Posts Tagged ‘James Callaghan: An Underrated Prime Minister?’

The Glaring Difference Between James Callaghan and Priti Patel on the Treatment of Civil Servants

August 13, 2022

This is only a minor point in difference of character, but it says much in favour of Callaghan and Old Labour against Priti Patel and her supporters. According to Kevin Hickson’s chapter on Callaghan’s political ideology in the book on the former Prime Minister edited by him and Jasper Miles, Callaghan: An Underrated Prime Minister?, the former Labour PM believed in treating civil servants politely. He writes on page 31

‘In a select committee hearing in 1985, Austin Mitchell asked Callaghan how ministers should behave towards civil servants. Callaghan said that they must be loyal, polite and courteous.’ Mitchell replied that it sounded like ‘a Boy Scout code’, to which Callaghan replied with ‘What’s wrong with the Boy Scouts?’

Well, absolutely nothing, though it never appealed to me. But this is a lesson certain contemporary members of the Tory party should have learned long ago. Like Priti Patel, who has been accused of bullying her civil service staff.

Callaghan was working class Old Labour, while Patel is solidly middle class and privately educated. She obviously feels that she is superior to everyone else and entitled to treat them with abuse and disrespect.

I suggest she looks to members of an older generation of politicos, like Callagah and learn some manners.

Grammar Schools Did Not Benefit the Working Class; They Excluded Them

August 13, 2022

I got the book I ordered on James Callaghan’s period as Prime Minister, James Callaghan: An Underrated Prime Minister, edited by Kevin Hickson and Jasper Miles through the post yesterday. It’s a collection of papers on various aspects of Callaghan’s government. I’ll put up a piece introducing it later. I’ve only been dipping into it, reading the odd chapter.

The defeat of Callaghan’s government at the 1979 general election and the victory of Maggie Thatcher ushered in a period of Tory rule that lasted until 1997 when Blair got into power. But he was also a Thatcherite, and in some ways it was a change of face, not a change of direction. Callaghan’s defeat meant the end of the old social democratic consensus, but as recent events are showing, elements of this consensus are still very much relevant and desperately needed. Such as the return of the public utilities to public ownership.

One of the issues the Tory leadership candidates have been promising is the return of the grammar schools. Well, bog-eyed Nicky Morgan promised this a few years ago, and the policy was a failure then. There’s a considerable nostalgia for them in certain parts of the British electorate that still resents the establishment of comprehensive school. For these people there’s a simple difference between the two. Comprehensive schools are nasty failures showing everything wrong with progressive attitudes to education, while the grammar schools with their tradition values were so much better. The Tories have been pushing this line since 1969 or so. The line is that through scholarships and the 11+, working class children who went there had a far better education than they now have in comprehensive schools. But this is a very rosy view of the reality, which was that the grammar schools were solidly middle class institutions from which the working class were largely excluded.

Jane Martin, one of the contributors to the book on Callaghan, makes this point in her chapter ‘Education: Politics And Policy-Making with the Intellectuals of ‘Old’ Labour’. She writes

‘Government reports and sociological surveys soon evidenced the reality behind secondary education for all. It was obvious that middle-class offspring dominated grammar intakes, owing to advantages imbued by family background, and social class remained a major influence on educational achievement. From 1946, the secondary modern schools and bottom streams of the grammar schools were full of working class children who had largely negative experiences. Defenders of selective education argued only a small number of children had the academic ability to attend grammar schools, but research showed that coaching and intensive tuition, used by the middle classes, improved test scores. Added to which, successes secured by fifteen- and sixteen-year old secondary modern school candidates for the new ‘O’ Level examinations exposed the fallibility of a selection process that made it acceptable for around 80 per cent of mainly working-class children to ‘fail’.’ (p. 166).

This is what the Tories are really promising when the start the nonsense of going back to the grammar schools: the exclusion of the working class from a superior set of school intended to cater for the middle classes. Even Thatcher’s education minister, Rhodes Boyson, recognised this. When he was a teacher in a secondary modern he put some of his pupils forward for ‘O’ levels, because he knew they could pass them.

Sunak and Truss are once again pushing for policies designed to keep the working class down, all based on nostalgia for a previous education system that was seriously flawed, but has been promoted as far better than the comprehensive system. But the fact that they’re now talking about how wonderful grammar schools were is also a tacit admission that their academy schools are also a failure.

There is no alternative to keeping comprehensive schools. What is needed is not their abolition, but their better funding and a real drive to improve educational standards. Not more class snobbery disguised as educational meritocracy.

Book Re-Evaluating Jim Callaghan as a Skillful Politician

August 7, 2022

One of the other books featured in the Postscript catalogue for this month is James Callaghan: An Underrated Prime Minister?, edited by Kevin Hickson and Jasper Milne (Biteback: 2020). Callaghan’s tenure of No. 10 has almost become something of a byword for political failure, and is regularly trotted about the Tories as an example of how terrible the Labour party were and are and how everything was a mess in the 1970s until the glorious assumption of the throne, sorry, election victory of Margaret Thatcher. Now it seems Callaghan and his leadership of this country is being evaluated and a more positive view is emerging. The blurb for this runs

‘Since his defeat by Margaret Thatcher in 1979, James Callaghan’s premiership has been widely regarded as a period of failure and decline. This collection of essays by politicians, journalists, advisors and academics offers a reappraisal. Focusing on his handling of party management, economic policy, industrial relations, Northern Ireland and Europe, it reveals a skilled tactician balancing conflicting interests in one of the most turbulent periods of British politics.’

This looks interesting. Very interesting. But it shouldn’t be alone.

What we really want as well is a reappraisal of Maggie Thatcher which sums her policies up as the massive failure they are.

That’d cause Tory heads to explode.