A short memory and ill-chosen friends. Why Priti Patel behaves so badly.

Ugandan Asians arrive in the UK in 1972

You have to admire Priti Patel. As a woman of colour in public life, the daily abuse she must endure has to be eye-watering. To persist and to function in such an environment is testament to great fortitude and determination on her part. If you’re expecting some snippy remark to deflate this praise, you’ll be disappointed. Her personal courage is not the point at issue.

Her heritage is one underpinned by migrations – note the plural. Her paternal grandparents left India for a better life in Uganda before being persecuted and expelled from there to start another new life in England. In 1972, Idi Amin, Uganda’s dictatorial leader, denounced Asians living there as ‘bloodsuckers’, imposed draconian deadlines by which they had to leave and then turned a blind eye to the robbing and exploitation of those desperate to get out alive.

It is estimated that some 28 thousand such refugees came to the UK. Leicester City Council, in a move for which it has since furnished a fulsome apology, issued adverts warning these displaced people not to come to a city where they would fail to find either work or accommodation. Ironically, the contribution of Ugandan Asians to the city’s wealth and culture in now universally acknowledged. Those expelled from Amin’s Uganda became a by-word for hard work, self-reliance, economic success and a willingness to contribute to the greater good of society.

The good councillors of Leicester were not alone in their coolness towards desperate people. Minutes from government meetings, released some thirty years after the expulsion, reveal talk of sending refugees to either the Solomon or Falkland Islands. Abiding concerns about demands on existing resources – housing, schools, health provision – also formed part of the prevailing discourse.

All of which has to make you wonder about Priti Patel, brave and determined as she may be. The calmer weather of the past few weeks has prompted large numbers of frantic people to part with staggeringly large sums of money – reports speak of anything up to three thousand pounds – to ditch any such belongings they have clung to during an already perilous journey and to jump into a cramped dinghy. From there they are pushed out to sea to hope for the best. Many of those in these fragile, vulnerable vessels, including the children among them, are victims of actions and atrocities that are beyond the imagination of almost all of us.

Which makes the responses of a woman whose immediate family carries the memory of migration and persecution even more bizarre. Where previous governments wanted to dump her grandparents on the Falkland Islands, Patel has suggested some form of holding stations in Rwanda. No, seriously. Because setting up the apparatus to deal with displaced persons in offices just a few thousand miles away in central Africa makes such obvious sense. Until a few weeks ago, she had been content to house refugees in military barracks, unfit for human habitation and acting as petri dishes for Covid infection.

Charged with fielding questions about her cunning Africa plan, a Home Office spokesperson choked out the response that ‘we will not rule out any option that could help reduce illegal migration and relieve the pressure on the broken asylum system.’  That’d be the broken asylum system you’ve been running for the past eleven years, would it?

And Priti’s response to this problem? A pledge of £54 million pounds to work with French authorities to weed out the trafficking gangs, cooperate with coastal police and turn back those who have already been displaced, harassed and robbed. ‘I have absolutely discussed this with my French counterpart,’ she insists – which has to be something of a relief, coming from a member of a government not renowned for its listening skills where those from foreigner-country are concerned. ‘The British people have had enough of illegal migration and the exploitation of migrants by criminal gangs,’ she firmly asserts. Unfortunately, a search through any of the responses to this proposal, from former chiefs of the border police to migrants themselves, suggests that this is a strategy that is doomed to failure.

It might be disappointing that a woman of Patel’s background and experience displays such heartless and poorly informed behaviour, but we shouldn’t be surprised. She has chosen to spend her working life surrounded by colleagues whose attitudes to those less fortunate themselves is founded on the firm belief that if you come up short in life, it’s almost certainly your own fault. It’s an ideology deeply embedded in the Tory psyche and it  currently manifests itself in everything from enforcing miserable, petty cuts to foreign aid (a measure making forced migration even more likely for thousands of people), to belittling those campaigning for social justice to harbouring a genuine belief that the rules are only for the little people. By her friends we should know her.

Patel and her government colleagues will answer that those pictured above are different from the desperate boat people because they were legal migrants. But when you’ve been brutally forced from your home and have to take your chance on an overcrowded lilo, that distinction may be rather too nuanced for those involved. Maybe she could just pause for a moment and consider those wading ashore as the potential success stories of the future. It may not play as well to the baying right-wing gallery, but it might just turn out to be the proper thing to do.

Smear, sneer and snide innuendo: the stock in trade of the Deputies and their allies.

I’ve never bought into the false notion that the personal is political, but the following post does cross the boundary between the two.

This is an unedifying tale and an illuminating one. It tells of the reckless way in which half-baked accusations of anti-Semitism are now the stock-in-trade of some organisations.

On Sunday 5 June, a friend of mine forwarded the flyer above. During my 45 years of very active membership of the NUT, now the NEU, I have endured many periods of concern about a whole range of union-related issues. I’d venture to say that in, literally, thousands of hours of meetings with members, interminable consultations and negotiations with employers and inestimable conversations with individuals, there’s not much in the world of schools, teachers and teaching that I haven’t come across. Some of it would make your eyes water: I might write a book about it one day.

What I’ve never heard, though, is concern expressed about the union’s ‘anti-Israel stance’. What’s more, I’ve never come across a single instance of a member suggesting that any complaint about anything was not being taken seriously. So, as instructed by the flyer, I emailed rachelk to find out what I was missing and asked to join the meeting. I thought it prudent to let her know of my Jewish heritage and of the fact that I am a life-member of the NEU in recognition of my service to the union.

I received no details of how to join the meeting. On the morning of Tuesday 8 June, I emailed rachelk to ask why and was told that I hadn’t been given the link because ‘the content of your blog suggested you weren’t supportive of the aims of the group.’ I’d been vetted: who knew I was worth taking so much trouble over? And since when was potential dissent the reason for exclusion from discussion?

Who, precisely, are the people in rachelk’s ‘group’? There are four organisations, three of whom I’ve never heard of – although that may be by way of admission on my part. I know about the Board of Deputies; it has its own dishonourable profile. Purporting, somewhat vaingloriously, to speak for all Jewish people in the UK, it also revels in its inglorious history of having been absent from every active mobilisation against organised fascists in this country for the best part of a century. A squint at the websites of the other three reveals ‘organisations’ that look like they’re run from someone’s spare bedroom: outdated information, clunky graphics, thin stories from unaccredited sources. 

As I’d been barred from the meeting, I wrote to the ‘group’ as a collective to ask two simple questions: what had led them to believe that the NEU had adopted ‘an anti-Israel stance’ and how many recorded complaints did they believe had been mishandled by the union? I also wanted to know whether anyone responsible for calling the meeting was an NEU member. I’ll do some real slashing of a long story from this point.

The only person to respond was Rabbi David Meyer of the Partnership for Jewish Schools. He didn’t answer the questions or provide any evidence but was nevertheless confident enough to assert that he did ‘not find it surprising that many teachers are uncomfortable with the approach the NEU has taken.’ I repeat, I’m cutting it all short and, to his credit, at least Rabbi Meyer made some sort of fist of standing by his organisation’s claims. However, our correspondence terminated with him telling me that as I was ‘not an official representative of NEU’ he would not be responding further. He told me that should the joint leaders of the union contact him, he would be happy to meet them. I then chanced one further question: if either of these people asked the same questions, would he give them the direct answers which he had chosen not to give me? The rest is silence.

In a final attempt to squeeze any credible evidence from the parties who had called this meeting, I wrote to them again with the undertaking that I would not put this story into the public domain if they were to respond within the next three days. Again, resolute silence.

So, this blog post is for you – The Board of Deputies of British Jews, Britain Israel Trade Union Dialogue, We Believe in Israel and, with a faint nod of appreciation for showing a modicum of courtesy, The Partnership for Jewish Schools. Like so many before you in recent years, you have carelessly lobbed the grenade of innuendo and implied accusation to further your own political ends and to discredit those who oppose your views. In this case, you’ve thrown it at a body which works tirelessly to protect teachers and, most importantly, simply has no competitor in terms of actively campaigning for equality and against discrimination and injustice. When asked to substantiate your accusations you have remained dumbly silent. And if that’s not a matter of concern to you, then I suggest your moral compass is irretrievably broken.

(This article was corrected on 1 July 2021 to address the inaccuracy about elections to the Board of Deputies)

********************

If you enjoyed this blog post – or even if it just got under your skin – you can find more of my writing on politics, education and, of course, football here. My new book, Brutish Necessity, an account of the life and times of the last man to be hanged in Birmingham, will be out later this year.

Not going to the match, minister? I’ll have your ticket.

No matter how closely you peer at the photograph above, you won’t be able to make me out in the background, but, reader, believe me – I was there and I’ve never been happier to be at a sporting event.

It’s Cape Town in January 2016 and Temba Bavuma has just become the first Black African to score a century in a Test Match – the most demanding and prestigious form of the game of cricket. Around me there is a bunch of Brits like me, enjoying winter sunshine at one of the world’s most spectacular sporting venues.  We’re on our feet applauding this massive achievement – and so are South African people of all colours, revelling in being part of history.

Twenty-five years earlier, such a scene would have been condemned as an unrealistic fantasy. South Africa had not yet been readmitted to international sport following its ban for supporting apartheid on and off the field of play. Once it had regained acceptance, it had to come to terms with the demanding business of incorporating quotas of Black players into all its teams.  It was a complex, uneven and often unpleasant episode, but by 1995 Nelson Mandela was able to hand the rugby World Cup to Francois Pineaar, the captain of a multi-ethnic South African team. In 2014, Hashim Mohamed Amla became the captain of the nation’s cricket team.  The political process had made an impact on sport: anyone who seriously believes the two are separable needs to have a word with themselves.

I’m a fortunate – if marginally obsessed – man. In recent years I have followed the England cricket team to some of the most impressively beautiful stadia in the world. There are thousands like me or, at least, largely like me. White, no longer in full-time work – or simply on trips of a lifetime – harbouring detailed knowledge of the sort that is even more alarming because of our inability to remember what we went upstairs for. But the vast majority are unlike me in one regard: a few moments’ conversation often reveals my companions to be rightward leaning in their thoughts and opinions – and that includes their attitude towards the game that brings us into unlikely communion.

Most of the time this is easily negotiated: as in many social situations, all parties recognise that there may be areas which it may be sensible to avoid. Regrettably, some of this intent can turn to dust when the sun is well and truly over the yardarm, but for the most part, no damage is done and a peaceful coexistence prevails.  There is, however, no glossing over the fact that the game at this commercial, international level is infused with a prevailing, deep-seated conservatism. That cricket as it is played in many parts of the UK and around the world is devoid of any such gentility, is a truth that is often unheard in the hogwash narrative of village greens and playing up and playing the game.

Late last week, the English cricket team played its first game of the summer against New Zealand. In contrast to their footballing counterparts, there was no person of colour in the England side. Various authorities in the game are acutely aware of this anomaly and some are facing up to it to address it. Making his debut in the game was Ollie Robinson and it emerged during play that he had been responsible for some racist tweets ten years earlier. His boss, the England and Wales Cricket Board then did what any employer would do in such a situation. Faced with an employee who had committed a serious misdemeanour, they suspended him from duty pending a full investigation. Distressing, embarrassing, but proper procedures would be applied.   

Quite what it might have looked like had the game’s governing bodies done nothing is difficult to contemplate. Not only would it have reinforced the notion of a game for old white men dozing and dribbling in the afternoon sun, it would have done inestimable damage in terms of reaching a wider, diverse audience. That seems kind of obvious……

…..except to the minister for culture , Oliver Dowden, and the man in charge of the country himself. Robinson was just a boy, they wail; this is heavy-handed and yet another example of wokeness – that most deadly of sins in the eyes of the political right. And that would be a political right that seems to have got its collective jockstrap in a bit of a tangle when it comes to politics and sport (because, of course, there’s simply nothing else going on at present which they might be getting to grips with).

Hot on the heels of Dowden and Johnson, and eager to call out the snowflake wokes, is a little gaggle of Tory MPs who won’t, just won’t, be going to England’s upcoming football games because of this wretched taking the knee business. This sort of stuff has no place in the people’s game they tell us. The ordinary fan – with whom they enjoy a quiet pint before the game (nah, not really) – is alienated by this Marxist guff they tell us. Keep politics out of sport….unless we want it in…or out….or want to use our political position to comment …..or something.

And here’s the thing. Sad soul that I am, when I’m not splashing my cash watching cricket abroad – and that’s not going to happen again for a while – I’m following my non-achieving football team, home and away, week in, week out. I’m proud that members of that team have been taking the knee and there’s one thing I know with iron certainty: if anyone starts booing them for doing so, it won’t be because that person is offering a critique of Marxist theory and practice, IT WILL BE BECAUSE THEY ARE RACIST (sorry for shouting) and have been offered convenient cover by simpering politicians eager to divert attention from their blatant shortcomings and fawning incompetence.

So let’s keep politics in sport, drown out the boo-boys, call people to account for improper behaviour and condemn politicians eager for some cheap popular acclaim as the villains they are. This is one paying spectator who won’t be buying their scandalous opportunism.

**************************

My two books about football, Hugging Strangers and Project Restart are available from all booksellers, online and on the high street.

This isn’t a side-show. This is life and death.

Wait, wait, wait. Just hang on a minute. Have I got this right?

This is the same chap, is it? The bloke who was the driving force behind Brexit? The one who directed Boris Johnson’s huge election victory in 2019? The fella who became a national joke by driving his car with his kid in the back to check that his eyesight was OK? The lad who had a little flounce out of Downing Street, lumping a cardboard box for dramatic effect, when the axe fell? This is the same guy, right?

Because as I type, he appears to be telling MPs that he never done nothing and it was that boy over there and besides he wasn’t even in the room when it happened. No, he ain’t friends with him and even if he was, the big boy never listens and, besides, he’s much cleverer than everybody and that’s the real reason no one likes him.

And so we have it. An unelected fixer with an inflated view of the power of his own intellect – have a squint, if you can bear it, at his meandering, opaque blog – enjoying yet another day in the sun. Centre stage again for a man who purports to enjoy dark corners and shadows. The functionary becomes the story; the reliable adviser upstages his masters. Publishers everywhere queue up to get him signed on. 

If only it could be a joke. But it isn’t. People died in their tens of thousands because those elected to do the difficult stuff – not just the photos wearing hard hats or spaffing out some clever (and highly rehearsed) Latin witticism – couldn’t manage to conduct themselves any better than a group of daft Year 10s  caught red-handed behind the bike shed. It beggars belief that when crisis struck, this bunch of floundering egotists couldn’t bring themselves to put personal animosity aside and act as some sort of coherent collective. That one of the most culpable culprits is clearly relishing every moment in the latest limelight makes it all so much worse.

Let’s be clear. It would have been impossible to address such an unprecedented situation without some mistakes being made. We might even take some comfort in a democratic process that still allows the degree of public scrutiny that we are currently witnessing. Nonetheless, there are a few rotten, stubborn truths that can’t be lost, no matter what concessions we care to make. Hovering over this dreadful episode is one notion, lonely and forgotten by those who should be its greatest advocates – the taking of responsibility.

Again, even as I type, the naughty, roguish maverick is aghast that he was given so much responsibility; that the Prime Minister could assume so much authority; that government posts were handed to people so obviously ill-equipped to fulfil them; that authoritative voices were ignored. I suspect you’ll be ahead of me here, but it was precisely this impatience with, and contempt for, the checks and balances of the democratic process that made the scruffy prince such a favourite at court.  Brushing aside thoughtful reservations, unwillingness to accommodate differing opinions – remember the purge of those dullard remainers? – is the very hallmark of the single-minded politburo that currently masquerades as a Cabinet. And it was the job of the precocious whizz-kid to normalise such thinking.

So, there might be some passing merriment as villains call each other out. We could enjoy a chuckle or two as they position themselves to both stab and avoid being knifed themselves. But it’s no laughing matter. From the people who gave dodgy contracts to clueless mates, who doled out confusing and misleading communications, who failed to follow their own rules,  we have been left with  127,739 grieving families and a legacy of illness and delayed treatment that will linger long after these political pygmies have left the stage.

But it wasn’t my fault. It was that other boy over there. Not me. I never done nothing. How clever I am. That’s why no one likes me.

No, mate. That’s not why at all.

Calling out evil is doing the right thing, it doesn’t make you an anti-Semite

My maternal grandmother and her husband came to England in 1905 from the small town of Szczebrzeszyn, now in Eastern Poland. Even by Polish standards, the name defeats the most stout-hearted: the best approximation is Shrebyeshin. Despite its size, remote location and general anonymity, the town is known by Polish people as part of a tongue-twister of the ‘she sells seashells’ variety. I discovered this when I first went there and have since delighted a succession of Polish acquaintances with the knowledge, prompting many of them to rattle off the rhyme with varying degrees of success.

 When my grandparents left the town, which now sits almost directly on the border between Poland and the Ukraine, it was part of Russia; it had been disputed territory for centuries. Fearing the pogroms that were sweeping that part of the world, they made their move. Had they remained and eked out some kind of existence, they would certainly have met their fate some forty years later when the Nazis arrived and forced Jews in Szczebrzeszyn to dig their own graves before shooting them where they stood.

They settled in Birmingham and with five daughters in their household, young men a ‘plenty must have come calling. One of them was my father. Until 1938 he had been getting on with a normal, quiet life in Vienna. The street on which he was living, still standing and looking relatively unchanged, is a short walk from the Prater Fairground, where the big wheel became famous for its use in The Third Man.

A stroll down the row of unassuming, grey apartment buildings, now inhabited largely by people of Turkish origin, might reveal nothing until one looks at the inscriptions on the entrance halls of all of them. There, a list of names appears along with the stark admission that, on various dates in 1938, these people were taken from their homes and, as the blunt translation reveals, murdered by the Nazis. My personal researches reveal that my father escaped this fate by a matter of days, quite possibly hours.

Given this history, it is little wonder that my entire extended family – including me – looked to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 as a thing of wonder and, above all, as the embodiment of a place of safety. Notions of returning to the land of birthright along with the convenient idea of a land without people for a people without land reinforced the fierce loyalty that informed my family’s thinking. Israel represented the righting of historical wrongs, the delivery of what was due to Jewish people and, most compellingly, a sense of reparation for the horrors of the Holocaust.

I know now, of course, that it’s all a bit more complicated than that. My reason for furnishing you with this brief history of my family and heritage is to make a simple point that is wilfully ignored by various mischief-makers: to oppose the actions of the State of Israel is not anti-Semitic. And, for the avoidance of doubt, to blame Jewish people for those actions most definitely is. It makes no more sense to blame a Jewish person living in North London for the actions of Netanyahu and his killing machines than to blame a Muslim in Luton for terror attacks anywhere in the world.

What was it that shifted me – and so many others – from thinking that Israel represented humanity at its best? A land made prosperous by industrious people eager to make the most of their recognition by claiming what was their proper due? The answer is simple: by finding out about the central myth of the ‘empty’ land and its appropriation by those claiming rights to it. This enduringly false premise has played out in towns, cities and villages since 1948 as Israel’s governments have systematically ratcheted up segregation, exclusion and the displacement of Palestinian people. This now plays out in the construction of check-points, dividing walls, diverted roads and the building of illegal, Jewish-only settlements. The Israeli state has become a byword for systematic discrimination: it is, without doubt, an apartheid state.

A couple of days after Eid last week – that’d be when Israeli forces thought it prudent to invade the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem while people were at prayer – Palestinians commemorated Nakba Day, the remembrance of the catastrophe of their displacement. It’s a commemoration that is subject to legal penalty under Israeli law.  A few days earlier, a group of right-wing Israelis exercised their privilege to march through areas of Jerusalem for their annual March of the Flags, blithely chanting ‘Death to Arabs’ and left to their own devices by security forces. This rampant nationalism worked well for a beleaguered Prime Minister Netanyahu, happy to play the vile card of populist nationalism at a time when his hold on power looks as precarious as ever. Attempts to deflect criticism of these cynical, violent policy decisions by dubbing detractors antisemitic are the desperate acts of guilty people.

I was brought up believing the central truth that the land of Israel belonged to the Jewish people. The most cursory acquaintance with history undermines that attractive, but flawed notion. Many people I know, including family members, exercised what is known as ‘right of return’ which means that anyone of Jewish heritage is entitled to live in Israel and be granted citizenship. They can go ‘home’. In an absurd twist of fate, I could do it. I’m secular, non-practising and sceptical and I can’t believe I’d be very welcome, but it remains my right. Palestinians remain excluded; their real homes – their houses – are much closer, often within touching distance, but remain firmly out of reach.

In early May, during Ramadan, in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, Israeli riot police set about nightly beatings of protestors trying to protect families from being evicted from the area and being replaced by Jewish settlers. A viral clip shows a resident explaining to a settler that he is stealing her house. ‘If I don’t steal it,’ he tells her, ‘someone else will.’ Goodness only knows what my displaced forebears would have made of that, but I’m pretty confident that they’d think it wasn’t the attitude of an honourable person. And I can tell you with supreme confidence, that neither my grandmother, my father – nor me – could ever be called anti-Semites.

Identity crisis? That should be easy for Labour to solve.

There was once a fabricated story doing the rounds that Peter Mandelson had pointed to some mushy peas in a northern chip shop and asked for a serving of guacamole. Untrue, but indicative of a strong feeling that one of Tony Blair’s chief henchmen cut an alienated figure when plonked into everyday surroundings. Well, whatever Lord Mandelson piles onto his refined breakfast platter, he’ll be tucking into it with relish today.

In the wake of Labour’s catastrophic showing in Thursday’s elections, his lordship furnished his prompt, incisive analysis – it was all down to Corbyn and Covid. Now, lest we forget, in February 2017, Mandelson proudly and publicly proclaimed that he was working every day to undermine the leader of the party of which he was a member. This didn’t work out so well for him. Three months later, the Labour candidate for Hartlepool, under the reviled Corbyn’s leadership, polled just under 22 thousand votes – easily the highest number since the Tories took office in 2005. The hapless good doctor Williams scratched together eight and half thousand on Thursday and m’lord’s ambition – along with that of plenty of his own ennobled chums – had reached full fruition: the Labour Party had managed to drill below rock bottom.

That it could have performed with such astonishing ineptitude is testament to a party whose current, dull leadership has no idea what it’s supposed to stand for. This goes some way to explaining how it is possible that a government which has displayed such monumental incompetence and dishonesty has succeeded, it seems, in fooling plenty of people for a lot of the time.

The highest number of deaths from Covid in Europe; an exams’ fiasco that would be laughable if children’s welfare hadn’t been shredded as a consequence; an overpriced test-and-trace system that has frizzled off into the atmosphere; PPE contracts handed to drinking chums – all presided over by a man whose dishonesty has never been called into question. How have the Tories managed to haul themselves out of this mire? Well, that’s an easy one. Through the efforts of tens of thousands of volunteers, willingly giving time to a national health service which – and be in no doubt about this – is still up for privatised grabs under the watchful eye of a government of hard-line believers in market forces.

Even accounting for the unmerited approval that the vaccination roll-out has conferred on the Tories, why has Labour, with some honourable local exceptions, not been able to lay a glove on Johnson and his courtiers? From a whole range of reasons which could fill a dozen blog posts, here are two to consider.

First, in local elections that were almost inevitably low-key because of Covid, it was still noticeable that poster-boards, window posters and even instantly-recyclable election leaflets were in short supply for all parties. Reports suggest that many parts of the country mirror my local experience of Labour party material being non-existent. There’s a reason for this.

To state the bleeding obvious, in order to hammer in posts and to deliver leaflets and posters, you need people. The Labour Party, despite a fall of some 50,000 since Starmer took charge, still has half a million members – easily double that of the Tories – making it one of the largest memberships in Europe. Nevertheless, from the moment Corby became party leader, Labour grandees like Mandelson, David Blunkett, Margaret Hodge, Alan Johnson and dozens of others have worked remorselessly to undermine, discredit and discourage such people from being active members. They have roared on those officials who have expelled and suspended activists. They have banned debate in constituency meetings. They have been part of the machinery that has foisted candidates on unwilling areas. They have, just as Mandelson wanted, done a great undermining job.

Just as importantly – and this has filled columns a ‘plenty since Thursday – it is a party that doesn’t seem to stand for anything. Which is extraordinary. The party that was formed to represent the interests of working people needs, now more than ever, to say whose interests it represents: the underpaid, the unfairly paid, those in need of decent council housing, those who serve but don’t profiteer, those who rely on decent public services, those who have fallen by society’s wayside and those who want to arrest, as a matter of urgency, the burning of the planet and its resources. It needs to say that it is actively anti-racist and champion the cause of the oppressed – and that means dissociating itself from murderous regimes and those who preside over them. In short, it needs to be bold and confident in its assertions – not a limp, pale entity tail-ending the dreadful ideas of incompetents and charlatans.

In those places where it has done so, where party activists have been regular workers in food-banks, setting up local libraries, providing local transport, campaigning for affordable housing and, above all, been generally unapologetic in speaking out against unfairness, inequality and dishonesty, it has done well. In short, it has an identity. At present, it has none and, worse still, remains determined to dissociate itself from those who might just supply it with one.

And if the thought of an idle, mendacious, complacent Prime Minister lolling around and grinning at his good fortune in his baroque chambers doesn’t spark Starmer and his chums into doing something – and quickly – about this, then it may soon be time for the obituaries of  their party to be written.

The price of everything and the value of nothing

A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Oscar Wilde

At about ten to two last Sunday I did an ungainly dance round my living room while screeching Neanderthal expletives.  This wasn’t some desperate outcome of months of lockdown; it was a wild a reaction to my team scoring a goal. It was a goal that will probably ensure my team continuing to play in the second tier of English football next season.

My team is not one of the big hitters. To borrow from Mark Twain, we are best summed up by the notion that we have great moments, but dreadful half-hours. When those great moments occur, they are indescribably sweet. The half-hours? Well, supporters of my club know, through a combination of history, precedent and osmosis, that they’re exactly what we signed up for.

Some five years ago, venture capitalists from the other side of the world purchased my club. As befits the lack of good fortune that bedevils us, they were, to use football jargon, venture capitalists from the lower reaches of the pyramid. They’re more Keystone Cops than the Wolf of Wall Street. The clue, of course, is in the ‘venture’ part. They took a punt, often, it seems, using money that was ‘notional’. They started their stewardship with all the clumsy naivety of an optimistic gambler and then became steadily more inept, desperate and incoherent as time wore on. Far from elbowing a place at the top table, we repeatedly end up scrabbling to stay with the also-rans.

I don’t want to go all grammatical on you. If you’ve been condemned to home-schooling, you may have become familiar with some of the arcane terminology being foisted on our children. If so, you’ll have noticed the deliberate use of the first-person in what I’ve written: ‘my team’, ‘we’, ‘us’. That’s because I’m describing a central part of my life – one that is bound up with history, traditions, friendships, personal memories and matchday rituals. The chances are that if you don’t recognise any of this in yourself, you will do in someone you know.

The explosion of comment and reaction to the proposed Super League has prompted our senior politicians to come forward. It is an outrage, they splutter, that something so close to the nation’s heart and soul should be sold off in this unfeeling, aggressive way. These people simply can’t be allowed to breeze in, wave their wads of dollar-bills, walk off with our assets and wreck a way of life as they do so. Who do they think they are?

Well, the answer to that is quite simple. ‘They’ are JPMorgan and they have made an initial pledge of £3 billion to promote their new football toy. Oh…..and one of their vice-chairmen, David Mayhew, has invested some £600,000 in the Conservative Party – so ‘they’ are not exactly an unknown entity as far as our new champions of the peoples’ game are concerned. But, as we all know in the age of back-handing contracts to your mates or texting your old buddy, the Chancellor, to get a leg-up introduction, when it comes to making a few quid for yourself, old habits die hard.

And here’s a stark truth about the likes of JPMorgan. They really don’t give a monkeys that millions of people like me enjoy a couple of pints before a match. They neither know nor care that I can remember with bright clarity the first time I saw the towering stands (they were dilapidated and unsafe, as it happens) and the gleaming grass of my team’s ground. The fact that my grandchildren proudly sport Granddad’s team’s shirt is entirely inconsequential. They would consider my poring over the league table as the season ends as deluded actions in a man of my age (and, yes – of course I know they are). The fact that I don’t want to watch football on TV is immaterial, just as long as they’ll be doing so in their billions across the globe.

Regrettably, none of this comes as any surprise. Football at the elite level has become monetized, sanitized and commodified as distant owners crave the glitzy, franchise model that prevails across the cash-rich set-ups of American Football and cricket’s Indian Premier League.  All the same, one can only marvel at the nerve of a political class performing its pantomime of concern over it all.

Lest we lose sight of it, of all the tricks that capitalism has up its sleeve, the most breath-taking is the show-stopper of selling stuff back to us that we already own. If it can convince us that allowing private companies to purloin everything from gas to wind to water and then to flog it at a profit, then it’s little wonder that the shiny jewel of football has caught its restlessly greedy eye.

*******************************

In 2020 I wrote two books about football. Hugging Strangers captures what it’s like to be a hopelessly committed fan of a mediocre team. The other, Project Restart, is particularly apt at present, as it shows how football can hold a centrally important place in people’s lives and communities.

A burning reminder of Johnson’s Irish amnesia

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is shankhill.jpg

Finally, we’re allowed to speak to each other in person, cautious and distant as we have to be. In different circumstances, we’d have plenty of catching up to do – places we’ve been, things we’ve done, funny or frustrating stories about that bloke from work. But that well of conversation is parched and so it’s not long before the inevitable question pops out: ‘You watched anything good at all?’

In the past, this query would have been an admission that your social and cultural life was in the throes of terminal decline. Not so now when reliance on the telly box is a universal experience. The decline of FOMO (the fear of missing out) means that we can be happily relaxed about swapping our box-set recommendations.  I’m grateful to the friend who prompted me to look again at a blast from the past.

Peter Flannery’s brilliant Our Friends in the North was first broadcast in 1996. It tells the compelling story of four friends from Newcastle and how they navigate their entwined personal and political lives between 1964 and 1995. A scene from an episode set in the mid-1980s has extraordinary contemporary resonance.

On the back of Margaret Thatcher’s burgeoning popularity, along with the floundering incompetence of the Labour Party, a former northern stronghold has turned to the Conservatives. During the scene in question, a local criminal has eventually been brought to heel – more through luck than judgement – by an increasingly beleaguered constabulary. The new Tory MP is quick to be interviewed on TV to proclaim the populist commitment to being tough on crime. Off camera, she is confronted by the indefatigable local councillor who tries to explain that the culprit is a victim of unemployment, lack of opportunity and the closure of community amenities.

The newly installed MP can scarcely contain her mirth and contempt. ‘Are you seriously trying to tell me,’ she sneers, ‘that this sort of criminality takes place because the local library has had to cut its Joanna Trollope section?’   

Fictitious it may be, but we’ve been treated to that crowing, tone-deaf voice too often in the last few days. The firebombed Belfast bus had barely slid to its uncontrolled demise before outrage poured from the commentariat and social media. As some attempted a sober analysis that might link the riots to decisions around Brexit, borders and – most tellingly – a sense of  being abandoned by the political classes, others met this suggestion with withering scorn.

Are we seriously proposing that bored, wild kids revelling in urban mayhem are doing so because of the fine print of the Withdrawal Bill or the minutiae of the Good Friday Agreement? ‘Recreational rioting’ is what’s at the root of it according to local politician, Doug Beattie. It’s ‘grossly irresponsible’ to blame the riots on the political process, proclaims Tory Peer, Lord Caine. Boris Johnson, emulating his fallen hero’s penchant for declaring policy via Twitter, calls for dialogue to resolve differences, ‘not violence or criminality.’

Which, coming from the man who, to all intents and purposes, had completely forgotten about Ireland in his juvenile haste to get Brexit done, is a bit rich. When the inconvenient realities of how, in an exact and detailed way, the issue of border controls on the island were to be addressed, we became witness to episodes of jaw-dropping incompetence, back-tracking and bare-faced lying on the part of the Prime Minister and his unlamented sidekicks. His breezy assertion that ‘there will be no checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ in October 2019 was as stupid as it was mendacious. In this, as in all things, his unruly willingness to skate over truths is the hallmark of his actions and character.

But then I would say that wouldn’t I? So when it come to a lifelong Tory advocate, a stalwart of the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, doing the same, that probably has a bit more heft. Peter Oborne’s book The Assault on the Truth is a grim catalogue of the Prime Minister’s passing acquaintance with truth and morality, going way back to his early days as a jobbing (and lying) journalist. Oborne reviews the career of someone he views as supremely talented, yet incapable of allowing facts and propriety to obstruct the road to personal ambition and self-aggrandisement. It’s an authoritative and astonishing read.  

Just as astonishing is the response to it from Johnson’s cheerleaders. The Conservative Home website has to admit that their hero may have been a bit of a rogue in the past, but who doesn’t want a ‘certain impudent lightness of touch’ from their leader? (Don’t bother checking: I promise you that’s a direct quotation.) What’s more, it’s simply not good form to call someone a liar, is it? People who do so, the homeboys insist, are in ‘possession of an untrammelled but intolerant self-righteousness which makes them sound like so many ranting, holier-than-thou hypocrites.’ I’ll just leave that there.

Johnson’s approach to Ireland has veered between ITV’s It’ll be Alright on the Night to Mr Micawber’s ‘something will turn up’ to the magical emergence of the Emerald City at the end of the Yellow Brick Road. Nobody in their right mind could think there’s no connection between lary kids chucking petrol bombs and various self-styled, urban Lords of Misrule, but to pretend that nobody saw this coming  is an abdication of responsibility of unforgivable proportions. And when it comes to swerving responsibility, the one thing we do know is that we’ve got an expert at the wheel.

Got a problem? Let’s invent something else to attack

I know this will disappoint people out there determined to pursue a culture war, so if you’re of that persuasion, take a deep breath.

 There is no woke brigade, there’s no such thing as a liberal elite, campuses (even when populated) are not awash with students cancelling people with whom they disagree and – wait for it – the notion of snowflakes is entirely in your head.

It’s worth a look at these imagined threats.

Wokeness is the cardinal sin in the eyes of the right wing commentariat – think about a continuum of odiousness running from Melanie Phillips to Laurence Fox to Piers Morgan and coming to a juddering halt with Julie Burchill. What irks this snarling herd most is a poisonous objection to people taking care about the language they use. This applies particularly when they talk about others or publicly espouse causes which address social injustice, which is something for which they have another label – ‘virtue signalling’.

For your committed culture warrior, it goes without saying that those who express such misplaced concern for the feelings and welfare of others, particularly if they hail from anywhere other than council houses (younger readers can google what they were) are part of a liberal elite. Those of their number who are actors, musicians or athletes obviously deserve to be singled out for special opprobrium. Stick to your greasepaint, shut up and sing, score your goals and pick up your fat wage packet. Can’t you see how privileged you are?

I think I might be a member too. I’ve got plenty of qualifications, I live near London in a private house and, for the most part, I prefer BBC to ITV. Oh, and I find all sorts of discrimination entirely unacceptable, I upbraid people for the use of bigoted language and I think the world’s in a bit of a mess and we ought to do something about it very quickly. Give me the membership form and I’ll sign up immediately.

When it comes to snowflakes, nobody has been more damning of their limpness than sturdy yeoman Piers Morgan, and so his own dainty flounce last week looks more hilariously precious with every re-run. His accusation against this generation of flimsy dependants is that they just don’t understand that they’ve never had it so good. What with the prospect of living with your parents or flatmates until you’re nearly 40, a lifetime of precarious employment, inheriting a planet that your elders are burning up by the day and  the likelihood of having to pay, literally, for the pandemic, it’s impossible to know what could possibly be feeding their fretful anxieties.

Of course, this doesn’t excuse their banning people they don’t want to hear from university campuses. It’s a damning attitude, justifying the insistence of the ever-alert Gavin Williamson in appointing a free-speech champion. Except that it’s not true. The government’s Office for Students has identified 53 such cases in over 62,000 invitations – less than 0.1%. Sledgehammers and nuts don’t even cover it.

The plain fact is that those who rail against the wokes, the elite and the snowflakes are tilting at windmills and squabbling with straw men. It’s a worthwhile trick if you can pull it off. The problem is not systemic, corrosive racism – it’s the people who constantly bang on and on about it. The issue is not the clear link between poverty, poor academic performance and ill health – it’s the bleeding hearts who excuse people for not taking responsibility for themselves. It’s not a question of politicians exposing themselves to ridicule and contempt through their irredeemable incompetence – it’s the biased, lefty comedians for satirising their failures.

If this false battle was just being conducted by a few jowly, wizened malcontents in the media it might even be mildly entertaining. Regrettably, culture wars are all too eagerly embraced by members of Boris Johnson’s floundering, lickspittle cabinet. Priti Patel labels the Black Lives Matter movement ‘dreadful’; culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, urges scholars not to ‘reinvent history’; housing minister, Robert Jenrick warns against removing statues or renaming streets. Because in a massively unequal society with the arts under threat and crippling housing shortages, these concerns really go to the heart of the matter, don’t they?

The last resort of culture warriors is to invoke the notion of good, old-fashioned common sense. They do so as if this concept was inscribed on pillars of stone, immoveable by either time or circumstance. Boys will be boys; know your place; let nature take its course; don’t go out dressed like that. It’s bilge like this that we’ve had to wade through for too long, so let’s carry on upsetting the applecart – and keeping our eye on the non-imaginary problems that really do need solving.

Get the tech firms to do the banning? Let’s go for education instead.

You taught me language and my profit on’t is I know how to curse.’ Caliban: The Tempest

‘What the great ones do, the less will prattle of,’ says the sea captain at the start of Twelfth Night. Written four hundred years before celebrity mags and reality TV came to fill us with jollity and with us still waiting for Twitter to improve the quality of our lives, it’s some foresight on the part of the boy from small-time Strafford.

It has always been the inalienable right of onlookers to pass judgement on those who are in the public eye. Or to chatter aimlessly with their acquaintances about the conduct of the great and the good. When the opportunity arises, we can shout opinions into the wind at public events, sporting occasions or when chance meetings occur. Social media, however, takes this one -way conversation to an entirely different level.

As diverting as it could be, I have no genuine Twitter presence. For one thing, life has taught me that my immediate reaction to events, particularly those that alarm or disturb, is not always as reliable and coherent as it might be. What’s more, like many people, I’ve become acutely aware that I’d like to spend less time perusing vacuous trash on my phone. It’s true that the quick-witted and the pithy can use it to entertain and provoke and that it is a form of swift riposte that can spark a superficial sort of shadow debate. But it also offers short-lived empowerment and, for a tiny number of those who so avidly pursue it, a few moments during which they have been noticed – however anonymously.

The last couple of weeks have revealed tales of breath-taking, sickening bile directed at footballers and athletes or, to be exact, black footballers and athletes. Women in any sort of public sphere have long needed to steel themselves as open targets and, scarcely believably, the victims of crime and tragedy are often singled out by the deranged, vile or dangerously bored.  Politicians of any stripe are fair game, it seems, and obviously deserve anything that’s spewed at them.

There’s an obvious solution, isn’t there? The social media giants must act, mustn’t they?  Users must be registered and, if found culpable, banned. Because it’s a universal truth that the peddlers of such vitriol are incapable of establishing a variety of online identities. We’re told that the companies themselves must create and deploy protocols which enable them to both censure and censor. Because multi-national corporations are precisely who we need to be the guardians of public morality requiring precise and delicate judgements. And, of course, they operate so independently of any vested interests.

Banning, blanking and cancelling are simply not the way to go. Never mind crude algorithms that quash saucy place names or even left-wing groups, once we start leaving social media firms to self-police, we’re asking for trouble. Fortunately, alternative methods are possible – and there’s never been a better time to instigate them while we reassess what schools need to do as, chastened, we start to think about what’s worth knowing in the world.  How about making social media literacy as important a part of a child’s education as being able to pluck Shakespearean quotations just in order to show off?

To be literate is to equip ourselves – and, crucially, our children – to be able to navigate the world in which we live. An overwhelmingly prominent feature of that world is social media – and it’s  toothpaste that is never going back into the tube. If we leave our young people (or anyone else, come to that) ignorant about how it works, who controls it, how its content is generated and how it can be manipulated by the unscrupulous to degrade, delude and diminish, then we’re selling them dangerously short.

And who would be against the development of such knowledge? Well, Nick Gibb, that’s who. No? You can be forgiven because, by and large, he keeps a low profile. He’s the minister charged with school standards and he’s seen off Michael Gove and all his successors at the Department for Education, which is where he’s been since 2010. He’s a bit of a traditionalist is Nick and he’s not a fan of any fancy modern ideas. ‘The romantic notion that teachers need not focus on knowledge and instead turn their attention to developing creativity or communication skills has gripped many countries around the world,’ he griped in a speech in 2017. That’s right, Nick. While our children are bombarded with image after meme after insult after disturbing video, why on earth would we want to teach them about communication skills?

When, at last, we get our children back into schools and when we’ve given them the chance to talk, play and make sense of what has happened to them, maybe we’ll turn our minds to a new subject on the curriculum. One that could shape their lives and, if left unmediated, distort it and cause destructive confusion. Maybe if Nick Gibb and government ministers can’t grasp this, we’ll need to call on a young, black footballer who’s been on the receiving end of those hilariously named anonymous posters. That often seems to do the trick………over to you, Marcus. Get tweeting!

Free connectivity? What? For everyone? Don’t be ridiculous.

A hundred years ago in December 2019, we had a general election. The principal issue was Brexit – which seems to be going swimmingly, by the way – and the Labour party’s complete confusion on the issue cost it dear.

Depending on which narrative you choose to believe, a pressurised Jeremy Corbyn, spotting the writing on the wall, either formulated an imaginative plan for a vital social provision, or desperately plucked an idea from the line of optics in the last chance saloon. It did him no good. It was so obviously stupid, impractical and, above all, ridiculously expensive.

Every home, he suggested, should have high-speed, full fibre broadband and…..wait for it….it should be free. Oh, how his detractors hugged themselves with unbridled delight: he’d clearly fallen off the edge of reason. The Daily Express gleefully shrieked that ‘reckless Corbyn’ fully deserved the universal derision coming from Tory MPs who were asking whether the woolly old veg-digger had ever considered the cost of this. Nicky Morgan, who has gone on to enhance her political career by leaps and bounds  – oh, no, wait a minute –  sneered about his blinkered disregard for how this would ‘cost hard working tax payers billions of pounds’. The estimated bill would be in the region of some £20.3 billion. Madness.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson, in his sober and measured way, calmly recognised the importance of the issue and pledged to bring forward a full commercial roll out from 2033 to 2025. How he must have chortled contentedly to himself. Free broadband! As if.

It’s just over a year since the last of the scoffing died down. If anyone thought that broadband access wasn’t a priority before the election, they’ll have been disabused of that notion by now.  As one of the indices of inequality, it’s up there near the top – and nowhere is this more acutely obvious than in terms of education.

Steve Chalke is the founder of the Oasis Academy chain of schools and, to be honest, I wouldn’t  imagine that we could ever be chums, despite the fact that both of us have spent decades trying to improve the life chances of children through education. But I cheered his radio interview to the rafters this morning when he suggested that having a child living in a home without good broadband access is akin to living in one without electricity or water. For the avoidance of doubt, should you harbour the notion that Steve Chalke is some bohemian sprite, riding the waves of liberal free-thinking, just give him a quick google.

Inequality is now the hallmark of the pandemic, markedly so in a highly developed economy like ours. Education should be able to act as a leveller. We can leave aside the nonsensical discourse about children having to ‘catch up’; learning is neither a race nor a competitive sport. However, we are now certain of one thing: even in these straitened circumstances, a child has a better chance of learning something if s/he has space, some support from people with the time to provide it and – not just in times of pandemic – access to a decent digital device with an affordable broadband service to make it work.

Johnson and his party made a commitment to levelling up those parts of society that had been left behind and who were angry and resentful as a consequence. Let’s suspend our disbelief for long enough to accommodate the idea that the party of self-help and blame was ever committed to such a pledge. If it’s still on the to-do list, then this week’s figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) will have given them a further, shocking jolt. Put simply, if you work in poor conditions for low wages in jobs that that can’t be done from home, you’re five times more likely to become infected with the virus than if you work from your house.  And you’re more likely to be able to work from your house if your digital connection is strong, reliable and affordable so that you can work while your children get access to some lessons at the same time.

And if, just if, that astronomical £20 billion had been shelled out for this apparently barmy scheme, how much of a dent would that have made in the national budget? According to figures from the ONS and the National Audit Office, projected government borrowing for the financial year from April 2020 should have been around £55 billion. Covid has made those figures look ridiculous and the current projection is now nearer £350 billion. The cost to the economy has been massive; the cost to our general health and welfare, especially that of our children, may yet be inestimable unless the drifting and u-turning comes to a halt.

So, why would we decide to pay £20 billion for a national asset that could help to educate our children, enable greener working practices, keep people safer and also end up with a significant piece of digital infrastructure? Of all the hare-brained schemes, that one’s right up there, isn’t it? Yep. Completely reckless.   

If the world spins differently, a few exam passes are sort of irrelevant – aren’t they?

Put aside for one moment the ridiculous reality that someone put Gavin Williamson in charge of education. We are, as the modern cliché goes, where we are. And let’s be gracious: his job is not an easy one. He’s also not helped by the fact that he is saddled with a set of ideas about the purpose of school that become more demonstrably useless with every passing day.

Now that he’s been allowed out to speak to us – having been given the simplest of briefs to avoid saying something stupid – there’s one idea he trots  out as a ‘common sense’ life-saver at every opportunity: young people who are preparing for exams must return to school as soon as possible. And he’s not alone. Headteachers appear on news bulletins to reiterate this incontrovertible truth. Parents call in to talk shows to tell of their heart-breaking concern about their children’s miserable anxiety. Because, we are told with shrieking certainty, these exams are important and will determine their life chances.

At this point, I am obliged to wheel out a pre-emptive disclaimer that regular readers will have heard before. Children should be assessed from time to time so that we can find out what they know, understand and can do. It is then our job as educators to push them on to the next thing of which they could be capable. It is also up to educators to acknowledge that not all young people are good at the same things and that the golden key to is to find those areas where individuals can flourish and encourage them to pursue these further. What our knowledge of pedagogy and human development tells us is that people are more likely to develop ways of learning – and discover further interests – on the back of these successes. (I appreciate that Gavin might already be struggling with some of this).

This is a very different model from the one that stamps itself on schools, teachers and students. From a narrow range of subjects which have not changed significantly for a century, an even narrower range of topics and ideas are centrally chosen. This meagre selection is then formulated and packaged in a way that makes assessment of them relatively uniform and straightforward and, hey presto, a child comes out of the other end stamped, categorised and ready for the next part of the process. Whether or not anyone has ever actually, genuinely learned anything is a luxurious irrelevance. It’s the data that counts.

An increasingly narrow curriculum and an absurd hierarchy of subject importance – maths good, drama bad – is disappointing enough. What makes matters worse is the way in which schools have been forced to define themselves and their success by this sole criterion. Slice it however you like, how well children and their teachers do in this narrow band of inflexible, often outdated set of formulaic tests and exams is the toxic fuel that drives what happens in our schools. If you convince yourself that this is a tolerable state of affairs, you end up howling into the wind that a 16-year-old sitting a test is important while the world around that child is changing, irrevocably, with every passing hour.

And before you jump to any daft conclusions – no, I’m not advocating free-spirited yoghurt weaving as an alternative. Unlike Gavin, I’ve been at this education lark for well over forty years and these things I know as incontrovertible truths:  young people like their adults to be knowledgeable, firm, consistent and reliable. They want their teachers to exude purposefulness in everything they do. With some dishonourable exceptions, this characterises pretty well all the teachers I have known. Which leads us to the crunch question. If, grudgingly, Gavin and his chums have had to acknowledge the central importance of teachers and what they do, why not trust them to assess what their pupils know, understand and can do?

The answer is because in this aspect of their professional behaviour, as far as politicians are concerned, teachers are not to be trusted. They’d inflate the grades; they’d be soft on their own pupils; they’d over-coach them and let them see questions beforehand. Let’s leave aside the inconvenient truth that during a fleeting period in the 1980s and 90s teachers had brief, overall control of some GCSE exams and none of this happened and look at the question from a different angle. If we stripped away the notion of competition between schools in terms of results, and if we removed a regulatory regime that inspected and categorised schools on the basis of these results, what incentive would there be to engage in any such malpractice? In whose interests would any skulduggery be? 

For Gavin, his Tory chums and their New Labour predecessors, there would be an even more disturbing problem. Dismantle the high-stakes, punitive scrutiny that rests on notions of delivery and production and we are left with only one alternative. Schools run by headteachers, teachers and professionally informed bodies that decide what’s good for particular children at particular times and in particular circumstances. Who devise a range of ways of assessing where children are at present, what they need to address next -and who can be trusted to report on this to parents and outside bodies in a professional and dispassionate way.

Or we can carry on behaving in the same way, pretending that all around us has not changed. When introducing new teachers to the profession, I use a brief clip from the original 1930 film, All Quiet on the Western Front. In it, a young soldier, just a few months out of school, complains to his grizzled senior officer that nothing he learned there has prepared him for what he now faces. ‘They didn’t even teach us how to light a cigarette in the wind,’ he grumbles. From there, we discuss the choices we make about the purpose of education and, in particular how it might, theoretically, prepare young people for an unknown world. It’s a discussion we should all be having right now – and  there’s nothing remotely theoretical about it.