Rousing Rebels and Motivating Movements; Why the Establishment Controls the Historical Narrative

petermemeWhen I was 11 years of age I had a wonderful history teacher. We studied the Anglo-Saxons and he did his best to give us an idea of what it was like to live about 1,500 years ago.  It was compelling stuff but sadly it did not last. By age 14 I had given up on history, my early inspirational teacher being replaced by a boring and lifeless one who made us learn facts and dates by rote. It would be many years before I started to realise that to understand our present situation we need to understand where we have come from.  I also realised that the history I wanted to grasp was not the history taught in schools or on the TV and there were few monuments to the events I found significant. I learned quickly about the way in which the establishment controls the historical narrative. I wanted to understand the fight to be a free citizen, the struggle for liberty, the campaigns for equality and a fair wage. But the overwhelming narrative was about monarchs, wars, generals and empires. It was easy to find out why the Duke of Wellington was a hero of Waterloo, but not that he was despised in many places and physically attacked on the streets for his repressive attitude and support for the 1819 carnage in Manchester at the Peterloo Massacre.  Many people have heard of Abraham Lincoln, but far fewer of the Englishman William Wilberforce who fought a long and courageous campaign to abolish the British slave trade in 1807. So why the blatantly one sided treatment of history?

The Necessity of Controlling the Historical Narrative

It turns out that there are a number of reason. Firstly it goes against the still prevalent so-called Whiggish theory of history.  Briefly this says that the social history of first England and then Britain is one of gradually increasing liberty being handed by the government to the people at the point when they have developed the sophistication to handle the responsibility. ‘Don’t worry’, this narrative reads, as we are on a one-way journey to freedom.  The reality is very different. Freedoms have been fought for and won, not benevolently bequeathed us by a kindly establishment.  Here are just a few of the more prominent examples.  The Thirteenth Century Magna Carta was signed because the barons threatened (yet another) bloody civil war; the autocracy of kingship was ended in the Seventeeth Century as a result of an armed Revolution; the increased franchise and social developments of the nineteenth century took place because the government feared another revolution following the growth of popular movements such as Chartism.  But it was not a one way trip and freedoms could be taken away!

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David Cameron’s Friends are Experiencing a Lot of ‘Administrative Errors’

Administrative error! An intriguing phrase considering the fact that the Prime Minister is hosting a summit on corruption and throwing around brickbats regarding foreign countries. But ironically it appears to be fast becoming the standard defence for organizations associated with David Cameron and under investigation by authorities. The Conservative Party’s election expenses scandal revealed by Channel 4 News is supposedly an ‘administrative error’, the same explanation used by the Perry Beaches Academy Trust School chain in Birmingham.

The Chief Executive of Perry Beeches has resigned and the governing body is stepping down amid serious issues with incorrect governance. In March the Academy had to pay back £118,000 of Government (ie our) money as it failed to keep proper records on school meals. Now a whistleblower as revealed that the CE Liam Nolan was apparently paid an extra £160,000 via a third party over 3 years on top of his £120,000 a year salary. This led the Education Funding Agency to issue a Financial Notice to Improve. But Mr Nolan’s determination to grab a much bigger salary is no real surprise. Back in November 2014 he was already complaining that his salary was too low compared with other school heads. So another example of a greedy salary race to the top now fostered by a competitive Free School system.

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The Dove Women: ‘About Making a Living, Not a Lot of Money for One Person’

It has long been understood that freedom is inextricably linked to the availability of sufficient personal economic and social resources. Financial domination and oppression can be equally as damaging as political domination and are frequently interlinked. These issues are, of course, tied in with the traditional radical concerns with greater equality and inclusion in society. So this short post is about a great women-led enterprise supporting its local community.

I discovered the Dove Workshop in Banwen near Neath in Wales when I attended an Open University degree ceremony in Cardiff during spring 2013. What stuck in my memory about the event was the strongly independent stance of the OU in Wales – (‘we only see strivers!!)’ during a time when vilification of the unemployed had become a persistent and vocal theme of the Coalition Government!! As described on their website, the primary role of the Dove Workshop is to help and support those members of the community seeking education or training. But it does more than this, extending its activities to include a community café, child care provision, garden centre, music concerts and much more. Such activities continue to be a crucial part in areas still looking to move forward nearly 30 years after the industrial devastation of the 1980s. The Dove itself emerged from the wreckage of the era following the 1984-85 miners strike. No society could have comfortably coped with the sheer scale and rapidity of change inflicted on it by an ideologically driven Government and it was the women from the local Miners’ Support Group who clearly saw the need for a social enterprise to help save their community. The result was an innovative organization working in partnership with universities, colleges, community groups, trade unions and many more.

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Whether By Incompetence or Malice, Muzzling Scientists is Bad News

It is sometimes difficult to decide whether a Government decision was the result of incompetence or an unscrupulous attempt to suppress debate.  Since we are frequently kept in ignorance, the viewpoint I take often depends of the charity of my current mood. It was revealed by the Observer newspaper in February (in this article) that the Cabinet Office was imposing new rules from May 1st 2016 which would effectively censor recipients of Government grants from using their results to lobby for a change in policy.  After a high profile protest by senior scientists, including the Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees, the Government has partly backed down (report here).  The problem is that the wording of the exemption is so imprecise that a researcher may be tempted to abandon a funding application for fear of contravening the rules. Likewise the sanction for such a contravention was not made clear

Why is this important? Firstly, it is the duty of all Governments to protect their citizens, not least from their own policies  and evidence of such harm must be made public.  The attempt to control and suppress such information is redolent of corrupt totalitarian regimes such as Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. Secondly, the Government Minister (in this case Matthew Hancock) seems to have forgotten that it is our money – there is no such thing as Government money. As I argued in an earlier post The Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th Centuries was built upon the ability to question and challenge authority using reason and argument.  This remains true today and public bodies have a duty not to restrict the ability of its citizens to access information which informs such debate.  There are many topics at the present time where the evidence is hotly contested, not least in Climate Change, Defence and Social Policy. So do I think the Government is bring incompetent or acting with malice? The original decision to muzzle scientists could be viewed as incompetent but the way in which the Cabinet Office is confusing the situation rather than making a clean retraction is inclining me to view the aim as yet another devious attempt to stifle opposition.

Teacher Recruitment: More Government Spin and Platitudes

It is bad enough the Government using spin and blame culture to deflect criticism. Even worse is the fact that they are incompetent at it and contemptuous enough of the public not to care. The report by the National Audit Office (NAO) on the state of teacher recruitment (available here) has delivered a damning indictment of Government policy. The Government claims that the overall pupil/teacher ratio has not changed. But as the NAO point out, it is in the fine detail where the Government is failing badly. For example over half (54%) of head teachers in schools with large proportions of disadvantaged pupils report recruiting good quality teachers to be “a major problem”, compared with a third of those in other schools. So it is the education of already disadvantaged children which suffers. This is further evidence of what is apparent with this Government, that social mobility is a phrase to be banded about rather than a serious issue to be addressed. But that is hardly a surprise; why should privilege career politicians be concerned with helping the disadvantaged?

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