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Play up! and play the game!

Mr Free Market uncriticaly republishes Sir Henry John Newbolt's poem Vitae Lampada. It sends a shiver down my spine every time I read it.

But not for this teacher:

Well versed in imperialism

By Mike Rosen

ONE OF the insults levelled at the left is that we "politicise" everything. Good honest businessmen are getting the railways to work when horrible lefties bang on about "profits before safety". In the field of culture they say we've wrecked the arts with political correctness. Kenneth Clarke was once a minister of education and announced that his education policy would be free of dogma.

The Daily Mail abuses children's books that tackle social issues with headlines about the innocence of childhood being wrecked. Oh, bring back the good old days, they all say, when art was art and politics was politics.

You can only get away with this if you have short memories and short sight. New Labour's struggle to impose a capitalist plan for London Underground has stripped away any pretence that economics and politics are different. Ideology and dogma don't get much clearer, and as I was doing a bit of teaching this week I came across a book that made me think the same.

The name Sir Henry Newbolt may not mean much to you, but if you were at school between 1895 and 1950 you would know him well. Through these years, millions of British kids chanted his poetry and memorised it for life. So, unlike the horrid ideological stuff of today, Newbolt's stuff, we might presume, must be well nigh non-political?

Well, er...not exactly. Unless there's no politics in saying that "faith in all the Island Race" gets us "storming the Afghan mountain-track" as part of "the sweep and splendour of England's war". Island race? Doesn't that ring a bell? Tory MPs making up fairy stories about a "homogenous Anglo-Saxon culture", perhaps? OK to kill Afghans over there, but godammit, we can't have them living here.

Again and again his poems glory in battle and slaughter: "With never a foot lagging or head bent, to the clash and clamour and dust of death they went." Many of the kids who read that marched off to die in the mud in France in 1916. Elsewhere we read that we English have got "a kingdom none can take" while we bash up Spaniards, French and Dutchmen.

And our Sir Henry isn't shy about explaining why all this slaughter is necessary. Our ships are "laden with the spoil of the South", and we raise a tankard "for promised lands of gold". Because, remember, O Lord Almighty, we are "the race that strove to rule Thine earth". In fact, we know you so well, eh god? We know that "Thou wilt not turn Thy face away from those who work Thy will." (God is the British Empire's number one fan.)

And what happens when the natives rise up? Well, one Mehtab Singh who threatens British rule with mutiny is, of course, "proud and sly", so he gets lectured to by a Captain Nicholson: "Have ye served us for a hundred years, and yet ye know not why? We brook no doubt of our mastery, we rule until we die."

And with a distinctly non-dogmatic flourish to Mehtab, our captain signs off with, "When the strong command, obedience is best." After a career of writing this stuff there was one job left for Henry. Just before his death (not on the battlefield, I hasten to add) he was appointed chairman of the Newbolt report on "the teaching of English in England". A very non-political appointment, I'd say.


i would just like to say thanks as this piece helped me greatly with a very hard english essay. thanks!

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