The House that Brexit Built

With less than a week since HM Government presented the EU with the letter, the lineaments of the new British future are already beginning to emerge out of the fog of incompetence, lies and fading promises, and it isn’t a pretty sight.   Before Article 50 had been triggered, Michael Gove was looking forward to ending the EU’s Clinical Trials Directive,  so that British pharmaceutical companies could sell drugs without clinically testing them.

Even British pharmaceutical companies don’t want this, because if they didn’t meet international standards they wouldn’t be able to sell drugs on the international market. But like his fellow-Brexiters, Gove hates ‘EU red tape’ too much to pay attention to such minutiae.  Gove also wants to get rid of the European Commission’s Habitats Directive, which obliges builders to find alternative green spaces to offset the environmental impact of building within five kilometres of listed green areas.

The need to protect the countryside and the environment ought to be as obvious as the need to test drugs thoroughly before marketing them, but for Gove such regulations are just more red tape that ‘holds back’ business.

Since Gove made these observations the British economy has been sliding ever closer towards gotterdammerung as the government’s shallow and barely-thought through promises unravel, the pound gets weaker,  the price of food goes up, and real incomes decline.   In these circumstances Theresa May has been out frantically touting for business in the Gulf.  Pausing to criticize the fact that the word ‘Easter’ doesn’t appear in a National Trust advert, even though it does, she was unable to condemn or even mention the fact that Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen ever closer towards famine and societal collapse, even though it is.

On one level such silence is a continuation of the old UK complicity with the Gulf autocracies, in which oil, weapons deals and real estate speculation always trump any other considerations.  Nevertheless it’s difficult not to detect a new whiff of sweaty desperation behind May’s world tour.  She knows – even though she will never admit it – that ‘Global Britain’ is a very weak brand that needs any investors it can possibly find, and she clearly doesn’t care where such investment comes from.

The Gulf States know this too.  That’s why they reportedly have ‘signature ready’ free trade agreements already prepared for the moment the UK leaves the EU, and don’t anyone even think that May’s government will allow reservations about human rights, democracy or gender equality to get in the way of signing them.

If anyone was in any doubt about this, consider Liam Fox’s trip to the Philippines to meet Rodrigo Duterte.  Even in the freakish rogue’s gallery of 21st century ‘populism’, the president of the Philippines is a stand-out monster.  This is a man who has ordered his police to murder thousands of real and suspected drug addicts and drug dealers, and has boasted about throwing people out of helicopters himself.   Yet Fox has no problem having his picture taken with the smirking gangster,  and babbling about the UK’s desire to intensify a ‘ well-established and strong relationship built on a foundation of shared values and shared interests’ with the Philippines.

Fox is not the kind of politician to allow a few thousand extrajudicial executions get in the way of a good deal, and we can expect more of this in the future, a lot more.  In effect, the UK has given up its membership of a community of liberal states – the EU – with which the UK does share some values such as democratic government, a commitment to human rights and the rule of law, to cultivate relationships with politicians who have the same values as Al Pacino’s Scarface, and Arab rulers who are as democratically accountable as the Lannisters in Game of Thrones.

Of course there are contradictions and glaring failures in the practical application of the EU’s values, but at least they exist as an aspiration and a standard that member states are expected to live up to, which is more than you can say about Rodrigo Duterte.

The current direction of UK foreign policy makes it clear that we no longer aspire to have any such values either.  Fox told a Manila newspaper that we are becoming ‘a stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking nation’, but very little in that statement is true, and most of it is a grotesque misrepresentation of what is actually happening.

We are in fact becoming the opposite of all those things: poorer, weaker, more vulnerable, more deregulated, and more divided.  As for ‘fairer’ – this was a week in which thousands of families are set to become even poorer as a result of George Osborne’s ‘three child’ benefit reforms and Theresa May described cutting bereavement benefits as ‘fairness to the taxpayer.’

We are ‘outward-looking’ only in the sense that we are now prepared to do business with any autocrat and sleazeball gangster who wants to do business with us.

None of this should be at all surprising.  Brexit was always going to be like this, but knowing that doesn’t make it any better, and for the time being at least, there is very little that anyone seems able to do to stop it.

 

Liberation Day

No matter what the future may bring, those of us who were lucky enough to be alive and British on March 29 2017 will never forget the glorious day when the United Kingdom finally threw off the yoke of the European Union.  In the years to come, perhaps very soon, we will hold a national holiday to commemorate our liberation from four decades of unrelenting tyranny and near-total darkness, in which we had seen our precious nation brought to its knees by the dictatorship of Brussels.

At last, our emissaries handed over the letter expressing the will of the people,  and we were able to believe that it was really going to happen.   It was the end of a nightmare or the beginning of a dream.  Or the beginning of the beginning or the first birdsong heralding a new dawn or the birthpangs of a truly Global Britain.  For some, it was only comparable to VE Day or the liberation of Paris.  It was a moment that so many of us had dreamed of throughout the years of toil and suffering under the EU’s slippered jackboot.

Even Jacob Rees-Mogg was barely able to maintain the stiff upper lip and hold back the tears of joy as the first members of the EU occupying army began to pack their bags, taking their subsidies with them.  Others smiled contentedly as the EU nurses left in the wake of the occupying forces,  at the thought of the NHS that would soon be theirs. Cornwall and Wales let out a sigh of relief at the thought of all the European money that they would no longer receive.  Ukip MEPs, hardened through decades of guerrilla warfare in the belly of the beast on salaries of only £84,000 a year plus expenses, came back from Eurostar with their sten guns and handgrenades, wondering how they would turn swords into ploughshares and forge new careers in a country where their single MP had just turned independent.

Watching the non-existent crowds in the empty streets, Michael Gove felt a lump in his throat at the thought that he would not be prime minister after all, but took consolation from the prospect of all those drugs that could now come onto the UK market without EU clinical trials,  and the green spaces that could now be built over without all that EU red tape to prevent it.  Boris Johnson shambled out into the street with his shirt hanging out over his trousers wondering how long he would have to wait before he could prime minister.

Others dreamed of bigger things. Oceans full of fish.  Selling cows to New Zealand. Factories and coalmines reopening. Empty motorways and well-paid jobs for all. And above all, controlled borders and no foreigners, even though the government is now saying that immigration won’t go down after all.

The Sun, passed out like Father Jack in a corner of the nation’s living room, lifted its unshaven head and belched as it warned the Eurocratic scum that if they failed to reach a trade agreement the UK would stop sharing our ‘world-leading counter-terror and crime-fighting abilities’ with the EU.  ‘Your money or your lives!’ the Sun croaked drunkenly, because we really are that great.  And because in any trade negotiations, as the Sun reminded us before passing out again ‘ our crack team of politicians and civil servants’ will always vanquish the ‘Brussels no-hopers.’

Truly the white man had got his country back,  and could look forward once again to taking the underground and not hearing Polish in a journey that would hopefully end up somewhere in the early 1950s.   And the white woman  could also rejoice, like the woman in Hastings who found historical parallels between our current slavery and the Norman Conquest, and concluded that ‘The concept of being governed by an unelected body would have been absolutely abhorrent to anyone in those days. It’s almost like the state has been lost. It was like another takeover, we relinquished our law and power to an unelected body.’

As any student of history knows, those Normans would never have allowed England to be taken over by an unelected body, so we could only put out the flags and cheer even louder that such great and noble thoughts had brought us to this pass.   And the left could celebrate too, because as John McDonnell reminded us not long ago,  ‘Brexit is an opportunity.’   Now the working class had spoken and delivered a fatal blow to ‘the elite’ and the neoliberal order and the British had the chance to get the socialism they had always secretly wanted – even if it was only socialism in one country.

Bliss was it to be alive, as Wordsworth once said about an equally historic moment, and it needed a poet to capture the beauty and the history of our own Liberation Day. Fortunately we had Theresa May, one of those rare politicians with a poetic license to make the impossible sound plausible and articulate the opposite of what is actually happening with absolute and total conviction.

Yesterday the vicar’s daughter reached new rhetorical heights as she reminded the nation that we are now going to ‘going to make our own decisions and our own laws’, regardless of the fact that we already do.   She told us that the government that brought us foodbanks, fitness to work tests and the bedroom tax would ‘build a stronger, fairer Britain.’   Like so many others, she urged us to ‘ look forward with optimism and hope – and to believe in the enduring power of the British spirit.’

She told us ‘I choose to believe in Britain and that our best days lie ahead ‘ and we ‘chose’ to believe it too, even though there was absolutely nothing to suggest that any such future lay ahead.   We did so because we had learned that fairies were real and because Brexiters warned us that they were tired of negativity, pessimism, and doubt, and some of them were even suggesting that those of us who harboured such thoughts might be traitors or criminals or collaborators with the EU death machine.

Our Great Leader also ‘chose’ to believe in ‘the British spirit’ and we did too, because the spirit can reach places where material processes fail, and she was ‘confident that we have the vision and the plan’ even though nothing that has happened since last June suggests that she has either.  She promised us that we would become ‘a magnet for international talent and a home to the pioneers and innovators who will shape the world ahead’ –  even though we already are exactly that.

Typically British in her magnanimity, she offered the olive branch to the European despots, and told them that she wanted to have ‘a new deep and special partnership between Britain and the European Union’ – as opposed to the old one which we already have.

She also promised ‘ a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union that allows for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states; that gives British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets; and that lets European businesses do the same in Britain’ – precisely the agreement that we already have.

She pledged to ‘ strengthen the Union of the four nations that comprise our United Kingdom’ even though Scotland and Ireland are already pulling away and Wales is unlikely to be far behind.  She assured the workers amongst us that ‘workers’ rights are fully protected and maintained’ even though the British standard of living ranks at number ten out of 18 European countries and the Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts that most British workers will be earning no more in 2021 than they were in 2008.

Last but not least, she reminded parliament ‘ at moments like these – great turning points in our national story – the choices we make define the character of our nation.’

She was right about that too.

Ofsted: Gove’s Trojan Horse

For some time now it has been clear that Ofsted functions as the political instrument of central government.  Until recently this instrumentalization was mostly manifest in general terms; for governments intent on scapegoating teachers for the many failings of British society, Ofsted’s inquisitorial inspection system constituted a useful blunt instrument for intimidating and bullying schools, subjecting the entire education system to factory-style production quotas and markers of achievement of the type that Stalin would have approved of.

Initially introduced by John Major as a means of empowering parents, Ofsted has become a tool of both Labour and Conservative governments, enforcing and imposing constantly shifting educational targets and criteria that too often appear designed either to gain political kudos for raising ‘standards’, on one hand, or for ensuring that schools fail and fall short in order to justify the further privatisation of schools and the dismantling of the state education system.

Under the Coalition, Ofsted has essentially acted as a battering ram for the government’s academy/free schools program.  In 2010 new inspection criteria introduced under Michael Wilshaw resulted in an exponential increase in the numbers of schools downgraded or placed into special measures, and a concomitant decrease in the numbers labelled outstanding.

This system has had an extraordinarily destructive impact, which I have seen here in my own town, where two fine schools were savaged by recent Ofsted inspections,  one of which was placed into special measures.    From the government’s point of view, all this has been extremely convenient, because the more schools fail, or are seen to fail, the more it can present academies and free schools as a solution.

This has been the essential project of Michael Gove, one of the most blinkered, ideological, egocentric and incompetent education secretaries in modern times.  Gove is a man who has spent much of his time peering at the world through a very narrow keyhole, who despises the state education system and anyone who disagrees with him – a category that includes a lot of people.

In Ofsted chief inspector Michael Wilshaw, a former academy head teacher, he appears to have found a more-than-willing accomplice.  Like Gove, Wilshaw is clearly an ambitious man who cannot be accused of a lack of self-regard, and he has generally done what the Education Secretary expects him to do.

This collusion  was blatant enough even before the Birmingham ‘Trojan horse’ scandal, but the events of the last week have comprehensively destroyed Ofsted’s claims to be impartial and free from political interference.   As a result of Gove’s wildly over-the-top response to a hoax letter concerning  a purported Islamist plot to take over Birmingham schools, Ofsted re-inspected 21 schools, six of which have been placed under special measures.

Two of the schools it downgraded had been previously found to be outstanding. These reassessments were not based on educational criteria, but on the supposed promotion of a conservative religious agenda in Muslim-majority schools – an agenda that Ofsted, like Gove himself, has mindlessly and dangerously conflated with ‘extremism’.  Not only has Ofsted avoided any attempt to define what exactly constitutes ‘extremism’, but it has admitted in its own report that it did not find any evidence of it.

What it did find was somewhat inconclusive evidence of some attempts to promote/impose a religious education into some of the schools inspected, that included a school trip to Mecca and Medina, a statement rejecting evolution, and an attempt by some school governors in one primary school to ban same-sex swimming classes.

There is certainly an argument to be had here about the role of religion in the state education system – particularly in its more reactionary manifestations, whether Islamic or Christian, and also about the undue influence that school governors may have on particular schools.

But this is not the discussion that Gove and Ofsted are interested in having.   Long before Gove assumed his gimlet-eyed grip on the education system that we have all come to know and love, he was a British neocon, who echoed the ‘moral clarity’ idiocies emanating from the likes of American war on terror ideologues like Richard Perle and William Bennett.

In his book Celsius 7/7, Gove warned of a ‘widespread reluctance to acknowledge the real scale and nature of the Islamist terror threat’  in Britain, which he attributed to ‘ the failure to scrutinise, monitor or check the actions, funding and operation of those committed to spreading the Islamist word in Britain’.

For Gove, and for those who think like him, the ‘Islamist word’ is a fairly broad category, which enables him to imagine a seamless conveyor belt that starts with segregated classrooms and swimming classes and ends up with suicide bombers.  Like Melanie Philipps or Bat Ye’or, Gove imagines ‘Islamism’ in essentially conspiratorial terms, and is certainly not the type to look skeptically at allegations of an Islamist ‘trojan horse’ – especially if uncovering such a conspiracy is likely to further his political ambitions.

To its eternal discredit, Ofsted and Wilshaw have done everything possible to help make Gove’s fantasies real.  Like so  many managerial bullies, Wilshaw likes other people to fail, not himself.  In his letter to Gove he is at pains to point out that culture of fear and intimidation has developed in some of the schools since their previous inspection.’ One of those schools is Park View academy, which Wilshaw personally visited in 2012 when Ofsted rated it ‘outstanding.’

Wilshaw was fulsome in his praises of the school declaring ‘ If a school like this does well, why shouldn’t any school do well?’  Now Park View has been placed in special measures, and one of its governors Tahrir Aram- who was also present during Wilshaw’s 2012 visit – has been singled out for promoting this ‘culture of fear and intimidation.’

Having exonerated himself from any involvement in this outcome, Wilshaw goes on to indict everyone else in accordance with His Master’s instructions.  Yet despite the excessive Islamism that Wilshaw attributes to certain governors and schools,  which has mysteriously sprouted up since he last visited them,   Ofsted has found no evidence of extremist behavior amongst any pupils or staff.

Knowing that this won’t be good enough for Gove however, Wilshaw nevertheless indicts Birmingham’s schools for having failed to protect students from ‘the risks’  of radicalisation and extremism.  In Oldknow primary, Wilshaw declares that ‘ pupils and staff are poorly equipped to understand, respond to or calculate risks associated with extreme or intolerant views.’

Birmingham City Council, on the other hand, is accused of failing support schools ‘in their efforts to keep pupils safe from the potential risks of radicalisation and extremism.’  What are these ‘risks’ or ‘potential risks’?   And what makes Ofsted qualified to assess them?  What in fact does Ofsted understand by ‘radicalisation and extremism?’

Ofsted doesn’t say and clearly has no interest in finding out.  Instead it merely parrots the empirically-dubious conceptualisation of Islamist ‘radicalization’ that seeks to explain political violence in terms of inherent cultural or religious practices.  It also assumes that the government’s ‘Prevent’ program is the antidote to such radicalization, without any attempt to assess whether these strategies are even effective.

Even the Gracelands nursery is accused of being ‘unaware of local authority or government guidelines on the prevention of extreme and radical behavior.’   Given that the pupils at Gracelands range from three to five years old, more rational observers might  conclude that preventing extreme and radical behavior was not a high priority.

But when the pupils are Muslims, it’s clearly a different matter, and Wilshaw, like Gove, appears to assume that without due vigilance these kids would probably be bowing down to their dark cult or strapping on toy explosives.  In the same way Wilshaw worries that the inspected schools ‘ do not ensure that a broad and balanced curriculum equips pupils to live and work in a multi-cultural, multi-faith and democratic Britain’ and that ‘children are not being encouraged to develop tolerant attitudes towards all faiths and all cultures.’

Is that a problem in these schools?  Maybe or maybe not, but I really doubt Ofsted’s ability to assess the matter dispassionately one way or another.   And in any case these criticisms have a very different weighting when applied to Muslim-majority schools.  My daughter, for example, when to a Church of England-aided primary.   During that time I don’t remember any attempts to ‘encourage’ the children  to develop ‘tolerant attitudes towards all faiths and all cultures’, though I do remember a fair amount of Christianity.

But ‘intolerance’ whether real or imagined, always has more sinister ramifications when Muslims are involved, at least according to Gove and Ofsted.  And now,  the antidote to their intolerance is a good dose of ‘British values’ in order to help Muslim children prepare to live in a multicultural society; the imposition of a new policing regime based entirely on Gove and Ofsted’s limited understanding of terrorism and terrorism-prevention; and yet another recasting of British Muslims as cultural aliens and the enemy within.

So Ofsted and Wilshaw must surely be congratulated for contributing to this outcome.   They may not have found a Trojan Horse, but no one can fault them for trying.  And the rest of us can only think ourselves lucky once again that the nation’s education system is in the hands of such wise, thoughtful, and enlightened men, who will always put the public interest before their own.

 

How the Greens Subverted the Nation’s Children

Michael Gove has been in the papers a lot recently.  I still can’t think of him enthusiastically describing London as a place to have ‘loads of hot sex’ without feeling a combination of astonishment and faint queasiness in my stomach.

The juxtaposition of Gove and ‘hot sex’ is such an unlikely and unappetizing combination for so many reasons, and the fact that the Education Minister would use this expression at all merely confirms him as one of the most obnoxious and revolting characters amongst the strange and grotesque collection of gargoyles that the British electoral system has inexplicably propelled into positions of power over the nation.

Be that as it may, there are many more reasons to be repelled by the Education Secretary/Minister for Hot Sex.  And just when you think you have exhausted all the possibilities, Gove can always be guaranteed to provide another.    Take yesterday’s report in the Daily Mail that ‘eco-activist’ teachers are poisoning  the minds of the nation’s children with ‘green propaganda’.

These allegations are based on the report Climate Control: Brainwashing in Our Schools by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a thinktank set up by climate change ‘skeptic’ Nigel Lawson, which supposedly found that eco-activist teachers were being given ‘free rein’ in the nation’s schools, and that innocent pupils were being transformed into ‘foot soldiers of the green movement.’

The report strongly suggests that these developments are part of a global conspiracy to ‘indoctrinate’ children and promote a ‘sustainability agenda’ supposedly dating back to the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.   Naturally the EU is involved, as well as UNESCO, the UN, and the IPCC, all of whom share the same dark desire’  to ‘ link primary and secondary schools across Europe to discuss, engage, and commit to undertake actions to limit the change in climate.’

Goodness, I hear you cry, can it really have come to this?   But the plot thickens drastically, as we learn that educational initiatives such as the Climate Change Schools Project are engaging in Maoist-style attempts to ‘train children to police their parents’.   And then there is the sinister Geographical Association, which wants to use geography lessons to ‘encourage children to think about issues such as the alleged imminent exhaustion of fossil fuels, and what concrete actions – taking showers rather than baths, cycling rather than using cars, recycling newspapers and so on.’

No!  Please don’t go on!  I hear you saying.   Can these climate changers really be so evil and so unscrupulous?   Yes they can.  There are Environmental Science exam papers which ask pupils to write a letter explaining ‘ why recycling is a good thing/what things should be recycled/where to put items for recycling.’ 

The report found that teaching on ‘sustainability’ and green issues pervaded the whole  curriculum, from French to religious education, and that one RE exam asked children to ‘explain actions religious people might take to look after the planet’ accompanied by a marking scheme whose suggested answers included ‘avoid polluting the world’, ‘recycle’, ‘reduce carbon  footprint’  – and even ‘protest when necessary’ and ‘join action groups such as Greenpeace’.

By now you must be as sick to the stomach as I was, but stay with me reader because the worst is yet to come.   According to the report, the ‘curriculum has been undergoing a long process of subversion, one that is now largely complete.’   And this process of ‘subversion’ has deliberately reduced our children to gibbering terrorized babes, peering out above the blankets at a climate change education syllabus in which ‘ the slant is on scares, on raising fears, followed by the promotion of detailed guidance on how pupils should live, as well as on what they should think.’

The report also found ‘ widespread evidence that children are becoming scared and disturbed by the constant refrain of doom from their teachers.’   This ‘evidence’ consisted of a survey of  500 American pre-teens which found that ‘ one in three children aged between 6 and 11 feared that the Earth would not exist when they reached adulthood because of global warming and other environmental threats.’

Another 2007 survey in the UK ‘ showed that half of young children aged between seven and 11 are anxious about the effects of global warming, often losing sleep because of their concern ‘,  while a UNICEF study reported that ‘ three-quarters of 11 to 16-year-olds in the UK were worried about how global warming was going to change the world.’

The report does not show that any of these conclusions were the result of actions by teachers.  Nor does it consider another possibility, namely that children might be afraid of climate change and concerned about the future of the planet because of what they see on the news rather than because of ‘brainwashing’.

Last July Gove was obliged to backtrack on plans to remove climate change from geography classes at key stages 1-3, following pressure from teachers, environmentalists, and scientists.   Over 21,000 pupils signed a petition protesting the government’s plans to change the syllabus.  No one has ever suggested that teachers or ‘eco-activists’ made them do this.

Nevertheless the Minister for Hot Sex doesn’t like to be thwarted,  and he has told the world that he views the GWPF’s report ‘with concern’. and warned head teachers that ‘Schools should not teach that a particular political or ideological point of view is right – indeed it is against the law for them to do so.’

So now it could be against the law to teach kids that it might be a good idea to recycle?   Anything is possible in the Minister for Hot Sex’s world.  After all, one of Gove’s spokesmen says

‘Ministers are clear that the new national curriculum must equip young people with the core knowledge they need to understand the weather, climate, the Earth’s atmosphere, physical geography and the interaction between nature and the environment. That means in both science and geography, pupils must learn the facts and processes which underpin public discussion of climate change. They must not be directed towards a particular campaigning agenda.’

It’s in moments like this that you are reminded why the fate of the planet is in peril.  It’s not just the almost psychopathic indifference to the disastrous events that we have already seen in this country and in many others, or the constant stream of warnings emanating from scientists about the catastrophic possibilities that might lie ahead, it’s the sheer gimlet-eyed stupidity and fanaticism of the individuals who actually have their hands on the levers of power.

Lawson’s organization is – mystifyingly – a registered charity, even though it functions as a lobbying group to express its concern ‘about the costs and other implications of many of the policies currently being advocated’  to mitigate global warming.  Nigel Lawson has business connections to coal-producing companies including Europe’s biggest single polluter,  the Belachatow Power Plant.

Who actually funds the GWPF and why won’t it say?  Could these connections also indicate an ‘agenda’?   Don’t expect the Minister for Hot Sex, or the Daily Mail, or James Delingpole to ask these questions, in their rush to protect the brains of the nation’s children which merely demonstrates an alarming lack of activity in their own.