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‘Alice In Westminster: The Political Life Of Alice Bacon’ by Rachel Reeves

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‘Alice In Westminster: The Political Life Of Alice Bacon’ by Rachel Reeves

Post by Ivan on Tue Mar 21, 2017 10:41 am

I don’t like grammar schools. They are a typical example of Tory ‘divide and rule’ ideology and, in areas where they exist, they are detrimental to the 75-80% of children who aren’t offered places in them. They are not about increasing social mobility; only 2.6% of grammar school pupils are from poor backgrounds (‘poor’ being defined as eligible for free school meals).

I also have a personal reason for disliking grammar schools. My late sister, who was much older than me, took the 11+ at a time when it consisted of both a written and an oral examination. Our background was poor and I doubt if our parents were even aware that children from more affluent homes often received private coaching before the examination. My sister passed the written paper but failed the oral. She later told me that one of the questions she was asked was “How many trees are there in Woodlands Road?”, to which she replied that she didn’t know. Apparently, the ‘right’ answer was “None, they are all on the path”. Subsequently, she attended a secondary modern school, which she left at the age of 15 with no qualifications. I remember seeing some of the school books which she had been allowed to keep, full of unchallenging tasks such as basic arithmetic and handwriting exercises. Failing the 11+ seriously damaged her life chances.

Alice Martha Bacon (1909-1993) was a miner’s daughter who became a teacher in a secondary modern school in the 1930s and then Yorkshire’s first female MP in 1945, representing a Leeds constituency. She saw herself as one of the lucky few who went to a grammar school, but was concerned that her friends were being denied such an opportunity, and her time as a teacher strengthened that view and made her want to transform education in Britain. Her biography has been written by Rachel Reeves, the current MP for Leeds West and only the second female to be elected to Westminster from that city. Bacon is one of the forgotten heroes of the Labour Party, serving as an MP for 25 years and as a minister of state in Harold Wilson’s government from 1964 to 1970. As historian David Kynaston writes, Bacon “fully deserves to be rescued from posterity’s condescension”. The MEP Mary Honeyball says this biography “combines immaculate scholarship with endearing humanity”, while Kynaston says “the great strength of Reeves’s biography is how she, painstakingly and at odd moments movingly, brings out what really mattered to Bacon throughout her career: local issues, the Labour Party and education.

It became Bacon’s personal crusade to improve the education of working-class boys and girls, and by the 1950s, she was campaigning strongly against the injustices and inefficiencies of the 11-plus system. Reeves tells us:  “Once in Westminster, she spoke more than any of her colleagues about comprehensive education and forced the issue to the top of the political agenda. By the 1960s, as a member of the Labour’s national executive committee, she had transformed the party’s at best ambiguous position towards comprehensive education to one of outright support. As part of Harold Wilson’s government and with Tony Crosland as education secretary, Alice began to see her dream fulfilled.

Bacon became responsible for bringing comprehensive schools to children across the country, a commitment which she said “did not come from political dogma but from the reality of teaching in a secondary modern school”. By the time she left office in 1970, one in three children was taught in comprehensives. Reeves again: “It was a tide even Margaret Thatcher could not reverse. The battle had been won – at least that’s what we thought until more than four decades later, another grammar school girl, Theresa May, seems determined to revisit the argument.

Fiona Millar, a campaigner on education issues, writes: “This book is a great, and timely, read. At a time when all-ability schooling is under threat as never before, we need to salute formidable women like Alice Bacon who helped to usher in the comprehensive revolution – still the most important, progressive education reform of the last century.



• Hardcover: 240 pages
• Publisher: I.B.Tauris (30 Nov. 2016)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 1784537683
• ISBN-13: 978-1784537685
• Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.5 x 22.2 cm

Sources:-

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/oct/15/very-small-percentage-of-grammar-school-pupils-from-poorer-families-new-statistics-show

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jan/22/alice-in-westminster-political-life-alice-bacon-rachel-reeves-review

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/27/debt-education-owes-to-alice-bacon-labour-comprehensive-schools

Further reference:-

http://cuttingedge2.forumotion.co.uk/t1066-do-we-want-more-grammar-schools
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Re: ‘Alice In Westminster: The Political Life Of Alice Bacon’ by Rachel Reeves

Post by boatlady on Tue Mar 21, 2017 7:01 pm

Sounds like a very interesting book - I think it's rather unusual to find a working class graduate of the grammar school system who isn't at least slightly wistful about the glory days when they rubbed shoulders with kids from better-off families and learned Latin like in the public schools

Grammar school education can act as a prophylactic against developing socialist ideas and can breed hatred of 'bloody lefties' - nice to hear of someone who survived that system with a clear view of the social realities
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Re: ‘Alice In Westminster: The Political Life Of Alice Bacon’ by Rachel Reeves

Post by oftenwrong on Tue Mar 21, 2017 7:54 pm

I am tempted by the appearance of books such as this to wonder whether the clearly unsatisfactory way in which we govern ourselves might be replaced by a Feminine Alternative in due course.

Heaven knows that women are disadvantaged in so many ways by contemporary society - even though they comprise 50% of the Voting Public.

Lysistrata was written over two millennia ago, when will the penny drop?
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Re: ‘Alice In Westminster: The Political Life Of Alice Bacon’ by Rachel Reeves

Post by boatlady on Wed Mar 22, 2017 9:32 am

Two words for you - Margaret Thatcher
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Re: ‘Alice In Westminster: The Political Life Of Alice Bacon’ by Rachel Reeves

Post by Ivan on Wed Apr 12, 2017 11:15 pm

“What really mattered to Bacon throughout her career: local issues, the Labour Party and education.”
Some people prefer to forget that the Labour Party grew out of the trade union movement of the late 19th century. It started with the Labour Representation Committee of 1900, which set out to bring together all existing left-wing organisations and create a single body to sponsor parliamentary candidates. In other words, it was a coalition from day one, as it still is today. It formally became the Labour Party on 15 February 1906.

Alice Bacon was on the right-wing of the party (Denis Healey called her “the terror of the Trotskyites”), and she was a strong supporter of her fellow Leeds MP Hugh Gaitskell. His successor as leader, Harold Wilson, came from the Bevanite wing of the party, but Bacon unhesitatingly pledged her loyalty to him. As Rachel Reeves tell us: “Alice was loyal to Labour before she was loyal to any faction in it”. David Kynaston writes that “as someone on Labour’s right and instinctively out of sympathy with Michael Foot, Tony Benn et al, she might have followed the example of Shirley Williams and gone over to the SDP” in the early 1980s, but she was unfailingly loyal to her party. Kynaston continues: “The entire subtext of ‘Alice in Westminster’ is the light it sheds on Labour’s current dire plight. Two powerful lessons come through. The first is the sacrosanct importance of party unity, an importance transcending the party’s periodic lurches to the right or left. The other is the overriding need to concentrate in a practical way on the issues that most directly affect people’s lives.

Whatever your opinions on the current impasse between the majority of members and the majority of MPs in the Labour Party, we can all agree that lack of unity alienates much of the electorate. Blame whoever or whatever you like – Blair’s sidelining of socialists, the current system of electing a leader (maybe the Tory way is worth considering?), or maybe the public anger which gave us Brexit and the notion that Westminster politicians are out of touch. From Rachel Reeves’ biography it seems that, had Alice Bacon been around today, she would have stayed loyal to the party, while concentrating on trying to improve education and dealing with local issues and the problems of her constituents. The current bunch of Labour MPs would do well to follow her example.
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Re: ‘Alice In Westminster: The Political Life Of Alice Bacon’ by Rachel Reeves

Post by boatlady on Thu Apr 13, 2017 7:09 pm

I do feel the Labour party has lost its way
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Re: ‘Alice In Westminster: The Political Life Of Alice Bacon’ by Rachel Reeves

Post by oftenwrong on Thu Apr 13, 2017 7:38 pm

The Labour Party in 2017 is in disarray because there are two incompatible schools of thought within its ranks. Most of the elected MPs look forward to a trip back to the future represented by 1997, when Blair trounced Major.
Which in fact any Party could have done at the time.
The alternative opinion is that the only honest course of action is a prompt elevation of the Socialist principles which created the Labour movement in the first place.

Choose one. It's nothing to do with rocket science.
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Re: ‘Alice In Westminster: The Political Life Of Alice Bacon’ by Rachel Reeves

Post by boatlady on Thu Apr 13, 2017 9:13 pm

Many of us who chose one were purged from the party because those who chose the other remain in control
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Re: ‘Alice In Westminster: The Political Life Of Alice Bacon’ by Rachel Reeves

Post by oftenwrong on Fri Apr 14, 2017 12:25 pm

So you can't get there from here.

But the Liberals have their tails up. Funny old world.
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Re: ‘Alice In Westminster: The Political Life Of Alice Bacon’ by Rachel Reeves

Post by boatlady on Fri Apr 14, 2017 2:05 pm

I usually love vintage - but this political scene is vintage in quite the wrong way
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