Michael Gove has been talking a lot about ‘British values’ recently as he pursues his heavy-handed campaign against (real or imagined) Muslim extremism in Birmingham schools. What a pity that nobody in government has taken the opportunity to promote United Nations universal human values — the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
My local primary school has signed up to become a Rights Respecting School, a long-term project involving all staff, pupils and parents leading to a deeper appreciation of the difference between rights and responsibilities for adults and children alike. Children are being given the vocabulary to understand and express some very fundamental humanitarian concepts in the context of their own lives and as part of their education as future adults.
How much more useful this approach would have been in Birmingham, rather than sending in inspectors and the police. We have a government that sets great store by ‘faith schools’ — as long as they are the right sort of faith. Preferably C of E of course, but Catholics have successfully overcome centuries of persecution to have their own well-established network of schools and other minority religions see no reason why they should not join them.
I personally believe that all education should be secular, with RE an important curriculum subject. Northern Ireland’s segregated schooling continues to reinforce bitter sectarian divisions and the last thing we want is yet more systems of parallel schools in the UK.
Faith school, free schools, academies: the government should have seen it coming. All children have the right to an education that equips them for life in a complex multicultural society and a global international community. Education is about learning to think and ask questions. Political and religious indoctrination should have no place in schools. http://www.unicef.org.uk/Education/Rights-Respecting-Schools-Award
Kate and Helen have sent us a detailed message on Muriel’s behalf. Please get in touch if you want a copy.
Wimbledon M.P. Stephen Hammond was not able to see us at the parliamentary lobby on 11th June but Alison Williams (Merton UNA) and I have arranged to meet him at his surgery on July 4th. We shall ask him to expand on the assertion he repeatedly made during the Wimbledon debate that “nuclear weapons keep us safe” and also present him with with a copy of the recent Chatham House paper ‘Too Close for Comfort’ about ‘near nuclear use’ and the risks of accident. [See June Newsletter.]
I attended the evening meeting at the House of Commons on June 11th and it was interesting to hear a summary of Bruce Kent’s experience in touring the country. He was not as successful as he had hoped in reaching Muslim or Jewish audiences but addressed over 70 meetings from Sunderland to Exeter, all “to some extent” faith gatherings with Catholic Pax Christi and the Quakers especially active. There are many individual radical Anglican clergy but complete silence on the subject of Trident from the "major generals" of the Church of England. In contrast, Bruce (as a Catholic) naturally takes pleasure in the strong anti-nuclear statements coming from Pope Francis but pointed out that these are not circulating very widely. Perhaps those of you who are members of the Catholic church could help here, e.g. with an article in a parish magazine quoting the Pope, timed for Hiroshima Day?
As part of the mass lobby 100 M.P.s in total were contacted via the CND website and 60 M.P.s lobbied on the day with more to be approached at constituency surgeries. This was reckoned to be a modest success and CND will organise another Lobby after the General Election using the experience gained.
It wasn’t quite as we had imagined it. Rain on the morning of June 28th made life difficult from the start. Occasional showers had been forecast but a promising bright interval was followed by more or less continuous rain for the next hour, just as we had reassembled for the ‘off’ after huddling together for 15 minutes under the library porch trying to keep everything dry and falling further and further behind schedule for the photographer.
We had about twenty volunteers to help roll out our contribution to the 7-mile Aldermaston– Burghfield scarf but it didn’t take us long to realise that, rain or no rain, we simply did not have enough people. There was more scarf than we could handle: even after taking the decision to double back the scarf on the clothes line we were running out of both clothes line and pegs, so a large bag of scarf never saw the light of day at all and had to be trundled on a luggage trolley at the rear of the procession. However the photographer from the South London Press was very positive and said that the reflections on the pavement made the pictures more interesting(!) So we set off in the direction of the station, holding up the traffic at the Alexandra Road junction willy-nilly as the pedestrian phase here is only 30 seconds. It was very satisfying.
There were huge crowds outside the station queuing for buses and taxis to the tennis and we were able to halt for a while on this wider bit of pavement for more photographs, attracting a lot of attention (including one young woman who wanted to know how she could contribute her own knitting to the project). The rain then became more persistent making it impossible to hand out leaflets, and after passing Lush (where the staff crowded into the door to wave and take photos) we had to call it a day.
The trees ouside Centre Court provided a bit of shelter and all those carefully pinned-out lengths of scarf were unceremoniously bundled together, Maggie from Kingston (who is not very tall) becoming almost submerged under piles of pink knitting in her heroic efforts to keep it off the ground. A hasty whip-round provided a taxi back to Wilton Grove and Harriet and I spent most of the rest of the afternoon disentangling it all and spreading it out all over the house to dry. But we did take the opportunity to measure it and we can now say with certainty that we have (together with Kingston) achieved 125 metres, which is very impressive.
Thank you all, especially the heroic team on June 28th.
The next step is to bring our section of scarf to the grand roll-out between Aldermaston and Burghfield on Nagasaki Day, August 9th. We have taken a bold decision to have a coach from Wimbledon to avoid having to travel into central London for 7·30am. It comes cheaper too (£10 waged, £5 unwaged), as Wimbledon is several miles in the right direction.
Epsom Coaches advises that we leave Wimbledon at 8am to arrive at Burghfield (our allocated ‘mile post’) at 10am. Bring food, drink, suncream, hats etc. and bells to signal along the route when join-up has been achieved. (Bicycle bells will do.) We should be back in Wimbledon by 6pm so it will not be too long a day.
Now we need to FILL THAT COACH. Please come with us if you possibly can. We have already proved that rolling out even 125 metres of scarf takes a lot of people — we shall need thousands for seven miles. Spread the word and register your own interest as soon as possible: 020 8543 0362 or email@example.com. Precise details of our Wimbledon pick-up point are still being negotiated with Merton Council at the time of writing, but it will be as central as possible.
Twitter, Facebook, blogs etc. are all increasingly important ways of getting our message across and influencing public opinion, enabling us to speak directly to a wider public without being at the mercy of the national media. The trouble is that many of us grew up and developed our campaigning skills in the pre-Facebook era and need a bit of help. So Anne Schulthess (National CND campaigns officer) has agreed to lead a workshop in Maisie’s flat on Monday July 7th. You are invited for tea/coffee at 10am with the aim of getting down to business at 10.30am. Please RSVP if you want to reserve a place and bring your own laptop if you have one.
130 Langham Court, Wyke Road, Raynes Park, London SW20 8RR, 10 for 10·30am. RSVP to Maisie: 020 8286 3144.
We now have a stock of this excellently written and stimulating pamphlet first published last year, which is now in its fourth edition and costs £4. Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy contributes the ‘poetic foreword’, a striking new poem which is almost worth the cover price alone:
‘If poetry could tell it backwards, true, begin
that moment shrapnel scythed you to the stinking mud...
but you get up amazed’, putting into words the longing that we all have that it were possible to undo this most terrible of episodes in European history.
Dr Faulkner is a leftwing radical historian (research fellow at Bristol university) and puts a powerful argument that the current debate about how World War I should be commemorated is a proxy row about our own world where western rulers are increasingly losing control over the regions they have sought to dominate during the ‘War on Terror’: countering the establishment claim that the British went to war in 1914 to defend the ‘Western liberal order’ and that arguing otherwise denigrates ‘patriotism, honour and courage’. According to Michael Gove, Britain’s rôle in the world reflects its special ‘tradition of liberty’. “Industrialised warfare thus becomes a form of moral redemption” writes Dr Faulkner.
This pamphlet reveals the part played by profiteering, empire-building and the arms race and views the conflict ‘from below’: “a hidden history of pacifism, anti-war activism and militant trade-unionism”.
It is a thought-provoking read and one doesn't have to be a leftwing radical to enjoy it. (020 8543 0362 to reserve a copy)
Our commemorative event on June 28th was an unqualified success. Solemn, yes, because this was the commemoration of the naïve nationalist assassination in Sarajevo that indirectly precipitated the disastrous 1914–18 war, but also light-hearted in places with a packed programme that included ribald songs from the trenches and a risqué recruiting song from the music hall stage as well as the great poetry, solemn prose and tragic facts behind an appalling sequence of events which must never be forgotten.
It was good to see such a packed and appreciative audience and they certainly got their money’s worth. The Strawberry Thieves choir brought a cleverly-researched presentation that included pictures and background information projected onto a screen, war poetry and readings from contemporary documents as well as their usual wide-ranging programme of solo and ensemble music. Their theme was resistance as well as the tragedy of war: the heroism of those who work for peace was interwoven with a stark portrayal of the horrors and loss. Words on the giant screen meant that we were all able to join in with lusty renditions of “Where have all the Flowers Gone” and that old Aldermaston favourite, “The H-bomb’s Thunder” — which led neatly into an appeal for support for our coach to Aldermaston/Burghfield on August 9th.
The second half was introduced by three of the Bromley and Beckenham poets, led by Ann Garrett. This group has produced a lovely anthology of original poetry and first visited us at Merton Abbey Mills seven years ago. Ann, Richard and Geraldine read from this anthology in tribute to former colleagues and also read some of their own new work. Only an experienced street campaigner could have created Geraldine’s light-hearted tribute a “A Little Piece of Paper”, inspired by many years of handing out flyers. This is a group which combines creativity with political activism in a unique way.
The evening was rounded off by bravura performances from two local professional actors, Zulema Dean and David Marsden, with a selection of poetry from both world wars and written by women as well as men.
The 2014 WDC/CND AGM will take place on July 13th in the garden of 43 Wilton Grove, indoors if wet. Lunch will be served from 12 noon (contributions welcome!) and business will commence at 1pm. We shall hear reports of the year’s activities, including the financial report, elect a steering group (committee) and discuss the future. All members of the steering group are happy to continue but it would be good to have some new blood as well.
This year we have a special guest: Rosemary Addington from Kingston Peace Council/CND who will talk about her visits to Palestine.