More than words

During my sixteen years as a secondary school teacher, it was the accepted dictum that if you got an education then you got a job. This was especially the case if you were a university graduate. This was a powerful driving force in the educational process.
At the time there was no talk of the lack of apprenticeship opportunities or, at least, what today passes for an apprenticeship. When I was at school, apprenticeships lasted for 4-5 years of schooling and practical experience, rather than less than a year and little, if any, further education in the necessary areas of required expertise.
So too, little was known of zero-hours contracts; unpaid internships were unheard of, as was the idea of working for less than a living wage; there was little knowledge or experience of part-time employment or the fact that even if a graduate was willing to work stacking shelves at a grocery chain, something like 8-9 applicants would be after every single job available!
So, what is the end result of and what is it worth for many young people to be subject to SAT’s at primary school, entry examinations to grammar and expensive independent schools, year-on-year tests in secondary schools, mock GCSE’s and the real thing, AS and A Levels and, in turn, the range of examined degrees undertaken at university?
I do not recall ever telling a school leaver or university entrant to “just get a job”. I believe that I had more respect for education and for the young people involved than to offer this platitude. Formal education has its own intrinsic values; it should offer more than simply the promise of  employment – any employment – at the end of it.
So, as related by one young graduate who has been through the whole soul-destroying job-seeking process and has told the story: “Telling a young person ‘just get a job’ is not tough love. It’s like going to the Sahara, looking up and yelling ‘Just rain!’ This is weird. Stop it”. As sung by the rock group, Extreme, what is required is “More than words”.
Apart from my interest in political debate, I am not fully aware of the reasons why I may have been drawn into watching the BBC Television’s programme of parliamentary PMQT (Prime Minister’s Question Time).
For those unfamiliar with the charade of PMQT, this is the time in the parliamentary week when the incumbent Prime Minister is open to being asked questions that have to do with running the government and the governing of the nation. In a parliamentary democracy, this occasion should be a showpiece for the government and the members of parliament. But is it? The answer would seem to be a categorical “No!”
All questions to the PM are submitted to his office beforehand. He can plan a suitable answer. This permits time to couch answers in trivia, half-truths and often meaningless statements and statistics, as well as providing the opportunity, in the absence of objectivity, to subjectively abuse those persons asking awkward questions or who sit on the opposite front bench.
MP’s in the house are expected to behave with decorum, patience and an interest in what is being questioned and answered.  But the opposite seems the practice. Speakers are drowned-out in a cacophony of cheers, jeers and paper-waving, most of which is generally abusive and inflammatory.
And what of the promises made in answer to serious, awkward, necessary and practical questions. Do they come to fruition? Are there any pragmatic outcomes and positive effects in the constituencies of the MPs concerned? Are the objectives of a parliamentary democracy developed and progressed in consequence of this staged and rancorous debate in the house?
I would again suggest that the answer to each of the foregoing questions is a categorical “No!”
The display on show at PMQT is, more often than not, a disgrace. Rather than showpiece the workings of a parliamentary democracy, not to mention what a serious debate should look like and actually be, it gives an insight into the lack of respect, integrity and transparency that exists amongst the parliamentary players in British politics.
So many of the questions and too many of the answers reveal the party-political nature, the serving of vested interests and the individual manoeuvrings of those who take part.
Perhaps all of this provides an explanation as to why there are so many scandals emanating from within the Westminster Village, why so much of the electorate has so little faith in party politics and does not bother to vote at election time. The ascending numbers of the powerless are put-off by the attitudes and antics of the powerful!
Politicians must be, and be seen to be, more than the words they speak – no matter how loud they sound or sincere their tone.
In a programme to be shown soon on BBC4, the English novelist Martin Amis suggests that “having a white skin is still widely perceived as a core part of being English.”
This view is a part of what Amis seems to regard as “being English” in contemporary British society. Here is part of the rub: Amis talks of what he sees as qualifying to be “English”, but then seems to generalise his discussion to speak of being “British”. Being English and being British seem, in Amis’ view, to be coterminous. The vote in Scotland on Scottish independence from the UK later this year, may cause Amis to re-assess his ideas, even if his knowledge of geography and history don’t.
Martin Amis may even wish to think again before he ascribes certain qualities to “Englishness”. In addition to having a white skin, Amis considers that to be “a citizen of this country” (does he mean England or the UK?) a person has to exhibit the “habits of what is regarded to be civilised society, and recognisable, bourgeois society.”
What does it mean to be civilised in English society – supporting cricket and/or singing “Swing low sweet chariot” at Twickenham, taking high tea in the late afternoon, reading the classic English poets and novelists, voting for the Conservative Party at election time, claiming the music of Edward Elgar for the English upper classes, reading The Times newspaper, watching BBC television, owning an estate in the countryside or a cottage on the coast?
The perspective Amis has on “Englishness” would seem to call into question the veracity and practicality of “multiculturalism”. He views multiculturalism as a declining factor in English public life. He considers that it is an altruistic philosophy and practice that is an appropriate ideology for the good times and the tolerant sections of the population, but inadequate when the country is faced with bad times and harbours intolerant sections of the population.
It is quite possible that Martin Amis is stating a personal judgement about contemporary life in England. Although he is somewhat vague about which parts of the country he considers to be the “tolerant” and the “intolerant” sections, the topic is open to investigation and scrutiny. He appears to equate his views on multiculturalism with the possession of money. When one has money in the bank one can be sympathetic to those that don’t; when one has no money in the bank, there is little or no sympathy for others.
Tolerance of multiculturalism is, therefore, dependent on personal circumstance – where one lives and how much money one has.  By extension, possession of money may be dependent on the part of the country in which one lives. So, having money, living in a good location and being tolerant go together and, for Amis, their opposites would appear to be an obvious alternative combination.
I will look forward to watching Martin Amis’ programme when it is shown on the BBC. In the meantime, I will take some comfort from the fact that he claims not to be nostalgic for the “class society” or to possess any great enthusiasm for the “money society” which he considers has replaced it. This is an opinion with which I have some broad and basic agreement, though, to me, “class” is still a significant factor in English life.
Perhaps, from my perspective, there is even further and wider agreement with him when he says that: “Another facet of British (or does he mean English?) life in decline is the monarchy”. This tired institution is, he suggest, “nearing the end of the road.”
Reading back over the above, I believe I have satisfied myself about one question posed by Amis’ programme. He is definitely focusing on England. The nuances are too obvious. Furthermore, for Martin Amis, being English is more than the words used to describe the reality.

About stewculbard

I am a retired secondary school teacher of Humanities, having spent a major portion of my working life as a Minister of Religion with the Baptist denomination. I would now describe myself as a secular humanist and a socialist. I am married to Vicky and we have three children - two sons and a married daughter - all of whom are in their thirties. Formerly of Melbourne, Australia, we are all now living in England. My academic studies have been undertaken in Australia, the UK and the USA. I have a doctorate in religious studies from the San Francisco Theological Seminary. In retirement I enjoy reading, listening to classical music and writing. I am a member of Republic, Sea of Faith, Dignity in Dying Campaign and the National Secular Society. As well, I have a subscription to a number of cultural and political associations, including Amnesty International and, as a committed European, The Federal Trust.
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