Nazi Britain: a warning from history part 4

If you’re still unconvinced of Boris Johnson’s gradual Nazification of Britain then this final part of the film provides evidence not only of the parallels with Hitler but the way that the Johnson government continues to attack our rights and freedoms. Johnson is a dictator in the making and the nature of that dictatorship is far from benign.

But there is hope. Watch to the end to hear what we can do to change this terrifying trajectory. The Tory party knows nothing of loyalty to leaders once they are seen by the public for what they really are. We can use the Tory party’s own inherent callousness to overthrow this regime before it’s too late.

The government that follows will still be tory but at least it won’t be Nazi. That might not be a perfect solution but it beats what the current government has in store for us.

Nazi Britain: a warning from history part 3 of 4

Now all of these rights are at risk – which of them do you want to lose? Which do you want other people to lose?

Would you like suspected foreign criminals to be deported without conviction in court?

Would you like to go to prison for crimes you were merely suspected of without being found guilty?

If your answers to those questions are different you’re falling for the propaganda.

Home secretary Priti Patel even stands by a system of immigration that would have excluded her own parents who were kicked out of Uganda during Idi Amin’s purges and fled here for their own safety.

She’s also presiding over the mass deportation of EU and other immigrants, many of whom have lived their entire lives, or close to their entire lives here in the UK.

Those granted leave to remain will be forced to do so under new regulations effectively making them second class citizens in the land they have always called home. Swap the word Jew for Muslim and it’s a move that could have been taken straight from Adolf Hitler’s 25 point plan.

Nazi Britain: a warning from history part 2 of 4

I’ve just made a pretty big claim, some might say an extraordinary claim and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Just what makes me imagine that this society, this land of my birth is becoming the very thing we opposed not only in wartime but on British streets as well?

This is the land of Cable Street, of Brick Lane where thousands of anti-fasciststook to the streets to oppose Mosley’s Blackshirts and Griffin’s National Front.

It’s the land of the Levellers, the Chartists, of Magna Carta and the Battle of Peterloo where working class artesans gathered peacefully to hear speeches against an oppressive British government and were massacred, by order of that government and the king, at swordpoint by local yeomanry and cavalry soldiers.

So, before we get too smug about our anti-fascist national credentials we should also bear in mind that in each of those other famous conflicts the police, the establishment and the government sided with the fash.

The people in power followed the money, as they often do.

And in recent years that money has been in the hands of far right donors, think tanks and agitators from Breitbart to Cambridge Analytica, from Eugenicist Dominic Cummings to disaster capitalists like Arron Banks and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Nazi Britain: a warning from history part 1 of 4

How did Adolf Hitler and his small band of National Socialists manage to take a sophisticated, developed and educated nation and turn it into a fascist state ready to march roughshod over the rights, the lives and even the existence of others?

This short film aims to answer that question, not only from a historical perspective but from a current affairs point of view too.

For over a decade now I’ve been speaking to anyone who’s prepared to listen about the path we’re on in modern UK – and not just here – across the developed world.

This isn’t about Godwin’s law, the internet trope that claims every disagreement ends with the loser accusing everyone else of Nazism. There are Nazis in UK but they’re pretty few and far between.

This is about the way that ordinary people, people who are far from Nazi are being duped by cynical provocateurs, rabble rousers and even politicians into accepting Nazi principles without even realising it.

It’s an expose – not an accusation. It’s a heartfelt plea to the millions of decent people in my beloved United Kingdom to stop for a moment, to take stock and to see where we’re headed.

Far right bingo card: Hang the leftie traitors

Hang the leftie traitors

This one is just priceless, coming as it does from the fash who also claim to be the guardians of freedom of speech!

Of course, we all know that of the two principles, freedom of speech and hanging political opponents it’s the latter that they really mean. But once again, they just haven’t thought it through.

If you believe in freedom of speech then you believe that the state should not intervene to limit or control peoples’ free expression of their beliefs. Since treason is a criminal act (an offence against the state) it would be up to the state to deal with traitors. That means criminalising speech.

Does that mean (of course we know it does) that when they advocate freedom of speech they only really mean freedom of speech for those who agree with them?

Does that mean anyone advocating for a non-fascist political stance is a traitor deserving of death?

Are they so afraid of opposing viewpoints that they want to make the entire country a safe space where they will never be challenged?

Fuckin’ snowflakes!

Of course this attempt to exterminate all those who disagreed with him is exactly what Hitler did. No, that’s not Godwin’s law – it’s genuinely, factually true. And how did that work out?

The best nuclear physicists went to work for the Americans.

The most efficient organisers, those with experience of running large municipal organisations along equitable lines were sent to concentration camps or murdered.

Many of their soldiers were taken up guarding many of their other potential soldiers (the German army contained many Jews and trade unionist socialists during world war 1).

The policy of excluding all this potential meant that the likes of Goerring ended up running the Luftwaffe leading to the loss of the Battle of Britain and ultimately the war. Had Britain fallen D-Day could never have happened and Europe would not have been liberated. It’s exactly what happened to the French military after the revolution. Military officers were usually aristocrats at that time and so, like all ‘aristos’, they were either executed or demoted leaving thoroughly inexperienced, newly promoted officers in their place. Naval battles like Trafalgar or the Battle of the Nile show just what an experienced officer like Nelson can achieve against such a force. Montgomery wouldn’t have stood a chance against the Desert Fox in North Africa and Normandy almost certainly wouldn’t have fallen to the Allies in 1944 had Rommell had sufficient quality officers supporting him in Libya and in Normandy. And let’s not even begin discussing the Manhattan project’s likely impact had the Allies deemed it necessary to use their new weapon on German cities the way they did in Japan.

When modern British fash advocate the death of all their political opponents they also advocate the removal of a wealth of talented people. In short they’re making the same mistake as Hitler and Robespierre. Were they ever to gain power in this country and carry out their ridiculous threat their own downfall would also be assured. They’re making enemies out of potential friends and all because of a flawed ideology that assumes some people are inherently better than others. It’s ludicrous!

But they don’t understand that either. Why not tell them?

It’s black history month

Today, October 1st 2020 marks the beginning of black history month. Generally speaking it’s a vibrant time full of celebration and fascinating learning. And it’s accessible to all. Even white (pink) people like me. But some people seem to misunderstand the point. They carp on and on about the lack of a ‘white history month’ without realizing that we have 11 of those every year, anyway.

We must not lose our way

I’m pretty active on Twitter. Just check out @stuartsorensen and if you’re a fellow Tweeter do, please follow and say hello.

There’s a very strong and growing socialist presence on the platform,  not least because of the weekly #SocialistSunday hashtag which has been instrumental in helping us to find and support each other during these dark days of neoliberalism and far-right division. Check it out – it’s a great resource.

But every silver lining has a cloud and this one is no exception. I noticed a popular tweet today. A tweet with lots of reach across the platform, all the more impressively so because the author is a relative newcomer with very few followers.

The tweet calls for solidarity and mutual assistance between socialists. Nothing wrong with that, you might say except that it risks falling into a subtle trap that can only further divide working people along increasingly entrenched lines of right and left. Let me illustrate my point with an anecdote.

A few years ago I was working as a community psychiatric nurse in South Yorkshire. One of my community patients was a young man with extreme far right, Islamophobic and racist views (and a history of very significant violence to boot). Trust me, you really wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of this bloke.

As it happened this young man had multiple social and psychiatric problems and was experiencing some considerable difficulties in accessing the community services he needed.  Consequently I invested an awful lot of time, doggedly liaising with other professionals and talking through his mental health difficulties with him to try and get him some sort of a route back into a fulfilling way of life again.

One day I visited him at home to learn that he’d googled my name and found my blog. It happens sometimes. What he found there appalled him. I’m a lefty, after all. I’m what he thought of as ‘the enemy’. He’d had no idea about my politics. In fact, I’d been so non-committal on the subject that he’d actually assumed I agreed with him. Even rabid lefties like me understand the need to leave our politics at the door where work is concerned.

This young man had one, simple question…

Why?

He’d made no secret of his politics. He even had mail order toilet roll with verses from the Qu’Ran printed on every sheet and some very obvious pamphlets lying around at home.

Why had I worked so hard to help him – a neoNazi and unapologetic racist? He’d never have lifted a finger to help me if the shoe was on the other foot.

I resisted the temptation to reply that his small-mindedness was one reason why the shoe wasn’t actually on the other foot in the first place. Instead, in addition to discussing my professional duty of care, I briefly outlined the difference between the left wing working class and the right wing working class…

The left wing works for the benefit of all who need it.

The right wing works only for the benefit of those with whom they agree.

To my surprise he acknowledged that this was correct, without protestation or denial. He freely admitted that the left was far more inclusive and compassionate than the right and that this easily explained the difference in our attitudes. Below is a clip from a documentary about the 1936 Battle of Cable Street which illustrates this point far more effectively than I just did.

So far as the left is concerned the needs of the whole community matter. At least – so far as the left wing that I’ve always believed in is concerned. I’m a socialist precisely because I think the whole community is important. Even those very few people I’ve ‘disowned’ have been rejected only because they sought to ostracise others due to colour, nationality or religion. That seems to me to be a form of natural justice from which they just might learn something important.

So whilst I applaud the idea of developing a means to help those in need I worry that by limiting it to a form of socialist ‘mutual aid’ we may be starting down a route that ends with us losing one of the most important aspects of what it means to be a socialist. I put this article out here not to criticise or in any way to attempt to undermine the efforts of my fellow lefty. I think the intention is brilliant and I’ll certainly be participating in what aid I can give but I’d like to ask that, whilst we can and should make it clear that it’s a socialist initiative we really oughtn’t to limit our assistance only to those with whom we agree…

That’s what they do on the dark side.

Sage: ignoring the science

How sage-like is SAGE?

You might need to grab a cup of tea and maybe a few biscuits for this one – it’ll take a while to explain but I hope you’ll agree that it’s worth it. To really understand the background, the importance of scientific integrity and the vital need for freedom from the political process we’ll need a little history.

We’ve known ever since the ConDem coalition government came to power in 2010 that people on benefits, on pensions, people who were sick or disabled and basically anyone who didn’t contribute to the financial wealth of rich conservative donors was going to have a hard time.

ConDem austerity slashed the finances of health and social care organisations, issued wage freezes for their staff wherever they could and doubled down on means testing and medical review for those in need of state aid to live. We’ve all seen the awful stories of suicides and starvation caused by DWP austerity against a backdrop of tax breaks for the wealthy and tax avoidance schemes for large companies whilst our politicians, many of them cabinet ministers, hid their own wealth offshore to avoid paying the taxes that would help fund those very services.

Conservative policy has robbed WASPI women of their pension rights, reduced the real time earnings of public sector workers in the NHS and Social care as well as slashed the workforce numbers in these and many other vital services including police, fire and housing.

The tories are no friends of the poor or of those who protect and care for them.

The sick and the elderly have been singled out for particular attack, not only by removing the services and benefits that they rely upon but also by ensuring that people have to work longer to qualify for their retirement pensions and that DWP health checks ignore medical advice the government often makes it close to impossible for severely disabled citizens to jump through the hoops set for them.

That’s the backdrop – the Conservatives have no regard for the welfare of anyone not financially independent. If you’re not working and you’re not rich you’re not important. Even if you are working the tories have been extremely skilled at reducing your rights as well as your access to health care should you need it.

Tribunals for unfair dismissal are much harder to access and legal aid is all but unattainable for the majority of citizens. So before we go any further please bear this single point in mind.

This government doesn’t care about people from whom it cannot profit. You know, the elderly, the disabled, the unemployed, the sick and those in care homes. These are groups of people we’ll refer to again so keep them in mind.

Now a little science history – just so we’re clear about the relationship between politics and scientific discovery.

Back in 1859 Charles Darwin published his great work ‘On the origin of species: Evolution by means of natural selection’. It caused a major stir at the time but then, inexplicably for modern readers it fell into a bit of a lull until at the turn of the century it was revived by two equally awful movements.

One was the creationist movement that objected to the reality of evolution because they thought it undermined the Genesis story. The other was even more nefarious. The eugenics movement committed that most obvious of scientific errors – the naturalistic fallacy. They believed that what is natural must be right and that since nature lets the weak die then human society must do the same.

Eugenicists bastardised the science (understanding what is) for political ends (what they wanted to be). They never quite understood that describing something about the natural world isn’t necessarily the same as supporting it in principle. As a result of that failure to understand the bleeding obvious, in many countries the poor, the sick, those with mental health or learning difficulties and those judged as immoral were denied state support leading to starvation. Some were forcibly sterilised and even in some cases killed. The Eugenics movement was just as strong in this country at the turn of the 20th century. The death toll because politics got involved in science was horrendous. But of course that couldn’t possibly happen here.

Remember those groups I mentioned earlier…

The elderly, the disabled, the unemployed, the sick and those in care homes.

We’ve heard a lot about these groups recently. They’re the ones most at risk from Covid-19. They’re also the ones with the least protection from government both historically as we’ve already seen and currently in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s interesting that they’re the same people the eugenicists targeted, albeit without the focus on ‘moral defectives’ – a group that would certainly include a number of modern MPs, not least the current Prime Minister whose string of unacknowledged children, whose penchant for lying and adulterous behaviour in general would certainly have earned him the title ‘Moral defective’ back in the day.

But of course, his wealth would have protected him anyway – just as it does today. Boris isn’t the target – he’s the intended beneficiary along with all the rest of his kind, parasitically profiting from the work done by those who will never be paid what they’re worth by this tory government.

That’s one thing this pandemic has made very clear to us all. Which are the people society can’t do without and they don’t tend to be the richest – they’re all tucked up in splendid isolation. It’s the poorest who have to take all the risks, the nurses, the care assistants and support workers, the supermarket staff, the delivery drivers and the food producers.

We’ve all known for ever that they’re the real wealth creators but now we know just how unimportant their employers, the wealth takers really are. And we know something else. We know that this government is doing everything it can to give the appearance of concern whilst simultaneously undermining the chances of those that Hermann Goering described as ‘useless eaters’. You know, the elderly, the disabled, the unemployed, the sick and those in care homes.

At every daily briefing the government tells us that they’re being guided by the science but what exactly does that mean? SAGE stands for the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. It’s been around for a long time but only under this government has it become secret. We used to know who sat on it. Now we don’t.

Under previous regimes the Prime Minister always chaired SAGE meetings but our own dear leader has missed no fewer than 5 such meetings citing personal issues (not illness – this isn’t about his recent hospitalisation or recuperation). In his place he seems to have sent chief advisor and unelected spin doctor Dominic Cummings instead.

Cummings isn’t a scientist. We learned last February just what sort of man he is when the Guardian reported his blog on ‘designer babies’ as a view that geneticists described as unethical, unworkable and – most importantly of all for our purposes, Eugenicist. Cummings was also the man who paved the way for Eugenicist Andrew Sabisky to get a job at No. 10, an appointment that proved short-lived when his disgraceful opinions came to light and he was forced to resign. Neither Cummings nor PM Boris Johnson have commented.

Cummings wrote in his designer babies blog…

“It goes without saying that turning this idea into a political/government success requires focus on A, the NHS, health, science, NOT getting side-tracked into B, arguments things like IQ and social mobility. Over time the educated classes will continue to be dragged to more realistic views on (B) but this will be a complex process entangled with many hysterical episodes. (A) requires ruthless focus.”

So, a eugenicist who wants to rid the gene pool of ‘defectives’ by ruthlessly concentrating upon the NHS, health and science is sitting on the SAGE advisory group.

Professor Richard Ashcroft of city university called Cummings’ views ‘cargo cult science’. For those unfamiliar with cargo cults they’re religious groups which sprung up on remote islands after the second world war. They believe that if they recreate bamboo airstrips and worship an apparently non-existent American airman called John Frum then the ships and planes will return with all their cargo and Frum will save his people. It’s based upon a complete misunderstanding of reality and so, it seems is Cummings’ ‘science’. Professor Ashcroft said…

“This idea that we can use biological selection to improve individuals and society, and that the state through the NHS should facilitate this, really is pure eugenics”

And yet Cummings continues to advise our government, our Prime Minister and apparently our scientific advisory group.

Are you frightened yet? Remember those groups I mentioned earlier…

The elderly, the disabled, the unemployed, the sick and those in care homes.

Now think about government policy, the history of 10 years of targeted austerity and the vulnerability of those groups in particular.

When the rest of the world was buying up PPE and ventilators we were told it might be better to go for herd immunity and just ‘Take it on the chin’ as Boris said. Of course, it’s true that herd immunity will be necessary before we can say Covid-19 isn’t a problem but to actively pursue it before we have a vaccine!  Let’s just look at what that means. For herd immunity to be meaningful the reality is that around 70% at least of the surviving community will have had the disease and developed antibodies.

The word ‘surviving’ is important here. If we do just take it on the chin we are very likely to lose large numbers of elderly, infirm, disabled and those who live in cramped circumstances – you know – those on benefits who can’t afford anything bigger.

That would be no great loss to the likes of Cummings as they’re the ones he wants out of the gene pool to begin with. Perhaps that’s why Michael Gove, months into the crisis was still suggesting that the UK ‘run the virus hot’, meaning merely to allow it to run its course. Perhaps that’s why, despite claiming to be guided by the science – from Mr. Cummings’ SAGE group – we waited so long before entering lockdown despite the advice of the science from Italy, from China and from the World Health Organisation itself.

But hang on, I hear you cry – we’ve built new hospitals, ordered tests and bought loads of PPE. We’ve recruited loads of retired medical and nursing staff and even Burberry and Dyson are making kit for healthcare workers to use.

Yes, that’s all true.

But we’ve also seen government guidance to increase the use of do not resuscitate orders, to discharge elderly people back to care homes without testing, even if we think they have Covid-19, to ramp up DNR orders on otherwise healthy disabled people and the government has ignored care home death figures until forced to acknowledge them by the press.

We still haven’t managed to get into gear for this pandemic even though the government’s own 2016 exercise, operation Cygnus clearly demonstrated how unprepared we were and recommended doing all the things we’re now doing relatively half-heartedly and far too late.

Burberry may well be making hospital gowns but many smaller firms, not owned by tory party donors are offering help and being ignored by the government, even though they have stocks already in their warehouses which they are now forced to sell to other countries just to stay afloat.

We have a ‘ward care ceiling’ policy which is used as a matter of course to deny elderly and disabled people access to ICU beds – despite the fact that we have new Nightingale hospitals still unused that could accommodate them.

It seems that there are plenty of resources as tory MPs all across UK have been instructed to tell us but only if you’re not in one of those groups I mentioned earlier. You know…

The elderly, the disabled, the unemployed, the sick and those in care homes.

Much is being said about the economy and how difficult it will be to recover from this but that’s hardly the point. Proper taxation of the wealthiest – those we now know are far from vital to our country’s welfare and a proper scrutiny of offshore accounts would go a long way to sorting out that problem.

So, it seems would culling the elderly, the disabled, the unemployed, the sick and those in care homes. And that culling wouldn’t need to hurt the pockets of those wealthy tory donors.

If only the government had a eugenicist pulling the strings!

 

Covid-19 and the spivs

During World War 2 resources were rationed, food and essential supplies were scarce and the black market – the trade in illegal goods was rife.

a1a1ef2840f1fd1beff7b0bec4c9cfd1--piccadilly-circus-black-marketLike parasites on the back of a troubled society criminal profiteers sourced desperately needed goods in a variety of illegal ways and then sold them at extortionate prices to their starving neighbours. Known as Spivs, they were hated at the time and in many cases for the rest of their lives. The community remembers.

In this time of coronavirus lockdown and shortage we have our own, modern version of the spiv. They may not be acquiring their goods illegaly but the profiteering shopkeeper who vastly inflates the price of goods like hand sanitizer, toilet roll or cleaning products is just as much a parasite as their wartime predecessors were.

In my town I recently came across a trader selling a couple of pounds worth of hand sanitizer for £9.99. That’s nothing short of daylight robbery in my opinion. I have, of course informed Trading standards but I’m genuinely not sure if they can intervene or not. But we can.

Just as during WW2 and beyond the community remembered, I appeal to everyone to remember just how these profiteers took advantage of their neighbours’ desperation. And I ask you to do two other things…

stock-footage-a-closed-going-out-of-business-signResolve never to buy from these shops or trade with these businesses again – unless they immediately stop their spivvy, antisocial behaviour.

Share this video with them so they know exactly what is in store if they continue to extort unfair advantage from our communities.

Social censure is worthless if people don’t understand why – so let them know.

Hitler youth in modern UK?

Denounce your teachers!Early last year a new group started making waves in UK. An American far right import, Turning Point UK (not to be confused with the social care charity of similar name) set its sights on influencing British domestic politics. The alt-right offshoot spared no expense in promoting its cynical message to British youth, even creating the 21st century’s answer to Diana and Unity of the Mitford sisters, Alice and Beatrice whose grandfather headed up one of the nation’s largest banks. I critiqued a couple of their vacuous videos here and here.

Diana and Unity Mitford

The group has been endorsed by senior right wing politicians including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Priti Patel as well as Nigel “Mr. Brexit” Farage himself which really ought to tell you all you need to know about their right wing aims. Farage even misrepresented socialism on video for the group. But in case you’re in any doubt let’s take a look at Turning Point UK’s latest escapade.

In an attempt to further indoctrinate British young people, the far right group has asked children to ‘denounce’ their teachers should they say anything that might be construed as non-supportive of neoNazi ideals. For example.

Yeah, the Trump picture is a bit naughty. Funny though and Trump’s policies really can be argued to be analogous with an aggressive cancer spreading internationally.

Next up is a perfectly reasonable analogy about the behaviour of cells described as “remainer propaganda” in this paranoid campaign.

A lecture on Marxist perspective (presumably in a social history or similar class) is described as evidence of indoctrination – it seems that only one side of the political spectrum is to be taught, even though a balanced approach is the only way for young people to make truly informed decisions.

Here, an appeal to critical thinking contrasted with the non-critical Daily Mail is objected to for no apparent reason. Nobody could seriously argue that it’s not a valid contrast. The Daily Mail is far from renowned for facilitating critical thought – but it is a right wing rag and so the fash from TPUK will brook no criticism of it.

Now where have we seen this sort of thing before? How about the actions of the AfD in Germany – the modern white-supremacist successors to the Nazi party?

“The far-right Alternative for Germany’s decision to set up web portals to denounce teachers who express political opinions in the classroom unleashed a storm of protest this week. Critics hear an echo of Nazi tactics or repression in Communist East Germany.”

In perfect style German teachers have reported themselves en masse to the party, explaining that it’s a matter of public duty to be recognised as someone who stands up to fascism as an example of good citizenship to the young people they seek to educate.

In this country the National Front tried a similar thing, encouraging school children to denounce lefty teachers, several of whom were attacked and seriously injured by NF members as a result. Like all the rest of our examples the NF campaign sought to encourage the teaching of traditionalist, nationalist history with a very definite bias instead of the accurate history, increasingly favoured by modern educational establishments.

The new far-right government of Brazil did the same in 2018 as did Mussolini prior to WW2. But perhaps the most widely known example of this ‘teacher denouncing’ occurred in Nazi Germany, beginning soon after Hitler seized power in 1933 and resulting in an almost complete takeover of German education by the Nazi party. The parallel with Nazi Germany interfering in academic freedoms to promote a bias for Nazi ideology is clear. After all, Turning Point UK doesn’t appear to have any problem with right wing teachers talking politics in the classroom or lecture theatre.

It really is time for British people to sit up and take notice. This is happening now, right under our noses and, just as the German people were too complacent to take the threat seriously, so are many Britons. Nazi Germany was already established with all its disastrous consequences by the time most people realised what had happened. Then, as now, the far right, the racists and the aggressive ultra-nationalists targeted impressionable children because it works. It worked then and if we’re not very careful it’ll work now.

Don’t let that happen here. There’s still time to protect our laws, our customs, our legal system AND maintain our democracy

Oh yes – and just in case you were wondering…It’s not Godwin’s law if they really are Nazis!

A little history: Alfred the Great (849 – 899)

220px-Statue_d'Alfred_le_Grand_à_WinchesterIn 872, when Alfred was only 23 he succeeded his brother, Aethelred as King of Wessex. Shortly after this he embarked upon his famous retreat into the Marshes, complete with implausible stories about burnt cakes. The war with Guthrum’s invading Vikings was brutal and bloody but eventually, a combination of Saxon courage and Alfred’s strategy won the day.

It’s no exaggeration to report that Alfred’s victory really did change the course of history, not just for Wessex and the Saxons but for the whole of Europe and ultimately the world. Without Alfred we’d have lost more than we can count, so great was his influence that it stretches right up into the modern era and will continue to do so far into the future.

Following the defeat of Guthrum, Alfred consolidated and even expanded his Kingdom, establishing around 33 fortified Hide defences, each one within a days’ march of its neighbour and each one capable of accommodating and protecting the local community from future attack. These defences, known collectively as the Burghal Hidage, also served as bases for military strikes against any future invading armies. The fortifications contained permanent garrisons which complemented the equally permanent standing army ‘in the field’. This was a military infrastructure that was both entrenched and responsive!

Alfred even established the first proper Navy (no – it wasn’t Henry VIII – Alfred did it first) to combat Viking marauders who threatened the coastline. But that’s not why Alfred was ‘the Great’. It was his intellectual, legal and administrative influence that earned him his place of honour in word history.

Like Charlemagne before him, Alfred was keen for his people, all of his people, to be educated. There’s an astonishing circularity of influence throughout Medieval Christendom that begins with Gregory the Great and ends with Alfred. The cycle moves from Gregory the Great and Isidore of Seville to Bede of Jarrow, to Alcuin of York, to Charlemagne, to Alfred the Great and then back to Gregory with Alfred’s Anglo- Saxon translation of the famous Pope’s ‘The Pastoral Care’ some 400 years after it was first written down in the original Latin.

Alfred also personally translated Boethius’ ‘Consolations of philosophy’ and was clear that the many Anglo-Saxon translations he created or procured were to be widely taught among the Anglo-Saxon youth. Alfred was the first English authority to understand the value of educating not just the nobility, but everyone. He was the original British champion of what we now call ‘universal education’, a theme of modern socialism which sees education as the most effective and long-lasting means of improving the general standard of living for working people.

Following Boethius’ model of the hierarchy of topics such as the trivium and quadrivium, Alfred intended for Anglo- Saxon literacy to be widespread, for the translated core texts to be widely studied and only then for Latin works to be the focus of further study. He saw literacy as vital to the life of an effective state and language as the glue that would hold the developing nation together.

Just as Charlemagne had focussed on Latin translation of important texts to ensure their wide distribution, Alfred reversed the trend for the exact same reason. Charlemagne had been so successful in creating Latin versions of key texts that few were available in any other languages. That may not have been a problem for the head of the Carolingian empire but for Alfred, the King of a relatively minor region in the South of England it was a very big problem indeed. Almost none of his subjects were able to read Latin and this meant that many of the greatest minds were quite literally closed books so far as England was concerned.

So – in his late thirties Alfred organised and even participated in the translation of key texts into Anglo Saxon. He had these books distributed throughout his kingdom. Like Charlemagne before him, Alfred instigated a public education programme, a system which in turn facilitated his new administrative system. It’s no exaggeration to say that the idea of modern England was born with Alfred who not only expanded his realm but also educated and cared for those within it.

Alfred organised and in part authored the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, a history of his realm written down for posterity and, perhaps most importantly of all – he produced a written record of codified laws. It was this collection of record-keeping, education, jurisprudence and the creation of national identity that transformed Wessex (and ultimately England). Alfred’s dominion went from a rough collection of allied principalities to a unified state with the foundations that eventually built a nation, an empire, a legal system and even a parliamentary system of government.

Without Alfred it is arguable that the knowledge that facilitated the beginnings of the English state would never have been made available to the masses. It was Alfred’s work that kept the torch of non-clerical education alight throughout the centuries to come when the medieval church tried their best to keep knowledge and literacy to themselves. His translations of foundational texts effectively broke the religious monopoly by enabling and encouraging successive English generations to champion the vernacular and keep secular education alive. Without Alfred’s work there would have been little for them to study anyway. We will meet some of the heroes of this intellectual tradition as the series progresses.

Alfred’s influence stretches far beyond the ninth century world he inhabited. Without Alfred we would live in a very different (I suspect a much poorer), religiously dominated society indeed. He was one of our nation’s most benevolent leaders and he genuinely seems to have understood the value of opportunity for every man (women’s rights still weren’t a thing in Alfred’s day, I’m afraid) to be educated to the limit of his ability and for all to have an opportunity to learn and develop intellectually. That’s one of the many reasons why Alfred is still recognised as ‘The Great’.

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Compare that to the words of conservative cabinet minister, Michael Gove who, in 2003 whilst he was secretary of state for education, told The Times

“Some people will, apparently, be put off applying to our elite institutions by the prospect of taking on a debt of this size. Which as far as I’m concerned is all to the good.”

Mr. Gove, who can say these things whilst simultaneously opposing private schools went on to trivialise the debt burden by comparing it to favourable earnings post-graduation but the underlying divisiveness came across loud and clear. He may just as well have said…

Those people too poor to throw £20 odd grand around without having to think seriously about it first are probably too stupid to be in further education in the first place!