wealth, baby boomers now run our country; by virtue of their sheer demographic power, they have fashioned the world around them in a way that meets all of their housing, healthcare and financial needs. ... the baby boomer generation has attained this position at the expense of their children. Social, cultural and economic provision has been made for the reigning section of society, whilst the needs of the next generation have taken a back seat.
Willetts is now Minister for Universities and Science and would almost certainly be in the Cabinet but for its having to accommodate LibDems. He must be well aware that the baby boomers are far more assiduous voters than their juniors and, so far, seem have come off lightly in the expenditure cuts – bus passes, fuel allowances, exempt from National Insurance etc. However valid Willett’s arguments may be, they are not particularly palatable to this age group.

Where is this leading? Well, according to Amazon in December the paperback version of The Pinch was going to be despatched on 2 February. On 9 January delivery slipped to early June - coincidental as I said.

23 January 2011

Labour: another problem, another brother

In ‘Old Labour’ times, when party members knew the words of The Red Flag, they would refer to each other as “brother”, as opposed to “comrade”, associated with the far left and those who had never read 1984 or Animal Farm. Nowadays “Labour” and “brother” is likely to bring to mind “Miliband”, a name not exactly synonymous with fraternal solidarity. In September 2010 Ed Miliband was elected leader of the Labour party thanks to trade union backing. His brother, David, who had been the favourite, came a close second and subsequently chose not to join the shadow cabinet.

The third place in the leadership election went to Ed Balls, who, last week, was appointed shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer by Ed Miliband for reasons largely beyond the latter’s control. Miliband had originally made Balls education shadow, keeping his rival away from the economics post he wanted and was suited to. The key political issue in the UK for the foreseeable future will, of course, be the economy and the impact of deficit reduction. Balls has wasted no time in making his views clear:
2011 is a critical year for Britain’s economy and public services, and the coming weeks and months will tell us whether David Cameron and George Osborne’s reckless gamble has worked. With no plan for jobs and growth, they have instead staked the whole future of the economy on one card – the fastest, deepest deficit reduction plan in Britain’s peacetime history.
... cuts that go too far and too fast
… Over the coming months, as the impact of the VAT rise, deep spending cuts and rising inflation starts to hit home, we will be able to gauge the true impact of the Tory economic plan, and see whether their gamble has worked.
On the same day (22 January) the Financial Times (£) led with an ‘inflation up, interest rates to follow’ story which included the following quote:
“Why would you want to be a bondholder with bond yields so low and that sort of inflationary trend,” Bill Gross, who runs the world’s largest bond fund at Pimco, told the Financial Times. “If CPI continues above 3 per cent in the UK and 2 per cent in the US, then we are accepting negative real interest rates, and that is not an attractive investment.”
Pimco nuances its views quite often. A year ago (when Labour was in office) Bill Gross said that UK gilts were "resting on a bed of nitro-glycerine" as a result of the nation's high debt levels. In April, Mr Gross reiterated that Britain remained on its list of "must avoid" countries with Greece. After the election in July their views seemed to have changed, when according to the Daily Telegraph:
One of the UK's fiercest economic critics has moderated its tone and even begun advising clients to start gambling on a recovery. Pimco, the world's second largest bond house, has reversed its aggressive stance against the UK gilts, saying: "We do not expect the UK to fail in meeting its commitments". For sophisticated investors, Pimco added: "We believe exposure to the UK in the credit default swap (CDS) market offers a valuable opportunity."
... Mr Amey [a Pimco executive vicepresident] said: "The Coalition has demonstrated its intent to tackle the deficit immediately and we think that is generally good news. "At the margin, the risk of a double-dip recession has decreased." However, he remained doubtful about the investment potential of UK gilts, saying: "Given the risk to the pound and ... upside risk to inflation, we think there is relatively less value in longer-term UK bonds."
...Much of the recovery has been driven by the Government's plans to attack the deficit. "UK sovereign debt risk will continue to be an issue as long as UK debt levels remain high," Mr Amey warned.
So, what does Ed Balls think should be done about “rising inflation”, which he seems to think is a bad thing, and to secure the greater borrowing that Labour's deficit reduction plans imply – must interest rates go up? He could ask his brother at Pimco.  After all, as the Sunday Times, Independent and Daily Telegraph pointed out last July:
...the bond house's European investment team is headed by Andrew Balls, brother of Labour leadership candidate Ed Balls.

ADDENDUM: More on the Balls brothers in my post on 27 March 2011.

16 January 2011

Pennies from Heaven at IPPR

The key issue in UK politics is how to deal with the deficit. Labour says that the cuts in government expenditure are too much and too soon. The Coalition never tires of accusing Labour of being in denial about the scale of the problem they left behind last May. Labour knows that by the time of the next general election it will have to be regarded as trustworthy on the economy if it is to return to government. Andrew Rawnsley makes this point in today's Observer.  One aspect of the required rehabilitation is to convince the electorate that the situation was not of Labour’s making, but stemmed from its need to respond to the global economic crisis.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr) describes itself as the UK’s leading progressive think tank and has just produced a briefing, ‘Debts and Deficits: How much is Labour to blame?’, which it summarises thus:
The Coalition government has sought to blame its Labour predecessor for Britain’s current fiscal position. There have also been accusations that the deficit was, at least in part, due to excessive spending by the last Labour government even before the recession of 2008 and 2009.
This note looks at the numbers on debt, deficits and spending (relative to GDP) – over time in the UK and comparing the UK with other developed economies.
On the basis of these numbers, Labour’s ‘fiscal profligacy’ just ahead of the recession would seem to have been on a very limited scale, and charges that the Coalition is tackling ‘Labour’s debt’ and ‘Labour’s deficits’, or that Labour let spending run out of control before the recession, do not stack up.
However, reading the report does uncover the following in the Summary:
Labour’s mistakes ahead of the financial crisis were to underestimate the risk of a recession and not to realise how much reliance it was placing on revenues from sources associated with rampant lending.
And in the Conclusion:
[Labour] appears to have been blind to the reliance it was placing on revenues from sources associated with rampant lending, such the City and the housing market. ... greater awareness might have suggested more caution.
Well, I never realised that governments didn’t know where their money was coming from. But presumably any Chancellor could put ‘uk tax revenues’ into Google, select (if it were today) ‘uk tax revenues 2009’ and hit on the first suggestion, a very helpful breakdown of HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) annual receipts from 2001-2 onwards.

This shows that between 2001-02 and 2007-08 stamp duty (mostly tax on property sales) doubled and corporation tax increased by over 40% – a combined uplift of about £B22 which has since vanished! But Labour was “blind” to this happening apparently, tax receipts arriving like Pennies from Heaven. Surely ippr does not expect us to believe that Chancellors are not briefed frequently on the state of the HMRC collection?

15 January 2011

Gratuitous tweets - 'gratweets'?

It’s probably a mistake to take Twitter too seriously. But this arrived early last Thursday from a high profile UK twitterer who has sent over 25000 tweets to over 7000 followers:
Sounds like Obama did well. Perfectly pitched speech apparently.. must listen. Can't imagine the contrast between him and Palin cld be starker.
President Obama gave his speech (‘Remarks’ to use the White House description) in Tucson, Arizona at 18:43 MST on 12 January, which would have been 01:43 GMT on 13 January in the UK. Most people here learnt about the speech from radio and TV as they got up – so that particular tweet, however well meant, added nothing.

One of the meanings of ‘gratuitous’, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is:
Done, made, adopted, or assumed without any good ground or reason; not required or warranted by the circumstances of the case; uncalled-for; unjustifiable.
Perhaps we should start calling gratuitous tweets ‘gratweets’ in the hope it might discourage them!

13 January 2011

University League Tables and Participation

The data in the Table below has been updated in a later post.

In a previous post ( University Entrance - Today's 11+? ) I pointed out that the current participation rate in higher education in the UK was at a similar level to 11+ success and grammar school attendance in the 1960s.  At that time, however, university was for an elite minority – less than 10% of the under 21 age group. Although this is no longer the case, there is a perception of there being an institutional elite, and arguably, for those choosing which universities to apply to and for recruiters of graduates, the perception can be more important than the reality. This post looks at some possible shapers of these perceptions ('league tables' and elite groupings), and then revisits the statistics of participation.

There are currently four league tables of UK universities published by the Independent, Guardian, Sunday Times and Times newspapers. Taking the top 30 in each case, they consist of 41 different institutions. However, 22 of the 41 feature in all four tables. Also, 11 of the 41 feature in only one, so an overall top 30 can be identified as those institutions appearing in more than one league table, and their rankings can be combined as below. There are three other groupings of highly-rated institutions which can be put alongside the league tables. The Russell Group of 20 major research universities is regarded as being an elite. Also, the Sutton Trust, which looks at issues of social mobility and access to higher education, has identified for its purposes a group of 13 elite universities and a larger group of 30 which it regards as highly selective. The table below indicates which of the 'Top 30' universities fall into these three groups (RG, ST13 and STHS respectively).

A graph in the previous post showed how university participation has increased since the 1960s. Using UCAS statistics for the undergraduate numbers at each university, the proportion of the under 21’s which various groupings of universities within the 'Top 30' are recruiting can be calculated, and the levels are indicated on the new graph below.  The 4.2% for the 'Top 12' cater for the mid-60s level of participation

Of course, there are obvious limitations in drawing up a league table of universities – there are going to be excellent courses and very able students in the many unlisted institutions. Individual circumstances can be overriding as well – if your family owns a chain of golf courses, you might well want to go for the best golf course management degree wherever it may. However, if your aspiration is to take a humanities degree – one of the many flavours of history, say – but then move into management, the perception a future employer may have of your university is a factor which can’t be ignored. Being at one of the universities in the table above, particularly in the top half, is unlikely to stand in your way; although it won’t be the only thing they will be looking for.

Notes on the Table and Chart

As last time, this is a blog post not a PhD thesis, so I have used a broad brush with the data.

From 1950 to 1998 the graph shows the Age Participation Index (API) which was defined as the number of UK-domiciled young (aged less than 21) initial entrants to full-time and sandwich undergraduate courses of higher education, expressed as a proportion of the averaged 18 to 19 year old GB population. After 1999 the data is for the Higher Education Initial Participation Rate HEIPR20 (17-20 year olds English domiciled and in English Welsh and Scottish institutions).

Positions in the individual league tables were added (Oxford, 1st in all four, scoring 4 etc). A university unplaced in a particular league table was assumed to be 31st equal if it appeared in the other three tables, 32nd equal if it appeared in only one other table. UCAS provides numbers for undergraduates for each university, (all courses are assumed here to be of three years), and percentages for mature and international students. Hence the places available to the HEIPR20 contingent, the recent overall size and participation rate for this being provided by the BIS Department. The decimal place in the statistics for the groupings (eg Russell Group 9.2%) should probably be ignored.

8 January 2011

University Entrance – Today’s 11+?

Describing the educational experience of my age group, I would point to the two main hurdles we had to jump: first the 11+ exam which controlled access to grammar school education, and then, for a minority within the grammar schools, A-level based university entrance. Of course, there are exceptions: I’m ignoring independent schools and the few who might have gone to university from secondary modern schools or the handful of technical schools, but I think it sums secondary education up for the majority in the 1950s and 60s.

At first sight, the current scene of secondary level comprehensives, academies etc and government aspirations of 50% going to university might seem a different world, but I thought it might be interesting, particularly given the current controversy over university fees, to bring together what historical data I could find on grammar school and university participation. Hence the chart below, but see the cautionary notes.

The interesting feature is that from the early 1950s to the early 1970s, when the “Tripartite System” of secondary education was in full swing, about 30% of those at school were being taught in grammar schools (G+ including equivalents, see below). At that time, a third at most of that group went on to university. Now we seem to be at about the 35% level for university participation (U, as a proportion of those aged about 18). A tentative conclusion might be that possession of a university degree in 2010 is roughly comparable in terms of an academic experience to having been to a grammar school in the 1960s. The economic and other benefits of going to university to the individual and to society in general are way beyond the scope of this posting, as are issues of social stratification and gender among the entrants and among different universities. I will make one observation, though.

Prospect magazine’s In fact column in November 2010 (Issue 176) stated, “One in three British call centre workers is a graduate; a rise from one in four in 2009”. These figures came from the Daily Mail on 22 September 2010, which had reported a survey by Hays Contact Centres in conjunction with the Top 50 Call Centres for Customer Service initiative (sic). “35 per cent of their agents are now educated to degree level - up from 25 per cent last year.” I recall that some pupils left grammar schools after ‘O’ level (the GCSE predecessor), and typically went into white-collar work at a fairly low-level, say clerk in a bank, perhaps the call centre agent equivalent of the time. Of course, they had no loans to pay off and also had reasonable career prospects in the absence of any large-scale graduate entry schemes. The Mail pointed out that in 2010:
... many graduates intend to develop a long-term career in the industry. ... Call centre starting salaries are usually £12,000 to £18,000. Some graduates can expect to move up to senior marketing or sales roles ...
One can only hope so.  Many of the young graduates taking these jobs apparently see them as stop-gaps.

Some academics regard the transition from “elite” to “mass” university education as having taken place once the participation level went over 15%. But to look at it another way, mass possession of degrees having been achieved, it is painfully apparent that not all degrees and universities are equal. There is still an elite, particularly of institutions, and its identification may be the subject of a future posting.

Notes on the Chart

This is a blog post not a PhD thesis, so I have used a broad brush with the data. However, I’ve explained the sources and what I’ve done, and if anyone wants to improve it, please do.


This is the percentage of maintained secondary school pupils taught in grammar schools (taken from a House of Commons Library Note, Grammar school statistics, SN/SG/1398, March 2009) which I have enhanced by 3% to allow for the direct grant grammar schools and by 3.5% to allow for a purely nominal half of the attendance at independent (aka private or “public”) schools being of 11+ pass standard. I cannot establish whether children at private schools were obliged to sit the 11+ examination. G+ is a percentage of pupils being taught rather than of the age group. The pass level for the 11+ varied between local education authorities (LEAs) and seems to have been about 25%. For comparison with U, the level of grammar school and equivalent participation was probably about 30% in the Tripartite period (see below).


From 1950 to 1998 this is the Age Participation Index (API) which was defined as the number of UK-domiciled young (aged less than 21) initial entrants to full-time and sandwich undergraduate courses of higher education, expressed as a proportion of the averaged 18 to 19 year old GB population. After 1999 the data is for the Higher Education Initial Participation Rate HEIPR20 (17-20 year olds English domiciled and in English Welsh and Scottish institutions, here and similar later). The government’s target is for HEIPR to be 50% for the age range 17 to 30. This extension currently adds another 10-11% to the HEIPR20 figure.

I realise comparing G+ with U is a little like apples with pears, but I hope not as bad as apples with bananas, and that it serves to make the point.

The Tripartite System

This was the theoretical arrangement of state funded secondary education between 1944 and the 1970s in England and Wales, and from 1947 to 2009 in Northern Ireland. State funded secondary education was to be arranged after the 1944 education act into a structure containing three types of school: grammar, secondary technical and secondary modern. Pupils were allocated to their respective types of school according to their performance in the 11+ examination which was administered by the LEA. In practice the system was “bipartite” as there were very few technical schools. It was also disliked by the majority of voters whose children were, by definition, excluded from grammar schools.

In July 1958 the Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell (educated at Winchester College, a prestigious public (ie UK private) school) formally abandoned the Tripartite System, calling for "grammar-school education for all". This policy was taken forward by Gaitskell's protégé, Anthony Crosland (educated at Highgate, also a public school), who advocated comprehensive schools as less divisive, and vigorously pursued the goal of their introduction, and the consequent elimination of grammar schools,  on becoming Education Secretary in 1965.

5 January 2011

One in Five, One in Six, Whatever

It’s a boring time of the year so any news is eagerly seized upon, particularly if it seems good. On 30 December 2010 the BBC ran a story, Nearly one in five UK citizens 'to survive beyond 100':
Nearly one in five people currently in the UK will live to see their 100th birthday, according to the government. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said its figures suggested 10 million people - 17% of the population - would become centenarians.  These are based on Office for National Statistics population projections and life expectancy estimates.”
But hang on, the headline in the Daily Mail next day was One in six will live to be 100, although their article quoted the same 17%. Other reports were also divided between “one in five” and “one in six”.

This was largely a fractions vs percentages problem: 17% is nearly 20% which is one in five, isn’t it? – No, and see attempt-to-be-helpful table below – but it is also worth following the story back.

The DWP press release said, “More than ten million people in the UK today can expect to live to see their 100th birthday – 17 per cent of the population”, which was picked up by the media. This statistic came from a DWP report, Number of Future Centenarians.  DWP’s interest is, of course, how to find pensions for all these people, and they based their analysis on the ONS projections. As usual, the underlying caveats get lost sight of:
... the population levels and age structure that would result if the underlying assumptions about future fertility, mortality and migration were to be realised. Projections are uncertain and become increasingly so the further they are carried forward.
I wonder whether the assumptions about future mortality are taking current trends in obesity (and consequently Type 2 diabetes etc) into account.  Apart from that, it is informative to go into the statistics in the report. The source of the 17% is this data:

So the 17.3%, correctly reported as “one in six” rather than “one in five”, is an average for males and females. However most of us are one or the other, and for females 20% (19.98%) is almost exactly “one in five”, but for males 14.5% is, alas, more like “one in seven”.

Of course, we’re not only broken down by sex, but by age as well. A one-year old female in 2010 is considered to have a 32.8% (1 in 3) chance of reaching 100, but a male of Western Independent’s age has only a 1 in 12 chance. So read this blog regularly while it lasts!

(for percentages with one decimal place and rounding to smaller fraction)


1 January 2011

New Year Predictions

There is a tendency at the end of the year to contemplate the recent past and to consider what could lie ahead, not always drawing optimistic conclusions. This may, of course, be a melancholic reaction to seasonal excesses of food and alcohol. Although I’m not particularly royalist or religious, the tones of King George VI in his 1939 Christmas broadcast, often rerun by the BBC in December, seem to echo this mood. In particular, the King quoted from a poem by Minnie Louise Harkins:
"I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.'"
The speech can be listened to at the CBC archive, but is not available from the BBC. King George VI’s determination to overcome a speech impediment is the subject of an already acclaimed film, The King’s Speech, which will be released in the UK on 7 January. Apparently it closes with the King’s broadcast at the outbreak of the war in September 1939, which is on the BBC website.

1940 turned out to be one of the most calamitous years in British history, almost terminal. Hopefully 2011, for all its likely problems (the eurozone for one), will be relatively forgettable. Nonetheless, it may be timely to record three predictions which surfaced in 2010 and could prove worth revisiting in the course of time, if not in 2011.

First, in September from Tony Blair’s A Journey (page 120 of the UK edition):
“It will be fascinating to see whether the coalition conceived after the 2010 election holds. It may, since the Lib Dem desire for electoral reform is so intrinsic to them. But if that doesn’t come about, I doubt the coalition will last long. However, I may be wrong ...”
Blair is far too smart to make an unqualified prediction, but if he is right (as opposed to “wrong”), before the end of 2011 we may begin to test the second prediction. This was attributed to Mervyn King by a US economist, David Hale, in an interview on Australian TV and reported by Reuters in April:
"I saw the governor of the Bank of England last week when I was in London and he told me whoever wins this election will be out of power for a whole generation because of how tough the fiscal austerity will have to be"
The third prediction – to be tested well after 2011 one hopes - resurfaced in the media in November when Prince William’s engagement was announced. It had been made by his mother to the effect that Prince Charles would never be King and that William would succeed his grandmother. At Princess Diana’s inquest in 2008, Sandra Davis, head of family law at the elite solicitors Mishcon de Reya, stated that Diana was convinced her prediction that Charles would be forced to stand aside would come true.

End note: I began this blog on 30 October, primarily to amuse myself, and certainly doubtful as to whether there would be any readers. In fact some of my 18 posts since then seem to have gone unhit. However, over 150 visitors have looked at others, coming from countries stretching from the US and Argentina to Singapore, as well as from the UK. Whether anyone has ever felt inclined to come back, I don’t know, certainly I have yet to be left any comments. Anyway, I feel mildly encouraged, and intend in 2011, all being well, to keep posting my views on the same types of topics, and some new ones.

Happy New Year and Bonne Année to anyone who reads this far!