20/04/2015

Am I bovvered...?

I went back to my History teacher roots over the holiday to prepare this week's start of term assemblies.

They're entitled...

Am I bovvered...? Or... 800 years of British History in 8 minutes!

Am I bovvered?

It's a bit like speed dating version of the struggle for British democracy and goes something like this...

Revolting Barons!

King John

By 1215 King John (memorably depicted for those old enough to recall the 1973 Disney animated version of Robin Hood as a sly and cowardly Lion) had so hacked off the barons by his arbitrary rule that he was forced to make concessions in the form of the Magna Carta to stop them from revolting.

Magna Carta

The Magna Carta - or Great Charter of Liberty - established the tenets of British democracy. Basic principles such the right to a fair trial and requirement to seek the consent of the 'people' (aristocracy in 13th century speak) to raise taxes, which still remain today.

Charles loses his head...

Charles I

In the 1630s and early 1640s an arrogant and aloof King Charles I chose to ignore those now well established principles; he lost his head as a result.

One Republic: Like father, like son...

Cromwell

Unfortunately, the experiment in republicanism under Oliver Cromwell which followed during the 1650s really wasn't any more fun. He was succeeded by his son, after all. Err, what was all that about!?

So in 1660 the monarchy came back, but this time with clear checks on it's power enshrined in the concept of the sovereignty, or supremacy of Parliament. However, this remained dominated by the landowning aristocracy - decedents of the barons who had first challenged King John in 1215!

New kids on the block...

Industrial Revolution

But, a little over a century later the Industrial Revolution was spawning a burgeoning business elite, whose 'new money' demanded commensurate political status and representation: despite this massive economic change, still only 3% of the population - the country's largest landowners - qualified to vote by the start of the 19th century.

Reform to avoid revolution...

Parliament

Therefore in 1832 politicians began the first of series of pragmatic compromises, with a Reform Act that, based on a householder qualification, cleverly gave this newly emerging middle class the right to vote and, In doing so, it removed the leadership of a potentially revolutionary popular movement. If only the Russians had been so canny perhaps the events of 1917 would have been avoided! But that's one for another day...!

Angels in marble...

Disraeli

A second Reform Act in 1867 was arguably even more cunning in its planning. The then Conservative Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, took the apparently contrary step of further extending the franchise to working class men in urban areas. However, it was a brilliant move, based on the belief that these workers would in fact vote for those they saw as their 'natural' leaders from the 'traditional' political elite. Foreshadowing what political scientists now describe as 'deferential' patterns of voting behaviour, The Times wrote that Disraeli had identified the Working Class Tory voter as 'the sculptor sees the angel encased in a block of marble.'

A game of two halves...

Reform to avoid revolution. A very British approach. But there is also one other theory about why Britain, the country which Karl Marx predicted would experience such violent upheaval, was in fact the only one in Europe to avoid it....

Karl Marx

The rise of professional football!

Football

No joke. April Fool's Day has well and truly passed.  Working class males, in acts of tribalism and ritual, preferred to take out their anger every Saturday on the terraces rather than by storming the barricades as their counterparts did most famously in Paris and across the other capitals of continental  Europe. The flip side? No rousing musicals based in Victorian London!

Football 2
Football 3

Something in it?

Girl Power: what about us?

It's at this point that I ask whether any members of the assembly audience are feeling frustrated (important choice of word - they of course won't be bored!)

About half of them should be - angry, that is. The girls! As thus far the story of the struggle for the right to vote - the suffrage -  described to them has been completely male dominated.

Until the start of the 20th century, that it, and the Suffragette movement. Branded by many in the political establishment as terrorists, members were often imprisoned and brutally force fed as a response to their hunger strike protests.

Force Feeding

Most infamously, of course, one leading Suffragette - Emily Wilding Davison - paid the ultimate price for her part in the struggle to win political equality for her sex, dying of her injuries four days after throwing herself in the path of the King's Horse, Anmer, at the 1913 Derby.

Emily Wilding Davison

Emily Wilding Davison 2


Whether it was the acts of these remarkably courageous women - or the subsequent role of millions more in the war effort that followed - that secured women the right to vote in two phases in 1918 and 1928, remains a point of debate between historians.  What it does do, bar the lowering the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18 in 1969, is complete my rattle though almost a millennium of British constitutional history!

Phew! I hope it hasn't taken you more than 8 minutes to read.

I hope it was worth the bovver!

Why indeed did I bovver... And why do I want our students to be bovvered too?

It's all about this.

Politics

However uninspiring and inconclusive the collective performance of the party leaders was on the first evening of our school holiday (why was there no real mention of education or the importance of technology in shaping our lives; don't party leaders read my blogs!?) it is of course crucial that young people understand the importance of voting and actively and passionately engage with the political process.

That's why were are holding our own mock election over the coming weeks, based on 'four house politics'. That's why our 'candidates' will be joining me in the hall to launch their manifestos.

Just like May 7th, It's going to be close; it's going to be exciting. And I can't predict the result.

But what I can guarantee is that they are bovvered...

Look, Face, Bovvered...

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