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HomeNewsChris McGovern: Game for a laugh? Tune into the nutty NUT

Chris McGovern: Game for a laugh? Tune into the nutty NUT


Have you noticed how so much comedy these days is left-leaning with a clear anti-Brexit slant? Many stand-up comedians performing outside London, however, are failing to see the funny side of audience members heading, mid-show, for the exits. They are discovering that labelling a majority of the electorate as ignorant and racist bigots for backing Brexit is a bit of a joke itself, but not one they intended.

We should all be prepared to laugh at ourselves from time to time, of course, but in the arena of public entertainment should political jokes not cover the whole spectrum of opinion rather than being confined to a narrow segment? BBC 1’s Have I Got News for You is illustrative. It returns to our screens on Friday for its 53rd series! Over the years I have found much of it to be witty and enjoyable. It is a shame, however, that too often, recently, the target of its humour has been focused so narrowly on right-leaning politicians and Brexiteers.

Have the Labour Party, the LibDems, the Greens and the EU placed themselves in a position that is beyond parody? Does the BBC lack a genuine sense of humour or it is simply indifferent to its own Charter by refusing to recognise the complete picture? Surely, ‘right on’, politically correct, sanctimonious and serious liberal-left wing anti-Brexiteers are fair game for a laugh? The jester’s job has always been to tell the whole unbridled truth, not just part of it.

Sadly, the Beeb does not seem to think so. Increasingly, viewers have to make do with comedy that is, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, all about the art of seeking out political troubles, finding them everywhere, diagnosing them incorrectly, blaming every problem on Brexit and, then, putting ‘experts’ forward to propose the wrong remedies.

So where should ‘Auntie’ go from here? How about lifting the gloom a little and giving us some real comedy by providing live coverage of the National Union of Teachers’ Easter Conference? ‘Black humour’ it may be but it is still an antidote to the anti-Brexit, anti-Tory, anti-Trump stuff.

Here we are in 2017 and England remains something of a basket case educationally. Employers are complaining that 20 per cent of school leavers are unemployable and our 15-year-olds trail up to three years behind their peers in the best education systems around the world. According to the OECD, even our top 10 per cent are behind the bottom 20 per cent in Shanghai. Last summer around half of 11-year-olds failed to reach the minimum expected standard in their SAT tests.

The response of the NUT Conference to this crisis has been the usual drum-beating mixture of self-pity and self-congratulation. Delegates want to scrap testing and spend more money. This would remove teacher accountability and add to the already considerable debt burden that we are passing on to our children.

We are already above average spenders amongst developed countries around the world and have increased educational expenditure by 900 per cent in real terms since the 1950s, without improving basic skills. Even more embarrassing, we spend around eight times as much per pupil as Vietnam but trail that developing country, and others, by a considerable margin in the OECD PISA tables of pupil attainment. Through its dumbing down of standards, the NUT has achieved much in its battle for ‘equality of outcome’ but at a high cost for us all.

And if all this is not ‘black comedy’ enough in terms of taking one’s eye off the ball, we have the Conference finding time to condemn Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, for stoking “instability and grievance” abroad.  The Conference, also, passed a motion condemning Britain’s involvement in the Middle East and elsewhere and for siding with the USA in foreign policy.  Support for Palestinian teachers and schoolchildren and for what the union consider to be ‘social justice’ were part of the same package.

The NUT has long seen its conference as a vehicle for promoting policy and debate about world politics alongside its traditional obsession with political correctness. Small wonder, then, that we have an attainment crisis in our classrooms.

The union has lost touch with reality. Perhaps laughter is the only antidote. Coming soon from BBC Comedy  – highlights of the NUT Conference?

(Image: Misha Popovikj)

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Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern
Chris McGovern is the Chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. A retired head teacher with 35 years’ teaching experience, Chris is a former advisor to the Policy Unit at 10 Downing Street under two Prime Ministers.

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