I guess that only those amongst us who don’t read newspapers, listen to BBC Radio 4 or catch up with the news on television (it’s what TV was invented for) will be unaware of the huge row going on in government between the odious (in my opinion) Michael Gove (Minister for Education) and the slightly less odious (in my opinion) Theresa May (Home Secretary). The row seems to have followed on from revelations that several of Mr Gove’s pet project [Free schools] situated in Birmingham are being undermined by Islamic extremists keen to take overall control of up to five academies. Now, this doesn’t look good does it? Not when you consider that a big city with a large Muslim population keen to live and prosper harmoniously alongside people of other faiths and those without any, should suddenly be thrust into the anti-terrorism debate. However, by keeping things in context it would appear that those responsible for this situation are not involved in terrorism but were intent on establishing the fundamentalist version of their particular faith in the city’s schools. A pretty dangerous objective in my opinion but then, I’m not really qualified to have an opinion on this neither being from Birmingham nor a religious fanatic.
I did however, attend a faith school myself back in the 1950s and 60s and apart from the occasional punch-up at the school gates between the local Protestant school bruisers and ourselves, religious instruction did me a great deal more good than it did harm. However, those unprovoked assaults really tested one of the most fundamental tenets of our faith [to show tolerance towards all others] and it would have been madness to suggest turning the other cheek when someone is intent on punching your lights out! I remain a Christian although, I find a lot to disagree with in the Christian Churches, all of them. More recently however, it appears to have not only become unfashionable to declare yourself a Christian in what is, regardless of the number of immigrants now settled in the UK, a Christian country but down right offensive! I have personally experienced avoidance whenever I’ve expressed my own Christian beliefs, not that I do this very often but it can and has happened. What else could I say if I’m asked where my own core or adopted values originated from? I’ll leave explaining the difference between “core” and “adopted” values to another day. However, I was born into an Irish Catholic family but the foundations of my belief system were laid in school, nurtured by regular visits to the Church and signed-off when I became an adult. There was a time when that would have been the norm for most of us but now it simply marks you out as being some kind of a freak.
Nowadays, families are more likely to congregate in the supermarket café than in the church on a Sunday morning which may have something to do with how far family life has been undermined by the economy. It almost seems that, whilst people are obviously harassed by the need to earn a crust in order to sustain their chosen lifestyles, belief systems, unless they come with an app, are about as popular as the latest STD. However, in what some may see as a perverse dichotomy, British Asians have gained both cultural strength and material success through familial solidarity whereas the indigenous populations of the UK have floundered via disparity and a general lack of unity. We’ve become a nation of “anything goes” and “who are we to interfere?” types. We turn our TV’s sound up at the first sign of a row taking place next door or we cross the street to avoid bumping into that man or woman who has recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia. We’re surrounded by the “worried well”, healthy, well-nourished, educated individuals who worry that they won’t be able to cope should that nice Doctor Gupta retire before they die! (NB – other doctors are available and are probably just as nice as Dr Gupta).
Anyway, I digress. I was talking about the Birmingham schools and the row between two prominent government ministers, Michael Gove and Theresa May. The row has escalated faster than a barbeque fuelled by nitro-glycerine and has already left at least one sausage completely charred and unlikely to be picked up by any of the expectant diners stood around waiting for Barbeque Man to declare “Dinner’s ready”. The casualty in this dog’s dinner of a row is Fiona Cunningham, a fierce supporter of the home secretary but unfortunately a rather silly woman who just happened to leak a sensitive letter to her boyfriend who is head of the Office for Security and Counterterrorism (OSCT). Oh come on, let’s not be harsh on the girl, we’ve all done something similar or we probably would have given half a chance. People are simply too quick to judge someone they don’t know and let’s be honest, had anyone ever heard of Ms Cunningham before now? Mistakes are so easily made when placed in a position for which you are not qualified. Remember the case of those young jurors who were discovered texting each other in court and doing other things likely to have the trial dismissed? They may have been “out of order” but at least those jurors were sufficiently interested in the case to research information about defendants on social media before they made their minds up about whether they were guilty or not. Is that not democracy in action or have we just got a rubbish judicial system?
The schools at the centre of the row between Gove and May appear to have been given a clean bill of health by Ofsted prior to May’s intervention, notice how we are now using sport terminology? It’s like in boxing you get Ali v Frazer, in snooker you get Higgins v Carter etc. but rest assured I will never refer to either party as Govey or Maysey because the lads wouldn’t like it. However, the initial Ofsted inspections were only flying visits and it wasn’t until they returned to do their job properly did they discover the extent to which the schools were being radicalised, female students positioned at the back of classes behind the boys etc. etc. As I said earlier, not good and it wasn’t helpful to find that the ministers’ boss, David Cameron, appeared to side with Gove’s version of events leading up to the row and ordered another bureaucrat to look into whether Cunningham had broken ministerial rules. Whether or not she had, has yet to be proven but whatever her motivation was, it has cost her both her job and her credibility. Ms Cunningham may still have her relationship with the head of OSCT but knowing how politicians operate, it would be premature to start thinking about wedding bells.
The thing that I find most confusing about this row and why David Cameron’s response to it baffles me, is that both parties appear equally right and wrong at the same time. Gove appears to have aired concerns about the possibility of schools in predominantly Muslim areas becoming radicalised well over a year ago whereas May has only recently opened her eyes to the growing threat of homegrown extremism being sown in our schools. The situation doesn’t strike me as being worthy of the controversy that it’s created, it appears to be yet another example of complacency or are we witnessing another case of political correctness obscuring the picture? We want people of other faiths to feel comfortable in our country and to be able to practice their faiths unhindered or constrained by either ignorance or prejudice. In the past when I employed Muslims I would ensure that they had somewhere private where they could go to pray as often as they needed to during their shifts. I wasn’t being patronising towards my employees nor was I showing any favouritism, I was simply being sensitive and respectful towards them which made for the best possible relationship with my work-force. I feel that the Birmingham row could have been handled in the same way and rather than having two ministers at war with each other over a situation that both parties have unwittingly created, Cameron should have brought them together a year ago and given them the task of finding the solution to what must have been a fairly easy to predict, future problem.