Sunday, 26 January 2014

Policing the goldfields

The overcoming of Aboriginal resistance did not see police in Victoria lay down their arms and adopt a less military mode of policing; the discovery of gold in 1851 transformed the colony and provided new enemies for the authorities to overcome with the assistance of paramilitary police and the military. Opinions vary as to the scale of crime on the gold fields.[1] Some writers reported ‘the lawless condition of the place and the deeds of rapine and bloodshed that disgrace it’. Others, like the future Lord Cecil, were pleasantly surprised, finding ‘less crime than in a large English town, and more order and civility than I have witnessed in my own native village of Hatfield’. [2] Even with the same goldfield there were local variations. The problem is that the possible sources for this are all tinged with their own political agendas. The Argus, for example, probably exaggerated the level of crime to embarrass the Government, something repeated in the Sydney and Adelaide papers to discourage migration to Victoria. By contrast, La Trobe had a vested interest in playing down the extent of crime and his police officers often left him ill-informed about the real level of criminal activity.

William Strutt: En route to the diggings, 1851

The problem of lawlessness on the diggings was made worse by a drastic shortage of police in the early days of the gold rush. In July 1851, all but two of Melbourne’s forty police resigned and fled to the gold fields and there was considerable fear for public order. The ‘police’ presence at the gold fields was provided by a small contingent of Native Police. [3] Established in 1837, the Native Police played an important role in the discovery of gold and the early government regulation of the Victorian diggings. Native Police troopers escorted the first pack-horse convoys carrying gold to Melbourne from the goldfields. At the beginning of 1852, La Trobe wrote of the Mount Alexander diggings: ‘The field now became the general rendezvous of...the most profligate portion of the inhabitants of this and the adjacent colonies...’ He clearly needed to employ additional police, but the Legislative Council stubbornly refused to allow him to spend the government’s general revenue on any service connected to the gold fields except administration.

A degree of self-regulation became necessary, with some crimes receiving summary justice, and most disputes being settled between diggers ‘in a practical manner’. In February 1852, for example, the Miners Association tried to organise patrols by diggers at night in the Castlemaine area. The most frequent crime was theft and normally the punishment was banishment from the goldfields or lashings. Expulsion was no small matter: those punished felt ‘every mark of disgrace and ignominy’, and was considered a ‘pariah amongst diggers all over Australia’. The crime and punishment was widely publicised in newspapers to ensure such banishment was complete. Diggers’ justice was a response to the lack of formal policing on the goldfields and was a far from perfect legal model with punishments determined by the makeshift ‘jury’ at hand. It was an unarguably simplistic judicial system but one that kept a tenuous order over the goldfields.

Initially recruiting for the police was challenging. First, wages bore no comparison to potential earnings on the diggings. Secondly, most possible police recruits were unreformed convicts, many lacking the honesty necessary for law enforcement. The diggers recognised ‘good’ authority when they saw it and were largely unimpressed with the new police. Despite the financial constraints, La Trobe raised daily wages from 2/6d to 6/- and accepted anyone who was willing to join the force. This attracted many young, inexperienced recruits and ex-convicts, who would prove to be harsh and corrupt as they collected the gold licence fees. This lack of respect escalated into outright contempt when a force of 130 military ‘pensioners’ from VDL was used to relieve a regiment stationed at the Mount Alexander diggings [4] Instead of inspiring respect for their experience and age, the response from the diggers as the pensioners arrived was laughter and derision. It was only a fortnight later that the Commissioner petitioned La Trobe for further troops.

Recruitment problems proved temporary. [5] By March 1852, the Melbourne force was at full strength. By mid-1853, there were 875 police stationed in Victoria and a year later 1,639 establishing the relatively high police to population ratio of 1:144 in the colony.[6] La Trobe’s government invested in badly needed bridges and roads for the diggings and recruited extra police, who were paid 12/6d a day, plus board and lodging. In September 1852, a new cadre of police ‘officers’ was set up to lead the disorganised troopers: educated individuals or immigrants who had found themselves unsuited to digging. [7] This new ‘gentrified’ police force further inflamed the diggers. Their methods of policing were clearly antagonistic and they bore the brunt of digger contempt and cooperation between diggers and authority deteriorated further. In 1853, the Government removed control of police from local magistrates and established the centrally controlled Victoria Police.[8] The reorganisation allowed the Government to enforce its goldfield policies effectively and to check movements for reform that had emerged amongst the small independent miners. In September 1853, the Colonial Secretary wrote to the Chief Commissioner of Police asking that police attend political meetings on the goldfields

...it is very desirable that intelligent men should attend all public meetings to watch the proceedings and to take down accurately such words used as may appear to them desirable’.[9]

The Police Regulation Act of 1853 was modelled on the London Metropolitan Police Act, however policing in rural areas and on the goldfields continued to be militaristic. Large numbers of heavily armed police along with soldiers were dispatched to the goldfields; for example at Castlemaine in 1854 the ratio of police to population was 1:56. [10] The purpose of the show of force was to overcome resistance to the licence fee. It was not only the licence that was odious; the way the tax was enforced was also resented. Rather than combating crime, the police operated as a repressive tax-gathering and surveillance force. Licence or ‘digger’ hunts regularly interrupted work; police demanded to see licences several times a day and forced even those not working to pay. This repressive, inefficient approach was compounded by the government’s decision to grant half the proceeds of fines for evasion of licence fees and sly-grogging to those police responsible for convictions. As a result, the police concentrated on securing licence fees and fines rather than combating crime and this led to widespread corruption. Many police, some accustomed to a system of convict discipline performed their duties in a rude, bullying manner. Others, like Superintendent David Armstrong, were brutal thugs. Armstrong’s habit was to burn the tents of suspects and beat those who questioned his methods with the brass knob of his riding crop. He was eventually dismissed, but left boasting that in two years at Ballarat he had made £15,000 in fines and bribes. This strategic concentration of resources was not seen as an attempt to contain increased crime, but a conscious attempt to control the civilian population on the diggings. When giving evidence to the Gold Fields Commission of Enquiry in 1855, Chief Commissioner MacMahon admitted that police at Ballarat were used primarily as tax collectors and could not operate efficiently as law enforcement officers while this remained their role. [11]

In 1853, the government removed control of police from local magistrates and established the centrally controlled Victoria Police.[12] The reorganisation allowed the government to effectively enforce its goldfield policies and provided a means to check the movements for reform that were emerging amongst the small independent miners on the goldfields. The reduction in the power of pastoralist magistrates over police also marked a move away from a plantation-style economy based on the export of primary products to Britain, towards a more development style economy associated with mining.

Following on from riots on the Ovens goldfields in 1853, in late 1854 Ballarat diggers built the Eureka Stockade to resist the efforts of the authorities to collect the gold licence and protect themselves against the predations of police and soldiers. After a police agent provocateur at the Stockade was unable to persuade the diggers to attack, two hundred and seventy-six police and soldiers mounted an attack on the Stockade: about thirty miners and four soldiers were killed in the battle that ensued and many more were injured. Mounted police, in particular, were credited with gratuitous violence during the storming of the stockade, killing bystanders and stockaders alike well after all resistance had ceased.[13] The 1855 Report of the Goldfield Commission Enquiry neatly summed up the situation:

Instead of that happy accord between the police and the orderly citizen, exemplified everywhere but on the gold-fields... [there was] a force requisite to defeat them [the miners], should their mutual irritation come to a crisis. [14]

This practice of policing generated hatred for the licences, contempt for the force and ultimately resistance from the diggers. They were angered by the lack of policing of actual crime and outraged by a system that portrayed them as criminals. As J. B. Humffray observed:

Honest men are hunted down by the police like kangaroos, and if they do not possess a licence...they are paraded through the diggings by the commissioners and police...and, if unable to pay the fine, are rudely locked up, in company of any thief or thieves who may be in the Camp cells at the time; in short, treated in every way as if they were felons. [15]

By 1854, the demands of radical diggers had broadened to include not only reform of the licence system but also changes to the democratic process and the unlocking of lands held under protected tenure by squatters. In the aftermath of the Eureka Stockade diggers were granted the vote and the right to elect their own regulatory bodies. Furthermore, soldiers were not again used for law enforcement in Victoria. However, policing in rural areas remained militaristic and access to land continued to be an important issue.


[1] Serle, pp. 35-36.

[2] Scott, Ernest, (ed.), Lord Robert Cecil’s Gold Fields’ Diaries, (Melbourne University Press), 1935, pp. 18-19.

[3] Fels, Marie Hansen, Good men and true: the Aboriginal police of the Port Phillip District, 1837-1853, (Melbourne University Press), 1988.

[4] The ‘pensioners’ were non-commissioned officers and privates who had agreed to serve out their army careers as convict guards in exchange for a grant of land and a cottage.

[5] Ibid, Victoria Police, Police in Victoria 1836-1980, pp. 5-10 and ibid, Haldane, R., The People’s Force, pp. 7-47.

[6] Ibid, Goodman, D., Gold seeking: Victoria and California in the 1850s, p. 75.

[7] Ibid, Goodman, D., Gold seeking: Victoria and California in the 1850s, pp. 78-79, discusses this élite group.

[8] Ibid, Victoria Police, Police in Victoria 1836-1980, p. 7; see also ibid, Haldane, R., The People’s Force, pp. 29-30

[9] Colonial Secretary Foster to Chief Commissioner of Police, 24 September 1853, cit., Goodman, D., Gold seeking: Victoria and California in the 1850s, pp. 74-75.

[10] The Goldfields Commission Report, 1855, (Red Roster Press), 1978, pp. 60-61, concluded that abolishing the licence fee would reduce the size of the police force by between half and two-thirds.

[11] Mellor, G., ‘Sir Charles MacMahon (1824-1891)’, ADB, Vol. 5, pp. 189-190.

[12] Ibid, Victoria Police Police in Victoria 1836-1980, p. 7; ibid, Haldane R., The People’s Force, pp. 29-30.

[13] Molony, John, Eureka, (Viking), 1984, 2nd ed., 2001, remains the best study.

[14] Ibid, The Goldfields Commission Report, pp. 17-18.

[15] Ballarat Times, 21 October 1854.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Policing the Victorian frontiers

From the beginning, the nature of policing in the Port Phillip District, Victoria after 1851, was profoundly influenced by the need to overcome Aboriginal resistance to dispossession.[1] Aboriginal resistance expressed itself in a type of guerrilla warfare involving sporadic attacks on settlers, who were generally well armed and often shot Aboriginal people indiscriminately.[2] It is estimated that at least 20,000 Aboriginal people and approximately 3,000 settlers were killed across Australia in one hundred and fifty years of prolonged conflict.[3] The intensity of this conflict and Australia’s convict origins, accounts for the paramilitary nature of the settlement’s first police who, unlike their British counterparts, were heavily armed and military in appearance and operation.[4] Australia was the original police state.[5] Because Port Phillip was a free colony, not a penal settlement like NSW or VDL, Aboriginal people, rather than convicts, tended to be the major preoccupation of the colony’s early police.

When police were initially deployed around Port Phillip in 1836 their main task was to create a space in which settlement could grow, by keeping Aboriginal people off their own land once it was deemed fit for pastoral use. Alienation from the land deprived Aboriginal people of the material and spiritual basis for existence and all but destroyed their society. Although the official mandate of Port Phillip’s first police included protecting Aboriginal people and minimising conflict, the police sided with settlers, not only failing to protect Aboriginal people but joining in the killing.[6] This is hardly surprising given that police at the time were under the supervision of local magistrates, who were dominated by pastoralists. By the late 1830s, Aboriginal resistance in Port Phillip was met by a combination of Mounted, Border and Native Police. It was the latter force, however, established in 1837 and recruited from local tribes, who were in the vanguard in overcoming Aboriginal resistance. Port Phillip’s Native Police are said to have been relatively benign compared to their counterparts in other parts of the colony. ‘Relatively’, used in this context, must be kept in perspective. During the first years of European settlement, massacres, rapes and casual killings of Aboriginal people were so common they barely rated discussion. It is not possible to quantify precisely the extent of the carnage inflicted upon Aboriginal people by the Native Police of Port Phillip, because, as Bridges puts it, ‘naturally enough the more colourful, but illicit, exploits of the Corps were not enshrined for history in its official records’.[7]

Chap 2 Aborigine massacre 2

Nevertheless, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that the killing of defenceless Aboriginal men, women and children by Port Phillip’s Native Police was of a scale that would be deemed unthinkable if it involved non-Aboriginals as victims. Summing up the role of the Native Police Corps in Port Phillip, Bridges maintained:

‘What it did do was to make the rule of force more effective through summary punishment, while operating to all appearances within the law, and by inhibiting depredation through fear. The Corps’s true task was a more basic one than that of white police for whites. If the Aborigines’ status as British subjects was ever to have any meaning, and if they were to live in peace with the destroyers of the native economy, they had in fact to be subjected to the will and code of the invader. The Corps was an instrument for forcing them to face this unwelcome fact.’[8]

Occasionally the Governor of Port Phillip encouraged prosecutions over the murder of Aboriginal people. Frontier society, however, was so dominated by those whose interests directly opposed those of its native inhabitants that prosecutions inevitably failed. For the most part, crimes against Aboriginal people by police and settlers were ignored; the charging of three Border police over the killing of two Aboriginals marking the exception rather than the rule. Police were not neutral in the conflict between settlers and Aboriginal people; instead they provided military reinforcement for the forced expansion of white settlement, thereby presiding over the wholesale destruction of Aboriginal society. The thoroughness of the destruction of Aboriginal life achieved with the help of Port Phillip’s police is attested to by the fate of its Native Police Corps. By the early 1850s, less than twenty years after the first police were sent to the district specifically to deal with the ‘Aboriginal problem’, there were so few Aboriginal people left that not only did the corps no longer have a reason to exist.[9]


[1] Ibid, Connell, R.W. and Irving H., Class Structure in Australian History: Poverty and Progress, p. 35 and ibid, Sturma, M. ‘Policing the criminal frontier in mid-nineteenth-century Australia, Britain and America’, p. 23.

[2] Bridges, B., ‘The Native Police Corps, Port Phillip District and Victoria, 1837-1853’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, Vol. 57, (1971), pp. 113-142; Davies, S. ‘Aborigines, Murder and the Criminal Law in early Port Phillip’, 1841-1851’, Historical Studies, Vol. 22, (1987), pp. 313-335; Reynolds, H., Frontier: Aborigines, Settlers and Land, (Allen & Unwin), 1987, pp. 7-22; Broome, R., ‘The struggle for Australia: Aboriginal-European warfare’, 1770-1930 in McKernan, M. and Browne, M., (eds.), Australia: Two Centuries of War & Peace, (Allen & Unwin), 1988, pp. 102-103; and Elder, B., Blood on the Wattle: Massacres and Maltreatment of Australian Aborigines since 1788, (Child & Associates), 1988.

[3] Ibid, Reynolds, H., Frontier: Aborigines, Settlers and Land, pp. 7-9; 29-30; 53; ibid, Broome, R., ‘The struggle for Australia: Aboriginal-European warfare’, pp. 116-119.

[4] Haldane, R., The People’s Force: A history of the Victoria Police, (Melbourne University Press), 1986, pp. 5-39; ibid, Connell, R.W. and Irving H., Class Structure in Australian History: Poverty and Progress, p. 35; and, Palmer, D., ‘Magistrates, police and power in Port Phillip’ in Philips, D. and Davies, S., (eds.), A Nation of Rogues?: Crime, Law and Punishment in Colonial Australia, (Melbourne University Press), 1994, pp. 86-90.

[5] Davidson, A., ‘Big brother is watching you’, in ibid, Burgmann, V. and Lee, J., (eds.), Staining the Wattle: A People’s History of Australia since 1788, p. 3.

[6] Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Racist Violence: Report To The National Inquiry Into Racist Violence in Australia, (Australian Government Publishing Service), 1991, p. 39.

[7] Ibid, Bridges, B., ‘The Native Police Corps, Port Phillip District and Victoria, 1837-1853’, p. 126.

[8] Ibid, Bridges, B., ‘The Native Police Corps, Port Phillip District and Victoria, 1837-1853’, p. 130.

[9] Ibid, Bridges, B., ‘The Native Police Corps, Port Phillip District and Victoria, 1837-1853’, p. 130.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Can we shrink the size of the state?

The debate about the proper balance between what the state should provide and what individuals should provide for themselves has a long pedigree and has never been fully resolved.  The critical question is how can we have a ‘good society’ and a ‘good state’?  As the state has grown bigger so those areas that previously would have been left to individuals have been vacuumed up leading to an expanding public sector and higher levels of taxation to fund those services whether through direct or indirect tax or through National Insurance contributions.  This had led to growing concerns that the state is doing too much and that it costs too much (a cost that is unsustainable) and  that individuals are taking little responsibility for their livelihoods.  It is true that over the past century the state has taken responsibility for providing benefits for those in need through the welfare system and provided ‘free at the point of need’ health care through the NHS.  This ‘welfare state’ has proliferated over the last twenty years with a growing number of increasingly confusing benefits that people may claim giving rise to the notion of a benefit culture with an imprecise numbers of people—the so-called ‘scroungers’—being supported by the state from cradle to grave.  This, combined with an aging population that puts pressure on pensions and health-care, has led to calls particularly though not exclusively from the political right that we need to ‘roll back the state’.  The problem is that people want the benefits but don’t actually want to see their personal taxation rise to pay for them and many people are prepared to countenanced benefit cuts as long. of course, it’s not their benefits that are cut.   Cutting the role of the state is fraught with difficulties since many benefits the welfare state provides have been accorded the status of sacred cows making them virtually untouchable by politicians without disastrous electoral fallout.
Therein lies the conundrum, politicians recognise that the current public sector is financially unsustainable and yet its reform requires political courage that most of them clearly do not have.  They are not prepared to say that we cannot continue with a financially burgeoning NHS or that people must (not should) take responsibility for providing certain things for themselves.  So they seek to reform or rather tinker round the edges of the problem hoping to reduced costs sufficiently to allow the unwieldy state to survive in its current form for a few more years.  As a society we have to accept that either we will have to pay more through taxation for the current services or that we will have to take greater responsibility for providing for ourselves through saving.  In Australia, for instance, people save about a tenth of their income for this purpose while in Britain the figure is less than half that.  This applies particularly to saving for old-age and saving to deal with health problems through private insurance.  We insure our private possessions against damage or theft and yet the overwhelming majority of people do not do the same for their own health.  We assume that, irrespective of our health needs, the state will provide free care. The same applies to pensions though recent attempts to make making private provision has been made easier for those in the private sector.  In both cases, this would shift responsibility from the state to the individual.  But, I hear you think, what about those who do not make such provision?  Well you can’t let them starve in old-age or die for want of medical treatment so individual provision has to be mandatory much as it is now with NI contributions but with a private provider not with the state.  But private providers aren’t reliable are they?  Well at present probably not but but there is no reason why they shouldn’t be…we take out health insurance when we travel abroad so why not when we’re at home?  There’s also no reason why private providers cannot do things better than existing state providers…in fact you might think they couldn’t do worse!!

Suger: The Life of Louis VI 'the Fat'

JUST PUBLISHED

The kingdom of France when Louis VI came to the throne in 1108 was a patchwork of feudal principalities over which the authority of the French Capetian monarchy was weak. Beyond the heartlands of Capetian power around Paris, kings of France had little power and the rulers of the great principalities such as Aquitaine paid little heed to the authority of the French state. Under Louis VI, this gradually began to change and, although it took a further two centuries to complete the process, the feudal supremacy of the French monarchy began to be asserted and the lands over which it had feudal hegemony began to expand. Much of what we know about Louis' reign comes from his life written by his friend and advisor Suger Abbot of St-Denis. Suger was a talented individual who straddled the often perilous divide between Church and State with considerable skill. He was a diplomat, administrator in both ecclesiastical and political spheres and staunch defender of his monastery. He witnessed many of the important events of Louis' reign and knew many of the people he wrote about. His Life of Louis VI is a partial biography, like most medieval biographies, that aims through recounting Louis' life to demonstrate what the nature of 'good' kingship should be--to defend the weak, to dispense justice, to defend both Church and State from those who sought control over them and to defend France against attack from within and without. His is an epic tale of good versus evil, justice versus injustice and right against wrong.

Suger

This volume provides a translation of Suger's work with detailed annotation that identify the key participants and explain the significance of the key events. The introduction provides a brief biography of Suger and examines what his intentions were in writing his book. Two appendices look at the French defeat at the Battle of the Two Kings at Brémule in 1119 and the murder of Charles of Flanders in 1127 through the eyes of other medieval writers. There is also a detailed bibliography.

Friday, 10 January 2014

A democratic deficit

The idea that there is a democratic deficit at the heart of the European Union is nothing new.  It has been a recurrent theme of those critical of the EU for several decades.  There is also a growing realisation that there is a democratic deficit at the heart of the British system of government as well.  Yes we elect MPs every five years but once they are elected they appear to forget those who elected them until it comes to the next electoral cycle.  What people find increasingly irksome is the patronising attitude of politicians who appear to take the view that you elected us and if you don’t like what we’re doing you can vote us out at the next election!  Now this might have been a (barely) acceptable position before the 1960s but people are more politically aware and confrontational today.  They have views and expect politicians to respond to their concerns which they are often unwilling or unable to do.  The result of all this is that political decisions are frequently made by a small cadre of career politicians or, in the case of the EU, unelected officials both of whom have their own agenda that they pursue irrespective of what people say.

Herein lies the problem of the democratic deficit and it’s a problem facing all ‘democracies’.  Democracy is increasing losing its core principles: ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’ in favour of a technocratic view of democracy in which frequently unaccountable ‘experts’ propound solutions that are then implemented by elected politicians.  This is not to suggest that those solutions are wrong or that they do not benefit the people but that misses the point.  The essence of a democratic system is that it is accountable to the people and ‘technocracy’ is, by its nature, largely unaccountable.  Take the vexed question of the proposed referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU.  It is clear, whatever your views, that the British people have been crying out for the right to vote for or against the Union for the past decade (if not longer) but it has not happened despite the promises of successive governments.  The reasons for this are relatively simple: politicians of all parties generally say that this isn't the right time largely because they think they’ll lose. 

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Refighting the First World War by today’s politicians

It is hardly surprising in the centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War that historians, politicians and countries are reappraising its origins, course and consequences.  We have already seen the publication of a tranche of books on the subjects including the excellent study by Max Hastings of its beginnings and David Reynolds’ superb study of its ‘long shadow’ during the twentieth century and there is undoubtedly more to come.  Now there’s nothing wrong with re-examining past events and coming to different interpretations of those events—the essence of what being a historian is about—but I also become a little jaundiced when politicians enter the fray largely because their comments are normally ill-informed and designed to attract the media and because those comments often have little to do with the events themselves and rather more to do with contemporary political agendas.
Michael Gove’s comments in the Daily Mail last Thursday is the case in point.  He argues that people’s understanding of the war had been overlaid by ‘misrepresentations’ which at worst reflected ‘an unhappy compulsion on the part of some to denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage’.  ‘The war was, of course, an unspeakable tragedy, which robbed this nation of our bravest and best,’ wrote Mr Gove. ‘But even as we recall that loss and commemorate the bravery of those who fought, it's important that we don't succumb to some of the myths which have grown up about the conflict.’ ‘The conflict has, for many, been seen through the fictional prism of dramas such as Oh, What a Lovely War!, The Monocled Mutineer and Blackadder, as a misbegotten shambles - a series of catastrophic mistakes perpetrated by an out-of-touch elite.’  Then comes the critical point: ‘Even to this day there are left-wing academics all too happy to feed those myths.’  Yes, it’s a further assault on Mr Gove’s bête noire…left-wing academics even though the origins of the idea of ‘lions led by donkeys’ came from Conservative politician Alan Clark’s revisionist history.  What Michael has done is to erect an Aunt Sally that few historians now believe in and proceed to knock it down.  The importance of Clark’s The Donkeys is that it initiated a debate into how the war was conducted—which was his intention—rather than simply an attack on the incompetence of the ‘top brass’.  Today we have a more nuanced view of how the generals ran operations during the War—and perennial trench warfare was beyond most of their experiences—and historians recognise that there were some poor and some very good military leaders and that no general, good or bad, could sensibly regard their troops merely as cannon-fodder to be thrown pointlessly against the enemy trenches. 
That there has been a response from the Labour Party should come as no surprise.  Shadow education secretary and TV historian Tristram Hunt also criticised Mr Gove's ‘crass' comments. ‘The reality is clear: the government is using what should be a moment for national reflection and respectful debate to rewrite the historical record and sow political division.’   While Sir Tony Robinson commented that ‘I think Mr Gove has just made a very silly mistake; it's not that Blackadder teaches children the First World War. When imaginative teachers bring it in, it's simply another teaching tool; they probably take them over to Flanders to have a look at the sights out there, have them marching around the playground, read the poems of Wilfred Owen to them. And one of the things that they'll do is show them Blackadder.  And I think to make this mistake, to categorise teachers who would introduce something like Blackadder as left-wing and introducing left-wing propaganda is very, very unhelpful. And I think it's particularly unhelpful and irresponsible for a minister in charge of education.’   Tony’s mistake was that Michael Gove did not mention teachers in his article though others, including Jeremy Paxman, have criticised schools for relying on episodes of Blackadder Goes Forth to teach about the conflict.  The critical word here is ‘relying’ and in my long experience in teaching I have never come across any teacher who would ‘rely’ on fictionalised drama to teach about the War.  Drama provides one interpretation of the War, Wilfred Owen another and Rupert Brooke yet another.  I am reminded of Nikita Khrushchev’s comment that ‘Historians are dangerous and capable of turning everything upside down. They have to be watched.’  Undoubtedly Michael Gove would agree.