Look Uncle Arthur, I'm in the news again
So who is behind it? As the BBC has reported, “One Britain One Nation (OBON) Day, at which children are encouraged to sing a patriotic song, is being promoted by retired police officer Kash Singh … The Department for Education - which has responsibility for schools in England - said it supported the ‘broad aims’ of the day but it was not endorsing any specific materials produced by the campaign”. Ah, but that’s not quite the whole story.
Earlier this week, in response to Tory MP Philip Davies, who continues to be suffered by voters in the Shipley constituency, Gavin “Stupid Boy” Williamson, who claims to be Education Secretary, gave his personal backing to the campaign, although the DfE later modified this by telling “The department has not asked people to sing songs or endorsed any specific materials for One Britain One Nation day”. And it got worse.
“Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she first assumed the UK government's endorsement of the idea was a ‘spoof’ when she saw it [many schools in Scotland will have closed for the Summer break by tomorrow]”. Also, “A spokesperson for the Labour-run Welsh government, responsible for schools in Wales, said: ‘Education is a devolved matter and the Welsh government has not been engaged in this project.’”
Apparently, only schools in the Bradford area are likely to take part in this stunt, which has caused Andrew Vine at the Yorkshire Post, a few miles away in Leeds, to muse “THERE is something deeply disturbing about the notion of children all over the country being shepherded into school halls tomorrow and made to sing a supposedly patriotic song”.
You'll have to speak up, I'm a bit Mutt And Jeff
Do go on. “That’s because it calls to mind those chilling images from totalitarian regimes - both past and present - where children for whom schooling is less a matter of education than indoctrination are compelled to sing a daily song in praise of the motherland and its glorious leader”. Luke Harding at the Guardian had some examples of the genre.
“For North Korea, it is a rousing anthem with a bold opening line: “Let morning shine on the silver and gold of our land.” For Vladimir Putin, it’s a chanson-like melody, Where does the motherland begin?, from his favourite Soviet spy film … There have been inevitable comparisons with the Hitler Youth and with the school song sung by millions of young East German communist pioneers: ‘Uns’re Heimat’, or ‘Our homeland’”.
Kash Singh’s enthusiasm and sincerity is not being questioned: the problem is that having school-age children sing so-called “patriotic songs” has a seriously bad recent history, stirring memories of totalitarian régimes that prevailed across mainland Europe from the 1920s right through to the fall of eastern European Communist Governments at the end of the 80s - as well as those that linger on in countries like North Korea.
That is why OBON Day has brought a response which combines outrage and derision. And that’s why Gavin Williamson is full value for his nickname. Stupid boy, indeed.
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