I'm sorry if the title seems a little arrogant. I didn't intend it to be so - I'm not even absolutely sure it's correct - it was just, as it were, a postcard from the past.
Many years ago, I attended St Scylla's, a secondary comprehensive school in Glasgow's East End. One of my favourite subjects was Classical Studies. Mr Dux's gentle Irish brogue guided us through the regiments of gods governing Greece and Rome, and helped us navigate translations (in prose) of the Odyssey and the Aeneid. I expressed an interest in Latin, as the resemblances to (and differences from) the Italian I was learning in Modern Languages intrigued me. He seemed to sense some sort of aptitude, and gave me Book One of Ecce Romani, the standard Latin course, followed by the sequels as I devoured each one. He was unable to give me any tuition as his schedule was full, but the experience of learning a language by myself introduced me to autodidacticism. I have so much to thank him for.
The reason that arrogance is on my mind is because of a remark by polymath Minister Harriet Harman, MP for Camberwell and Peckham, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Leader of the House of Commons and Minister of Women and Equality, on Conservative candidate Chloë Smith's convincing win in the Norwich North seat, previously held by Labour. As reported on Iain Dale, "the Tory reaction to the Norwich result is "arrogant" because...it means they have now won the general election, and it's in the bag". (Go to Dale's site to see the video, which I can't embed here because despite - or because of -my daughters' gentle ministrations, my computer is still in a huff.)
There will be much analysis of the Norwich North election in the days to come and in the months before Gordon Brown suffers us to have a general election. I would, of course, like to wish Chloë Smith well deserved congratulations, but would otherwise like to concentrate, in descending order, on three aspects of arrogance that seem not to have occurred to Ms Harman.
ARROGANCE No 3:
Identifying targets will lead to improvement
Obviously we all need goals, but the target culture is something entirely different: it is the application of game theory to management thence assumed into politics - basically that if you give targets to sectors then leave it to them as to how to meet those targets, the result will be all things to all people. Case in point: Labour plans to have as few people as possible claiming unemployment benefit, therefore one would assume that the party would direct as many unemployed people as possible towards work; instead, it directs them towards other benefits, such as incapacity benefit or DLA, thus making life harder for those (of whom I have been one) who have genuinely had to take advantage of one of these. Things have gotten so bad that before the financial crisis, the Telegraph's Edmund Conway reported that there were over nine million people of working age without a job in Great Britain.
I was one of them. Having had an exacerbation of my manic-depression and not wishing to work as a nurse any more, I went to the local jobcentre, explained my position, and was refused admission, the lady on the desk (flanked by two rather big chaps) explaining that I'd have to go down a different "pathway" because I was disabled. So I did, and when I explained to the lady at the rainbow's end that I didn't feel I could work with people in a therapeutic capacity any more because of my illness, she exclaimed that she had just the job she could have me trained up for: a youth worker. 'Nuff said.
ARROGANCE No 2:
Reducing education to the lowest common denominator will raise standards
The government seems to be forever bellycaching about the 7% of children who are privately educated, without considering the situation of the 93% it is doing its best to betray. The number one culprit is the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls - who, for example, in March of this year accused private schools of trying to cream off brainy kids with the offer of an international qualification.
School is, of course, the best place to get qualifications, because childhood is the best time to learn anything. But while opportunities for education of various kinds will present themselves throughout life (a friend in his 80s is writing a thesis for a degree), the drive that some young people have to start working and start earning can be so easily smothered by the demands of an educational process from which they have felt detached for some years. So why can't people under 16 apply for apprenticeships? Could it be that, if they have been educated in a failing state school, they - like their older peers - don't have the skills to start work?
ARROGANCE No 1:
What's possible is right
In the early 19th century, Mary Shelley used her novel, Frankenstein, to explore the consequences of "can" being treated as a synonym for "may". Tony Blair's enthusiasm for research into the possibilities of embryonic stem cells continued unabated despite Professor Hwang Woo-suk's high-profile admission of fraud. (This despite it being easier to list the parts of the adult body that pluripotent stem cells can't be gotten from than vice versa.) At the other end of life, there is a movement to legalise assisted suicide, which is economics dressed up as compassion. Thankfully, that movement is being resisted; as just one example, the son-in-law of a man who was killed in Switzerland's Dignitas clinic was moved to question the profits of the place, if they were providing such a service to mankind. I should also say that, having been a nurse, I find it disturbing that the Royal College of Nursing has adopted a "neutral" position on assisted suicide.
I realise that Bismarck described politics as "the art of the possible", but much more is possible now than was in the days of der Eiserne Kanzler. Politics is now so much more than the art of the possible: it is the arena within which our leaders must discern between that which is possible and can build up society, and the possibilities which will lead us to hell in a handcart.
We need to be led by people who have the strength to choose the better of the two, which is why in the next election I will be following the wise lead of the people of Norwich North and voting Conservative - not least because it was under a Conservative government that a teacher was able to give me, with his Latin textbooks, the greatest gift of all: the ability to learn outside of the classroom.