One cold winter morning in 2017, I was a 15 year old student who sat, barely awake, in my Assembly Hall. The teacher who was conducting the assembly was talking about a story that had a moral and no one was listening. As we walked out to drudge along to our next lesson, I remember the teacher playing ‘Hall Of Fame’ by The Script on the loud speakers in the hall.
“be students, be teachers, be politicians, be preachers….
Be believers, be leaders Be astronauts, be champions Be truth-seekers”
No one was listening. We walked out.
You see, achieving at a low attainment comprehensive school is a rarity. Our culture is not of ambition no matter what the school walls may decorate or what the school slogan will be. As students at low standard school, we do not see the end goal of school which is to move on to the next part of our journey and flourish in the field that we are passionate about. Our horizons are not broadened and we do not realise what might be in store for us.
We are conditioned to believe that the people we seen and hear about on TV will never be us. The ones who achieve and stand outside their school or workplace smiling into the camera will never be us. We are quite simply from ‘that school’ or, in students terms, ‘that dump.’ No one has ever achieved highly before and there is no example to follow. We know the drill by now as past generations have before. We could never achieve like that because we were born in here and that’s where we will stay. This is the destiny that by being born has been conditioned for us. Meritocracy may be real for liberals who went to well performing schools and were helped to flourish. For the large part, many students from low attainment schools do stay in their hometown for the rest of their lives. For the large part, that’s all life has to offer. Although the school promises that we can achieve anything in their institution, this is only to reassure the parents if they’re looking to be reassured.
Subjects are taught as a nuisance. They do not express any enlightening way of learning, to get a student really interest in their subject. Instead, it’s a rite of passage: all students have to be taught the exam content in time and that is all it is reduced to: an obligation. It is rarely fun and encompassing. It’s something that the teachers have to do and that’s it. This makes the learning process boring and disengaging, minus the odd teacher who treats it as something other than the obligation. The teachers are tired, underpaid and overworked with their marking, and the students are disengaged, bored and do not want to learn. As Paul Willis found in his important study among working class students, all these factors lead to a priority shift to get out of school early and focus on work, which is largely all life will amount to for these students from low attainment schools.
I am not saying the low attainment students are silly and deserve this treatment that goes on everyday. In fact, it makes me feel ill that working class students do not get the opportunities that they deserve. How many doctors, musicians, poets, journalists, teachers, architects and so on have we lost due to the lack of nurturing and the culture of underachieving within these schools? As far as we know, this is our only life and we are told to always make it the most of it. How can so many children and teenagers make the most and live a life that is fulfilling if the education system is divided as it is? It makes me feel sick when many of the wealthy know this is happening but refuse to say or do anything due to the fact it’s their decisions. The same reasons and excuses are always pulled out from the wealthy parents: it is their choice, they are doing it for the benefit of the children, they have to their children to these schools so they can achieve. Such reasoning is custom within the richer classes, but it also explicitly shows how unequal the school system really is. It may be a choice for wealthy parents to avoid to comprehensives and to send their children to fee paying schools, but for the working classes, the parents who worry about where their next meal is coming from, it is not a choice. The parents incomes combined will go towards a year’s worth of private fees. They cannot help their children in this way. How can that possibly be fair in our so called meritocracy?
I hear very little political commentators and politicians, both on the left and right wing, talk about the school divide. It’s very unlikely that they haven’t given it much thought; I just imagine they don’t speak about it because they know how much they’ve benefitted from it. They went to a moderately high achieving grammar or private school, perhaps not the best institution but still one that helped them flourish, and were able to go to a brilliant university. The culture of not achieving is alien to them. Perhaps they’ve witnessed it while talking to a few people from different backgrounds, but for the most part, it is alien. How can there be schools where the culture is not geared towards high achieving and helping students flourish? What do you mean that some students only have career officers that come in once every two months on a quick visiting trip for an hour? Why are these students not guided to try and achieve their dreams?
When I talk about this subject, people often assume that I hate private schools and all students that come from there. That’s not the case at all. The students are not enemies- they have taken the opportunity to flourish and have done so in so many wonderful ways, and so many will go to change the world. Their achievements are remarkable. It is only the divide of inequality I despise and want to change. It is the fact that these privileges of high learning and flourishing are on purpose limited to the privileged few. It makes a child’s life chances dependant on the wealth of their caregiver; how likely they are to realise their potential depends on who they were born into. If you say to this to many people, they will think you are talking about British society from 200 years ago where inequality was explicitly rampant. Inequality among the education system is still a reality today, it is just accepted and it is the norm so it doesn’t grab the headlines. It suits those who are in the higher classes to keep it this way, thus it is not talked about.
I can still imagine the students I saw each day in my high school and sixth form days switching off and turning away from the wonders of the education system. I can still picture them not taking an interest in school and not realising the opportunities that were out there for them. This was not their fault. It has never been their fault. No matter who they were, what they were interested in, and what they would like to be in the future, their disengagement is the result of the inequality within our education system and how it is structured. If we abolished fee paying schools and established a national school system for all in which high learning could be spread across the system and accessible to all regardless of their parents income, we would be making the first steps towards achieving a truly meritocratic system.
“Who knows, perhaps we should even make football games shorter!”
“Sixteen to twenty four year olds are no longer interested in the game!”
“We are saving football.”
-President of Real Madrid and former Super League dictator, Florentino Perez
During a pandemic, where so many people across the world are grieving, losing their jobs and income and struggling to get out of bed each day, football has been something that has provided a distraction. Football has been a lifeline to so many. It gives them the opportunity to forget about the current stresses of everyday life, and focus entirely on the match. Whether the team wins, loses or draws- people are invested in and love the team that they support.
The game has faced many controversies with the introduction of VAR during the past two seasons but nothing could have compared to what the money hungry, greedy, out of touch President of Real Madrid, Florentino Perez, had in store. What he unleashed on the 18th of April 2021, would be a ground-breaking attack on the very roots on our game, and the heritage, history and foundations of the top clubs around the world.
The rumours started rumbling during Premier League football’s usual ‘Super Sunday’ Manchester United vs Burnley game. Granted, that game doesn’t sound very ‘super’ but you can guarantee that every fan would not change the structure of the premier league for the world, if it was ever under threat. Little did every fan know that soon, the foundations of the game as we know it would be under attack.
At around 4pm on Sunday, rumours of the Super League being announced tonight started brewing from various journalists. The rumours were dismissed by many at first, as the idea of a ‘Super League’ has been floated before in the footballing world and it has always arrived to no avail. Slowly but surely, it became more prominent, and the journalists become louder and louder. There were reports that the biggest clubs in Europe had already signed up to this competition, and there was no backing out. The contracts, according to journalists, were legally binding. All football fans, players and managers watched on in horror and tried to gather any information that they could.
Finally, at 11:30pm, The Super League, a greedy, profit-m0tivated, sham of a project was announced. Twelve football clubs, including six English teams, had committed themselves to joining this new league and it would start as soon as summer 2021. The teams involved including the ‘big 6’ of the Premier League along with big Spanish and Italian clubs. They would play each other every single week. The website was launched. Every club had signed an official agreement. There was no going back. ‘The SuperLeague WILL be going ahead’ reported Sky Sports News, with some reporters in clear dismay and shock. Everyone watched with their mouths agape as the very structure of modern day football was thrown into question.
The Super League said that they would give fans excitement every week through giving the fans ‘big games’ every week, but what they failed to consider is that big games are not games if they’re played every week. They’re just games, and all of the significance of them die. Further reports gave light to the horrifying fact that the billionaire owners of these football clubs would all become vice-chairs of the new Super-League. Not only would this give them the opportunity to influence and be in control of games (corruption) they would also generate even more income to line their pockets with, as if they ever needed it.
The world of football was understandably rocked to its core. In reaction to the announcement of the Super-League, there were suddenly reports flying around by the most trust-worthy journalists that the Premier League was set to excel all of the English clubs from the league if they joined this new profit motivated disgrace of a league. The top clubs in Europe started leaving UEFA, and it was reported that these clubs would never be allowed to play in the Champions League, the biggest European competition and what players grow up dreaming of winning, ever again.
As will be mentioned later, we cannot deny that the footballing institutions such as UEFA are heavily flawed. The sad truth is the dawn of the Super-League announcement became a battle between rich corrupt billionaires for power. While playing their games however, they did not realise that they were putting the very soul of football at risk. They were also setting on fire every memory that every fan had associated with their club. If their club was kicked out of the league, what would the memories of the league matter? If their club was never allowed to play in the Champions League ever again, what would the historic nights in Europe mean in the story of history? All of their significance was being destroyed and stamped on by their out of touch billionaire owners.
The fact that they chose to announce this during a worldwide pandemic when so many people rely on football should show explicitly how out of touch everyone involved in creating this sham was. They are billionaires, and this idea has been brought about during Zoom-Calls in their massive mansions. Make no mistake, they did and do not have a clue about everyday life or about what people want from the sport. It escalated further when more and more comments started to emerge. It was reported that one owner who had signed up to the scheme judged the current fans as ‘Legacy Fans’ and it was time for the game ‘to evolve, to change.’ Effectively, those who wanted to protect the heritage of their club were now being treated as an inconvenient label by a billionaire.
If you have not got the gist already, the Super League was created with one motive in mind: to create more money for the richest. There was talks of the Super-League to be shown on expensive networks where of course the owners of the top clubs would gain even more income than they did under the current system. All the clubs would receive £3 billion between them just for joining, which they defended to ‘help the cover of the costs of the pandemic’ and to build up ‘each clubs infrastructure.’
Think about that for a moment. In a world where so many people are losing their jobs, in a footballing world where so many smaller clubs are struggling to keep afloat, rich billionaires defended their decision to sign up to a greed motivated football project by citing the pandemic. That is an absolute disgrace.
For a while, the rich ripping every football structure that we love apart seemed inevitable. The mood of despair was heightened by the head of the SuperLeague, Florentino Perez’s relentless, unforgiving comments. Not only did he ACTUALLY say every quote I have wrote at the beginning of this post, he also said that every club had signed up to the scheme. It was legally binding and there was ‘no going back.’ Some fans on social media started to have doubts about whether it was really possible to stop this billionaire’s maddening scheme from destroying football.
The billionaires did not expect the huge public revolt that arrived from the SuperLeague announcement. Reports later came out that they never expected such a strong reaction from the football fans. In their world, they thought they could transform using the technique of what is called ‘Disneyization’. By having big matches on television and streaming platforms every week, people would constantly be happy and satisfied. It’s like giving people continuous fast food and that’s the only thing they eat. Because the people are satisfied, the clubs would not stop growing and the billionaires in the league positions would only get richer. They did not anticipate this, because they do not understand football- they do not understand that the very soul of the game is experiencing the highs, but also the lows too. Competition is what keeps the game thriving. The billionaires disconnected from the game did and do not understand that. The fans do.
Every fan was united together to try and stop this from happening. The social media revolt was like nothing ever seen as almost every fan went against their club. A YouGov poll revealed that 79% of people in England opposed the newly created league. Less than twenty four hours after it was announced, before the next premier league game, Liverpool and Leeds fans alike descended with protest banners slamming the owners of Liverpool, FSG, and the contract they had signed. It was later revealed by Liverpool FC manager Jurgen Klopp’s admission that he had found out about the plans at the exact same time that the rest of the world had. As manager of a football club, he had not been consulted on these groundbreaking plans. Neither had the players. Instead, it had been signed off by an out of touch billionaire without a second thought to any of them. It is beyond the pale that the manager of the club was not even told about the upcoming plans to change the entire structure of the way football worked.
As the voices of the fans got louder, virtually and physically, many celebrities and football pundits started to jump onboard. The two most famous pundits in England, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, gave impassioned rants on Sky Sports flagship show Monday Night Football, using their platforms to say exactly what every fan wanted to hear.
“I think supporters up and down this country can stop this. This cannot be allowed to happen.” – Jamie Carragher
“it is an attack on every single football fan in this country. They (the owners) are scavengers. They need booted out their clubs and out of this country.” – Gary Neville
Klopp and Liverpool player James Milner also bravely came out before and after the game expressing their disgrace at the newly proposed plans.
“I don’t like it and I hope it does not happen.”- James Milner
“My opinion didn’t change, I heard about it yesterday.”- Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool Football Club manager, when asked about the SuperLeague.
Although SuperLeague dictator Perez defended himself by saying the contracts were binding Monday night, with an attitude similar to Donald Trump in the early days of his campaigning, action seemed inevitable when the power of the fans led to royalty and politicians shedding their (alleged) disgust on the situation.
The final straw that would break the camel’s back would be when current Premier League players came out in opposition throughout the day. This was demonstrated on social media, but it was also verbally demonstrated by two Manchester United players, Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw, directly to the chief executive of Man United, Ed Woodward. According to reports they exclaimed the disgust at the SuperLeague proposals in spectacular fashion. Teams eventually got cold-feet as Chelsea fans descended outside Stamford Bridge to protest the plans, and once the first teams pulled out, all the English clubs fell like a pack of pathetic, disgraced dominos. Cheers from the protesting fans erupted outside Stamford Bridge when their club announced their intention of withdrawal. As I sit writing, the SuperLeague plans, after 48 hours of hysteria, are dead in the water.
This is not a win for the billionaires. They could never have even see this coming, as they will never understand football. It is a win for the fans of the game. Without the fans revolt and disgust at the plans, the players may not have had the confidence to protest online, to go to their Chief Executive and question him, to organise a coordinated protest against the plans like Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson did with all of the clubs players. Without the fans, there was a huge possibility all the history of football clubs would have been wiped by billionaires in an instant.The clubs could have been disgraced from the Champions League and kicked out of their national league. What the fans kept close to their hearts and as happy memories, emotions and experiences would have meant nothing within an instant, all due to the money grabbing instincts of the revolting owners. Instead, the voices of the fans coming together should prove to everyone that change can be initiated, and we have stopped these plans in their tracks. Every banner, every tweet in protest, every conversation that has happened in the homes of families today matters. Make no mistake: the players, the managers and the fans are all the soul of these football clubs. The owners that agreed to the SuperLeague plans without consulting anyone apart from their bank accounts do not deserve to be associated with such wonderful institutions. They are leeches, parasites, and a stain on the footballing institutions within Europe.
This is the current mood within the fanbases of the top clubs. Instead of being happy that their clubs withdrew their SuperLeague plans on Tuesday night, their instant response was to call for the booting out of the capitalist owners. For the first time, even football pundits and football legends have gone out against the owners, some on live television. No fan of the football clubs that have breached the trust of their devoted followers will rest until these parasites are long gone out of the football clubs. We are not disgusted, but now are eyes are fully to the fact that power will always be with the people, even in the footballing world, regardless of what the rich billionaire owners spit at us. It is a galvanised effort among the fans to stop this in its tracks, and everyone should be proud.
The fight is not over. This will not be a moment that is a flash in the pan- it will have lasting effects in the footballing world. It is not a secret that leading football organisations, UEFA and FIFA, are corrupt to the core and are motivated only by profit, not by fan satisfaction. Perez, the man who started this mess was not right about many things, but he was right about one thing: UEFA are anything but transparent in their decision making and their morals are entirely led by money. They are proposing a new model of the European Champions League that represents the elitism that they are desperately trying to cling onto, with some positions in the Champions League being awarded to the ‘top clubs’ automatically, regardless if they qualify fairly or not. FIFA are also holding the next World Cup in Qatar, where over 6500 workers have died building the stadiums that FIFA are going to generate huge income from, not to mention the workers that do survive are paid well below what they should be.
As I write this blog post, the fight is also not over within the biggest English football clubs, especially those built on working class roots. Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United are all dealing with club owners that are corrupt to their core. The time has come for all of the owners to get out of these clubs that have so much working class heritage, which they couldn’t have represented any less if they had tried. To showcase what I mean, let’s take a look at FSG’s reign at Liverpool Football Club.
In their time as owners, they have made sure that the prices of football match tickets are hiked to disgusting amounts. This means that a lot of residents in the local community haven’t been able to afford to go to games anymore, freeing up seats for some fans that couldn’t care less about the match and instead sit eating their pizza and drinking their Coca Cola. The owners don’t care though, as it’s more money for them. FSG have also attempted to trademark the name ‘Liverpool Football Club’ to generate more financial gain for them. In March 2020, they also attempted to put all of the LFC employees on furlough. We’re talking about billionaires running away from paying ordinary workers their wages, to try and save their money. They were only stopped and were forced to U-turn because of the significant fan revolt.
Surprisingly, many big fan channels and some fans accepted these acts as ‘PR gone wrong.’ The joining of the Super-League, without even consulting the manager and the players of their club before signing the contract however, is the last straw for every fan.
These parasites need to be driven out of Liverpool Football Club. We’ve seen how loud the voice of the fan can be when we all come together, and we need to keep going. All the fans need to protest until the rotten owners at every club walk out, as they are not welcome. This was once a country where football was played by the working class in the docklands and in the streets. It was built in the beating heart of cities. We’ve had owners in this league that have exploited it for far too long. That way, England may be on the road to reforming football within this country, once and for all.
This leads me onto my final point. We need to give fans more of a say as to how their football clubs are run. We need to lobby the UK government into accepting the 50-1 rule for every English football club, which is adopted by German football clubs in the Bundesliga, so the fans voice can become elevated. The 50-1 means that all clubs are half owned by the fans themselves, and they have a say in any big decisions. Is it really a coincidence that the clubs that all rejected invitations to the Super-League, such as Bayern Munich and Dortmund, were German? As fans of football, we must not stop shouting for further reform in football. This should only be the start of the conversation.
During a traumatic and shocking forty eight hours, all football fans mobilised and stood together. They managed to make the Super-League collapse, in the face of rich capitalist men, hungry for profit. I hope this has shown to many that if we all collectively come together, our voices are a lot stronger than we think. Yes, the UK government may have had an influence in the English clubs decision to pull out, but they would not have taken any action if the fan revolt wasn’t so great. The idea of generating profit without caring for the common people is right up the Conservative Party’s street, after all! We all should remember that collectively, in all walks of life, our voices are all stronger together. Nothing is ever legally binding if it comes from a rich person’s mouth (sorry Perez!) we can initiate change and we can fight back.
In an old notebook that my mum probably got from Poundland, I once wrote a fictional story about two talking horses who would become superheroes and embark on an adventure to save the world, with James Bond by their side. I never finished it, I got to around one hundred fifty pages. I got my inspiration from two talking horse teddies that the ‘Hungary Horse’ restaurant chain gave out on Christmas Day as free gifts, where I spent Christmas at the age of ten. Looking back, this story wasn’t really ‘fiction’ as such but was based on my observations. The two horses went on the London Underground, something I was lucky enough to do as a child. While working with 007 agent James Bond to defeat evil robots, they also somehow had time to engage in more conventional aspects of life such as staying at hotels and going to shopping malls.
Although there are most likely many occasions where it has showed previously, that only my relatives can remember, I like to think that this was my beginning of my fascination and enjoyment of observing and analysing the world, and also my love for writing.
This may sound like I’m some sort of child oracle with a gift for writing who was always destined to be in the position that I find myself in, but that is not the case. For starters, my family and background is no where near what people would describe as ‘affluent’, or what you would consider your typical Oxbridge candidate to have. Secondly, I never really discovered my passion for certain subject areas and a passion for academic aspiration until very late in my school journey. Certainly, it was a LOT later compared to your typical Oxbridge candidate. You hear stories of people who have been dreaming of Oxbridge all their life, who have been trained by their school to realise their dreams etc. I didn’t dream of Oxbridge all of my life. I had no prior training or dreaming. My journey to becoming a University of Cambridge student is a lot different to the stereotype. To help you realise what I mean, let me take you back in time.
Primary school was neither particularly good, or particularly bad. I liked achieving academically and reaping the rewards such as being let out to break time early, but I found primary school quite restricting for the most part, and like most children at that age, couldn’t wait for the bell at the end of the day.
It was only when I got into Year Six that I started to enjoy my time there, being taught by a teacher who was tough but pushed the boundaries of the most gifted students. For the first time someone outside of my family taught me that achieving above the average of what was expected was indeed possible. She rewarded those who were willing to put the work in instead of having a magnifying glass on those who misbehaved, something I had become accustomed to for most of my academic life. Her signature method was ‘stamping’ where if you behaved well in a class, you would receive a physical stamp on a piece of card. Everyone had their own card to try and achieve as many stamps as possible. If you achieved 50 stamps, you would achieve a small certificate and a lollipop. If you achieved 100 stamps, you’d receive a bigger certificate and a bigger lollipop, and so on at fifty intervals. Along with a few other individuals, I saw this as an opportunity to achieve and make myself proud. I remember my teacher saying to me that no student she had taught ever achieved 150 stamps in a primary school year. I made it my ambition to achieve that many for my piece of card, and sure enough I did.
For the first time academically, I had broken down a barrier. It left ten year old me feeling very pleased with herself. I think the teacher who gave me this experience has migrated and is under a different name somewhere in Mexico now (seriously, I enquired about her location in order to reach out to her last year and that was the answer I received), but wherever she is I hope she knows how much of an impact she had on young children’s mindsets to achieve at my primary school. She left in the same year my year took the big jump; going to the state comprehensive high school in my small town which had previously been rated inadequate by OFTSED. This is when things changed. I would not re-discover that mindset of breaking boundaries down again for another six years.
“I would not re-discover the mindset of breaking boundaries down for another six years.”
At my comprehensive state school, I was isolated from most of my friends that I had made in primary school. They were either in different ‘academic sets’ or they simply didn’t want anything to do with me. This had an impact on my grades in most subjects. I had no motivation to study, as much as a year seven perhaps can, and I was quite unhappy throughout most school days. Although I was for most of the time the top classes for most subjects, I quickly developed a mindset that many students in my classes were on a different level of intelligence to me. This is largely because they would answer all the class questions with great confidence, using all the correct terminology and would receive the upmost praise and attention from the teachers. I didn’t consciously realise I was becoming under-confident in my academic ability at the time; I hadn’t bothered to grasp the concept of being an academic. I definitely did it subconsciously though, and I kept my mouth firmly shut despite knowing answers to questions and having opinions in class debates. With my confidence already shattered due to isolation in school, this doubled the feeling: isolation in both friendship and intelligence. I felt like nothing I said would be right.
“I quickly developed a mindset that many students in my classes were on a different level of intelligence to me“
Sometimes, I would lie awake at night in pure fear of going into school the next day, as I knew I would be met with the all too familiar feeling of isolation, anxiety and nervousness in my stomach. I would be pushed to working with other pupils who I knew were secretly laughing at me or mocking me behind my back or when they went off for their lunch, or would be left to feel hopeless as I was too anxious to ask for help from any of my teachers. Because of this, my grades were not brilliant: English and Maths were big standouts but I wasn’t doing too well in others. I was barely passing Science (according to the Year Seven grading) and for subjects like Design and Technology my grades were horrific. The poor grades were made worse by the fact my school highlighted them in bright red on my school reports. As twelve year old me read her report card, the red seemed to scream: ‘you’re not performing up to the standard we expect, do better’. I felt ashamed, but I didn’t act. I had no motivation, and I didn’t know how to change that.
After the first horrific year of Year Seven, things got slightly better in the next two years. I made friends, and although the feelings of anxiety didn’t go away entirely, it became a lot more manageable. I gained more confidence in subjects that used to give me great horror. However, confidence does not equal motivation which thus does not equal success. At a time of life when the typical Oxbridge teenage candidtate is starting to think about their future plans, my horizons were still very much limited. When people asked what I wanted to be when I was older, I normally responding with ‘I don’t know’ or avoid the question entirely.
From this point after, my mental health absolutely deteriorated. I am not going to go into too much detail with the events that happened in Year 9, Year 10 and Year 11- I don’t need to, and you don’t need to hear them.
In terms of academia, I was an absolute demotivated wreck. It was a miracle if I ever completed my homework before the night it was due in- and in school I was disinterested, bored and normally couldn’t wait to be at another concert, away from the school and its’ environment. I had absolutely no interest in academia. Throughout these three years, I stayed in top set for almost all of my classes but I was by no means a stand out in classes, apart from in History where I was excelling. And, perhaps most importantly, I never did any revision unless it was rushed or very close to the exam. I never felt prepared; I normally tried to fluke mock exams. I have a vivid memory of my mum pressuring me to do some revision the week before my first set of Year Eleven mock exams in January, and I responded with ‘it’s too early’ and instead chose to watch funny Youtube videos for the rest of the evening.
This may sound like typical behaviour from a fifteen year old to you, dear reader, and you may be questioning why I’m highlighting what I was like. Think of it like this though: when you hear other Oxbridge students ‘stories’ you hear about their hardworking ethic throughout their early teenage years, and how they achieved amazingly in their GCSES, with their grade reports being dominated by the best grades and thus being the highest performing students in the country. For me, this was not the case. Apart from a predicted Grade 8 in History (in old grading terms: an A*) I was not really predicted anything above a seven. I wasn’t achieving much above that prediction either in my other subjects.
Socially, it was a very difficult time in these years and my mental health suffered beyond belief. I’m not going into detail, as once again I don’t need to, but in many lessons I put my head down on the desk and had to ask to have some time out of class, when key information was being taught for my GCSE exams, so I could have an anxiety or a panic attack (sometimes both). I was in such a poor mental health state. I had to take counselling in Year 11 when my thoughts in my head sometimes became intrusive. I didn’t really learn much in my counselling as I would always bombard the session with an outpouring as to how I was feeling at the time. The time that counselling took up for Year Eleven me wasn’t brilliant either- I missed out on crucial lesson content for my GCSEs as my sessions clashed with my crucial school lessons.
I had no idea about my future. I had no ambition. The one vague idea I had about a career was becoming a worker in shop chain ‘CEX’ because I was keen on the idea of getting discount in there on video games and I liked the music that they played in there. Sixth form? Didn’t know. College? Didn’t know. Academic aspiration? Not a chance.
It was April 2018 when I snapped mentally, the day of my Spanish speaking GCSE exam. Again, I’m not going to detail as I don’t need to, but it led to me screaming ‘help’ in a medical room. As I held a sick bucket close to my face, I felt hopeless. I was shaking to my core and it took me an hour to calm down. I’m ashamed of the behaviour that I exhibited to certain people afterwards. Because of certain events, I was snappy, angry and overall a quite awful person to be around.I somehow managed to pull myself together and do my Spanish speaking exam.
From this day, April 28th, I experienced frequent nightmares and would wake up having panic attacks. My parents were extremely concerned and I near enough stopped eating entirely. When I showed signs of getting better, I would get worse again. They were worried, and understandably. I broke down almost every night and sometimes I saw no purpose in living. One of my low moments came when after another argument, I collapsed in a park, luckily close to my house, in panic. A stranger, luckily someone who was trained in counselling but at the time was picking up their child from the nearby school, came and helped this teenager who was shaking and basically passed out on the grass. It was traumatic.
To say I was a bit of a mess at this time is an understatement, but at the same time, something changed in me permanently. I hadn’t cared to revise for the Religious Education exams, and saw most of the revision as some sort of past time or joke that I didn’t really take it seriously, but for the first time I was interested in what the textbook said as well as being keen to revise. I’ll never forget the moment when that truly hit me. As I was writing my flashcard for the RE exams, I also remember feeling a very significant emotion. I was proud of the work I was doing and that I was achieving by doing so. This was a first for me, something that I had not felt on a large scale since my superhero story about horses I wrote all those years ago. I complemented for the first time that it was a thing to be proud of the work that you had achieved in academics. It was quite a moment for my fifteen year old mind, and I have not been the same since.
From then, apart from breakdowns over my English exams and a full-on giving up with my Chemistry exam within the Combined Science papers, I worked, and worked, and worked. Throughout the May half term which is the intermission between GCSE exams, I never stopped revising. For the first time, I was pulling eight to nine hours a day of revising. With each day, I realised just how important working to your goal truly was. I had a motivation inside me that had never existed before, and still stays to this day. I wanted to do well. I wanted to succeed. More than anything, I wanted perfection in my History exams and to improve in my Combined Science exams.
I powered all the way to the end of my GCSE exams. When I finally finished my last GCSE, which was a separate qualification on Statistics, I packed up all of my various flashcards, post it notes and sheets of paper that were scattered across the floor but also on my little study table in the living room. I felt relieved, but also proud. For the first time, I felt incredibly proud of myself for working as hard as I did and putting the effort in something academic. I was not self aware of my behaviour throughout most of my academic life, but now I was aware I never went back. After my GCSES, I had the best summer of my life and before I knew it, it was GCSE results day. I went up to my school as a bundle of nerves. Could I have worked harder in some GCSE subjects? Would that show? would it reflect in my grades? I was handed my exam slip, stepped outside of the auditorium so not all eyes would be on me from around the room. I opened it. There were some disappointments, but overall I was happy.
English Language- 6
English Literature- 5
Religious Education – 9
Combined Science- 8 and 7
Hilariously my first reaction was not towards the highest exam grades. It was, quite loudly, ‘I PASSED SPANISH!’. Of course, I was very happy with my two nines (particularly in History, having always achieved an 8 in other previous exams) and I weeped in private over them a little later. Yet, as I sat in McDonalds with my parents as a celebratory treat, I felt slightly let down with myself. I had some spectacular grades, but I knew I could have done better in some other subjects, particularly English. I could blame other people, like the teachers in whatever way I wanted but it would not change the fact that I didn’t put enough work in. Once again, I emphasise the need for comparison with the typical Oxbridge student grades at this level. Although I had good grades, they are certainly not the array of perfect 8s and 9s down the exam slip that you hear about.
I would say that having the feeling of being let down was the ignition to the next two years of my life. I chose to go to my comprehensive state school’s sixth form. I had the option to go to my local grammar school as a scholar, but I chose not to.
On the first day, I vowed that I would start as I meant to go on. After my first Politics class, I looked at the information sheets again and made the entire information sheets into notes in my notebook. ‘What are you doing?’ I remember my friend asking, in the common room. ‘It’s only the first day.’
‘Starting as I mean to go on’ I chuckled, looking at my scruffy notes. Later on that evening, I went over all my notes again, made them into flashcards, and then covered the flashcards and wrote everything down again so I knew the knowledge had been implemented and I understood it. This is a pattern of revising that I would repeat again and again, for almost all of my subject content. I would race through homework and instead do this activity again and again to revise and make sure I had a clear understanding. I did this for all three subjects, and made sure that I had time for it. After switching History A-level to English Language A-level in October, I learnt everything through this method for my new subject in the half term that I may have missed in first half term lessons. I gave myself two days off at the start of October half term. The rest I spent working all day, everyday.
My first test of my ability and of this technique came in the form of two Sociology mock exams. I revised my socks off for these. I worked how I had never worked before. I was pulling 6pm-11pm revision sessions after sixth form. In the exams I wrote everything I could and at the end was extremely satisfied with my effort. We got our marks quite quickly, a few days after we did them, thanks to Ms. Knight being very efficient in her marking. She handed me my first paper back, on ‘Education with Sociological Contexts and Methods.’
‘I’m so disappointed in you. So many faults.’ She said, as she placed my paper upside down on the table. My face dropped as she looked at me with quite a serious expression on her face, and then she smiled. I turned over my paper as she went to give a marked exam paper to another student and I smiled too.
40/40. I was so happy. My work was paying off, but it hit perfection that I never thought was possible. A couple of days later I learnt that I had also achieved 40/40 in my second paper on ‘Families and Households.’ I was over the moon. I kept repeating my method of revising for all my subjects as a result.
Fast forward a month, and my Politics teacher seemed to have disappeared. All of his stuff was in his room, yet no one knew of his whereabouts, not even the teachers. The whole school was very concerned. To this day, I still don’t know, but I wouldn’t like to speculate. This meant however that I was received less and less political tutoring. As a school, there was no backup. I previously had two politics teachers, but the other one could cover two out of the five hours a week that we had set in our timetables for this subject. This meant we were left with a (normally clueless) substitute teacher that would let our class do what we wanted. For many, this was the perfect opportunity to relax and go on their phones. Who could blame them? But me, the ever-eager over the top workaholic always conscious of their final grade, was extremely concerned. Thus, this resulted in a LOT of self teach from the textbook. I spent a lot of hours trying to make myself understand political concepts and I worked when others were not. I had a lot of anxiety over the subject going into the year twenty-nineteen because I felt I did not have all the key information to achieve, and I didn’t understand some of the concepts.
In addition, I wasn’t getting assessed. There were no mock exams that determined how well I had picked up the information, simply because they were not arranged. It would be around three/four months until my school eventually found a replacement who came in. This replacement would be the individual who would single-handedly change my life path forever.
The new politics teacher who joined in February was a stark contrast to anything I had experienced in my state school before. Not only did I understand the concept, which was the UK Constitution, extremely well, I also for the first time went to explain everything to my mum when I got home. We were travelling to see a Liverpool Football Club game that particular night, and I blabbed on and on about what statute law, common law and conventions all meant to her, much to her delight. It felt so engaging, so interesting, and also so important. I would say this is where my proper interest and experience with extra curricular work began. By this I mean going beyond revising what the textbook said, but actually being interested in ‘my subject’ which for me was, and is, Politics.
At the time, Theresa May was suffering awful defeats over her Brexit deal in the House of Commons. I took an interest in this and watched the votes come through on BBC Parliament. Later on in the year, my new teacher would also run a lesson dedicated entirely to studying the Conservative party leadership contest which I took an amazing amount of interest in afterwards. If an academic can get you interested in that, that proves just how much of an amazing teacher they are. I loved every lesson I was in and my interest for the subject absolutely soared. It was amazing.
As the months went on, the volume of Future Prospects Talk went considerably up in sixth form. Here’s where I must stress an important comparison point. We had one properly trained careers advisor for the whole school, who visited once every few weeks. The sixth form didn’t have an Oxbridge officer like you hear about in other schools because no one had ever successfully got into Oxbridge. Not a single student.
Unfortunately, the school and its sixth form branch I went to is a very under-performing institution. While teachers can do their best in lessons to get their students interested in their subjects, the career advice I got from my sixth form was next to nothing. We filled out some Word documents about what we possibly may have wanted from our careers, but after we sent those off they were never talked about again.
I do worry that so many students at my school and at other underperforming schools have slipped through the gaps because of approaches like this. Students may have the talent and potential, but that is never recognised because the sixth form’s horizons are so narrow.
At the time, I had ideas. Somewhat. I was very interested in the University of Liverpool. I loved the look of it and wanted to study Politics. The Uni of Liverpool is an absolutely fantastic university, do not get me wrong. But if I’m being totally honest here, my one motivation is because I loved the city beyond words and I also loved Liverpool Football Club and wanted to be in the middle of that ‘atmosphere.’ Apart from that though, I didn’t really think about future prospects and instead vowed to continue working.
Soon the July mock exams for Year 12 rolled around. This was the first time that I would be assessed in any capacity in Politics, so I was very, very nervous. It was also the first serious exams completed in the sports hall. For my English Language exam, I had a horrendous issue with timing and didn’t finish the last question, which was writing an article. I broke down and felt so defeated after this. I still remember the gut wrenching feeling of knowing you wouldn’t finish in time as you watched the time tick down on the sports hall clock every ten seconds or so. Everyone reminded me it was a mock, I reminded them that this was a very important mock as it would determine how well I was doing. What can I say? It’s the downfall of taking your work seriously. What you regard as ‘failures’ hit you ten times harder.
“What you regard as failures hit you ten times harder”
In my mocks, I received the results A*- Sociology, A- Politics B- English Language. I got 80/80 in Sociology again, with my teacher saying that even though she read through the paper so many times, she could not find any faults in it. I found out my results subject by subject by talking to my subject teachers while completing my work experience, which was decorating and doing other odd jobs during the July end of term period within my sixth form. Again, I highlight ‘typical Oxbridge story’ comparisons. Many go off to do amazing and rewarding work experiences such as working in a firm or in the Houses of Parliament. My work experience consisted of doing up display boards and having a boogie to the ‘Ultimate Party Classics’ playlist on Spotify while doing so.
I was very proud of my display board.
I had a week off from working so heavily but during the summer holidays I started my methods again. I rarely had a day off, and if I were to have an evening off I would make sure I would work extremely hard in the day. I had to self teach so much key A-level content. Outside of Sociology, I knew some key information and units had not been taught and compared to other schools, I was behind. So, I set about working twelve hour long days in the boiling sun to try and catch up. It made me so sad when I heard my fellow A-level peers in my classes say they didn’t understand a question in their mock as usually this was no fault of their own; it was the fault of the sixth form for not teaching it properly or not at all. After this summer of study, I was somehow more motivated to start Year 13 off strong I know. I don’t know how I did it either.
I put in seven h0ur study sessions after sixth form each day in Year 13. For the first time, I was also giving up leisure time that I set aside to do things like watch football in Year 12. Looking back, I DO NOT recommend this. It’s very important to have breaks and to kick back every once in a while. In the midst of all my working, I also went to university open days. My first was at King’s College, London.
Stepping into the campus facilities with their towering buildings and pretty architecture, I felt beyond intimidated. I didn’t feel like I was worthy of being in the taster lectures or study at a place like King’s. I was beyond excited at the thought of it, but I didn’t feel like I could ever successfully apply there. It just wouldn’t happen.
Oxbridge never once crossed my mind as I worked through September. One weekend, I started working on my personal statement early, mostly so I could get it out of the way to focus more on studying. By the end of September, I had completely a very rough outline of a first draft that was no where complete but it was a start. I talked about the recent proguing of Parliament, the upcoming presidential elections in Tunisia (as you do) and my blog. I didn’t know who to go to to help with my sixth form to improve it. My institution is by no means high in the league tables. As I’ve said, the sixth form had no Oxbridge officers as no one had ever gone there and the institutions horizons were so narrow. This is largely because the sixth form had never had someone go to Oxbridge in its’ history.
Wanting specialist subject advice from someone who may be able to help, I went to the teacher who had covered my Politics lessons, who had joined the school permanently. I arranged an appointment to discuss my personal statement and I was very nervous when the day arrived.
I awkwardly watched him read over my personal statement before he leaned back in his chair and said the words that would change my life forever.
“Have you considered Oxbridge?”
I stuttered a lot in response. I didn’t know what to say, really. Oxbridge. It was such a scary word. It was something that was only for the ‘elites’ in society. It wasn’t for people like me. Was it? That word was meant for the people who answered all the questions in class when I was in the lower years in high school, if that. It wasn’t meant for me.
Despite feeling apprehensive, I agreed to it. I explained my non- affluent background and how I believed anything like Oxbridge was not meant for people like me. My mum was a guest services advisor and my dad was a manual worker in a factory. Oxbridge wasn’t for people like me. I was reassured that there were many people like me at the University, but I didn’t really believe that initially. This was the first time in my sixth form life that my head had been tilted up towards the glass ceiling. I decided I wanted to apply to Cambridge, and the subject I would apply for would be HSPS- Human, Social and Political Sciences.
I must stress that this meeting happened in early October. To be exact, it happened nine days before the deadline for Oxbridge applications arrived. Nine days! Nine. Days. I only had a rough outline of a personal statement! Because of this, I was assigned lots of reading to do, which was also my first proper exposure to academic reading, over three days. I read three books in three days. It was all bananas!
Things were happening so fast that I didn’t really have a chance to step back and think about it all. I was suddenly in my politics teachers’ office a lot of the time as he talked me through what Oxbridge like seeing in a personal statement, from years of experience. I tried to keep knowledge of it happening off the radar but this soon proved to be impossible. Word got out and suddenly it felt like I was carrying the school’s name entirely on my back and everyone in the corridors began to ask about me. I had to do well. I had to succeed. Otherwise, I would let them down. I got stopped by every single teacher in the corridor who wanted to hear updates. Some teachers talked of a ‘statue’ being built of me. One called me ‘Miss Cambridge.’ Some students said I would ‘be fine’ and I would ‘definitely get in because I was so smart.’ This pressure really took a toll on my mental health and it would keep boiling up until Results Day.
Away from my Cambridge application and my never-ending study antics, I was starting to receive other university offers. I received my first offer from the University of Liverpool, then Manchester, Kings College London. I was over the moon with all of them. They came in such a short space of time as well: all of them came back my Cambridge written assessment at the end of October. Each one I celebrated by cracking open a can of coca cola and listening to ‘Allez, Allez, Allez’ full volume.
ALLEZ, ALLEZ, ALLEZ.
I wasn’t sure how well I did in my Cambridge assessment, largely because my mind throughout it was somewhere else. My dad had gone into hospital a couple of days before, and the doctors were not sure what was the matter with him. He was released a week after my assessment, and not too long after that I got a letter from the post. It had the University of Cambridge logo on the front.
I opened it. I had been invited to an interview. I couldn’t believe it. Straight away, I ran up to the school to find my politics teacher to share the amazing news. He smiled but said there was no time to lose, and my preparation would start as soon as possible.
The time I had to prepare was two weeks. I somehow managed to balance preparation and doing mock interviews while still intensely revising and self-teaching, as I seemed to discover everyday that key A-level content was being missed out of my lessons. It was like I was living a double life: I studied with the rest of my peers and then occasionally went off to learn about Ancient Greek politics or the work of George Orwell in preparation for my interview during some of my free periods. I did two mock interviews thanks to the connections that my politics teacher had.
The mock interviews were enjoyable because it was an experience of academia talk that I had never had the chance to participate in during sixth form. I smiled as I gave my interviewers my responses because they understood every word of what I was saying in terms of political polls, the impact of the media on politics and so on. They challenged my wording or my answers which only brought my thinking to a higher path as I thought of new ways I could answer their questions. According to the feedback that my sixth form received from the mock interviewers, I had done exceptionally well.
Suddenly, it was the day of my official Cambridge interview.
December 9th. It was just over two months since the idea of ever applying to Oxbridge was first introduced to me. Since then, my life had morphed into a pressurised period of preparation, uncertainty and self teaching/revising- always at a rapid pace. It all felt so surreal.
The train ride to Cambridge was one of the longest train rides I’ve ever experienced- and I only live around forty minutes away! I felt like my insides were turning in on themselves due to the nerves.
Despite everything, my background, my short preparation time, my bad high school experience, and everything I’ve mentioned above: I like to believe that my interviews went relatively well. My first one was for Sociology where I talked about Marxism and the glass ceiling. I also intertwined my personal experiences into the points I was making: to not only emphasise my atypical background, but also to show that I was observant to the world around me in a sociological way.
In my politics interview, I was quizzed on the essays that I had submitted to Cambridge during the applications process about the power of EXOP within the US Presidency. I was also asked about one of my favourite subjects: political education. My answer that I gave to that question was extremely long! When asked about any wider reading I had done outside of politics, I mentioned Sociology- which displayed to the interviewers how I was relevant for the particular Cambridge course. I wasn’t just interested in one area of HSPS, but all of it.
The wait over the Christmas holidays to find out if I had got in was typically awful, as any Oxbridge canditate will tell you. I would find out the decision on January 15th. How did I feel around the time? It was a mix of normal nerves, but also intense pressure. No one had ever got in from my state comphrensive sixth form. Everyone always asked about me and how I was getting on. How would tell each and every one of those staff that I didn’t get in, if that’s what happened? I was applying with one other boy from my sixth form who was in the same year as me, and I’m not sure if he felt the same pressure as I did. He applied for HSPS too, but at a different college. The days, although nerve-wracking, went quite fast.
January 15th. My phone buzzed. It was an email notification from Robinson College. I got in.
I can’t describe the feeling. I wish I could relive it again. It was a mix of being happy, feeling proud, feeling great about myself but still not quite believing it. Had the last few months REALLY happened? My life had been turned on its head, and it was changed forever. I knew I had to achieve the grades, A*AA, to officially get in, but I vowed to myself that I would, at whatever cost. There was no going back now. I had achieved the impossible dream at my sixth form. I had gone where no one else at the sixth form had gone before.
Although I can say I put lots of work in to make this happen, if you’ve read everything above you’ll realise that luck is a large element in my story. I recognise that too. What would have happened if it wasn’t suggested by my politics teacher? I certainly wouldn’t have even considered applying to Oxbridge, as my horizons were never broadened in that way. They would have never been broadened in that way. This is what I worry about. There are so many students like me, who have the potential to achieve but their horizons are never broadened due to the sixth form that they go to. They never experience the quality assistance in making their future job prospects a reality like so many private schools and even better state comprehensives do across the country. Instead, those students slip through the gaps and never realise how truly intelligent and smart they are. I will fight to try this all my life, in whatever way I can. That’s why I’m writing this blog post. If I can inspire even one student with my story, that will make me happy beyond belief.
In the last set of mock exams that I completed just after February half term I achieved two A*s and one A. Around that time, I worked so hard one evening that I was physically passed out on the floor. It took me a long time to move again and stand up.
My body was caving in from overwork. I was still self-teaching as the lessons never covered everything we needed to know for our exams, on top of revising. I was getting less and less sleep each night, as I believed I needed to work all the time. I wasn’t resting. This is something I do not reccomend. It is so, so important to have some rest and time for yourself, no matter how much work you’ve got to do! I am a firm believer that if you don’t make time for rest, your body will pick it for you.
An image from of my long studying sessions. I thought the advertisement on Spotify was quite amusing given me what I was doing. It’s almost like it knew! ^
We all know what happened next. In March, the UK went into a national lockdown to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. A week before this, the A-level exams were cancelled. I felt defeated for a very long time. I had been putting in over 110 hours of studying per week. Because I studied all the time previously, when everything suddenly stopped it was quite hard to find my feet and myself again. Comparing myself in April 2020 to April 2018 is quite a contrast. It shows how significantly I turned my academic career around, but it also gives me incentive to help others; I am not the typical Oxbridge candidate by any means and I follow quite a unique journey. I’m from humble beginnings and I was never the shining light in my high school classroom.
I’m from humble beginnings and I was never the shining light in my high school classroom
Over the months of the first lockdown I plunged myself deep into academic reading for the first time, as I had the time. I also rediscovered who I truly was after all the hard work I put in. Amidst of all the pressure, I realised I had lost myself a little. Applying to such a prestigious university, especially when you take into account my mindset towards studying a few years ago, was a surreal experience. It changed my life and for that I will forever be thankful. However, the heaps of pressure that so many people piled onto me and the enormity of applying took a toll on me. I had been working under such intense conditions and it felt like the sixth form everyday was counting on me to do well. I of course myself wanted to do well. All of that, as well as the physical effort that comes from studying, took a toll on my body and for the first couple of months of lockdown I suffered from severe burnout.
I will not go into detail about what I experienced on Results Day. A blog post detailing my experiences can be found on this blog page. In short, it was a horrible experience and for a while my place was denied at the University of Cambridge. This did eventually change and my place was confirmed- and after a few weeks I decided to take a gap year.
My story isn’t your typical Oxbridge story. It isn’t a story of years and years of training and it isn’t even a story of realising my potential in high school. Instead, it is evidence that anyone can achieve going to a prestigious university. I was the first ever from my sixth form to do so. This fills my pride but also gives me an incentive. Every day so many students are not being guided or advised as they should, compared to students who go to more prestigious schools on their high school journey. Some students at comprehensive state schools never realise how wonderful learning and academia can truly be. They never land themselves a job in a field that they should be in because they never receive the right guidance. They don’t even know the glass ceiling is there. All because their schools are so underfunded and they don’t have the resources that a student who wants to highly achieve needs, both physically and mentally.
If you are a student reading this, or even a person who has high aspirations that they feel like they can’t achieve, this is your sign saying that you can. Even if you feel like you can’t do it, I promise you can. My life momentally changed in under two years. Whatever you’re aiming for, you can do it, I promise you. It doesn’t matter if you feel like others are more experienced than you, smarter than you, more able than you. You are you. You can do it.
It’s that time again when potential future students at the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge are receiving their interview invitations. Seeing tweets over the past few days of students reveal their interview invites has not only warmed my heart with happiness, but also took me back to how I was this time last year. It feels like a lifetime ago now, which has only been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As someone who was the first ever student to (eventually) meet their grades to fulfil their offer from the University of Cambridge, and only one out of two applying to Oxbridge when I was in Year 13, I know how daunting it can be. Applying to the University of Cambridge was only suggested to me NINE days before the application window closed, so I felt even more intimidated by the people who had preparing to apply for a long time! My personal statement had to go from a barely completed first draft to the final version within eight days.
Applying to one of the two most prestigious universities is likely the most excitingly nerve-racking prospect you’ve ever faced in your academic career. It is a step into the complete unknown, especially if you come from a disadvantaged background. Stepping into your College for an interview for me was like entering into another world.
Now I’ve gone through the process and I am on a gap year, I wanted to share my top 10 pieces of advice for getting into Oxbridge. Whether you’re nervously waiting for your interview to take place, are thinking about applying next year or you’re imagining your prospects in a few years, I hope this blog post helps. Without further ado, let’s get to it!
1.) You can do it.
If you have good A-level grades plus high predicted grades and a passion for the subject that you’re applying for, you can do it. I promise you have the capacity to successfully receive an offer. It is all too easy to slip into a mindset that you are not good enough and that offers only going to students from prestigious private schools, who will always have something ‘better’ to say than you in interviews. They’ve been trained for years for an Oxbridge interview with special academic interview officers, where as perhaps you only started considering the prospect of applying last year or even a few weeks ago. While they do get trained, you should not have the mindset that they are better than you. It’s not true. If you’re from a disadvantaged background, you have the exact same capacity to give great answers to questions and impress at interview. Interviewers can tell if a student has been ‘coached’ by interviewing specialists or if they have not. The whole point of the interview is to test how your brain works when giving answers and quite frankly something impressive said by a non-coached student is more impressive than something impressive by a coached student. I promise you, you have the capacity.
2.) Don’t fall into the mindset that your grades have to be perfect.
I remember being extremely frightened reading through The Student Room in the days leading up to the date that I would find out if I got an offer or not. They all seemed to have perfect grades, achieved at all levels of their academic life.
For your current A-level grades and predicted grades, all they have to do meet is the level that Oxbridge would set as a requirement if they gave you an offer. This can be found on the websites for your course, if you do not know it. There will be students applying for your course with three A*s as their current grades and predicted grades. This isn’t the be all and end all to have, though. As long as you meet the conditions of your possible offer, Oxbridge will definitely see you as a possible offer-holder.
I needed A*AA for the course I was applying for, which was Human, Social and Political Sciences. I had predicted three A*s but was only achieving A*AB at the time. I remember reading other appliants grades in The Student Room offer-holder group chat. All of them seemed to be constantly achieving perfect grades. I promise you though, there were, and will be, many people like me!
Another point is that they all seemed to have amazing grades at GCSE. This scared me even more. I had some amazing GCSE grades, two grade 9s in History and Religious Education, but I did not have a full sheet of A*s and grades 9s like they had. I got a 6 in Maths and a 5 in English Literature! I promise you, your grades at GCSE level are only a minor factor in Oxbridge deciding if they want to offer you a place. They know that some students ‘bloom’ in later life and do not start extremely flying academically until they reach A-levels in Year 12 and 13. Try not to be intimidated by what others say about their GCSES!
3.) Remember to breathe.
Take deep breaths in the days before your interview, the day of the interview and during the interview. It’s so important to stand back and calm down as much as you possibly can. It’s an overwhelming experience, but it’s important to take a few minutes on the interview day and the days leading up to it as well.
4.) Say as much as you want when answering questions.
This may seem quite obvious and not something you would necessarily feel like you have to consider, but I feel like it is. While the interviewers were watching and listening to my every move, I felt like once I had been talking for a little while, I should stop as they wanted to move on to the next question. This is not the case! Say everything that you want to say in response to their questions.
5.) Mention further academic reading in your interview.
This only applies to some course interviews. If you are applying for a humanities course, I suggest you try and take some of this advice on board. When you are answering their questions about the subject that you want to study, make to mention any reading that you’ve conducted outside of your academic studies that links to the question you are answering. The interviewers know very well that you’re good at your A-levels; this is reflected in your grades and you wouldn’t be invited to interview if this wasn’t the case. They are intrigued to know about your background reading as that shows the passion you have for your subject. You can bring in this further reading by simply saying ‘well, that links in to something I’ve read…’ Perhaps then say the authors thoughts about the subject or the debate, what this means in the overall argument, and say if you agree or disagree with it.
At the end of my politics interview, the interviewers asked me outright if I had done any extra reading outside of political reading. I felt confused at this question for a minute, but then I saw where they were going. My course consists of more than just politics; it involves politics, international relations, sociology and social anthology/psychology. This gave me the perfect opportunity to say about a book I read called ‘Poverty Safari’ which gives descriptions and accounts of working class life in the 21st century, particularly in London. The reading thus linked into my passion for the subject of Sociology, showing I was suited not just for my Politics degree, but for the whole course of HSPS.
6.) They’re interested in how your brain works.
It’s okay if you get one small detail wrong in your interview. I can’t talk from experience, but I think this applies for the maths and science interviews that they conduct. The interviews are not designed to produce perfect interviews from the candidates, instead they want to see how you would attempt an answer or a question as if you were already in an Oxbridge supervision. If you get attempt something and get it wrong or get a small fact wrong, that’s okay- keep attempting and keep answering.
7.) Keep revising A-level content, but don’t revise on the day of your interview.
Oooh. This might be a bit controversial and advice you won’t hear from anyone else. People all have their different approaches to how they spend the day of their interview, and my approach was to not study at all. I studied in the days and weeks leading up to the interview, but this studying was focused solely on my A-level content like always. I did some extra academic reading that was assigned to me in the days leading up to the interview, but I didn’t do any on the actual day of the interview. Instead, I talked with the individual who went with me on the train and in the College cafe about anything and everything. I was lucky in the sense that he was a politics teacher with a previous career as a political journalist so he had a lot of knowledge about the subject area that I was interested in. We talked about lots of different political debates, issues and events, particularly the 2019 General Election that was to occur in a few days time. Our conversations though were causal and instead on the basis of two people that were interested in the subject; it was not an interrogation or a test. I’d recommend this approach, if you have the chance.
I have a vivid memory of stopping at a cafe in Cambridge when we got out of the train station on the day of my interview. All around me were potential candidates with their relatives and/or teachers being interrogated on knowledge or trying to get in practice before their interview arrived. If you feel like this would work for you, then by all means go ahead, but personally it suited me to relax that day and instead engage in small talk to do with my subject.
8.)Have a music playlist ready for the day.
I feel like having a good playlist in the days leading up to your interview and on the day of it is a MUST. Personally, I found some motivational and happy songs the key to help me get psyched up. These were a few of mine that I used:
Call Me- Blondie
Dirty Old Town- The Pogues
Why Me? Why Not.- Liam Gallagher
The Official Champions League theme (lol)
9.) Unfortunately, the memories will stay with you.
Whether your interview goes good or bad, the memories will unfortunately stay with you for a period of time. The strangest things will remind you of it, and memories will be provoked in the times when you least expect it. You could be eating your food on Christmas day, one of your relatives says something and BAM! suddenly you’re back in the interview room as that one particular word or saying brought you straight back to a moment that happened. If you’re anything like me, this cycle will repeat it during the entirety of the Christmas holidays. Some memories will be good, some will be bad. Try and see the big picture when these memories come back, and remember that you cannot change anything you said during your interviews.
10.) Whatever happens, you should be so proud.
You got invited to an Oxbridge interview! That’s bloody brilliant. It is a sign that the University want you at their institution and therefore you are good enough to study there. It is also a sign that they were impressed by your application. Even if you do not get the answer that you wanted when the email from your college comes through, please be proud of yourself. It’s cliche to say, but Oxbridge Colleges reject amazing, capable and impressive students each year because they are limited by the capacity of students that they are allowed to take. This varies from subject to subject, and indeed college to college.
This brings me to the end of my blog post. I hope you enjoyed it and have picked up some advice that may help you in the days and weeks to come. I wish you the best of luck!
If you happen to read this, make no mistake that I hate you, your government, and everything that you stand for. I do not mean that lightly in a passing comment way, either. I hate you. You and your administration have severely effected by mental health and ripped my confidence into pieces. I’ve gone from a sociable, hardworking and genuinely happy individual into an anxiety ridden, under- confident mess. That is all because of you. I know I’m not the only one. I’m only eighteen years old, I turned eighteen three days before you butchered my confidence forever. How can you sleep at night?
First of all, how can you seriously commit to the empty rhetoric you make in your press conferences? How can you possibly say you’re doing everything you can to help the COVID-19 crisis when your track and trace system has fallen to pieces and is unresponsive? That’s all on you and your administration. No one else. Stop blaming the public for your incompetency. While European countries such as Italy and Germany have effective Track and Trace Systems to help keep their public safe, more and more people are becoming infected with this deadly disease so much so that there are threats of the NHS being overwhelmed once again and the prospect of a second lockdown. The majority of people have been following the social distancing rules, the majority wear masks.
Stop trying to blame the public. A few people breaking the rules by throwing parties and holding gatherings has not caused this second outbreak. It is you. You forced schools to open. You forced universities to organise themselves to reopen with ever-changing guidelines. You recommended people to Eat Out to Help Out. You recommended shopping, cinema viewing, restaurant going. We are only doing what you told us, or as much as what we can make out from your confusing, contradicting guidelines. Yet, you have the cheek to blame us for a rise in infections and especially young people in the North. This is all on you. Stop trying to defect blame. I have no doubt you were told the risks, and predicted what would happen as you enforced these measures. The cynic in me thinks this is what you wanted all along in your herd immunity, eugenic driven mind.
I could go on and on about your chaotic handling of this country over the past year, so much so that I would run out of superlatives. I will do in another blog post in time.
You’re probably wondering how you effected my confidence to such an extent, and how you initiated what I described at this start of this blog post. I’ll tell you how, Prime Minister.
Allow me to introduce myself first. I’m an eighteen year old girl, and I went to a sixth form that branches off the comprehensive secondary school I attended. My sixth form’s last OFSTED report was “requires improvement.” I didn’t have a teacher for one of my A-levels for five months. I spent the twenty nineteen summer holidays revising, and I gave myself only one week off. I was determined to succeed even though yourself and your party expect people like me to fail. Against all of your odds and the ways in which your political party has moulded this country, I received an offer from the University of Cambridge to study Human, Social and Political Sciences. One person had received an offer before in my sixth form, but didn’t get the grades to fulfil it. I was working consistently at the grades A*A*A before lockdown. My sixth form predicted me to be on course to achieve A*A*A*. I was looking like the first student to go to Cambridge ever from my sixth form. Now you know who I am, let me take you back two months, to August.
The middle of August is always a worrying time for seventeen, eighteen and nineteen year olds in higher education as they await to find their A-level results. Normally, their focus of worries is on whether they answered a question correctly, whether they performed well enough in a particular exam, and so on. My year didn’t get to experience this. You cancelled our exams in the middle of the March. I still remember how I felt when you announced this and in the days after. I was worried sick as to how the exams would be marked and what would you use. You had no plan. You never do. I understand to an extent, though. You had other big issues to make hopeless plans for at the time. You did though have a whole five months, nearly half a year, to sort out how our grades would be handed out. Each individual would no doubt be given grades that reflected their academic ability and they could progress on to the next stage of their life. There is no way you could possibly get that wrong, with all those months to prepare and liaise with the exam boards and regulators.
I remember at the start of August reading an article from The Telegraph about how your administration had chosen to hand out A-level grades. It detailed the fact that an individual’s school, and the grades that pupils had achieved in that school in the years before, would have an influence on the grades that were handed out for this year. I felt sick instantly. No one from my sixth form had ever achieved high grades in my subjects. Would that be the one thing that would hold me back from going to Cambridge? How was that fair? I frantically emailed my tutor who had helped me throughout the Cambridge admissions process and he tried to reassure me. He explained to me how the grading system in the UK normally worked, and it didn’t look like I would be affected in any negative way. According to him, some grades for A-level had been lowered only by one grade, most not at all. I would be fine. Any sane person with any common sense would have made sure myself and everyone in the same position would be fine. Not you though. Of course not you, Prime Minister.
As I went to sleep the night before I found out my grades, I felt sick with worry. My disadvantaged situation had always been what had spurred me on to achieve, and now it might be the one thing that held me back.
I opened up UCAS the following morning, sick with nerves about how you had handled my economic status, and how you had treated working class students. It took forty minutes to finally load the webpage as it had crashed that morning. I should’ve seen this as a sign, as it set the precedent for the events that I was going to experience. I logged on and found that my University of Cambridge application had been ‘unsuccessful.’ I was upset, of course I was. This unfortunately happens to students every year. I also felt confused. What else could I had done academically? I worked, and worked, and worked. I calculated in February that on average I spent one hundred and ten hours studying a week for my A-levels. In this unique year when I didn’t have official exams to prove myself, what else could I have possibly done, Prime Minister?
I walked downstairs from my bedroom to meet my mum in the living room and it felt like taking the walk of shame. I didn’t just felt upset, I felt confused. More than anything, I felt powerless. As I started crying into her hug, it wasn’t too long before my upset turned into anger within a matter of milliseconds. I kicked over living room furniture as I cursed your horrible elitist methods. It was lucky my dad was also in the living room as I would have most likely thrown my studying chair out of the living room window. He had to stop me as I raged over my economic status and the subsequent label that you placed on me because of that.
I then had to face going up to the sixth form, which was for the first time a daunting prospect. Before lockdown I walked the corridors happily, buzzing to learn and study more and more until I reached my final goal. I walked through the doors on Results Day with my head down, my head heavy with confusion, rage and upset all at once. I felt sick as I opened my grade paper and found out I had been downgraded twice in Sociology and downgraded once in Politics. Thus, I had achieved a A*AB. A*A*A*. Not exactly the same, are they? Not bad by any means, but not enough to fulfill my goal. In my last two Sociology mock exams in November, I had achieved 96% in Paper One and 92% in Paper Two. I rarely dropped more then one mark in homework and assigned essays. Somehow, that warranted a B-grade. In my most recent mock exam in Politics, I had achieved an A*. Somehow warranted a downgrade.
We all know why. The average grades for my school in years before had been Cs and Ds. I had been judged according to my background, and I had been disadvantaged. I wasn’t judged on my individual ability as I was promised I would be. It made me feel pain that I cannot describe. You’ll never understand what that feels like, your future handed on you based on your background. Like many people across the year, I was just another statistic to you. You didn’t handle my case on an individual basis, you passed me through an algorithm with no hesitation. I’ve read enough of his blog posts to know that your special advisor favours statistics and statistical modelling above anything, Prime Minister. He’s convinces it’s the right way of doing things. Tell me, is this right?
I then went through plans about what would happen next. My tutor mentioned an appeals process, but no one had any idea as to what that would involve. It would be announced Monday, apparently. The day was Thursday. What would we do until then? What would I do until then? There was no plan. As I said before, you never have one. When I back into my sixth form hall the Head Of The Sixth Form came up to me and excitedly said that my performance was top 15% in the county and I was thus a Norfolk scholar. It meant nothing to me. In terms of the day itself, I felt deflated. This is the one day that I had looked forward to the entirety of lockdown. It was written in permanent marker on my calendar, and I was certain it would be a celebratory one as I was certain I had ‘done it.’ Why shouldn’t I have felt like that? All the hours that I had put in would finally be celebrated. Instead, you left me horrified, confused and upset with a stabbing pain in my stomach.
I nearly fainted in my school reception due to this combination of emotions as I tried to contact my admissions tutor for my College. At the time, I was angry at them too, but looking back I am not. They were chucked in this mess that you created just as much as me, and there was nothing that they could do until you announced a plan for resolving this mess. You didn’t have this, of course. Your Department of Education Minister didn’t either, who is somehow still in his job to this day.
When I got home, I tried to get myself together. However, the pit in my stomach, which had now turned into anger, knew that I could simply not keep silent over this. I tweeted about my cause on the A-level results day hashtag, which got significant attention and started to reach more and more people. It was the power of the people, Prime Minister, that gave my cause attention. That is something you always underestimate. If not for people caring about young people’s stories, I am confident that a U-turn would never have happened. It wasn’t long before my direct messages on Twitter started filling up with journalists wanting to share my story. I didn’t reply to many of them. My trust levels with people were generally at an all time low, which was the start of my confidence dipping. When I woke up the next morning, my tweet had reached astonishing figures and 1.5 million people had viewed it. I woke up just in time to see both James Felton and Matt Haig retweet my cause, which was quite the moment.
For the large part though, I was left in the dark about what would happen next. There was no hint of any remorse from you or your ministers. All of your government ministers were too concerned about toeing the party line and trying to up your self confidence in your administration than you were to fixing our problems. I watched your colleague Gavin Williamson say that there would be categorically no U-turn in terms of A-level grades, and I broke down. 40% of grades had been downgraded, most I would assume wrongly. Why would you do this to us? What was the reason? To halt social mobility?
As I watched you, Prime Minister, in an interview also defend the algorithm that had put us in this place saying it was ‘robust’ and that most pupils had received the correct grades, I felt despair. I had never felt like I did then. I was questioning why I should ever study and pursue an academic path, as there was no point. I was convinced I would always be disadvantaged. I would always have this label on my back, and you had shown that in big, bold colours. This is what you did, Prime Minister. I watched Newsnight to view the special report on the A-level grading chaos and I heavily despaired over interviews of students who were in the exact same position around me. We all felt a collective sadness, despair and hopelessness over our positions that we could not change. I would not wish that feeling on anyone. No one, apart from you.
I was lucky that at the time I had something to indulge myself in (Chess The Musical) which was a distraction from my current heart wrenching situation. A musical about a Chess championship in the middle of the Cold War set in Merano and Bangkok produced in the eighties was and felt like an entire world away, and was an escape from the time I found myself imprisoned in. I still listen to this masterpiece and remember how I felt when blasting these songs as my escape route.
It didn’t always work, however. As the interactions on my tweet began to slow down and there was still no news about what you would do, I tried revising. There was rumours that some students would have to take exams in the Autumn, and therefore I had to prepare for them. I realised my normally successful way of revising wasn’t working. I couldn’t concentrate. In my mind, there was an omnipresent voice screaming that I wasn’t good enough. My grades were proof I was not good enough. All the confidence that I built up concerning my studies over the past two years had gone. The information that I had gone through countless of times before wasn’t sinking in, and my mind put up a mental block on trying to remember it again. It was then I realised the imprint that your algorithm had put on my brain, Prime Minister. It’s not as strong, but it’s still there, and I feel no way near as confident as I used to be. It would be later on that I would realise my confidence was affected in all areas, and in some regard, I am still a shadow of my former self. I did not do anything to initiate this. This is all because of you. Again, I ask, how can you sleep at night? You’ve left an imprint on my confidence that I cannot shake, you placed a label on me and convinced me that’s what I was. That’s what the exam paper slip said, after all.
That night I was gripped to the social media site of Twitter, searching and hoping for any update on a possible U-turn. I felt a pain on my lungs and hurt every time I breathed. It hurt even more if I thought about what happened. It was getting to the point where I was so devastated, confused and horrified that I physically couldn’t breathe. I tried to write a post for my blog about how I was feeling but I couldn’t bring myself to do anything. The title was ‘an illness is on my lungs: the illness of social disadvantage’ which was undoubtedly how I felt. I felt broken. I was a broken person. All the talk about the reduction of class importance within the UK in the past few years, in my view, has been contradicted. Class barriers are very much still present in society, and you, Prime Minister, and your team in government reinforced them to an even further extent in the year 2020. You just didn’t make it a label or a status, you made it our defining factor, our definition . You make me feel sick. How did you let this happen?
It was nearly midnight when the news spread around the social media like wildfire that the page on OFQUAL, introduced earlier on in the day outlining a grade appeals process, had been taken down. I couldn’t believe it. There was no plan. No one knew what was going on, and those who were meant to be sorting out our problems seems to be just as much in the dark, despite having five months to prepare for this. This broke me. I sobbed to my parents and had multiple panic attacks that night because I couldn’t handle it anymore. I was in a ball on my bedroom floor, shaking like a leaf, punching the floor as I experienced a series of panic attacks, something I have not experienced in a long time. The words that I kept repeating to my parents were half audible apologies that I didn’t do enough. “I didn’t work hard enough. I didn’t achieve as much as I should have. I’m sorry.” This is how you made me feel, and I have not recovered, Prime Minister. Ever since that night, my confidence has been shot and it has not been the same.
The next day I watched the footage of student protests come through and I felt proud, but also kept a substantial amount of anger within me as the cause was not yet over. Finally, The Labour Party started piping up and were pressuring you to hold an emergency meeting and conference over this crisis. And then, the next day, we all know what happened next. The U-Turn happened. This is what Williamson had previously said, forty eight hours ago, would never happen. Of course, there was well deserved jubilation from students all across the country. Not for me though, I had to wait a few days until my place was finally confirmed.
This is amazing, but then, why was all the suffering necessary? Why did you have to enforce the classist, elitist algorithm in the first place? It is disgusting the way you treated me and my fellow peers, mostly in a disadvantaged position, and the suffering you put us through. Even if you decided to use the wretched algorithm, why didn’t you have a method of appeal sufficiently put in place when things inevitably went wrong? It’s because all of your incompetence. You and your administration, and only yourselves, caused all of this. It didn’t have to happen. The indescribable suffering that I and many others went through never had to happen if you were always going to U-turn like the calamitous government you are. If someone said turn left, you would turn right thinking you’re better, inevitably realise you’re wrong but wouldn’t want to admit it, and then eventually turn back. Your whole administration is like a father who thinks he can operate on a car holiday journey without using the map because he thinks he knows best. You’re a disgrace.
I’ve wanted to write and articulate my experience for a while, but it was meeting a government minister in person for a photo for them to use as silly PR that pushed me to finally start writing. The photo was used so they could pose with the first ever offer holder from my sixth form. I found that revolting. The experience is hard to talk about, as the effect for me is still here. I do not still feel like I am good enough, no matter what anyone tells me. The imprint will be left on my mind and especially my academic pursuit for a long while. This was not inevitable. It could have been avoided.
I’m sure I’m not the only one. Many have suffered because of your actions, or they did suffer in that time. I would not be surprised in the slightest if at the time it got too much for some young individuals, with young minds, with all their future ahead of them. Think about that for a moment. Again, this was avoidable. We didn’t deserve what happened to us and how you treated us as we put through a horrendous algorithm.
Of course, many people have moved on, as there are many other pressing stories to talk about, mainly caused and due to the incompetence of your administration. The effect and the experience will stay with me for a long time. I have had nightmares about reliving the day I found out, and sometimes I shut my eyes and remember how hard it was to breathe because of my suffering, all because of you. To quote my favourite musical, it was a case of ‘playing games… using our lives for nothing’ in reference to politics activity, and that rings true with you.
I am now in an intermitting year because of many factors but one of them is because of this. I remind you again that the suffering you put me through, and the mindset that is now with me, was all avoidable. This was never meant to happen. It’s sad that this is one of your failures, and so many more people have been affected in different ways due to your actions and the country that you are failing to handle. It’s disgusting. It’s every awful superlative you can think of. I worry they’ll be more horrendous actions that you’ll take that will have disastrous consequences while you’re in power.
You never truly understand what other people have been through in expense of governments until you experience the pain yourself.
I ask again: how you can sleep at night?
Please sign up to keep up with all of my posts on my blog:
Support my time during intermission
Please help support my time during intermission if you can.
It’s about time on this blog that I talked about my favourite thing ever. Ever since I first listened to it’s lead single, ‘One Night in Bangkok’ at around 5am in July, my life has not been the same. If I haven’t persuaded you by the end of this blog to go and listen to this absolute work of art, I have failed.
For those that haven’t had the pleasure of knowing, ‘Chess’ is a musical that was released in 1984 and was first brought to the West End in London in 1986, with lyrics written by critically acclaimed Tim Rice and music by the two ABBA dudes, Bijorn and Benny. To give a very shortened synopsis, the musical is set in a Chess championship, in the middle of the Cold War. The championship is between two Chess players, one representing the US and the other representing the USSR. The American is named Freddie Trumper, the current world champion who has a ‘bad-boy’ attitude with a big ego and an even bigger temper. The Russian challenger is called Anatoly Sergievsky, a more conflicted individual, who although he’s achieved as a chess player still isn’t happy with his current position. We also have Florence, Freddie’s press secretary/lover, who Freddie treats appallingly and Molokov, Anatoly’s Russian Special Advisor/Spy who is the only character that has an accent suited to his character in the entire musical. Molokov wants to play politics during the championship, but Anatoly is focused entirely on his game of Chess. It has two settings- the first Act is in Merano, Italy and the second Act is in Bangkok, Thailand. Why does it have it’s two settings? That would be spoiling.
How much of the musical is actually about Chess? Not too much, to be honest. Like the real Chess championships of the sixties and seventies, it is a lot more about politics and political power, with the Chess players being treated like pawns in the political world. It is also about the never-ending pressure of the media and press, how it can affect the individual, push events into happening and play its’ part in the political world. In the middle of all of this, there’s love stories, Soviet jigs and one very energetic Arbiter/Narrator who loves a two minute dance break. All soundtracked by a diverse soundtrack ranging from operatic masterpieces, ballads and 80s synthpop bangers. Seriously, what more could you want?
Here’s ten reasons why I love Chess The Musical and why you should definitely go and listen to it after you’ve finished reading:
1.) The Music Videos:
The music videos are utterly bonkers in all their 80s ridiculousness. One Night in Bangkok has some funny 80s animation, with Murray Head (who plays Freddie Trumper in the original soundtrack) float upwards onto a massive Chess board. Among other events a smaller Chessboard magically appears on a table, and there are some questionable camera angles. Another particular highlight is Freddie simply watching two (you assume) Thai boxers conducting a boxing match, which is questionable in its significance. In the music video for ‘The Arbiter’ the original Arbiter Bijorn Skifs seems to live in a mirror dimension and walks around with no shirt, only a blazer, on his top half. There’s also an array of hands reaching out of large squares for seemingly no given reason. It’s awesome. The way in which the Swede Skifs pronounces the name ‘Kasparov’ is worth your view alone, it’s delightful (3:17). The music video for ‘Nobody’s Side’ which is an absolute female power anthem has a segment of Elaine Paige (who plays Florence in the OG soundtrack) carrying out some questionable dance moves. Her hair is sprayed with about ten cans of hairspray in this video too. Finally, you have the music video for ‘Pity The Child’ which is an absolute dramatic ballad and although cheesy in parts, it really does tug at the heart strings. What makes all these music videos brilliant is they are amazingly 80s and are utterly bonkers, and yet they’re so original and great. All the singers are also completely in character during these videos, which makes it even better. All these wonderful gifts to the music industry can be found on YouTube.
2.) The Soundtrack:
As mentioned above, the soundtrack of Chess is extremely diverse. I truly believe there’s something for everyone here, it’s that good. We have dramatic, heart wrenching ballads such as ‘Anthem’ and ‘Pity The Child’ sung by our two chess grandmaster boys, more poppy typical 80s bangers such as ‘One Night in Bangkok’ and ‘I Know Him So Well’, and in the finale two underrated, show-stopping songs named ‘Endgame’ and ‘Epilogue/The Story of Chess’, both over ten minutes long. Somehow, this diversity all blends well together to tell the tale of politics, love, defecting, media, and a little bit of Chess.
3.) The live concerts:
It is argued within the fandom that Chess The Musical works better as a concert than it does as a live stage production. This is what it actually started out as before it reached the West End in London in 1986. ‘Chess Concerts’ toured Europe with most of the original cast performing during 1984. Luckily for us, some of these concerts were recorded, such as the Stockholm concert. This Stockholm performance showcases some of the best ballads from the show with a live orchestra, and it is absolutely beautiful. Although there is less of an emphasis on the plot, the main cast of Murray Head (Freddie) Tommy Korberg (Anatoly) and Elaine Paige (Florence) still power every bit of emotion into their tracks, and the love and hate between the trio is extremely strong, despite it not being on the stage with props. Korberg in particular showcases his live vocal range in the song ‘Endgame’ and whenever I watch it I genuinely gasp out loud at the notes he hits. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
4.) Chess takes itself seriously, but that doesn’t mean you shouldtake it seriously:
Chess is a very dramatic musical. It has a bit of humour here and there, with Freddie’s lack of self awareness over the consequences of being so anti-Communist and both the American and Russian delegations paranoia over the other cheating with ‘communication devices’ and the ‘make of the players chair.’ That’s about as far as the humour goes, though. For the most part, most of the characters are serious-minded people and the situations that they find themselves in, whether that be competing in the championship or being pawns in the world of politics, are serious. However, that doesn’t mean that you, dear reader, should take it as seriously. Chess has its faults, from some characters changing motives every ten minutes to some parts of the plot being quite unrealistic. This however just adds to the beauty of it. It can be a bit of a mess, but it’s a beautiful, dramatic, sometimes ridiculous mess. Some of it also, in the year 2020, is painfully outdated. This leads me to my next point…
5.) Chess has almost become a microcosm ofits’ time of release:
Chess, as mentioned, is set at the height of the Cold War. It was also released in the year 1984 (the same year Frankie Goes to Hollywood released the Cold War anthem ‘Two Tribes’), when the Cold War was still a big topical concern. However, shortly after its release, the Cold War came to an end in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. This made most of Chess’ defining themes and significance redundant. As a modern audience, we may find it a little hard to relate to the US-USSR rivalry and relations that dominate the musical. To me, this is what makes it so beautiful. Chess is a defining work of art from its time, that although does not define the times of now, it defines the times of then.
Chess also has some lines which when made would only be Acceptable In The 80s. Characters called The Merchandisers, who advertise the Chess game as the championship is taking place, talk of selling ‘Rubik’s Cubes’ in their past work as sellers. A very decade defining lyric that we cannot picture being in a song now. There’s also some Questionable Lyrics in some songs- One Night in Bangkok in particular has some questionable lines about Thailand’s inhabitants (‘your bars, your temples, your massage parlours…’) that would not be written today.
6.) FREDDIE. TRUMPER.
Okay, okay I got to point 6 without talking about him extensively, and that’s quite an achievement. Freddie Trumper, The American, is my favourite character ever, in anything ever. Okay, he treats his girlfriend Florence with little respect and treats the press journalists even worse, but he has his reasons. Freddie is treated as a political pawn just as much as anyone else in the musical. Among the majority of the fanbase, he’s incredibly misunderstood. Without spoiling anything, he gets manipulated by various sources into committing to behaviour that isn’t his true intentions, and he is driven by money or political power. He also matures heavily throughout the musical, and eventually does make some right decisions about what to do and how to help others. Trumper has the gift of the best number in the entire musical in my opinion also with a ballad called ‘Pity The Child.’ It’s a miracle if I’m not sobbing by the end of that song as the guitar solo comes in. Freddie also produces my favourite line: ‘how can you let mediocrity win?’ which I’ve used countless times to motivate me.
7.) Chess isn’t well known, and that makes the musical even better:
I feel like individual songs from Chess are quite well known- One Night in Bangkok for example. However, not many people know this song actually originates from a musical. Compared to other big musical names such as Hamilton, Billy Elliot and Mamma Mia, Chess is quite obscure and is certainly a cult favourite. The consequence of this is a devoted fanbase who have to hunt down *ahem* content in whatever way they can. There’s not an official live recording of the Chess The Musical London stage production, let’s just say that. If one fan happens to find any bit of *ahem* content however then it is shared among the fanbase to enjoy equally. Finding said content is also so much more special due to the obscurity of the musical.
8.) The commercial performances:
To promote Chess across the world prior to the soundtrack’s release, there were many commercial performances of the songs from Chess by the original cast. This produced some absolute treasures of video recordings. In one performance for German TV, Murray performs One Night in Bangkok completely on character on an underfunded set with 3/4 of ABBA as the BACKING vocals during the performance. There’s also many, many commercial of I know Him So Well with both Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson singing the duet in front of dodgy looking chess board props. One in particular is where Paige is wearing a bright floral shirts and the chess pawns behind are brightly coloured gold. It’s wonderful in its oddness.
9.) The beauty of the low quality Chess The Documentary:
User bobtrouper, thank you for uploading this treasure to YouTube. Split over seven Youtube videos, this documentary details how Chess The Musical was recorded and how the recording process was conducted. There’s footage from every major song of the show during it’s process of being recorded by the original cast. It also has it’s entertaining moments- from Elaine Paige reading a newspaper and then explaining to the camera how her horoscope is wrong to Murray Head talking about how his age is prohibiting his sexual liberation, it’s a wonderful thing to indulge in. It gives a feeling of personality towards the cast, with interviews for each, and a look inside the minds of Tim, Benny and Bijorn as they moved forward with the musical writing and planning. It’s brilliantly good, although sometimes a little blurry and low quality.
10.) The amount of versions are astounding:
In my writing of this blog post, I have focused largely on the original recording of Chess, which was released in 1984 and transcended to the West End stage in 1986. You discover you’re not too particularly fond of that version? Don’t you worry, there’s many more! Those who have directed a Chess The Musical production have not stuck with the original script, soundtrack or plot so every adaption is completely different from the last. The Broadway version’s soundtrack for example, which can be found on Youtube, is completely different and the story is turned on it’s head. It’s an understatement to say that this musical comes in many, many different forms. Some hate particular versions, some love them. That is the beauty of Chess. I’m sure they’ll be even more productions in the future that differ from the version. After all, there is always different variations left to be played.
If you are reading this far, thank you for listening to me speak about my favourite thing ever. Now get on Spotify, Apple Music, Youtube, Souncloud and listen to the Original Soundtrack masterpiece! I promise you’ll not be disappointed in all of its 80s mastery.
In the month of May, Dominic Cummings’ name gripped to the headlines of the newspaper like sticky slime. His name never stayed out of anyone’s lips, as the nation raged and gossiped in a state of shock about his recent trips, leaked by the Daily Mirror. How could the Prime Minister’s closest special advisor, the man who orchestrated the successful campaign to Leave in the EU referendum, break the rules about the national imposed lockdown, when the virus was taking around one thousand deaths a day? When the nation stayed at home, some separated from their loved ones when they were needed the most, this man had taken a trip to Durham to visit his family and subsequently a castle, two hundred and sixty miles away from London?
Some may not have known who Dominic Cummings was until this point. He is an unelected special advisor, not a government minister that appears in the House of Commons or the Daily Press Conference. Some may have known him as an odd figure within the workings of government with odd hair and an odd sense of fashion. But after an unprecedented report by the newspaper the Daily Mirror which revealed he had allegedly drove two hundred and sixty miles from London to up north to Durham, his name smashed beyond the Westminster bubble of discourse, and into the general utterances of the country. So much so, that forty eight hours Cummings addressed the MSM (mainstream media) outlets and the nation live on television to explain his actions. An unelected special advisor to the Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson led to a government addressing the nation about his actions is an unheard of event, but as such are many events in these times. In this conference, he did not deny his actions and admitted that he did make that round trip, indeed also to Barnard Castle. He explained that both his wife and himself were falling ill with suspected COVID-19 symptoms, and was worried about who would care for their child if they both became very ill. With no childcare seemingly in London,despite it being the capital of the country and so heavily populated, they made a two hundred and sixty mile trip to Durham where his parents resigned, in case there was a need for emergency childcare. On the way back from this round trip as the whole nation was staying at home, Dominic felt sick thirty miles into the journey so they decided to stop and get some fresh air, conveniently at a local beauty spot named Barnard Castle, on his wife’s birthday. Although this explanation is logical in most social climates of the world, this isn’t most social climates. Not in the pandemic of COVID-19. Instead, this is a slap in the face to anyone who had to struggle without childcare for any particular reason, couldn’t be with their parents in whatever setting, or couldn’t be with their loved ones as they passed away alone. Families adapted in menacing ways because they wanted to keep to the instructions from the government in the middle of a devastating pandemic. This particular individual however who indeed helped draft the government’s strategy could not keep to his own rules.
There have been hundreds of articles written about the ‘scandal’ of Dominic Cummings, defences and critiques. Analysis has surrounded Cummings’ intentions, the truth and the lies, Prime Minister Johnson’s absolute defence in his special advisor, the police response to the breaking of the rules and so on. This blog post however will not focus on these things. Instead, I am going to talk about the effects of this scandal, and how Cummings is managing to turn public discourse from an inquiry of his breaches of lockdown measures into a war against the UK press and journalists.
Cummings has had a long term sceptical view of the media, and a long term advocate of the fake news trend that according to him is infecting large quarters of the British press and their reports. A term used by President of the United States Donald Trump (commonly using term ‘you are fake news’ in response to the questions that he does not like.’ Cummings is a fierce advocator of this movement and will take the time to slate the press whenever they can for what he believes are fake news stories, misinforming the masses but also misleading public anger towards the voting individuals.
After some research, in the form of going through Dominic Cummings blog, this became all too evident. In the ‘About’ section of his blog, detailing who he is and what job occupations he has previously held, he emphasises that he ‘left‘ his previous position, as Michael Gove’s special advisor while Gove was Education Secretary. He explains this emphasis by saying he had a need to inform the BBC that he was not fired as they would ‘put me in the list of people that were fired as they tend to do’ with ‘they’ referring to the mainstream media. This clearly shows that he believes the media with the BBC in particular are eager to build a negative reputation surrounding his image, entirely based on lies and ‘scandals’ of potential sackings. Deeper research offers seen more critical descriptions of the institution of the media. Cummings in his blog post about how the civil service can learn from the Apollo Space Missions conducted by the space institution NASA in the 1950s and 1960s claims that the media is a ‘programme largely to spread confusion’ and is ‘dominated by a political culture of fairly tales and little understanding.’ *
A sidenote: can I also add here that in the same blog post he heavily criticises civil servants at Whitehall for ‘going on holiday mid meltdown’ which in the light of his recent actions I find heavily ironic.
Comparing the media to living in a fairytale explicitly shows that Cummings view of the media is that they live in an alternative universe reporting false stories and false lies that are not true to real life, and they make their audience look through a blurred lense towards the actions of the government. Moreover, in November 2019 Cummings published a ‘bat signal’ post on his blog. The majority of his posts are written in as if he were a scholar writing an essay piece, but this blog post uses a simpler layout compared to the chunky paragraphs of his previous essays, and less jargon when talking politics due to it being designed to appeal to the general electorate who typically do not read such material for entertainment. When talking about the dangers of Labour winning the 2019 general election, he claims that ‘politics would never be off the TV.’ Due to the blog post having over one thousand and eight hundred shares on Facebook, the importance of this sentence cannot be undermined. Here, Cummings takes a different approach compared to his previous criticisms about the media. He is not explicitly critiquing the media, but he is implying how the media seem to have a magnifying glass on the subject and happenings of Politics, perhaps compared to years previously. He seems to be implying that Politics being on the TV is a bad thing, and people would rather watch other programmes than at least be informed about the political news stories of the day. His desire to seemingly keep the electorate masses as little informed as possible and centralising the power over decisions with less scrutiny within the government is becoming all too evident.
Finally, in more recent times, his address to the nation about his breaching of the nationwide lockdown rules was littered with subtle bashing towards the media and the press, saying that the media tend to report and overhype stories, referring to the allegations of himself breaking lockdown rules which dominated every headline. The references to the media were not accidental, and they had two effects. Not only was Cummings desperate to try and save his own reputation and keep his occupation as one of the most powerful people in the UK government, he was also trying to stir up public opinion against the media and the newspaper press in particular for ever portraying him as a rule breaking, criminal villain. The Daily Mirror had ran the headline ‘a cheat and a coward’ a day earlier, referring to Cummings and then Johnson who defended Cummings actions by saying that ‘he had fatherly instincts’ in his press conference. Even The Daily Mail, a right wing newspaper by tradition, had been openly negative towards Cummings and his actions. To Cummings, the press are evil witch hunters picking out a man they do not like to force him out of government and politics in general, his influence lost. He has long thought this opinion, but the ‘scandal’ that developed in May 2020 set it to boiling point. The two motivators in the first place were to minimise political damage and to swerve public anger down the road of those who are holding him accountable.
Clearly then, Cummings view of the mainstream media in the United Kingdom is astonishingly negative, criticising the press for their overbearing focus on the political world, living in a fairytale and witch-hunting those that they do not like. The million dollar question though is whether his stance is having influence on the general public, especially after the events of Cummings breaking the lockdown rules. Did the way that Cummings played out his response to the media (the way he answered questions, the way he told the press to socially distance) turn more of the general public against the media? Are they starting to view the media negatively, becoming critical of their reports about Politics? Or, are they pressing a button on the TV remote to watch Love Island on another channel? Negative talk about the media is not new on both sides of the political spectrum, but it seems to be stirring and becoming more powerful than ever before.
A lead advocate for the British right wing of the political spectrum and ex-manager of the Institute for Economic Affairs, Darren Grimes, took to the social media platform Twitter to emphasise his disgust towards how the press had handled the ‘scandal’ calling the ‘mainstream media’ ‘monsters, utter monsters’ and ‘a ‘disgrace.’ Notorious for being a bubble of social unrest, he is not alone on this social media platform concerning his disdain for the press. The Cummings press conference resulted in individuals tweeting about how Dominic Cummings had ‘taken the press down one by one’ and ‘destroyed them’ (‘them’ being the journalists present at the conference) as if he was a world champion heavyweight boxer. Away from the Cummings scandal, another Twitter user named ‘goody uk’ when tweeting about a Coronavirus daily press briefing later on in the day on 11th June asked their followers: ‘will Keun the Loon be on an irrelevant attack again?’ In reference to BBC political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg.’ They also ask ‘will Angry Sam Coates be able to almost burst another blood vessel?’ Referencing the Sky News’ Deputy Political Editor, Sam Coates. This tweet is then hasthtagged ‘media scum.’ This is not the only incident of something like this. Although this tweet may be seen in jest, it is a worrying trend within social media and within our society in general that without doubt is in a serious manner. Do our journalists no longer have credibility in the media eye? Is the image repair? If people are taking the current Tory government line of being hostile to the press (look no further than the nicknamed silence button to cut journalists off that was used in the Coronavirus briefings to find your hostility), then who does that leave to hold the government to account and give us coverage of politics? The mainstream media has it’s many faults and has received criticism from individuals of all the ideological tendencies, but at the end of the day we rely on it to give us reliable information. Away from social media discourse, this perspective has been growing among journalists themselves, writing in information outlets such as ‘Spiked.’ This is the case of Daily Telegraph columnist and Editor of Spiked Online and former Marxist Brendan O’Neil, , who in his 29th May column (when the Cummings scandal was at boiling point) calls the Financial Times ‘morbid death watchers’ who ‘seem to relish their daily revelations of the death stats.’ The use of ‘relish’ in this description is absolutely appalling. It implies that a newspaper outlet in the UK anticipates hearing about the latest death toll. What is being forgotten here is that behind every newspaper media institution there are journalists who are just as impacted by COVID-19 as the rest of the world. Take the name ‘Financial Times’ out and substitute a name into O’Neil’s statement, such as ‘Jack relishes the death statistics.’ It’s borderline implying that the ‘media’ look forward to hear about the passing away of people. Is this really what we have come to? If the mortality statistics are used in any way, they are used to hold the government to accountable over their mishandled, U-turned and overall disgusting handling of the pandemic. Rightly so, as many lives could have been saved if the actions of the government were at a quicker pace.
The growing outlook towards our British press are ‘individuals that engage in their own self importance’ and if you happen to become a journalist in this current climate, side effects may be ‘oversized ego, lack of integrity and talent at being offended by everything’ as a ‘Spoofed’ video exclaims. In the replies to this video, individuals join in with the hashtag ‘scum media’ as if the trend is some sort of members club and they need to use this hashtag to show their support for the degrading image of the media. This trend also stretches beyond political reports. Newspaper outlets of every kind are now accused of pushing their ‘agendas’ (presumably liberal agendas) on to the general public, to seemingly hypnotise people into being lefty loony snowflakes. To find evidence of these accusations of agenda, look no further then in the comments under a BBC article that reports about successful UK rapper Stormzy and his efforts to help the Children In Need charity. The comments discuss how the BBC is pushing a ‘Marxist agenda’ for what reporting on this, with one particular angry individual saying that the BBC is pushing ‘an anti white narrative’ and exclaims he will now be boycotting the charity due to them supposedly being anti white due to working with Stormzy. This level of extremity is again very common, with individuals being seemingly desperate to accuse news outlets of acting with no imparality, and instead with agendas of all sorts.
But… how much of this discontent among the media is realistic?
You might be asking yourself after reading the first three parts of this blog how it all links together. Sure, there may be growing discontent around the media for supposedly being liberal and pushing their agendas, with the majority of these accusations coming from a noisy corner of the far-right. But how does Dominic Cummings fit in with all of this? The way the media handled his breach of lockdown rules did provoke many of the hashtag ‘Scum Media’ members club to rage, but how is Cummings as an individual orchestrating this wave of media hatred? He may hold these views himself, but how is he, as the government’s special advisor and Boris Johnson’s closest ally in the political world, imposing his views on the rest of society? There’s two answers to this, one which has always been discussed. The government themselves, which was demonstrated most explicitly in the COVID-19 daily briefing, treated journalists with hostility, by silencing them from asking follow up questions or with subtle digs to try and make the holding to accountability a game. For instance, current Education Secretary Gavin Williamson replied to Sam Coates about the reopening of UK schools with the line ‘I’m sorry you seem so confused.’ The apology following by the use of the adjective ‘confused’ labels the journalist, in this case Sam Coates, as small and portrays his question as being ridiculous when it was simply a follow up about the schools. It portrays the questions they ask, the reports they write and their general image of being ridiculous, far from being individuals that hold the government to account for answers. This trends continues across the government in terms of media hostility, with a constant refusal from ministers to feature on programs such as News-night and Good Morning Britain, and up until recently BBC Radio Four’s signature Today Programme. Instead, government ministers appear on programmes such as This Morning, as Gavin Williamson did on the morning of the A-Level results being released. Although this particular programme does attract a big audience, it is unlikely to hold any of the government ministers truly accountable compared to the more mainstream media programmes listed above. Although the avoidance of these programs could be seen as a political ploy to avoid the supposedly ‘liberal’ institutions, it also sends the message that the government are not happy with these mainstream programmes, and will thus not appear. And if the government are not happy with them, the public shouldn’t be either. Again, the negativity towards the mainstream media seems to be brimming.
We have discussed certain social media groups that are amplifying towards the country’s media institutions such as the Media Scum hashtag, but are the general public throughout the country following the trend? Many academics seem to think so. A recent study conducted by IPSOS Global Advisor in 2019 found that in Great Britain, only 5% of the public had ‘Great Trust’ in newspapers and magazines, with 32% having ‘not must trust’ and 13% having ‘no trust at all.’ A look at the past few years also shows that people in the UK now have less of a trust in newspaper and magazines compared to what they did before, with 23% saying this is how they felt. 13% said that they now trusted the media ‘a lot less’ compared to five years ago. A similar trend has also occurred surrounding television and radio media, with 19% saying they trust these forms of media less compared to five years ago. The impact that Cummings has had on these attitudes can be debated due to the widespread amount of possible factors that have contributed to the increase in negative views, but his impact cannot be discarded. He has made his views clear, the government that he is special advisor to is making their views clear, and it seems that the public are now also making their views increasingly clear as we enter this new decade.
What can be done?
The current way that some of the mainstream media operates in this country is without doubt in need of repair. Our press in this country has many, many faults and codes of practice that need to be addressed. Every week seems to bring a new event in which the majority of us are appalled by the way that our media behaves. In August of this year, many of the main media outlets sent out reporters on boats to film immigrants coming in to the UK in dinghies, clearly struggling on the choppy waters as the reporters just stood and talked as the immigrants were celebrity contestants entering the ‘I’m A Celebrity…!’ jungle. To show the true extent of media malpractice, if you asked me to picture the front of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s house, I could picture it quickly. If you asked me to picture special advisor to the government Dominic Cummings’ house, I could picture his quickly too. It is quite likely that you also may be able to do this. However, if you asked me to picture the front of Priti Patel’s, Gavin Williamson’s or Matt Hancock’s houses, all current government ministers, I would struggle- and so I should. This shows the extent to which the media indeed does occasionally ‘witch hunt’ extensively any target that it decides to acquire and invade their personal privacy of their home. Whatever political beliefs you hold, whatever point of the spectrum you are on, this is likely to anger you.
However, I don’t hold an entirely negative view towards the press, and I don’t agree with the motives that Cummings, or the government for that matter, is displaying. His comments on his blog post portray that he wants the masses to switch off from politics, and the line of thinking that he clearly wants the majority of the public to adopt is right-wing conservative thinking, like his. He sees the media as being poisonous, too liberal, being repair, and a disease to our country feeding false lies to the public with their reports being sent down dirty sewer pipes.
The mainstream media in the country is needed. In times of government incompetence, the press must be there to give the public valuable information on how the government are acting, ultimately putting the pressure on those in power to make a change or U-turn on a policy. Without the media, we would not have an opportunity at accountability and the government could make decisions and be relatively unscathed. Take the example of the A-level exams algorithm. On A-level Results Day, many journalists shared stories on social media and in their news reports of students that had been disadvantaged by their background and thus missed out on their university offers, although it was a statistical impossibility for them to achieve these grades in the first place due to past performances in their sixth form. Many cases were taken up that day and continued to be into the weekend and beyond, including my own. I particularly point to the work of BBC News-night Editor Lewis Goodall here, who used his social media account and his News-night report to share stories of individual cases of students that were disadvantaged by this system. This is good journalism. This is what we as a nation need more of. It needs to be less about reporting on the latest ‘scandal’ but instead on the government’s decisions that negatively affect the entirety of population or particular groups. Could the Conservative government U-turn on the way the A-level and GCSE grades have occurred due to the negative public opinion without the media acting in this way? Possibly. The role that the media played in this particular saga however was to voice people’s opinions, to show how the government had disadvantaged so many young pupils. Even the notoriously right wing and government supporting Daily Mail amplified these stories and the incompetence of the Department of Education in the government.
This is what we need more of. Less scandal and sensationalism stories about ‘gossip’ surrounding the Prime Minister’s family. Less harassment of MPs, special advisors and anyone in a position of power outside their houses- they can be held accountable in much more different ways, more effective ways. Detailed scrutiny of the most important issues that are affected people’s lives due to policies that the government have set out, amplifying people’s names and stories to try and persuade the government to act is what is needed. Not only may this lead to government more U-turns, which have occured proven many times in Boris Johnson’s administration, but it also increases the likelihood of political education. The more accurate, unbiased and detailed reports focusing on the big important issues are of today there are, the more the public will be exposed to them and the more likely they will take an interest in these issues. This thus makes a very effective circle: more effective reports, more people taking notice, more increase in political education and more public pressure. The more this happens also, the more likely the respect for the media will go up around the country.
Perhaps we are putting the cart before the horse. Perhaps there needs to be a change in the institutions of the media and how they operate before the reports or practices themselves can change. Although who has ‘control’ of the reports that the big media mainstream newspapers publish and the media broadcasters show is debated, many academics have argued that media ‘moguls’ such as Rupert Murdoch play their part. They may set the ‘agenda’ that all journalists have to follow, including the practices that they undertake, which may be conservative and liberal. This is certainly what the Media Reform Coalition, or the MRC, believe. They advocate for a ‘movement for media reform’ saying that ‘too many are owned by billionaire moguls’ and they do not represent a ‘diverse range of people and views.’ For a ‘health functioning democracy’ there must be a ‘diverse and accountable media.’ In their various reports, they identify just how concentrated ownership of the media is within the mainstream, and it is an issue that needs ‘effective remedies’ and urgently to achieve a pluralistic and more diverse media that the public can rely on. In short, there is growing pressure for the media to reform, and it is likely that reform would eventually resort in gains of trust from a more diverse, reliable press that is a voice for change and accountability instead of either toeing the popular line or focusing on ‘silly stories.’
How this would be achieved is a difficult question, especially in during an administration of this kind. Could it be that a reform is needed in the form of Act of Parliament, to make it statute law? Is the issue worthy of a protest? Many people are commonly angry about the way the media may behave and report, but these are spaced out phases of anger- a flash in the pan. Would the issue start to be raised to a higher ground if there were protests deriving from accumulated anger? Will the views towards our mainstream media change in the next few years if there is a party in government, or will this change?
If the answers to all the questions above are ‘no’ then I can see there being a decline in the media further. A ‘press’ is most certainly needed in this country and as demonstrated it can be a source for change, education, debate and overall goodness added to our democratic society- it just needs considerable reform. And with the recent advertisements put out by the Conservative administration advertising a position for a new ‘Press Secretary’ in the government, basically meaning that the government are looking for a journalist mouthpiece who will toe the government and party line, a good press is needed now more than ever.
If you are reading this, I hope you enjoyed this quite lengthy blog post. There will be more to follow quite soon.
Important definitions to understand this blog post:
COVID-19: A respiratory disease that causes damage to the lungs and airways system. Symptoms include shortness of breathing, a sore throat, loss of taste and smell, coughing and in some cases rashes. The world is currently in the middle of an outbreak of this disease all across the world.
Pandemic: a disease that spreads around the world and is causing damage to many citizens.
Boris Johnson: member of the Conservative party, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
The Great Depression: a period in the 1930s where economies around the world crashed, leaving millions in people in poverty and unemployed. It started in the US.
VE Day: marking the event in history when the German Nazis surrendered during World War Two.
Scottish First Minister: head of the government in Scotland and is held accountable to any action it takes. Currently, the Scottish First Minister is Nicola Sturgeon.
infection rate: this is the rate to how an infection is increasing, or decreasing in a population. This is signalled by testing the population for a particular infection.
hospitalisation rate: this is the rate signalling how many people are being admitted to hospital due to a particular infection in a population.
death rate: this is the rate signalling how many people have died due to a particular infection, and whether this is increasing or decreasing in a population.
lassiez faire: a policy adopted by governments, meaning to ‘leave alone.’ In terms of economics, this involves governments leaving the economy alone because ‘businesses know best.’
Neo-liberalism: a strand of political thought that was adopted in the 1970s. Key principles in this political thought are individualism, privatisation of the services, deregulation of the economy and cuts to public spending.
Privatisation: services move from public to private hands, meaning that they are owned by private s. businesses and not the general public paid for through their taxes. For example, Margret Thatcher while she was Prime Minister privatised British Telecom, British Aerospace and British Airways.
Nationalisation: putting services back into public hands and away from private businesses. Eg: The National Health Service, the NHS, is an example of a nationalised service because it is owned by the public and paid for through their taxes.
Matt Hancock: currently the Health Secretary. This means that they are in charge of the Department of Health and Social Care department of government, and they are responsible for the National Health Service in the UK. This means that Hancock is responsible for making sure that all NHS hospitals and the emergency services (police, ambulance, fire service) are functioning properly and have the correct equipment.
PPE: personal protective equipment. This is particularly useful to protect workers on the front line, such as manual workers and NHS healthcare workers so they are protected from catching infections. Examples are masks, visors and goggles.
I’ve been wanting to write this blog post for weeks now. Possibly even months. I’ve wanted to write about COVID-19 and the UK government’s dealing with it. The sensitivity of the subject however has stopped me every time in my tracks. This isn’t analysing seats in Parliament, this isn’t analysing party tactics (to an extent). This is analysing government strategies to a global pandemic, how it unprepared and how every approach has caused lives to be lost, most likely more than there ever should been if the UK government had taken the right cause of action, and if it was committed quickly. COVID-19 is not a war as such: there has been no disagreement, there was no build up (so to speak), there were no peace negotiations attempted or treaties. Instead, COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that is wrecking havoc with little warning to the ordinary population, putting many into self isolation with some in a sense of confusion, petrified at every breaking news story everyday. Others into hospital units and sadly never leaving them. To many, this was a shock that little saw coming. Some did though, including the UK government (although that will addressed in a later COVID-19 post.)
Personally, I’ve been following COVID-19 since late January through The Guardian, mostly fuelled by fear. I guessed that it would have been inevitable that an outbreak would eventually hit the UK, but I never anticipated this scale. How can you possibly picture near enough every social structure being put on hold? How can you possibly ever imagine the horrifying death toll, which at the time of writing stands at 31,500? As the news refreshed and refreshed on The Guardian’s website, rolling out more devastating headlines and news stories about this virus, it got more and more terrifying. It was hard to go about your everyday life, and then all of a sudden there wasn’t an everyday life anymore.
Recently, in these self isolated times (I hate the word unprecedented) I’ve been investing myself in different things, learning new things, reading. Without fail though, everyday I’ll participate in some what of a ‘Two Minutes Hate.’ The Two Minutes Hate is a concept from Nineteen Eighty Four, a dystopian novel written by George Orwell, where the characters engage in ‘hate’ towards a particular figure who is portrayed as the ultimate evil, having the wrong opinions which would harm all life if they were actually put into practice and it is only ‘Big Brother’ in the character’s world that keeps them safe. People in the novel shout and scream at the figure who is saying these ideas having been trained to find them the ultimate evil. I am not in the same circumstance, but I engage in the same act. Everyday (to my poor parents) I go on rampaging rants about how the government has failed to help protect the people, how it’s a national disgrace, how the lack of personal protection equipment is horrifying, and so on and so on. Tonight however, I’ve realised that it is not enough. I am going to write blog posts about COVID-19 and the strategy that the UK government have undertaken, and try and spread my message to anyone that I can. This will be a series of blog posts as there are so many subjects that it would be impossible for my message to be condensed into one entry. I will try and lay the facts open for anyone, I will give my opinion, I will say what is being shied away from.
Perhaps I am delusional. But if I can change one person’s perspective, if I can open the eyes to someone concerning how disgracefully the government have acted, I will feel satisfied. As I said at the start of this introduction, this is not the case of Brexit parliamentary antics or voting statistics, this is the case of safety, viruses, and life and death. I want to show and keep people fully informed about this crisis, and above all educated, in the most accessible way possible so anyone could possibly start reading this blog post and understand. Today, this blog post will largely be on the messages set out by Boris Johnson concerning his address to the nation speech on the 10th May, 2020. I personally, today and over the next few weeks, would love if you gave them a read.
Background on Boris Johnson’s speech:
After over six weeks of lockdown, Johnson planned to address the nation live on TV. This was after the VE celebrations on the just past bank holiday, which led to some people celebrating in the comfort of their homes but also some people intermingling with different households, sharing food and doing congas in their road to celebrate 75 years of Nazi surrender. There was anticipation for this speech. In the midst of these celebrations, the media reported of ‘liberation from the suffering of World War Two’ while intentionally saying that ‘next Monday would be another liberation day’ with ‘the road out of lockdown’ being announced in Johnson’s address to the nation Sunday night, broadcast live on BBC One. The day before VE Day, the Daily Mail splashed ‘hurrah! lockdown freedom beckons’ on their front pages. ‘Stay home slogan… scrapped’ they wrote. ‘Happy Monday!’ said The Sun. ‘Lockdown joy next week.’ ‘Pubs, cafes plan to open gardens.’ Suddenly, as the British people waved their flags and snacked on scones, there was an air for many people that this ‘grounding’ would finally be over.
Before Johnson had even uttered a word in his speech, mistakes were already being made. The fact that the press knew that the ‘stay home’ slogan that many of us have come to know would be scrapped is a signal that the government leaked this piece of information to some newspapers. The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, did not know herself that this would be scrapped, and found out through these newspapers reporting the headlines. Essentially the boss of Scotland did not know what direction the United Kingdom as a whole would take until she looked at the newspapers, as the UK government had not cared to inform her. By leaking these details to the press, it also gave the people a sense of hope- dangerous hope. Lockdown would be lifted on Sunday and everything would be okay again. Cue some people celebrating VE Day by doing the conga with their neighbours- possibly spreading the virus to more vulnerable people as they munched on Victory Cake and scones.
Despite this being behaviour that should not happen during a global pandemic, I do not believe that the blame lies with them. The blame lies with this government for leaking this information, giving the press the fuel to the fire and giving people a sense of hope where it really, really should not have been lighted. It is important to keep in mind though that these people are a minority, as many watched on in fear of how others were acting in their celebrations, possibly spreading more infection to the more vulnerable in society.
Remember Boris Johnson, our Prime Minister, saying he wanted to ‘squash the sombrero?’ If you don’t, that’s what he said in his first few daily press conferences, referencing the coronavirus ‘curve’ in all the graphs we see on TV that yes, if you squint your eyes, do vaguely look like the Mexican hats. What Johnson meant by ‘squashing the sombrero’ is putting a lockdown into place so the increase of new cases, new hospitalisations and new deaths are slower and not all at once, meaning that the NHS and hospitals around the country will not get too busy, too busy meaning that they cannot take in any more patients. Thus, Johnson claimed that the sombrero must be ‘squashed’ not to ‘overwhelm’ the NHS so every patient can be treated.
Despite the seriousness of the situation in March, when there were more and more cases and moralities everyday, Johnson seems to always take this sort of tone in his conferences. Concerned, but basically not afraid to say random phrases and comparisons that come to his head. It conformed to what many know as ‘bumbling Boris’ in which he acts as a bit of an idiot with a mop of blonde hair. The zipwiring, flag waving, tennis playing, bumbling Boris who was seen to many for a long time as a joker, but has somehow landed himself in one of the most important positions in the country in a national crisis.
In his recent address to the nation, the previous joking tone had gone. Even the tone when he announced that the UK was going into lockdown over six weeks ago was different to the tone that was adopted by him in this speech. It was more serious. It was more urgent. There were no more jokes, no more comparisons to hats. Despite telling people to go back to work, indeed a relaxation of the restrictions that are in place, he adopted a nervous, anxious if you like, urgency. Whether this is because of the death rate, or his own experience having COVID-19, we don’t know. It certainly looked however like a man who knew. A man who knew that there had been so many causalities in this country, with the country having the highest death toll in Europe largely due to the decisions that his government had taken in the last months. He knew that this speech would be criticised, he knew that most of the public were turning against him and his measures, frightened for themselves, their loved ones and their futures. There was table thumping with his hands. There was multiple tone raises and near enough shouting into the camera. “Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland. There is a strong resolve to defeat this coronavirus together” punched Johnson in a desperate attempt for unity, despite his government leaked slogans to the press the day before. When It was like watching a man who knew he was guilty of an offence in Court desperately trying to defend himself with one last plea.
Analysis: what did Boris Johnson actually lay out from 11th May 2020?
Good question. A difficult question as well to be honest, although it really shouldn’t be. Nearly 24 hours on, there is still utter confusion as to what Boris Johnson laid out. In the most brief sense, Johnson tried to set out a five setting system to determine levels of COVID-19 intensity- from green, meaning that there were very little threat from COVID-19 to Red, which was the highest possible intensity and would result in the UK going into draconian lockdown again. There’s also light green, yellow and orange as the levels in between red and dark green which are meant to represent how intense the COVID-19 disease is in the UK. On top of this, there was the talk of the ‘R’ infection, which was explained very poorly by Johnson but means the percentage of how many individuals an individual with the disease is likely to convict. If this leaves you confused, you’re not alone. Bill Hanage who is a Professor at Harvard University in Epidemiology, meaning the study of controlling diseases and pandemics, noted on Twitter after Johnson proposed this model that he had ‘no idea what this means’ and there ‘helpful and better options are available.’ The comments under the BBC Youtube video for Johnson’s address to the nation felt the same way. ‘Prime Minister can we go outside? Yesn’t’ joked one individual. ‘He sounds like me answering a difficult question at a job interview’ with another saying ‘body language all wrong.’ It seems that the government drew their plans directly from the Nando’s model of telling you how spicy their food is with the chilli.
Johnson also established the ‘three phases’ which we will all be hearing a lot more about over the coming weeks and months. We are now apparently out of ‘Phase One’ where COVID-19 was so intense with the infection and death rates that the only option was the lockdown of the entire country. I say ‘apparently’ we’re out of Phase One as Johnson is taking these steps when the infection and death rates, although declining, are still high. The country went into lockdown when there were around eighty recorded deaths a day in the UK, and restrictions are being eased when there is still a lot more than that everyday. Even on weekends, when the death rate is notorious for being lower, the numbers are still four times higher daily compared to when the UK first went into lockdown. It is completely wrong that we are suddenly moving into Phase Two when the government has not allowed for the death rates to decline to the levels that they were below lockdown, which would have taken at least three more weeks in the lockdown that in the UK most of us have become accustomed to. Johnson says that now we need to move on from this, moving into ‘Phase Two’ of the UK’s ‘roadmap’ out of the pandemic shutdown, which is to sending people back to work and re-opening businesses.
Phase 3 will involve some hospitalities re-opening, which include hotels, cinemas, non-necessity jobs and pubs to name a few. To anyone, this may sound like there is little harm involved. The economy needs to keep going, right? The only way to stop economy disaster in this country is to get some people back to work. Right? Well, in my humble opinion, it is completely wrong. It is exploitation of the lowest classes who the government are using like pawns in a chess match, who are being treated like capitalist cattle. In the next section of this post, I will explain just why this is wrong and how the government are risking those with manual jobs, those who may live in poverty.
Okay, so that’s the general, confused, idea of the roadmap. Doesn’t really feel like we’re on a road, more like we’re driving on vague lines on a beach, but okay. But what has Boris Johnson laid out concerning my work, my family’s work and general workplace practice?
“We said that you should work from home if you can, and only go to work if you must. We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home, for instance those in construction and manufacturing should now actively be encouraged to go back to work…/ so you should avoid public transport.” – Johnson’s address to the nation.
The new order from the UK government, which is now being advertised on news channels, is that you should still ‘work from home when you can’ but if you can’t, you must go back to work. Clearly, this already leaves two grey areas. It does not include key workers, from postmen/postwomen to NHS workers and carers to some factory workers, who have been working all the time anyway, and it does not include the hospitality industry such as non-necessity shops, cinema workers and so on who cannot work as their place of work is well, closed.
Those with office jobs, those who run a business, and so on can keep working from home, as their work does not require for them to be in a collective environment. They can use the Zoom as a video conferencing application, still meet up with each other (albeit in front of many different meme backgrounds) and get their work done from their comfort of their home on their laptop. Of course, *common sense* (which seems to be the new favourite Tory slogan) tells you that these people with more middle class jobs are protected from this virus as they can meet through the wonders of technology instead of going outside to do their jobs, where they are more likely to catch the virus.
Meanwhile, those who need to be present in a workplace with others to complete their work, such as a security guard, a factory worker, a plumber, a taxi driver and so on, have to go outside. They have to mingle with others in order to complete their jobs, and thus this increases their likelihood of catching the coronavirus. Those who carry out these jobs, stereotypically, are on the lowest incomes and may be living in poverty, plus having other circumstances such as living in a single parent household. This isn’t even taking into account public transport, which many have to travel on in order to get to their work, especially in cities such as London. Many live outside or on the outskirts of big cities because the prices are too expensive, and some do not own a car- meaning that public transport is the only possible way to get work for many. It’s alarming how out of touch the Conservative government seems to be with the real world of work for many.
According to The Office of National Statistics (April 24th 2020), men in a lower occupations of work have the highest death rate from COVID-19, with 21.4 per 100,000 of the population in the time frame of 9th March to 22nd April 2020. It was men working as security guards that had the highest death rate, with 45.7 deaths per 100,000. This is in comparison to the occupation of managers, with 21.6 deaths per 100,000. What the report calls ‘skilled trade occupations’ which includes automative service technicians, rail yard and ship crew’ has 44.6 per 100,000 death rate. Therefore, while the richer, the higher class keep in their safety bunker of a home from this virus, it is the lower classes that are being marched in to work, with twelve hours notice in some instances, by the table thumping orders of their blonde mop haired leader. In all countries around the world, after the pandemic is over or its affects have been greatly reduced, there will be economic struggles. Johnson is trying to prevent harm to the economy, and the easiest people to exploit in this act is the lowest paid who rely on their wages to survive, not for non-neccesities. These workers are not unskilled. They are working to keep the country going in this time. It is horrific that they are being exploited in this way.
Johnson punching the table when he lists these key workers, ‘police, bus drivers, train drivers, pharmacists, supermarket workers…’ and so on was a pathetic attempt to try and show his emphasis and respect for key workers, but his measures he is taking to protect these people show nothing of the sort.
Notice the vagueness in the plans for jobs that he set out in his speech. There was no talk of setting out safety practice in each employment setting, so every employee felt safe if and when they return to work. There was no talk of guidelines that every employer must follow to keep their employees safe, or they will not be allowed to open. There was no talk of providing protective equipment for every employee such as gowns, masks, and goggles for eye protection. There was no talk of any deep clean that every employer must take in their workplace before it is reopened. No, here Boris Johnson was taking the traditional neoliberal approach, characterised by past Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her government in the nineteen eighties when it came to dealing with the economy. An important principle in what is called ‘neoliberalism’ is what is called the ‘lassiez faire’ – the government leaves businesses to commit what acts they like, with the knowledge that ‘they know best.’ Although this approach has not been committed to when it comes to wages, instead the government adopting furlough policy meaning that the government pays furloughed workers who are not working directly from the state, it has been applied to health and safety regulation.
In extreme times before The Great Depression of the 1930s, UK governments refused any factory legislation to be passed that limited working hours or the use of children in manual labour, with this same knowledge that businesses knew best with their ‘superior knowledge’ and thus were allowed to adopt these measures for financial gain. We see the same pattern being adopted again. Wages are being paid for by the state on furlough schemes, but health and safety regulation is being left to the responsibility of the employer.
The complete abandonment of health and safety regulation also shifts blame away from the UK government if there is a second wave of the COVID-19 disease where infection, hospitalisation and death rates start rising again. It is the very essence of vagueness that will protect the government in the long run. If more people sadly lose their lives due to this virus in a second wave, which some scientists argue is inevitable, they will be able to defend themselves as it is the employers who had the choice to put regulations in place, it is the employers who should have provided the masks, it is the employers who should have had enough visors and goggles. It may even be the British public who gets the blame eventually, for not avoiding public transport or wearing protective equipment although the use of public transport is essential for some and protective equipment is in heavily short supply. It will be the employer’s fault for any shortage of equipment, for any people they have to make redundant. It will never be the government’s fault: remember that. Even with videos emerging of people cramming themselves on the London Underground to get to their work, clearly not keeping 2 metres apart, it will never be the government’s own fault if more and more people catch COVID-19.
What does this all mean? It means that the UK government are prioritising economy, money making and financial gain over the health and safety of the workers in this country. In a country and indeed a world where meeting family and friends is considered dangerous, it is still fine to come into contact with your boss in a confined workplace to run errands. In a time when the Health Secretary Matt Hancock says people can only see one parent at a time, it is still fine to come in close contact with your work colleagues and the general public, mostly without protective equipment. This is the hypocrisy of the UK government when it comes to health and safety. To quote Sam Coates report on Sky News, the government are quite possibly ‘prioritising economic contact over social contact.’ It’s disastrous.
If you feel unsafe at your workplace if you are returning to work, the law does protect you. Section 44 of the Health and Safety Act (1996) legislation protects any worker from working in an unsafe environment. Not many people actually know this; unfortunately The Labour Party have not vocalised this as of yet. This legislation has the potential to protect exploited workers in these horrific times, as it gives you the option to work away. To do this, you can write to your employee and sending an email to your manager, citing your reasons why. It is important that you cite your reasons and why you cannot carry on in your workplace, and cite your human rights under Section 44 of this Act. For more information on how to cite your rights if you feel like you are working in an unsafe workplace, a thread can be found here -> https://twitter.com/charlottor/status/1259565137494769670?s=20
Another possible option is to join a trade union. Trade unions are institutions that are together to protect and forward workers rights and interests, which is also needed for workers in these times A useful article to learn more about trade unions can be found here ->. Although it will not be voiced by the UK government, who have proposed to take COVID-19 ‘on the chin’ (Boris Johnson, March 2020 on This Morning) these are the ways in which you can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep yourself and your loved ones safe in these difficult times.
So, that’s going back to work. What about the unlimitedexcerise?
Another policy that Johnson announced on his address to the nation is people can now go on unlimited excerise whenever they like. In theory, and perhaps in the room where the government discussed this policy, it makes sense. People will be able to go out to excerise whenever they like to improve their wellbeing. They can play football, cricket, whatever they like in parks, and if it is sunny they can sunbathe in the sunny sunshine. There are two problems with this measure being introduced. One is the context of the policy being introduced, which is where I must recall back to the earlier contents of this blog post. Some people, although a minority, will stretch their freedoms and start to mingle with others from outside their household, possibly leading to higher infection. They had celebrated liberation’s seventy five year anniversary from the threat of Nazi power and were fully in a celebration mode. They could finally throw a big garden party as lockdown was finally coming to an end! In other words, the country was being offered a nibble at a liberation cake but a minority would eat the whole lot in one sitting, and then demand more. Johnson lay out restrictions on this policy, but the problem with this is he announced the ‘unlimited excerise policy’ before he said that it should be limited to families and one other person from outside the household. In other words, he did it the wrong way round. It being such a groundbreaking policy in the context of the restrictions that were in place before, many people most likely starting talking about what Johnson had just said, not hearing ‘families and one other person’ added on the end. It was like he announced this policy and then was like “oh… by the way” in terms of the restrictions, just as a little extra.
The policy, while no where near as dangerous as the abandonment of health and safety regulation discussed earlier is still dangerous. It risks friends and families meeting up and spreading the virus, some without even knowing, as it is possible one can have COVID-19 but not know for a maximum of fourteen days. The videos of some British people doing the conga among their neighbours a few days prior also most certainly come to mind. We have to hope this minority does not sacrifice this new policy to enjoy exercise with our house families more frequently.
Monday Morning, the UK woke up to videos of London Underground trains being packed with lots of commuters on their way to work. Although the government had, and continue to say that social distancing must be applied on public transport, anyone who has been on an underground tube knows this is impossible to do during rush hour, plus the workers were only trying to obey the Prime Minister’s instructions. The UK also woke up to controversial journalist Piers Morgan criticising the measures that the government had laid out, saying on the ITV breakfast show Good Morning Britain that they were ‘disingenuous’ while also criticising government ministers for boycotting the breakfast show by not appearing as guests. The UK population also witnessed a few hours later a surprising outburst from This Morning presenter Philip Schofield, bursting out on live television, saying ‘you made us cross Boris’ on a show that likes to stay away from Politics.
The media reflects the current mood of the population. A big majority of the population also felt the same way, with ‘GET TO THE POINT’ trending on Twitter for hours after the speech, with many trade unions the following day airing their concerns about protection for employees that have been forced back to work under the orders of their leader.
What is important is in these difficult times, we try to stay informed. The confusion surrounding Politics and the measures that the government keep putting out and reporting are making Politics something that we are tending to shy away from more than ever, when the power of information and knowledge is more important than ever. It is needed to be angry at the government, to be angry at their measures and realise how they are dealing with this situation. If you are still reading, thank you very much for reading this blog post. I hope you have enjoyed it, whilst also taking something away from it; my efforts over 4 nights (!) will all be worth it.
After five years, The Labour Party has a new leader, and that is Sir Keir Starmer, from a law background, and also having previously worked in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet for a time. Will he finally bring The Labour Party back to No.10 Downing Street?
Important definitions to fully understand this article, and to gain political knowledge (!):
cabinet: a cabinet consists of the ministers that support the Prime Minister, the leader of the country.
minister: those who are head of government departments. For example, Gavin Williamson is the Education Minister, and head of the education department.
shadow cabinet: a ‘cabinet’ that the leader of the opposition composes, which would be their cabinet if they came into power.
Onwho he succeeds: Jeremy Corbyn
With a new leader stepping up, it is time for one to sit down (on the backbench), and that is Jeremy Corbyn. For me, he was an amazing leader for who I applaud. After decades, he brought socialism back to the mainstream with the introduction of policies such as free tuition fees for all university education, state intervention and so on. Around the 2017 general election and the run up to it, he also captured many individuals to have a true interest in UK politics for the first time and campaigning, including me. I applaud him for challenging the government and holding them to account many times concerning Brexit. Unfortunately, the 2019 general election proved to be the worst result in Labour’s history, handing the Conservative party and Boris Johnson a considerable majority of seats in Parliament. This of course, meant that he had to go. You can blame many factors for this, from the media to anti semintism scandals, but for me it cannot be denied that The Labour Party had an amazing leader. Thank you, Jeremy Corbyn.
Who is Keir Starmer?
Keir Starmer, hailing from Southwark in London, is fifty seven years old and is the new leader of The Labour Party. He has served five years as a Member of Parliament (MP), which some may argue is a relatively short time for someone who is now leader of the opposition. Before stepping into the world of politics, he was a barrister, primarily working on human rights cases. Famously, he worked on what is known as the McLibel case which was brought to Court in 1997. In short, this case was where two individuals, a former postman and a gardener took on the global corporation of McDonalds, distributing leaflets around London about ‘what McDonalds does not want you to know.’ The verdict that was delivered was that McDonalds ‘exploited children within their advertising’ they were cruel to animals and produced ‘misleading’ advertising. After the couple refused to pay damages to McDonalds after all their challenges to the court were not proven, they refused and McDonalds did not chase them up. Starmer heavily defended the couple in this court case. McDonalds reputation has not been the same since.
Later on, as an MP he served in Jeremy Corbyn’s cabinet for a brief time as Secretary of State for Exiting The European Union in 2016, with the office eventually being abolished as the Brexit negotiations moved on. Interestingly, he resigned from this position within Corbyn’s shadow cabinet due to Corbyn’s leadership in the same year. This ‘coup’ had no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership of The Labour Party, with the dispute eventually put to the public vote of Labour Party members who of course voted in confidence of Corbyn as leader. After the 2019 general election however as discussed, with Labour performing the worst in their general election history, it was officially time for another leader to step in with Corbyn resigning.
The Labour Party leadership campaign started almost straight away after the 2019 GE, with various Labour Party Members of Parliament putting their names forward. Starmer was always in the lead, both in the majority of public opinion and in the polls, with the closest candidate being Rebecca Long Bailey, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn. Eventually, the candidates in the ‘final stretch of the race’ were Starmer, Long-Bailey, Emily Thornberry and Lisa Nandy. Starmer won the leadership contest from the Labour Party member votes, with 56.2% of the votes, compared to Long-Bailey on 27.6%. Elected Deputy leader in the same Labour leadership contest was Angela Rayner winning 52.6% of the votes with Rosena Allin Khan second, although a long way behind (21.3%) of the Labour Party member vote.
What are Keir Starmer’s values?
In the Labour leadership contest, Keir Starmer said that he wanted to build ‘another future that is possible.’ But what does this actually mean?
Keeping himself quite vague about policies that he would like to implement throughout the leadership election, it is still quite unknown what policies Keir Starmer will actually try and campaign being the official leader of the campaign. However, his slogan was ‘integrity. unity. authority.’ throughout the leadership campaign.
1.) integrity- speaks for itself. Despite his momentum, Corbyn’s time as party leader was rocked by various scandals, the most famous and the most damaging being anti-semitism- which is discrimination towards Jewish people. Some MPs resigned from the party and deflected as independent MPs or even to The Liberal Democrats. Particularly in the run up to the 2019 general election campaign, Corbyn was questioned repeatedly about the subject, and it damaged The Labour Party’s reputation across the globe. Starmer has pledged for greater regulations and restrictions on anti semitism rules. What Starmer likely means by ‘intergrity’ therefore is resolve the inner party conflicts, to once against challenge as the official opposition.
2.) Unity- The Labour Party is split. In a broader sense, some say that it is split into two parts, or ‘factions.’ The ‘hard left’ (or as I like to say: the LEFT left) want more radical changes to subjects such as public spending to fully invest and intervention within the economy. There is on the other hand the ‘soft left’ which want these policies implemented but perhaps at not such a large scale. Aside from The Labour Party, there has also been great divide within the country with the divisions that Brexit caused. Although of course, this has been overshadowed by the outbreak of the awful COVID-19 pandemic.
3.) Authority- this should not really come as a surprise with Starmer serving as a barrister, having ‘taken up hundreds of employment rights and trade union cases.’ What authority may actually mean is unclear, only time will tell.
Although Keir Starmer claims to be a socialist, he is likely to be in the ‘soft left’ faction of the Labour Party that was described earlier, thus different from his predecessor, Corbyn.
Do I think that he will succeed?
I think it is very possible that Keir Starmer will succeed as the leader of the opposition and will provide a good source of competition in the next general election. I hope that he will hold the government to account, with good public speaking within Parliament and in various activities. This will be needed as the UK slowly recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the rest of the world.
Indeed, although some political journalists have argued that this is ‘not the time for politics’ but I think Politics is needed more than ever. Not the arguing, not the shouting, not the insults: we need to go above this. In such confusing, scary and ‘unprecedented’ times, there needs to an essence that the ‘politics’ of our country is being used for good, meaning that is being used to help the NHS, ordinary citizens cope in every way possible, and ultimately keep people safe and well. Whatever that takes, whether it be the political parties debating with a consensus motive within Parliament, or developing a cross party coalition to achieve the best possible protection must be acted on. As the outbreak goes into decline, this cross party coalition will still be needed to guide the UK through recovery.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post, and keep safe and well.
People look at me strange when I say I do not watch television. “but how? You are missing out on so much!” But am I? Really? Or I am just missing on your world escaping popular culture which carries the dominant ideology?
*Note: this is not criticising all television. There are many companies that are piecing together good, sometimes informative and above all entertaining television programs in the 21st century. For example, Sir David Attenborough, I salute you and your team that puts together your documentaries. This blog post will be focusing solely on what my ‘stereotypical generation’ finds entertaining, and how I believe it is not, bluntly, entertainment.
Don’t get me wrong here. Everyone needs their own forms of escapism in this testing, sometimes stressful world. I have mine: I have football. However, there are many programmes that have irked me in recent years the more I have thought about and looked into. It’s annoyed me more and more, which is I am writing this blog post today. This blog post will discuss three genres of TV show.
Game Shows. – the Chase For years, I adored a good game show. I would sit down with my family and watch various gameshows such as Tipping Point, All Star Family Fortunes and all the classics. However, as I’ve got older this has changed. These shows may seem harmless, but the more you think about them the more harmful they get. On the show Tipping Point, for example, there are four contestants which accumulate money. If one is lucky enough to get the final, they can compete for £10,000. A key factor of these game shows is that the contestants always sell their dreams to the presenter, who I guarantee you is ROLLING in it and most certainly has the power to generate these dreams in around ten seconds, maximum. However, he does not and instead the contestants put counters into a machine hoping to knock other counters out to accumulate their money power. If the money pile is not big enough, the money is ripped away from them. Goodbye, that’s it. Back to your normal life. You really thought you would be lucky enough to achieve your dreams in around 20 minutes? You really thought this luck was on your side? Haha goodbye, no one cares about them.
There’s something really sickening about the idea that the presenter of the show is watching 75% of the contestants have hope in building their dreams up but are ripped away with having a sufficient wealth amount themselves. Its like the bourgeoisie watching the proletariat play snakes and ladders. In the supposed meritocratic society of our time, is this not just reinforcing the ‘luck element’ of our society?
Counter of this idea: it is no doubt that these type of shows have educational benefits, as those watching along can answer the questions at home. They may perhaps learn something new, or have their confidence boosted if they get a question right. It keeps the brain active (when concerning the boosting of knowledge.).
2.) The Jeremy Kyle show
This show is now axed, and for a while I was very upset about this. For years, it had been my ambition to see the show being filmed live on my 18th birthday, the eligible age to be in the studio audience.
The Jeremy Kyle show always had a sinister reputation. ‘Guests’ would write or call the show with a particular dilemma. Common themes were cheating tests, DNA tests and lie detector tests. If one individual was found guilty of cheating or stealing, all shouty sweary hell would break loose mixed in with tears. All this time, the lead presenter would pose a menacing figure, getting right in the middle of the action by asking questions and confronting those that may be in the wrong. The audience would usually laugh in the background. Occasionally, there was the more emotional story of family reunions (‘I have not seen my father in 30 years!’) to ease the emotional heart.
Reports in 2019 came out that a man had committed suicide after appearing on the show. Police ruled that the ‘death was not to be treated as suspicious.’ The man had undertaken a lie detector test and he had failed. Usually on the show, the failure of a lie detector test leads to fights, arguments and shouting. However, according to an audience member this man collapsed to the ground and begging his fiancé for forgiveness. They both ended up sobbing, and audience members recalled that ‘the mood had completely changed’ to ‘uncomfortable.’ The show was pulled and axed, with the chief executive saying that it was down to the ‘gravity of events.’
This is where, on my part, I had a rethink. I had been a loyal watcher of this show, which I am ashamed to think about now. I saw the show in a completely different light, and realised that it was not actually entertainment.
My analysis is the show is somewhat of a bull ring, with the ‘bulls’ being the lower class, the underclass of society. The presenter is very much the ringmaster, frequently upsetting the bulls and taunting them. All the while behind the audience laughs and jeers as if it is some kind of game. It not in fact a game, just as bullfighting is not. It is cruel and life threatening to those that are in the ring. Instead of being listened to, they were laughed at. Instead of these people getting help, they were jeered and laughed for the endorsement of our entertainment.
It could be argued that they did receive support behind the closed doors. However, as the horrific saddening death that resulted in this show, was this ever enough? Or were the events too scarring? It is sad to think that those who applied to the show must have felt like they had no other help to turn to apart from demonstrating their problem on national reality TV show through a belittling manner. This, for the underclass was the only way that they could make their voices heard, which we gobbled up as a nation not for the sake of help but for the sake of endorsing entertainment.
3.) Loose Women:
This is one show that I have always been against. I just don’t understand the ‘community’ feature that it supposedly entails.
I understand it’s context. Loose Women is a talk show which is broadcasted at noon and is hosted by a panel of women. They mostly talk about events that may have affected women, ‘women’ problems like problems with periods or dresses (haha! so relatable) or inspirational stories which will tug at the heartstrings. As the time it is broadcast is at noon, this is meant to appeal to the women who are currently entailing the housework within their homes while the husband is out working. It provides a sense of community, as if to say ‘hey look! Older woman! You are not alone with your troubles and woes! There are so many other women like you! Don’t worry!’. On the face of it, this may seem like a good intention.
There is one key distinction to be made here. The woman who host the panels have celebrity status, and are once again, ROLLING in it. There is no way that they have the same troubles that working class women may entail. This show portrays a false sense of being relatable, as the celebrities have a much more privileged life with lots more wealth. A regular host, Ruth Langesford has once mentioned the ‘cleaner’ that they have in their house! A cleaner! In most working class families, the women is still stereotypically the cleaner! The British Social Attitudes Survey (2008) found that out of all the women that had a male partner, 75% of them said that they always did the laundry. A woman watching this show who is meant to be the target audience will have much different problems to the presenters.
This is quite sad, and also relates to Marx’s theory of class exploitation (yes, yes, this may sound a bit bonkers but let me explain myself.) A woman watching this show, encompassed in this false sense of community may take comfort from this and feel like they are not alone as they complete their house routines and cleaning. Thus, this keeps them happy within that role; the dominant ideology has been passed on through this media programme and women are now encompassed under the false class consciousness. They are happy, there is community. They become less aware of their exploitation within the capitalist society. They do not realise that they are actually being exploited within this system keeping the elite in power. How is this entertainment? It is a media tool.
All things considered, am I missing too much by not watching television? Perhaps I am, but only the political and social analysis.