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.