Posts Tagged ‘National Curriculum’

Oh No! ‘I’s’ Simon Kelner Now Criticises Chief Rabbi for Attack on Labour

November 27, 2019

I don’t really have any time for Simon Kelner. If I recall correctly, he started out as a reporter on the mid-market Tory tabloids before moving to the I. He’s very much a Tory, and has been one of those pushing the anti-Semitism smears against Labour in that newspaper’s pages. He has frequently cited his own Jewishness as some kind of proof of his assertion that Corbyn’s Labour is anti-Semitic, even though there are very many other Jews, who know that Corbyn isn’t and never has been, and could use the same argument to back up their beliefs. But it seems that yesterday’s remarks in the Times by Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis repeating the smears were a step too far even for him. In today’s edition, Kelner has written an article, ‘The Chief Rabbi is wrong to preach about Labour’ criticising Mirvis and his comments. He still seems to be trying to peddle the line that Labour is anti-Semitic and Corbyn is deeply distasteful to Jews. But he realises that if Corbyn and Labour do come to power, they aren’t going to persecute the Jewish community.

He begins the article by quoting Mirvis’ own remark that  by convention, the Chief Rabbi should be above party politics, commenting that

it’s safe to say that the spiritual leader of Britain’s Jews understands that his treatise on anti-Semitism in the Labour party – on the very day that Labour launched its faith and race pledges – was unprecedented, unconstitutional and potentially divisive.

He then goes on to talk about Mirvis’ better qualities – he isn’t a self-publicist, has encouraged equality for women in orthodox synagogues, supported LGBT students and promoted interfaith understanding. He’s addressed a Church of England synod, and an invited an imam to talk to his congregation while he was a rabbi in Finchley. Mirvis declared in his article that challenging racism was above party politics, before going to talk about how the overwhelming majority of Jewish Brits were afraid of Corbyn and Labour getting into power.

Kelner continues

In fairness, I don’t think they are the only community gripped by anxiety about such an outcome, but his point is that Labour’s failure to deal properly with the anti-Semitism in its ranks reveals a deeper and wider threat to the fabric of society. “Be in no doubt,” he says, portentously, “the very soul of our nation is at stake.”

Has Rabbi Mirvis overstepped the mark with such a politically incendiary contribution? If politicians don’t “do God”, should men of God do politics? It depends entirely on whether you agree with the Rabbi’s viewpoint, and, in this, and as a Jewish person myself, I find it hard to get behind him.

Yes, the Labour hierarchy has, at the very least, been found wanting in the way it has dealt with accusations of anti-Semitism within the party. It has done too little, too late, and this has been extremely bad politics on Labour’s part. It deserves to be castigated for this,. But does it amount to an existential threat to British Jewry, as Rabbi Mirvis warns?

I would suggest not. “What will become of Jews and Judaism in Britain if the Labour Party forms the next government?” he asks. Well, nothing much, would be my answer. There will be no pogroms in north London, and having Jeremy Corbyn in No 10 will not immediately legitimise anti-Semitic sentiment and unleash a new hatred against Jews. There may be many reasons why you wouldn’t vote for Labour on 12 December, but the fear of Jews being drive to the edge of society should not be one of them.

I understand why many Jews of my acquaintance feel a distaste for Corbyn’s brand of politics, and the Chief Rabbi is, of course, entitled to his opinion. Given his position of privilege and influence, however, I rather wish he had heeded his own words and kept it to himself.

There are a number of issues to be raised here. Firstly, his statement that Labour hasn’t done enough to tackle anti-Semitism is a flat-out lie. Labour has just about bent over backwards to tackle the issue. They’ve ordered inquiries and suspended and expelled members. Indeed, they’ve conceded too much. The real reason for the anti-Semitism allegations has always been political. The Israel lobby are frightened of Corbyn, because he wants justice for the Palestinians and an end to Israeli apartheid and their slow-motion dispossession and expulsion. It is definitely not because he’s anti-Jewish. Indeed, his record in tackling anti-Semitism and racism is exemplary. For the Tories, Lib Dems and Blairites in Labour, the anti-Semitism allegations were nothing but a useful tool to force him and his supporters out. Hence the entirely fake allegations and kangaroo trials of decent people like Mike, Jackie Walker, Tony Greenstein, Marc Wadsworth, Ken Livingstone, Chris Williamson and many, many others. The Thatcherites – and this include the Lib Dems and the Blairites – simply want to get rid of Corbyn and his supporters because they want to restore the welfare state, revitalise the NHS and public services by ending privatisation and bringing them back into public ownership, and give working people proper rights at work, decent wages and strong trade unions to defend them.

The various communities Kelner claims are also afraid of Labour coming to power are, I would say, those of rich industrialists, newspaper proprietors, editors and right-wing journalists, afraid of this attack on their wealth, power and profiteering.

Kelner has also shown that he’s afraid that by opening his mouth, Mirvis has opened the door to other religious leaders making party political statements. And the Tories are particularly vulnerable to this. They’ve had numerous very public disputes with the Church of England and several archbishops ever since Dr. Robert Runcie and the Church published a report in the 1980s about how Thatcher her policies were causing massive poverty in Britain. Clearly Kelner’s afraid that Mirvis is in danger of setting a precedent for more religious criticism of Thatcherism.

And Mirvis himself is a prime target for such criticism, as he’s a friend of Boris Johnson who congratulated him on becoming Prime Minister.

He also seems to be worried about how Mirvis’ sputterings about racism look compared to Labour. Mirvis made his remarks on the day Labour published its pledges on race and faith, promising fresh legislation to tackle racism and revising the school curriculum so it covered the British Empire, colonialism and slavery.  Corbyn himself is a determined anti-racist activist, who was arrested protesting against apartheid outside the South African embassy.

And what has Mirvis done?

Well, zip, as far as I can make out. And worse than zip. Tony Greenstein has put up an article today revealing that Mirvis joined the former Chief Rabbi when the latter took a party of British Jews to join the March of the Flags in Jerusalem a few years ago. This is the occasion when Israeli bovver-boys parade through the Muslim section of the Holy City waving Israeli flags, vandalising Palestinian homes and property, chanting ‘Death to the Arabs’. He also supported Norman Tebbit’s infamous ‘Cricket Test’. Tebbit, a former Cabinet minister under Thatcher, had a simple rule for determining who was properly British: they should support England at Cricket. If Blacks and Asians didn’t, they weren’t British. And Mirvis apparently agreed with him.

See: http://azvsas.blogspot.com/2019/11/the-hypocrisy-of-ephraim-mirviss.html

And it also appears that Kelner is worried about the consequences for the Jewish establishment – which includes not just the Chief Rabbinate, but also the Board of Deputies of British, Jewish Leadership Council and so on – if Corbyn does come to power. Because he knows full well that Corbyn isn’t an anti-Semite and won’t launch pogroms. British Jews will carry on with their own business and lives untouched and unmolested. And that’s a danger to the Chief Rabbinate and other official organs of the Jewish community, because their scaremongering against Labour will be shown to be mistaken at best. At worst it will reveal that the Jewish establishment is politically motivated and biased, and its accusations against Labour are unfounded and profoundly deceitful.

And this, it could be argued, would be far more damaging to the Jewish establishment than any threat Labour supposedly represents.

Labour Planning New Anti-Racist Legislation, Aim to Make Equalities Commission Independent of Government

November 26, 2019

Here’s another piece of news from today’s I, for 26th November 2019, which may have some bearing on Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’ latest smear against Jeremy Corbyn. According to the paper, Labour plan to introduce a raft of legislation to tackle racism, including monitoring the wage gap in ethnic minorities. But what seems to have alarmed the Tories and their supporters, John Woodcock and Ian Austin, is that they have raised questions about the political independence of the Equalities of Human Rights Commission, and plan to make it truly independent of government appointment. The article by Jane Merrick, runs

Labour has provoked controversy by questioning the independence of the equality and race relations organisation which is investigating the party over anti-Semitism.

Jeremy Corbyn will launch Labour’s Race and Faith Manifesto alongside Diane Abbott and Dawn Butler today with policies to tackle discrimination and under-representation of black and ethnic minorities in government, the workplace and schools. But the manifesto contains a move to make the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the body conducting an inquiry into Labour, “truly independent”. This reform would “ensure it can support people to effectively challenge any discrimination they may face”, the party said.

A Labour government would also change the national curriculum so that colonialism, slavery and the role of the British empire were taught in schools.

Pay gap reporting,currently limited to gender, would be extended to black and ethnic minority workers in businesses of 250 employees or more, while a race equality unit would be set up in the Treasury to review spending announcements for their impact on these communities.

But the measure to reform the EHRC proved controversial last night. The body started an investigation into allegations of anti-Semitism in Labour earlier this year. The organisation’s commissioners are all experts in equality and the law and are appointed by the government.

The former Labour MP John Woodcock said: “The decent people in Labour need to disown this appalling attempt to smear the EHRC or accept that they are complicit in it.”

The former MP Ian Austin, who left the Labour party over anti-Semitism, said: “No one is going to listen to a lecture about racism from Jeremy Corbyn when Labour is the only part in history to be subjected to a full inquiry by the EHRC.”

Ms Butler, shadow Equalities Secretary, said: “Labour’s Race and Faith Manifesto takes us beyond what we’ve previously committed in hos we’ll radically shift policies to ensure the economic, social or structural barriers faced are addressed. It’s time for real change.”

Labour would also end what it calls “rip-off” charges for passports, visas and other tests from the Home Office.

Both Woodcock and Austin are Blairites, and the real reason for their departure from the party probably has less to do with anti-Semitism and more from their determination to unseat Corbyn and carry on with Blair’s Thatcherite campaign of privatision, including that of the NHS, and the destruction of the welfare state for corporate profit.

As for the independence of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, we’ve seen how the allegations of anti-Semitism against Corbyn and his supporters personally, and the Labour party generally are very much politically motivated. Especially as Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, who spewed more smears in the Times today, is a friend of Benjamin Netanyahu and Boris Johnson. Which, like the rest of the  Tory press, has had nothing to say about the islamophobe Tommy Robinson urging everyone to vote Tory. Strange that.

Frankly, I don’t believe the EHRC can be trusted in the hands of a Tory government. They will abuse it to smear their enemies. Considering how serious the issue of racism is, it is quite right that it should be independent.

Jeremy Corbyn in Bristol: It Is Important Children Understand the History of the Empire

October 14, 2018

This is a short clip, of just over a minute, of Jeremy Corbyn at Bristol’s City Hall, put on YouTube on Thursday by the Daily Fail. Corbyn speaks on the need to educated children about Britain’s role in the slave trade and the British Empire, and mentions Bristol as one of the cities involved in the trade, like Liverpool, and some of whose merchants became rich from it. He states that it’s important people understand the treatment of Black people across the Empire and the contribution they made to it. He says that Windrush has highlighted this need, and the making sure all our children understand the history of the Empire will make our communities stronger. The video shows him descending the ramp leading up to the Council House’s entrance, and inside standing in a dock watching a video on the Empire, or slavery.

The blurb for the piece runs:

Jeremy Corbyn today unveiled proposals to ensure schoolchildren are taught about the legacy of Britain’s role in slavery and colonialism. The move comes on the same day as Labour faces accusations that it is ‘putting ideology first and children second’ with its plans to impose a new rule book on all schools. The National Curriculum already recommends that children learn about the slave trade, the British Empire and colonies in America. Mr Corbyn said that ‘in the light of the Windrush scandal’ it is ‘more important now than ever’ that children learn ‘the role and legacy of the British Empire, colonisation and slavery’. Pictured top right, a drawing showing a slave ship and bottom right, immigrants arriving on the Empire Windrush in 1948.

Thangam Debonnaire, the Blairite MP for Bristol West, also got into the I on a related issue. She had stated at a council meeting that the statue of Colston in the centre of Bristol should be taken down. Colston was a Bristol slave trader, who spent most of his life actually in Mortlake in the London area. He used some of the profits he made from his slaving to do charities in Bristol, including Colston Girls school. Redcliffe School, an Anglican faith school in Bristol, which Mike and I attended, was also endowed by Colston. Every year there is a Colston Day service at which a select group of pupils are given a Colston bun. The big concert hall in the city centre is also named after him.

He’s obviously a very controversial figure, and the Black community has been demanding since the 1990s to have the statue of him taken down. Debonnaire has added her voice to the campaign, saying that we shouldn’t commemorate those who have oppressed us.

Mark Horton, a professor of archaeology at Bristol University, was also on the local news programme for the Bristol area, Points West, on Thursday as well, talking about the statue, the debt Bristol owes to Africa and the need for museums here on slavery or Africa. When asked about Colston’s statue, he made the point that it wasn’t even a very good statue. It’s not actually very old, dating from the late Victorian period. He felt that instead there should be a plaque explaining Colston’s role in the enslavement of Africa’s people, and the statue should be packed in a crate in the City Museum.

He stated that if we wanted our children to be world citizens, we should also have a museum dedicated to slavery and Africa, like Liverpool’s Museum of slavery. David Garmston, the co-host of the news programme, said that Bristol already had a gallery on slavery at the M Shed here in Bristol. Horton agreed, but said that it was a small one. He then referred to the exhibition at the City Museum back in the 1990s, entitled ‘A Respectable Trade’, which went on at the same time as the TV series of the same name, based on the novel by Philippa Gregory. This had a huge number of people attending. Mark said that he had worked in Africa, and had seen for himself the damage imperialism had done, and a museum to Africa was the least we could do.

Listening to him, it struck me that what was really needed was for the Empire and Commonwealth Museum to be revived and brought back to Bristol. I did voluntary work in the slavery archives of that museum from the 1990 to the early 2000s. It was a private museum housed in one of the engine sheds in Bristol’s Temple Meads station. And it did a good job of representing the peoples and cultures of the British Commonwealth, including marginalized indigenous peoples like the Australian aborigines. Unfortunately, in the early part of this century the Museum was offered the premises of the Commonwealth Institute in London. They accepted and went off to the capital. The Museum failed, and the last I heard its former director, Dr. Gareth Griffiths, was being investigated for illegally selling off the Museum’s exhibits. He claimed he was only doing so as the trustees hadn’t given him enough money to keep it running. In my opinion, the Museum should never have been moved from Bristol. If it had still remained here, I’m sure it would still have been running, and would have been a major part of Bristol heritage sector.

I’ve got mixed feelings about these proposals. I’ve no objection to a museum of slavery in Bristol. Liverpool has one, and other cities around the world also have them. Roughly at the same time Bristol was mounting its ‘Respectable Trade’ exhibition, Nantes was also mounting a similar one on its history as France’s main slaving port, called ‘Les Annees du Memoir’. The slave fort at Elmina in Ghana, one of the main areas from which western ships collected their human cargo, also has an exhibition on its part in the slave trade. However, I feel that every care needs to be taken to prevent such exhibitions being used to inculcate White guilt, to express the attitude that White Bristolians are somehow indelibly and forever guilty because of what their ancestors did.

And there are grave problems with any museum of slavery which does not include the wider background to the European transatlantic slave trade. Slavery has existed in various forms across the world since antiquity. The Arabs also conducted a trade in Black slaves from Africa. They were driven across the Sahara into the North Africa states, and sometimes beyond. During the Middle Ages, they were imported into Muslim Spain. The Arabs also exported them across the Indian Ocean to what is now India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as well as Arabia. Indigenous African peoples were also involved in the trade. One of the chief slaving states in West Africa was Dahomey. In East Africa, in what is now Kenya, Uganda and Malawi, the slaving peoples included the Swahili and Yao. The Europeans didn’t, as a rule, enslave Africans directly themselves. They bought them off other Africans, who could also make immense profits from them. Duke Ephraim, one of the kings of Dahomey, had an income of 300,000 pounds a year in the 1820s, which was larger than that of many English dukes.

After the British banned the slave trade and then slavery themselves, they launched a campaign against it across the globe. the east African countries that became Uganda, Kenya, Malawi and Rhodesia were invaded and conquered as they were centres of the Arab slave trade and the British wanted to prevent them from exporting their human cargo to British India. In some parts of Africa, slavery lingered into the early years of the 20th century because those countries weren’t conquered by the British. Morocco continued importing slaves from Africa south of the Sahara until c. 1911 because the British prevented the other European countries from invading. At the same time, North African Arab pirates preyed on and enslaved White Europeans until Algeria was invaded and conquered by the French. It is estimated that 1 1/2 million Europeans were enslaved over the centuries in this way.

Slavery also existed in Indian society, and the British were responsible for trying to suppress that also in the 19th century. Then Indians, and also the Chinese, were also virtually enslaved too in the infamous ‘Coolie Trade’ in indentured Indian servants, who were imported into the British Caribbean and elsewhere, to replace the Black workers, who had been freed. The Indian and Chinese workers were technically free, but were bound to their masters and worked in appalling conditions that were actually worse than those endured by the former Black slaves.

The history of slavery is complex. It is not simply a case of White westerners preying on people of colour, and I feel strongly that any museum set up to show the history of this infamous trade should show that.

The Tories’ Use of ‘Red Scares’ in Teaching

September 18, 2013

privatisaOne tactic that Conservatives have frequently used against the teaching profession is to create ‘Red Scares’ about ‘loony left’ political indoctrination in schools. This generally takes the form of one or more of the Right-wing newspapers publishing a supposed expose of how the teachers in a particular area are attempting to indoctrinate their vulnerable charges with radical Left, anti-racist or gay or feminist propaganda. Under Thatcher in the 1980s there was a controversy over the inclusion of Peace Studies in the curriculum in some schools. The Conservatives also passed the notorious Clause 28, which attempted to stop schools from promoting homosexuality. In one of her speeches, Mrs Thatcher also attacked ‘anti-racist mathematics’ introduced by ‘Fabians’ and ‘champagne socialists’. The Express ran a story about teachers in Yorkshire teaching explicitly Communist propaganda. The Evening Post in Bristol followed a similar line about a Communist pamphlet that had been circulated amongst the pupils by staff in one of the city’s schools. Most notoriously, teachers in Lambeth and Brent in London were supposed to have altered the nursery rhyme ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’ to ‘Ba Ba Green Sheep’ to remove the rhyme’s racist content. It’s been revealed since as an urban legend, though I’ve met a number of people, who came from the boroughs, who remember being taught it. These stories then get expanded into an attack on teachers as a whole. From being separate incidents in particular areas, they are then presented as being representative of all of the profession.

It has also been used to attack the funding and control of education by local councils. In the 1970s schools were financed and controlled by the Local Education Authority, which were also responsible for maintaining standards. Under successive Conservative administrations, their role has been radically reduced. This has partly been done as part of the Conservatives’ ideological commitment to the free market. The idea has been that if schools become independent from local authority control, and are able to control their own budgets, competition between schools will result in higher standards. They also claimed it would give parents greater choice in education by allowing them a variety of different schools from which to choose. It has also been promoted as a way of freeing schools from the influence of ‘loony left’ local government officers intent on promoting their ideological agenda in education.

Now some of these fears aren’t unreasonable. Before the introduction of the National Curriculum the subjects taught and the materials used could differ greatly between schools. This could be difficult for children moving between schools, such as when they moved house. Educational standards in some schools could be low due to the extremely radical political views of the staff. The most notorious of these was a school in London where the staff subscribed to an extreme form of the view that children should be encouraged to learn only what they want to learn in their own time. In this school, children simply weren’t taught at all, but encouraged to go and play under the view that this would develop their creativity. When someone told one of the teaching staff that the pupils there couldn’t read, he remarked ‘Well, neither could they in the Middle Ages, but they built cathedrals.’ Eventually the scandal became so great that there was an official inquiry and the teachers dismissed, never to teach schoolchildren again. It was partly due to this and similar, less extreme cases that the Conservatives introduced the National Curriculum. The question of how much children should be taught about sex and at what age is also a very good, and extremely important question, especially as children are becoming increasingly exposed to explicitly sexual material at younger and younger ages. In some areas, the Thatcherite Conservatives have lost the debate. Many schools now run projects for Black History week in October, as a way of correcting what they see as the White bias in the history curriculum and tackling low educational performance amongst many Black pupils. More traditional Conservatives have complained that Clause 28 has for some time been a dead letter. As Cameron himself has now backed gay marriage, it is unlikely that it will be revived although the issue has caused sharp division with his party.

It is not true, however, that teachers as a whole are intent on using their position to indoctrinate, rather than educate, their students. Indeed, current legislation explicitly prevents them from doing so. The law states that they may not promote a particular political ideology or religion, except in faith schools. If the teacher’s own religious or political views are raised during teaching in class, they cannot present their views as objective fact. They may only say that they personally believe them.

In any case, from my experience most teachers aren’t members of the hard Left. They include people with a wide range of very different views across the political spectrum. Some are Left-wing, others Conservative, some Liberal, and many aren’t terribly interested in politics at all. Most teachers have entered the profession, not because they see it as a platform for advancing a particular ideology or cause, but simply because they want to stand in front of a blackboard and teach their subject or subjects. Privately they have their own beliefs, and may, and often are, concerned about government policies and the way this affects their job and the educational achievements of their pupils. In front of their class, however, the vast majority of them are rightly very careful about what they say.

The question of whether Thatcher’s reforms have really benefited the educational system, and provided parents with genuine choice is a separate issue, and one which I hope to tackle later. In this blog post I merely want to rebut the use of scare tactics over radical teachers by the Conservatives to attack the teaching profession as a whole, and promote their own policies of an increased workload, reduction of pay and conditions, and privatisation. With a very few, notable exception, teachers simply want to teach – Maths, English, science, whatever. They aren’t interested in turning the next generation of schoolchildren into wild-eyed Che Guevara-style revolutionaries, intent on destroying the bourgeois order. Unfortunately, it is all too often ignored. I’m aware that the examples I’ve used have come from thirty years ago back in Maggie Thatcher’s administration. These were the most extreme instances of the tactic, which I particularly remember. Nevertheless, it is still being used, both here and across the Atlantic. I’ve seen it used in Conservative blogs against teachers in America and Canada. I’ve no doubt that if the Conservatives meet with further opposition from the teachers and their unions, it will be used once more against them over here. That this image of teachers is largely untrue and unrepresentative of them as a profession really needs to be remembered and brought to public attention, the next time the Mail or the Express runs a story about ‘Loony Left’ teachers pushing Communism or trying to turn them all gay.