Originally written for Labour Teachers
I don’t know what happened to me this morning but, within five minutes of opening the Guardian app to purvey the headlines, the red mist descended. I found myself properly angry and more than a little ashamed of being British.
I don’t know if it was the fact that the first article I read was of Germans warmly welcoming Syrian refugees. Not a story in and of itself to generate a red mist, I grant you, but the juxtaposition of this against the PM’s mealy-mouthed explanation for our own national inaction was more than enough to do so. Cameron’s argument for the government’s likely cap on refugees (surely post-war agreements drafted, in large part by Britons, were meant to ensure no capping of those seeking asylum) suggested that to take more would encourage still more to take the journey that has killed so many. Utter nonsense, and a shame-faced, weasel-worded approach to the problem: we won’t care for refugees because we care too much for them.
European politicians are urging us to take on more of this burden, citing particularly the increasing strength of our nation’s economy (an increasing strength that both the PM and Chancellor are happy to crow about), and yet the Mayor of Liverpool, who is keen to take on refugees at scale, is unable to do so given the local government funding cuts that have gone and those are yet to come. Neatly juxtaposed with that was the fact that the Queen has today become the longest serving monarch in history. Again, not a story in and of itself that should generate a red mist, but one which brought to mind the startling sums of money given to the royal family by governments for the vast majority of her reign, despite their vast inherited wealth (both disposable and in terms of fixed assets that do not yet belong to the state).
As Headteacher of a secondary school in Harrow serving an ethnically diverse and economically challenged community, these stories about migration and economics resonated with me in a number of ways that brought about the red mist.
The fact that our school is, and has been for years, built upon the successes of both asylum-seeking and economic migrants renders me embarrassed by the approach of this government (and of many sections of the media) to both asylum-seeking and economic migrants. Studies invariably show that both groups, in time and often immediately, become net contributors to the economy and (in my opinion) net contributors to the cultural life of our country. But the UKIPisation of public life seems almost complete and the ensuing scare stories, islamaphobia and mood music around those with different coloured skin or different sounding accents makes the now-abandoned New Labour phrase ‘community cohesion’ more challenging for schools to promote and bring about.
Similarly, community cohesion is more challenging to promote and bring about as Head of a school where there are pockets of material deprivation that would make a government minister’s hair stand on end should they ever bring themselves to look upon it at first hand. The ‘Benefits Britain’ of Channel 5s recent poverty-porn-fest, or its more acceptable, Cameronised equivalent of ‘Broken Britain’, is yet another victim-blaming exercise that entrenches the have-and-have-not divide that has long existed in this country, but which appears to be reaching its logical victim-hating destination under the direction of travel of this government.
What actually induced the red mist was perhaps not any of these stories, but the prognosis of Sam Freedman, former adviser to Michael Gove, at Saturday’s ResearchED conference, that school resources are likely to be stretched further until they are as thin as they were in the 1980s (or since the heyday of the last Conservative government, in other words) by cuts in school funding, increases in expenditure and the inevitable impact of cuts to other services such as health, policing and local authority social services provision.
Schools, in my view the greatest engines of and for social mobility outside of the family, are about to have their fuel supply cut far beyond that which we have seen since 2010. And we all know that no engine works on a wish and a prayer, which appears to be the bulk of the diagnosis following Sam’s prognosis. However well some Free Schools or Academy Chains have done in spite of (not because of) cuts, social mobility for the poor and for refugees cannot happen at a national scale – which is the job of government – without the funding to make it happen.
To lift the red mist we need a ‘red mission’, a genuinely socialist solution, to the maladministered, malodorous medicine of this government. Most importantly, we need that solution to emerge in 2015, and for the victors in the laughably languorous Labour leadership contest to get to work on it a week from today. The country does not have the luxury of a lay-away opposition, happy to bide their time until the 2020 election cycle kicks into gear. It needs an opposition that changes government policy from without, not one that waits and watches as the mist becomes a smog that chokes off all that make us proud about being British, about being humans.