John Newsinger

By Gove: education and the Murdoch Empire

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On 3 October, at a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference, education secretary Michael Gove went out of his way to sing the praises of Rupert Murdoch. Gove admitted that he remained "a great admirer of Rupert Murdoch, he's a force of nature, a phenomenon, he's a great man". For a senior minister to still admit to being one of Murdoch's creatures is quite remarkable, but there was a good reason for Gove standing by his man: Murdoch has a central role in Tory plans for British education.

During their first fourteen months in office, Cabinet ministers met senior News International executives 130 times. Over a quarter of these meetings involved David Cameron himself. While in no way wishing to be fair to Cameron, it has to be admitted that his government was merely continuing a long established tradition of British governments kow-towing to Murdoch. This tradition began to take shape under Harold Wilson in the late 1970s, was consolidated under Thatcher, was deepened and extended under Blair and Brown and was set to become even more extravagant under Cameron.

Britain's Empire

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Richard Gott

For centuries the British ruling class has got a perverse pleasure out of bombarding "natives" who were not able to hit back. These bombardments have, of course, always been inflicted for their own good. The relentless bombardment of Libya is just the most recent episode in a long history that has seen the British bombing cities and towns across much of the globe.

Route Irish

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Director: Ken Loach, release date: 18 March

In 2010 Kathryn Bigelow's appalling The Hurt Locker won the Oscar for both best film and best director (by some grim irony she was the first woman to win the award). Not only did it win the Oscar but, in a dramatic display of the way that Hollywood film culture has colonised Britain, it also took the Bafta for best film and best director. While the film was widely congratulated for showing the Iraq War "as it really is", it was, in fact, just another celebration of US militarism. And now, as if from another world altogether, comes the new Ken Loach-Paul Laverty film, Route Irish.

Long distance running: Alan Sillitoe (1928-2010)

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The novels of Alan Sillitoe rejoice in working class defiance. John Newsinger writes about a brilliant writer with a sad political trajectory.

(Photo: Monire Childs)

Author Alan Sillitoe died on 25 April 2010. He will be best remembered for his powerful novels and stories of working class life, such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Key to the Door, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, and a ferocious work of family biography, Raw Material.

Afghanistan: the elephant in the room

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The reason British troops are in Afghanistan has nothing to do with the safety of the British people and even less to do with the security of the world.

Instead it has everything to do with paying the "blood price" for the "special relationship" with the US, an unequal relationship that obsesses politicians.

The despatch of further British troops to Afghanistan in 2006 was accompanied by defence secretary John Reid's pious hope that they might not have to fire a shot during their three-year mission. We are now in the fourth year with no end in sight and millions of shots have been fired.

The End of the Party

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Andrew Rawnsley, Penguin, £25

Andrew Rawnsley's The End of the Party is a massive, overblown account of the rise and fall of New Labour, written in the manner of a court history. Not a court history written by a courtier, celebrating the virtues of the powerful, it has to be said, but rather a court history written by a disillusioned moralist, chronicling the dreadful consequences of human weakness. This is the great man school of history without any great men in evidence.

A World of Trouble

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Patrick Tyler, Portobello Books, £12.99

With grim inevitability, the US voted against the UN's endorsement of the Goldstone Report which condemned Israeli war crimes in Gaza (Britain, heroically, did not take part in the vote). The Obama administration has shown that, as far as Israel is concerned, US policy is unchanged.

A textbook protest

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In Chicago the Great Depression led to the witholding of teachers' wages. John Newsinger shows how the teachers fought back - and won

The Great Depression hit US state education hard. By 1933, when the economic crisis was at its worst (the US economy had shrunk by a third), in most states educational provision had been seriously cut back. Indeed, in 1932 and 1933 many schools did not open at all because of lack of funds. In Georgia, the worst hit state, over 1,300 schools were shut, leaving 170,000 children without schooling and their teachers laid off. Their pay was already in arrears to the tune of $7 million. At the national level, big business was pushing for the introduction of charges for secondary education.

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