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Tough on the causes of Labour

PUBLISHED: 11:04 24 May 2003 | UPDATED: 13:54 03 March 2010

GUNG-HO war propaganda may have been horribly in evidence in recent months, but it's nothing new.

Back in 1914, as the lights famously went out all over Europe, Lord Kitchener's moustachioed face peered down from hoardings everywhere, his pointing finger urging: "Your country needs YOU!"

What we were going into was proclaimed as the war to end all wars.

GUNG-HO war propaganda may have been horribly in evidence in recent months, but it's nothing new.

Back in 1914, as the lights famously went out all over Europe, Lord Kitchener's moustachioed face peered down from hoardings everywhere, his pointing finger urging: "Your country needs YOU!"

What we were going into was proclaimed as the war to end all wars. It wasn't that at all, as we now know – and that very fact ought to be a lesson to all humankind. Except that all humankind, or at least its leadership, is too damned stupid to learn important lessons.

Opposition to the stupidity and cynicism of war-mongers is nothing new, either.

Margot Asquith was the prime minister's wife in 1914, when she declared: "If Kitchener is not a great man, he is at least a great poster."

If only Cherie Blair was as acerbic.

Kitchener was perhaps the first of our leaders to be so closely tied up with advertising.

In later years, Churchill was more the master of the publicity machine than of anything else. Wilson assumed the pipe purely as a prop to stop him pointing his finger at TV viewers. Thatcher's voice was adopted as deliberately as her handbag and lacquered hair.

But Tony Blair has integrated the roles of prime minister and advertising dummy more closely than anyone yet.

He has shown himself from the first to be the master of the soundbite, and thus the perfect leader for these shallow, advertising-dominated times.

Who could forget his promise in 1994, when he was elected Labour leader, to be "Tough on education, tough on the causes of education"?

And you have to hand it to him, he's been as good as his word on that one. Or at least his party has been. (It used to be the Labour Party – do you remember it?)

Wednesday's Star led with a shocking story: "Boy, 11, hurled brick at teacher". But that angel-faced, foul-mouthed little Ipswich oik is not the only who has been lobbing bricks at teachers lately.

Top of the list is Norwich South MP Charles Clarke.

The one-time president of the Cambridge Students Union is now education secretary, a Blair appointment, of course, like everyone now in the government.

And in that capacity he this week told headteachers up and down the land that if they want more or better teachers they will have to pay for them out of funds intended for school building maintenance.

As if they were not already burdened with too much administration and budgeting, the poor heads must now decide whether to let the roof leak or the kids go untaught.

One school has to leave a teaching post unfilled in order to tackle a tree that is threatening to push over a wall – perhaps on to a child.

Another had to send hundreds of children home at lunchtime on Wednesday because it could not afford staff cover.

And of course, if most heads decide – as surely they must – that their priority is teaching, then our school buildings will soon start falling down.

What a great way for the fourth largest economy in the world to run its education system.

***

KARL Marx, in 1848, called for "free education for all". No wonder Blair and his mob don't go for that – they wouldn't want to be mistaken for Socialists.

If there is one thing the present government will be damned for by history, it is the decision to impose tuition fees on students.

Even the Tories, who scandalously ended student grants in 1991, didn't go that far.

Now comes the scheme to let the so-called Russell Group of 19 "leading" universities charge fees thousands of pounds higher than others.

If anything was ever contrary to the spirit in which the Labour Party was formed, that is it.

Instead of attacking class and privilege, the Blairite tendency enshrines and encourages it.

The quality gap between universities will get wider, and the decision on whether to go – and where to go – becomes a financial one.

The problem is that Britain's higher education system is desperately in need of cash. And the reason for that is the government's hare-brained aim of getting 50 per cent of all youngsters into university.

They may think that's egalitarian and pro-education. Actually, it's madness.

Equality of opportunity is not served by devaluing education, then making people pay for it.


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