Ruth Kelley - January 15th 2006 - updated Jan 19th
Tessa Jowell - March 3rd 2006
John Prescott - July 6th 2006

The current fracas over teachers who have at one time or another been accused of inappropriate behaviour and got themselves on one list or other of those who need to have an eye kept on them or not given certain jobs is a perfect opportunity to expose the confusion in both the public and the political mindset. There is absolutely no conception of the mathematical realities that govern our lives. Daily we hear some aggrieved individual who has suffered a misfortune, for which they blame the lack of total perfection in our political/financial/criminal/road-traffic/food-senergy-water-supply/air-traffic/please-fill-in-as-required systems, declare that although they can accept their misfortune without total retribution and humiliation being visited on all those who work in the systems which have failed to provide absolute protection, that IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!  Well, I am sorry to tell you this, but it will happen again. Probably not to you, probably not in the same place, possibly not in exactly the same way, but it will happen. This is a mathematical reality in a society of many millions with a liberal approach to education and human rights. It is a mathematical reality anywhere where individual errors are possible. That means anywhere there are people in large numbers and variety in an environment of change that cannot be totally fixed and controlled.

Removing the power of ministers to exercise any judgement over detailed personal judgements on who should or should not be allowed to teach in schools is an interesting reaction to the recent revelations. For thousands of years, the method of selection and promotion, or deselection and demotion, for positions of significance in our society has been based on decisions being taken at the most practical and appropriate level, with appeal to a higher level by those who feel they have been unfairly treated. The highest level of appeal is to the individual or body that carries final responsibility. These days this is not the head of state, but it is the government of the day represented by ministers under a Prime Minister. If such responsibility is to be shuffled off onto a self-perpetuating group of experts who mark each others exam papers and decide who joins them, that will be a great relief to ministers. They will no longer have to resign even if a school teacher murders or rapes, or if an innocent teacher commits suicide.

In the meantime I recommend this from Howard Jacobson, writing in The Independent. It is not the whole truth of course, and neither teachers nor politicians should take offence, but it is another aspect of reality that, togethr with what I have written above, should be part of a rounded view.

Published: 14 January 2006

How can I best put this? Schools need the sexually peculiar in the same way that politics need the ideologically deranged. It is pathological to believe you can change society for the better on the basis of a preference for one socio-economic system over another, and it is a dysfunction in an adult to want to spend his working hours with children. Both institutions - government and education - exist only so long as there are crazies to staff them.

You could say the same of the army, the police, ophthalmology, television, dentistry, religion, accountancy, surgery. Who, by any definition of normality, would choose to cut open people's stomachs for a living? How can a person of flesh and blood take satisfaction in a ledger? What man, not desperate to reveal something untoward about his gender orientation, would believe in the Virgin Birth, smother himself in incense and dress in women's clothing?

It is only through this wonderful provision of nature - throwing up from her store of plenty a weirdness to meet every social exigency - that human civilisation proceeds. If we were all sensitive to pain and blood, easily distracted, sceptical of belief systems, as bored by children as we ought to be and as uncaring of the old as the old deserve, squeamish, intelligent, fair-minded and well-balanced, our species would have died out millions of years ago, assuming we would ever have evolved at all. The biological supremacy we enjoy is to be explained only by the rich variety of our aberrations.

Thus, when it's an Education Secretary in his own image the Prime Minister requires, nature delivers a Ruth Kelly. And thus, when Ruth Kelly has to find someone to teach in one of her schools - no easy task when you consider the paltriness of the pay, the low esteem in which teachers are held, the violence of the environment in which they are required to work, and the monotony of the childish company they must keep - bountiful nature provides her with a person on a sex offenders list. Not a proven paedophile who, in these touchy times, might test the limits of the allowably loony; simply someone who has accessed dodgy photographs of children probably the same age as those he is hired to instruct.

The rest of the article can be accessed at http://www.independent.co.uk

So the minister, Ruth Kelly, has given in to the current hysteria and decided against any application of intelligence or judgement. Anyone who receives a caution (not a conviction) will be banned from getting work in education ever again.  No matter if if the caution is based on mistaken evidence or incompetent assessors, or the result of malice. The minister can never even consider an appeal. The individual concerned will never work as a teacher. This may well achieve a result of sorts, though it is far from clear that it will be an improvement. There is no evidence that cautioned teachers are causing harm anyway. Still, we will go along with the trend - the trend to counter a drift in standards by claiming absolute truths are the solution. Kelly satisfied our confused and frightened politicians, who represent the confused and frightened in society. It will not help them, or their children.

MARCH 3rd 2006
Now we have the case of Tessa Jowell and a different slant on Ministerial Responsibility - that of financial independence from the matter under their political control. David Blunkett has been dealt with elsewhere. The following.opinion is made without any inside knowledge whatsoever.

There is no evidence that any of Ms Jowell's husband's business affair's present a conflict of interest with her parliamentary or governmental duties because she quite clearly did not know or want to know anything about his business. It is rather hard to fathom here how a minister in her position should behave. Should she demand to know everything he does in his business as a lawyer? Certainly not. He is obliged, in fact, not to tell her anything; and she is obliged not to discuss much of what she does with him. When he was paid a sum of money by an Italian businessman, he seems to have assumed it was a gift because he had performed above and beyond the call of duty as a witness. A 'bribe' would have been money paid or promised in advance and this, from what we read, seems to have been an unsolicited and unexpected payment which he made the mistake of boasting about to his accountant as being due to his expertise at economy with the truth as a witness, thereby helping influential political circles in Italy. It looks like he has got himself into a bit of a mess, and it is not even known if he has committed an offence. Either way, I cannot see how Tessa Jowell can be blamed for not enquiring regularly, or even when signing a piece of paper to do with a mortgage, exactly how, where and when her husband had come by funds earned during his professional activities as a lawyer or as an investor. Indeed there are only two ways to act: either as a totally involved overseer of his affairs on the grounds that as a minister she would be held responsible, or by an arms length relationship of blind trust. The former, while apparently demanded by a novel set of regulations, are in fact forbidden by common sense and a set of long accepted protocols. She quite reasonably chose the latter.

JULY 06 2006
What is it with the media and John Prescott? He has been quite an effective politician, even though he was fed a few bum steers on transport options by his civil servants. He has done a very good job in many instances. This morning John Humphrys performance on the Today programme was bordering on insanity in my book. If an American Billionaire buys the Dome and is to be involved in restoring the area round it and maybe running a casino, I want the minister in charge to know as much about this guy as possible. He can meet him every week for a year as far as I am concerned. All this 'arns length' stuff is complete bollocks. And if there any 'figures of fun' in today's public life it is some of the editors of our national newspapers and some of the radio and TV pundits. Humphrys is certainly ready for the funny farm.

I am glad top find Steve Norris (on Broadcasting House, Radio 4 Sunday morning) agrees with me that Prescott is just the victim of a sensless media rant about nothing and should meet the man whenever and wherever he wants. So when he's in America, that's likely to be at the guy's home. He has not put himslef in debt to him in any way. This story is complete rubbish. The combined effect of Humphrys and Jonathan Ross (on another matter) has my finger hovering once again on the option to stop my monthly license fee payment to the BBC for the rest of this year. It needs just one more dollop of unacceptable rubbish by a presenter they overpay and who should be dumped and that's it.