It’s a shame about Brooks Newmark, at least he cared about the sector

Rob Wilson, MP for Reading East, was pushed into position as Minister for Civil Society this week, after Brooks Newmark fell from grace just before the Tory Party Conference. But who is he, and should we welcome him?

Brooks Newmark, for all his naiive foolishness, at least has a personal passion for charities and the third sector. He has a keen interest in special needs education, poverty reduction and women’s issues (I’ll leave the jokes to you). He is involved in a number of charities and campaigns around education, play, special needs and lifelong illness, including A Partner in Education, Million Jobs Campaign, Farleigh Hospice, Get Kids Going!, and PARC.

As for Rob Wilson? Well, let’s only hope his remarks to the Conservative Party Conference yesterday are not an indication of his enthusiasm for the role: ‘This is a very important sector for the Prime Minister; he made me aware of that’. Oh dear; is he doing this under duress?Would he much rather be somewhere else?

And anyway, who could blame him? Why should he be pandering to the do-gooders when he could be helping to whip the economy into shape? He made his name as an entrepreneur, building small businesses: why can’t everyone be as commercially productive? He believes in education, presumably for creating hard-working, employable individuals (he has led two successful bids for new schools in his region, including Reading’s new University Technical College), and has little sympathy for the welfare state (he has voted strongly for cutting benefits).

He shares the Tory vision of a smaller state with more local accountability (and less cash; he voted strongly against funding local government). He’s very keen on academies and greater autonomy for schools, and for raising university tuition fees. He wants a smaller House of Commons and greater restrictions on charity campaigning.

Yes, you read that correctly: he wants greater restrictions on charity campaigning; he has voted strongly in favour of restricting charities’ ability to lobby Parliament. One wonders quite what sort of charity sector champion he will turn out to be.

His website boasts of the books he’s written, of how he’s campaigning for a third Thames bridge crossing and of how he’s fighting for Reading’s interests in the Crossrail extension; gov.uk lists his interests as crime, education and immigration. Neither give the remotest hint of an enthusiasm for civil society or the third sector.

With Rob Wilson at the Office for Civil Society, Brooks Newmark’s untimely departure may prove damaging to more than his own future. Let’s hope not.


Further information

Let’s not waste this opportunity to revive an enthusiasm for politics

The referendum in Scotland may be over, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg: it will have a huge impact on everyone in the UK, but we don’t know what that impact will be. How can we help our young people make sense of it all? Well, in England and Wales we have a national curriculum subject for that.

With such a high turnout at Scotland’s polling booths yesterday, it’s clear that democratic participation in Britain can still be aroused. If the referendum has taught us anything, it’s that citizens young and old will defy the doom-sayers by engaging with politics when it touches a nerve and if their vote really could swing the balance.

On Wednesday, Alex Salmond urged voters to relish their moment of power and take advantage of it. With the special conditions of the referendum, many of those voters were under eighteen and still in school. They’ve now had a taste of that power and responsibility; how are they going to feel when it’s taken away from them at the next election?

Will they feel even more let down and alienated by politicians, or will they stand up and fight for a greater franchise? And how did their counterparts in the rest of the UK feel about seeing their Scottish cousins given a power they’ve hitherto been denied?

In short, how do we ensure the passion that citizens displayed so clearly during the last few weeks doesn’t dissolve into alienation and resentment, but is nurtured into a greater interest in and understanding of the civic world around them?

Actually, we have a mechanism for this already: the statutory citizenship curriculum in schools.

The new programmes of study for citizenship aim, among other things, to ‘equip pupils with the skills and knowledge to explore political and social issues critically’. This is what the subject was designed for: to prepare young people for their place in an ever-changing political, legal, economic and social world.

And there’s a huge appetite for it, as Aberdeenshire teacher Lynn Cooper discovered.

But let’s be honest: how often do we hear politicians extolling the virtues of the citizenship curriculum? Quite. As a result, it’s losing its footing.

So, while citizens of Britain are in the grip of an unusual surge of interest in the nation’s politics, let’s strike that iron while it’s hot and help our young people forge their futures in a changing nation. And politicians can lead the way by lending the citizenship curriculum the weight of their public standing.


This post first appeared on democraticlife.org.uk.

 

 

Scottish referendum: what does it mean for school students?

Whichever way the vote goes, today’s referendum in Scotland will have a big impact on everyone in the UK. How can students make sense of it all? England and Wales have a curriculum subject for that. Let’s use it.

With a record high turnout expected at Scotland’s polling booths today, it’s clear that democratic participation in Britain can still be aroused. If the referendum has taught us anything, it’s that citizens young and old will defy the doom-sayers by engaging with politics when it touches a nerve and if their vote really could swing the balance.

Whatever the outcome, enormous change is afoot. But what will it mean to our young people? If Scotland votes Yes, will little Jenny in Birmingham find she needs a passport to visit her granny? Or will the border remain open, as in Ireland? And will the quality of life for either of them get better or worse?

If the vote is No, what are the ramifications for the rest of the UK? What is ‘devo-max’ and ‘the West Lothian Question’, and what do they mean to ordinary people?

Yesterday, Alex Salmond urged voters to relish this moment of power and take advantage of it. With the special conditions of this referendum, many of those voters will still be in school. How do their neighbouring peers feel about remaining disenfranchised in a resurgent democratic climate, and would they feel prepared to vote if they could? (Here’s the most recent research on the matter, from the Youth Citizenship Commission.)

The new programmes of study for citizenship aim, among other things, to ‘equip pupils with the skills and knowledge to explore political and social issues critically’. This is what the subject was designed for: to prepare young people for their place in an ever-changing political, legal, economic and social world.

And there’s a huge appetite for it, as Aberdeenshire teacher Lynn Cooper discovered.

So, while citizens of Britain are in the grip of an unusual surge of interest in the nation’s politics, let’s strike that iron while it’s hot and help our young people forge their futures in a changing nation.


This post was first appeared on the Citizenship Foundation website.

 

Social media disclaimer

This is basically to say ‘anything I put on Twitter (as @citizensheep) – or Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ etc – comes from me and not from my employer’.

All views you read there belong to me and not the organisation I work for. (Of course, my employer may well hold some of those views too, but that’s not the point.)

Why a post dedicated to this? Because, whatever time it is, I’m always a contracted representative of my organisation and should be mindful of that at all times; and, occasionally, I say things in my own capacity that I would probably have put differently if I were writing on behalf of my employer  – and, very occasionally, I can get it wrong.

So, remember, anything I post to Twitter is my responsibility and mine alone. If you want my employer’s opinion on something, ask them.

Alain de Botton has made me angry: novels and news are not the same thing

Alain de Botton has made me angry. I thought he was supposed to be intelligent, not the sort of person to throw Ill-conceived populist soundbites to the Twitter pack.

Alain de Botton - Impact Hub - Flickr

Alain de Botton, apparently with a luminous snake in his ear. Photo by Impact Hub.

What has made me angry? His glib suggestion on Twitter this morning that human beings are more likely to care about fictional characters in novels than real people in the news:

Novels get us to care about the death of people who never existed; the news often can’t help us care about real people who died yesterday.

He may well be right, but only because of his seemingly careless comparison of two very different beasts.

It’s not the job of news to help us care. News tries to be objective, to give us information impartially. It’s hard to do, but the British press is actually pretty good at it – not least because it is required by law to be duly accurate and impartial. This often means presenting information such that it doesn’t push the viewer into siding with a particular party in the story.

Novelists, on the other hand, have an agenda. They want us to care about their characters and they work incredibly hard to ensure that we do.

But let’s not stop there. What about biographies? Biographers write about real people, and they will often make the reader care about their subject. The same goes for feature writers and anyone whose job is to push our buttons, such as charity copywriters and publicists.

And that’s why I’m angry: Mr de Botton is perfectly intelligent enough to know all of this. It seems, therefore, that he is being deliberately disingenuous: that he is ignoring nuances in presentation while taking full advantage of those nuances for the sake of publicity and ego. He knows full well the difference between objective news and subjective novels, but he also knows that his little crafted soundbite will be lapped up and retweeted hundreds of times by people who trust his word.

Who cares about accuracy when the world believes everything you say?