Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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The Age of Ignorance


DID you know that Nationalists and Unionists in Northern Ireland do not always get on too well? Are you aware that a fair bit of our foreign trade goes via the Dover-Calais route? And did you know that machine-gun bullets are a remarkably effective way of bringing down drones flying over an empty airport runway? If so, your knowledge base is some way ahead of, respectively, Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Dominic Raab, until recently the Brexit Secretary and Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary.

‘I freely admit that when I started this job, I didn’t understand . . . things like when elections are fought, for example, in Northern Ireland – people who are nationalists don’t vote for unionist parties and vice versa.’ 

This admission by the Northern Ireland Secretary tells us much about the knowledge base of school-leavers since the 1980s when she was a comprehensive school pupil. It also informs us that ignorance, even stupidity, is no impediment to achieving high office or indeed any office of responsibility.

‘Hire someone for any job, you run them through things, make sure they know what’s what,’ said one incredulous Northern Irish employer in response to Bradley’s remarks. ‘I hire a driver, I check he can drive. Give a 16-year-old a job packing shelves in Tesco, you make sure he can pack shelves.’ A retired community worker in Belfast was ‘absolutely horrified that [Bradley] could be in a position where she was so terribly ignorant of a situation in which so many people were killed. It just baffles me.’ A third interviewee, a child care worker, added that it was ‘ridiculous that she could know nothing about it and still get the job. Usually you have to show knowledge to get a job. I did.’

In contrast, the Irish government described the new Northern Ireland Secretary as a smart and experienced politician. There is an upside to her ignorance from the Republic’s perspective.

And what are we to make of the former Brexit Secretary discovering the importance of the Dover-Calais route for UK trade? ‘I hadn’t quite understood the full extent of this . . . But if you look at the UK and look at how we trade in goods, we are particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing.’ 

As part of the GCSE generation he will have to be excused. The morality of issues such as climate change and energy generation replaced geographical knowledge when Raab was at school. It is not so long ago that 25 per cent of the marks for GCSE geography were awarded for drawing cartoons and writing poetry.

So, on to one of the latest debacles – the drone trespass that brought Gatwick Airport to an on-off standstill for three days. The Home Secretary has ultimate responsibility for national security but appeared to suffer mental paralysis. Was it fear of health and safety regulations or simple ignorance? Shoot the bloody things out of the sky was the reaction of most people, even UFO enthusiasts. Drones and bullets don’t mix, Sajid!

But the Home Secretary has moved on. He has turned his attention, or lack of attention, to the cross-Channel trade in illegal immigration. Lives are being put at risk by his dithering and, indeed, by his ignorance. EU law is quite clear that asylum claims should be dealt with by the country of entry into the EU (Dublin III Regulation).

Riding on the tide of ignorance amongst our politicians, the government should, at least, be thankful for the input of Jeremy Corbyn. The Opposition leader has declared it our national ‘duty to reach out the hand of friendship to people who are in danger and seeking a place of safety’.

Yes, indeed, this is 1789 all over again! Welcome to the Age of Ignorance!

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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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