Posts Tagged ‘Gavin Williamson’

How Does the Ban on Teaching Anti-Capitalist and Extremist Materials Affect Mainstream Textbooks?

September 29, 2020

Yesterday, Gavin Williamson, the secretary of state for education, issued his departments guideline informing schools what they could not teach. This included materials from organisations determined to end capitalism, as well as anti-Semitic material, opposition to freedom of speech and which approves of illegal activity. The Labour Party’s John McDonnell pointed out that this would mean that it’s now illegal to teach large sections of British history and particularly that of the Labour Party, trade unions and socialism, because all these organisations at different times advocated the end of capitalism. He is, of course, right. In 1945 or thereabouts, for example, the Labour Party published an edition of the Communist Manifesto. He concluded

“This is another step in the culture war and this drift towards extreme Conservative authoritarianism is gaining pace and should worry anyone who believes that democracy requires freedom of speech and an educated populace.”

The economist and former Greek finance minister, Yanis Varousfakis, who has also written a book, The Crisis of Capitalism, also commented this guidance showed how easy it was for a country to lose itself and slip surreptitiously into totalitarianism. He said

“Imagine an educational system that banned schools from enlisting into their curricula teaching resources dedicated to the writings of British writers like William Morris, Iris Murdoch, Thomas Paine even. Well, you don’t have to. Boris Johnson’s government has just instructed schools to do exactly that.”

Quite. I wonder how the ban affects even mainstream textbooks, which included anti-capitalist or other extremist literature. For example there are any number of readers and anthologies of various political or historical writings published by perfectly mainstream publishers for school and university students. Such as the one below, Critics of Capitalism: Victorian Reactions to ‘Political Economy’, edited by Elisabeth Jay and Richard Jay, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) 1986). This collects a variety of writings authors such as John Francis Bray, Thomas Carlyle, Marx and Engels, John Stuart Mill, John Ruskin, Matthew Arnold, Thomas Hill Green, William Morris and George Bernard Shaw. These texts obviously document and illustrate the reactions to the rise of economics as an academic subject in the 19th century, and several of the authors are titans of 19th century British culture, literature and political philosophy, like the art critic Ruskin, the socialist, writer and artist, William Morris, the playwright George Bernard Shaw, the liberal political philosophers John Stuart Mill and Thomas Hill Green, and Matthew Arnold, the headmast of Rugby, the author of Culture and Anarchy. This is quite apart from Marx and Engels and John Francis Bray, who was a socialist and follower of Robert Owen. Carlyle’s now largely forgotten, but he was a philosopher and historian who was massively influential in his day.

Clearly this is an entirely respectable text from a very respectable publisher for history students. But, thanks to the government’s new guidelines, you could well ask if it’s now illegal to teach it in schools, thanks to its anti-capitalist contents.

The same question also applies to very respectable histories by respectable, mainstream historians and political scientists, of extremist movements and ideologies like Fascism, Nazism, Communism and anarchism. For example, one of the books I used while studying the rise of Nazism at college was D.G. Williamson’s The Third Reich (Harlow: Longman 1982). It’s an excellent little book published as part of their Seminar Studies in History range. These are short histories of various periods in history from King John and the Magna Carta to the origins of the Second World and the Third Reich, which include extracts from texts from the period illustrating particularly aspects and events. Williamson’s book is a comprehensive history of the Nazi regime, and so includes extracts from Nazi documents like Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Goebbel’s diaries and as well as eyewitness account of Nazi war crimes and individual acts of heroism and resistance. It presents an objective account of Hitler’s tyranny including its horrors and atrocities. There is absolutely no way it, nor other books like it, could remotely be considered pro-Nazi or presenting any kind of positive assessment of Hitler’s regime.

But if schools are now forbidden from teaching anti-capitalist, anti-Semitic, racist and anti-democratic material, does this mean that they are also forbidden from using books like Williamson’s, which include the writings of the Nazis themselves to show the real nature of the regime and the motivations of the men behind it. I hope not, and Owen Jones in his tweet attacking the new guidelines quotes them. From this, it should be possible to make a distinction between texts produced by extremist organisations and extracts from them in mainstream histories or editions from mainstream publishers. According to Jones’ tweet, the guidelines state

Schools should not under any circumstances use resources produced by organisations that take extreme political stances on matters. This is the case even if the material is not extreme, as the use of it could imply endorsement or support of the organisation. Examples of extreme political stances, include, but are not limited to

  1. a publicly stated desire to abolish or overthrow democracy, capitalism or end free and fair elections.

2. opposition to the right of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, or freedom of religion and conscience.

3. the use or endorsement of racist, including anti-Semitic language or communications.

4. the encouragement or endorsement of illegal activity.

5. a failure to condemn illegal activities in their name or in support of their cause, particularly violent actions against people and property.

Responding to Jones’ tweet, Jessica Simor QC asks this very pertinent question

Do the fourth and fifth bullet points mean that schools should not accept Government money?

Good point.

I also have no doubt that the vast majority are going to be extremely careful about which organisation’s materials they use because of the danger of using extremist or otherwise inappropriate material.

But I can also how sometimes it may also be necessary for schools to use such materials in order to criticise them and educate their pupils about their dangers. For example, in the 1980s the BNP or NF tried to appeal to schoolchildren by launching a comic. Other extremists have also turned up at the school gates on occasion. When I was at school in Bristol during the ’81/2 race riots, a White agitator with a beard like Karl Marx’s turned up outside the school entrance with a megaphone trying to get the kids to join in. We ignored him and the headmaster next day in assembly said very clearly that any child who did join the rioting would be expelled.

Nazis are also known for lying and deliberately distorting history. If some Nazi group, for example, produced a pamphlet aimed at schoolchildren and teachers found it being passed around the playground one of the actions they could take, as well as simply banning it and punishing any kid who tried to promote it, might be for a suitably qualified teacher to go through it, pointing out the deliberate lies. When Hitler himself seized power, one Austrian university lecturer embarrassed the fuhrer by showing his students how Hitler took his ideas from the cheap and grubby neo-Pagan literature published in the back streets of Vienna. One of these pamphlets claimed that the ancient Aryans had possessed radio-electric organs that gave them superpowers like telepathy. I think it was highly unlikely that anyone listening to this professor’s lectures on Hitler ever came away with the idea that Hitler had some deep grasp of the essential forces of human biology and and natural selection.

I see absolutely no point to this legislation whatsoever. Teachers, parents and educators are already careful about what is taught in schools. In the past few years most incidents of this type have come from fundamentalist religious schools. These have mostly been Muslim schools, which have been caught teaching their students to hate Christians, Jews and non-Muslims, but there was also a Jewish school which became the centre of controversy for its opposition to homosexuality. In the 1980s Thatcher and the right-wing press ran scare stories about Communist teachers indoctrinating students with evil subversive subjects like peace studies. I am not aware that anyone with extreme left-wing, Communist or Trotskite views has been trying to indoctrinate children. But there are concerns about Black Lives Matter, which I have heard is a Marxist organisation. If that is the case, then the guidelines seem to be an attempt to ban the use of their materials. BLM did produce materials for a week of action in schools, which was thoroughly critiqued by Sargon of Gasbag, aka Carl Benjamin, the sage of Swindon and the man who broke UKIP. Sargon has extreme right-wing Conservative views himself, though I honestly don’t believe that he is genuinely racist and his criticisms of the BLM school material was reasonable. Williamson’s guidelines look like a badly thought out attempt to stop them being used without causing controversy by tackling the organisation’s anti-racism or its critique of White society.

But it also marks the growing intolerance of the Tories themselves and their determination that schools should be used for the inculcation of their own doctrines, rather than objective teaching that allows children to come to their own. Way back in the 1980s Thatcher tried to purge the universities of Marxists by passing legislation making it illegal for them to hold posts in higher education. They got round it by making a subtle distinction: they claimed to be Marxian rather than Marxist. By which they argued that they had Marxist culture, but weren’t actually Marxists. It’s a legal sleight of hand, but it allowed them to retain their teaching posts.

These new guidelines look like an extension of such previous legislation in order to preserve capitalism from any kind of thorough critique. Even when, as the peeps Mike quotes in his article, show very clearly that it is massively failing in front of our eyes.

Just Who Is Responsible for the Tory Downgrading Algorithm?

August 17, 2020

Mike and Zelo Street have both put up excellent articles tearing apart the Tories in England for their massive class bias and signal incompetence over the ‘A’ level exam results. Yeah, Boris and his cabinet of grotesquely overprivileged ex-public school boys and girls are now doing a screeching U-turn, but this in response to the massive public outcry and dissatisfaction from their own benches. The public is getting the message that the Tories hate everyone below the centre middle classes. The Tories really  believe that the best opportunities and places right across society from industrial management, the arts, education and science, housing, healthcare, leisure and just about anything else they can get their hands on should go to the wealthy children of the upper and upper middle classes. The people, who have received exorbitantly expensive private educations at the elite schools. The same people, who, non-coincidentally, supply a good few of the Blairite MPs in the Labour Party and the Blairites and Liberals, who attacked Corbyn’s Labour Party in what passes for the left-wing press, most notably the Groan, Absurder, and the I. The lower orders – the working and lower middle classes – are there to work in the manual trades and in the lower grade office work. But despite all the loud Tory braying about creating a classless England, a meritocracy where anyone can rise from the humblest origins through talent and hard work, the reality is that the Tories are staunchly behind the traditional British class system.

Owen Jones has a very revealing anecdote about how naked this class hatred is behind closed doors. In his book Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class, he describes how an unnamed Tory MP, speaking at a university Tory gathering behind closed doors, told his audience, ‘This is class war. And we started it.’ And in the 1990s Private Eye supplied further evidence in their literary reviews. One of these was in Danny Danziger’s Eton Voices, which consisted of a set of interviews with old Etonians. The anonymous reviewer was not impressed, describing just how smug, complacent and self-satisfied they were. One of the interviewees was an Anglican bishop, who confessed to only having respect for other old Etonians. He said that if he found out someone didn’t go to the old school, he felt that it somehow counted against them in some obscure fashion. The Eye’s reviewer wasn’t remotely surprised, and made it clear that they thought that attitude really counted against old Etonians and their school. I don’t think the bias is necessarily conscious either. It’s just there in their whole upbringing, which they imbibe with their mothers’ milk and the very air they breathe.

And because education is one of the keys to social success, the Tories have been keen to use it as a political football and find whatever way they can to stop children from working and lower middle class backgrounds challenging them. There has been survey after survey that has shown that the education ordinary children receive in state schools is actually broader and better, and that they actually outperform their social superiors at university. I’ve remember the results of such studies appearing from the 1990s. But a decade earlier, there were rumblings from the Tories about bring back the 11 +. You remember, the old exam that went out with the comprehensive schools. The one everyone took when they were 11, and which immediately decided whether they went to a grammar school to receive an academic education, or went instead to the secondary moderns to learn a trade. It was scrapped, along with the grammar schools, because it heavily discriminated against working people. They were largely sent to the secondary moderns while the more privileged children of middle class homes got into the grammar schools.

The Tory algorithm looks very much like a similar device, just done through the backdoor. Because in meritocratic, Thatcherite Britain, we’re all supposed to be classless ‘One Nation’ Tories. Well, as Rab C. Nesbitt could remark, they’ve certainly done their job. ‘Cause to paraphrase the great guerrilla philosopher of the underclass, there’s no class in this country any more.

Gavin Williamson is rightly receiving stick for this debacle, and angry parents, teachers and students, not to mention some Tories, are demanding his job. But Zelo Street this evening has asked Carole Cadwalladr’s further question, equally important: who was responsible for the creation of this computer programme in the first place?

He writes

After James Doleman made the obvious point – that Nicola Sturgeon’s swift admission looks better with each passing day, especially as Bozo tried to get away with it, only to be forced to back down – there was only one more question, and that is, as Carole Cadwalladr put it, “Does anyone know who built the algorithm?” Don’t all shout at once.

Because whoever has their paw prints on that part of the fiasco should have some explaining to do, but in a Government where nobody resigns, there won’t be any. But there will be the distinct impression that someone has sanctioned yet another waste of taxpayer funds on a gizmo that caused rather more problems than it solved.

It’s a good question. Zelo Street himself suggests that it might be someone not unconnected to the poisonous Cummings. Well, he is a Social Darwinist, who was prepared to  let the country’s elderly die from the Coronavirus just in order to save the economy. But you also wonder if the company responsible for the algorithm also was connected to the Tories. They’ve had form in giving government contracts to their pet firms, whose management either includes members of the party, or which donates to them. And who have massively failed in their responsibilities. Like the private company that was supposed to take over from the state the provision of PPE to our brave, dedicated and caring medical professionals. Or what about the ‘world-beating’ test and trace programme, which is now being drastically scaled back because it, like the government that commissioned it, isn’t really fit for purpose.

Or is it one of the delightful private companies to which the government have been outsourcing services that should be provided by the state. Companies like Serco, G4S, Maximus, Capita and all the rest that have been delivering failure and rubbish for over thirty years, ever since they were invited in by the Tories in the late ’80s or early ’90s. At one time there was at least one article every fortnight in Private Eye about this clowns. Capita were so incompetent that the Eye awarded them the nickname ‘Crapita’. They started off with contracts to provide IT services, which were just about always behind schedule, over budget and sometimes so dire that they had to be scrapped. But for some reason they failed upwards, and were immediately given more contracts. And the outsourcing companies have gone on to dig themselves further into the infrastructure of government, with worse results. Like ATOS and Maximus manufacturing reasons to throw genuinely disabled people off the benefits they so desperately need, because the Tories and Tony Blair have decided that a certain percentage must be malingerers. The rioting against appalling conditions in our wonderful, privately run prisons and detention centres for asylum seekers. G4S in the ’90s managed to make themselves a laughing stock when a consignment of prisoners they were escorting to trial broke out and escaped. Are these same companies – or  one similar – also responsible for this unjust, odious algorithm?

Zelo Street doubts we’ll ever know the answer. He’s probably right. The Tories are very keen to protect their failures, and would probably argue that the information is too professionally sensitive to be divulged. Just like they’ve done with other private companies involved in government business, like all the private healthcare providers angling for NHS contracts.

This isn’t good enough. Williamson should go, and the company behind the algorithm should be named, shamed and its contract cancelled.

But I very much doubt that the Tories will take that step. Just remember the old saying

‘Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan’.

To which you could add that there are also a fair number of the morally parentless on the Tory benches.

See also: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/08/benevolent-bozos-badly-bungled-u-turn.html

Lib Dems Want More Black History Taught in Schools

July 7, 2020

Also from yesterday’s I for Monday, 6th July 2020 was a piece by Will Hazell reporting that the Lib Dems have called for schools to teach more Black history. The article on page 15 runs

The national curriculum should be reformed so schools teach children more about black history and uncomfortable aspects of Britain’s imperial past, the Liberal Democrats have said.

The party has also demanded improved teacher training so school staff can avoid “microaggressions”, under proposals worked up with the Diversity Reform Initiative – a new organisation which aims to tackle racial disadvantage in institutions.

In a letter to the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, Layla Moran, the Lib Dems’ education spokesperson, said: “Changes to the history curriculum, such as learning about non-white historical figures and addressing the darker sides of British history honestly, are a vital step in tackling racism in our educational system.”  

It’s a good point, and Labour should be demanding the same. Unfortunately they aren’t. Mike put up a piece the other day about how the Labour Party is hemorrhaging members thanks to Keir Starmer’s right-wing leadership. Starmer’s a New Labour centrist, who has done precious little to challenge the Tories, thanks to his decision to advance only constructive criticism during the pandemic. Many of those leaving the party are Black and Asian, who resent his almost total inaction on racism and his halfhearted dismissive attitude towards Black Lives Matter. If the Lib Dems prove to be more serious about tackling racism, they could well attract these disaffected former Labour voters.

That said, I am not impressed by some of the policies suggested by the Diversity Reform Initiative. I am not convinced of the existence of ‘microaggressions’ – I think it is something that has been thought up by oversensitive, resentful individuals to justify their bitter hatred of mainstream society. Of course respect goes both ways, but there is already a problem with discipline in some schools and I think a focus on suppressing ‘microaggressions’ on the part of teachers will only make things worse.

News Rottweiler Richard Madeley Throws Gavin Williamson Off Programme for Not Answering Question

May 31, 2018

This is a turn up for the books. Richard Madeley is probably the last person I would have considered an aggressive, uncompromising interviewer, trying to hold the government and the authorities to account. But on ITV’s Good Morning on May 29th, 2018, Madeley showed he was not prepared to put up with Gavin Williamson’s repeated failure to answer his questions about the Skripal poisoning. And so, rather than let him continue, Madeley ended the interview, wishing him good luck with his project for Africa.

Mike put up a piece about this yesterday, remarking that not only had Williamson not answered the question, he was carrying on with a smug smirk on his face. Mike wrote of Williamson’s refusal to answer the question

He was deliberately withholding, not only his opinion on his ill-chosen words about the Russian government, but information on whether the Conservative government acted prematurely in blaming Russia for the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.

The Tory narrative that the Russian government was responsible has collapsed beneath a barrage of factual information suggesting otherwise, with no facts to support it.

If Mr Williamson had admitted his words were ill-advised, he would have been accepting that the anti-Russia stance was a mistake – and opening the UK government to an investigation into its own activities. So he was between a rock and a hard place.

And he thought he could brazen it out on TV because mainstream media interviewers are now notoriously soft on Tories.

Mike noted that this deference to the Tories had changed with Madeley’s actions, but was unsure whether it would spread to the Beeb because so many of the Corporation’s top news team are Conservatives. However, the public are also turning away from soft interviewers like Andrew Marr and Evan Davis, and this may force the BBC to adopt a tougher stance when interviewing Tory politicians.

Mike’s article also compares it to the incident, 21 years ago, when Paxman ended an interview with Michael Portillo because the future presenter of programmes about train journeys around the globe refused to answer a question on his party’s policy towards the single European currency. The incident happened in a good-humoured way, and Paxo was probably able to do it, according to Mike, because Portillo was out of Parliament at the time, and his political influence was due to be confined for the foreseeable future to being one of the commenters on Andrew Neil’s The Week.

Mike’s article is at: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2018/05/30/the-madeley-moment-is-it-really-21-years-since-an-interviewer-dismissed-an-evasive-politician-for-failing-to-answer-a-question/

RT, as well as a number of other news sites on YouTube, also reported the incident. Here’s RT’s video of it.

Way back in the 1990s Jeremy Paxman was called a ‘Rottweiler’ for his persistent, aggressive questioning of politicians on his show, and his refusal to take any nonsense from them. Which was shown in his repeated questioning of Michael Howard whether he overruled another Tory minister. His ‘take no prisoners’ style of questioning enraged the Tories, and Michael Heseltine actually walked out during one interview, ‘angrily tossing his mane’ in the words of Ian Hislop later that week on Have I Got News For You.

The Tories responded as they usually do by claiming that Paxman and the BBC were biased against them. There was an article in the Spectator comparing Paxman to a similar TV interviewer in the Republic of Ireland, who went in hard with establishment politicians, but didn’t dare adopt the same stance with Sinn Fein or spokesmen for the IRA. And so eventually Paxo left Newsnight, and went instead to harass university students on University Challenge.

Then when Labour got it a few years later, the Tories showed once again how two-faced they are by lamenting how sad it was that Paxo had departed from political journalism, because now the country needed him to interrogate Blair and co with his aggressive refusal to allow his guest to get away with talking nonsense.

And so began the situation that prevails today, when members of the government turn up on television with the attitude that they can more or less say what they want, without being corrected or pressed by the interviewer. Some of us can still remember how Nicky Morgan repeatedly refused to answer one of the Beeb’s interviewer’s questions when she was minister for education. This was when Tweezer decided that every school should be an academy. The interviewer asked her a question about the number of academies, that had to be taken over again by the state, and all Thicky Nicky did was to repeat a line about how terrible it would be if children continued to be badly educated through attending failing state schools. In fact, the number of failing academies was high – about 21 or so, I seem to recall. Thicky Nicky clearly couldn’t admit that, and so she carried on repeating government propaganda. Just as the interview ended, the journo said, ‘You know the number’. He was clearly annoyed and frustrated at Morgan’s failure to answer the question, and made it very clear.

It would solve a lot of problems if interviewers did adopt a more uncompromising stance, and did throw politicians off the programme if they didn’t answer their questions. Reith was an authoritarian, who supported Mussolini, but he was right when he said that broadcasting to the nation was a privilege, not a right. This is a democracy, and the role of the press and the media – the Fourth Estate, as they’ve been called – has traditionally been to hold the government to account. Of course, this collapsed at least a decade ago, when the media became dominated by a very few big proprietors, who made sure that their papers represented their interests and those of the Conservative government, including Blair’s Thatcherite New Labour.

It’s good now that some TV interviewers are tired of giving the government such soft treatment. And as I said, it’s remarkable that this should come from Richard Madeley, who would be the last person I would have thought would do it. But obviously he decided he’d had enough, and something snapped. All hail Madeley, news Rottweiler. And I hope this attitude carries on and spread, so that we get something like the media we deserve in this country, rather than the one that’s foisted on us by the Beeb, Murdoch, Dacre and the Barclay Twins.

Chunky Mark on the Ex-MI6 Chief Richard Dearlove and the Resignation of Ian McNicol

February 25, 2018

Here’s another great piece from Chunky Mark the Artist Taxi Driver, which he posted yesterday. He comments on the remarks in the Torygraph from the former head of MI6, Richard Dearlove. Dearlove was speaking about Jeremy Corbyn’s meeting with a Czech spy, and declared that the Labour leader ‘has questions to answer’. This is part of the continuing attempt to create a ‘Red Scare’ about the Labour party and its leader, comparable to the ‘Zinoviev Letter’ that lost Labour an election in the 1920. The Zinoviev letter was an MI5 forgery, and this is a complete non-story and Tory libel.

Mike’s pointed out that the spy in question was a diplomat. Corbyn met him, just as he met other diplomats and no secrets were passed on. The Czechs, and the academic in charge of their Secret Services library has said they have categorically no evidence that Corbyn ever worked for them, or passed on any secrets at all. And in the week Andrew Neill, who is the former editor of the Sunday Times and the Economist, told his viewers precisely what a load of rubbish it this story is on the Daily Politics.

Corbyn is threatening to sue for libel. Gavin Williamson, the Tory apparatchik who repeated in a Tweet, is trying to backtrack without giving Corbyn the apology or money to charity that he demanded.

But the bug-eyed slander-merchants of the Torygraph are still carrying on with it.

Chunky Mark makes the point that Dearlove himself is hardly reliable, because he was involved in the concoction of the ‘Dodgy Dossier’ that served to bring us into Blair’s illegal and murderous war in Iraq. And he’s repeating the libel that Corbyn handed secrets over to a Commie spy, simply because he hates and fears him.

He also comments on the resignation of Ian McNicol, the Labour Party chief, who presided over the massively unjust suspension and expulsion of tens of thousands of Labour members, because they had the audacity to vote for Corbyn rather than endorse the preferred Blairite Thatcherite entryists. Chunky Mark says that we shouldn’t celebrate his departure, because this is a man who poured his life and blood into the Labour party. Before going on to say precisely why we should. One of those he expelled was a trade unionist. She committed the terrible offence of saying that she ‘f***ing loved Dave Grohl’ in a post she put up about the Foo Fighters. This apparently brought her union and the Labour party into disrespect. Actually, considering the fruity language on the internet, I’m surprised anyone even noticed, let along took offence.

So McNicol’s walked, and hopefully we’ll get a better, fairer person in to do his job. Hopefully.

The redoubtable Tony Greenstein, anti-racist, anti-Fascist and very definitely not an anti-Semite, put up a post yesterday commenting on McNicol’s departure, with the restrained title ‘Rejoice – The Witch is Dead – Crooked McNicol Rides No More’. He gives further information on McNicol’s resignation. Apparently he was given his marching orders on Tuesday. Greenstein also points out that this is just the beginning of making the Labour party’s bureaucracy more just.

But this does give up to everyone libelled, smeared and unfairly expelled, simply for their opposition to the Blairites and their wretched neoliberalism.

See: http://azvsas.blogspot.co.uk/2018/02/rejoice-witch-is-dead-crooked-mcnicol.html