Thursday, April 15, 2010

Is this really a question to which the answer is no?

Is this really a question to which the answer is no?

Toby Young questions whether JK Rowling is really a secret Tory, on the strength of her sub-Wrykyn setting of Hogwarts (incidentally, how depressing is it that my spellchecker is completely unaware of the sublime Wodehouse’s ne plus ultra of fictional schools yet perfectly happy with Rowling’s pastiche?  Ho hum).  The basis for this?

What is Hogwarts, after all, but an idealised version of an English public school? I’d go further and say it’s clearly based on Eton, with Quidditch a stand-in for the wall game. It’s a nostalgic, misty-eyed invocation of a bygone era – heritage Britain sprinkled with fairy dust. No trace of Ofsted inspections here – of the dreary, box-ticking, politically-correct culture that Labour has imposed on Britain’s schools over the past 13 years.

Up to a point Lord Copper, and all that.  John Rentoul leaps on this as the next in his interminable series of Questions to which the answer is no, pointing out that there is a difference between the creative mind and political reality, and adding that the fiendishly complicated monetary system in the wizarding world doesn’t mean that Rowling hankers for the good old days of £/s/d.

Both of them, however, miss the best argument in favour of Rowling really being a Tory after all.  I apologise for two things here, the first being that since, unaccountably, I don’t have a copy of the Order of the Phoenix at work I am relying on memory, and second for having read the damn things in the fist place and now to be attempting some sort of philosophical analysis of them.  Feel free to go and read something improving instead.

The subplot of the Order of the Phoenix is that the Ministry of Magic is concerned that the headmaster of Hogwarts is running it as a sort of Dumbeldorian madrassah, training up students to fight the Government.  As a result they impose ever more centralised control of education, imposing a school inspector who gradually increases her power to remove teachers, micro-manage the school rules and eventually take control of the school curriculum itself.  This process of greater state involvement in education is portrayed as extremely malign, with the curtailment of independence stifling the quality of education and leading to a counter-productive focus on passing tests, regardless of their applicability to real life.  At the end, the students rebel and force the return of Dumbledore and the end of Government meddling.

Couple of themes run through that. 

  1. the Government has no place dictating to schools what they can teach or how they should run their schools; and

(ii)    the power of the individual is both stronger than and in conflict with the power of the state.

Now, far be it for me to contradict John Rentoul, who after all has the power of saying ‘No’ to this sort of idea, but in terms of education policy at least, if not the overall philosophy of government, JK Rowling looks, through her writings, to be advocating a view of the world that is far more Tory than it is Labour.


Blogger John Rentoul said...

I've replied at
John Rentoul

4:11 pm  

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