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click opera - Young Gordon
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Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 10:06 am
Young Gordon

Unless something really unexpected happens, Gordon Brown is going to be Britain's next prime minister. For the last decade he's been the second most powerful man in Britain, a successful Chancellor of the Exchequer. But somehow I have no sense of what he's really like, what his priorities are. What would he be like as prime minister?

If "the child is father to the man", perhaps the student is father to the prime minister. Between 1972 and 1975 Gordon Brown was rector of Edinburgh University. This BBC article documents some of the highlights of his three year rectorship, but if you want more detail you have to go to Edinburgh University Library's Special Collections website, where 179 pages of Brown's reports, press releases and correspondence with university officials has been placed on display. (You have to read it backwards, so skip to the end for the beginning.)

It's all in the typewriter faces of the day, on headed paper. It's particularly interesting for me because it's close to home, a soap opera whose players and locations I know well. My family returned from Montreal to Edinburgh in 1975, and soon my mother was working in Edinburgh University Library's Special Collections department. I took summer jobs with my dad's college, The Edinburgh Language Foundation, which saw me messengering on my bike around many of the locations mentioned in these letters: Lauriston Place, George Square, the Pollock Halls of Residence. It's fascinating to see these Edinburgh locations as "Brown's Britain writ small" -- the past of a town as the future of a nation.

Things we learn about Gordon Brown from his correspondence:

* He wants all the minutes of all the committees, no matter how boring.
* He tends to keep invitations from Europe to attend conferences, mistakenly addressed to the rector.
* He challenges the secrecy of the university court, which he chairs as only the second student rector ever appointed.
* He wonders why the information officer should be responsible to the Secretary (chief official of the university) rather than the court.
* He wonders what funds are available to help overseas students in financial distress.
* He wants a secretary / typist, paid for by the university, new office furniture, and an electric typewriter. (He gets the secretary, but nothing else.)
* He's wounded when an attack on his Assessor (student assistant) is launched in the court without warning.
* He questions questionable money transfers relating to the building of Pollock Halls, querying every expense.
* He requests -- and gets -- £20 for a lunch with other Scottish rectors, and an airport car service for them.
* He's big on inclusiveness, the town / gown issue.
* He wants Edinburgh to become "the first genuine community university".
* He's very down on ivory tower researchers, "the Edinburgh Establishment" and power elites when their needs conflict with the community's.
* He's keen on being seen to be keen on inclusiveness.
* He will exclude those who exclude inclusiveness.
* He wants to bar apartheid state delegates from a commonwealth conference.
* His official tone leads to the university telling third parties that Brown does not, in fact, speak for them.
* He releases populist messages to the local press to leverage power with the university secretary and court.
* He seems genuinely concerned that university development should be in the interest of ordinary people who live in the city.

Brown the student rector, like Brown the Labour Party politician, wants (and gets) more working class students in the university. His reports are full of sentences like "In our own generation we need a special commitment to studying and to resolving the central problems of poverty, war and the dehumanisation of man in relation to the machine bureaucracy, colonialism and exploitation" and "Elites have generally failed to solve the problems confronting society: the scientist is impotent in face of nuclear warfare, the expert technologist cannot solve malnutrition and hunger, the most talented artist cannot find a language to give life to our culture and the expert on political strategy cannot find a solution to nuclear escalation".

I obviously disagree with that bit about "the most talented artist". Brown can be a bit harsh on elites and academics. When the university Secretary finds Brown's stance on excluding all Rhodesians -- blaming liberal academics for their government's racialist stance -- a bit unfair, Brown replies:

"The argument for the continued contacts between South African and Rhodesian "liberals" and ourselves is based on the assumption that efforts of these University liberals will help the fight against apartheid, which seems to us dubious... Isolation -- rather than contact -- will stimulate fundamental change. The liberal dialogue... has failed."

Brown tries constantly to get ordinary people -- students, outsiders and non-academics -- onto the university court. In February 1973 he suggests a trade union leader and one of the organisers of the Craigmillar Festival Society for the Court. The Secretary refuses to issue Brown's press release, citing confidentiality concerns.

Brown's other concerns include democratisation of the university's information services, ensuring that the university pulls out of all its South African investments, getting the university involved in a less commercial commercial radio station, informing citizens of university building and development plans, and giving all of Edinburgh's ten colleges a common student accommodation service.

As a long-haired student rector, at least, Gordon Brown seems to be a thorn in all the right sides. He's also conscientious, ambitious and thorough. Based on this stuff, I think he'd make a good UK prime minister, a "policy wonk" (in the best sense) with a strong concern for social justice. Perhaps better than Britain deserves; it seems the English plan to throw him out at the next election and elect a Tory modelled on Tony.

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svenskasfinx
NOT Greta Garbo
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 09:51 am (UTC)

I can believe that anyone who wants to make education more available to the classes of people less likely to get it is of course more than likely someone who is going to be a pain in "the elitists" side- Globally, education should be a right, no matter what country you come from, especially a good one, at university level if one is motivated towards it.

It saddens me to think that so many of the scholarships and grants which were available in the early 70's in the states, are being taken away, making a struggle to get education a more serious issue when you are not privalaged enough to come from a family who sees an education as an important thing. Sadly the epidemic of cuts to free education has made it all over Europe as well, where in the UK what system which used to make an effort to help provide an option has become private, and now students much of the time are force to take out loans. (By the time I started college, only about 12% of the loans and grants of those days were available then and ONLY to those who had the grade point average to show they made an effort.)

Anywhere on the globe where education is going to be "free", those will have the future in mind.. hopefully education will be of quality and unbiased with a real sense of hope and trying to accomplish something rather than just working for a bit of paper.

This Gordon Brown person, does seem to care about education, a great first step for the promise of the future of the ecconimic and workings of the UK, too bad he may just do too good a job, plus I see his influence, maybe "corrupting" other policies in other countries if he does succeed.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 01:29 pm (UTC)

Universal higher education has two negative aspects.

First, many kids simply have no inclination toward the abstract concepts that are focused on in the university. It's a noble idea on the surface, to want people of all backgrounds to have the same education; but the reality is that if a kid is not raised in an environment that prepares him for these concepts and for the discipline of studying, he will go there only to waste years of his life being completely unproductive.

Second, the more underqualified kids get squeezed into the collegiate system, the more society has to dumb down the curriculum to accomodate them. The kids who are really there to learn are thus harmed tremendously by the lowered standards.

Education is not a right. Society is set up to ensure equality for citizens, but only before the law. Let us not forget that a man can get himself an education on his own spare time. I read and learn far more now than I did in college. But I suspect this isn't really about an education in its pure sense, but more about even distribution of wealth. Socialists and libertarians see everything filtered through the lens of capital, and I think they miss the point of what an education should be, and life in general.

-henryperri


ReplyThread Parent
zzberlin
zzberlin
hh
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 04:48 pm (UTC)

<< First, many kids simply have no inclination toward the abstract concepts that are focused on in the university. It's a noble idea on the surface, to want people of all backgrounds to have the same education; but the reality is that if a kid is not raised in an environment that prepares him for these concepts and for the discipline of studying, he will go there only to waste years of his life being completely unproductive. >>

Or the unprepared kid will work his ass off and catch up. I almost flunked out of my first semester at college because, after twelve years in the Kentucky public school system, I was completely unprepared for rigorous academics. But I managed and so do a lot of other kids in that situation.

<< Second, the more underqualified kids get squeezed into the collegiate system, the more society has to dumb down the curriculum to accomodate them. The kids who are really there to learn are thus harmed tremendously by the lowered standards. >>

Right, this argument can be made against affirmative action as well, that the result is a weakened work force. But the diversity brought to the work place or classroom by letting in the disenfranchised makes up for this drawback, because diversity in itself brings fresh ideas to the environment. We desperately need fresh ideas in the arts and sciences, and we'll get more of them by bringing in the poor/black/disadvantaged kids to the colleges, even if it means some kids will be working harder than others to keep up.

I am not a hippie. I don't like diversity for hippie reasons. I like diversity because I believe that a diverse group is inherently stronger than a homogenous one, because a diverse group has a stronger, broader set of perspectives from which to generate its ideas.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 06:40 pm (UTC)

I don't know if I share this desperation for fresh ideas in the arts and sciences. The basic aim of a liberal arts education should be to get kids to think about abstract concepts. I would be plenty happy if the majority of college kids could just grasp a small fraction of what the Greeks were doing 2500 years ago.

The university is a place for students to strive for the higher things in culture and life. How an 18-year old kid off the street whose scope of culture doesn't go beyond Young Jeezy and Scary Movie 4 can add to that I do not know.

-henryperri


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svenskasfinx
NOT Greta Garbo
Sat, Sep. 30th, 2006 01:25 am (UTC)
I don't know...

But don't assume to know what is within the mind of even the most So called "simple minded" person, for that in itself sugests a form of elitist thinking..

I mean we assume we are all better than the "LCD" however, and often we feel secure in that fact, but even intellect is not a thing to be secure within, as with all things you can wake up one day and find that you don't have that, via some kind of illness or an injury, where you have had something and suddenly your brain doesn't function the exact same way it did the day before. (I've had a bout of menigitis so I empathise with this stuggle a bit more when it comes to the expression of intellect)..

We must remember that maybe it would be even better that people have a choice in the matters of education, rather than be swayed by a peer group or by the promise of an income.. although I personally am not purely "socialist" I have to say that the striving for the "LCD" level to be raised higher only raised the confidence of people and disturbs the government because people will actually take hand in and participate either for or against the establishment. Thats why I feel governments today do not wish to raise the standards and even attempt to bring people "free" higher education..

the fact it is a threat when people are "unpredicable" due to education should be a factor in the process of making education an elitist thing, then at least the so called "correct people" will have its power, and feather their own nests, while others continue working hard with their bodies.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 04:58 pm (UTC)

Exactly. And who going to do all the plumbing, farming, etc.? These professions, in contrast to much of what is taught in university, are essential to life.

And how ironic that Gordon Brown should make such a point of equal opportunities and then spend 10 years gurning for a shot in Number 10. Just goes to show we can't all be prime minister...


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svenskasfinx
NOT Greta Garbo
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 05:49 pm (UTC)
Raising the "high mark":

My feelings about education are quite different from most, I guess, because I don't believe at all in an elitist system; I believe that people should have a right to those years if inclined to explore education, and the options it gives, and that everyone can equally try to do their best (in theory).. I don't feel it eliminates the service sectors, the labourers, and people who clean up after people.. it simply should be a way to really level out the playing field of life.

As everyone knows, not everyone is inclined to higher education nor do they all want to study.. but it shouldn't be a choice made by someone else, it shouldn't also be a choice made on what kind of progress people have made in lower studies either.. what is should be is the raising of the LCD.. this makes people at least in theory a little more participant in their section of life, what ever they wish to study.

I don't think that people for example should be denied the study of things if they are inclined to study them, such as medicine, but rather to make certain that if they are going to go into practice that there should be standards, but nothing should prevent people from exploring their motivation (in theory) as long as they are honestly interested, and don't exploit their studies in ways that would be unhealthy, or perverse.. for example the medical student or morturary science student who gets a thrill from taking photos of naked bodies of people to plaster on the internet is abusing their education, and shouldn't be allowed to continue their studies or get a job in such an area because they are not trustworthy..

As with anything, no matter what people say, no matter how much or how little.. those who can usually rise to the top; what I'm just saying is anyone who wants to raise the standards can do so via a highly educated population who has an understanding that everyone has a job to do, and will probably do it.

Remember the money one makes as a plumber (a highly sought after job, in spite of it being "shit work") is often much more than someone who has a PHD in biology, and studies lichens.. but what it does mean is that the motive for education should not be based upon how much money someone is going to make or pay (as it is with MOST education today) but rather based upon what someone enjoys and has an inclination to do..

some of us, often never exactly find the "path", and settle down with MFA's but perhaps working in an eye doctor's office.. until they find that job they really match up to.


ReplyThread Parent
mcgazz
mcgazz
McGazz
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 10:06 am (UTC)

Brown's an atlanticist who wants the Union flag in school classrooms. Yes, he was a bit right on in his younger days, but so were Reid, Straw, Clarke, Blunkett et al.

"Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss".


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 10:32 am (UTC)

Oh, I can't agree on this "they're all as bad as aech other" meme:


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bongo_kong
bongo_kong
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 11:31 am (UTC)
Reformed marxists

Am I alone in the impression that many of the Labour cabinet are reformed Marxists who have been swayed by the arguments of the free market but wish to retain authoritarian state control over our private lives? It seems to me that we are living in a system of rampant free market reform but with ever more restrictions on our personal liberty. Too many years of this lot and the only rights we'll have left will be consumer rights.

I can't really see Gordon Brown changing much from Rev Blair, except in his personal style. After all, he signed up to the war on terror and recently voiced his support for the id card scheme as well as numerous Labour initiatives to undermine personal liberty. As already said on this thread, he's an Atlanticist so don't expect a new European consensus politics any time soon.

You know times are bad when it even fleetingly crosses your mind that the Conservative leader might support liberal values more effectively than anyone in the current Labour cabinet.




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wringham
wringham
Robert Wringham
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 12:49 pm (UTC)
Re: Reformed marxists

GB was pretty cool as a student rector and I feel a little dirty for saying this but he was rather attractive, was he not? Look at his thick, healthy locks!

But then of course, we remember Blair's rock star years and how (on a similar note) radical Syd Barrett turned into an unremarkable old fart.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 01:12 pm (UTC)
Re: Reformed marxists

I think it's vastly in Gordon's favour that he never wanted to hang around rock stars, slavishly copy them on stage, and so on. You can still see that when Blair walks with Bush up to a podium, and you can see it in his souking up to the rich and famous. Anti-apartheid campaigning is vastly more cool than that sort of glitz-buffery.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 01:11 pm (UTC)

Nick, someone nominates your song 'The Guitar Lesson' as the scariest song ever. http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/observer/archives/2006/09/29/jarvis_cocker_w.html#more


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 01:11 pm (UTC)

Sorry, I'm too thick to do links properly.
Weaver


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 01:13 pm (UTC)

Someone also gets the name of 'Closer to You' wrong...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 01:33 pm (UTC)

Yeah, I saw that. In fact, I get mentioned three times in that thread. But I doubt I'll get into Jarvis' list, because he does ask for unintentionally scary songs.

I'd nominate Sting's "Every Breath You Take" as a much better example of that. Tony Blair actually almost broke into a cover of the song at the Labour Party conference:

"Whatever you do, I'm always with you. Head and heart... in the years to come, wherever I am, whatever I do. I'm with you."

(Shudders. Looks around for surveillance camera.)


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fascicle
fascicle
Doubting Pilate
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 02:55 pm (UTC)
Scatalogical Eschatology


I found it, after Deep Thought, "needlessly messianic":

-"I am with you, even unto the end of
the world"
Matthew 28:xx

even if Matthew 28:xviii is no longer
true ("All Power is given unto Me in heaven and earth"), so TB may not be bringing about the End Times in conjunction with Dubya any more. Yay.

GB had that jutting chin beneath the flowing locks. Some tracker pragmatist
may be just what the UK needs. It'd be
nice to have someone who believes it's
worth patching up the world just in
case it doesn't end. I don't think TB
really understands Pascal's Wager.


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thetemplekeeper
thetemplekeeper
thetemplekeeper
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 05:26 pm (UTC)
Re: Scatalogical Eschatology

Pascal's wager: "Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is... If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is."

?!


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fascicle
fascicle
Doubting Pilate
Tue, Oct. 3rd, 2006 05:44 pm (UTC)
Re: Scatalogical Eschatology


Quite. The idea behind the wager is
that you might as well pay attention
to God, because denial will cost you
so much. It's a bet: small ante,
possible eternity vs. small denial,
nothingness or damnation.

Applying it to the temporal sphere,
it's better to keep the world liveable,
because if it wasn't and there isn't
a God, well, game over.

I don't believe in God, but Tony Blair
and George Bush keep bleating about
their Faith, and I somehow wish I did,
all of a sudden.


ReplyThread Parent
the23
the23
the 23
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 01:21 pm (UTC)

the would be king of the machine bureaucracy has already been the de facto leader of its dehumanization of britons for years now.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 05:03 pm (UTC)

It is amazingly ironic how generally people perpertrate the things they compain about most bitterly.

Hohe Biene (vysloky vcera)


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 05:16 pm (UTC)

Gordon Brown's had nearly 10 years to get it right. He's been in charge of the economy and government spending and he's practically bankrupted the country. It's his adoration of all things American that's turned Britain into the consumerist, debt-ridden monster it's become. Maybe I've been duped, but I actually think Cameron *may* possibly be better for the environment, agriculture and improving the quality of life. Brown only seems to understand money.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 06:16 pm (UTC)

Maybe his "prudent" mantra is to fool us into thinking it's ok to spend, spend, spend.


ReplyThread Parent
thetemplekeeper
thetemplekeeper
thetemplekeeper
Fri, Sep. 29th, 2006 05:21 pm (UTC)
PFI

While Mr Brown does seem to have been at least an interesting student rector, I think his apparent enthusiasm for private finance initiatives ("PFI schemes") - with its concomitant off-balance-sheet, long-term commitments to spend public money on buildings built using private investment - shows his commitment to transparency of government is dead; as is any "prudent" or "conscientious" idea that short-term political advantages (eg, "look how many hospitals have been opened at no apparent cost to the taxpayer whatsoever!") are not to be had at the expense of long-term disadvantages to the nation as a whole (with massive, off-balance-sheet debts piling up for future, interest-laden payment of PFI buildings, etc). Therefore, I will not be voting for him (I'll probably waste my vote on the Greens again!)


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insomnia
insomnia
Insomnia
Sat, Sep. 30th, 2006 03:17 am (UTC)

"Elites have generally failed to solve the problems confronting society: the scientist is impotent in face of nuclear warfare, the expert technologist cannot solve malnutrition and hunger, the most talented artist cannot find a language to give life to our culture and the expert on political strategy cannot find a solution to nuclear escalation"

...as opposed, of course, to all the accomplishments of the uneducated and dirt poor.

You need a big pool of resources -- both human and financial -- to accomplish great things. That said, more often than not, the best place to find the essential ideas behind the solutions is amongst the experts in any given field. They're usually the same ones who want great changes, but can't find anyone willing to implement them.


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Sat, Sep. 30th, 2006 08:53 am (UTC)

I like how you focussed on the University side of Gordon Brown's development. There's a lot of interest in his religious background as there was with Blair's and Thatcher's. Relationships with power bases I suppose.

So he was cutting deals with the Craigmillar Festival Society back then? The remnants of that group (Helen Crummy's son Andrew) are now involved in a Communiversity project which was inspired by their late 70s Plan For Action. Others sit on local fiefdoms to keep New Labour in control.

The "they are all the same" meme is attractive when considering their radical pasts when coming up. John Reid was a Communist, Blair wore a CND badge. Even Craigmillar's local councillor was a Communist.

Reminds me of that Mose Allison song (p)laying last night:
"Everybody's cryin Mercy, when they don't know the meaning of the word"
But thats your local/global for you.
And the inclusion/exclusion memes lead to the "they are all the same" in their royal othernesses.

Is Edinburgh Uni more democratic?
I'd like to know what happened to the University Film Society.


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Sat, Sep. 30th, 2006 09:10 am (UTC)

Oh
and you said you were a "West End Hibbee"

I have been racking my brains trying to figure out who you remind me of and its another great artist....

Steve Archibald!


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dickygreen
dickygreen
Mon, Oct. 2nd, 2006 11:04 am (UTC)

Gordon Brown
Wears a hair vest
Waited 10 yrs to be the best
Yet so far away, never today
He wears a frown
Poor Gordon Brown,

To the organ accompaniment of The Stranglers' Golden Brown ditty.


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