Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pathetic: British children's charity cuts all alcohol references from Drunken Sailor nursery rhyme

First sung in the days when Britannia ruled the waves, it became a favourite in schools and nurseries, handed down through the decades. But the old sea shanty What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor? may finally be sunk by a broadside from the good ship Political Correctness. The government-funded charity Bookstart, which promotes reading for children around the country, has changed the lyrics to remove any reference to alcohol. It means the 'drunken sailor' has been transformed into the rather tame 'grumpy pirate'. 'Put him in the brig until he's sober' has been replaced by the insipid 'Do a little jig and make him smile', while 'Round with the rum and scotch and whiskey' has become 'Tickle him till he starts to giggle'.

The cleaned-up rhyme was made into a songsheet sent to libraries across the UK to encourage children to read. But parents and education experts insisted that children could be trusted with the original version. Nick Seaton, of pressure group the Campaign for Real Education, said: 'Changing the words of a much-loved children's nursery rhyme is simply trying to re-write the history and tradition of this country. 'Organisations such as Bookstart should know better and not start to tinker with traditional songs which were written many years ago. 'Once you start doing that you are asking for trouble. If they want to sing a song about pirates, why don't they simply write a new one?'

Bookstart is funded by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department of Work and Pensions to help parents share books with their children from as early an age as possible. Mother Caroline Graham, 29, attended one of their sessions with her son Jacob, two, at her local library in Rainham in Kent. She said: 'I don't know why they bother. It is clearly meant to be politically correct but surely children that young can't be offended by a harmless nursery rhyme. 'It makes me angry that during the current economic climate people are being paid probably more than my husband earns to come up with stuff like this. It's pathetic really.'

Karen Sanders, 34, also went to a session with her girl Clara, one. She said: 'It's a song I sang when I was growing up and I don't think it did me any harm. It seems silly to change the lyrics because they are quite funny - everyone laughs at the image of a drunken sailor.' Former Ofsted inspector and grandmother Margaret Morrissey said: 'This is just nonsense. 'Children are great levellers and no matter how politically correct the Government and their quangos become, they will still sing the original nursery rhymes because they are funny.'

The song was sung by sailors on the Royal Navy's ships of the line in the 19th century. It was often sung when raising a sail or lifting the anchor - hence 'Up She Rises' in the song's chorus - or when sailing into battle. The lyrics tell of how the ship's crew might deal with one of their shipmates after a belly full of rum stops him from helping with his deck duties.

Katherine Soloman, spokesman for Bookstart, admitted she could see how some would think the change was politically correct. But she said the change was to fit in with a 'pirate theme' it was promoting. She said: 'We are keen on all the old favourites and we believe we do a good job in getting young children reading and enjoying books.' Bookstart, established in 1992, is an initiative run by independent arts charity Booktrust. As well as government funding, children's book publishers and booksellers support it with sponsorship.


`A nasty little piece of smug class warfare'

A "Green" holiday firm's promise of `chav-free holidays' for the middle classes exposes the snobbery that underpins radical eco-tourism.

Activities Abroad, a green-leaning travel firm based in Northumberland, England, has caused a stink by guaranteeing its clients `chav-free holidays'. For the benefit of non-British readers, `chav' is a derogatory term for working-class British youth, the tracksuit-wearing, blinged-up, lager-swilling kind, who are said to populate areas such as Croydon, Bermondsey and Birmingham, but who are most frequently found hanging around in the minds of panicked middle-class, Middle England hacks. In a promo email sent to 24,000 subscribers at the end of last week, Activities Abroad (AA) promised that no such despicable, slovenly people will ever be found on one of its trips overseas.

Under the heading `Chav-Free Activity Holidays', AA said: `...Children with middle-class names such as Duncan and Catherine are eight times more likely to pass their GCSEs than children with names such as Wayne and Dwayne. This got us thinking. Are there names you are likely to encounter and not encounter on an Activities Abroad holiday?' (1) It did some quickfire research and discovered that on an AA trip you are unlikely to encounter people called `Britney, Kylie-Lianne, Dazza, Chardonnay, Chantelle and Candice' (in short, thugs and slags), and are far more likely to run in to people called `Sarah, Alice, Lucy, Charlotte, James and Joseph' (in short, middle class and mild).

Eleven of AA's email subscribers complained; one denounced the mailshot as `a nasty little piece of smug class warfare' and promised never to patronise AA again (2). The Guardian seemed especially miffed by the embarrassing mailout, conscious, perhaps, that AA is the kind of trendy, liberal, eco-aware holiday firm that it normally advertises in its pages. AA's holidays include husky safaris in the Canadian wilderness and volcano hiking in Costa Rica, which can set travellers back 2,000 pounds, and last year it won a silver award for `most environmentally responsible small tour operator' at the British Travel Awards (3). Yet its managing director, Alistair McLean, was unapologetic about the email, telling one complaining customer: `I make no apology for proclaiming myself to be middle class and a genuine contributor to our society.' (4) Unlike those Waynes, Dwaynes, Chantelles and Candices, who of course contribute nothing.

AA's anti-chav advertising tactics are disturbing, and more than a little dumb, but are they really so shocking? Poisonous snobbery towards `chavvy' and working-class holidaymakers is rife today - only it tends to be expressed in code, in underhand concerns about CO2 emissions, trails of noxious gases in the blue sky, the dangers of cheap flights, and the denigration of foreign cultures by unthinking Brits. AA's mistake was to forget the coded lingo and state out loud the prejudices that underpin new forms of oh-so-superior eco-travel. Perhaps it has done us a crude service, then, by revealing for all to see the naked loathing of the young and horizon-exploring working classes that motivates much of the contemporary debate on tourism.

Much of what AA's Alistair McLean said in response to the 11 complaints about his email went entirely unreported in the Guardian's article, or anywhere else in the British press. This scion of Green travel - hailed by ethical columnists, decorated by the British Travel Awards, and a member of the Responsible Travel coalition (`holidays that give the world a break') - let rip against the Great Unwashed in one online discussion forum. To one complainant, he spat: `Do you encourage your children to go off and play with the shell-suited [a shell-suit is trackpants with a matching top], Lambert and Butler sucking teenagers who hang around our shopping centres at night?' He laid into the `shell-suited urchins who haunt our street corners'. And he pointed out that where his travel firm makes `a positive contribution to our economy' - by paying `corporation tax, income tax, PAYE. and [making contributions] to AIDS projects in South Africa and other charitable organisations' - he is tired of watching economic resources being `frittered away by people who simply can't be bothered ("bovvered")' (5).

It's nasty stuff, fuelled by hysterical images of feral working-class kids running riot and old-style prejudices about the poor sponging off decent society. Yet the idea that lower-income communities - these `urchins', these cigarette-sucking teenagers - are destructive, especially when they go on holiday, is widespread. In recent years, `cheap flights' has become a thinly-disguised codeword for `cheap people', for those Dwaynes and Waynes who apparently only go overseas in order to drink, puke and fornicate. Eco-activists and commentators try their best to present their opposition to cheap flights as being driven by concern for the environment or even, laughably, as a radical anti-capitalist stance against `the toffs' who allegedly populate Ryanair's 5 pound flights to Riga. Yet their mask of eco-respectability frequently slips to reveal a sneering snobbery underneath.

Caroline Lucas, leader of the UK Green Party, has written of the `stratospheric cost of cheap flights' and demanded `an end to cheap stag nights in Riga' (6). She fails to explain why a flight for a stag night in the Latvian capital is more destructive than, say, a flight to one of AA's husky safaris in the Canadian wilderness. Plane Stupid poses as an edgy campaign group that wants to ground the cheap flights of `second home owners'. Yet in their more unguarded moments, its members spout bile about one kind of travel only. Its founder says: `Our ability to live on Earth is at stake, and for what? So people can have a stag do in Prague.' (7) In another statement, Plane Stupid said: `There's been an enormous growth in binge-flying with the proliferation of stag and hen nights to Eastern European destinations chosen not for their architecture or culture but because people can fly there for 99p and get loaded for a tenner.' (8) That's not edgy - it's the age-old middle-class prejudice against pointless, wasteful working-class tourism dressed up in a little bit of environmental garb.

Whether they're dissing `cheap flights' (the correct code), `stag night attendees' (the code starts to slip), or vile `shell-suited urchins' called `Dwayne and Wayne' (the code completely falls apart), the target of the eco-aware is always the kind of hedonistic travel indulged by youthful members of lower-income communities. Beneath their environmental concerns there lurks the long-standing prejudice that some forms of travel, involving huskies and volcanos, are worthwhile, and other forms, involving kicking back, relaxing, having unadulterated fun, are low, coarse, destructive and literally `noxious'.

Tourism and travel have long been the targets of vicious snootiness. When in the Victorian era British workers first started venturing to the seaside, thanks to one Thomas Cook, snobbish commentators complained that `of all noxious animals, the most noxious is a tourist' (9). Later, in the modern era of the 1920s and 30s, the middle classes who had long been travelling to places like Italy and Greece were alarmed to see the lower middle-classes, and even Americans, following in their wake. The British literary snob Osbert Sitwell described American tourists as a `swarm of very noisy transatlantic locusts'. His sister, the poet Edith, said tourists were `the most awful people with legs like flies, who come in to lunch in bathing costumes - flies, centipedes' (10). In more recent times, from the 1980s onwards, commentators have attacked `the vile behaviour of British tourists' in places like southern Spain, the `disgusting inebriation, oral sex and other beachside practices [that would] startle a Blackpool donkey' (11). The image of the `Blackpool donkey' is telling: the sentiment is that `these people', these destructive urchins, should really stay put in places like Blackpool rather than fouling the sophisticated world with their filthy habits as they get `loaded for a tenner'.

Paul Fussell argued in his 1982 book Abroad: British Literary Travelling Between the Wars that: `From the outset, mass tourism attracted the class-contempt of killjoys who conceived themselves. superior by reason of intellect, education, curiosity and spirit.' The language changes over the years - from `animals' to `locusts', `centipedes' to `yobs' and `drunks' - but the sentiment remains remarkably similar: these people are noxious, whether metaphorically, as described by that Victorian observer, or literally, in the way that they are now described by today's snobs as being `harmful to the environment'. AA's fantastically crude reduction of entire sections of the population to `chavs', `urchins', cigarette-suckers, all instantly recognisable by their ridiculous first names, reveals the deep snobbery that still underpins the tourism debate. Because it is about betterment and exploration, about escaping the local and dipping a foot into the global, about having ideas way, way above one's station, travel invites the undiluted snobbery of those who consider themselves `superior by reason of intellect' like no other single issue.

We should challenge the fake distinction made between `enlightening travel' and `filthy travel', and insist that travel is in itself a positive thing. Whether people go abroad to hang out with huskies or to chat up girls, to donkey-trek in Peru or to sunbathe in Magaluf, it's all about escaping, exploring and experiencing, and urchins who smoke and sponge off society (allegedly) should be as free to do that as the kids named Lucy, Charlotte and Alice.


No Platform for anyone called Rothschild

I know how Douglas Murray feels after being disinvited from a university debate. I was once rejected due to my surname

By Nathalie Rothschild

Organisers of a London School of Economics (LSE) debate titled `Islam or Liberalism: Which is the Way Forward?' came up with a Third Way this week: pre-emptive censorship. Douglas Murray, a self-described neoconservative and critic of Islam, was disinvited from chairing the debate between Dr Alan Sked, senior lecturer in international history at the LSE, and Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, a Muslim writer and lecturer, on the basis that his presence might rile some students. I know how he must feel. I was once turned down from a university debate on the basis that my surname - Rothschild - might upset sensitive attendees.

The decision to bar Murray from the debate, which went ahead without him on Monday, was not based on anything he had said or done. The Telegraph reported Dr Sked saying that Murray had `never said anything objectionable' in previous appearances at the LSE (1). Instead, the LSE asked Murray not to attend `in the interest of public safety' (2). According to Dr Sked, `radical students' have recently caused trouble, including by occupying LSE buildings (3). A one-week protest over Israel's war in Gaza had just taken place at the LSE when Murray received notice that it was no longer appropriate for him to chair Monday's event.

The purpose of the LSE debate was to evaluate `how far Islam and liberalism are compatible' (4). Perhaps the organisers should do a follow-up discussion on how far the LSE and liberal values are compatible. Free and open debate ought to be the mainstay of any university worth its name, yet the managers of this prestigious institution don't seem to have the guts to uphold freedom of speech.

Two years ago, I spoke on a panel debate with Murray at the Battle of Ideas, looking at what lay behind `the veil row' - that short-lived but incendiary controversy sparked by former foreign secretary Jack Straw's description of the niqab as a `visible demonstration of separateness'. I didn't find Murray's warnings about the `Islamification of the West' convincing, and neither did most of the audience, which included representatives of the radical Islamic group Hizb-ut-Tahrir. However, there was no global jihad at this heated debate; radical young Muslims simply challenged Murray from the floor, and he challenged them back. The idea that people will go berserk upon hearing controversial arguments - a fear that apparently haunts the imagination of LSE professors - is unfounded.

It is not just professors who feel the need to tiptoe around students' supposed sensibilities. Shortly before that Battle of Ideas debate - in October 2006 - I had been recommended as a speaker for a panel debate at Greenwich University titled `Does the Veil Stop "Community Cohesion?"'. The event was organised by a Further Education Black Students Officer at the National Union of Students (NUS). Yet when this elected NUS representative, whose primary job was to deal with issues affecting ethnic minorities in Britain's colleges, found out that my surname is Rothschild, he decided I was persona non grata. Apparently, it is not appropriate for a person with a Jewish name to sit on a panel discussing Muslim issues.

The organiser's excuse for not inviting me to speak was that he feared the debate would turn into a discussion about Israel/Palestine on the basis of my name, instantly recognisable as Jewish. Yet when I saw the full outline of the event, it was clear that there was no reason why the debate would `descend into a row' about the Middle East. The debate aimed to address four questions: `Is the veil stopping community cohesion and why will the Muslim community not integrate? Are the Muslim community intolerant of whether people find the veil uncomfortable? Does the war on terror have anything to do with this? What are Muslims doing to alleviate any fears of the wider non-Muslim community?' These are all issues I have written on or spoken about, yet the organisers decided not to accept me as a recommended speaker because of the R-word: Rothschild.

Then, three days before the debate was scheduled to take place, they became desperate to find a final speaker. So desperate that they seemed to overcome their qualms about having someone with a recognisable Jewish name on the panel. They emailed asking me to take part, demanding `please get back to us ASAP!'. This time, I declined.

The whole saga was pretty insulting. But it wasn't proof of some endemic anti-Semitism; it simply showed up the prejudice and cowardice of one individual. I quite easily brushed the incident aside. After all, with a name like Rothschild, I have been mistaken for everything from a global international conspirator and an `ally of genocidal communism' to a multibillionaire playboy who hangs out with Russian oligarchs and Tories (also named `Nat Rothschild'). So what if some ignoramus deduced from my family name that I could not address a student union debate on Muslim veils without promulgating some `Jewish interest'? That was his problem.

However, both my experience and that of Douglas Murray point to the rise and rise of new forms of pre-emptive censorship - the curtailing of debate `just in case'. Both the NUS officer who declined me as a speaker and the professors at the LSE who disinvited Murray insulted their prospective audiences, presuming that they would be offended or incited by the presence of a Jew, in my case, or a neocon critic of Islam, in Murray's case.

Students, professors, politicians and commentators increasingly feel the need to tiptoe around people's perceived sensitivities, particularly in relation to the Middle East. Fearing complaints and controversy, they end up practising pre-emptive censorship in the name of `public safety' or `avoiding offence'. This was also the case when Random House publishers pulled Sherry Jones' novel, The Jewel of Medina, a Mills-and-Boon style story about the prophet Mohammed's relationship with his 14-year-old wife Aisha. Random House said the book `might be offensive to some in the Muslim community' and it could `incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment' (5). Again, the `just in case' principle rules: withhold a novel from publication `just in case' it incites anger.

Others argue that radical Muslims should be banned in case they offend Christians or stir young Muslims to become suicide bombers. Indeed, some of the right-wing conservative commentators who were up in arms about the LSE retracting its invitation to Douglas Murray, all self-proclaimed defenders of Enlightenment values, often call for censorship, too. For example, Daily Mail columnist Melanie Philips has demanded the banning of Muslim groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir (6). Sean Gabb, director of the Libertarian Alliance, called for the resignation of the LSE professor who took the final decision to disinvite Murray. Gabb was right to say that universities have a commitment to free speech and that the professor undermined this by disinviting Murray (7). However, his reaction also points to a censorious impulse simply to get rid of those who offend certain ideals rather than to challenge them.

As it happens, the NUS, through its censorious `No Platform' policy, has managed to ban Hiz-but-Tahrir on many British campuses. Sensitivity censorship is rife in British universities: leftists try to ban fascists, right-wing groups oppose radical Muslims, and Muslims try to stop Jews from speaking. When I was a student at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, a handful of students formed a Jewish society, yet the Islamic Society complained that the student union had allowed a `Zionist organisation' to set up on campus. Recently, students in Oxford demanded the cancellation of a speech by Israeli president Shimon Peres. Elsewhere, students have campaigned to censor anti-immigrant professors, the youth wing of the British Nationalist Party, Christian Unions, the Daily Mail, and Eminem songs. One university recently banned political groups from participating in freshers' week - the first week of the academic year when students normally get the chance to mingle and sign up to societies.

Rather than feeding into this bizarre game of `No Platform' one-upmanship, professors, students, publishers and others should stand up for freedom expression for all - and that includes Muslim extremists, neocons, and people with famous surnames.


Millions of British adults lack the basic skills in English and maths to get by

Millions of people are illiterate and struggle with the basic maths needed to get by in life despite billions of pounds being spent on the problem, an influential committee of MPs said. Even though GCSE achievement is rising, many teenagers are still leaving school without any qualifications in English and maths, according to a report by the Public Accounts Committee.

Edward Leigh, chairman of the committee, said that Britain faced dire consequences if the issue was not tackled. “This is a dismal picture, both for the many who face diminished prospects in what they can achieve in life and for the competitiveness of our country in the world economy,” he said. Even if the Government met its targets, he said, Britain would still compare badly with other developed countries. The most up-to-date research, from 2003, estimated that more than five million people lacked functional literacy and nearly seven million were innumerate. This is the equivalent of leaving school without a D to G grade GCSE in English or maths and being unable to read labels or count the change given when making a purchase.

The report said that, despite the Government spending 5 billion between 2001 and 2007 on trying to improve levels of literacy and numeracy, England still had an unacceptably high number of people who could not read, write or count. It said: “The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills has helped no more than one in ten of those with numeracy skills below the level of a good GCSE. “Lack of up-to-date information on the skills of the population means that the department cannot be sure that its programmes are equipping people with the skills that the UK economy needs to remain competitive.”

The report found that more than 50,000 pupils left school in 2007 without achieving a grade D to G in maths and 39,000 failed to achieve this basic grade in English. It said that remedial action would be needed later in life to correct the deficiencies in skills. The authors of the report recommended adopting new approaches to recruiting maths teachers, such as targeting specific graduates and making it easier to train in different ways, including through distance learning.

The report also said that more effort should be made to help illiterate prisoners. “Only one in five offenders with very low levels of basic skills had enrolled on a course that would help them,” it said. “This represents a major lost opportunity.”



Lord Turner of Ecchinswell is to investigate the collapse of funding for renewable energy projects in Britain after the recent exit of a string of companies, including BP and Shell.

Speaking on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, Lord Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and of the Government's Committee on Climate Change, said that the study was a response to mounting scepticism over the Government's plans for a huge expansion of wind and tidal power.

He said he was concerned that a number of key projects had been thrown into jeopardy, including London Array, a œ3 billion scheme to build the world's largest offshore wind park in the Thames Estuary. "We have to make sure that the present climate does not set back our plans," he said.

Doubts have surfaced over the Government's commitment to cut UK greenhouse gas emissions by at least 34 per cent by 2020 as falling oil prices and the global credit crisis have triggered a funding crisis. Last week E.ON, the German utility group, and Masdar, a fund controlled by Abu Dhabi, said that they were reconsidering the viability of the London Array.

More here

Britain opens door to 36,000 Gurkha veterans after policy U-turn

The heroic Gurkhas are much loved in Britain so this will be greeted with widespread jubilation as being justice done

Thousands more Gurkha soldiers and their families will be given the right to settle in Britain under a new policy to be announced by the Home Office. New settlement rights due to be announced could open the door to 36,000 Gurkhas who served in the British Army before 1997. Nepal is understood to be concerned that the loss of so many citizens and their army pensions could leave a huge hole in its economy.

The Home Office was forced to take action after a ruling from High Court judges in October that the Government needed to review its policy on whether Gurkhas who had served before 1997 could live in Britain.

Officials say that the forthcoming decision has such far-reaching consequences that concerns have been raised about the continuing recruitment of Gurkhas from Nepal. Defence officials have warned the Home Office that if the right to live in Britain were extended to every Gurkha who has served in the British Army Nepal might scrap the 1947 agreement under which its young men have been recruited each year. Since the tripartite agreement was signed with Nepal and India, the Nepalese economy has relied on income coming into the country from Gurkhas serving with the British Army.

The Home Office has come up with certain criteria for settlement that will keep the numbers down without flouting the judgment of the High Court. One Whitehall source said: “We can still meet what the judges want while keeping the criteria as tight as possible. We have no idea at this stage how many will want to come to live in the UK and how many members of their family they will bring with them.”

The MoD denied a report last week that it wanted to scrap the Brigade of Gurkhas because of the potential multimillion-pound cost of paying out bigger pensions to the Nepalese veterans if granted settlement rights. “We don’t want to scrap the brigade. Five hundred Gurkhas are serving in Afghanistan at the moment,” a defence source said. Gurkhas are needed, not just for their professionalism, but to boost numbers in an Army that is nearly 4,000 soldiers short. The Gurkha veterans who will be covered by the new policy are those who served in Hong Kong before the handover to the Chinese in 1997. After that date new Gurkha recruits from Nepal were based in Britain.

The MoD’s argument in the High Court case was that Gurkhas serving in the former British colony up to 1997 had no expectation of living in Britain and returned home to Nepal after completing their term of service. Only Gurkhas with strong links to Britain could be considered for residency. The judges accepted that 1997 was a reasonable cut-off date but insisted that the decision to deny Gurkhas who had served before 1997 the automatic right to live in Britain was discriminatory and illegal. They said that the Nepalese soldiers had displayed the same courage and commitment to Britain as those who had served after 1997.

Gurkhas have fought alongside British soldiers for nearly 200 years — 200,000 fought in the world wars and 45,000 have died in action.

The judges ordered a review of policy that was due to have been completed and announced two days ago, but the Home Office won a brief extension to the three-month deadline set by the judges. The MoD’s greatest concern with the decision is the impact that it will have on the Nepalese Government and the future of the Gurkha-recruitment programme. About 30,000 Nepalese families depend on the salaries and pensions of the British Gurkhas.

The average annual wage in Nepal is 235 pounds, and the 230 Nepalese recruited into the 3,500-strong Brigade of Gurkhas each year (28,000 applied last year) transform what would otherwise be an impoverished existence. After an increase, announced last year, a Gurkha rifleman with 15 years’ service receives a pension in Nepal of about 131 pounds a month. If they came to live in Britain, they would expect to receive the same pension awarded to other members of the Armed Forces — and to the post-1997 Gurkhas already living here. An official said: “They wouldn’t get a higher pension as of right. There will have to be further court cases to resolve this issue but if their pensions are increased, the money will have to be found out of the MoD budget.”


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