Insularity breeds contempt.
In my first job at Eastbourne Sixth Form College I was tutoring a student. I asked him whether he had ever been to Brighton. He replied with some disdain, “No way. It’s full of crooks and queers.” I lived in Brighton at the time and commuted the twenty-five miles to Eastbourne on a daily basis. He failed to see the irony in his response.
When I became head teacher at Lady Lumley’s School in Pickering, rural North Yorkshire, we had an OFSTED inspection eight days into my tenure. The lay inspector was called Hussein. He lodged for the week at the local B&B and on the Wednesday evening he went to the local fish & chip shop, where they proceeded to ignore him. He left without being served.
My first appoint at Lumley’s was a female senior caretaker. I was reliably informed by my own PA that I had made a huge error in appointing a woman because, “in Pickering we think men are the stronger sex”.
One Friday evening on the way home I drove up the main street to find a gathering of German Officers fraternising with a bunch of Tommys outside one of the pubs. There were military uniforms everywhere. I realised that I had chanced upon the biggest event in the Pickering social calendar, the “War Weekend”.
This was 2003, but it felt like I was living in a different age altogether.
I grew up in deepest rural East Sussex in the 1960s and ’70s. At primary school Martin was a black lad who we found endlessly fascinating. He used to pull out tiny bits of his hair and give it to us. He called it “Hairy Goodness”. And in Year 3 I had a Malaysian girlfriend, Cecile, whose dad had been posted to the village by the army. There exists in mother’s archive a photograph of us in which, I swear, Cecile is twice as tall as me.
I have a natural tan. I only have to be out in the sun for a couple of hours and it looks like I have been on a Greek beach for a fortnight in August. Back in the 1970s, by the end of the summer my dad’s mates at the Artisan working class golf club used to call me “Rastus”. It was common sense British racism and I didn’t understand its significance. I just used to smile.
We were taught French from Year 1. I found it really hard to learn but I can still enter a French GCSE class and engage with anyone in the room. At secondary school I learnt German and my CSE grade 1 helped earn my place at York University to study English and Related Literature.
It was difficult to broaden my horizons.
Even when I was doing my A levels, there were teachers who would tell overtly racist jokes and think nothing of it. But education is a marvellous thing and the more I read and the more people I met the more I realised how much of the world there was to discover.
I went abroad for the first time when I was twenty-one, to the USA. Before then I hadn’t even been to the Isle of Wight. Coming from a working class background without the wherewithal to venture abroad, it was only my education which broadened my horizons.
And now, as an educator, I have worked hard to develop a curriculum with a global outlook. At Huntington we have always insisted that studying a modern language to sixteen is part of a well-rounded education. For four years, and with great success, we offered the International Baccalaureate Diploma, one of the finest educational qualifications in the world, until the pressure on funding meant we could run the IBD no longer.
At Huntington we have a comprehensive student in-take. We teach students from across the full socio-economic spectrum. For some students going “into town” means going up to the Monk’s Cross shopping complex. The City’s walls were built to keep invaders out and centuries later some of York’s own citizens feel barred from entering the City’s streets.
Promoting an international outlook for all our students in an insular city on an insular island is a challenge, but one which is important and valuable; my argument to students, parents, staff and governors for doing so has been based upon the premise that, as the globe continues to shrink, our students’ market for jobs will be Europe and beyond.
Despite York voting decisively to Remain, yesterday’s Referendum result seems to have invalidated my argument.
That disappoints me, but what outrages me is the dishonesty by which that outcome was reached. David Cameron gambled on a referendum merely to appease the right-wing of his party and diffuse UKIP’s potency. As Nick Robinson’s analysis so clearly showed, Gove’s support of Brexit was prompted, to a great extent, by revenge for Cameron sacking him as Secretary of State for Education. Johnson, a natural Europhile, chose to oppose Cameron to depose him and assume the top job.
What you realise, having been at university back in the mid-1980s, having listened to the boys in the Federation of Conservative Students who now populate the Tory backbenches, having spoken at the Oxford Union where Johnson and Gove were both President, is that they are unremarkable human beings. They are, like all of us, making it up as they go along.
The look on Johnson’s face yesterday, when he had to give a proper statesmanlike press conference, when he couldn’t bat away awkward issues with a joke and a shake of his shaggy blonde mane, said, ‘Oh, sh*t! I never really thought we’d do this thing. I never really wanted to leave the EU. And I know, because I’ve always known, that giving the EU £350m a week was a lie and now there’s no way we can spend that on the NHS. And when it comes to immigration, we couldn’t really “take control” (I loved that fatuous phrase yesterday but today I’m not so sure…), and I know net immigration will actually rise for years to come. We’ve won this by telling fibs to the electorate who have gone with it because they are fed up and hard up and think things can’t get any worse. And I know they can and they will, and now I’ll have to sort out this bl**dy mess that I’ve caused. All because I wanted to get one over on Cameron and be PM.’
The FT commented this morning that Johnson was, “looking subdued and lacking his usual ebullience”.
Michael Gove looked like he was going to vomit.
To listen to the pair of them, along with Jacob Rees-Mogg, during the referendum campaign, talking about the establishment as though it was some alien force they had spent their whole lives resisting was laughable and another example of their dissembling.
It’s not the 1950s again. It’s 2016 and the world has changed irrevocably over the last sixty-odd years. What Johnson and Gove have done is fool the electorate by appealing to its worst instincts, restricted the scope of our young people’s lives and engaged in a power struggle as though it was some common room election shenanigans at Eton or Oxford.
At their press conference yesterday they looked worried and ashamed. And so they should.



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This post has 22 Comments

  1. I’m not sure they took too many of the electorate with them, really. I rather think the electorate got there by themselves and, certainly in this instance, they have moved beyond the political class. In the North, racism has been stewing for years, as has hatred of the EU. Johnson and Gove were just poster boys for a movement they severely underestimated. And Cameron’s PR version of political leadership and his lack of any kind of moral core, sold us all, right up shit creek.
    This is beyond politics. It’s ugly and it’s truly scary.

  2. John the EU referendum was never really about the EU but a terrible gamble that wa being played about the leadership of the Conservative party.

  3. God forgive me for looking like I am defending Gove and BoJo, but perhaps we should give some credence to the very strong possibility that they had been awake throughout the night? Why do I lead with this? Because I would like to suggest that context is a very important consideration.
    Many people are furious (Kill the old! Take away their vote! Ignore the result! Carry on regardless!). They simplify everything and reduce the “Leave” vote to the most base of emotions – hatred, anger, racism, xenophobia, Little Englander fantasies. As if 17.4 million people could only ever be motivated by one thing – Hate The Foreigners.
    The impression these people give is that everything was fine in the Garden until Thursday. Then the repugnant bugs crawled out from under their rocks and ruined life for everyone. Prior to Thursday, there were things that might perhaps have been better, but these were things we could all live with and which we shouldn’t worry ourselves too much about. And yet, in last nights TV News Entertainment, a young man said that he had voted “Leave” because he wanted change and, to be honest, it couldn’t get much worse, could it?
    He must have been one of the misguided ones. The ones who drive white vans, are violent, querulous, ill-read, ill-intentioned, red-crossed, tattooed, racist thugs. One of the ones who ruined it for us. One of the ones who don’t think for themselves. One of the ones who vote on an ideology. One of the ones that Hate.
    The more charitable people, of course, blame it on the politricians. The Go-Bo-Jo elite, using their rhetorical tricks to beguile the sheep and lead them astray. The Farage clown whose face paint hides a devil’s face that all the clever people can see, but which fools the lumpen every time. How awful! How cynical! How cruel to promise the plebs something that you have no intention of delivering.
    But perhaps it was not like this at all? Perhaps each person who went in to the polling booth – or at least many of them- went in and left the ideologies of the political “experts” and the classifications of the sociologists outside. Perhaps they went in and thought for themselves, “I’m voting for change. After all, it couldn’t get much worse.” Perhaps many went in and voted out of fear. Perhaps they were frightened that England wouldn’t be able to provide the support and assistance that they needed or that their children needed? Perhaps they listened to the politricians who, as any decent person will recognise, didn’t give two figs about them and decided to vote ABT – anything but *that*. Perhaps they were angry about the lack of importance that they were given in this country; angry about the way that they were forced to live in crumbling communities when other people *seemed* to be able to come in and “steal” jobs, houses and benefits from under their noses; perhaps they were alienated when memes appeared on Twitter and Facebook ridiculing them for their fecklessness, sloth and greed.
    Thursday’s vote was not a singular event, devoid of context. Perhaps the middle classes and those who have lived in relative comfort for the last forty odd years need to take a look at *themselves* and ask if they might not have a large responsibility for the situation in which we find ourselves? You may not have voted the “wrong” way on Thursday, but what had you done prior to this? Are your Labour friends the ones who wear suits and crisply ironed shirts? Or are they the ones who live in pot-holed council estates? What had you done to stop the drift towards New Labour? What arguments did you put forward (and how loudly) to stop the abandonment of the British working class? Now that things are what they are, are you one of the ones thumping their chests and screaming, “WE DO NOT WANT TO LISTEN!!!” or are you one of the ones saying, “We’ve got it wrong. Now we need to do something constructive?”
    It is my fear that as the relatively well-off scream insults at the Wrong ‘Uns, or as they belittle them and patronise them, or -even worse- as they refuse to even acknowledge them and just demand that we suspend democracy and ignore them, the situation gets even worse. Having played your hand and lost, you can’t just refuse to honour your debts. In the gangster movies, such a move precedes a fight. If you continue to ignore the anger, the frustration, the alienation and the suffering of those less well-off than you, people will emerge who speak to them and who say that they speak *for* them. You will be people the people who could have done something, but who chose to do nothing. Perhaps you’re them already.

    1. Dear Diarmuid
      I don’t once in my post criticise people who voted Leave. I was “disappointed” in the outcome. It is the politicians who outrage me.
      I spoke in a Hartlepool state school on the day of the referendum. Great teachers, great students. Honouring that commitment meant leaving London at midday where I had spoken in the morning, stopping off at York to vote and then driving to Hartlepool.
      I have spent 28 years working in state schools trying to better the lot of working class kids. Read my blog again and see what I have actually written.
      Please don’t ever suggest to me again that I have abandoned the working class, or that I have chosen ‘to do nothing’.

      1. John – your defensiveness is not needed. I most certainly was not directing my “you”s at…errr…you. It was meant in the plural sense and was directed at those people who DO criticise the Leave vote. Apologies if you felt singled out. I have followed your blog for years now and am well aware of what you do to help people in the less advantaged parts of our country.
        However, what I would like to see more of from you and from others like you (people I respect, admire and enjoy reading) is more leadership and less “disappointment”. Because while you may only mean to express disappointment, this disappointment is also being expressed in a much more acrimonious context and adds fuel to those who continue to divide our society. You, and others like you, are clearly more dedicated to unifying our society, but the intentions are getting lost in the recriminations and finger-pointing that others are engaging in.

        1. How dare you expect people who give their whole professional lives over to leading and shaping and promoting inclusivity and working towards equality (with little thanks and poor reward, I might add) to not have FEELINGS in the aftermath. How dare you come on someone’s patch of the internet and tell them how they should express their feelings and what they must do. Look to yourself. What do you do? Yes, I am disappointed. Yes, I work in education. No, I am not ready to be conciliatory and your posting has made me less so.
          17.4 million people may not be prepared to admit to being racist in part (education has at least taught them it’s not a good idea to do that) and yet 17.4 million are prepared to overlook the racist under and overtones of the Leave campaing in their desire for ‘change’.
          For me, maybe it’s time to accept that many of the English are insular to the core, not ready to engage with the world on terms that they cannot dictate, do not value education and the opportunities that it brings (providing the effort is put in), and that people like myself are frankly breaking their backs and wasting their time trying to make this retrograde rock a better place to live in, for everyone.

      2. How dare I?!?! Umm…I don’t see it as particularly daring. Then again, I don’t see where I demand that anyone have no feelings (leaders keeping their feelings separate to their public leadership is not the same thing). Nor do I see where I *tell* anyone how to express their feelings.
        Your intemperate response is trivialised by your insidious (and racist?) generalisations about “the English” and your implied accusations of duplicitous/ complicit racism levelled at those who disagree with you. Quite frankly, I’d hope for more from someone “in education”.
        What do I do? What business is it of yours? Or do people now have to justify their participation in public discourse. Cling on to these attitudes and it will be hard not to conclude that you reap what you sow.

  4. Thank you John. On the nail,as always. You now have to work even harder to ‘educate’ those young people manymany of whom, indeed all, have been betrayed by this disastrous result. I urge all headteachers to oppose a right wing government who will undoubtedly make things far worse for our young. Firstly put back the IB and spend the budget on what you believe in. They will waste millions on lawyers who have to sort out the mess and disentangle us from 40 years of European law. Budgets for education will be slashed, so I urge all schools to overspend recklessly to support our future generation. After all they will spend our taxes recklessly to dismantle the welfare state etc and support their rich friends Angy doesn’t cover it!

  5. Defamation of character
    Defamation of character occurs when someone makes a false statement about you to a third party that is damaging to your reputation.
    Defamation of character law is designed to protect and compensate individuals and business from having their character and reputation improperly damaged by untrue defamatory statements.
    I hope you are prepared for a legal inquiry as to the legitimacy of this post.

  6. Thanks John I feel so many of the same feelings and thoughts. I left the UK just post the Maastricht treaty because I had the opportunity to and wanted to explore. It was an exciting chance that of course had it’s ups and downs. But now twenty three years later, I am working in Dutch state education, like you trying to broaden horizons, trying to do what I can to help young people understand their place in the world. It is indeed a feeling of despair that accompanies the idea that perspectives are being restricted and national standpoints becoming increasingly insular.

  7. A great piece John. Sums up my feelings totally. Whilst I know that my wife and I will deal with what is thrown at us, I feel incredibly sad for our 3 young children, and all the young people around the UK. It is they who now have to live their entire lives with a decision as bad as this one. It is called devolution for a reason. I agree with many a comment on here. It really does show the true nature of what a lot of people in the UK are like and how they think. As with schools, and major businesses, we are ALWAYS stronger together, not by becoming separate and isolated.

  8. You say that Brexit has “restricted the scope of our young people’s lives “. In my part of the country – working class Essex – working class kids are in direct competition with Poles for entry level jobs upon leaving school.
    The supply of cheap EU labour provides a disincentive to invest in training particularly to school
    -leavers with zero experience. If you talk to some of the NEETs here you would find people who think this vote has increased the scope of their lives.

  9. We know that much of the Leave campaign’s publicity and propaganda was based on lies, misdirection and fabrication. That is indisputable. Who is going to hold them to account? This is always the problem that the liberal and progressive side faces – subtle arguments that take more time to explain, facts and figures that may be true but give people no interest or emotional connection, and above all an overriding desire for truth, honesty and fair play. The reactionary side, on the other hand, has no concerns beyond winning at all costs – simple slogans, soundbites and clichés that go straight into people’s hindbrains requiring no mental effort – accuracy can be ignored whenever it disagrees with the message they want to portray – it’s a simple mantra that can be repeated over and over again until it becomes part of the collective consciousness, and the target audience won’t think too carefully about it because (a) it confirms the prejudices they already hold, and (b) thinking and rational analysis of evidence is, like, hard, and those nasty people in power are always lying to us so this must be right.
    If the Leave campaign had been fairly fought and people had voted Leave for coherent reasons, no matter how unpleasant their views might be, I would find the outcome easier to accept, albeit a very disappointing one. But when it is clear that a significant number of Leave voters have been duped by a dishonest campaign, it makes me angry that they can get away with it.
    It is a major political failure that so many people feel disenfranchised, let down and ignored by successive governments that they no longer trust Tory or Labour leaders and that they have been able to be so easily manipulated by a self-serving bunch of fraudsters. If politicians on all sides had done more to engage people from poorer and less well educated backgrounds over the last 20 years then we might well not be in this appalling mess now. Among people who normally take no interest in politics at all, there was a very clear majority voting Leave – people who feel that they are not normally listened to and that they can’t normally make as difference, and here they have had that opportunity to have their voice heard. How do we get them to feel that they are part of the same society that you and I live in?

  10. In light of the lies the electorate were told by the Brexit campaigners, and considering the very narrow majority outcome, is there any possibility that the 2nd referendum petition could become a reality? The petition currently has 3,665,163 signatures and will, therefore, have to be discussed by parliament in the next three days. There is no real precedent for this, Greenland aside, and it is our government’s choice to trigger article 50…feels more like article 48 of the Weimar Constitution!! Your thoughts?

  11. I am sure I am not alone, but I am very worried by the marked increase in racist incidents in my school. Students throwing about racist language and abuse who in the past have never used such expressions. They are reflecting what their parents and the media are saying, lead by our political leaders. The students do not understand the words and the hurt that they cause, and while our job is to educate them, it is hard to battle the tide of racist soundbites our young people have heard every day. Yet again our politicians battle over the short term personal spoils leaving the rest of us to pick up the tab. Our industrial leaders try to make the best of the next few years and our educationalists try to repair the damage that will take decades to restore. They denied our 16 and 17 year olds the vote, but are happy to raid their wallets to pay for their party.

  12. Just love everything you write. You could show Micheal Gove how to be education secretary or even Prime Minster. I’d vote for you.

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