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Quintin HoggTwice-Education Secretary Quintin Hogg died in 2001, however his words on ‘twitter’ are remarkably apt to today’s political context.

In his 1975 autobiography he wrote the following about his time as leader of the Conservative election strategy:

“Some of the makers of opinion are beyond reach, because they are on the other side. But before an election even these can be pressed into service. They can be made to take notice, to twitter with rage and scream in derision and, if they can be made to twitter and scream at the right things, or, rather from their point of view, at the wrong things, powerful allies can be wheeled into support from sources normally neutral, or, occasionally, even unfriendly

Two things are remarkable about this quote. One: if you put a capital letter on the word ‘twitter’ it would make absolute sense in the context of today’s social media use. And, two: this tool has been an absolute mainstay of Gove’s time in office. He has been unbelievably canny in using soundbites to start a twitter storm of opponents shouting out against things they would otherwise normally be more sensible about, or pushing them to be more extreme in their reactions and hence framing themselves as unreasonable.

It’s a good trick, but it’s an old one. And it’s one worth bearing in mind as we head further into party conference season.

Shirley Willliams

I’ve finally finished Williams’ autobiography (though apparently she has a new one coming out, so I may have wasted my time). What came across throughout was her fearlessness in dealing with new situations and a spirited love for all things political. Though she spent a fair amount of time in education, both as a Junior Minister and Secretary of State, those are not the pages that really sing. Hence, in the quotes below, education is barely mentioned. These were, however, the parts that stood at to me as revealing the most “Williams” moments of the whole book.

1. On coming from a political family – “What I did understand was that no one would pay me any attention unless I engaged in political conversation too. ‘You’re only interested in Hitler, not me,’ I informed them at the age of five. I confused the Reichstag fire in February 1933 with that of the Crystal Palace in November 1936; they all became one great big conflagration in my mind.”

2. On the lesson of attending a local primary school – “One family in my class took turns to come to school. I asked one of them why. Between them, they had only two pairs of boots and the children had to share them. I asked my mother why I had four pairs of shoes and two sandals while they only had half of one.”

3. On schooling in the US – “The absence of accent as a defining feature enabled Americans to present themselves as whatever they wanted to be.”

4. After being asked to the high school prom by the much-desired quarterback-jock – “I was furious. Dancing was a sissy occupation, and who wanted to waste a whole evening on some pink-faced boy? I refused, to the consternation of my school, whose counsellors concluded that I must be emotionally troubled because I was far away from home. I wasn’t.”

5. On working in Accra: “I wrote the submission to the Monckton Commission on the Central African economy for the leaders. I tried to explain to Dr Hastings Banda, an authoritarian with all the confidence of the old-fashioned general practitioner he had long been. As far as he was concerned the submission might have been written in some utterly strange language, but since it was written by a young woman it didn’t really matter anyhow.”

6. On her appearance – “My father, ever keen to advance my career, had once introduced me to the first ever woman MP to take her seat, the wealthy and acerbic Nancy Astor. ‘She wants to be an MP,’ my father said. The great lady looked at me with distaste. ‘Not with that hair!’ she declared. She had already perceived what was to be a negative factor in my political career.”

7. Describing Tony Crosland’s Saturday night “brain trust” meetings – “On Saturday nights, the regular time for the brains trust, we would firmly be told that there would be a break in proceedings, when Tony, as regular in his Saturday habits as I was in attending Mass on Sundays, would watch Match of the Day, a glass of whisky in his hand, slippers on his feet, sometimes wearing his old Para beret and jacket to help him feel utterly relaxed. Before and after this sacrosanct time, we would discuss comprehensive schools, tertiary and sixth-form colleges, how to integrate the state system and the public schools…abolition of the eleven-plus examination, under which less than a quarter of the nation’s children were selected for a grammar school education, was our guiding star”

8. On being Prisons Minister – “Some prison officers thought that the appointment of a woman minister to this forbidding job was absurd. In one or two of the prisons I visited, it was made clear that no toilet facilities could be found for me.”

9. On reflection – “I was born at a time of political and economic misery…Eighty years later, from where I am now, it looks as if history might be repeating itself.”

10. Reflections on political careering – “Being an MP is like being a member of an extended family. You learn to love your family in all its knobbliness, perversity, courage and complexity. You learn respect and build trust. That is why every poll shows that people think more highly of their own MP than of politicians as a whole. You belong to them.”

George Tomlinson

Having left school at 12, George Tomlinson nevertheless crept his way to the lofty position of Education Minister. His biography, completed from manuscripts after his untimely death, describes his quirky sense of humour and even-handed wisdom:

On Education

1. In the Daily Express, 1948, defending the raising of the school leaving age: “Why should not a crossing sweeper be thinking of Shakespeare while he is leaning on his brush? He is going to lean on it anyway.”

2. As President of the Association for Education: “The real value of education to me lies in this: that it enables the individual to pierce the crust of things, to get beneath the surface, to see through the exterior to the reality what lies behind and beneath.” 

3. On his motive for being Education Minister “I was glad of the opportunity to carry a step further a vow I had made as a youth deprived of the opportunity of a secondary education through poverty, that no handicap of a similar kind should be allowed to stand in the way of any young person if any action of mine could prevent it.”

4. On The Spectator’s unkind editorial about him: “They say there’s an ignoramus at the Ministry of Education  and they’re quite right, but perhaps it’s only a man who’s never had any education himself who can appreciate it to the full”

5. At the NUT conference in 1947: “At a pinch you might do without Parliament. You could do without the Minister: you could certainly do without Civil Servants and almost as certainly without local education authorities. Without any or all of them the world might not seem much worse. But if there were no teachers the world would be back in barbarism within two generations.”

6. On class sizes: “I realise that it is not economical or common-sense to train a teacher and then put him in charge of such a large class that all he can do is prevent the children from breaking the furniture.”

On Employment & Politics

7. On his being appointed as Minister of Works in 1945: I was put in charge of building materials when there wasn’t any”

8. Pointing out that the unemployed of the Depression were the army of the War: “There never were unemployables. There were neglected members of the community who saved the situation in the country’s greatest need”

9. When officials vetoed his policy on grounds of precedent: “Ah’m not ‘ere to follow precendents. Ah’m ‘ere to make ’em. If it were just a case o’ following precedents you’d have no need of me, you could carry on on your own.”

On death

10. On his death bed the biographer, Fred Blacburn, asked George what was giving him comfort as he lay in bed. Tomlinson answered that he was comforted because he would win either way. When pressed to explain Tomlinson said: “If I get better I shall go to Blackpool and rest with Ethel. If I don’t get better, I shall go to Heaven and rest with my Saviour”

Ellen Wilkinson

FROM ELLEN:

On losing her Parliamentary seat: “It does an MP good to see that what he regarded as the centre of Britain’s whole life is to most folk a curious assembly with incomprehensible ways”

On transparency – “We do not doubt that justice, as a general rule, done. But it should always be remembered that justice is not enough. What people want is security for justice and the only security for justice is law publicly administered”

On the 1925 Zinoviev’s letter scandal – “A really good scare proves better than any argument”

On witticisms: “No authority can discipline anyone with a sense of humour”

On the BBC: “The BBC General is the judge of what we ought to want”

On house building: “I am sick of hearing about the sacred rights of private property. I want to hear about the sacred rights of human life”

On the grammar-school system: “If we are committed to three types of school one grand thing about the scheme is that it won’t work – at least not peacefully. It would hit the middle classes who would scream. Pupils of grammar or technical ability (with high IQ) should be separated on a functional basis, not by going to physically different/separate schools…let the lower IQs find their level in separate classes; arouse [their] interest by a practical side to their tuition; but don’t let the stigma of lower IQs attach itself to the whole school”

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FROM OTHERS:

Paddy Scullion’s memory of Ellen: “Full of fire in a short fur coat”

Amy Mitchell on why Ellen remained unmarried – “Ellen was always so anxious to put the world to rights that love affairs had to wait”

Jack Lawson, Methodist Minister, on her death: “Quite simply (her passion) arose from the urge of compassion for mankind and a vision of the world that might be”

 

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