Posts Tagged ‘Volkswagen’

C.A.R. Crosland on the Anti-Democratic Nature of the British Public School System

June 28, 2016

I found this description of the profoundly anti-democratic nature of the British public school system, and its pernicious effect in creating class inequality and blocking genuine modernisation and social, political and technological improvements in British society in C.A.R. Crosland’s The Conservative Enemy: A Programme of Radical Reform for the 1960s (London: Jonathan Cape 1962). Despite the fact that this was written well over fifty years ago, it’s still, unfortunately, very true and is amply demonstrated by the current Tory government, headed as it is by the old Etonian limpet, David Cameron.

The public schools offend not only against the ‘weak’, let alone the ‘strong’, ideal of equal opportunity; they offend even more against any ideal of social cohesion or democracy. This privileged stratum of education, the exclusive preserve of the wealthier classes, socially and physically segregated from the state educational system, is the greatest single cause of stratification and class-consciousness in Britain.

It is not, of course, the only cause. The effect of being for so long a great imperial power, and the psychology of discipline, hierarchy, and master-subject relationships which this induced; the persistence (and indeed continual reinforcement ) of an hereditary aristocracy; the absurd flummery surrounding the Monarchy; the obsessive snobbery (even amongst a section of the intelligentsia) about birth and titles; the deep-seated differences in accent; the national propensity to kowtow and manoeuvre for precedence – these would produce strong feelings of social deference and superiority whatever the educational system.

But the school system is the greatest divisive influence. It is no accident that Britain, the only advanced country with a national private elite system of education, should also be the most class-ridden country. The Scandinavian countries, the least class-ridden, have no significant private sector; such few private schools as exist are mainly for backward children. In France, while many private primary schools exist, middle-class children normally go tot he public lycee at the secondary stage. In Germany there are half a dozen would-be-English public schools. But only an insignificant minority even of wealthier children attend them, and the carry no national prestige; an Old Salem boy may care as passionately about his alma mater as an Old Etonian, but his prospective employer or bank manager, let along the rest of the population, could not care less. In the United States, it is true, there are not only a large number of non-exclusive private Catholic schools, but a growing number of ‘smart’ upper-class private schools which, being often academically superior to the state schools, confer an advantage in getting into the best universities. But disturbing as this trend is, these schools still do not constitute a nation-wide elite system with the divisive social influence of the English public schools; nor, given the anti-elitist psychology of the American people, are they ever likely to.

No historically-minded champion of the public schools could possibly deny that schools can have either an integrative or divisive social influence. For it was indeed the historic function of the public schools in the nineteenth century to assimilate the sons of the new and self-made middle class into the ranks of the hereditary ruling class; and even today they fulfil an integrative role for the sons of self-made men. Similarly the American high school, whatever else may be said about it, has brilliantly fulfilled the function of assimilating ethnically diverse groups into a common national culture. (As a matter of fact, most of what else is said about it by English critics is false. They always assume that its lower educational standards are due to the fact of its being ‘comprehensive’, whereas in reality they are due, as the quite different Swedish experience demonstrates, to certain specifically American factors – the attachment to ‘life-adjustment’ education, the automatic ‘social promotion by age groups and the lack of grading by ability, the preference for vocational courses, the acute shortage of teachers, the low quality of many of the teachers, and so on.) A school system can either increase or diminish social disparities; and the British public schools manifestly increase them.

And they do not even, today, provide efficient leadership. It is again no coincidence that Britain, the only country with a national elite system of private boarding schools, from which its leadership is still disproportionately drawn, should be falling so badly behind other democratic countries in the achievement of widely-accepted national goals – behind western Europe in economic performance, Scandinavia in social welfare and urban planning, the United States in technology and innovation. In the nineteenth century the public schools, disagreeable as they may have been, did at least train a leadership perfectly fitted to the needs of a growing empire. For this training, their characteristic features – the boarding, the hierarchical discipline, the emphasis on games, the carefully-nurtured sense of innate superiority – were precisely apt. They are not, however, (although now considerably modified), equally apt for a mid-twentieth-century world full of computers, Communism, trade unions and African nationalism. This is hardly surprising. The quality of leadership is not, after all, an absolute and unvarying quality. It is specific to particular situations; and what makes for good leadership in one situation may make for bad leadership in another. The public schools today, although providing ‘a good education’ in a rather narrow sense, do not generate the right type of leadership for a democratic, scientific, welfare world.

Almost every emphasis which they inculcate – on manners and ‘character’, on the all-rounder and the amateur, on the insular, the orthodox and the traditional – is wrong from the point of view of contemporary goals. it is this which partly explains those national characteristics which are at long last becoming the subject of widespread hostile comment: the reluctance to innovate, the refusal to grapple with problems, the lack of pride in maximum professional achievement, and the cult of the gifted amateur, of the smooth and rounded Wykehamist who can turn his hand to anything with a natural, effortless superiority, and with no need to stoop to the humourless professionalism of Huns or Yanks. Fundamentally this reflects a failure of English elite education to achieve the highest of all education ideals: that of fostering inquiry, dissent, and critical intellectuality. A country in which the most damning insult which Lord Salisbury could fling at Mr Iain Macleod was that he is ‘too clever by half’ is not a good prospect in the modern world. Some of our upper classes are as anti-intellectual as the Know-Nothings.

But this attitude might be attributable to aristocracy, not to the schools themselves. Unfortunately, parallel faults can found in those fields which traditional represent the culmination of the British elite system of education: the Civil Service, and Oxford and Cambridge. Beautifully adapted to its pristine task of administering a going concern without excessive interference, the British Civil Service remains notable for its honesty, industry and administrative competence. But it has failed to adapt to a world which requires the long rather than the short view, active planning rather than passive administration, novel rather than traditional ideas. Thus the Treasury has been astonishingly behind France, Holland and Sweden in adopting long-term economic planning. The Foreign Office was ponderously slow to wake up to the existence of new and revolutionary post-war situations in the Middle East and elsewhere. The Ministries of Health and National Insurance have introduced new social policies without even a research unit to investigate their probably effects. The Ministry of Education takes decisions for or against different types of school without conducting any research into their different consequences, and has little idea of how many teachers we need to carry out its own policies. The typical Whitehall attitude of mind-thorough and precise, but pedantic and unadventurous – is in part a reflection of the Oxford and Cambridge background from which most Civil Servants come. But are Oxford and Cambridge really as good as Harvard and the Sorbonne! Their farcical performance over the introduction of sociology – a lamentable compound of hidebound traditionalism and facetious superciliousness – makes one doubt it….

The need is not for more public-school-type education for the top few per cent of the population. Indeed, the whole notion of an elite-type education is inappropriate in Britain today. For both our greatest need and our largest untapped resource now lie below the level of the cleverest few per cent – although disastrously many even of these are still slipping through the net. From the viewpoint of efficiency as well as equality, we need less concentration on an educational elite and more on the average standard of attainment.

The case against the public schools, then, has grown stronger even in the last few years. First, the type of leadership which they provide is seen to be less and less appropriate to the national goals of the 1960s. Secondly, as we grasp the fact that intelligence is partly an acquired characteristic, we see even more clearly that the whole notion of an exclusive and privileged education is inconsistent with equality of opportunity. Thirdly, despite the gradual process of democratic reform in other directions, the socially divisive influence which these schools exert show disturbingly little sign of abating. (pp.174-8).

This is clearly a dated piece, as Britain was, until we left the EU, something like the fifth largest economy in the world, and England has led the world in the number of patents that come out of our universities, quite apart from the more obvious points such as the collapse of Communism. But as this government’s policies amply demonstrate, the wealth is increasingly concentrate in a very narrow circle of the extremely rich, at the expense of everyone else. And while Britain may be scientifically immensely innovative, those innovations have tended to be developed elsewhere. Maglev transport is a case in point. The idea of trains powered by magnetic levitation was the idea of the British scientist, Laithwaite. There were serious experiments in its application by British Rail, until this was axed during the cost-cutting of the early 1970s. Research was then taken over by the Germans. Which partly explains why Volkswagen’s slogan, Vorsprung durch Technik – something like ‘Advance through Technology’, isn’t translated into English.

In short, the main function of the British public schools is to lock the upper classes in power, and the rest of the country in a quasi-feudal class servility. And one of its products, Boris Johnson, looks like he’s going to be the next PM.

Oh, couldn’t we have at last at least one leader, who went to a comprehensive!

Advertisements

From 2010: Private Eye on Internships

January 21, 2015

One of the most malign business practices to have emerged over recent years is the replacement of proper, paid work by internships. Many of the major companies now exploit the unpaid work of young hopefuls desperate for their a step on the ladder to a real job. Five years ago Private Eye published this article criticising it in their edition for the 10th – 23rd December 2010. Not only does it describe the abuses of the internship system itself, it also makes a case that it is actually illegal. The article runs:

Minimum Wage
Internshits…

As youth unemployment hits a record 1m and school leavers and graduates are desperate to find work, UK employers are only too happy to help so long as they work for nothing.

In recent months, some of corporate Britain’s biggest names, including Tesco, Volkswagen, Morrisons and Harrods, have adopted David Cameron’s Big Society approach to voluntary work and advertised unpaid internships.

Most involve clerical work dressed up as “exciting opportunities” for the inexperienced. Tasks include making the tea, filing, entering data, picking up the boss’s lunch and in some cases, as documented by the site Interns Anonymous, scrubbing toilets and sweeping floors. Clothing chain Urban Outfitters expects its interns to work for nine months or not bother applying. In the search for “efficiency savings”, even the Home Office and NHS are now getting in on the act while cutting back on paid staff.

However, the scam may soon be stymied because it appears that under national minimum wage legislation most of this labour exploitation could be illegal. As one employment lawyer says: “The law is far from watertight on this, but its follows the same principle as the duck rule. If it looks like work, and feels like work, it is work, not volunteering or training. And these interns should be paid [the] minimum wage.”

After a successful legal action by a member of the broadcasting and film union BECTU, the National Union of Journalists has taken up the cause too. In October it launched a campaign to help interns claim thousands of pounds in back pay from publishers. Its lawyers are reviewing nine cases they hope to use to test the minimum wage law.

Not surprisingly, the mainstream press has been quiet on the matter. As one editor on the Guardian put it: “We’re in a slightly tricky situation here in that my understanding is that we don’t pay them either.”

Insiders at the New Statesman confirm that although editor Jason Cowley earns a handsome six-figure salary, around a third of his staff are unpaid interns. A review of their jobs board confirms that their soon–to-be launched sister mag, Charity Insight, plans to staff itself from a rolling stock of unpaid interns with no guaranteed job at the end.

After hearing of the NUJ campaign, Girish Gupta, a former intern at the Independent, decided to claim back what he believed to be fair wages for stories the paper had published. In a rather curt email, deputy editor Adam Leigh concluded that Gupta’s request was “particularly idiotic”. After Gupta referred his case to the Department for Business work and pay helpline, another email, this time from the Independent’s legal department, mused that if Gupta should win “the fall out in the heart of the economy would be enormous, not least in the heart of government where unpaid internships are part of the structure”.

So there it is from the Indie’s legal department: a massive part of the economy and the structure of government is based on the exploitation of the unpaid labour of the aspiring unemployed workers. They’re being exploited and betrayed, not just by government and ordinary employers, but also by the very left-wing press, who should be defending them against it. And all so that the people at the very top can claim their vastly inflated salaries.

Colonel La Roque and the Croix de Feu: French Fascism’s Jeremy Clarkson?

May 2, 2014

Jeremy Clarkson

Jeremy Clarkson: Right-wing loudmouth presenter of Top Gear

Colonel La Roque

Colonel de la Roque: French Fascist Leader, who held Paramilitary Car Rallies. The Petrolhead’s Generalissimo.

Jeremy Clarkson is in the news again this morning for once again making or rather, appearing to make a racist comment. It’s from an out-take of Top Gear in which he seems to be using a derogatory expression for Blacks while quoting a nursery rhyme. He has denied he used the term, and states it is word he despises. I dare say he’s right. Unfortunately, he has form for racist comments. Only a year or so ago, he, the Hamster and James May were in trouble for making racist comments on Top Gear about Mexicans, including describing Mexican food as ‘tasting of sick’. Some of Clarkson’s stunts on Top Gear, apart from the comments for which he has been officially criticised and chastened, also to my mind smack of racism and a need to sneer at despised or low status ethnic groups. For example, on one edition of Top Gear, where the boys went round Romania, Clarkson thought it was amusing to spoof the local’s style of dress. Or rather, he decided to spoof the local Roma people’s dress sense. Noting that the men tended to all wear a particular style of hat, he decided to drive through a Roman village wearing one, while saying something suitably sarcastic about it to camera. Clarkson has little patience with the Left. He describes Guardian readers and people with similar Right-on political views as ‘yoghurt-knitters’. My guess is that he and the producers probably regarded this stunt as an amusingly cheeky bit of ‘political incorrectness’. Offensive, but not actually racist.

The problem with that attitude is that the Roma are a severely persecuted people in many parts of eastern Europe. The Nazis were determined to exterminate them, along with Jews and Slavs. There was a scandal a few years ago in the Czech Republic when an ostensibly democratic Czech MP declared that Gypsies would go either to Canada or to the Death Camps. It was also revealed that the Czech medical service had a deliberate policy of sterilising Roma women to make sure they did not outbreed ethnic Czechs. The Australian journalist, Vitaly Vitaliev, who was born in Russia, describes the extreme poverty and utter destitution of many Gypsy communities in Romania in his travel book on eastern Europe, Borders Up. And you can find the same descriptions of utter poverty and despair in plenty of other travel books about Romania. Faced with the reality of severe state persecution and genocidal hatred against the Roma by the host populations, Clarkson’s drive through a Roman village sneering at their fashion sense seems less like a piece of cheeky fun, and something far darker and sinister. It could reasonably be compared to sneering at the fashion sense of the South African Black poor during Apartheid, or Jews during the pogroms. Unlike Blacks and Jews, the persecution of the Roma isn’t quite as notorious, and so Clarkson and his producers could get away with their tasteless stunt.

One of the French Fascist groups in the 1930s also shared Clarkson and co.’s love of cars. This was the Croix de Feu under Colonel Francois La Roque. the Croix de Feu was originally a veterans’ association for soldiers, who had won the Croix de Guerre for their bravery in combat. It was taken over by La Roque, and turned into a political organisation that denounced parliamentary weakness and corruption, the Communist threat and the need for an authoritarian social order. He also demanded the establishment of a corporative state into which the workers would be incorporated on the model of Fascist Italy. Like the Nazis with the SA and SS, and Mussolini with the Blackshirts and Squadristi, the Croix also had a paramilitary wing. These were the dispos, from the French word for ‘ready’, disponible. These used to go off to remote destinations, following secret order to train in readiness for ‘le jour j’ (‘D Day’), and l’heure H’ (‘H Hour’), when they would begin physically fighting a Communist uprising. With a number of other extreme Right-wing groups, they launched a march on the French Chamber of Deputies on February 6, 1934, in emulation of Mussolini’s ‘March on Rome’. In 1933 and 1934 they set up a series of militaristic car rallies. Which makes them all sound rather like a Fascist candidate for coverage by Top Gear, rather like Clarkson in jackboots with a stormtrooper’s helmet.

Clarkson would not, however, have got on quite so well in Musso’s Italy. The Duce deliberately did not try to launch an affordable family car, like the Nazis planned to do in Germany with Volkswagen. He thought the comfort of motoring would make Italians soft, and so stop them from achieving their imperial destiny as a feared military power. He also declared that he wasn’t going to improve peasant housing for much the same reason, and that he would have liked to have planted more woodland to make the Italian climate colder and harsher, again to toughen Italians up so they could conquer the world. Or at least, the Balkans and North Africa. Whatever else Musso was, he definitely wasn’t a ‘yoghurt knitter’.

Actually, I really don’t think Clarkson is a racist, although he has made it very clear that he wishes to stop immigration. When he actually stops making tasteless comments about foreigners, he can actually be very, very good. A few years ago, he presented a series in which he went round various European countries, Jeremy Clarkson Meets the Neighbours. This was actually far from the car-crash exhibit of rampant chauvinism and xenophobia you might expect. He actually likes France, despite his various comments about the French. In his last programme he went round Italy, where he made admiring comments about Italian style and cars. He was also impressed by Italian sobriety. After going out with the Italian navy in their patrols looking for illegal immigrants, he remarked on the way that Italian matelots drank coffee along with the rest of the population, rather than getting drunk on booze. An Italian authority he interviewed about this told him that it was part of the Italian desire to make a ‘bella figura’ – a good figure. You don’t cut a suitable dash by getting drunk, and so Italians simply don’t drink as much alcohol as Brits, or don’t do it to get drunk. He concluded the programme by saying that Europe wasn’t like America, and shouldn’t try to be. It was better.

So, he isn’t quite the racist loudmouth he appears to be, though he is indeed a Right-wing loudmouth. He just makes racist comments as a crude form of schoolboy humour to wind people up. It’s all part of his image as the motoring world’s answer to Bernard Manning. Only sometimes it goes much too far, and strays into the genuinely racist. He’s been making offensively Right-wing comments for nearly three decades now. He was taken off Top Gear in the 1990s after making sexist comments about a particular brand of car snapping knicker elastic. His popularity and the allure of the Clarkson persona was too great, however, and he came back. When he wants to be, he can be a good presenter. It’s just that it’s about time he knew and kept to the limits of what is acceptable.