Monday, 7 September 2015

Discussion on the Education White Paper for England and Extensions of the Commodification Process in Libraries and Schools

Ruth Rikowski


This, rather long title, pertains to the only paper / article written by us (Ruth and Glenn Rikowski) jointly. It appeared in the winter 2005/06 edition of Information for Social Change, Issue 22. We were both mightily concerned with processes and policies relating to the commodification of public services at the time, with Ruth focusing on libraries and Glenn on schools in England.

Furthermore, at the time, both of us were interested in the international dimension to the commodification of public services. Specifically, we were concerned with the likely impact of the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). This joint interest brought us together in a practical political sense too, when we became members of Attac London in 2000 and along with others organised a conference on the commodification of state services.

Of course, these topics have gained renewed importance with the current development of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Maybe the halting of significant advances in the WTO’s GATS process since Seattle 1999 in some way precipitated this development.

It is a shame that we have not written more together, and this is something that we aim to rectify in the future.

Meanwhile, this ‘Discussion’ piece can now be found at Academia:

For Ruth, it is at:

Glenn Rikowski’s papers and articles at Academia can be viewed at:

Ruth Rikowski’s papers and articles at Academia can be viewed at:

Ruth and Glenn Rikowski

September 2015
Glenn Rikowski

Power and Control and the Blue Map

(With some useful insights from Glenn Rikowski)

Thinking about power and control and the 'blue map'.

Now, much of the UK is Conservative blue of course.

The reasons for this are various, but the obvious, easy explanation is that those in the rich areas want to keep, and hopefully substantially increase their riches and their goodies. Also, that this rich, ruling class want to keep things the way that they are, to the extent that it benefits themselves. They have too much to lose to want a Labour sweep. This is the naïve, simplistic view but never-the-less it is an important one. However, this cannot adequately explain why masses of people vote Conservative; in particular, it certainly cannot adequately explain the working class Conservative vote. And without these votes, of course, it would be virtually impossible for the Conservatives to get into power and government.

Never-the-less, there is a blue map that covers the whole of the Cambridgeshire Fens and the rural Northamptonshire areas that does not quite fit neatly into this simple explanation anyway. Obviously, there are many other areas that afford other explanations, but for now I want to focus on the Cambridgeshire Fens and rural Northamptonshire areas, specifically.

It is about power and control; it is about divide and rule; it is about people playing psychological games with each other - mind games, which in turn, helps to keep people in their place. It is about trying to avoid madness; it is about trying to be ‘normal’. And so we have very few geniuses coming out of this area, and very few creative people.

Famous People born in the Cambridgeshire Fens and rural Northamptonshire areas (as opposed to Cambridge itself)

What famous people have there been in these areas (as opposed to the City of Cambridge itself, which of course is quite different)? Well, in reality, there are only a few! I will focus on four such people here:  Oliver Cromwell, John Clare, Henry Royce and H.E. Bates.

Oliver Cromwell (1599 – 1658) was born in Huntingdon, then lived in St Ives (both in the Cambridgeshire Fens) but then later moved to London and Manchester and elsewhere. He attended Huntingdon Grammar School and was later elected Member of Parliament for Huntingdon in 1628 and for Cambridge in the Short (1640) and Long (1640-49) Parliaments. His family descended from the sister of Henry VIII’s minister, Thomas Cromwell. He later became a committed Puritan. Then, of course, as we know, he became the leader of the Parliamentarian side in the Civil War, and a Lieutenant General. He had no formal training in military tactics, but had an instinctive ability to lead and train his men. This is the only period in English history when the monarchy was well and truly threatened.

John Clare (1793 – 1864) was an English poet and the son of a farm labourer. He loved the English countryside and did not like to see it being spoilt and disrupted.  He is now often regarded as being one of the most important 19th century poets. He was born in Helpston, which is just 6 miles to the north of the city of Peterborough.  Clare was trying to avoid his parents’ eviction from their home, so he wrote some poems and sonnets and gave them to the local bookseller, Edward Drury. Drury sent them to his cousin John Taylor of the publishing firm Taylor & Hessey, and they published them. He became commonly known as “the Northamptonshire Peasant Poet”. He was torn between literary London and his home background.  He struggled, living amongst his neighbours, and even said, on one occasion:

“I live here among the ignorant like a lost man in fact I like one whom the rest seems careless of having anything to do with – they hardly dare talk in my company for fear I should mention them in my writings and I find more pleasure in wandering the fields than in musing among my silent neighbours who are insensible to everything but toiling and talking of it and that to no purpose.”

Very sadly, and unfortunately, it all got too much for him, and John Clare ended up in mental asylums – firstly in High Beach, Essex (where he started to claim, for example, that he was Lord Byron) and later in Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, where he continued to write poetry, including possibly his most famous poem, I Am. He died in Northampton General Lunatic Asylum.

Henry Royce (1863 – 1933) was born in Alwalton, Peterborough.  He was an engineer and car designer who, with Charles Rolls, founded the Rolls-Royce company. In 1878 he started an apprenticeship with the Great Northern Railway company at its Peterborough works and from there he started to build-up business sense, and entered into a partnership with Ernest Claremont in Manchester, which was called F. H. Royce and Co.  He then started focusing more on cars and subsequently manufactured his own. The first Rolls-Royce car was unveiled at the Paris Salon in 1904.  Royce was a hard worker.  In 1933, the first Bentley made by Rolls-Royce Ltd appeared.  He lived by the motto: “Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble.” He has a business suite named after him at the Peterborough Marriott Hotel (The Sir Henry Royce Suite), which is located in the Alwalton business park.

H.E. Bates (1905-1974) was born in Rushden, Northamptonshire. He was educated at Kettering Grammar School. He was a novelist, and many of his stories, particularly in his early works, were centred on his native rural Northamptonshire. His first novel was published when he was 20 years old. He was married in 1931 to a local Rushden girl, but then they moved to Kent. One of his most popular novels, The Darling Buds of May focused on the Larkin family which was inspired by a colourful character in Kent. The back cover on The Feast of July, published by Penguin in 1962, had this to say:

“This is H.E. Bates on familiar ground, and the reader cannot fail to be moved by the inarticulate pathos which he extracts from the lives and language of simple country folk.”

So, these figures were all very much something in their own right, but very much buck the general trend of the area. But also note that Cromwell, Royce and Bates all moved beyond the area, whereas Clare did not, but that Clare subsequently went mad. I think this, in itself, speaks volumes about the culture and the area. Ian Parker can enlighten us further here.

Ian Parker's brilliant book 'Revolution in Psychology: alienation to emancipation', published by Pluto Press, 2007, came to mind within this framework, and this helped me, particularly as I was entering a different state of consciousness. Reading Jonathan Black’s very insightful book The Secret History of the World (Quercus, London, 2007) a short while ago, helped me to understand what was happening to myself. Black talks about ‘altered states’ and asks:

“Could it be that it is not so much that genius is next to madness but that genius is next to the altered states brought on by esoteric training?” (p.336).

He suggests that:

“…higher knowledge of the world comes from altered states of consciousness” (p.334).

Also that:

History shows that the people who have worked on the very boundaries of human intelligence have reached this place in altered states” (p.334 – original emphasis).

The inspiration that inspired me to write this piece came from an altered state of mind that I found myself in that flowed from a recent event and some disconcerting experiences. This ‘altered state’ also led me to think once again about Ian Parker’s book.

So yes, let's have another look at that all-important book by Ian Parker.

As Parker says:

"Psychology is important not because it is true but because it is so useful to those in power." (p. 1)

Absolutely – power and control.

Dehumanising and Fragmenting

Ian Parker goes on to say that:

"Psychology is not only about individuals but it is also a way of theorising and managing social relationships. It does this by focusing on the individual and breaking up the individual into measurable components. The main problem is not that it does not work. The main problem is that it works so well because it confirms some of the most dehumanising practices that many people take for granted, practices that are a necessary part of the fabric of capitalist society." (p. 31-2)

Yes – divide and rule. Natter about this one; natter about that one. Criticise this one; criticise that one. Pick holes in this one; pick holes in that one. Why are they doing this? Why are they doing that? Why can’t they be more together? Why is this man going out with this woman? Why is this person not caring for this other person better? Why is this married woman going with another man? Why does this person not sweep their front better?  Why doesn’t that person not get a new car, a new TV, a new kitchen or some other fancy gadget? It dehumanises people; it fragments people; it alienates people from themselves and from each other.

The Female Issue
Then, of course, there is the female issue – well, that is even worse. If females don’t toe the line and be boring people doing the housework and talking about everyday things, then well – they might be witches, they might be mad people. Dangerous people; marginalise them; put them away; lock them up, if necessary. Can’t have intelligent women doing their own thing, thinking for themselves – far too dangerous. No, got to keep women in their place. The Stepford Wives scenario, and all that.

As Ian Parker says:

"Psychology merely repeats in a different key...the standard psychiatric images of women as closer to madness; femininity as such was historically seen as something more unstable, pathological and closer to nature, as can be seen in the classic nineteenth-century conceptions of 'hysteria'. Women cannot win within these theoretical coordinates, and the practice of psychiatry and psychology has ensured that 'normal femininity' is itself a trap which will serve to alienate the woman from herself at the very moment that she is supposed to be cured." (pp. 102-3)

Yes, alienating women from themselves; from their own sexuality. Philippa Gregory considers how women have been portrayed throughout history, particularly in the medieval period, emphasising the fact that women have been seen to be either angels or whores, and that neither extreme is right. In her book ‘The Women of the Cousins’ War’ (written with David Baldwin and Michael Jones), Simon and Schuster, 2011, she says:

“I believe that women are excluded from medieval history as historical characters because of the traditional view at the time of the nature of women, which was that women were innately incapable of major public acts: ‘The Church provided two models for women: Eve the temptress and Mary, the Mother of God; thus society viewed women as either pure and virginal or filled with the carnal lust of the deceitful Eve. In either case the culture stereotyped them.’ ” (p.19)

Also, that:

“Whether a woman is being regarded as Eve the temptress of Mary the Virgin, this is still to view her in relation to her sexual activity with men, and this is private activity, not a public or historical act. Women were not seen as having a public nature; they were often observed performing visible, significant and historical acts. When a woman broke this taboo and was clearly involved in public acts, the medieval historians of her time were forced to see her as a stereotype or – at the worst – hardly a woman at all. If she was neither Eve nor Mary, then she must be a man…Traditional historians do not look for energetic, effective women; and when they cannot blind themselves to the vibrant presence of such a woman, rather than amend their views of women, they define her instead as so exceptional as to be a pseudo-man.” (pp. 23-4)

So, women are angels, virgin-like and mother-types or whores and witches or pseudo-men. How can females possibly have another mode of being? Crazy! No wonder females struggle with their own sexuality, and with trying to figure out what it is really to be feminine, and to be properly in touch with their own sexuality and their own femininity, and with their own intelligence; and indeed, fundamentally to be at one with themselves. Instead, we have many females who in attempting to get out of this rut, just end up taking on male characteristics instead (Margaret Thatcher being an excellent example here). And female hysteria, with females desperately trying to find another (albeit unfortunately large inadequate) way of trying to express themselves: well, that is something else and is certainly often seen to be a threat to males!

Psychoanalysis working on workers in capitalist society

Ian Parker again:

"What psychoanalysis seems to offer is a way of accounting for the way that workers in capitalist society develop a 'fear of freedom' and fall in love with the very forms of oppression that grind them down. They thus not only accept their servitude but revel in their own 'slavery' and despise those who want to rebel against law and order. These psychoanalytic perspectives aim to understand and unravel the deepest roots of alienation." (p. 176)

Yes, indeed, so people accept their own state of servitude; indeed, they embrace it; they revel in it. They become their own oppressors. This is the point that Ian Parker is making. The capitalist state doesn’t have to do anything much – how convenient! But never-the-less the capitalist state works tirelessly to adapt individuals to capitalist life. People become frightened of freedom; they are scared of the idea of trying to find themselves and of aiming to be at one with their species being and to draw out and express their own creative energies in positive ways (see my previous blog, for example, about expressing our creative energies in positive ways in our homes: ‘Transforming Homes into Creative Places at’).

Indeed, some rebel against it. They reject and rebel against those who want to challenge any aspect of capitalist forms of law and order and they repel those who want to try to create a society that is better suited for themselves and their wants and needs. Instead, in their deep sub-conscious they are serving the wants and needs of the ruling class. But of course, they do not understand that. Instead, they think they are living in ways that benefits themselves, especially as many now have more material possessions. So, they think that this conformist approach has given them a better standard of living. But all that is more do with what happened after the 2nd World War – just watch Ken Loach’s great film ‘The Spirit of ‘45’ to understand more about all of that. Loach demonstrates how the post-Second World War Labour government gave working people the Welfare State in the fear that failure to do this might entail workers making socialist revolution. But now all of this is gradually being reversed and unravelled, and much of this trend started with Margaret Thatcher in the UK, of course. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, with the middle class being “squeezed” and the trend is continuing and strengthening as we continue to vote in Tory government after Tory government in the UK. Heavens!

Ian Parker continues:

"Psychoanalysis is an example of a practice of control that constitutes the very stuff which it represses; at the very moment that it shuts 'irrationality' out, it creates that irrationality as something that may then erupt at times of crisis, as if it were always already there. In this sense, psychoanalysis is rather like capitalism, for capitalism creates the very collective force that will be able to overthrow it." (p. 178)
So, in this way, we can certainly live in hope. In attempting to control and block out irrationality, capitalism can let it all in on another occasion and in another way. This is one of the many contradictions of capitalism, of course.

However, these Cambridgeshire Fens and rural Northamptonshire areas represent an oppressed people; people from peasant backgrounds that had to do the bidding of the rich farmers and land owners, up to the early 20th century. Many people became ill; many people died. And many of those that survived kept quiet and ‘knew their place’. Significant remnants of this culture are present today. Yet today, comparatively, they think they are in paradise. This is just an illusion. Now, many are servile and slaves in a different way. In some ways, it is in a more scary fashion, as it is not so transparent.

The Working Class Conservative Voter

I began this piece offering some simple explanation as to why people vote Conservative. But of course, it is much more complex than that. I examined voting patterns as part of my first degree actually, looking in particular, at why people vote Labour. And voting pattern behaviour is something that I have followed in the newspapers and on TV for many years. I have much understanding and knowledge of the academic arguments and explanations in regard to voting patterns and behaviour.  However, this piece arose out of an emotional situation (not an academic one), and an altered state that I found myself in following on from this situation, and I had to start somewhere.

But why do working class, ordinary people specifically then, vote Conservative? Well, when I first went to the Cambridgeshire Fens area in 1975, I thought it could be explained simply by the deferential vote.  Here, I was also drawing on my degree studies in regard to this topic, at the time. The people in that area not being very educated; not being very confident in many ways; and putting their hope and faith in people that have more cultured, educated backgrounds than they did. Also, putting their faith in people that had more money and more influence, and just being ‘more together’ people, and being more establishment figures etc. And I mean, after all, John Major was the Conservative MP for that area (Huntingdon and Huntingdonshire) as well, from 1979. He entered the House of Commons in 1979 and left in 2001.

But my recent exploration of this topic makes me realise that that was rather a naïve explanation for this conservatism, and perhaps, indeed, was too closely tied to neat and tidy academic explanations and arguments. So, it is all complex. Living, and breathing and feeling the real experience added another dimension for me. Well, it was the combination actually. I have visited the area many times since 1975 but without the intellectual take/outlook that I/we had on this latest visit and did not/could not stand back and see the situation quite clearly enough. Although we have certainly attempted to do this over the years, but it has not been easy. But this time we (and then I, as I made the decision to write this piece) combined the two in ways that we had never done before. Yes, this piece is very much a result of the process of combining academic and intellectual arguments and positions (and academic and intellectual arguments are not exactly the same thing either – but won’t go into that right now), along with a feel and indeed an embodiment of the local culture and the local folk. Yes, being with the local folk; talking to them; participating in experiences with them and encapsulating some of those experiences. Then, as I say, on return I entered into an altered state of consciousness, which was temporarily very scary and disturbing; well, terrifying in fact! In this highly charged altered state I thought again about Ian Parker’s book and it all suddenly became much clearer; I suddenly understood so much, and I just had to write this piece, in order to articulate it all. It is more disturbing but also sadder than I (and to some extent we) originally thought.

In fact, thinkers and creative folk from this area (and who remain in this area) could quite easily and conceivably go mad, as John Clare did, I feel sure. And others coming from that area who get an education (even if they move away), and become all-round more confident and educated people, are still likely to be told to ‘keep themselves in their place’, if and when they go back, and not to get big ideas ‘above their station’. They are encouraged to go back to being a simple village-type person. And then, if and when they are that, people in the villages seek to mess each other’s heads up. They do not support each other, but instead, doubt each other and make each other lose confidence, or worse. They cause divisions with and between each other – all of which really suits the ruling class, of course, because then these people become more unconfident and even more likely to be deferential voters and vote Conservative, in order to increase their confidence, and their need, as they see it, for a stable country/nation. All this does people’s heads in and keeps them in their place. We ourselves have to stand back, to make sure that we don’t get immersed in these games. But we now have the privilege of being able to look at it all from an educated, and safer, perspective.

So we have this vast area of Conservative blue in the UK which helps to ensure that power and control remains firmly in the hands of the ruling class. And sadly this is made possible by vast numbers of working class, ordinary people who vote Conservative in the Cambridgeshire Fens and rural Northamptonshire areas. These are ordinary, working class/lower middle class people, many of who are suppressed; a people that suppress each other; a people that are alienated from themselves and from each other. Also, a people who mess each other up (neighbours, friends, relations etc.), rather than giving each other proper support – or at the very least they aim to kill ambition in each other and/or try to stop each other from being at one their species being and with their creative side. So, they are not actually quite the simple, country folk that we might initially think they are. Yet, it is all very unfortunate, sad and tragic, and it is amazing that the mental health problem in the area is not higher than it is – but that, in itself, is part of the effectiveness of the power and control, I guess. So, these people help to keep each other in this state, and the ruling class do not even have to do all that much in reality – although the right-wing press and all that, is always there offering assistance and verification of its own position, of course! All of that, along with the deferential voter too! We are up against so much; but challenge it all we must. There is no other sensible and intelligent way forward.


Bates. H.E. The Feast of July, Penguin, Middlesex, 1962

Black, Jonathan The Secret History of the World, Quercus, London, 2007

Gregory, Philippa with Baldwin, David and Michael Jones, The Women of the Cousins’ War: The Duchess, the Queen and the King’s Mother, Simon and Schuster, London, 2011

Parker, Ian Revolution in Psychology: alienation to emancipation, Pluto Press, London, 2007