When did capitalism become a fundamental British right?

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The department for education has rolled out new guidelines for the teaching of relationship, sex and health education. The new guidance includes a ban on using materials from organisations which promote extreme views. Extreme views such as opposing capitalism.

We weren’t meant to notice. With some particularly poor sleight-of-hand, the DfE tried to insert capitalism into a list of our governing liberal values, along with democracy, free and fair elections, freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Hasn’t capitalism always been one of our defining values, though? You have only to read the US constitution, that most exemplary document of western, liberal, enlightenment thinking, to find a justification of our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of private jets. Or was it our right to life, liberty and the exploitation of the workers in order to extract the surplus-value of their labour? It’s easy to get mixed up, so we should not judge the DfE too harshly.

There will be no Das Kapital in secondary schools this year then, it will be Adam Smith only. Another generation will grow up believing that wealth really does “trickle-down”, only to be sadly disappointed when the Conservative Party scrap student loans and privatise the NHS.

All joking aside, the guidance does not, as some have commented, forbid the teaching of Marxism or the Russian revolution in schools, nor ban the mere mention of anything resembling socialism. But it is not without its glaring contractions that have provided ample fodder for ridicule.

Other “extreme stances” listed in the document include endorsement of or failure to condemn illegal activity. Lawyer Jessica Simor QC tweeted asking whether the schools should not accept materials from the government, referring to their admission that the new Brexit bill would break international law. Surely schools would not want to “imply endorsement” of the government, given its failure to condemn its own illegal activities?

And what about organisations such as the official opposition? The aims of the UK Labour Party, as written in the original clause 4 of its constitution, included the promise to nationalise most industries. Perhaps schools should have avoided using materials from the governments of Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and James Callaghan, as they promoted such “extreme views”.

Not to mention that the guidance itself instructs teachers to make sure that when political issues come up, they offer a balanced presentation of opposing views. But not if those views are left-wing. Then they should be silenced.

But there are other serious consequences. The new guidance seems almost intentionally targeted at groups like Black Lives Matter, who take an anti-capitalist political stance alongside their campaigns against racism. Since criticising anti-racist groups is an unpalatable position in mainstream politics, how do you silence them? By branding their political beliefs as “extreme”.

The government is not without praise for those who take such “extreme views” though. We do well to remember that back in June, amid worldwide Black Lives Matter protests following the killing of George Floyd, Boris Johnson bemoaned the defacing of a statue of Winston Churchill.
Quoted in the Independent, Boris was eager back then to remind us that the statue was a “permanent reminder of his achievement in saving this country”. Churchill’s view that native Americans, or Arabs, or Chinese people had no right to their own land because a “higher-grade race” had taken their place were not important. Perhaps Boris should move to ban his own “extreme views”.

Alexander Cryer