This Thursday’s Thought is raised by an article in the Independent by John Rentoul: what’s a ‘retail politician’? Perhaps, in contrast to a second-hand car salesman, estate agent, etc, someone you’d buy a policy from?
Not, at least, the kind derided by Lear:
Get thee glass eyes;
And, like a scurvy politician, seem
To see the things thou dost not.
They’d conclude that Cameron was just another scurvy politician, posing as a man of the people when, in reality, he’s a well-heeled member of Britain’s plutocratic elite.
Whatever the answer, it seems that Michael Gove ‘is not a retail politician on television’. Ah – so it’s how you look under the studio lights that matters? Still, according to John Rentoul, he still ‘could be prime minister’.
Typos, Spider-man (or the Bible?) and photographs (flattering and otherwise)
The Telegraph has now found a much more flattering photograph of the Education Secretary – but its proofreading has, alas, not improved since (with sorrow) we drew attention to its deficiencies some time ago here and here. There has also been some debate amongst the anguished (but usually polite) commenters on the Telegraph site about the quotation: is it a turkey, is it Spider-man or is it the Bible? Meanwhile, Steve Bell seizes on the image to portray the Education Secretary as a mortarboarded Spider-man in today’s Guardian.
Not far below the warmly lit portrait of a cloistered Michael Gove we read:
Oh dear – and this in the paper of Simon Heffer. As if that weren’t bad enough, the awkwardly worded quotation came in for scrutiny. Telegraph_Reader wrote:
Perhaps Gove was being purposefully daft, but I think the quote is actually from the Bible, or a paraphrase thereof. A quick google suggests I am probably thinking of Luke 12.48:
From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.’
Peter Parker: [voiceover] Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words: “With great power comes great responsibility.” This is my gift, my curse. Who am I? I’m Spider-man.
Perhaps the conversation next day in the Department went something like this:
Mr Gove, you read English at University – please tell us who found that quotation for you and we’ll sack them. And we’ll have at word with the Telegraph to make sure they send the intern who checked the story back to her parents in the Home Counties.
Goodness, those Telegraph readers know too much! I was just trying to inject a little wit and a populist touch for the journalists and to amuse the Headmasters – not easy, you know, an assembly of Beaks can be quite scary!
Yes Minister – sorry, Secretary of State – but someone’s pointed out it’s rather like the parable of the talents in the Bible. Possibly uncomfortable reading, that book; you know: ‘Blessed are the poor, the meek shall inherit….’
No, stop – meek, that’s just right! I’ve just reminded teachers they should meekly accept paying more and working longer for reduced pensions! And look: even today’s Guardian approves of my style: ‘Striking rhetoric from Michael Gove‘.
Ah yes, sir, but I suspect that may also be the rhetorical device of irony – or just an old-fashioned Guardian pun. And I fear Steve Bell is now drawing you as some kind of cross between Spider-man, a bat and Mr Gradgrind. I’m not sure the PM will see this as good PR, as he’s wont to say.
The Telegraph cooks the books again and Headmaster over-eggs the pudding.
An education that does not provide the tools and the hunger to read beyond the narrow confines of a subject is, in the wider sense, no education at all.
John Newton, Headmaster of the independent (yet also public) Taunton School, fears that students’ literary diet is as bad as the convenience foods too many of them eat. Writing in The Telegraph this week, he adds that ‘current students are no longer inclined to read tougher texts; they are encouraged to read what takes their fancy rather than what nourishes the soul’. The sub-editor seems taken by this culinary metaphor, for the article is illustrated by a photograph of old cookery books. The same books in fact, including (the no longer very) Modern Cookery that illustrated the report, back in March, of Michael Gove’s 50-book challenge to students – and noted here at the time as a rather odd choice of image. Still, who are we to argue with the illustrious ones of the Telegraph and the noble Doctor Newton (no mere ‘Headteacher’ he)? So I’ve used the same image too – I’m sure they won’t mind, it keeps costs down for everyone.
It does nonetheless strike me that the Head is over-egging the pudding when he goes on to write:
The arts have always been an area where the mind should run free within proper limits. Now candidates work like automata. We are seeing the persecution of the independent learner; the reader who imbibes a range of classic texts simply because they are beautiful in themselves is a rare species.
Ah, the pursuit of beauty! How exotic – but, of course, only ‘within proper limits’. Who (even in North Korea) could disagree with that? Especially when we read his approving comments on the International Baccalaureate and the Pre-U, very largely taken by independent schools, where (of course) students ‘enjoy an education which leads to a fulfilled appreciation of what great minds have produced’. No doubt Michael Gove will soon share with us his own list of the works by great minds that all students should read. Except, of course, when they are roaming free, reading round the subject and seeking out fresh culinary delights in Modern Cookery.
(The alert reader will have noticed that I have eschewed the hyphen in ‘overcook’ but used it in ‘over-egg’. Pussyfooting again….)
Thanks to the excellent Substuff and Peter Melville in today’s Guardian for these comic – and tragi-comic – clangers from two of our finest quality broadsheets. The Grauniad retains its (now surely undeserved) reputation for typographical infelicities – but the Telegraph, that home of grammatical rectitude and Simon Heffer? What will become of us? And with the Telegraph’s recent crime against chidren still fresh in our minds!
‘You couldn’t make it up’ update, 14 April: Today’s Guardian carries a confession about their own report on the trial that featured in the Telegraph article shown here:
In early editions, the photo caption that accompanied a report of the jailing for life of two members of an east London street gang convicted of the murder of a girl of 16, Agnes Sina-Inakoju, contained the solecism that she “died 36 hours after being killed”. As the text made clear, she died in hospital 36 hours after being shot.
Confusion over empire – and the right use of licence.
It’s always encouraging when others take in an interest in topics here, so I was naturally delighted when somebody on Twitter called CricketBooks signalled that my previous item had been read by retweeting it. Just shows the importance of having a catchy headline, eh, Prime Minister, even if it had very little to do with the substance of the article (something you must have had some experience of when you were at Carlton TV).
Seamus Milne in today’s Guardian considers the wider significance of David Cameron’s statement in Islamabad that prompted yesterday’s post here:
The reporters who heard David Cameron tell Pakistani students this week that Britain was responsible for “many of the world’s problems … in the first place” seemed to think he was joking. But it’s a measure of how far Britain is from facing up to its own imperial legacy that his remarks were greeted with bewildered outrage among his supporters at home.
Milne added, tartly, that the Prime Minister spoke ‘with a modesty that eluded him in the buildup to Nato’s intervention in Libya’. Hey, let’s not be churlish. After all, if we wanted to be pedantic, we could point out the Guardian originally headlined this article ‘Ignoring its imperial history licences the west to repeat it.’ Good grief, who would imagine that you’re writing in the country that, Peter Oborne declared, gave the world ‘the English language and, last but not least, the game of cricket’? So let’s leave this with a question mark in the title, and at the end. Will this now be picked up by someone promoting driving licences? (But only, of course, where British English spelling prevails: Pakistan, India and – to be balanced – the disputed territory of Kashmir still?)
“Phonics: chidren to identify ‘non-words’ in new reading test,” says the Telegraph, with a nice touch of irony. No doubt the eagle-eyed staff, fearful of the wrath of Simon Heffer, will soon correct this headline – though it has been on the site for four days already – so here’s a screenshot. The online commenters first vented their spleen about schools, teachers, modern life and everything dangerously left-wing:
One way of assisting children would be to impose heavy fines on any parents who are found not to speak English to their children at home (if they are capable of doing so).
The problem with junior and primary schools is that they have dropped their standard due to having to follow inclusion policies created by the labour party [sic].
If you want to improve state education in this country, try the following:
1. Raise the bar for those wanting to become teachers
2. Rid teacher training colleges of left wing union influence
3. Rid Local Education Authorities of left wing union influence.
Eventually, after about 30 other comments, someone noticed: