Neil Faulkner reviewed Melissa Benn's School Wars for Counterfire and argued that the conservative attack on the state education system it reveals is a key aspect of the wider assault on the welfare state. He charted that attack as beginning in the 1970s, its aims being spectacularly exposed in a senior Depart of Education and Science official's leaked memo:
There has to be selection because we are beginning to create aspirations which society cannot match. In some ways, this points to the success of education, in contrast to the public mythology which has been created.
When young people drop off the education production line and cannot find work at all, or work which meets their abilities and expectations, then we are creating frustration, with perhaps disturbing consequences. We have to select: to ration the educational opportunities, so that society can cope with the output of education ...
We are in a period of considerable social change. There may be social unrest, but we can cope with the Toxteths [riots]. But if we have a highly educated and idle population, we may possibly anticipate more serious social conflict. People must be educated once more to know their place (Quoted in G. Walford, 1990, Privatisation and Privilege in Education, p.1.).
Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers are inspiring a new generation of artists, writers and activists. Nearly 1,000 people came to hear Tony Benn and Paul Mason discuss the Diggers and the legacy of English radicalism at the Southbank last month (to launch Verso's new collection of Winstanley's writings). Now the composer James Weeks has written a new choral piece inspired by Winstanley, which will be premiered at Spitalfields Music Festival on Monday 13th June.
Most brilliantly, squatters have returned to St Georges Hill, site of the Diggers' original land occupation, and now site of an expensive gated estate with golf course and private security. As reported on Ian Bone's blog:
‘A private estate that is home to a host of celebrities - including former Chelsea star Claude Makelele and Big Brother contestant Shilpa Shetty - is being taken over by a gang of squatters.
Legendary figure of the British left Tony Benn was on BBC Radio 3's Nightwaves with novelist Marina Lewycka (author of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian) to discuss Gerrard Winstanley - "the English communist who lived 200 years before Marx" - and the Diggers, looking back to a time, as the presenter puts it, "when instead of putting royal heads on tea-towels we watched them roll off the executioners block".