Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Imploding Politics

Having spent much of the past three years writing about Chartism and its importance in the development of radical working-class politics, it is ironic that during those years that the Labour Party has degenerated from a credible opposition and potential government into political farce.  The precipitous resignation of Ed Miliband in the immediate aftermath of his defeat in the 2015 General Election and the consequent leadership election in which Jeremy Corbyn--left-wing, arch-rebel and only on the ballot paper when some MPs ‘lent him’ their vote—surprisingly emerged victorious. 

That Jeremy was not expected to win…something that he probably thought himself at least to begin with…and that he did reflected a growing disconnect between Labour politics as seen from Westminster and the Labour Party and perhaps more importantly (electorally) in the country.  Those who support Jeremy initially came from the young..and his motivating the young to become involved in politics is important…but many of those thrown out of the Party in the 1980s and 1990s re-emerged..the problem of ‘entryism’…often with views of politics that had changed little.  It is perhaps not surprising that the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party took a contrary view…from the beginning Jeremy did not have the wholehearted support of his MPs.  Increasingly the issue between him and his MPs was not one of policies—though inevitably there were differences between the leader and his troops—but whether he was or was not a credible leader and future Prime Minister.  This was evident right from the beginning…one remembers the National Anthem incident (a grossly overplayed issue by the government)…and over the past ten months have reoccurred with monotonous regularity.  To be fair, Jeremy made concessions to his opponents sitting behind him on issues such as active intervention in Syria by making it a free vote but this showed him as a weak leader unable to get his MPs to vote for his policies. 
What has happened in the past few weeks has been a slow motion car crash.  Matters have now come to a head with the failure of attempts to persuade Jeremy to resign as party leader following the ‘rolling resignations’ from the Shadow Cabinet.  What is clear is that there is now an unbridgeable chasm between the PLP and the leadership with its ‘mandate’ from the party membership.   Will changing the leader actually help?  Well probably not.  Despite restricting the electorate in the forthcoming contest between Jeremy Corbyn and Angela Eagle and/or Owen Smith (assuming those opposed to Corbyn can get their act together) for, as one MP has it, for the ‘soul of the Labour Party’, whoever wins it difficult to see the party coming together at least in the short term.  The divisions are now so deep, the internicine, intimidating behaviour so intense and the words spoken so toxic  that they are not going to be healed overnight, if they can be healed at all.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Breaking the Habit: a review by John A. Hargreaves

Breaking the Habit: A Life of History, Richard Brown, Authoring History, 2016, 175 pp., £7.13, paper, ISBN 9781530295234
In this retrospective but far from introspective, autobiographical memoir Richard Brown muses ‘on the nature of History in an increasingly challenging environment’. The author, familiar to readers of online reviews on the Historical Association website as a prolific reviewer of a wide range of historical resources and as a compulsive blogger on his popular blog, The History Zone, which has a diverse following encompassing students in secondary, tertiary and higher education, confesses himself to being addicted to history for almost as long as he can remember. I first encountered Richard as a fellow reviewer for the Historical Association’s flagship journal for secondary school teachers, Teaching History, and utilised many of his textbooks in the classroom in my own teaching, finding them always well-grounded in classroom experience, thoroughly researched and lucidly stimulating in the historical interpretations they offered. But this is more than a handbook for history teachers as the equestrian photograph of the infant author on the cover anticipates and essentially it reveals the extent to which a developing understanding of history interweaves with our life experiences from the cradle to the grave. It is more personal than anything else he has written and particularly moving in its account of how as a registered carer he supported his late wife Margaret, to whose memory the book is dedicated, in his post-retirement years until her death in 2015.
Its starting point is the affirmation that many would share that ‘being a teacher remains one of the most fulfilling of the professions’ and that ‘there is nothing more enjoyable than observing students learning to become critical in their approach to life’. What follows, he continues, is ‘an otiose attempt to make sense of my own life by intermingling autobiography with materials on History, teaching and learning initially written often at speed as part of on-going debates on education and history but now revised in the more cloistered solitude of my study’. It identifies the hybrid influences combining the rural experience of the Fens and the traditions of his mother’s family with the urban experience of his father and his family, mediated initially largely through memories and stories but with an increasing recognition of the importance of historical evidence in creating ‘a narrative to explain the evidence’ and a developing focus on how students learn history throughout his teaching career influenced strongly like so many of us by the Schools History Project.