Call NHS Direct to book GP appointments, patients to be told
Patients could soon be forced to ring NHS Direct to arrange a GP appointment as part of the first trial of centralising booking systems. By late summer tens of thousands of people across Surrey could have to call 111, the new non-emergency number, to book an appointment, as doctors look at streamlining their administration methods and reducing their costs. If successful, the plan could be adopted nationwide.
But many patients are likely to object to the change fearing that a call centre will result in poorer customer service and longer waits. Some GPs believe such a system will prove unworkable. There are also likely to be doubts about whether NHS Direct has the capacity and capability to run the service.
While the first pilot is to be launched by a consortium of 20 practices in Surrey called EsyDoc, NHS Direct is also in talks with another eight consortia.
Under the proposal, patients will ring 111 and ask for NHS Direct. Call handlers at NHS Direct will then give them the option of booking an appointment at their practice.
Dr Joe McGilligan, a doctor in Redhill, Surrey, and chair of ESyDoc, told the GPs’ magazine Pulse that there was too much negativity about remote booking. He said: “If it was up to me I’d launch this tomorrow, but it will be within six months. It’s time GPs stopped being so negative towards NHS Direct and worked with the service.” Suregery reception staff would not be made redundant, he promised, but would have more time for other roles.
NHS Direct has already held talks with GP consortia in Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire, Cambridgeshire and London, according to Pulse, while they also plan to discuss the idea with doctors in Birmingham, Torquay and south Gloucestershire.
Some doctors think centralising booking will help surgeries manage their administration better. Dr Brian Gaffney, medical director of NHS Direct and a GP in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland, said:””We know as GPs we can’t cope with demand for our practice appointments,” GPs were “keen to work with us”, he argued.
However, Richard Hoey, editor of Pulse, said: “People don’t particularly like call centres when they’re phoning their bank or their utility company, so there has to be a risk that they will object even more strongly when they’re trying to seek help from their GP practice. “Certainly, when the Government first revealed it was backing the idea before Christmas, there was a very strong negative reaction among GPs.”
That reaction included one GP, Dr David Iles from Southampton, who said: “Even your average alien would consider this hilarious stupidity.”
At the time the Department of Health distanced itself from the proposal, mooted in a report by the NHS Confederation’s Foundation Trust Network, saying there were “no plans” for a national call centre.
A spokesman for NHS Direct emphasised matters were at an early stage of development. She said: “We are not planning on taking over GP appointment booking. Any service that we develop would be in response to what local commissioners want. “The main focus of our engagement with the emerging GP consortia is to discuss ways in which we could work together in the future.”
Migration ban on welders and hair stylists in bid to protect British workers
Migrants will be refused visas to work as hair salon managers, estate agents and shop managers under proposals to protect British workers.
Government advisers have suggested cutting by a third the number of occupations which qualify as ‘skilled’ under immigration rules. If accepted by ministers, the number of visas issued to non-EU workers would drop by around 10,000.
Other occupations which could go from the list include beauty salon managers, laboratory technicians, florists, pipe fitters, steel erectors and welders. However, midwives, chartered surveyors and management accountants would remain, along with dancers, entertainers and environmental protection officers.
In its report, the Migration Advisory Committee proposed cutting the number of jobs eligible for so-called Tier 2 visas from 192 to 121.
But campaigners for tougher migration controls called for ministers to go further to protect British jobs. Sir Andrew Green, chairman of the MigrationWatch think-tank said: ‘The definition of graduate has been set rather low in these recommendations. ‘Given the extent of unemployment we now face, ministers should set the bar at university level. ‘Doing so would reduce the list of jobs that qualified from 121 to 87 to ensure migrants are genuinely highly skilled.’
Committee chairman Professor David Metcalf insisted the proposals would ‘ratchet up’ the required skill levels. He said: ‘Skilled foreign workers make a valuable contribution to the British economy but, in the context of limits on migration, it is essential that the immigration system is designed to select those migrants we need the most. ‘We have recognised this by ensuring our recommendations will allow the most skilled to continue to come and work here.’
It is part of Home Office efforts to slash net migration – the number arriving minus those leaving – from more than 200,000 last year to ‘tens of thousands’ by 2015. A cap will placed on all non-EU workers from April.
Immigration Minister Damian Green said: ‘This is a valuable contribution to ensuring the immigration system allows firms to bring in people with necessary skills without immigration becoming the first resort to fill a wide range of jobs.
‘As part of our package for limiting non-EU economic migration we are raising the minimum skill level at which people can come to work in the UK under Tier Two. ‘We asked the Migration Advisory Committee to advise the Government on graduate level occupations to ensure that only those who are able to fill skilled jobs can come to the UK.’
More BBC bigotry
What does the BBC think of Radio 4’s 10m loyal listeners? Too many are white, Southern and elderly. If you want to see how bigoted that is, just replace “white” with “black”
You might assume that being declared a ‘national treasure’ and boasting 10million listeners a week means Radio 4 is doing everything right. Yet the station’s output is still not good enough for the BBC Trust.
In a performance review, it has ruled Radio 4 needs more northern presenters, a younger audience and to improve its appeal to ethnic minorities.
But the verdict prompted a fury yesterday from listeners, broadcasters and politicians, who branded the Trust’s findings ‘ludicrous’ and ‘patronising’.
Today presenter John Humphrys said: ‘Radio 4 is not too white, too middle class or too old. You would have to be daft not to think about how to bring in the next generation of audiences, but it should be done through quality.
‘Our listeners come to us as they mature, but also because of the content. If I am doing an interview I don’t think about how to make it appeal to a 16-year-old or a 95-year-old – I think about doing the best job.’
Today is just one of the stalwart programmes on which Radio 4 has built its reputation. Others include The Archers, From Our Own Correspondent and Desert Island Discs, hosted by Kirsty Young.
The BBC Trust – the corporation’s governing body – is estimated to have spent £10,000 on a consultation with 16,795 licence fee payers on the quality, distinctiveness and value for money of Radios 4, 3 and digital station 7, which is to be rebranded Radio 4 Extra.
The report, by BBC trustee David Liddiment, acknowledged Radio 4 sets ‘a high standard for speech radio’ and is seen by many as a ‘national treasure’ – but claimed it still needed to change.
The station should find ‘ways to build loyalty amongst younger, lighter listeners’, and needs to be promoted ‘among minority ethnic opinion formers through special content and marketing events’. It should also ‘give greater exposure to presenters from the North’.
The report suggested ‘taking Radio 4 programmes to high-profile northern events and venues, such as Gardeners’ Question Time at Harlow Carr [gardens]’.
The Trust said there had been a decline in younger listeners – the so-called replenisher audience that will become its core audience in the future. Five years ago more than 30 per cent of those aged 35 to 54 tuned in to the station, but that figure is now 26.6 per cent.
Mr Liddiment, from Yorkshire, told Today: ‘The public reaction has been phenomenal. They love the station. There are two buts. The station as a whole has a huge skew to the South-East of England, people in the North do not listen anywhere near as much. ‘The replenisher audience are not listening as much as they were.’
But his verdict prompted wide-ranging anger. Former MP Ann Widdecombe said: ‘Radio 4 is probably the only thing that caters for middle-class, middle-aged audiences. There is precious little for us on television.’
And former Today presenter Jennie Bond, 60, said: ‘What on earth is wrong with being middle class? A lot of people are middle class.’
Conservative MP Philip Davies said: ‘This is ludicrous. The idea that people in the North will only listen if there are presenters that sound like them is patronising.’
It is not the first time the BBC has tried to force Radio 4 to ‘broaden its appeal’. In 1994, a ‘light’ afternoon talk show with Northern Irish presenter Gerry Anderson lasted less than a year after attracting thousands of complaints.
Tim Davie, the BBC’s director of audio and music, said yesterday: ‘We welcome the Trust’s recommendation that we continue to build the appeal of Radio 3 and Radio 4 amongst potential new listeners.’
Cambridge University first to charge £9,000 fees – unless your family’s poor
Cambridge has become the first university to announce that it will charge maximum tuition fees of £9,000 a year. But it will give hefty discounts to poorer students, which means the middle classes will bear the brunt of the move.
MPs voted in December to raise tuition fees to £6,000 per year from 2012, with universities allowed to charge £9,000 in exceptional circumstances. Universities have to publish their 2012 fees by March 31 and Cambridge says its move will be followed by ‘most, if not all’ universities.
The elite institution said yesterday that students from homes with a household income below £25,000 will get a reduction of up to £3,000 per year on their fees. There will be other bursaries worth up to £1,625, but the reductions will taper down to zero for students from homes with an income over £42,000.
This means millions of middle-class students will be left paying the full amount of £9,000 per year over the coming years.
A report yesterday from Cambridge University said it would be ‘fiscally irresponsible’ to charge any less than the maximum, as its rivals will do the same. It argued that even with tuition fees set at £9,000, the university is still ‘carrying the burden of a significant loss per student’.
Oxford University yesterday signalled similar plans. It said it would need to charge nearly £8,000 to cover tuition for all its students – but the full £9,000 if it wants to fund bursaries for poorer students.
Oxford’s pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Anthony Monaco informally put forward a similar ‘fee waiver’ system for poorer students to that proposed by Cambridge. He said: ‘The message to them would be, it is no more costly to attend Oxford than any other UK higher education institution.’
Pupils from good schools and better-off areas could suffer another blow. Tomorrow, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg will order universities to ‘throw open their doors’ to the less well-off.
Controversially, this will include making greater use of ‘differential offers’, where pupils from private schools are required to get higher grades than those from comprehensives. This will discriminate against parents who have saved up to put their children through private school.
He will confirm drastic steps designed to stop £9,000 fees becoming the norm. The number of bursaries and fee waivers that each institution must offer is likely to be fixed.
Private schools believe the ‘fair access’ plans are a ‘sop’ to the Lib Dems and an attack on the middle classes.
Growing numbers of parents are setting up U.S.-style ‘college funds’ because they are so anxious about the surge in the cost of tuition fees, research reveals today. A poll of more than 3,000 people, carried out for the bank ING Direct, found 13 per cent have started a university fund over the last few months, and a further 10 per cent have upped the amount that they are saving to send their children to university.
Study links junk food to lower IQ
Predictable rubbish. Without control for parental IQ it is meaningless. High IQ people might well have different diets. The journal article is: “Are dietary patterns in childhood associated with IQ at 8 years of age? A population-based cohort study”. See also here
TODDLERS who have a diet high in processed foods may have a slightly lower IQ in later life, according to a British study described as the biggest research of its kind.
The conclusion comes from a long-term investigation into 14,000 people born in western England in 1991 and 1992 whose health and wellbeing were monitored at the ages of three, four, seven and eight and a half.
Parents of the children were asked to fill out questionnaires that, among other things, detailed the kind of food and drink their children consumed.
Three dietary patterns emerged: one was high in processed fats and sugar; then there was a “traditional” diet high in meat and vegetables; and finally a “health-conscious” diet with lots of salad, fruit and vegetables, pasta and rice.
When the children were eight and a half, their IQ was measured using a standard tool called the Wechsler Intelligence Scale.
Of the 4000 children for which there were complete data, there was a significant difference in IQ among those who had had the “processed” as opposed to the “health-conscious” diets in early childhood.
The 20 per cent of children who ate the most processed food had an average IQ of 101 points, compared with 106 for the 20 per cent of children who ate the most “health-conscious” food.
“It’s a very small difference, it’s not a vast difference,” said one of the authors, Pauline Emmett of the School of Social and Community Medicine at the University of Bristol. “But it does make them less able to cope with education, less able to cope with some of the things in life.”
The association between IQ and nutrition is a strongly debated issue because it can be skewed by many factors, including economic and social background. A middle-class family, for instance, may arguably be more keen (or more financially able) to put a healthier meal on the table, or be pushier about stimulating their child, compared to a poorer household.
Dr Emmett said the team took special care to filter out such confounders. “We have controlled for maternal education, for maternal social class, age, whether they live in council housing, life events, anything going wrong, the home environment, with books and use of television and things like that,” she said.
The size of the study, too, was unprecedented. “It’s a huge sample, it’s much much bigger than anything anyone else has done,” she said in an interview with AFP.
Dr Emmett said further work was needed to see whether this apparent impact on IQ persisted as the children got older.
Asked why junk food had such an effect, she suggested a diet that was preponderantly processed could lack vital vitamins and elements for cerebral development at a key stage in early childhood. “A junk food diet is not conducive to good brain development,” she said.
The paper appears in the peer-reviewed Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, published by the British Medical Association.
Why Peter Sissons is wrong about BBC climate coverage (?)
A defence of the BBC from a confused Fiona Fox below — quite openly admitting that she (and the BBC generally) accepts Warmism — but claiming that it is unfair to brand the BBC as “unbalanced”.
Fifi is such a bad journalist however that she cites not a single fact or statistic to show how “fair” the BBC is. Just a list of all the Warmists interviewed on TV in any particular year plus a list of all the skeptics interviewed in the same year would have been informative. She would not even need know how to count in order to provide that! No need to guess why she provided nothing of the sort, of course.
Peter Sissons spent many years reporting for the BBC and Fifi is the funnel through which science gets into the BBC, apparently. Some of the comments already up at the foot of her article are good too
Peter Sissons’ attack on political correctness at the BBC will probably resonate with some of my friends who work there. Sissons was not the only seasoned reporter insulted by the compulsory Safeguarding Trust course – though interestingly all the journalists I spoke to, like Sissons, had a more positive experience on the course than they expected.
And I share his discomfort at the use of vox pops as any kind of valid representation of public opinion.
But his attack on the failure of the BBC to report both sides of the climate change debate is barely recognisable.
Sissons’ argument that some BBC bosses at times got close to abandoning some of their beloved impartiality on climate change partly rings true. One long-serving BBC journalist told me that Mark Thomson’s supportive introduction to Al Gore on his visit to Television Centre to promote his climate change film An Inconvenient Truth was unprecedented in BBC history.
Another reported that a senior BBC boss assured a room of scientists that a particular climate sceptic would never appear on the airwaves on his watch. Never? Really?
I also remember an email exchange with a leading scientist after the Live Earth concert was screened by the BBC together with a running commentary from a string of A list celebs. The scientist was demanding to know what the Science Media Centre (SMC, of which I am the Director) planned to do about the appearance of David Baddiel, who threw a spanner in the carefully choreographed works by coming out as a dyed-in-the-wool climate sceptic. My immediate reply was that I would do absolutely nothing about Baddiel unless I could also challenge the banal, and in many cases much more stupid, scientific claims peddled by the ‘supportive’ celebs. In this debate sceptics do not have a monopoly on bad science.
But the rest of Sissons’ insights are selective and misleading. For every BBC boss who got over-excited about Al Gore or over-censorious about sceptics, I can point to another who fought with science reporters on a daily basis, often demanding that every news report on a complex new piece of climate science be reported through a ‘disco’ (discussion) between the researchers and ‘A Sceptic’ – irrespective of their expertise.
His claims that the time given to minority views was ‘practically zero’ and that the phones of the sceptics never rang are just not true. At the SMC, I have been dealing with BBC journalists reporting climate change for eight years now – covering much of the period that Sissons complains about. Yet, despite the fact that we reflect the mainstream view of climate change, our phones rang many times with BBC journalists searching for sceptics to ‘balance’ their news item.
Sceptics like Benny Peiser and Bjorn Lomburg have become household names to BBC audiences and off the top of his head, the BBC science and environment reporter David Shukman reels off a list of sceptics he alone has interviewed – Nigel Lawson, Penny Peiser, Viscount Monckton, Richard Linzden and David Holland to name but a few.
Where Sissons sees ‘zero’ sceptics, the scientists I know see a plague of them.
Indeed if I am asked what is the single greatest complaint about journalism from the scientific community in the past eight years it would have to be the anger amongst climate researchers at the BBC’s devotion to balancing every climate science story with a sceptical view.
I have written about the dangers of journalistic balance applied to science before, but like so many aspects of the climate change debate, the discussion has become unhelpfully polarized and overly simplistic – with journalists like Sissons seeing any report that does not include both sides as ‘propaganda’ and some in science arguing for something close to a blanket ban.
Neither is right. What is needed is a more intelligent journalism – an attempt to select interviewees who can enlighten us on a complex subject and guide us somewhere closer to the truth. It seems to me that Sissons’ demand for more sceptics – any old sceptics! – is just as crude.
Discussions about the wider impact of climate change and how we tackle it should include many voices. But the advice – lambasted by Sissons – that the weight of evidence on the basic science no longer justifies equal space being given to the tiny minority of scientific sceptics is absolutely right, and a bold move from the BBC.
For me, the biggest failure of science journalism in the past decade was demonstrated by an opinion poll which showed that more than 60% of the public understood from the media that medical science was divided about the safety of the MMR vaccine – when it isn’t.
Conversely, that similar polls now show most people in the UK accept that climate scientists are agreed on the basics is something that the BBC should be proud of.
But I have also long argued that a more intelligent choice of guests would shed light on the real debates within mainstream science on the remaining uncertainties, especially around the future projections. Scientists facing Lord Lawson in a BBC studio are unlikely to focus on the gaps in knowledge when he is attacking the whole of climate science.
My views on climate change are rooted in eight years of running climate science press briefings at the SMC – privileged access that has left my confidence in the integrity of the UK’s climate research unshaken.
Climate science does not need special favours from journalism: it can withstand all the scrutiny, scepticism and curiosity the BBC wants to throw at it. And where it falls short, the role of journalism is to expose that. Few would argue that any section of the media has got climate change right. But as we await the BBC Trust review on science we need an honest and intelligent analysis of its climate change coverage.
Don’t blame tolerance for Britain’s multicultural mess
David Cameron is right to slam multiculturalism, but wrong to blame tolerance for fostering today’s lily-livered non-judgmentalism
British prime minister David Cameron’s rejection of state-sponsored multiculturalism is long overdue. He is right to say that it is divisive and corrosive. However, he shouldn’t blame the problems of multiculturalism on tolerance. Throughout his speech, given on Saturday at a security conference in Munich, he mistakenly argued that tolerance was responsible both for the failure of multiculturalism and for the growth in Islamic terrorism. ‘Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism’, he said.
But what is ‘passive tolerance’? Tolerance is anything but passive. Tolerance requires courage, conviction and a commitment to freedom – key characteristics of a confident and active public ethos. Tolerance upholds freedom of conscience and individual autonomy. It affirms the principle of non-interference in people’s inner lives, in their adherence to certain beliefs and opinions. And so long as an act does not harm others or violate their moral autonomy, tolerance also demands no constraints on behaviour that is related to the exercise of individual autonomy. From this perspective, tolerance represents the extent to which people’s beliefs and behaviours are not subject to institutional and political interference or restraint.
One compelling reason why a truly open society should support tolerance is because we recognise that it is through the clash of conflicting views and opinions that truth is gained. Even erroneous views, in the act of their being challenged, can contribute to the overall clarity of public life. It is not easy to be tolerant. It requires a willingness to tolerate views that one considers offensive, and a preparedness to accept that no idea should be beyond question. That is why tolerance shouldn’t simply be seen as an intellectual pursuit – it also requires cultural, societal support. Because the capacity to tolerate requires that society takes freedom seriously. Tolerating beliefs that are hostile to ours demands a degree of confidence in our own convictions and also a disposition to take risks. Tolerance encourages the freedom of individuals to pursue certain beliefs, and it gives society more broadly an opportunity to gain insights into the truth through encouraging a clash of ideas.
So when Cameron complains that, as a result of multicultural policies, mainstream British society has ceased to criticise and condemn the retrograde views and practices of minority communities, he should not point the finger of blame at tolerance – passive or otherwise.
Multiculturalism has nothing to do with true tolerance.
Multiculturalism demands not tolerance but indulgent indifference. It relentlessly promotes the idea of ‘acceptance’ and discourages the questioning of other people’s beliefs and lifestyles. Its dominant value is non-judgmentalism. Yet judging, criticising and evaluating are all key attributes of any open-minded, democratic society worth its name. It is crucially important to rescue the concept of tolerance from its confused association with multiculturalism.
In contemporary public debate, the important connection between tolerance and judgment is in danger of being lost. The word ‘tolerance’ is now used interchangeably with the term ‘non-judgmental’. While a reluctance to judge other people’s behaviour has some attractive qualities, it is not necessarily a manifestation of social tolerance. All too often, non-judgmentalism is synonymous with not caring about the fate of others. Yet the precondition of a working democratic public sphere is openness to conversation and debate. Reflecting on our differences with other points of views, letting them know where we stand and what we find disagreeable in their opinions… that is the very stuff of vibrant democracy. Without it, tolerance turns into shallow indifference, an excuse for switching off when others talk.
The confusion of the concept of tolerance with the idea of acceptance of all lifestyles is strikingly illustrated by UNESCO’s Declaration on the Principles of Tolerance. It says: ‘Tolerance is respect, acceptance and appreciation of the rich diversity of our world’s cultures, our forms of expression and ways of being human.’ UNESCO also claims that tolerance is ‘harmony in difference’. For UNESCO, toleration becomes an expansive, diffuse sensibility that automatically offers unconditional respect for different views and cultures.
The reinterpretation of tolerance as non-judgmentalism or indifference is often seen as a positive thing; apparently, open-minded people are non-judgmental. In truth, the gesture of affirmation and acceptance can be seen as a way of avoiding making difficult moral choices, and a way of disengaging from the challenge of explaining which values are worth upholding. It is far easier to dispense with moral judgment entirely than to explain why a certain way of life is preferable to another way of life that should be tolerated, yes, but not embraced. That is probably why the indulgent indifference of multiculturalism has gained so much traction in recent decades: in Britain and many other European societies, multiculturalism has spared governments the hassle of having to spell out the principles underpinning their way of life.
Evading the problem
To his credit, after noting that state multiculturalism has encouraged the segregation of different cultures, Cameron touched upon an uncomfortable truth – which is that ‘we have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong’. The absence of such a vision is not accidental, since multiculturalism requires that no system of values be regarded as superior to any other or looked upon as the desirable norm. In the multicultural outlook, the absence of a vision for society is not a failure, but an accomplishment.
In any serious discussion of the problem of cultural integration, the focus should surely be on the failure to outline, and give meaning to, the values that bind society together. It is always tempting to point the finger of blame at professional extremists for radicalising young Muslims, for example. But what is often overlooked is that it is not so much the lure of radicalism that causes these problems as it is society’s own reluctance to engage with and inspire its citizens.
For some time now, many European societies have found it difficult to forge a consensus through which they might affirm their past achievements and the basic values they uphold. Traditional symbols and conventions have lost much of their power to enthuse and inspire; in some cases they have become irrevocably damaged. This is strikingly illustrated in the constant controversy that surrounds the teaching of history. When the leading generation senses that the stories and ideals it was brought up on have ‘lost their relevance’ in our changed world, it finds it very difficult to transmit those stories and ideals with conviction to its children. Bitter disputes about historical rights and wrongs really reflect competing claims about interests and identities.
How to hold an intergenerational conversation in these circumstances is a question that society is unwilling to pose, never mind try to answer. Nevertheless, policymakers and educators intuitively recognise that this question needs to be addressed, somehow, and they are frequently forced to respond to the demand for values and traditions that can be imparted to children. Yet the provision of ‘relevant’ values, on demand, rarely succeeds – because unlike the conventions that were organically linked to the past, these values tend to be artificial, if well-meaning, constructs that are open to challenge. Unlike customs and conventions that are held sacred, constructed values must be regularly justified. The very fact that they were self-consciously invented draws people’s attention to the possibility of constructing alternative histories and traditions.
Back in 2006, the then UK chancellor Gordon Brown announced plans to launch a British Day in order to ‘focus on things that bring us together’. However, spelling out what binds society proved far too challenging a task, and the idea of British Day was dropped in October 2008. The government’s quiet retreat on this issue really represented an acknowledgement of the fact that national traditions that might inspire the public cannot be invented in committee meetings or through consultation with ‘stakeholders’. If society is itself unsure about what it stands for, then it is not surprising that schools lack the ability to talk about the soul of society.
A new curriculum for 11- to 14-year-olds launched in June 2007 said that ‘pupils will learn shared values and study national identity in the UK’. However, in the absence of any clarity about what constitute shared values today, teachers were worried about whether they could handle what they perceived to be a controversial subject. A survey of teachers’ attitudes to the teaching of patriotism found that one reason why they were apprehensive was because of ‘an uncertainty about how appropriate it is to promote patriotic attachment to Britain to immigrant students with existing attachments to their countries of origin’. The survey found that only 13 per cent of teachers interviewed believed that schools should ‘actively promote patriotism’. The reluctance of these educators to promote ‘patriotism’ could be interpreted as evidence of their lack of attachment to British values – but it is far more likely that their attitude expressed anxiety about teaching what they perceive to be a confusing, troublesome and difficult subject.
This confusion about what binds a community together took on a caricatured form in 2008 when the New Labour government quietly shelved a plan to publish a national song-book for primary school children. The government wanted to publish a collection of 30 songs that every 11-year-old should know, but the idea was rejected as ‘too divisive’. Gareth Malone, a leading figure in Sing-Up, the organisation charged with seeing this project through, noted that the experts couldn’t agree on which songs to include in the collection. Malone described it as a ‘hot potato, culturally’ and added that ‘you have to be realistic… you can’t be too culturally imperialist about it’. In the end, officials chose to evade the controversy that publishing a common song-book would have provoked, and opted instead to establish a ‘song bank’ of 600 songs.
If a society is too embarrassed to publish a list of national songs, how can it expect different communities to sing from the same sheet? There is little point in continuing to blame multiculturalism for the profound problems we face today. By all means let’s put an end to state-sponsored multiculturalism, because that would at least allow us to face up to the underlying problem: society’s crisis of values and of meaning. But let’s not diminish our commitment to the pursuit of tolerance. Tolerance remains an important virtue because it takes human beings very seriously. Through encouraging people to voice their beliefs, it helps create the kind of dialogue necessary for shared experiences and meanings.