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Interesting blog over at Labourhome. I’m not sure where I stand on this: there are problems with the access profile at Oxford and Cambridge but whether an arbritrary system such as this would work, or is indeed desirable, is questionable. As has undoubtedly been pointed out elsewhere, educational inqualities set in very early on: I think it is by the age of seven that a dim rich kid has overtaken a clever poor kid in terms of achievement. Not long after that the difference between them becomes insurmountable.

It is these educational inequalities that underscore the broader inequality in society: how we tackle the structurally and culturally pernicious effects of low, modest, or non-existent parental ambition for children amongst a significant number of families is hard to answer (short of an outright assasult on the family). However, until we can overcome these problems it is difficult to see how we can dismantle what seem to be increasingly ossifying social structures in this country.

Apologies to Dan for nicking this concept, but life in the gilded cage has thrown up a couple of wonderful old boys. I was fortunate enough last night to be invited to a dinner in honour of John Brademas, congressman for twenty-two years, President of New York University for ten, and now a philanthropist through his charitable foundation. John was majority whip during the Carter Presidency and often had breakfast at the White House: he is planning to write a book on the leadership issues of the era and one of his many foundations is the John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress which hopes to shine the cold light of research on a little understood part of the US system of government.

John was Oxford in the 1950s as a Rhodes Scholar and his PhD thesis centred on the Spanish Anarchist movement. As a huge fan of Orwell, and in particular Homage to Catalonia, I was interested to find out how he conducted his research given that Franco was at the zenith of his power at the time: leftists in Spain were being supressed and any serious insight into the history of the civil war was viewed with good deal of suspicion. The answer, I was told, was to utilise two sources: a large archive in Amsterdam furnished him with a lot of useful information but he said he was also indebted to the head-waiter of a smart Spanish restaurant in London who had been a communist leader in Spain during the war! As the author or sponsor of many important pieces of legislation in the fields of education, the arts and culture, John was a true progressive in Congress, is a patron and advocate of the arts outside, and a tireless fund-raiser for NYU.

The other good old boy was Tony Quinton, a philosopher, Tory peer and former All-Souls Prize Fellow. I was sat next to Tony during dinner and he was a fantastic conversationalist on as wide an array of subjects as could be imagined: I distinctly remember skirting over topics as diverse as MySpace, Gin, and Irish Erotic Literature. Somebody asked him if he still writes to which he replied ‘only cheques these days.’ Top man.

It’s great to see that my colleague in the Oxford Labour Party, Cllr Joe McManners, got a motion passed last year to ensure that all City Council employees are paid at least £7 per hour, effective from April. Getting measures like this passed is particularly critical in cities like Oxford where the cost of living is so high. Hopefully, now that Labour has regained the reins of power at Oxford Town Hall, the extraordinary purchasing power and influence of the council can be brought to bear on all employers across the city to give workers a fair hourly rate.

It’s by taking a lead on issues like this that Labour can differentiate itself from rest: it’s in local government that parties show their true colours, as Polly Toynbee identified a few weeks ago. Whereas Labour councils invest in services, the Tories are reducing youth provision, cutting funding to libraries and school transport, and giving less support to voluntary organisations. So, aside from the obvious political benefits of having a strong base in local government, it is (unsurprisingly) crystal clear that people and families on low incomes benefit from having a local Labour council. We just need to get out there and start selling that message.

Massive congratulations to my colleagues who I’ve worked alongside for the past few months as we managed to wrest control of Oxford City Council from the Lib Dems last night [1]. Alas, every silver lining has a cloud and I unfortunately lost the ward I was standing in after the second recount by 4 votes, denying the group overall control. Also, commiserations to Richard Stevens, PPC in Oxford West and Abingdon, who missed out in Northfield Brook ward to the Independent Working Class Association.

On the whole though a good night (4 gains, 2 of which from the IWCA) against a pretty awful national picture. I’m sure there will be more than enough soul searching and possible murmurings about the leadership in the weeks ahead. For now, 3 things are certain:

1. A swing to the left isn’t likely to recapture our core vote in the north: the Tories are now picking up seats in Sunderland and Tyneside. It will also mean certain anihilation in the south-east.

2. Changing leader isn’t going to change anything. GB is who we’ve got: we need to deal with that and focus on three things:

a) who we are

b) what we stand for

c) what we will do for the man in the street

Until we can answer these questions and start communicating better than we have been we are nowhere.

3. Opposition is not the answer- there are siren sounds who say we should try and regroup in opposition. That’s the mindset the Tories got into in the mid 90s. It’s fatal. The place to rebuild and restart is here and now. It’s going to be a long-hard slog over the next 2 years but the work has to start today…