Education, responsible pornography and Conservative distortion
A dialectical conception of the history of ideas suggests that the seeds of every new departure is contained within existing orthodoxy, against which new ideas will react. The truth of this is rarely more clearly demonstrated than recently with the Cameronian Conservative use of concepts and language common to Labour in order to justify policies which are not something many Labourites would accept.
Michael Gove, shadow secretary for Children, Schools and Families, gave a speech this morning to the IPPR covering a range of subjects: education for the poor, the effects of pornography and the need to back up ‘the family’ using the tax system if necessary. He introduced it by quoting Bill Clinton and a bantu word that neatly expressed Aristotle’s idea that man is a social animal. On the surface, one might think that things had come a long way since Thatcher’s attack on the concept of ‘society’.
Subtly emergent throughout the speech is the new fashionable sociological analysis: the concept of ‘social capital’. So is the all-pervading insistence that Labour is simply centralism run amok. Several challenges need to be made: the first and most obvious one is that centralism versus subsidiarity isn’t the right debate. What we’re doing with the power accrued is the issue – but we can’t talk about that because in large part Labour and the Conservatives agree about things like privatization.
While Gove might glory in Conservative opposition to the closure of GPs surgeries and the creation of polyclinics due to ‘narrow cost efficiency’, without regard to the ‘enriching personal intimacy’, I very much doubt this will be a guiding Tory principle if elected to office. It certainly didn’t bother the Tories with regard to hospitals, the miners or the other communities which the Conservative governments of 1979-1997 blew through like a blow-torch through butter.
Gove’s remarks on the ‘branch office’ relationship between local and central government bely a very problematic relationship with the truth and history: that this was an agenda pursued by the Conservatives first and foremost.
One of the most worrying parts of this collection of questionable assertions is that the Conservatives are using it to attack the centralisation of education, as though delivering a centrally-agreed national curriculum is what’s wrong with the education system. Of course it bears mentioning that the national curriculum was a Conservative idea, implemented by a Conservative government. Behind all this, we will find, should the Conservatives get elected, will be a continuation of fracturing LEAs and haemorrhaging schools to private institutions via Academy status.
The Orwellian language used to obscure such an agenda is the most worrying thing of all, and all obscured with the catch-all jingoism surrounding the idea of ‘choice’ in modern political parlance.
How exactly the Tories are going to support relationships is left curiously inexact. What is remarkably clear is the continuing Conservative infatuation with ‘the family’ – keeping adults together for the sake of their children. The stable family as the best way to generate opportunity. It’s a preposterous breakdown of logic, as though were every family stable, there would miraculously be enough high-paying jobs for everyone.
More stunning still are the double standards when it comes to men and women’s magazines:
Titles such as Nuts and Zoo paint a picture of women as permanently, lasciviously, uncomplicatedly available. The images they use and project reinforce a very narrow conception of beauty and a shallow approach towards women. They celebrate thrill-seeking and instant gratification without ever allowing any thought of responsibility towards others, or commitment, to intrude.
The contrast with the work done by women’s magazines, and their publishers, to address their readers in a mature and responsible fashion, is striking.
The last time I read Cosmo the whole point of the magazine was to offer the material as a solution to virtually everything. Shoes, handbags, clothes. It was an attempt to portray as ineffective any man who did not conform to a certain standard in bed or as a partner. Far from being mature, it was an even more insidious and pretentious counterpart to the nude women and lewd jokes in men’s magazines. Whatever the case, ‘asking [the publishers] what they think they’re doing’ is unlikely to achieve results.
A concern on my part is that if all Labour and the Conservatives are competing over is the old teleological, liberal notion of Progress, with a capital ‘P’, then the Conservatives offer just as good a brand of liberalism. Gove closed his speech with the sentiment that a Conservative government would ‘achieve progressive social goals, in all their nobility’. While that makes me want to scream in rage that the world doesn’t explode when Conservatives prostitute language to their own uses, it highlights that Labour, without socialism, can have the liberal carpet pulled from under them at any time.