Tag Archives: uk

I’m American – but I want the Lionesses to beat USA in the World Cup

Martin Pengelly is an Englishman living in New England, and he wants you to know that he’s rooting for his adopted country over his home country today as the Lionesses (that’s the England national team for all you Yanks) take on the USA in the Women’s World Cup semi-finals. In some ways this makes sense—his daughters are American, his wife is American, and the American team is inspiring and full of amazing role models for his girls. But he also talks at length about how, frankly, America is a better country than the UK.

Utter rubbish.

I would never dream of criticising Mr Pengelly for cheering against his native land. After all, I’m American, and I’ll be supporting the Lionesses over my own country, just as I have done every time the two national teams have met and in every Olympics since I was old enough to know what the Olympics were.

Why? For the same reasons that Mr Pengelly cheers for Team USA. I think Britain is a better country. England, in particular, feels very much like home to me. I feel like I fit there better.

Much of Mr Pengelly’s argument falls on the fact that Americans can remove their leaders if they so choose, but that the British can’t because their leader is a hereditary monarch. A fair point, I suppose, except of course the crown exercises no real authority, as the power of the crown has for centuries now rested in parliament. It is true the people have no direct recourse to remove a intransigent Prime Minister, but the people’s representatives do, which is basically the same in the USA.

If you’re going to argue for republicanism, fair dos. There are plenty of valid arguments for abolishing the monarchy. That they are some sort of irretractable dictator isn’t one of them. Indeed, if either country is showing signs of an emerging tyrant with monarchical designs, it’s America. Just this past week Princess Ivanka represented us on the world stage—and no one elected her.

By almost every measure, the UK is a better country than the USA. Despite the perception that America is the “land of opportunity” where anyone can “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” today the US is actually less socially mobile than the UK. The British have healthcare that is free at the point of access in the NHS, which even the Conservative Party has called a “national treasure,” while Americans have to beg strangers online for their lives, raising money through crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe to pay for lifesaving treatments.

Of course, you don’t need a GoFundMe campaign if you’re already dead; America hasn’t gone a week without a mass shooting since January 2014. Just last month, an armed militia threatened to shut down the capital of Oregon. Nothing says “shining city on a hill” quite like armed insurrection.

When it comes to acceptance of gay people (obviously important to me, as a gay man), Britain is also more accepting of homosexuality than the United States, which is much less tolerant than other Western nations (excepting Northern Ireland—or more precisely, the DUP and their ilk—of course). The recent rash of states curtailing abortion access is only the latest example of American misogyny manifesting itself. Britain’s had two female heads of government; America has famously had none. Both countries have problems with racism, and I’ve written about the intersection of racism and classism in the UK, specifically as it manifested in the Grenfell Tower tragedy. But American racism does seem to be more overt, and it is spreading like wildfire.

None of this is to pretend that Britain is perfect or America is some hellhole. Britain has its issues and evils just as any nation does, and America is still a far better place to live than most of the world. We have Trump, you have Boris. It’s not a Christmas cracker on either side of the Atlantic. But from where I’m sitting, the UK does seem to be leaps and bounds better for someone like me—a working class gay man who doesn’t want to get shot or have to beg strangers for money if he is.

That’s to say nothing about the British sense of fair play, of giving everyone a fair shake. Of British nerve and resolve, the famed “stiff upper lip” which I so admire. There’s that pride in the nation’s history without being beholden to it—something the United States could learn with regards to Confederate iconography. And, of course, there’s Danny Dyer. He’s a bleedin’ national treasure.

It’s for all these reasons, and more, that I want to move to the UK, and why today, I’ll be cheering for the Lionesses as they take on my home country. I don’t begrudge Mr Pengelly his love of America, and I’m sure he could write an article that counters every point I made. Honestly, at the end of the day, sometimes these things aren’t quantifiable. Home is where the heart is, after all, and matters of the heart are rarely rational.

We will kick his team’s ass today, though.

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I’m a Brexiter at heart. Vote Remain.

I hate the European Union. It is a bloated corporatist quango run by technocrats none of us have ever heard of who seem to have an utter contempt for the British people and, well, democracy. EU leaders seem committed to further integration and a United States of Europe, except without the republican values of the United States of America. The Eurozone is floundering, the Schengen border area is broken, and—rightly or wrongly—the British people are fed up with the free flow of European migrants into the UK, unable to control who comes into the country or adopt what many, myself included, feel is a fairer immigration system.

As an American, I don’t have a vote in tomorrow’s referendum. As someone trying to immigrate to the UK from outside the EU, a Brexit would, ostensibly, be in my best interests. As a Eurosceptic, I believe it could also be in Britain’s best interests. But if I did have a vote tomorrow, I would vote for Britain to remain in the European Union.

I would vote Remain not out of some love for the European project, or some starry-eyed internationalism. I would vote Remain because the Leave campaign has not done a successful job of demonstrating just what a Britain outside the EU would look like, how it would cope and succeed.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly think Britain could be not only fine, but prosperous, outside the European Union. But “could” does not mean “will”. The Leave campaign likes to say that anyone voting Remain denigrates Britain, that they don’t believe in or trust the ingenuity and tenacity of the British people. Bollocks. I have no doubts Britain could succeed outside the EU. But no country can succeed without a plan, and nobody in the Leave campaign has been able to articulate one short of “everything the experts tell you is a lie.”

Was President Obama lying, when he warned Britain will go to the back of the queue for trade deals. UKIP’s Diane James, on last night’s BBC Debate, said she didn’t care what Obama thought, but wanted to know what Clinton and Trump think. Clinton also supports the In campaign, while Trump is for Brexit, which speaks volumes about the tone and tenor of this referendum. And what about with the EU itself? Is Angela Merkel lying when she says that Britain “will never get a really good result in negotiations?”

The EU could make an example out of Britain for fear that treating it too kindly post-Brexit could inspire other nations to go their own way. And maybe that would be okay, if only someone in the Leave campaign could articulate exactly how they plan on handling that and preventing total economic catastrophe. But they haven’t. Instead of policy, the Leave campaign has offered platitudes about how great the British people are (and you are, you really are) and how everything will be a-okay because we will it to be (it won’t, it really won’t).  When both the Bank of England and the TUC are warning that Brexit will depress wages and probably lead to recession, we should listen.

Instead Michael Gove compares them to Nazi scientists. This is one of the Leave campaigns favourite motifs, the EU as Hitler’s heir. It’s almost laughably ironic, considering how overtly and covertly racist the Leave campaign has been. The bulk of the Leave campaign has focused on xenophobic rhetoric about European migrants coming to steal British jobs and take British homes and depress British wages. This entire campaign has been made about immigration, and it has been framed in the most disgustingly racist way possible. Like Johnson’s comments about America’s “part-Kenyan” president, or Farage’s “Breaking Point” poster. It’s the anti-Muslim retweets of the Leave campaign, the dehumanising language used to describe refugees. I can’t co-sign on any of this.

If another referendum were to present itself, one not premised on far-right racism and jingoistic fervour, perhaps I’d go another way. And maybe, someday, it will. But David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn, Ruth Davidson, and Sadiq Kahn have all said, which is that Brexit is a one-way ticket. Once the UK leaves, there is no going back to the European Union. At least not without adopting Schengen and the Euro, which most of agree is no in Britain’s national interest. Britain could always vote to leave in another 40 years, but it can’t come back on such cushy terms.

There are a myriad of other issues at play here too, issues I’ve not touched on but have swayed my hypothetical vote. What happens to the border in Northern Ireland? Will the SNP demand—and get—another referendum? How will we protect the hard-won rights the EU and ancillary bodies have guaranteed? These all need to be answered, and the Leave campaign hasn’t.

I’m not prepared to gamble with the livelihoods of the British people or the stability of the country out of some nationalistic desire to reclaim sovereignty. I desperately want Britain to Leave the EU, but the Leave campaign hasn’t presented a viable alternative. You don’t leave home without knowing where you’re going, and Britain shouldn’t leave the EU without knowing what it’s going to do next.

Instead of presenting a cogent, coherent exit strategy, the Leave campaign played to the basest instincts of the electorate and stirred up a jingoistic, xenophobic atmosphere. Because of this, I don’t know what Britain would look like outside the European Union, but I can’t honestly say I think it’s a Britain I would like. So, reluctantly, I ask you to vote Remain.

(Sorry, Alex.)

Skylar’s Naughty and Nice List 2013

naughty and nice

It’s Christmas Eve, which means Santa’s making his rounds. While I expect coal-and hopefully some condoms-in my stocking, not all of us have been quite so naughty this year. With that, I revive a holiday tradition, and give you my naughty and nice list for 2013!

naughty

5. Katie Hopkins

Whether calling X Factor winner Sam Bailey “a fat mum in a tracksuit,” expressing her belief that Scots will do “anything to avoid working until retirement,” or slagging off ginger children as “harder to love,” this may well be Katie Hopkins’ naughtiest year yet-and that’s saying something. Despite a litany of inane ramblings throughout 2013, it was her controversial classist statement that she wouldn’t let her children play with other kids called “Chardonnay” or “Tyler” because their names imply a working class background which propelled her from annoying gadfly to unbearable git. Maybe I’m just taking this personally, as I am a chubby gay ginger called Skylar, but seriously, I need her to sod off in 2014. As that’s unlikely to happen-she’s tipped to enter the Big Brother house next month-I think I’ll just get a tattoo to spite her. Maybe one of Russell Brand.

4. Russell Brand

Just kidding, that man’s a dick. I mean, I know you did a lot of drugs Russell, but Ozzy Osbourne is more coherent and decipherable. This year’s verbal masturbation champion, Russell Brand has suggested a revolution of…? He’s rambled on and on about the need to have a banker-bashing orgy and the needlessness of voting, but here we are at Christmas Eve and I’m still waiting for his point. His talk is pretty and makes you feel good, but much like the Justin Bieber blow-up doll, there just isn’t much depth.

3. Justin Bieber

Speaking of the Biebs, much like his inflatable doppelgänger, he needs to take a seat. Seriously boy, what have we done to you? The first time I ever heard of Justin Bieber he was 3 years old talking to Chelsea Handler. That’s where it began. Nothing good can come from talking to Chelsea Handler. And then we let Usher raise him, and look what happens. From pissing in a bucket while sneaking out of a restaurant to visiting Brazilian brothels to playing naked guitar for his gran, it’s been a bit of a year for Justin. His worst act, though, was by far stepping on the Blackhawk head. Unless you’re a Chicagoan, you won’t get this; if you are a Chicagoan, don’t let the reminder ruin your Christmas. This boy needs to check it before he wrecks it.

2. Robin Thicke

Another man who needs to check something-his privilege-is Robin Thicke, the End Violence Against Women’s coalition Sexist of the Year. The only acceptable “blurred lines” are the ones the cops will likely make me walk tonight after my eighth eggnog. I just can’t.

1. That guy who kissed me by the Serpentine under a pale moon

😉

nice

5. Tom Daley

He’s Britain’s sweetheart, isn’t he? I mean seriously, how can you not just want to give this kid a pat on the back (or the bum)? Sure, he didn’t cure cancer-another LGBT kid did that-but in coming out, Tom not only gave hope to countless kids around the world, but blazed the trail for other high profile LGBT athletes to follow. Make all the jokes you want about diving being the second gayest sport in the summer Olympics (after gymnastics, duh), but sport is rife with homophobia, and Tom’s decision was makes him one brave little toaster.

4. Kellee Terrell

Journalist. Activist. Filmmaker. Kellee is a jill-of-all-trades, and has done so much in the past 12 months to further causes of social justice. Her short film, Goodnight My Love, takes a nuanced look at the last few minutes of a black lesbian couple in a zombie apocalypse, which in itself is awesome enough to land her on this list. But beyond this, her outspoken advocacy for HIV awareness has helped further break the stigma of the disease, and her unwavering support as an LGBT ally has helped shed light on the plight of queer people of colour. Kellee is the only person on either list who I can also claim as a personal friend, having met her at an Oscar viewing party last winter, and her wisdom, guidance and encouragement have been instrumental in my return to writing. I can’t thank her enough.

3. Jennifer Lawrence

God I just love this woman. She’s a feminist. She’s from Kentucky. I mean we’re practically besties right there. But seriously, Jennifer Lawrence has been eschewing conventional stardom for something with substance, taking on Joan Rivers and Kelly Osbourne for tearing into women’s appearances and telling the Guardian it should be illegal to call someone fat on tv. She’ll say what she wants, do what she wants, eat what she wants, and no shits are given. I fucking love her.

2.The British Twittersphere

You lot. Nothing sums up my experience on Twitter better than the time Louise Mensch and Laurie Penny teamed up to take down transphobic tweets. My followers aren’t many, but they’re proper quality, and my return to commentating on British life and politics has been met with a warm welcome home. Despite being an American and living in Chicago, y’all have welcomed my input and opinions as valid and, in some cases, worthy, never dismissing me or critiquing my imperial American privilege. I’m well aware that a foreigner constantly commenting on your politics can seem condescending and presumptive, but you have willingly engaged me and encouraged me. As one follower said, and I’m paraphrasing, “you know so much about what’s going on I forget you’re not here!” It’s tweets like this that make getting up at 3:00 AM to catch the British morning news cycle worth it. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

1. Caroline Criado-Perez

Whilst my followers are cracking, the same can’t be said for all the Twittersphere. For her resilience and sheer tenacity, Caroline Criado-Perez is the nicest of the nice this year. When the Bank of England decided women weren’t worth £5, Caroline led the campaign to keep a woman on banknotes-and to officially recognise the contributions of women throughout British history. Owen Jones has called her “a brilliant fighter,” which might well be the understatement of 2013. Caroline has put up with threats of rape and violence all year, but her voice is louder and clearer than ever before. When Caitlin Moran organised a “twitter silence” to protest, she acknowledged the show of solidarity but said that she would not be silenced by anyone. A true role model to all of us campaigning for social justice, Caroline has inspired me beyond most anybody this year.

I hope you made Santa’s nice list, and that all your Christmas wishes come true. To all of my readers, both here and at The Columnist, I wish you nothing but joy this Yuletide season. Thank you for making my return so rewarding. See you in 2014!

I don’t know why I love Britain. But don’t call me an Anglophile.

anglophile

The most frequent question I’m posed, bar none, is “why Britain?” I get asked by British acquaintances who don’t understand why I love their country so much, and I get asked by Americans who can’t understand why I don’t love ours more. Britain’s broken, so I’m told, and who would want to leave the sunny states? They have a queen, I’m reminded, and bad teeth and even worse food. (Hey, I never said Americans were kind, or fair, or informed.)

Of course, I recognise the problems facing Britain. And of course I see great things in America. I’ve written about both. But the fact is I could never work for the CIA because I’m on record as saying “she is my Queen, and I’d gladly die for her.” More than once. On the same 4th of July.

To those of my friends stateside, this is my defining quirk. I’m the man who draped himself in the St George’s cross when England faced the USA in the 2010 World Cup. In university, I gave a speech defending the position of the Crown and decrying the Declaration of Independence as a treasonous document. I couldn’t sing past the second verse of “America, the Beautiful,” but by God I’ll sing through my sobs when “I Vow to Thee, My Country” plays.

For me, which country that is has always been clear. I can offer, at random, a litany of things I admire about the Brits-fair play, sturdy resolve, Jack Wills. But I have no explanation or understanding of how I developed a fascination with the UK as a child, or when that grew into a passion which has long since evolved into a full-blown obsession. Moving to Britain is, frankly, the only thing I care about, and I can’t even tell you why.

I’m not alone. There are countless Americans who, like myself, love the history, the culture and the landscapes of the British isles. We watch British telly, listen to British music, and read British books. We’re called Anglophiles, and we’re aplenty.

I’ve always found that term problematic, though, and have never felt it aptly described me. To begin with, it’s hopelessly restrictive. Anglo means English, but it leaves out the rest of the United Kingdom, which I love with just as much ferocity (except during the Six Nations Championship). And it’s not a pretty word. Anglophile. Ang-lo-file. It sounds like a tool my granddad would use to whittle away at a statue of Charles Townshend. The abstract noun, Anglophilia, is even worse, suggesting we somehow get our jollies from a phone box or Nigel Farage.

Yet many Anglophiles do fetishise the UK. Having read Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters as children, they fell in love with yesteryear. They see cobblestone streets and high tea and bowler hats. Don’t get me wrong, these are lovely aspects of British life, but they all emphasise the myth of Merry England, a utopian fantasy that never existed.

For the vast majority of them, their love stops there. They don’t recognise that the country gentry in Emma wouldn’t have associated with their sort, even if they did talk to Harriet. They don’t see that the class stratification presented in Downton Abbey is still very much a live and quite visible at the Lord Mayor’s banquet. They’ve never heard of Enoch Powell or Nick Griffin. To them, Stephen Lawrence is an adorable child star, not a murdered teen.

They long for a stereotype or a fiction, and while that means they fail to see the bad, it also means that they erase the reality of the millions of workaday Britons. Its these people whom I most admire, and whom enrich my love for their country.

This is why I’ve always shirked the label. Britain isn’t a fairytale, and British people don’t all live happily ever after. Sure, it’s glamorous; nobody does pomp and circumstance better than the Brits. But it’s also gritty and grimy, complex and diverse. Its history is proud, and I believe its future is bright, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been moral failings, and that there aren’t any now. As the advert for the BBC 2 comedy says, Hebburn is a place on earth. Heaven, however, isn’t.

Still, I am unseemly patriotic, especially considering my only claim to “Britishness” is a smattering of ancestors buried in the United States before there was a United States. I’ve dedicated my life to writing about Britain, extolling its strengths and promise while critiquing its shortcomings. I do this because I love that country, because I want to see it prosper and grow. I do it because I want, more than anything, to contribute to its success. It’s why I get up in the morning, and it’s what I dream of at night.

I certainly don’t expect anyone else to understand when I myself am at a loss. But if I were forced to give an answer, to reach into the deepest part of my soul and tell you why I love Britain, I imagine that answer would be simple and clichéd.

Why Britain? Because it’s great.

Give Thanks and Pass the Pimms: 5 things I’m thankful Britain gave the world

firstthanksgiving

We all know the story. The Pilgrims, with their funny hats and boring names, set sail on the Mayflower towards the New World in search of religious freedom. What nobody ever tells you is that they went to the Netherlands for a bit, or that they didn’t really want to come, or that loads of them got dysentery and died before reaching Plymouth Rock.

We know that Squanto fed them corn, and that the three remaining Pilgrims came together with their kind Native benefactors in thanks giving for the great harvest which kept them from becoming Roanoke version 2.0. We stop there, because the mass slaughter of the native population isn’t exactly “happily ever after” unless you’re Mike Huckabee and think the heathens had it coming and turkey is best deep fried.

So that’s the first Thanksgiving.

Nobody tells you that the Pilgrims were essentially seventeenth century England’s Westboro Baptist Church, but this may explain why Britain is more evolved on issues of religion in the public sphere. They sent their crazy right wing Christians here, and their descendants went on to found Jesusland. I mean Texas. Still, whilst the British may have given us Sarah Palin’s colonial antecedents, they’ve given us loads of good stuff too. So, quickly, here are five things I’m thankful for Britain giving the world:

1. Liberty: Okay, Americans like to pretend we invented this in 1776, but we didn’t. In fact the Declaration of Independence was, outside of being a treasonous document, simply a restatement of English principles dating back to Magna Carta in 1215. Trial by jury, habeus corpus, a free press, and the right to petition were all exported by Britain to its colonies. These weren’t homespun in Boston or handcrafted in Philadelphia. The Brits gave them to us, and their legacy lives on in our Constitution.

2. Newspapers: I hesitate to put this on here, because the British government has borrowed Miley’s wrecking ball to destroy what’s left of press freedom whilst Hugh Grant  watches, twerking and sticking his tongue out in glee. But the British press is a site to behold, a beast unto itself which simply has no American equivalent. The broadsheets are still celebrated as national treasures, even while being regularly ridiculed, and magazines like Private Eye and the venerated but defunct Punch prove that satire is the best defence of democracy. Even the tabloids serve a purpose, for I am keenly interested in everything Chantelle Houghton has to say about Alex Reid’s cross dressing. As I know you are, too.

3. Understatement: “It’s drizzling,” a British friend once said to me as the hurricane hit. The Brits really know how to undercut a moment. Win an Oscar? “I got a trophy.” Elected to Parliament? “It’s a job.” Shag a royal? “His hairline’s receding.” And the great thing is THEY’RE NOT HUMBLE BRAGGING! They really do mean it. You’d think that as an American this penchant for restrained dryness would annoy me, but I actually appreciate it. I think that Americans are too prone to hyperbole, and that dry sense of humour has made me reign in my otherwise outrageous personality.

4. Lucozade: There is no better cure for a hangover than this fizzy, refreshing, hydrating miracle water. I can hardly find it in the US, but I will trek across the city if I hear a store has it stocked. Seriously, I swear by the stuff.

5. Chris Ramsey: Because this.

chris ramsey

So there’s five wonderful things that the UK gave the world, and I’m grateful for all of them. As you may have noticed, this trails off at number four, and by number five, I’ve completely given up. That’s not because I couldn’t think of anything else; there’s so much about Britain I’m thankful for. But there’s turkey on the table and wine in my glass, so I’m off to gorge myself on enough tryptophan and starches that I sleep right through Black Friday and wake up on the other side of consumerism.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.

(PS: For the record, I’m very thankful for each and every one of you who read this. I have some great supporters out there, and I am very blessed! I leave you with this video.)

Ofqual overhauls GCSEs, but to what effect?

Ofqual has overhauled the GCSEs with a new scoring system. I am obviously not a product of the British educational system, so I don’t have any anecdotes as to its effectiveness. And while I think it’s important to occasionally revisit curriculum and britishclassroomtesting, I think that we in the West often gloss over-or ignore entirely-the underlying issues with underperforming schools

I went to high school in southeastern Kentucky, and at the end of my senior year, I had plans to become an English teacher. My own teachers, however, talked me out of pursuing this dream. All of them sang a chorus of three complaints, all of which are rarely (if ever) addressed:

  1. Lack of resources. We can’t expect schools to succeed unless they’re provided the tools they need to do so. Cuts to local government are  indirect cuts to local schools, and the government commitment to building 180 new free schools redistributes desperately needed funding away from schools already in existence and which, with the proper support, could well succeed. I saw firsthand what a lack of funding can do in my own Appalachian high school, where arts programmes were non-existent, resources were exhausted early in the year, and for many young people, sport was the only thing keeping them in school and off the streets. Even that’s gone, now. Students can’t study and teachers can’t teach unless the schools are properly funded, and it’s simply not happening.
  2. Teachers aren’t teaching. My physical science teacher would sit at his computer looking alternatively at internet sport sites or my female classmates’ breasts, doling out assignments from the book but never actually teaching. I learnt more from Iain Stewart than I did from him. And he wasn’t the only one. It’s blasphemy amongst teachers’ unions to suggest that teachers are lazy, incompetent or both. And it’s true that teachers are some of the most unfairly vilified professionals, and the last thing I want to do is paint with a broad brush here. But the fact remains that many teachers simply aren’t teaching, or they aren’t teaching effectively. The answer to this problem, much like Santa Claus, is found in Finland. Oft cited as the epitome of Western education, the Fins have done a few things right. For one, they have some of the most rigorous teacher training in the world. They also treat their teachers as the professionals they are, affording the field a high level of respect and dignity which isn’t seen in the UK or the US. Part of that respect is  paying teachers equitably, as the professionals they are. Teaching is an economically equitable professional in Finland, unlike in the US or the UK. Because of this, Finnish schools are able to recruit the best and brightest graduates, who then become the best and brightest teachers, which can produce the best and brightest students. And Britain deserves the best and brightest.
  3. Cultural attitudes towards education must change. Folks can blame the government for the cuts or the teachers for their failings, but nobody ever wants to look in the mirror. I remember one of my high school teachers, almost on the verge of tears, explaining to me her exasperation. People didn’t care, she said. Students didn’t care. Parents didn’t care. The adolescent refrain of “when am I going to use this?” grated on their nerves, sure, but more so they were concerned about the cultural attitudes towards education. We have to make school cool. Parents have to get over their own insecurities and push their kids to do better than they themselves did. Too often parents, often subtly and inadvertently, discourage educational pursuits because they themselves cannot relate. “You’ll grow up to be just like your dad” needs to be replaced with “you’ll grow up to strive for more than we’ve got.” Parents need to actively engage in their children’s education, taking an interest in schoolwork and realising that, at the end of the day, the onus of their children’s success falls on their shoulders. Likewise, we need to take a long, hard look at the systemic issues disempowering the lower classes, including ensuring that poor kids aren’t going hungry, that they’re not having to drop out to help support their families, or that they’re not worried about crime, neglect and abuse. After all, it’s hard to pull yourself up by your bootstraps when you’ve got no boots to start with.

I appreciate that the changes to the GCSE come with good intentions, and I certainly don’t have all of the answers. Throwing out three talking points is much easier than coming up with substantive policy alternatives. But until we start funding schools properly, attracting quality teachers, and empowering and encouraging students, we’re never going to fix our schools-int he US or the UK.

The UK has a strong history of democracy, and while targeted surveillance may play an important role in protecting national security, in doing so it should not erode the very values it seeks to protect.

An excerpt from a letter, signed by 70 leading human rights organisations, to David Cameron over what they perceive as eroding press freedoms in the UK.