As we approach the 8 June general election, Theresa May will be forced to expand on the mantra “Brexit means Brexit”. All parties, not least the Conservatives, will need to explain the kind of Brexit they will seek in great detail. None of them seems ready for this.
But it's unlikely, in a general election campaign, that people can be misled any further. Inevitably full Brexit negotiating plans from all parties will be demanded. The argument that we cannot reveal our “negotiating hand” will prove untenable.
If May wins the country will suffer
It's a sensible decision to go to the country on 8 June in order to stop this endless Brexit bickering once and for all. Unlike the first time round, we do now have a better idea of the implications of Leave or Remain, as that's what this will be: Brexit referendum 2, even if not in name.
But if the opposition parties do prove incapable of acting in unison to deny Theresa May the mandate she seeks, I predict two things for 9 June. The first is the starting gun for an unprecedented haemorrhage of individual and corporate talent. The second is a further increase in anti-immigrant violence, egged on by unregulated messages of hate on social media such as Facebook.
The PM is right to try for a full term in office
Theresa May has made the right choice regarding a snap general election. It's a risk, because the Liberal Democrats could make big gains, but I think it's a risk worth taking – especially because the Labour Party is yet to establish a real vision.
Victory would mean that May is likely to have a larger majority giving her greater firepower in the Commons. Victory would also show that the country is behind her and supporting her strategy, which will harm the position of the Lib Dems, who claim she does not have a mandate to do what she is doing.
The next election will likely not be scheduled until 2022. This will give May more time to help implement the EU deal in the period after negotiations, and there will be a wider window to deal with the issue of Scottish independence.
What a waste of money
Whether or not Prime Minister Theresa May's announcement was a shock, the date for this snap general election is incredibly soon. With all political parties now turning their attention to continued campaigning, it is a huge concern that all the important “issues of the day” will take a back seat for the foreseeable future. This is far from ideal. The expense of this general election, and the run up to it, will also be major – money which could be put to far better use for other purposes.
Theresa May wants to appear strong when she is actually displaying great weakness. She is taking a terrific gamble, not with the mood of the country (about which she can do nothing) but certainly with her own career. I predict that she will be out of office on 9 June. The election result will not be decisive, in spite of the current poll showings, but she will still be fatally wounded by anything less than a landslide.
The likeliest result will be a minority Conservative government in hock to the Liberal Democrats. As for Ukip, the people are sick of them. Many 'Kippers will return to Labour – especially if their local Tory candidate is anti-Brexit. As for Labour, who knows?
It will not be pretty and Theresa May will be well out of it, as she has already calculated. But if I am wrong and she does win a big majority, then she will have served her big money backers well and they will not be ungenerous in their gratitude. On the other hand, if I am right and she resigns on the morning of 9 June, then a profitable career on the ex-PM gravy train awaits her. Furthermore, the history books will not be able to blame her for all the ills which Brexit will bring.
"I tried, I did my best," she can say, "but it just didn't work out." She has certainly made her calculations very carefully.
Whatever Theresa May says, it is a fair guess that one of her aims in announcing a parliamentary vote on a general election is to smash Labour. She is driving a coach and horses through the spirit and letter of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, which was a badly needed measure to stop this kind of opportunistic gerrymandering – something which the UK had suffered from for many years. What the country needs in these troubling times is certainly; not another five years of Tory government but a centre-left, united front which could reappraise the need for Brexit and take urgent steps to save what remains of the welfare state.
The might of May
I was very much impressed with Theresa May's speech when she called the election. Her thought that the country is coming together is hopeful and I found inspiring. But I was wondering if there was a little contradiction in the speech concerning the country coming together. She seemed to imply that just about every other party was hostile to the idea. I have even read over the last few months that a proportion of the Conservative Party may not be all that happy with the situation either.
Think before you vote
While I would never presume to advise anybody how they ought to vote in a general election, which should anyway remain a secret between their conscience and the ballot box, I would just like to take this opportunity to remind people that a vote for the Conservatives is a vote to retain Jeremy Hunt as Health Secretary, Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, Chris Grayling as Transport Secretary and Justine Greening as Education Secretary.
A chance for Scotland
Theresa May has caught everyone on the hop. Let us hope that in Scotland voters will take the opportunity of a general election to show their displeasure at the SNP’s very poor record in dealing with the devolved responsibilities, which are supposed to be their focus. The way to do this is by voting for the constituency candidate who has the best chance of unseating an SNP MP. That will differ from constituency to constituency. Apart from anything else, it is thoroughly unhealthy that Scotland became pretty much a one-party state at the 2015 general election. Let’s have a bit more pluralism this time.
Grammar school are fatally flawed
After Janet Street-Porter's personal anecdote on grammar schools there have been a number of letters featuring personal anecdotes, but these are not a good basis for a major change in educational policy.
On entering secondary school, children have to be divided into teaching groups. Generally, children with learning difficulties are put into a small department with its own specialist head of department and generous staffing to give them the support they need. The others can be divided up in three main ways: mixed ability, streaming or setting. Mixed ability is notoriously difficult to teach well, especially in certain subjects such as maths. Streaming is where you divide children into ability streams based on their ability in all subjects. Setting is where you divide children into ability groups in individual subjects. Thus, if a child is extremely able in maths but average in, say, English and history, they can be in the top set for maths and a middle set for English and history.
There is flexibility and this is the method most comprehensives use. In streaming, by contrast, if the maths teacher wanted to put the promising maths student into the top stream, the English and history teachers would say no, because he or she "would never cope" in the top stream.
With grammar schools, not only are you in a different stream, you are in a different school. It is absolutely the worst way to divide children into teaching groups.
As a recently retired head teacher of a comprehensive school, I can comment with experience on the huge and positive impact that my most able students gave to school life. They inspired others through their contribution to class discussions across many subjects. They took on the demanding lead roles in our school productions, allowing us to put on Shakespeare plays and other ambitious works such as Les Miserables. Their fantastic artwork and technology projects were put on display to inspire students of all ability. They took a lead in devising innovative ways of charity fund raising in the local community. Their high academic standards and success in university applications were used to inspire all students, especially those who came from homes where no family member had any form of higher education. In a hundred ways, my most able students raised the standards achieved by everyone in the school.
Grammar schools do not exist in isolation. They have a devastating and negative impact on the other schools in their area by taking away their most able children. Those who sing their praises need to remember this.
The education system in UK needs to be reviewed based on systems which have proved to be successful in other countries.
Disparity in education is causing a lot of confusion in the minds of the parents and even the children. This makes education divisive and unequal, especially for children from under privileged backgrounds. This cacophony of schools of different categories is a recipe for disaster. The constant changes to our school system are also causing astonishment even to observers abroad. One in five British students leave school without acquiring basic skills, according to a 2015 report commissioned by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Asian countries dominate the top of the rankings, with Singapore heading the table, followed by Hong Kong in second place and South Korea in third. The United Kingdom ranks 20th, and the United States comes in at number 28.
One cannot agree that the fragmentation of our education system is the right answer. The grammar schools, free schools and academy programme are divisive and an unnecessary experiment with the education system which will certainly ensure more losers than winners.
Let us have a level playing field for children from all backgrounds and not just for the privileged few.
I strongly support Janet Street-Porter's opinion that Mount Everest should be treated the respect due to its unique geographical and cultural position, and left alone. One of its names in Nepalese, Deodungha, means "Holy Mountain"; in Tibetan it is Chomolungma, or "Holy Mother".
The status of the world's highest mountain is not enough to warrant leaving it alone, though some might support this reason; the reverence accorded in local cultures greatly strengthens a need for international respect.
How to achieve privacy for Mount Everest is more difficult, when it is such a source of revenue for local people – even if they mostly get a bad deal from their services. The International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation should, with Unesco, prompt thought about how protection of Everest should be achieved while still supporting the Nepalese tourist economy.