Timing is everything

Immediately before Christmas this blog reported on a Labour Party press release that seemingly received no publicity despite being well researched. Last week, the Policy Exchange Think Tank achieved the opposite effect for a paper on how to pay teachers, produced under the guise of a discussion about performance related pay. Now there’s a lesson in media management here that should be obvious. It is not just what you say, but also when, and to whom, you say it.

In what looks like another media exercise, Michael Gove managed to use the Daily Mail last week for a piece about the First World War and the way historians view it that risked creating a Party line on teaching the subject; something most educationalist s don’t see as the role of the Secretary of State in a democracy.

R C Sherriff who worked on the screenplay for the Dam Busters Film made some of the points Mr Gove probably objects to in his well-known play, Journey’s End, as did Sassoon in his fictional autobiography of his service on the Western Front. Could both now be prescribed? Will Mr Gove also tell the BBC to stop broadcasting endless repeats of Dad’s Army because it casts the Home Guard in a poor light? He could take a similar view of Yes Minister. Humour has always been a key part in the life of our nation. But, compared to when I was teaching, the recognition of Remembrance Day is now much stronger than it was half a century ago, despite a few satirical portraits of the war.

Perhaps it is Mr Gove’s wish for simple stories of heroes, and his desire to be the Don Quixote of British politics, tilting at windmills of his own making, that has led him into creating this debate about attitudes to the First World War. There must surely be a difference between entertainment and scholarship, but if the former can bring inquiring minds towards a better understanding of the latter, so much the better.

For what it is worth, I suggested this time last year to Nick Clegg that we might ensure that every day from August 2014 to early 2019 the casualty lists of service personnel and civilians from the Great War be read out by schoolchildren. That way, the enormity of the loss of life might be brought home to future generations.

The media reporting of recent wars, plus the advances in battlefield medicine that probably allows more injured servicemen to survive, has sharpened public awareness of war and its horrors; probably more so than at any time since the Vietnam War and the Falklands conflict filled our TV news bulletins. Personally, I have more faith in the British public to distinguish between a need to mock those in authority, and recognition of the complexities of the War to end all Wars.


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