Following our new-found political involvement, my wife and I have been bombarded with emails from the various Labour candidates. We are taking our responsibility seriously, and so in the interests of balance went to hear one of the ‘other’ candidates speak locally last Friday. I was genuinely open to persuasion but am afraid it was not an inspiring experience, and if anything it reinforced my view that we desperately need something other than ‘the usual suspects’.
The meeting was packed, and on that front at least, I would hope that the Labour Party and the country in general would see that the ‘Corbyn Effect’ has been good in terms of political engagement. But the fact that even the Labour establishment is closing its ears to the voice of a significant number of people simply because they don’t believe that those people are important in terms of wining Power, is a cause for concern – and yet another failing of our all-or-nothing political system.
As an elector, I wanted to hear substantive reasons why I should vote for the candidate concerned, but what we got was largely platitude and an emotive appeal for support based on assertion and with little strong or specific reasoning. One should acknowledge the limits on what can be discussed in a public meeting – but the depressing shallowness of the speaking was only matched by the toothlessness of most of the questioning: a serious, critical evaluation of a potential prime minister this was not. The other dispiriting thing was the partisan-ship; while it was to be expected at what was effectively a party rally, I don’t like tribalism at the best of times – but much of what came across was raw prejudice rather than any form of considered debate. So much for the critical skills of even the more politically-motivated part of the populace; maybe we need compulsory Critical Thinking For All.
From my educator’s point of view, the candidate sealed his/her own fate. A question was raised by a young woman clearly just out of school; it concerned the angst being experienced by British teenagers, complete with accounts of depression and self-harm among her friends. The question was not clearly-worded, but to my ears it referred to the pressure that young people are being put under by the corporate targets culture; she went as far as to say that she had hated her own school experience.
Unfortunately, the speaker totally failed to register this and proceeded to trot out the usual platitudes about holding schools to account and ensuring that all young people have good opportunities – for which the solution apparently is undiluted support for the comprehensive system without any visible awareness that that system, or at least the culture it has bred, is perhaps part of the problem. I sympathised with opposition to the academy system – but there was no apparent awareness that the solutions to educational problems are pedagogic rather than political or managerial.
Until we have politicians who genuinely understand that the solutions to such problems cannot come from managerialism but have to start with the re-empowerment of people like classroom teachers to do their job as best their individual vocation and intellects permit, nothing much is likely to change. And while their policies create false incentives for the management of institutions such as schools, that often make teaching more difficult and onerous that it need be, this will not happen. Unfortunately, the candidate on Friday showed no awareness of this whatsoever, which in turn only reinforced my opinion that ‘business as usual’ will no longer do.
At least Corbyn seems to be aware of that.