Posts Tagged ‘Grammar Schools’

A 17th Century Anglican Plea for Religious Toleration

November 21, 2020

Jeremy Taylor was the chaplain of King Charles I and the rector of Uppingham. After the royalists were defeated in the British Civil War, he fled to Carmarthenshire in Wales, where he wrote his book arguing for religious freedom, The Liberty of Prophesying. After the Restoration he was appointed bishop of Down and Connor. He was also the author of a number of devotional works and sermons, but it’s his defence of religious freedom that I find particularly interesting. He said ‘they were excellent words which St. Ambrose said in attestation of this great truth, that the civil authority has no right to interdict the liberty of speaking, nor the sacerdotal to prevent speaking what you think.’

See the article on him in John Bowker, ed., The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford: OUP 1997) 958.

I’m very much aware that throughout Christian history there has been very little freedom of religion and conscience, and that the Anglican church’s toleration of Dissenters was very limited until the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in the 19th century. Until then Protestant nonconformists were excluded from the grammar schools, universities and government, and could only hold their services five miles away from towns. Atheism and Roman Catholicism were illegal again until the 19th century. But it was clergymen like Taylor and his fellows in the Nonconformist churches, like the Quaker William Penn and a number of Presbyterian ministers, who laid the foundations for the British and American tradition of religious tolerance. The most famous of the works calling for religious freedom from this period is Milton’s Areopagitica.

Despite the passage of the centuries, their message is still acutely relevant. Many countries still don’t have freedom of conscious or religious liberty in the 20th century. The Communists attempted to destroy religious and viciously persecuted people of faith, while the Nazis, apart from trying to exterminate the Jews, also sent their other religious opponents, especially Jehovah’s Witnesses, to the concentration camps.

We have recently seen a French teacher murdered for showing schoolchildren the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Mohammed in a class about free speech, and mass demonstrations against France for permitting the cartoons in Muslim countries. To many people, their calls for legislation against such disrespect seem like demands for Muslim blasphemy laws. Christians and members of other religious minorities, such as Shia and Ahmadiyya Muslims have been murdered in Pakistan as well as orthodox Sunni Muslims because of supposed blasphemy. This is banned in Pakistan and punishable with the death penalty. The only permitted religion in Saudi Arabia is Wahhabi Islam, and a few years ago the Saudis declared that atheism was terrorism. This was just atheist unbelief itself, regardless of any act of genuine terror, such as killing people or destroying property.

I’m sympathetic to Muslims regarding the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. I don’t like the way Christianity and Christ are mocked by certain sections of the media and the entertainment business either. I’ve also heard the argument that Charlie Hebdo is a nasty rag. It’s not left-wing, but right, apparently, and its targets also include Roman Catholicism and immigrants.

But there’s a greater principle of free speech and the sanctity of human life here. All religions and ideologies, including atheism, should be up for debate, with people free to choose as they will. They’re fundamental human rights, the violation of which either leads or is part of tyranny.

Complaint by German Socialists and Democrats of Nazi Bullying in Schools

September 28, 2020

Donald Trump in America and the Tories over here have started their attack on our countries’ education systems. Trump has set up a commission to make American schooling more patriotic and teach American schoolkids that they are part of an exceptional nation. Over here, Johnson and his clown cabinet have ruled that it is illegal for schools to teach criticisms of capitalism or use anti-capitalist materials, along with materials attacking democracy or which are anti-Semitic. This seems to be a reaction to Black Lives Matter, which is a Marxist organisation that criticises American society from a Marxist as well as Black anti-racist perspective. Trump has already banned the teaching of Critical Race Theory to federal institutions. In my opinion, Trump was quite right to do so. Critical Race Theory states quite openly that all Whites are racist, and any institutions created by Whites must automatically also be racist and oppressive to Blacks and other people of colour.

Trump’s demand for patriotic American education is different, and it was compared to the Hitler Youth, although I put up a piece a few days ago making the case that it was much more comparable to the Italian Fascists’ reforms of the Italian school curriculum.

The Nazis also reformed their school history syllabus in order to teach their twisted view that capitalism, democracy, socialism and all Germany’s economic and political woes were down to the Jews and would be solved by Hitler and his band of thugs. Johnson has rejected anti-Semitism, but there are many real, vicious anti-Semites as well as anti-Black and anti-Asian racists in his party, so perhaps it’s only time before Boris introduces a racist element into the curriculum.

In addition to the Hitler Youth, the Nazis also introduced a Nazi pupils’ league for grammar school boys and a students’ league for the universities. The kids in these leagues went around beating up and bullying the children of socialists and democrats. I found this complaint about their attacks in J. Noakes and G. Pridham, eds., Nazism 1919-1945, Vol 1: The Rise to Power 1919-1934 (Exeter: University of Exeter 1983).

To the Oldenburg Ministery for Churches and Schools, 21 November 1930

The Committee of the Oldenburg branch of the Reichsbanner Black-Red-Gold submits the following matter to the State Ministry with a request for a prompt comment:

Leaflets have recently been distributed in the playgrounds of the schools of the city of Oldenburg and its vicinity, inviting people to join a National Socialist Pupils’ Association. We enclose one of these leaflets.

A number of pupils have already followed the appeal to join this pupils’ association. These consider themselves pledged, in the spirit of the leaflet, to bully those who disagree with them. In the playground these pupils join together and sing National Socialist combat songs. Children of Republicans are called names, their satchels are smeared with swastikas, and they are given leaflets with swastikas or ‘Heil Hitler’ or ‘Germany awake’ written on them. In the school in Metjendorf the son of a Republican was beaten up during the break by members of the pupils’ association so badly that he had to stay at home for over a week. Grown-ups who are known to be members of a Republican party are called names by the pupils when they pass by the school. In one case this even happened out of the window of a classroom.

Since the children of Republicans are unfortunately in a minority in secondary schools they cannot defend themselves against these combined attacks. With an effort they preserve their self-control, but as soon as the child gets home, this too collapses. He then seeks refuge in tears and complaints. The parents find that lessons following breaks in which their child has been molested by his class mates are useless because he is too preoccupied with the events of the break. Sometimes teachers, not knowing the reason for the child’s inattention, punish him as well. The same state of mind influences his homework, which therefore cannot be of a standard which a child in a good, cheerful mood would normal achieve. Again this has its effects at school.

It might be answered that parents and children have the right to make a complaint. This is true and yet at the same time not true. It must unfortunately be said that apart from a group of teachers who would treat such a complaint objectively, there are a number from whom this cannot be counted on and to whom one does not turn because they too are National Socialists or are active in other right-wing associations;. The relationship of trust necessary between teachers and parents and their children has completely gone.

Since we have heard that some headmasters have already declared that they are not in a position to deal with these incidents as required, since they have received no instructions from the Ministry, we request that such instructions should be issued as soon as possible. We can presumably be sure that the Sate Ministry will admit an attitude which does justice to all concerned and will decree tha tpupils’ associations of political organisations are forbidden.

Yours faithfully,

The committee of the Oldenburg Branch of the Reichsbanner Black-Red-Gold. (p. 79)

The Reichsbanner Red-Black-Gold was a paramilitary organisation set up in 1924 by the German Socialist party and other democrats to defend the Weimar republic against the right-wing paramilitaries.

Is this the future of the British school system? Are the Tories going to go further and found right-wing pupils and students’ associations to enforce proper patriotic and pro-capitalist teaching by school staff and the correct patriotic attitudes amongst other pupils? Various right-wing American organisations, like Turning Point, have a university professor watch or something of that name, which compiles lists of left-wing university professors with the aim of getting them fired for teaching their doctrines. Incidentally, the BNP/NF did something similar in British schools in the 1980s. They encouraged schoolchildren to monitor their teachers in case they were teaching Communist ideas, and report to them. Then the storm troopers would come for them and beat them up. Boris hasn’t introduced that, but that’s a natural development of this process of political censorship.

This legislation is also completely unnecessary. There has been legislation banning the indoctrination of children in schools since at least the 1980s, when Maggie Thatcher and the right-wing press ran a similar scare campaign about Communist teachers and the introduction of Peace Studies as a subject. Further legislation was introduced over a decade ago by Tony Blair. These laws stipulated that teachers could not present their own personal political or religious views as fact. If they were somehow required to state their views, they had to make it clear that it was only what they believed. As for prohibiting children from studying material which attacks democracy or promotes anti-Semitism, apart from it rather obviously makes studying the Nazis difficult, I believe that schools are already required to teach British values. Which are democracy, tolerance, diversity and so on.

This new legislation seems to me to have absolutely nothing to do with protecting vulnerable and impressionable minds from indoctrination by extremists. It seems to me to be a deliberate attempt to use the fears generated by Black Lives Matter and its Marxist, anti-capitalist ideology to sneak in Tory, establishment indoctrination instead.

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

The British Class Room War and the Tory and Elite Feminist Promotion of Private Education

August 15, 2020

There’s massive outrage at the way the education authorities in England, Wales and Scotland have downgraded pupils’ marks according to a set a algorithms. This has unfairly affected the mass of these children, damaging the hopes of all-too many for a university education. In the poorer areas, according to an I headline yesterday, 36 per cent of students have been affected. This is despite the hard work, time and effort these children and their teachers have put in despite the lockdown and necessary school closures. Teachers are angry, students and their parents are angry, and the schools are protesting. The Scots are trying to correct their errors, but there’s been precious little from the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, except excuses and bluster. And only the mildest criticism from the useless Blairite leader of the Labour party, Keir Starmer.

Private Schools and the British Class System

But strangely, none of this downgrading has affected students at the elite private schools, like the Eton from which our clownish, mass-murdering prime minister Boris Alexander, DePfeffel Johnson and so many of his cronies and cabinet have attended. Mike has published a couple of excellent articles pointing out the class dimension to this marking down of the hoi polloi on their schools.

And he’s right. This isn’t accidental. The elite private schools are an intrinsic part of the British class system. They supply and educate this country’s elite, who heartily despise not just those below them, but the state schools that educate them.

Britain is one of the few country’s in Europe that has this devotion and the attendant promotion of elite private schools. It simply doesn’t exist in France and Germany, where most children, I believe, attend state schools. Private schools exist, but there isn’t the same cult surrounding them. There have at times been attempts to introduce it in Germany, but it’s failed. And a Fabian pamphlet on education I read in the 1980s stated that in France many pupils at private schools were there because, er, they were less intelligent than those at the state schools.

Some of this difference in attitude comes from the different history of education on the continent. In France following the French Revolution, there was a bitter conflict over schooling between the Church and the liberal, secularist authorities. This has been decided in favour of the latter, so that French republican society has an official policy of laicism – secularism. Germany also had its Kulturkampf with the Roman Catholic church in the 19th century over the Roman Catholic schools. But I think both countries, as well as Italy, had a very strong tradition of state support for schools and state or parish school provision. There was mass illiteracy in these countries in the 19th century, but I got the general impression that after the Napoleonic invasions where education was provided, it was through local school boards. In Britain education tended to remain a matter of private industry and provision. I’d also argue that the attitude that Eton and the rest of the private schools represent the acme of the British education system is actually only quite recent. Well into the 19th century wealthy children had a broader education at the grammar schools – the public schools were criticised for their narrow specialisation on the Classics – and bullying and brutality by the teachers was rife. The diet was also so poor that the pupils boarding there sometimes died of starvation. This changed after Matthew Arnold became the visionary headmaster at Rugby, and his massive improvement in the standards there and influence across elite private education.

There is, apparently, also a class divide in France in their secular, state education system. The children of the technocratic elite attend a set of similarly exclusive, but state-run schools, which are very difficult for someone outside that class to get into. This was part of the argument the Daily Heil advanced in favour of the British public school system in article back in the 1990s, when Eton and its fellows were coming under attack again as bastions of class privilege. According to this article, British public schools were superior because they developed in their pupils an independence of thought impossible in the French state system. This was roughly at the same time the journo Danny Danziger was interviewing old Etonians in his book, Eton Voices, who droned on about how wonder the old school was, praising it for its tolerance. How ideologically independent private school education is, is a highly questionable point. I’ve met a number of ex-public schoolboys who have rebelled against their upbringing and affected a very working class persona. But for the most part, since Arnold there has been a definite emphasis on moulding character – no bad thing in itself – and the existence of these schools and their very narrow class background is responsible for the maintenance of the British class system and all its attitudes against those further down the British social hierarchy.

Tory Hatred of State Education

And the Tories themselves hate state education. Some of us can still remember how they tried to part-privatise it in the 1980s by encouraging schools to leave the Local Education Authorities to become City Academies. That failed, and was quietly wound up. Until it was revived and expanded again by Blair and New Labour. And the Tories have continued, expanding the academy chains and even trying to bring back grammar schools to absolutely zero enthusiasm. I also remember the ignorant pronouncements of some Tory businessmen in the 1980s, who showed their own contempt for education. Pupils, according to these ignorant blowhards, should just be taught reading, writing and arithmetic. Nothing else was necessary, and they should then be sent out to work. But although it wasn’t said, they probably didn’t mean children from the upper and upper middle classes.

Elite Feminist Attacks on State Education

And part of the defence and promotion of elite private schools has come from ex-private schoolgirls arguing from feminism. There’s a reasonable point there, but it’s mixed up with much elite class ideology. And it includes the liberal, Blairite elite as well as Tories. Way back in the 1980s there were articles in the paper during the debate about girls’ education which pointed out that girls in single-sex schools had better grades than their sisters in mixed schools. Girls tended to be pushed into the background in school performance by boys. I don’t know if this has changed, but since then there has been a reversal in academic performance between the sexes. Girls have been outperforming boys for several years now, and the worse performing demographic are White working class boys. Despite this reversal, feminist arguments are still being used to defend what it basically class privilege. Single-sex schools are centres of female excellence, and away from boys, more girls take STEM subjects. So said an article by one of the female hacks in the I. I don’t doubt she’s right.

But this does create some very skewed attitude towards state education in ex-private schoolgirls. I came across about a decade ago when I studying for my Ph.D. at Bristol Uni. Passing through campus one day, I overhead two former private school inmates, who I think I had just met, who were overjoyed to find that they both had the same educational background. They were glad to find another you woman, who went to the same type of school. Which, one of them declared, was better than ‘the little woman thing they teach in state schools.’

What!

Not in my experience, nor my mother’s. I went to the local primary school, and my mother was a teacher in one of the other primary schools in Bristol. Mike and I were also lucky to get into a church school. This had been a grammar school, but was now a state-assisted comprehensive. And in none of them was there any teaching about the ‘little woman thing’. Now there was a debate within the education system at the time about gender and schooling. There was an article in an edition of Child Education about whether girls should be allowed to play with traditionally boys toys in school, like Meccano sets. But this debate, I think, has been settled a very long time ago. And I do remember that there was a positive attitude towards feminism amongst some of the staff at the Church school. I was in our house master’s office one day – I honestly can’t remember why, but I don’t think it was as a punishment for anything – when one of the women teachers came in. She had some materials on the Suffragettes she wanted to show him. ‘Ah, excellent!’ said the housemaster, ‘a bit of feminism!’

By  contrast, I’ve also come across teachers of both sexes, who in my opinion couldn’t teach boys. One of them was a male teacher, who gave sneers and put downs to the boys if they couldn’t answer questions or gave the wrong one, but was extremely encouraging to the girls. He clearly thought that girls needed gentle encouragement, while boys needed to be kept in line by shaming and humiliation. But it gave the impression he didn’t like teaching them. I’ve also come across some horror stories about the way girls have been treated in schools as well. Another story I heard back in the ’80s was about the headmaster of a London school, who immediately decided to divide the pupils into two classes, an ‘A’ and ‘B’. And all the boys ended up in ‘A’, and the girls in ‘B’. The headmaster, apparently, was Turkish, and this looks like the product of a traditionally Islamic cultural attitude to education. It was mostly definitely not common throughout the British state system and there were very loud complaints.

Blairite Feminism and Class Snobbery

My guess is that these skewed ideas about the sexism of state education are shared not just by Tories, but by Blairite liberals. The hacks writing in newspapers like the Groaniad and the I, although that’s technically non-aligned politically, seem to come from the same wealthy, privately educated class. And I think they share the same attitudes towards social class as the Tories, but argue for it from a liberal, feminist perspective. A few years ago the I carried a piece about a female Labour MP or activist, who was very definitely a Blairite. She commented on how male-dominated the old, trade union dominated Labour movement had been. And so we see the same attitude directed towards state education, by people, who have never once set foot in a state school except perhaps on an official visit.

Conclusion

Boris Johnson famously declared that every school should be like Eton. Well, every school could if it had the money spent on it Eton has. As for the academies, ditto. Once you account for the masses of money they have had spent on them, far in excess of the state sector, and the way they skew their results by excluding difficult and underperforming pupils, they are very definitely not better than state schools. See the book The great Academy Fraud for a very detailed discussion of their failings.

But ‘failing state schools’ is a nice mantra to justify the privatisation of the education system, even though one academy chain has gone down the toilet after the other. The Tories hate state education, and, in my opinion, will do anything to sabotage it. As will the Blairites.

And that includes deliberately marking down state school pupils, while awarding high marks and grades to the privately educated children of the elite.

 

The Labour Party, Affirmative Action and the Problem of Liberal Prejudice, Part 2: Sexism, Misogyny and Misandry

February 4, 2020

In the first part of this post, I discussed some of the problems that may arise from all-Black and Asian election shortlists, as suggested by one of the candidates at the recent Labour party deputy leadership hustings in Bristol. In this part I wish to examine some of the problems of the same candidate’s declaration that they were determined to fight misogyny. I am certainly not denying that sexism exists in society, and that women are very far from being equal. I realise that many women have struggled and continue to struggle to make themselves accepted in male-dominated professions and workplaces. I realise that there are many jobs not considered suitable for women. And I also realise that despite some women managing to break the ‘glass ceiling’ and reach the very heights of management, there are still very few female managing directors or chairs of companies. However, the situation is changing in some areas, and this is not reflected in the debate about sexism, sexual harassment or gender and violence, at least not at the level of the popular press.

One of the issues is education. Since the 1990s boys have been falling behind girls at school and I gather that the majority of university students are also women. I know very well that women have had to struggle to get to this point. When I was growing up in the 1980s I remember reading a number of articles about brain sex stating that women would never be equal with men in certain subjects, like maths and science. But this has been shown to be false too. There are a number of factors affecting boys’ performance. One is the importance of sport, sex and violence over ‘book-larnin”, so that one academic commenting on the issue in the 1990s said that boys weren’t interested in the ‘3 Rs’ as the ‘3 Fs’ – football, fighting and, well, you can guess. Another factor may be that teaching is now very much a female-dominated profession, to the point where some schools have been described as ‘man deserts’ because of the lack or total absence of male teachers.

Other factors are class and those jobs traditionally viewed as masculine. Traditional working class male jobs, like mining, emphasised strength rather than academic performance. It may well be the case that, among some working class boys, academic performance is discouraged as effeminate and ‘poofy’. But class has also been a factor. A friend of mine grew up in rural Suffolk and went to the local comprehensive school. As he tells it, it had been a grammar school and still retained a very snobbish class ethos. The school ran classes in its sixth form to prepare pupils for going to university. My friend is highly intelligent, and he told me that despite achieving very good grades, the school never put him in this class. He came from a very working class background, and the school did not consider working class children to be suitable for university. And I’m afraid that there are some teachers that are very sexist in their attitudes to the children in their charge. I’ve heard horror stories decades ago of headmasters, who set up two classes for the bright and less bright. All the boys were in the first, and all the girls in the second. At the same time, I’ve come across two teachers in my time in school, who in my experience did not like boys and treated them worse than the girls. One was female, one was male.

These are issues that need to be examined if boys’ academic performance is to be improved. But there is a problem whether a political and social culture, that has and is making great effort to improve girls’ and women’s academic performance, is also able to to devote the same kind of effort and energy to boys. If boys also need special treatment to help them achieve their potential, then some feminists may resent that as an attack on the schemes that have helped women to make such great strides in achieving theirs.

I’m sure that when the candidate spoke about misogyny, she meant instances of clear hostility and aggression to women. Like discrimination, sexual harassment, abuse or violence specifically towards women. Domestic violence, and the stuff that Harvey Weinstein has been accused of. However, what makes this problematic is the way some feminists have extended it to include even trivial gestures, which many people of both sexes wouldn’t consider aggressive or demeaning. For example, one feminist academic has claimed that women’s self-confidence is knocked through ‘micro-aggressions’ such as calling them ‘love’. This was heavily criticised in the press, with some male writers pondering whether they were being treated with aggression and contempt when women called them ‘love’. Last week an expert from the Chartered Institute of Management appeared on Sky, I believe, and declared that management should stop men talking about sport in the workplace, as this excluded women and led to other laddish behaviours, like boasting of sexual conquests. This was also attacked by anti-feminist bloggers and vloggers like Sargon. Benjamin stated that he’d worked in offices, that were overwhelmingly female and where the topics of office conversation were typically female: makeup and men. Which obviously left him isolated. I’ve also worked in offices where the staff were overwhelmingly female, some of whom were extremely crude. In my first job, one of the girls one day told the rest of the office about how she had been to see a male stripper the night before. I’ve no doubt that if the situation was reversed, feminists, if not ordinary women, would find that unacceptable. But is there now a double-standard in that talk of such excursions is acceptable, if the strippers are men?

Ditto with sexual harassment. This is always discussed as something that men do to women, never the other way round. A few years ago there was a scandal about MPs groping parliamentary staff. This focused very much on women, who were leading the protest. But the Beeb report, as far as I can remember, also mentioned that half the victims were men. Nothing then was said about how they were affected or what steps were being taken to safeguard them. Did that mean that men’s safety in this regard was not as important as women’s? Again, the other year there was a report about the prevalence of sexual abuse and harassment at universities. One report in the I said that 75 per cent of women students had experienced it. It also said that 25 per cent of men had also. The article then described how universities were trying to tackle it by laying on courses educating students about the issue. But the rest of the article only discussed it as a problem that affected women. The men were mentioned and forgotten.

Domestic violence is also an issue that is framed almost exclusively as something that men inflict on women. I’m very much aware that throughout history, this has been very much the case. However, a friend of mine, who is a former nurse, told me that when he was being trained, they were told that both sexes were sent to the hospital in equal numbers by the partners. Men were, however, much more likely to kill their wives. I certainly do not mean here, to suggest anything to prevent vulnerable women from being given the help and protection they need against violent and dangerous men. The Tories have left such women increasingly vulnerable through cuts to women’s refuges and centres. While it is recognised that men also suffer from domestic abuse from women, you don’t hear that women hospitalise as many men as the other way around. Nor have I come across many articles talking primarily about men as victims of female violence. In fact, I can’t think of one. But I’ve also come across some extremely foul-tempered, violent women. I’ve no doubt discussion of the issue is constrained by some men feeling emasculated by talking about it. No man really wants others to think him ‘pussy-whipped’. And there is the attitude that men should just be a man about it all, and take it. At the same time, I think some women and feminists may also have qualms about discussing gendered violence towards men with the same kind of concern that’s given to women in case in detracted from the campaigns to end violence against women. But clearly such violence exists, and so needs to be tackled.

A campaign to tackle genuine misogyny is entirely praiseworthy. But it overlooks the way men can be similarly affected, and a narrow focus solely on women threatens to create new forms of sexism, rather than combat it. 

 

 

Bullying, Starvation and Death in 19th Century Public and Boarding Schools

September 26, 2019

There’s a strong mood in the Labour party for the abolition of the public schools. Unlike in America, where the public schools are the state schools, the term over this side of the Atlantic mean the network of extremely expensive private schools educating the children of the aristocracy and the upper middle classes. It’s from them and their ethos that elite derive some of their power and sense of entitlement through the social solidarity and networks these schools provide. Private Eye in its review of a book on Eton in the 1980s commented acidly on a statement by one former Eton schoolboy, now an Anglican bishop, that looking at the numbers of other old Etonians now in leading positions in the government, civil service and society, he felt the whole world was Eton. Another said that if he found out a man hadn’t been to Eton, he wasn’t sure why, but for some reason he thought less of him.

But it wasn’t always like this. Before Matthew Arnold turned up at Rugby in the 1840s, the Public Schools had a very poor reputation. They were notorious for a very narrow curriculum that concentrated almost exclusively on the classics, vicious bullying and vain attempts to keep order among their charges through sadistic flogging. As well as immorality.

I found these passages, describing the abysmally low standards in them in Andrina Stiles, Religion, Society and Reform 1800 1914 (London: Hodder & Stoughton 1995).

Some of the endowed schools had begun to take boarders quite early on. Rugby for instance, which had originally been founded in the sixteenth century as a free grammar school for local boys, evolved in this way into the 19th century public school. Conditions before 1840 in public schools left much to be desired. A narrow classical curriculum, poor housing and food, harsh discipline and a low moral tone characterised life there. Violence and bullying were common. By the middle of the century the situation was improving and public school values were changing, for several reasons. One of these was the arrival of Thomas Arnold at Rugby in 1829.

(p. 74).

Nevertheless there was still disquiet about the narrow curriculum of the public schools a generation later in 1861:

No Latin or Greek may make Mast Jack a dull boy, but Latin and Greek without anything else go far towards making him a very dullard. Parents are beginning to feel this and to ask whether a skinful of classical knowledge with a little birching thrown in for nothing is worth the two hundred a year the pay for a boy at Eton.

A Royal Commission under Lord Clarendon was appointed to examine the revenues, management and curriculum in the nine chief public schools. Its report in 1864 was more favourable than might have been expected. It agreed though that there was still an undue emphasis on the classics and added that the schools ‘are in different degrees too indulgent to idleness, or struggle ineffectually with it, and consequently send out a large proportion of men of idle habits and empty uncultivated minds’. A number of reforms were suggested and some of these, mostly organisational ones, were incorporated in the Public Schools Act of 1868. The effects were limited for the schools were not made subject to government inspection and each remained virtually independent. As for broadening the curriculum, little was done.

(p. 75).

But if standards in the public schools were low, those in the middle class private schools were potentially lethal.

Many parents wishing to protect their boys from the dangers of the public school, or not able to afford the fees to send them there, turned to private boarding schools. These varied widely in competence, were often quite small, and had a more liberal curriculum than the public or grammar schools. The pupils were usually better supervised and better housed than in the public schools, though this was not always the case and some private schools were very badly run, with a high death rate among the pupils from disease, malnutrition and general neglect.

(p. 76).

With this history, it’s amazing that the private sector still has the social cachet to demand respect, and old Etonians like David Cameron and Boris Johnson hold them up for emulation from the state sector. One of those two charmers declared that they’d like every school to be like Eton. This was in a speech promising further privatisation of state education. Well, every school probably could become like Eton, if it had the amount of money spent on it Eton has from the fees it charges elite parents. But as its the state sector, they get nowhere near the funding and resources they need and deserve. If we really want to create a strong state education system that provides a good schooling for everyone, then the myth of private school excellence has to be disproven and their privileged place removed even if the schools themselves aren’t abolished.

 

Nigel Farage Reveals Contempt for Royal Family to Ozzie Tories

August 13, 2019

Yesterday, the Groaniad reported that Nigel Farage had made some unpleasant, and quite possibly impolitic, comments about the royal family atthe Conservative Political Action Conference in Sydney. The Brexit party’s fuhrer spared the Queen his sneers, but went on to attack Prince Harry and Megan Markle for their ‘irrelevant’ social justice and environmental concerns, called the late Queen Mother a ‘slightly overweight gin drinker’. He then went on to say that he hoped the Queen would continue to live a long time to stop ‘Charlie boy’, as he called Prince Charles, becoming king, and that William would live forever to stop Harry ascending the throne. He also bewailed how Megan Markle changed Harry’s laddish behaviour. According to today’s I, page 9, the Fuhrage said

Terrifying! Here was Harry, here he was this young, brave, boisterous, all male, getting into trouble, turning up at stag parties inappropriately dressed, drinking too much and causing all kinds of mayhem. And now he’s met Megan Markle and it’s fallen off a cliff.

The I explained that when Fuhrage referred to him as being ‘inappropriately dressed’ at stag parties, he meant the time when Harry turned up at one dressed in Nazi uniform. According to the I, a spokesman for the man ‘Judge Dredd’ satirised as ‘Bilious Barrage’ claimed that the Groaniad had taken his comments out of context. But as Mike says in his article about this, it’s irrelevant whether Farage meant what he said or not. He was telling his right-wing audience what they wanted to hear: that he was their friend.

He was raising money from rich foreigners again.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/08/12/what-he-thinks-they-want-to-hear-farage-attacks-royals-in-speech-to-far-right-aussies/

Now I’m aware that some of the readers of this blog may well be republicans, who believe that the monarchy is a vestige of feudal privilege and that we would be better off with a proper democratic constitution and an elected presidency. I’m also aware that what Farage said at the conference would be unremarkable if it came from a member of the public or a journalist. A few years ago, before his career imploded due to plagiarism, Johan Hari wrote a very long article in either the Independent or Guardian attacking the royal family. A tranche of government material had been declassified and released to the national archives. These revealed that ministers and senior civil servants had been worried about Prince Charles writing letters to newspapers and various official bodies trying to influence government policy. He was, for example, very keen to stop the closure of the grammar schools. The officials found his interference a headache because the monarchy is supposed to be above politics. They are definitely not supposed to try to influence government policy.

The Tory press, including and especially the Heil, despise Charles. I can remember the Rothermere’s mighty organ claiming that that the Tories were discussing ways to ensure that the Crown passed directly from the Queen to William, completely bypassing Charles. The reason they cited for this was that Charles was too close to Laurens van der Post, the author of Testament to the Bushmen. Under van der Post’s influence, the Heil claimed, the future heir to the throne had become too New Age in his spiritual beliefs. He had indicated that he wanted to be known as ‘Defender of Faith’ when he ascended the throne, an inclusive title to cover all religions, rather than ‘Defender of the Faith’, meaning exclusively Christianity. As he would be the head of the Church of England, this would create a constitutional crisis. I wonder if the real reason was that Charles appeared a bit too left-wing, especially in his concern for the unemployed. And Charles’ office also spoke out against the decision by John Major’s government to close down Britain’s mining industry.

Hari was also scathing about the Queen Mother. He claimed that she was certainly no democrat, complaining that it was ‘so unnatural’ when she was a young woman. Ministers were also upset at the government apparently having to spend £1 million a year keeping an office open for her so she could get the results at Ascot. Private Eye has also described her as ‘greedy’ and criticised Charles for hypocrisy over his views on architecture. Charles caused outrage a little while ago by describing modern buildings as ‘monstrous carbuncles’. But the Prince himself was also employing the same type of architects to design similar buildings. They also attacked him for the colossal overpricing of his organic honey.

Now we live in a democracy, where you are allowed to criticise the government and the monarchy. One where people do, often. But what makes Farage’s comments unwise is that they come from a ruthlessly ambitious politician. Attacks on the royal family are bound to be controversial because they still have a central role in the country’s constitution. The Queen is the head of state, and the royal family act as this country’s ambassadors. They also have a politically unifying role. Some people may find it easier to respect a head of state like the Queen, who is above party politics. To many people the royal family also embody British history and tradition, and they are still regarded with respect by millions of British and commonwealth citizens. I dare say this is particularly true of Conservatives. I’ve a Conservative friend, who hates the Scum because, in his view, it has done nothing but run down the royal family. And looking at the wretched rag, I can’t say he’s wrong either. Nor is it alone – all of the papers run stories trying to create some controversy about the royal family. The latest of these are about Markle, and how she is apparently throwing her weight around and causing some kind of feud with the rest of the royals.

Farage’s piece of lese majeste Down Under is controversial and offensive because it comes from a politician, who clearly hopes one day to serve in government. If he did, it would surely create tensions between him and the Crown. It’s also impolitic, as even though the culture of deference is supposed to have gone, the constitutional importance of the monarchy means that any criticisms politicians have of the royal family or differences of opinion between them should be settled discreetly. Farage has shown himself to be incapable of maintaining a tactful silence on the matter.

Of course, what Farage really hates about Harry and Megan, along with Conservative rags like the Spectator, is that Harry has dared to be environmentally concerned, like his father. He’s also fallen behind Markle’s feminism, so obviously they despise him for that. And there’s also a nasty tone of racism there was well. They certainly wouldn’t have objected if he’d married a White American. But instead he married a woman of colour. Farage’s apparent view that Harry dressing up as a Nazi officer was just natural masculine hi-jinks shows just how seriously he takes the issue and the offence it caused. I’ve no problem with comedies spoofing the Nazis, like Mel Brooks’ The Producers or the BBC’s ‘Allo, ‘Allo. But the Nazis themselves were far from a joke, and people are quite right to be angry at those who think dressing up as them is a jolly jape. But Farage and his audience obviously don’t. Quite possibly the Conservatives he addressed are still pining for a White Australia policy. But in their environmentalism and their social concerns, Harry and Megan, as Mike says, are just showing themselves to be a modern couple. The monarchy also has to move with the times, whatever reactionaries like Farage like to think.

Farage’s comments aren’t just disrespectful to the royal family, they also show how he places his own political ambitions above them as an institution as well as showing his contempt for the genuinely liberal attitudes Harry and Megan have espoused. I hope they lose him votes with that part of the Conservative-voting public, who still revere the her Maj and the other royals above the sneers of press and media. 

 

Polish Activist Arrested for Insulting Fascists

June 25, 2019

Here’s a piece from today’s I for 25th July 2019, illustrating yet again the resistible rise of Fascism across Europe. On page 3 is a short piece about the arrest of a Polish activist for insulting Fascism at a nationalist demonstration. To make matters worse, one of the country’s politicos has defended the arrest. The article runs

An activist was charged with insulting the Polish nation for chanting “Down with Polish fascism!” at a Polish nationalist event in Przemysl, a town near the border with Ukraine. Patryk Jaki, of the ruling party, defended the arrest, saying “no person and no nation should be insulted. Nobody should be insulted as Fascists.”

I can understand why the Poles should be sensitive about nationalism, considering how for centuries they were divided up between the German, Austrian and Russian empires until the First World War. And then they were invaded by the Nazis and incorporated into the Reich in the Second, and after that a Soviet satellite until the Fall of Communism. But the protester’s arrest looks to me to be a classic example of Fascism and far right government. Further east, the Turkish government uses a law in that country forbidding the insulting of Turkish nationality to arrest and imprison those, who try to show that the Armenian Massacres were a terrible reality. And Polish nationalism with its racism, anti-Semitism and islamophobia has taken on all the trappings of Fascism. The ruling Law and Justice Party, for example, passed a rule banning any mention of Polish collaboration in the Holocaust. In fact the Poles and other Slav peoples especially shouldn’t tolerate Fascism because of their experience of genocide during the Third Reich. The Nazis considered that they and other, related peoples like Russians, Ukrainians, Belorussians, Czechs, Slovaks, and Serbs were subhuman and should be exterminated. Hitler himself said that he would wage a war of extermination against the Poles, and they were treated with horrific barbarity. As were the Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians in the areas of the Soviet Union the Nazis conquered, and the Serbs in the former Yugoslavia.

This country benefited immensely from the Free Poles, who joined us during the Second World War, helping to defend Britain and win Europe back for freedom and civilisation. The Polish airmen in the RAF, along with the boys from the grammar schools, shot down more Nazi aircraft than the public schoolboys, who were made so much of. And I understood that Poles still think well of us because we declared war on Nazi Germany in their support when Hitler invaded them.

The protester was quite right to condemn the nationalists as ‘Fascists’. They are. Just as the other European nationalist parties, including UKIP and the Brexit party in Britain, are also promoting Fascism. The jackboots are marching again across Europe, and it’s long past time they were stopped, whether in Poland, the Ukraine, France, Germany or Britain.

As for the Polish government, despite its increasing anti-Semitism, marked when they allowed the country’s Fascist to march alongside them in an event to commemorate their country’s liberation from the old empires, they’ve been hailed as ‘good friends of Israel’ by Stephen Pollard, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle. Because they buy Israel guns, bombs and other armaments. Polish Jewry is once again under threat, as David Rosenberg has pointed out many times on his blog, but they will get no help from Israel if the country can get a financial or other advantage from supporting their enemies in the Polish government. And its the same with other Jewish communities elsewhere in eastern Europe, in Ukraine and the Baltic States. Which shows you how hypocritical the Israeli state and the Jewish Chronicle are.

Down with Fascism anywhere and everywhere! And down with the politicians and hypocritical press, who defend it!

No Pasaran!

 

Chunky Mark on Toby Young’s Attendance at a Eugenics Conference

January 11, 2018

In this short clip, Chunky Mark, the artist taxi driver, expresses his absolute disgust at a report that Toby Young, the grotty right-wing hack Theresa May put on the regulatory board for the universities, attended a secret eugenics conference recently at University College London. What, he asks pointedly, does this say about the Tory party? He points out that Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Jo Johnson, Fraser Nelson and Andrew Neil all defended Young, despite knowing about his foul and dangerous views on this subject.

Up to this video, I was prepared to give Young the benefit of the doubt on eugenics. Yes, he’s an obnoxious, right-wing snob, who’s published pieces sneering at the working class, disabled people and a variety of left-wing issues and causes. This includes the Welsh. I can remember him appearing on one of the TV shows a few years ago describing how he had to sneak out the back way when he appeared on Welsh radio in Cardiff. Young had previously described the Welsh as ‘swarthy, stunted trolls’ or something similar, and one of the station’s listeners had decided that he wasn’t going to put up with it, and had come in to sort the wretched hack out. So Young was forced to scurry down the back stairs to avoid him and a good hiding.

I knew from the various articles on Young, including those put up by Mike over at Vox Political, that he had published a piece arguing for eugenics. This is the pseudoscientific doctrine that some people are biologically unfit, and to maintain the purity and fitness of the race should be prevented from breeding. It was a part of Nazi policy during the Third Reich, when recidivist criminals and the congenitally disabled were sterilised, in order to prevent them passing on their bad biological heritage. It was also the rationale behind the murder of the disabled under Aktion T4, in which the mentally handicapped were taken to special hospitals and gassed by Nazi doctors under the direction of the SS. The Nazis based much of their eugenics legislation on contemporary laws governing biological heredity and disability in America, which provided for the forcible sterilisation of those considered ‘unfit’. Indeed, the Nazis boasted that in this regard, they had not invented anything. Similar views were held by a number of people over this side of the Pond, where eugenics was, in the early part of the 20th century, one of the popular topics among the chattering classes. The Nazis’ crimes against humanity and their mass sterilisation and murder of the disabled, as well as their attempted genocide of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs and other ethnic groups they considered subhuman, were no doubt powerful influences that turned popular and elite opinion against eugenics. Nevertheless, the subject continued to survive amongst a group of supporters. The ‘societies and clubs’ section of Whitaker’s Almanac for 1987 includes the Francis Galton Society, named after Darwin’s cousin, who first promoted the idea, and which existed to promote eugenics.
I’d assumed, however, that when he published the article, Young may not have been entirely serious.

I was wrong.

Young strikes me as little more than a troll, adopting deliberately offensive views and language, in order to upset people. Sort of like Milo Yiannopolis, but heterosexual and without the Jewish heritage. I did wonder if he was one of those Tories, who admire Auberon Waugh, who used to publish similar articles in Private Eye and then the Torygraph sneering at the left, in what was seen by his admirers as some kind of wit. In fact, precious little of what Waugh seemed to me to be at all witty. It mostly seemed to be just abuse. I particularly remember his sneers at teachers in the Torygraph, which in retrospect just followed the Tory line of blaming teachers for everything wrong with British education while screaming loudly about progressive education, left-wing indoctrination and the need to bring back grammar schools. He also appeared on Wogan’s chat show, where he also spewed hate at the Greenham Common female peace protesters, decrying them as ‘lesbians’. Which wasn’t even the most original insult, as just about everyone on the right was claiming they were. Some may well have been, but certainly not all. Especially as some of the early news reports described how many of the women had children, whom they were missing terribly, and so presumably also male partners. I’d assumed Young had adopted eugenics as just another extreme, right-wing pose in order to cause the upset and anger that he appears to thrive on.

But it’s clearly not the case. If he attended this conference, then he really does believe it. Which makes him a positive danger. From the article as it appears in the video, it seems that the report comes from Private Eye, and Chunky Mark states that he can’t even read about some of the things that went on at the conference. But Young was there, along with Nazis and other horrors. As for what it says about the Tory party and its leadership, there always has been a current of extreme right-wing attitudes and policies within the Tory party, and it’s certainly been no barrier to advancement in the Tory ranks. Way back in the 1970s Thatcher’s mentor, Keith Joseph, caused outrage when he declared that unmarried mothers were a threat to ‘our stock’, using the language and attitudes of eugenics. And there has been a fringe of the Tory party that admires and has had links with the Fascist right. Way back in the 1980s one of the Libertarian groups within the Tory party held an annual dinner at which the guest of honour was the head of one of the death squads then exterminating left-wingers in Central America. One of the members of that group, if I recall correctly, was Paul Staines, the founder of the Guido Fawkes blog.

Young has since resigned from his position on the universities’ board, despite being loudly supported by Theresa May. His appointment was, in any case, a calculated insult to students. Young was put in because he favours the privatisation of education, as shown by his promotion of free schools. As for his other, obnoxious views, I’ve no doubt that they appeal to the type of grassroots Tory, including those on the backbenches, who regularly cause a scandal by blaming crime on Blacks and immigration, and rant on about how wonderful Enoch Powell was. At a time when students are worried about paying off tens of thousands in debts and tuition fees, Young and his grotesque opinions were a calculated insult. They showed the Tory faithful the absolute contempt the party really had for these pesky students and their concerns over the quality of the education they were receiving, and the determination of May’s government to continue privatising education and stamping out any trace of perceived left-wing bias, regardless of the wishes of students, lecturers and educationalists themselves. All done so that universities, like schools, would indoctrinate students with the required Tory view of history and politics, as demanded by Michael Gove, amongst others.

Young’s appointment was met with a barrage of complaints and opposition, leading to his resignation. It’s significant that he was not replaced by Theresa May, despite considerable pressure to do so. Some of this may have been weakness on her part. Young was supported by Gove and Johnson, and she may have been afraid that if she sacked Young, those two would move against her, just as they intrigued against Cameron. But it also shows that May, and the rest of the Tory front bench, really don’t see anything wrong with Young’s opinions, even when they include such an inflammatory, dangerous ideology as eugenics.

Chunky Mark ends his video by stating that they should all resign. He’s quite right. This is a brutal, murderous government anyway. It’s policies of stripping away workers rights, enforcing low pay, and zero hours contracts, have forced millions in work into poverty. At the same time, their expansion of the sanctions system have resulted in nearly a quarter of a million people relying on food banks for their next meal, and has led to the deaths of almost a thousand or so disabled people, deprived of benefits after being declared ‘fit for work’. Left-wing commenters like Mike, and the commenters on his and my blogs have called the deaths ‘the genocide of the disabled’, and suggested that it does indeed come from a conscious eugenics policy by the Tories, targeting the disabled for death. But done quietly, so as not to alarm the general public. After reading about Young’s very real support for eugenics, you could be forgiven for wondering if this isn’t, after all, the literal truth.

The Tories are a danger to the working people of Britain, and particularly to the poor and disabled. They should be removed as quickly as possible, and never let back into power.

Credo! Pat Mills on 40 Years of Thrillpower!

September 14, 2017

Pat Mills is one of the great creators of the British comics industry. In this video from 2000 AD on YouTube, he talks to host Tony Esmond about his career in the comics industry, politics and his determination to give readers working class heroes. The interview was at the 40 Years of Thrillpower convention earlier this year (2017).

Mills is best known as one of the creative forces who seriously upset the establishment with Action before going on to reoffend with 2000AD. Before then he started off writing for the 1970s children’s comics, like Corr! The experience of writing for them was not happy for him. He states that the people behind them had no particular interest in them and very much had a production-line mentality to their creation. He describes how one writer once asked him how many stories he could write in a day. When he said about one every two or three days, the other writer boasted that he wrote three in a day. And then went on to say, probably quite truthfully, that he was making more money than the prime minister. Mills states that the writers at IPC were able to do this because they wrote very much to a formula. He preferred the stories their competitors at DC Thompson produced. Although their comics were also stuck in the past, the stories were better crafted. He describes one strip about a man going around the country having adventures with a horse. As a concept, he says it wasn’t even at the level of afternoon television. But it was well done. The IPC comics, on the other hand, were soulless. It depressed him so much, that, when he and John Wagner, who also later went on to become one of the founders of 2000AD, were writing in a garden shed, he wrote all his scripts on a roll of wallpaper so they formed a continuous strip and he wouldn’t have to go back and read them all again.

British comics in this period were very much stuck in the past, even as British society changed. This was a time when the German experience of the war was appearing in the books of Sven Hassel, reflected in Action’s strip, Hellmann of Hammer Force. But yet Mills found it impossible to launch a strip whose hero was Black. This was to be a strip about a Black boxer. He was told that it wouldn’t work. People would not accept a Black hero. They’d accept a Black supporting character or friend. But as the central character, never. He also thought of introducing one about a Black football player, and that would have been even more controversial. There was a Black football player in one of the London clubs at the time, and he had been treated with racist abuse from the balconies.

Politics and satire have always been an important element of Mills’ work. He says that at one point he became dissatisfied writing for 2000AD, as the management were trying to shift the comic away from its traditional satirical stance, and this very much went against Mills’ own nature. He and Esmond discuss at one point Mills’ memory that, when they launched 2000AD, the management told him that they should imagine a future that they would actually live in. And now, he states, they’re living in it with Donald Trump’s presidency of the US, which Mills compares to the infamous Judge Cal. Cal was the mad Chief Judge in Judge Dredd, modelled on Caligula, who appointed his pet fish as a judge, called in the alien Kleggs to suppress any opposition in Mega City 1, and had another judge pickled. Perhaps we need to be very glad that NASA hasn’t made contact with intelligent aliens yet.

Mills remarks on how very many of the heroes of British literature, from Sherlock Holmes to John Buchan’s Hannay, have been members of the upper and upper middle classes. There are too many of them, and too few working class heroes. He’s been actively trying to redress this imbalance in his strips. It’s why Marshal Law, in his alter ego, used to be unemployed, but is now a hospital orderly. He’s not even a nurse.

He states that as he grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, he read many the authors that were around then, like Dennis Wheatley and John Buchan, all of whom were members of the upper classes. And with some of them, it was actually quite sinister. Buchan was a major propagandist for the First World War, in return for which he was rewarded with the governorship of Canada. And he did it very well. Later on in the video, in response to a question from the audience he remarks on how there is a very definite campaign in this country to suppress anything with an anti-war message. He was asked what the research was for his story in Charley’s War about the British invasion of Russia in 1918-19. He states that there were only two books he was able to get hold of at the time, but since then he got hold of a very good book, which is a much fuller description. This describes how the British officers sent in to overturn the Russian Revolution behaved like absolute animals. This episode has largely been airbrushed from British history. He contrasts with the British media’s refusal to publicise anti-war stories with that of our cousins across le manche. Attitudes there are much different, and Charley’s War, which ran in Battle and was about the experiences of a working-class Tommy in the First World War, is more popular in France even than Britain. This bias against anti-war stories is why you didn’t see Blackadder Goes Forth repeated in the centenary year of the War’s outbreak.

Mills is also critical of the way the indigenous mythology and legend of the British Isles has been suppressed in favour of myths from further south – Greece and Rome, and ancient Egypt. Mills’ background, like Kevin O’Neill, was Irish, and his family were very patriotic. He grew up knowing all about Michael Collins, and his middle name is Eamon after the first president of Eire, Eamon de Valera. Yet it wasn’t until he started researching the Irish, as well as the Scots and Welsh legends, that he learned about any of those stories, and was shocked. Why didn’t he know about the warpspasm – the ultra-berserker rage that transforms the Celtic hero Slaine as he goes into battle? He also talks about how, in legend, London was founded by the Trojans as New Troy, and briefly mentions his treatment of this in the story he is or was currently writing for the Slaine strip. He states he wanted to produce a barbarian strip that was set in this country, complete with its grey skies and rain.

Mills has a deep admiration for these Celtic legends, but remarks on how they differ considerably from the other mythological tales. They don’t share their structure. If you read the Norse tales or Beowulf, there’s a structure there. But the Irish – which he uses to include also the Scots and Welsh stories – read like they’re on acid. He’s particularly impressed with the Tain, otherwise known as the Tain Bo Cualnge, or in English, The Cattle Raid of Cooley, and recommends the translation by Kinsella. He’s also particularly interested in finding the bits that were suppressed by the Christian clergy who wrote them down in the Middle Ages. He gleefully quotes one clerical writer, who says that the stories contain much that is true, much that is false, some lies, and some devilish invention, and some which is only fit to be read by idiots. Yeah! he shouts, that’s me!

He has the same mischievous joy when telling how he came to be persuaded to write the Invasion strip, in which Britain was invaded by a thinly disguised Soviet Russia. The management asked him if he wanted to write it. He said he couldn’t get up much enthusiasm. They urged him to read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. So he worked his way as best he could through that. He still wasn’t enthusiastic. Then they asked him if he’d like to write a scene with Maggie Thatcher being shot by the Russians on the steps of St. Paul’s. His response: Yeahhh!

He also talks about how the brutal education he received at a school run by the De Lazare order inspired him to write the Nemesis the Warlock strip. The Terminators, and to a lesser extent Judge Dredd, were modelled on them. They were fanatical, and were quite sinister. He remarks that if you go on the internet you can find all sorts of tales about them.

He also talks about an abortive crossover story planned for Marshal Law and Batman. Marshal Law was a bitterly satirical, extremely violent and very funny strip published in the 1990s about a superhero in the devastated San Francisco of the early 21st century, who hates other superheroes. The superheroes in the strip were created for a Vietnam-like war in South America, and have come back disillusioned and traumatized by the conflict. As a result, they form violent street gangs, and Marshal Law is recruited by the police to clean them up. It was a very dark comic that relentlessly parodied superhero comics from a left-wing, feminist perspective. When DC announced they wanted to make the crossover, Mills thought that they weren’t really serious. But they were. So he and O’Neill decided that for the cover, they’d have the Marshal standing on a pile of bodies of the different versions of Batman from all across the alternative Earths of the Multiverse. Then DC’s management changed, and their story policy did too, and the idea was dropped.

Mills also discusses the various ways comics have been launched, only to be merged with other comics. With 2000AD the comic was merged with Tornado and then Starlord. It was a very cynical policy, as from the first these comics were intended to fail, but by merging them with 2000AD and other comics, the management presented it as giving their readers something new, even though it wasn’t, and they felt it was an intrusion. He also responds to another question about which comic he felt folded before its time. The obvious answer to this was Action, which upset the establishment so much that it was banned, before being sanitized and relaunched. Mills said that they knew the comic was doomed. The new editor, who was given control of it had previously edited – and this is almost unbelievable – Bobo the Rabbit – and so didn’t know what he was doing. Mills said that before then they had skated over what was just about unacceptable and knew just how far you could go. Because this new editor hadn’t had that experience, he didn’t, and the comic folded.

The comic that he really feels shouldn’t have folded, and could still have carried on today, was Battle. As for which comic he’d now be working on instead of 2000AD, if it had proved more successful, these were the girls’ comics, like Misty. They vastly outsold the boys’ comics, but ultimately folded because ‘the boys took over the sandbox’. The video ends with his answer to the question, ‘What is his favourite strip, that he wrote for?’ He thinks for a moment, before replying Nemesis the Warlock to massive cheering.

It’s a very interesting perspective on the British comics industry by one of its masters. Regarding Slaine, Mills has said before in his introduction to the Titan book, Slaine the King: Special Edition, that the achievements of our ancestors, the Celtic peoples, has been rubbed out of history in favour of the ‘stern but fair proto-Thatcherite Romans, who built the roads and made the chariots run on time’. I think part of the problem is that the legends Mills draws on – that of Gaelic Ireland and Scotland, and Brythonic Wales – are those of the Celtic peoples, who were defeated by the expanding Anglo-Normans, who made a concerted attempt to suppress their culture. As for the very frank admiration for the Romans, that partly comes from the classics-based education offered by the British public schools.

As for the very staid attitude of British comics in the 1970s, this was a problem. It was actually a period of crisis, when many of the comics were folding because they hadn’t moved with the times. Mills’ idea for a strip about a Black boxer is clearly modelled on Mohammed Ali, the great African-American athlete of the ring. Everyone knew Ali, and he was universally admired, even by kids like me, who didn’t understand or know much about the racial politics behind Ali’s superstardom. Ali said that he wanted to give his people a hero.

Even so, the idea of having a sympathetic Black supporting character was an improvement. Roger Sabin, in his book Comics, Comix and Graphic Novels: A History of Comic Art, published by Phaidon, notes just how racist British comics were in the 1960s. This was very controversial, as Black people naturally objected. Sabin cites one strip, in which the White hero uses two racial slurs for Blacks, and another abusive term for Gypsies. And showing the type of strips that appeared in the 1920s, there’s an illustration which shows the Black characters from a strip in one of D.C. Thompson’s comics, either the Dandy or Beano at the time. This was The Colony N*gs. Only they don’t use an asterisk to try to disguise the term.

As for his experiences with the monks running his school, unfortunately he’s not the only one, who suffered in this way. I’ve met a number of former Roman Catholics, who were turned off religion, and in some cases became bitterly against it, because of their experience being taught by monks and nuns. Several of Britain’s most beloved broadcasters from the Emerald Isle were also turned off religion because of this. Dave Allen, who regularly poked fun at religion, and particularly the Roman Catholic church, said that he became an atheist because of the cruelty and the way the priests tried to scare their young charges at his old school. And that mainstay of British radio, Terry Wogan, in a series he presented about Ireland and his life there, said exactly the same about the effect the hard attitude of the teachers at his old Roman Catholic school had on him.

The Roman Catholic church does not have the monopoly on the abuse of children, and I’ve heard some horrifying tales of the brutal behavior of some of the teaching staff – and prefects – in some of the British grammar schools. Dad has told me about the very harsh regime of some of the teachers at his old school – not Roman Catholic – in Somerset. He describes the teachers as sadists, and has a story about how one of the teachers, when one of the boys couldn’t answer a question, threw the lad out of window. Brutality seems to have been built into the British educational system, leaving mental scars and bitter memories.

I’ve very mixed feelings about the British force sent against revolutionary Russia. Perhaps if we’d succeeded, the forty million Soviet citizens butchered by Stalin would have been able to live out their lives, and the peoples of the Russian Federation free of the shadow of the KGB and gulags.

But that’s with hindsight. That’s not why British troops were sent in. The Bolsheviks were anti-democratic and determined to suppress all other parties and factions except their own, even when these were Socialist or anarchist, like the Mensheviks, the Trudoviks, the Socialist Revolutionaries the Left Communists, Anarcho-Communists and syndicalists. But we sent in troops because Britain and the rest of the capitalist world felt threatened by the emergence of a working class, aggressively socialist state. Britain had many commercial contacts with pre-Revolutionary Russia, and Lenin had argued in his pamphlet Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism that global capitalism depended on European imperial expansion. These nations enslaved and exploited developing nations like Russia. A socialist revolution in these countries threatened international capitalism, as it was here that the capitalist system was weakest. Hence the Bolshevik slogan, ‘Smash capitalism at its weakest link!’

Ordinary Russians, let alone the conquered nations of the Russian Empire, were oppressed and exploited. If you want an idea how much, and what ordinary Russians endured and struggled to overthrow, read Lionel Kochan’s book, The Russian Revolution, published by Paladin. This was the grotty system British troops were sent in to restore.

On a more positive note, one member of the audience in the video thanks Mills for encouraging him to read. The man says he was dyslexic, but it was the comics he consumed as a child that got him reading. He is now a teacher, who specializes in helping children with reading difficulties, and uses comics in his teaching.

This is really inspiring. Martin Barks in Comics, Ideology and Power, discusses how comics have always been regarded with suspicion and contempt by the establishment. They were regarded as rubbish, at best. At worst they were seen as positively subversive. I can remember how one of the text books we used in English at school included a piece of journalism roundly condemning comics as rubbish literature with bad artwork. And this was reprinted in the 1980s! My mother, on the other hand, was in favour of comics because they did get children reading, and used to encourage the parents of the children she taught to buy them when they asked her advice on how they could get their children to read if they wouldn’t read books. This shows how far comics have come, so that they are now respectable and admired.