Bolivia Newton-John's Blog

Michael Gove, Empress of India | June 11, 2010

Horrifying news that Michael Gove has enlisted Andrew Roberts and Niall Ferguson to rewrite the British history curriculum (and British history). Ferguson and Roberts are renowned historical revisionists and, crucially, colonial apologists. At a time when British hubris about its place in the world is leading us into wars around the world that costing us dearly, both financially and in terms of soldiers’ casualties, and prompting us to renew our pointless and expensive nuclear “deterrent”, it is easy to understand why a repulsive neo-Conservative lizard like Michael Gove might want to inflict the lies of these fringe lunatics onto a new generation of potential patriots, but this should not sit comfortably with anyone already nervous about Gove’s sandbox experiments with the next generation of British children. For the record I am with-holding judgement, in principle, on the education reforms. They have worked elsewhere, and if they work here they could reverse the downward trajectory of British educational performance. However, it is difficult to see how a nationalist re-writing of the history curriculum fits in with the new coalition’s “laissez-faire with a hug” rhetoric, seeming to adhere more to Thatcher’s tub-thumping “Nuke Buenos Aires” racism.

I suppose as always it is important to await the finished article before judging it, but this does not bode well. Aside from British military hubris abroad, we appear to be reaching a critical moment in the fight to deal with our imperial hangover. Britain is a more cosmopolitan and multicultural place than ever before, and ignorance of the issues surrounding the impact of immigration is allowing opportunists and political cowards of all stripes to use this to their advantage, be it Speakers’ Corner idiots like Nigel Farage and Nick Griffin or more insipid “serious politicians” like Daniel Hannan, Frank Field and Ed Balls, trying to curry favour with “bigoted women” etc. in the face of the facts of the matter: that without immigration we would not have survived the economic transitions of the past three decades, and without more immigration we will not survive the demographic transitions of the next.

Worse still would be the re-telling of the British Empire. Seumas Milne puts it better than I could here. It is only by confronting our horrific role in history, that continues to cause conflicts in every corner of the world, that we can confront the imperial hangover and shed the delusions that continue to stunt sensible evidence-based debate about both domestic and foreign policy. Such is the vulgar jingoism with which people believe the popular fiction about the British Empire and Britain’s moral purity in history that those of us who do not have been led to a polarised position of shame, meaning that something which should be as innocent as supporting our national team in the World Cup has become a horrifying statement of ignorant nationalism, due to the tone of the coverage. It is, for me, mind-boggling to think that Michael Gove can look at the character of our nation now and conclude that what our children need is more nationalist fervour, and less historical truth about why life is better today in Britain than in, say, Palestine or Zimbabwe. As Milne says:

The British empire was, after all, an avowedly racist despotism built on ethnic cleansing, enslavement, continual wars and savage repression, land theft and merciless exploitation. Far from bringing good governance, democracy or economic progress, the empire undeveloped vast areas, executed and jailed hundreds of thousands for fighting for self-rule, ran concentration camps, carried out medical experiments on prisoners and oversaw famines that killed tens of millions of people. And far from decolonising peacefully, as empire apologists like to claim, Britain left its colonial possessions in a trail of blood, from Kenya to Malaya, India to Palestine, Aden to Iraq.

It is easy to characterise the Nazis as evil, because they lost. Not so the British Empire, because we are still winning.

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About author

Bolivia Newton-John is an enthusiast from South East London. She will be mostly writing about society, anthropology, politics and entertainment, though hopefully in a less pretentious manner than here indicated. Bolivia Newton-John likes diplomacy, irony, and seeing the big picture. Bolivia Newton-John dislikes misanthropy, self-importance, and censorship.

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