This piece is intended to be a response to a recent article published by self-proclaimed Socialist who was formerly a South Yorkshire resident – hereafter referred to as ‘Doncaster Man’.
It is probably the case the only subject on which men believe they are well informed is themselves and they are therefore given to talk at length on the matter, scarily even without notes! However, following the precedent Doncaster Man created in his article, in this response I fear it is necessary for me to stray into offering a soupçon of personal information.
While Doncaster Man prefers a BMW my car is a 2001 Fiat Punto and, after 69 years, I am migrating from Surrey since I can no longer afford to live here. Having voted for three different parties over the years I like to think I am blessed with the objectivity to consider political issues on their individual merits (admittedly voting Green has proved to be an aberration and, in future, reading the Ts&Cs might be a sensible course of action). Whether such posturing entitles me to claim to be apolitical I am not sure but in my more arrogant self-obsessed moments (of which there are many) my wish would be to be termed an active member of the Commonsense Party. Such an apolitical position allows me to eschew public pronouncements on how liberal or compassionate I am or how much dosh I donate to charities in the hope of being awarded a gong that might, in turn, spawn public adulation and some useful PR – that is to say, in the round, the whole gamut of self-righteousness. It follows that I am no fan of virtue signalling and its attendant adjectives such as ‘genuinely, ‘truly’, ‘honestly’ etc.
Bearing in mind my claimed apolitical background I do not subscribe to the view that fairness etc is the sole preserve of the Left. At the risk of blowing my own kazoo allow me to confess that, since 1995 at some personal cost, my best endeavours have been devoted to helping a particular section of our community. That ‘cost’ results from a disinclination to charge a fee for my efforts and I am now running my third loss-making company; indeed, so experienced am I in commercial incompetence, the title of my public talks or presentations is generally ‘How To Run a Loss Making Company’. Of course a lack of ruthlessness in raising invoices is only part of the loss making recipe – the other component is who one decides to partner in a venture and, in my experience, the seminal message is this: Do not trust anyone, in particular those who you consider to be a friend.
At the risk of revealing too much about me, it might be relevant to this debate to dwell briefly on the issue of reading material. Doncaster Man offers a range of worthy reads such as “To Kill A Mockingbird”, “The Merchant of Venice” and “Othello” which are all beyond my comprehension particularly Shakespeare; however, having seen Gregory Peck in the Mockingbird film my ignorance is not total. As a lazy reader I either don’t bother or choose material that is likely to be both thought provoking and pacy. Two recent reads from Quentin Letts output have fulfilled those criteria: “50 People Who Buggered Up Britain” [now 55 I believe] and “Bog Standard Britain”. At the risk of sounding hypocritical or pretentious the message here is that we should read books across a wide spectrum of opinions and beliefs.
A Take On Socialism
This is my personal take on Socialism; that being so please do not tell others since it is tiresome holding a minority view. Doncaster Man is correct in suggesting that it is almost impossible to keep politics out of our lives. With agreement on that fundamental I am sure he will welcome some thoughts on socialism from a political amateur as I am merely following his stated precept that there is “a whole world I could openly state my beliefs to”. We might benefit from some clarification on his declaration that, as a teacher, he has been obliged to be “neutral in public for many years”. For example: Do the classroom or a one-on-one or extra mural activities or tutorial count as private or public? Does the choice of reading material by a teacher not influence the pupil? So, plenty of Shakespeare but no Quentin Letts might lead students down a single track of opinion; most Editors will confess that sins of omission are as great as those of commission.
Such a line of thought brings me to another worrisome comment Doncaster Man has made: “I was I’m from Doncaster you see, where socialism is ingrained in you from birth”. On reflection, it also sadly myopic since the good folk of Doncaster are being denied the chance to see the other side of life’s coin as well as being deprived of the opportunity to challenge the evidence. In stating that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” did Ralph Waldo Emerson succinctly identify one of the problems of inherited unchallenged ideas?
Bearing in mind the chequered history of the Left in power North of Watford it is something of a surprise that few seem to remember the detrimental impact of the Left’s holding of unfettered power in the North East. So, let’s not forget that two icons of the Left namely “Mr Newcastle“ T Dan Smith and Andrew Cunningham were sent to jail. With absolute power corrupting absolutely why do we doggedly follow local political ‘traditions’? Should such situations not encourage any open-minded citizen to ask questions? Apparently not and Doncaster Man’s mantra continues apace “I’ve always voted Labour”. That mantra, sadly, cascades down to future generations who continue to accept rather than challenge the status quo.
It is probably the case that in the context of the ‘sins of the father’ the progeny can either rebel or slavishly follow the lifestyle choices of their forebear. In the former’s case there are many examples of the rich and/or privileged turning to Socialism (eg, the mega rich Tony Blair, Tam Dalyell – the 11th Baronet and George Orwell). As for the latter here is an example from The Captain – The Life and Times of Simon Raven of how a son can mirror the father:
On William Rees-Mogg
“Intensely ambitious, prodigiously erudite, deeply reactionary (at the age of fifteen he was seriously advocating slavery as a cure for unemployment), Rees-Mogg also had a sly wit, as Simon discovered towards the end of his second quarter. In order to test people’s credulity and, if possible, discourage them from the ‘mortal sin’ of onanism, he put it about that masturbation caused syphilis. Simon was among those taken in, and until a friend disabused him, desisted from a practice he had repeated almost daily since his first, joyous emission the previous October.”
Theresa May’s suggestion that the Tories were “the nasty party” offered the Left an open goal for the espousal of judgmental bigotry on the Conservative Party which the latter has gleefully and assiduously exploited for many a year. It is widely known that the Tories are motivated by money whereas the Left hold the moral high ground through their sharing and caring philosophy. But wait, what are we sharing in order to provide the care? Well it’s the Taxpayer dosh of course although, as part of the political lobotomising PR process, the Left is always careful to talk of ‘Government money’. The follow-on perception is that, being the Government, there’s plenty of money sloshing around and, on the rare occasion that the cash cow has no milk, the nation can always borrow some more.
Such thinking overlooks the need to create money in the first place in order to achieve all these vote winning sharing caring ideas – the World does not owe us a living and we may have to accept that, yet again, our citizens might suffer gravely from a shortage of lettuces. As I understand it, in principle, the Tories like to have the money in the bank before it is spent which presents a challenge: Raising money is not popular (remember the Boston Tea Party?). So, the Left is often the winner in a contest where on the one hand money comes up with the ration truck as a divine right while on the other we might be asked to dip into our pockets. But wait again….could it not be argued that it is caring and sharing to agree to tighten our belts when necessary? Is not making a personal sacrifice more caring than simply referring the problem back to the Government who can in turn pass the problem on to future generations? Against the this background Doncaster Man tells us that he preaches “the politics of people, not profit” which, albeit a worthy intention, might seem slightly hollow since without profit there is no progress as Deng Xiaoping of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) learnt as far back as 1982.
It is an axiom perhaps to own that my self-confessed amateur status in the arena of political philosophies means that little of my time has been devoted to pouring over relevant books or tracts. Neither Das Kapital nor The Venezuelan Guide to Running a Successful Economy has crossed my desk. That being so I am reliant on perceptions and, as they are currently framed, that leads me to the nub of my concerns about the baseline thinking of the Left; one possible interpretation/perception might be:
Somewhere, somehow, someone is better off than I am and that should not be allowed
If my interpretation is anywhere near the mark this depressing conclusion might logically follow: Such a Lowest Common Denominator (LCD) approach is inevitably a dragging down process that blunts the sword of aspiration and has a deleterious impact on social mobility. That being so a more motivational baseline might be:
Somewhere, somehow, someone is WORSE off than I am and that should not be allowed
Doncaster Man says that he “genuinely [ugh] recoil in horror when I witness racism from government” while embracing Brexit in the same context. Wearing my apolitical hat, I must ask why being a Brexiteer is synonymous with racism? The glib or careless use of such appellations does not help the cause of reasoned debate; equally counter-productive is the exploitation of deliberately emotive words like ‘crashing out’. Most of us accept the need, for example, to: Expunge racism from society; eliminate poverty; banish homophobia; improve Human Rights; maintain or improve a minimum wage; offer a living standards Benefits system; achieve sexual equality; ensure that Health & Safety Laws protect our citizens as far as is humanly possible. Such acceptance generally crosses all political boundaries and is not the preserve of the sharing caring liberal Left, which is still publicly occupying the moral high ground. After all it was none other than Winston Churchill in 1911, who introduced a limited form of unemployment insurance and the first “labour exchanges,” It has to be admitted that, at the time, Winston was a Liberal!
Evidence that society collectively cares about the issues of racism, homophobia etc exists in the Law. The UK has passed Acts that address the attendant challenges. Those Laws, inevitably, are far from perfect and require constant monitoring and amendment which, in fairness, seems to be happening. A more worrying area might be the challenge of social mobility; indeed, some might argue that social mobility is society’s greatest challenge. Other than LCD attempts to introduce Quota systems (ugh!), I am not aware of any Laws that address, practically, the social mobility conundrum.
It is hard to determine a silver bullet for the improvement of social mobility. There are doubtless more but some factors that militate against progress might include:
- Accident of birth – inheriting dogma but not inheriting any money being but one option!
- Parental commitment or lack of the same
Not wishing to commit to writing a book allow me briefly to focus on Education with the caveat that my thoughts embrace ‘equality of opportunity’ -the seminal point for a successful society must surely lie in that aspiration. Within the field of education, teachers can play a vital role in developing students’ ambitions where it is justifiable (ie, society is a pyramid not all of us have the credentials to get to the top although I find it depressing that more pupils want to be taught leadership in preference to learning a trade or studying for a profession).
In talking of education it is likely that my profound ignorance of the topic will shine through; that being so please accept that much of this section is based on perceptions. In theory the UK has an advanced education system underscored by the visionary caring Tory – Rab Butler – who introduced Secondary School Education for all via the 1944 Education Act (yes even in war-torn Britain the Tories took a long term view!). However since then, successive Governments have either tinkered with the system or made fundamental changes, a particular example being the social engineering whims of Tony Crosland and Shirley Williams.
It is accepted that the introduction of the Comprehensive system was predicated on the laudable ‘equality of opportunity’ principle but some might hold the view that it merely created a LCD approach to our children’s futures. Further, it may not have taken account of the reality that we are not all the same – some children relish learning, love school and look to a profession while others hate the experience, can’t wait to escape and would rather be learning a practical trade. Why not go down the trade route after all today’s plumber earns more dosh than I ever did? Society needs to row away from hankering after a sexy job title that offers a perception of status; while many Bankers rejoice in being a Vice President it is not necessarily the case that it attracts a higher income rather it is a means of appealing to their social vanity in lieu of a pay rise. Thus far, these thoughts on education have been publicly well rehearsed over many years and need not be dwelt on.
In the interests of balance it might be appropriate to consider other societal factors that have influenced the education system since 1944. I guess the bottom line is that our society has changed in many ways. For example:
- We rarely talk of a privilege or earning a right
- Discipline and ROTE became unacceptable activities – perish the thought that a child should learn the basics. Mention of ROTE opens the door to offering a vignette from Radio 4 some years ago. A Professor of History stated that she did not regard learning dates as relevant and further opined that she wanted students “to use their imagination”. She offered as an example: ‘Imagine you are at the Battle of Hastings’. Without being too fanciful a child, unaware of when cars or clocks were invented, might have innocently kicked off the essay with: “I went to bed early and set the alarm for 6 o’clock so that I would have time for a fried breakfast and could also avoid any traffic. After breakfast I loaded my bow and arrows in the Mini and headed for Hastings”. Good grief how can one study history without first developing some idea of its timeline? How can we ‘do’ arithmetic without knowing the Tables?
- Competition was (and still is?) frowned upon (a Swindon school even banned the annual egg and spoon race)
- Some teachers showed inclination to be a friend of the pupils by adopting first name appellations. Children need and welcome boundaries and anyway want to choose their own friends
- Lessons changed from serried ranks of tables to hollow squares with the ‘dominant’ holding forth and the remainder keeping a low profile
- We whinged about class sizes (in a visit to a small PRC Town I visited a school where the class size was 100 pupils in serried ranks and they all spoke good English)
- Blackboards were exchanged for greenboards then whiteboards and now PCs
- Do too many parents lack involvement or interest in their progeny’s education and regard schools as a baby sitting facility? Posed as a question rather than risk upsetting thousands of parents.
- Changes to the curriculum that, in my view, do not help the educational cause although I am far to scared to itemise them here!
- Rites of passage have been cast aside. Today for example, once out of their cots, unfettered opinionated children clamber over pub bar stools – not for them the loneliness of the long distant car park and a bottle of Tizer with plain crisps (the only choice then). I still remember my first legal pint of beer with absolute clarity after 58 years. Are we depriving the young of something to look forward to?
Some public figures bemoan the fact that not attending a Grammar School had diminished their life chances; Lord John Prescott being but one example. Jaguar loving Lord John has not done too badly – ennobled and prosperous why does he complain? Indeed all credit to him in overcoming that initial perceived diminishment; he found other routes – Ruskin College and politics to achieve something. Rather than moaning he might say ‘there is always a Plan B, look what I achieved’. Society is full of successful late developers. Consider as an example a 4* Star General of recent times who failed his O Levels (Not O not A) and successfully undertook remedial education to attain the required entry standard. In my view he was the most outstanding Senior Officer of his day but, perhaps of equal importance, he is now respected as a thinker and author. Perhaps a combination of more resilience, optimism, faith and aspiration might persuade those who feel diminished to think more positively about their life chances. Bearing in mind that combination and accepting that attitudes can motivate or de-motivate, let us return to the young.
“If I define, I exclude” said President Juan Peron, the man millions in Argentina still revere or hate. Such a thought might also be worth bearing in mind when considering our children’s futures; our remit is to stimulate their aspirations so that their full potential can be realised rather than straight jacketing them with superimposed definitions. It seems to me that Peron espoused a more appropriate motivator than this wet offering from Sally Collier, one time Head of Ofqual: “All our kids are brilliant”. Lord save us – how can all be brilliant? How de-motivating is it for the truly brilliant to observe that the accolade of brilliance arrives on the Ration Truck? So, ‘oh goodie let’s give everyone a prize’ is not, in my view, the right approach.
As with many of my advancing years I pour over the Obituaries and my take on a possible running theme is that so many successful people went to Grammar Schools and/or served in the Armed Forces (National Service and Regular). It may be wrong to draw a tenable conclusion that both of those areas have stimulated social mobility. Education should be one of the rocks of social mobility yet, here we go again, the Labour has returned like a Griffon Vulture to the LCD battle with a proposal to outlaw Independent Schools. Although the resultant financial burden of moving C8% of the pupil population into the public sector would be a bitter pill for the Taxpayer to swallow, the proposal raises some worries in relation to social mobility and libertarianism.
Freedom of choice is a privilege we tend to take for granted and therefore probably undervalue. Many parents willingly make sacrifices for their children’s sake whether it is scrimping and saving to pay school fees or buying a more expensive house in a catchment area for a well regarded school. Of course all of us would like an equal society with an education system that is universally of the highest order in the same way that we demand a cure-all NHS. The problem is that the highest order does not come cheap. It seems that the battle lines are drawn between libertarianism and, to be limited to use “bog-standard comprehensive” schools (Quote Alastair Campbell). So why not compromise and allow Independent Schools to run on until the nation is prosperous enough to fund a uniformly high standard of education? In the context of compromise I much enjoyed a reader’s letter to a national newspaper that pointed out there are no books in the Library on “Great moderates in History”. Assuming one doesn’t really believe in anything there is nothing wrong with compromise or moderation or is there? Aesop for one might not agree: “In trying to please all, he had pleased none.”
Well it would seem that Labour’s position is some distance from being moderate indeed the carving knife and wrecking balls are being deployed as it resuscitates a time honoured mantra of class warfare thinking. As a starter it is likely that there is a widespread misconception about the efforts Independent Schools make to helping the less fortunate – be it in financial sense (poor) or merely they have the bad luck to be trapped in an under-performing school. Consider for example these statistics from the much derided Eton College: During the 2015/16 academic year 273 boys (21% of the school) received means-tested bursaries averaging a 66% reduction in school fees, with 73 of those pupils paying no fees at all. If that information fails to rebut successfully the LCD rule of “Somewhere, somehow, someone is better off than I am and that should not be allowed” then let’s consider some other related factors.
It is the case that because the Independent Schools, in general, provide a quality education indeed, were that not the case, there would be the little point of dipping into deep pockets to pay for it. The envious sneeringly characterise the product as elitist. It is odd that so many have a hang up about elitism after all from top-to-bottom of our society we are proud to describe the SAS as the Elite (particularly when trying to impress Johnny Foreigner!). Maybe I have not undertaken enough research but I cannot think of any society that has eliminated its elite. The choice therefore seems to lie between our free democratic society that still has social mobility shortfalls but with work in progress on the issue and the likes of Russia or the PRC. Notwithstanding we have far far too many MPs, when I view the motley band from most corners of society I do take s benevolent view of their efforts and get a slight a frisson knowing I had the RIGHT to be involved in choosing at least one of them. It may also be assumed that our MPs would baulk at the prospect of being labelled elite nor would they deserve it since they do not sit any professional examinations and in too many cases have career politicians since they sat their A Levels. Never mind all that – they are OURS and we put them there. Whereas who voted for the serried ranks of thousands of Communist Party functionaries, Admirals and Generals, who populate the National People’s Congress of the PRC? At the risk of stating a minority view I rather prefer our system. Further, we seem to have some skewed thinking about one of our most precious assets – freedom of speech; such freedom is taken for ungraciously taken for granted. While the free world is at liberty to mock President Trump for having small hands who would dare publicly to offer the same comment on the President of the PRC? Brace yourselves for the news that President Xi Jinping’s hands are even smaller. Does that not bode well for world peace?
We live in an age when we are moving inexorably towards an automaton AI society in which Reality TV is a dominant force. Most of us increasingly rely on the inventiveness, knowledge and education of others which really ought to be stimulating the nation’s interest in the importance of education – ironically that is not the case. Our society no longer bothers about ‘make and mend’ which has been subverted by a modular replacement model – someone else’s inquiring mind can deal with the problem! Common place attributes such as reading a map have long gone and when the Satnav is broken we’ve had it. 1984 here we come.
Another irony is that as the Labour Party plans their closure, Independent Schools are exporting their products to the Middle East and PRC in particular where their educational ethos is highly regarded. Back in time during a previous Left threat, many Independent Schools had well developed plans to re-locate overseas to Greece or Ireland or anywhere. Into that mix we might add the international Atlantic Colleges. Assuming a future Labour Party would not impose a travel ban on those wishing to be educated overseas, there would be, in consequence, three independent education outlets available. That situation raises the question: Who could possibly afford to pay the yet higher costs of sending their children overseas? The answer is clearly the super rich rather most of the C8% who utilise the UK-based independent sector. So, at a stroke a mealy mouthed LCD anti libertarian measure would create a narrowly based new elite. Had the Left imposed such a limitation in North Korea President Kim Jong-un would never have been educated in Switzerland.
Doncaster Man kindly qualified his article with this: “If my philosophy grates, or confuses, by all means ignore, block or remove me from your LinkedIn circle.” Although I am not enamoured of some/many of his ideas I would never dream of blocking him (I think!). Anyway should he ever read this rubbish I am more than happy to reciprocate his kindness.
I am not convinced that there is much logic or research associated with my contribution to an important debate. A cluttered untrained mind that is given to irrelevant digressions does not lend itself to the generation of a coherent product. That said, I remain unconvinced about the delights of socialism while accepting my arguments have not persuaded others to toe my line (yes it’s true I am a fan of Compassionate Enlightened Despotism although I accept it is never likely to be a winner).
To end……Doncaster Man says: “I preach the politics of people, not profit”. I am not sure what that means but I do know that without profit society will not progress. I do agree however in the primacy of people which is why I have never been attracted by the re-designation of Personnel as Human Resource – I am not a resource to be exploited, I am a person. By the same token incidentally, when travelling by train I am a passenger not a customer – I want to get from A to B but do not wish to purchase a time-expired sandwich.
To read Doncaster Man: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/im-commie-linkedin-apparently-stuart-walton