Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Tories name the 12 who shaped our nation.

The Conservative education spokesman, David Willetts has announced his “nation building” History curriculum. In place of the study of history, he prefers the narrative approach (telling children little stories) about 12 chosen great people.

The list has 11 white men, three of them wearing crowns, and one white woman. It seems the black and ethnic minorities in the UK made no contribution to its history if we believe the Conservative party; and men made 11 times as great a contribution as women.

Some of the choices – based on the contribution to creation of British institutions and structures are surprising. The inclusion of Oliver Cromwell probably has Prince Charles feeling his collar – one of Cromwell’s “memorable structures” was the scaffold on which King Charles was executed.

Although there are three kings, King Henry 8th is excluded. It is unusual for the Conservative Party to assert that the Church of England is not a significant institution.

Other omissions are less surprising. The Tolpuddle Martyrs are not there – trade unions are an institution the Conservative Party would sooner forget about.

And the whole concept is cockeyed. History is not made by individuals “great” or otherwise. Nye Bevan did not single-handedly create the NHS any more than Millicent Fawcett single-handedly brought about votes for women and neither of them was stupid enough to believe they did.

It is convenient to reduce history to stories about individuals – and then pick and choose which individuals constitute “history” but the events which really shaped these islands, like the Chartist movement, involved the participation of the working class and the poor.

History is made by millions. And so is the future. As David Willetts and his merry men will find out.

Derek McMillan

The list is:

Saint Columba, 521-597 (Christianity in Britain)
Alfred the Great, 849-899 (the Kingdom of England)
Henry II, 1133-1189 (Common law)
Simon de Montfort, 1208-1265 (Parliament)
James IV of Scotland, 1443-1513 (the Kingdom of Scotland)
Thomas Gresham, 1519 -1579 (the stock market)
Oliver Cromwell, 1599 -1658 (the British Army)
Isaac Newton, 1643-1727 (the Royal Society)
Robert Clive, 1725-1774 (the British Empire)
Sir Robert Peel, 1778-1850 (the police)
Millicent Fawcett, 1847-1929 (universal suffrage)
Nye Bevan, 1897-1960 (the National Health Service)



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