Oliver Twist, or The Parish Boy`s Progress, was published in monthly instalments between February 1837 and April 1839. Today, with both national and local government harming children and young people, Dickens could have published his critique of the Poor Laws, class and child poverty yesterday.
From day one of this malignant coalition government, it was clear that we would be returning to an era of workhouses, kicking beggars, demonising the infirmed and denying education to all but the privileged, wealthy few. With men as irredeemably insane as Ian Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, Eric Pickles and Michael Gove introducing new poor law legislation to dismantle the Welfare State, the only surprise is how quickly and how far they have gone in achieving the destruction of fairness and equality of opportunity.
Closing Surestart centres, scrapping EMA, increasing tuition fees, forcing Academy status on unwilling schools, politicising the curriculum and inventing then increasing artificial and meaningless “targets” confirms their mad agenda for the end of state education. The latest tool in the Department for Education`s armoury is a John Nash. No; not John Nash the architect who designed most of Regency London, but John Nash the wide-boy venture capitalist who is currently being fast-tracked to a peerage in order for him to join the government. It seems this shyster is qualified to become an education minister because he has sponsored Academies and is clearly an expert on teaching and learning because he and his wife have donated £300,000 to the Conservative party. Parents, teachers, school governors and children need not be concerned that a loan-shark that has never faced an election should now be shaping education policy under the barking mad Michael Gove. The government, after all, did not win the election and have no mandate to impose such carnage. Her Majesties loyal opposition remain implacably silent. If these events took place in another nation, Miliband would be screaming “corruption”. Consider yourself, well fooled.
If national government is achieving its master plan to subjugate the populous by guile, fear, deceit and division; local government is aiding the agenda by its sheer incompetence. No finer example can be found than that of our own dear Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council. Since our bunch of idiots were conned by Serco, the standard of education provision in the borough has nose dived from an already woefully poor base to rock bottom. Safeguarding children in Walsall has been judged by Ofsted as “inadequate” and senior directors have, quite rightly, resigned. Given that Ofsted are now an overtly ideological enforcer of Gove`s gibbering megalomania and Serco, guilty of dubious goings on in prisons and detention centres, continue to fail the children and young people of Walsall, it is obvious that the next generation are of no importance. Serco have been given their marching orders at last but growing up in Walsall will not get any easier with a clueless executive and a hopeless opposition still killing the town.
Critics of the leader and cabinet system of local government claim that transparency and public accountability are reduced and that policy decisions are made behind closed doors by a small but powerful cabal of councillors. How ridiculous is that? Supporters of the leader and cabinet system point to a series of robust, thorough and tenacious scrutiny panels put in place to deter wrongful, damaging or just plain stupid decisions. That`s going well, then.
The latest shining example of accountability at its best comes from the Children`s and Young People Scrutiny and Performance Panel. Faced with an unprecedented crisis in education, youth unemployment and care for vulnerable children, this “watchdog”, as the council press office tediously describes them, has decided that the fault for all this mess lies with school governors. The answer to declining standards at Key Stage 2 SATs in primary schools is to remove the governing bodies who do not qualify for Michael Gove`s beauty contest. Gove, Ofsted and Walsall council have previously blamed teachers, parents, children, the internet, social workers, the previous government, snow, royal weddings, Sonic the Hedgehog, Snoop Dog, mobile phones, Arnold Schwarzenegger, chips, the Butler 1944 Education Act and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Volunteer, unpaid school governors are obviously next on the list for opprobrium and seven primary schools in Walsall are now threatened with the removal of their governors and the imposition of Academy status. The logic gets a bit fuzzy here; one of the schools is already an Academy and other schools have made significant improvement.
It seems that the tail is still wagging as the Head of Improvement Services at, guess who, Serco told the “watchdog”: “We can remove governing bodies and the Secretary of State is also expecting us to look where academies may need to be considered”. Chair of the scrutiny panel, Labour councillor Barbara Cassidy told the press: “There are some schools that have been performing very poorly for a number of years and that can`t go on any longer.” Sadly, no mention is made of the nature of the schools and governing bodies under threat. The Walsall seven are in deprived areas with high ratios of SEN children, child poverty, children with disabilities, children with English as a second or even third language and children with learning difficulties some brought about by domestic violence and abuse. These schools and those working in safeguarding do not exist in the imaginary fantasy world of lunatic Michael Gove.
In a characteristically rushed Walsall council press release, councillor Cassidy asks a question: “What are we going to do about this in clear, straightforward terms in this year?” Dunno, councillor, tell us please. She said: “The panel will expect to receive regular updates throughout the year in relation to measures taken to improve matters and the effect those measures have had on outcomes.” Phew… thank goodness…more reports…the kids are alright…scrutiny works. Presiding over this utter shambles is portfolio holder for Children and Young People, councillor Rachel Andrew.
In Oliver Twist, Dickens certainly exposed inequality, iniquity, inherent evil and the exploitation and corruption of children. However, there is a fundamental flaw in his most popular of works. Setting aside the blatant anti-Semitic characterisation of Fagan, the poor in his story remain the undeserving poor. Portrayed as thieves, thugs and whores, his “poor” characters seem to enjoy being the dregs of society. Only Oliver rises above the deprivation because, as it turns out, the “poor” orphan dispatched to the workhouse was actually of noble birth and was, therefore, better than the scroungers and thieves he was forced to endure. Nancy found redemption through being murdered, Bill Sikes accidentally hanged himself, Oliver found privilege and Fagin turned into Ron Moody singing jolly songs. Back in Fagin`s time they had workhouses, now we have food banks. The narrative of “strivers” versus “shirkers” is as relevant today as when Dickens did not write the lyrics to Food Glorious Food.
Mr Bumble and the corpulent directors of the workhouse doing the dirty work for the ruling elite ended up in penury as is required of an ironic work of fiction, but that is not likely to happen in the failing town of Walsall. Councillor Rachel Andrew voted to award herself an increased allowance as did councillor Adrian Andrew. Hand in hand and skipping over the hill into the sunset after being rewarded for failure they will, no doubt, sing a duet of you`ve got to pick a pocket or two.
If there is any shred of honour or credibility left in local government, councillor Rachel Andrew must resign her cabinet post. Her constituents must then decide is she is fit to represent them.
Kids; you don`t have a say. You are too young to vote.