Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

"Britishness" Or Another Brick In The Wall

"We don't need no thought control" sang the kids on the old Pink Floyd number.
Yes, the Ajegbo report has heralded another spate of ministerial musings on British identity - this time Education Secretary Alan Johnson's soundbites about "teaching Britishness" as part of the National Curriculum. Ex-London Headteacher Ajegbo's reasonable concerns about social cohesion and what roles schools can play is turned by the New Labour media machine into another opportunity for the Blairites to display their unique blend of reactionary British Nationalism and muddle-headed Fabian social engineering.
Dave Hill offers his views on this episode on the Guardian's Comment Is Free blog site here.
Meanwhile the teachers unions are concerned about the ever more overloaded and constantly changing curriculum, forced to bend with the wind of every governmental burst of paranoia or new panacea. Hence -
Chris Keates, the general secretary of the National Union of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers, said schools had a pivotal role to play but the curriculum was already overloaded.
"Serious thought must be given to how schools can be supported in accommodating this scale of change in the timescales envisaged without imploding," she said.


If the social fabric is a bit frayed at the edges it might just have something to do with the Blair government backing illegal imperialist wars abroad whilst continuing the Thatcherite neo-liberal privatisation agenda at home - measures that could not have been better designed to divide communities, increase competition for scarce resources amongst the poorest and lead to the kind of vicious dog-eat-dog social environment where ever more people begin to behave in asocial ways.

One thing that is key to understanding the stance of the Blairites on so many things is to remember how entranced they are by the United States. The very name given to the turbo-capitalism they promote around the globe tells us the extent of their debt - the "Anglo-American model". Blair envies the US two party system (witness his well publicised belief that the early Twentieth Century split between the Liberal and Labour parties in Britain was a great mistake), and he is welded to US foreign policy to such an extent that his version of the "special relationship" is one of a limpet stuck to the rotten hull of the US ship of state.

So what lessons do the Blairites seek from what they see as American 'social cohesion'? (Such as it appears to them through their rose tinted lenses - not as it actually is) One suspects that Blair and friends look to America and see a society held up by three main props - props that do not work for every section of what even they can see is still a divided society, but nevertheless props that taken as a whole, hold the socially fragmented USA together. These props are nationalism, religion and socio-economic myth.

The socio-economic myth is the American Dream, the idea of a classless meritocracy, where even someone 'born at the bottom' can rise to the top. A naive version of this meritocracy seems to have been one of Blair's 'big ideas'. Secondly religion - Protestant Christian fundamentalism and right wing Catholic reaction form a bedrock of the support for the Republicans, and a less commonly remarked feature is the role of Catholic Democrats, East Coast liberal Christianity, and Southern black churches in upholding the Democrats. Many of the above seem to buy into their own version of the notion of one nation under God - a messianic vision of the USA and its' mission which can be discerned in the words of the founding fathers. So a significant part of Blair's enthusiasm for faith schools, and 'faith-based' charities and services becomes clear. The 'messianic USA' vision is at the heart of the third prop to US social cohesion - rampant nationalism. The Stars and Stripes, hand on heart, God Bless America, my-country-right-or-wrong patriotism that so confuses, amuses or alarms Britons with their generally more toned down (outside sport - and even then it is more likely English, Scottish ,Welsh or Northern Irish home-nation fandom rather than political GB nationalism) version. Blair and friends envy the way in which (as they might see it) so many Americans have unquestioningly marched off to their nations's unjust wars, they envy what seems to outsiders like rote-learned idealistic narratives of national history and legal/political framework, where the Constitution, the office of the Presidency and the rights of free Americans seem to be accorded almost religious veneration.

So, the New Labour neo-liberals would like some of that, and would like to have their own versions of the three props inserted in the heads of British school children. Hence emphasis on 'faith-based' initiatives (somewhat to the embarrassment of people like the current Education Secretary Mr Johnson, who unlike the previous -Opus Dei- incumbent is a bit of a secularist). Hence the incessant courting of big business and the missionary zeal to convert all us social-democratic relics to the shiny neo-liberal, meritocratic vision - a "British Dream" to match the American. And hence the "teaching of Britishness in schools" - no prizes for guessing what version of Britishness they have in mind.

At least we know therefore, what kind of vision Mr Blair and the plague carriers of his "legacy" have for Britain. They have seen their version of the future - and it carries a Bible, a gun and a fistful of greenbacks.

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