PM Tess and Good Queen Bess

Theresa May has made much of being a vicar’s daughter in seeking to build her image. Less remarked on is that she is from a particular sub-tradition within the Church of England, and so deeply formed by it that its particular take on English history will shape how she sees the UK’s relationship with mainland Europe. In thinking about Brexit, she must inevitably perceive echoes of the last time England was so bitterly riven about its identity and destiny, in … Read more

Remembering a Modest Proposer

The writer and essayist George Orwell was not a man who was generous with his praise for anything, so when he wrote in a review that ‘If I had to make a list of six books which were to be preserved when all others were destroyed, I would certainly put Gulliver’s Travels among them‘, that’s about as high a recommendation as could come.  Its author, Jonathan Swift, born exactly 350 years ago, was arguably the first writer to master the … Read more

The Mugger who Became a Global People’s Hero

Fans of heroic, swashbuckling adventures, take note: today is Robin Hood Day!  I bet you didn’t know that, did you?  How do I know this?  Well, because of an inscription on his grave – specifically, on Robin Hood’s Grave, in the grounds of Kirklees Hall in Clifton, West Yorkshire.  It states that he died in the year 1247, on “24 dekembris” – which, in the modern calendar, equates to 8 November.  The inscription on the stone, written in the local … Read more

The English, with an identity problem to die for

As a little Bank Holiday sidebar, I nick part of Libby Purves’ meditation on Identity in the Times (£) today which laments a lack of the English variety and compares it mournfully  with the rosiest possible version of the Irish kind.  Being English, she actually thinks north and south are much the same – imagine! Libby, a broadcaster and journalist of my slight acquaintance is also a keen yachtswoman. She put into Schull in west Cork for the Fastnet film … Read more

Will Theresa May’s support for grammar schools help or hinder schools sharing in Northern Ireland?

Now we know why Theresa May has been so vague about Brexit. All along she has been preoccupied with – grammar schools and lifting restrictions of faith schools especially Catholic schools! Schools will be allowed to select children on the basis of ability at 14 and 16 as well as 11, Theresa May said today, as she outlined the biggest reform of the education system in 50 years. The prime minister presented her plans to allow new and expanded grammar … Read more

The wee nations of these islands show the way in Europe

It was a big week in Europe in more ways than one. Wales is left as the standard bearer of the home nations in the Euros. Northern Ireland and the Republic get honourable mentions  in the reputation stakes not only on the field but on the terraces and the pubs.  The Somme commemorations recall Britain’s very literal continuing place in Europe (There is a corner of a foreign field etc.”) Modern Ireland is recovering its own memory. In the horrible … Read more

“future banknote designs, starting with the new polymer £5 note, will explicitly represent all four nations of the UK.”

As mentioned in this BBC report focused on the first Bank of England polymer banknote – a £5 note featuring Sir Winston Churchill which will be issued in 2016. Banknotes will feature images from all four nations of the UK starting with the new £5 note entering circulation in 2016. [Timing, eh? – Ed]  Eh?  From the Bank of England press release Chief Cashier, Victoria Cleland said: “The Bank is delighted with the number and breadth of the nominations we … Read more

So, was Hancock right? (!)

There really is nothing like a classic comedy sketch to highlight confusion and/or ignorance over important historical events. Such is the case with this outburst by Tony Hancock in an edition of his semi-eponymous sitcom. As the foreman of an immovable jury, seemingly mystified as to why his fellow jurors cannot agree with him about the defendant’s innocence (‘Well, he’s got such a lovely face…‘), he bellows at them: Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in … Read more

Rod LIddle’s howler on the under punching of Irish Cricket…

So, perhaps we should spare a thought for poor Rod Liddle. It shows what can happen [Erm, not you Brian! – Ed] when a former BBC producer loses the benefit of his hard working programme researchers. Here’s Rod writing on the eve of Ireland’s victory over the West Indies last week… Go back another three years to the 2011 World Cup and England’s defeat by Ireland. Again, that’s humiliating. All the decent Irish cricketers — not many, I’ll grant you … Read more

The Irish way of death celebrated

Katherine Butler has contributed a very touching piece to the Indy commending the Irish way of death, compared to death as the last English taboo. This is one area where the twin cultures differ, perhaps because of the earlier English retreat from religion. Will the Irish follow and lose touch with  death eventually?  Even if Protestants tend not to observe the full three fold  ritual favoured by Catholics,  they still owe a lot to it whether they realise it or not..I’ve … Read more

ODI: Ireland v England

Ireland’s cricketers have set a respectable total of 269 for 7 in their 50 over One Day International at Malahide against an England side captained by Eoin Morgan and featuring former Ireland fast bowler Boyd Rankin.  Rankin picked up 4 wickets [for 46 runs] on his England debut, but a captain’s innings of 112 runs from 142 balls by William Porterfield has made this a testing chase for England.  As the BBC’s Stephan Shemilt put it Yep, after a bowling and fielding performance … Read more

The struggle for abortion and other reform north and south is far from over

John O Neill identifies the interesting paradox that while abortion and civil marriage  appears to have  united north and south Catholic and mainstream Protestant politicians, it’s the all- Ireland parties, above all Sinn Fein or elements of it , that have making the “progressive” case. Not that the advocacy has been clear or consistent, as Slugger posts have lovingly traced. But now, the raging debates have even attracted the attention of the Economist in an article  where it identifies the new … Read more

Setting a gold standard in how to govern

I’d like to offer a few thoughts from the chapter How To Be a Reformer in Andrew Adonis’s new book Education, Education Education. These  impressive conclusions, also culled from recent exchanges with him, are  based on his career as a historian, academic, journalist, Head of  Tony Blair’s Policy Unit  and the  Minister of State for Education for England who introduced academies to transform “ bog standard comprehensives” and remove them  from  local authority control. I’ll leave the CV and profile … Read more

Liverpool’s Bloody Sunday

Not the incident itself but the official cover up. For once Chris Donnelly treads more lightly than he might have. Even in the Leveson era, this is much bigger than a media travesty.  Even if the Liverpool inquiry has delivered the plain unvarnished truth, to treat scores of Liverpool football fans  almost as sub humans apparently unworthy of rapid emergency treatment was surely the worse crime committed in Sheffield that day and subsequently.   Later, two senior judges although critical of police negligence, … Read more

Bovine TB and badgers: “This approach has not been tried anywhere else…”

The different approaches of the various administrations in the UK and Ireland to attempting to eradicate bovine tuberculosis [TB] in wild animals, specifically badgers, are worth noting.  They are all in response to the EU Directive 64/432/EEC which, as the Welsh adminstration’s website notes, “requires Member States to provide plans showing how they will eradicate bovine TB in cattle.” In England, the UK government is pressing ahead with badger culling, despite the opposition of animal welfare groups like the RSPCA. In Wales, the Welsh … Read more

Grammar schools and social mobility: a Northern Ireland contribution to the debate

Here’s something that won’t make relations between the Education and Finance ministers any easier.. An approving poll for a UK wide campaign to revive grammar schools has received a gushing review from Independent columnist Mary Anne Sieghart. It’s pegged to the general angst about stalled – even reversed – social mobility which all UK political parties share.  Nick Clegg will wring his hands about it again this week . If you wonder why the  references to Northern Ireland are unusually heavy … Read more

“I believe that schools are best placed to make decisions in light of what they believe is in the best interests of their pupils.”

So sayeth the Northern Ireland Education Minister, Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd.  He’s not, however, speaking about academic selection…  Following a 12-week public consultation on GCSE reform, which ended on 30 December 2011, the NI Education Minister has decided to give no direction on whether schools should use unitised or linear GCSEs. [Let the market decide! – Ed]  Indeed.  From the ministerial press release Following a 12-week consultation the Minister has decided not to follow England where, following a decision by Secretary of State for … Read more

Scottish referendum: the unionist case is still all over the place

  The unionist split shows no sign of closing. The Aberdonian Tory cabinet minister and Surrey MP Michael Gove echoes my “England is sulking “ theory and delivers  some pretty sharp words to his own side.  …While there is a threat posed by Scottish separatism, he added, “there is also a threat, under-appreciated, from English separatism as well.” Mr Gove said: “When some of my colleagues say we need to re-visit the West Lothian Question or we need to have … Read more

“Are the Scots more the Greeks or Germans? I couldn’t possibly say.”

“It’s starting”, is it?  [Whatever ‘it’ is – Ed].  The Guardian’s Michael White spots a flaw in Alex Salmond’s cunning plan.  [Does it involve turnips? – Ed]  Neeps.  From the Guardian Politics Blog The SNP and the Tory Eurosceptics have much in common – and I don’t mean that as a compliment, decent people though so many of them are. The obvious tactic they currently share, apart from national chauvinism as a panacea for deeper problems, is the three-choice referendum … Read more

GCSE reform: “It is unlikely that the Minister’s decision on this issue would stop the current position…”

In June this year the UK Government’s Education Secretary, Michael Gove, welcomed Ofqual’s proposals for making changes for GCSE courses and, on 27 September, a consultation was launched on changes to the current GCSE specifications in England.  Today the Northern Ireland Education Minister, Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd, launched a consultation on on making the same changes to current GCSE specifications here.  In England the consultation ends on 4 November, here it continues until 30 December. According to the Northern Ireland consultation document [pdf file] It is … Read more