EQUALITY AND THE DRAFT HISTORY CURRICULUM

Katherine Edwards 

Image© John Addison, Print, Government Office, East India Co St Helena

At the recent memorial service to mark the twentieth anniversary of the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence, the Prime Minister spoke of Stephen’s death as having brought ‘monumental change’ to British society.  Those of us concerned about the implications for equality and multiculturalism in the proposed new history curriculum found the irony of this comment hard to take.

One of the recommendations of the 1999 Macpherson Report on the Stephen Lawrence case was a ‘National Curriculum aimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism, in order better to reflect the needs of a diverse society’. Yet although there are good grounds for thinking that this aim has been taken seriously in the education system up to now, we need to be clear about what a stark reversal the new draft national curriculum for history represents.  If it comes into force, it is very likely to set the recommendations of the Macpherson Report back by at least a generation.  Read more of this post

The trouble with billionaires (book review) by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks

Left Central Book Review 

Image© Andy Mitchel

I am indebted to the British Welfare state; the very one that Cameron would like to replace with charity handouts. When my life hit rock bottom, the safety net, threadbare though it had become under John Major`s government, was there to break the fall…J.K. Rowling… Cited in `the trouble with billionaires`

This book is a fusion of rigorous academic analysis and sharp, witty journalism. The humour a necessary antidote, given the unconscionable economic detail outlined. Facts linked to the rapacious appetite of the super elite, gorging on tax avoidance. Aided and abetted by supine legislators in the UK and USA. Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks explain how the political right, adroitly undermined the post-war consensus of Beveridge and Keynes in the UK, the same result achieved in the USA with the gradual destruction of the New Deal consensus. Criticism articulated by Frederick Von Hayek who feared that benevolent government intervention would lead us down the road to serfdom. A ridiculous idea, predicated on the notion that social security; full employment, legal aid, economic growth and an NHS somehow reduced liberty. As this book points out, when Hayek required assistance from the social security system, he was not shy about utilising its collective provisions. It is indeed a strange sort of serfdom, which provides a hospital bed for the sick, a bizarre understanding of liberty that disregards the need of a safety net, when boom turns to inevitable bust. All those tens of thousands of post-war Higher Education students benefitting from free education in the UK or through the GI Bill in the States – hardly resemble serfs. But their counterparts today do; a bizarre twist on the Hayek model. The exchange of correspondence between Hayek and Charles Koch outlined in the text, makes for illuminating revisionist reading. Read more of this post

The Left and Margaret Thatcher

Frederick Cowell

Image©Gingerblokey

Margaret Thatcher’s death has resulted in many a hagiography, some national reflection and an almighty attack of political amnesia. Her pursuit of an agenda of ideological radicalism which either, saved or savaged Britain (depending on your viewpoint) created an ‘ism’ but was not done in vacuum.

Margaret Thatcher had long nursed radical ideologies but contrary to the right wing narrative of ideological triumphalism in her ascendency to power, her first election victory in May 1979 was on a very pragmatic and cautious ideological platform. The Conservative manifesto was, as the historian Andy McSmith notes, only little more radical than their 1970 manifesto and Margaret Thatcher had agreed to follow the generous recommendations of the Clegg Commission on Public Sector pay which had been set up after the winter of discontent – hardly the stuff of union smashing Tory fantasies.  Ken Clarke reflected that the election focused on bread and butter issues such as prices, inflation and the state of the national finances – many of the same concerns had encouraged the electorate five years earlier to replace Edward Heath with Harold Wilson. Nigel Lawson remembered she was preoccupied with “not frightening the electorate” and in the late 1970s she went out of her way to distance herself in public from more radical policies on spending cuts and privatisation and in office was even prepared to give in to the miners, delaying pit closures. It was two years from her election until the first full monetarist budget in 1981 and many of the largest privatisations and assaults on the unions took place later. The ideological zealotary, which she had always had, emerged openly in 1981 as the infighting on the left meant that it was unlikely that there would be any meaningful opposition to the Thatcherite agenda.  Read more of this post

The UK is hungry for change…

Legal Eagle  

Image© Derek Harper

You will eat by and by, in the glorious land in the sky, way up high, work and pray and live on hay, you`ll get pie in the sky when you die…

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of EP Thompson`s The Making of The English Working Class, which Phillip Dodd recently described as a formidable account of class development. This is rather ironic, given that in 2013 we are witnessing the pauperisation of this very same, once proud class. Last Saturday, the Guardian ran an excellent piece on `The human cost of recession` by Chris Menon and Sophie Robinson-Tillett. The article dealt with the seemingly paradoxical situation of comparatively low UK unemployment levels coinciding with a drastic drop in the standard of living for many in work. People it seems are in employment, though frequently engaged on temporary contracts, usually part-time with sporadic adjustments in hours. Workers are increasingly denied a contract of employment. If an individual is paid an income which barely meets their needs, what are they expected to do if they are denied further support? Read more of this post

Robert Kee: History of Ireland Episode 4 FAMINE

Nora Connolly 

Image© illustrated London News, December 22, 1849

 It’s so lonely round the fields of Athenry…

Robert Kee focuses on the emotive issue of the Irish Potato Famine from 1845 to 1849. Explaining why the population in the West and South West depended on this food for nutrition, outlining the organisation of land and tenancy arrangement`s. Other crops abundantly produced sold to pay rent, encapsulated by the following contemporaneous observation reported in Hansard, `not a bit of bread have I eaten since I was born, nor a bit of butter. We sell all the corn and the butter to give to the landlords [for rent] yet I have the largest farm in the district and am as well off as any man in the county`. The population which increased to eight million was linked to the peculiar organisation of land tenure in Ireland, `land was divided into smaller and smaller plots – the number of those depending on the potato grew larger and larger`. In Kee`s written history he demonstrates an in-depth understanding of issues i.e. the impact on agriculture post Napoleonic Wars such an analysis not always possible in a fifty minute television overview. Read more of this post

Jack Johnson: Remember I was a man…

Image© Library of Congress

Legal Eagle

Of course some people pretend to object to Mr Johnson`s character but we have yet to hear in the case of White America that marital troubles have disqualified prize fighters or ball players or even statesmen. It comes down then after all to this unforgivable blackness…WB Dubois.

The campaign to posthumously pardon one of the all time greats of world boxing, Jack Johnson is gathering pace in the USA. Johnson was the first African-American to win the World Heavyweight Championship in 1908, a sporting victory of incredible social and cultural significance. Jack defeated Tommy Burns in Australia, Burns lured by a $30,000 pay day. Jack held the title until 1915, he was defeated in dubious circumstances in a contest which pitted him against Jess Willard, a gruelling fight held in the blazing heat of Cuba. Willard knocked Johnson down in the twenty-sixth round (when Johnson was ahead on points). It was later suggested that the fight was a fix (an opinion sanctioned by Johnson). This view granted credence when Johnson was famously photographed protecting his eyes from the sun as he lay on the canvas, awaiting the referee to count him out. Whatever the merits of this sporting event (the defeat probably genuine), it appears beyond doubt that Jack Johnson`s criminal conviction under the Mann Act, was a travesty of justice. It is this issue that has brought Johnson back into the news, allowing a review of his treatment at the hands of the Jim Crow criminal justice system. Read more of this post

PRIDE, GUILT AND POLITICS IN THE HISTORY CURRICULUM: A COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE

Katherine Edwards 

Image© Department for Education

Should history be about encouraging national pride, or perhaps facing up to collective guilt?  The emotive nature of this question might explain some of the vehemence behind the current controversy over the new curriculum.  There are some who perceive that history lessons are currently ‘denigrating this country’, such as Chris McGovern, Chairman of The Campaign for Real Education.  One the other hand the idea of a curriculum designed to ‘celebrate the distinguished role of these islands in the history of the world’ as Gove put it, has provoked outrage among many who feel that it is not the place of the history curriculum to encourage patriotism.  History teachers and academics have emerged from their classrooms, libraries and lecture rooms to enter the public debate in the press, online and on the airwaves as never before, and formed pressure groups such as Defend School History, the Facebook campaign Save School History and an e-petition to scrap the changes and ‘Keep the History Curriculum Politically Neutral’. Read more of this post

Storyville: The Road, a story of life and death

Nora Connolly 

Image©Ewan Munro

You see how people treat their dog, their cats and you wish you were a dog. At least someone gives you some kindness, some friendship…People ignore you and no-one accepts you… Storyville

This quote encapsulates what Robin Richardson has called the unkindness of strangers, the comment above uttered by a migrant worker and participant in this outstanding film, made by Marc Isaacs. The documentary tells the story of a diverse group of immigrants living on the A5 – one of Britain`s longest and oldest roads – focussing on the inhabitants of London. The individual quoted (country of origin not specified), is speaking while waiting on the streets of London, in the hope that he might be selected by a contractor for a day`s work. A scenario familiar to Irish workers from the 1950s, the documentary peppered with archive film of Irish men waiting for employment, just as these new migrants wait today.   Read more of this post