Here we go again – United Kingdom to the Ballot Box – 12 December 2019

The first half of the Autumn Term at Claires Court has been all about settling in the new boys and girls, establishing more broadly for all what the objectives for the year are to be and then progress with the business of ensuring our school community gets on with its learning , the stretch of acquiring new skills, developing talents, rising to the many challenges that form part of the modern education landscape, whilst… recovering from the initial failure of our planning applications for a new campus whilst… buckling up our seatbelts, because of course UK PLC was due to leave Europe on the 31 October 2019.

Fair do’s, when all said and done, our 2 week half-term fits our educational ecosystem quite well. The school days are long, the diverse activities and commitments take their toll, and it’s nice to have a decent length of time in which to run a wide range of educational trips and give all those taking part a breather too. Blow me down, whilst school’s out, the Prime Minister has decided that ‘Divorce’ can wait a while longer; he’s going to the British public to seek a full mandate for his many and varied policies beyond Brexit. Well good luck to Boris, and he may very will swing the country behind his message, but I for one can’t really see past the ‘Leaving Europe’ bit, because in that major political decision lies the relative affluence of our country for the next 5 years or so.

Inevitably I spend almost all my working time with and around young people and their teachers. What’s been so frustrating for us all over the past 3 years is that whilst the political landscape has been in gridlock over the ‘Deal/No deal’ debate, the wider real world has been waking up to a range of regional and world wide calamities the like of which we have not seen before in my lifetime. If we can just take the UK-wide struggle we are having to ensure we have effective business, welfare, care and community structures which have had to face the brunt of austerity cuts and privatisations, it seems ludicrous for the country’s leadership to be ‘fiddling’ whilst the ‘house burns down’. Politically I have always been a radical liberal, enjoying that freedom to make my own choices because I have been able to rely on the wider society to be well ordered and serving of the public. Our public servants, be they teachers, medics, the police, local and government service or the armed forces can only work well if the funds and resources are there, and they have clearly diminished beyond the point of profit/loss.

It’s difficult to be anything other than horrified by the emerging outcomes from the Grenfell enquiry and all that means for all the other tower blocks in the land clad in similar clothing, and for the fire and emergency services that simply couldn’t cope that day. In terms of law and order, cutting so deep into the Police service has meant that personal, violent crime is more obviously affecting the young and crime more broadly in terms of trafficking people or drugs lights up our newspapers far too frequently. More broadly, cutting back on legal aid has permitted a dramatic erosion of civil liberties and opportunities to make challenge, with justice per se becoming the preserve of the rich or its lack becoming the friend of the criminal. The sight of politicians visiting schools and hospitals has always been seen as a win-win photo opportunity for the political candidates canvassing for our vote; not so any more, with so many existing institutions clearly starved of the funds they need to keep their bricks, mortar and softer services in good repair. It’s no surprise to see the professionals, patients and parents giving new meaning to the words ‘having a go’ on their celebrity guests for the hour or so.

Pulling out the focus further onto the international landscape, and it’s equally clear that the world is crying out and in pain. From the many and varied regional conflicts and aggressions to the whole climate change phenomenon, humanity seems hell bent on its own destruction, and there probably isn’t anything we can do about it personally. And right on cue, the latest BBC BioPic, ‘Seven worlds, One Planet’ has started on TV to remind us all how small we actually are compared with Mother Earth, but nevertheless our impact as a species has been to the utter detriment of all the others. TV shows, as with all data-streams are shown to entertain and inform, and in Sir David Attenborough as broadcaster, we all feel we have a narrator with integrity, who will ‘tell it right’ and guide us to behave in a less harmful way to the environment in which we live. Long live this national treasure!

Integrity is something that seems to have been in as short supply as money as the various governments of the past 10 years have sought to steer us as a nation through the choppy economic landscape brought about by the banking crash of 2007/8. Promises seem easier to make and harder to keep than ever, be they cheap ones such as ‘We are leaving on the 31st’ or big number ones such as ‘We send £350 million to EU a week, let’s fund our NHS instead’. Leadership seems to me to so much more than just winning an election, and yet this is exactly what we are faced with in 6 weeks time. We are required to choose a party member to represent our interests in Parliament; in making that cross on the ballot box, we then keep our fingers crossed too that the party they stand for will win sufficient seats to be the leading party in the House of Commons and thus become the governing party of the country.

Whatever my politics, I am a democrat, so I will indeed trust in the ballot box and mark my card accordingly. If Theresa May, our local MP, had won the last Brexit round in March, then I have no doubt I would have been free to vote on all the other policy stand points I have itemised above, and the political parties would have been presenting a balanced beauty parade in my view. Sadly Brexit still looms largest, and it will dominate. I’d clearly love to see it swept from the table in one blow, so that we could indeed use the otherwise-to-be-wasted cash on supporting the obvious spending increase on public services to come, whoever we elect. If the young people I work with are to be listened to, they really want the Extinction Rebellion to grow, that global environmental movement which aims to compel government action to avoid tipping points in the climate system, biodiversity loss, and the risk of social and ecological collapse.

From my time at university where I studied the Biological sciences and ‘discovered’ Ecology, I’ve understood the very careful balance that humanity needs to walk to keep its impact in check. We genuinely have all those balancing mechanisms in play now, and the rest of the world remains full of admiration for our country’s way of working. Whilst we can’t see it because of the ‘fog of political war’, the institutions that make our country great are all still there, and genuinely just need a spell of true leadership to permit them all to be nourished back to good health. Perhaps a slight tweak on our school values will indeed help us all with how we place our vote, for if we can fill parliament with 650 members who abide by these, whatever their politics, our government will thrive:

” Responsibility for ourselves, Respect for others (who may have different views and needs), Loyalty to our country (above party) and Integrity above all (we promise not to lie)”.

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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