In recent times we have discovered much to or dismay that our Government doesn’t work in quite the way that we thought it did. For most of my life it was assumed that the people who got into parliament were the right sort of people, you know, decent, honest, members of the C of E, probably university educated, middle class and sharing the same values as “all the rest of us”. We did not of course allow for the fact that “all the rest of us” did not actually encompass the whole of the UK population, and that a miner in Co Durham might not quite see things in the same way as a dweller in the leafy lanes of Surrey and Sussex. Happily thoughtless we assumed that once they got to Westminster they would do what all right thinking people like us would do and thus the country would be alright.
Now, we suddenly discover that vision of loveliness has been somewhat marred over recent years, but that the defacement has happened by little and little so that we haven’t noticed. Another way of putting this is to say that we have been duped by those we trusted. Brexit opened our eyes a bit when it became apparent that an EU citizen had about the same status as a ball of fluff under the sofa, and then we found that UK citizens who had taken advantage of the privileges of EU membership (even if they did not know what the EU was and cared less) and gone to live abroad were also expendable. Then it turned out that those of us who thought that being neighbourly with our continental neighbours was a good thing were in fact bad citizens, or even worse, citizens of nowhere.
Then we discovered that the Home Office, that beneficent organisation that steers us safely through General Strikes, Sidney Street sieges and the like, had adopted an unpleasant tone similar to that of governmental and non-governmental activities in the Germany of the 1920s and 30s with a policy stance described as “Hostile”. The descendants of those who came over to this country from the West Indies were suddenly persona non grata and we thought that this might be due to the colour of their skins, but then we found it applied to white Australians, and anyone else to whom anonymous figures in the Government of the Home Office took exception. I all seemed of a piece with the attitude of some Brexiteers and English Defence Leaguers who took an instant dislike to anyone they considered to be not their sort. Any contribution that these people might have made during the war years or in the years since counted for nothing, and they were to be cleared out as soon as transport could be arranged. And they had some success too, until people began to twig what was going on, the media took up various cases, deportation decisions had to be reversed and belatedly, justice in small quantities and occasionally got done.
This seemed to me to be something new, and it troubled me (still does) but lying awake in bed at nights my memory took me back 30 years to the time when I found myself the Chairman of Governors of a Church of England Voluntary Aided School in Cumbria. Unknown to me when I took on that appointment there was something called by school teachers the Great Education Reform Bill or GERBIL going through parliament. This was in the days (lest you forget, or never knew) of Mrs Thatcher, the infamous milk snatcher and handbagger, together with her henchman, Kenneth Baker.
I did not think this at the time, but with hindsight I realise that it was staring me in the face but I pushed it to the back of my mind under cover of ” its only this lot, it will all go back to normal soon”. Well it did for a year or two, but then the conservatives came back and it has been all downhill ever since.
What I refer to is the memory of the lectures and training sessions we Governors were invited to attend to teach us about this proposed legislation. It was painfully clear right from the start that we were “for it” and that we must, if double booked, cancel our other engagements and get to these sessions come what may. Firstly, we needed to know what was being loaded on to us (without our being asked of course), but secondly we needed to know – and it was made very clear to us by the speakers (mainly from the LEA) – that the Government would brook no dissent, and no matter how much we disagreed with something, or whether we could see things that would not work, THIS was how it was going to be and we must accept it, or get out. Most of those to whom I spoke were Governors because they genuinely loved their local school and its teachers and pupils, and wanted the best for it. This new legislation destroyed any upward aspirations they may have had, but made it essential to carry on in order to defend what already existed from a hostile Department of Education and Science, and even (so it appeared to smaller schools) from closure.
I joke not. I well, remember sitting in a school classroom on those children sized chairs while one of our number (he was a Physics master at a local secondary school and so knew about these things) had last years school budget set up on a spreadsheet on an early computer. I had no idea what a spreadsheet was, but I soon learnt. Item by item, and adjustment by adjustment, we tried to get our new budget (worked out from “formula funding”, “age weighted pupil units” and so forth) to fit the amount of money we were allocated. We could not do it and I for one went home in some despair. The allocated money simply wasn’t enough. We did crack it later, with outside assistance, but that is another story.
The bit that remains with me to this day is the naked hostility brought into what had been a relatively happy situation by these warnings from the LEA officers who had obviously already experienced it. “Do not try to complain”, they said, “it will get you nowhere”. Well, in time I did complain and I wrote to our local (Conservative) MP to tell him what was happening at our school. He did at least reply, but he stated quite clearly that we had voted for this and now we must get to work to institute what we had voted for. Well, as it happened I had not voted for him and I have tended towards the Aneurin Bevan* view of the Conservative party ever since.
* “No amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party”. ~ Aneurin Bevan. 4 July 1948.