Tag Archives: multiculturalism

True Brit (Captain Britain and MI13 Spoilers)

The final issue of Paul Cornell’s Captain Britain and MI13 hit the shelves this week. I came to this series late – just in time for the final storyline in fact – but I’ve bought the first two published collections, as well as Cornell’s “prequel” Wisdom.

I really liked this series and appreciated Cornell’s agenda in it. Cornell, lest we forget, is unusual in terms of British comic (and sci-fi) writers in that he is a practicing Christian. Far from this meaning he is a Bible-bashing bigot with an obsession with genitalia and morbidity, his outlook can be quite refreshing to the usual brand of cynicism and paranoia. He wrote Xtnct for the Judge Dredd Megazine, he admits, partly as a reaction against the Pat Mills tendency to push his own political world view forward (I have to admit that Xtnct went a bit over my head but it wasn’t helped by the month between episodes and the lack of consonents).

In the case of Captain Britain and MI13 his quite transparent agenda was to make a superhero comic that was distinctly British whilst still being optimistic. Over the past three decades there have been numerous attempts to write the iconic British superhero, but they have all leaned towards a certain amount of deconstruction. Even writers who do the optimistic widescreen version of US superheroics well, like Grant Morrison, have tended to go adopt the Alan Moore template whenever they write about characters based on this side of the pond; compare the UK-based Invisibles Volume One with the US-based Invisibles Volume Two for a perfect example (for that matter, compare Moore’s Marvelman with Tom Strong).

I don’t want to go on too much about the specifics of the series or I will degenerate into fanboy-wank (he writes after deleting about four paragraphs of said toss). Instead I just want to focus on two aspects.

The first is the character of Faiza Hussain and her wielding of the sword Excalibur. Every time a gay character appears in comics it gets a blaze of publicity, and MI13’s own guest appearance of Gordon Brown certainly attracted some attention. So I’m amazed that this decision to make a Muslim character wield one of the mythical “symbols” of Britain didn’t garner any headlines. It may just be that it missed a slow news cycle – certainly news of DC’s decision to do a joint project with Kuwait-based Teshkeel Comics seemed to excite people. But I like to think it is a positive sign amidst a sea of depressing news about the rise of the BNP etc. Having said that, perhaps that is a bit Guardianish of me. I well remember getting irked at the way that the Sun reviewed Bend it Like Beckham as a film about a girl who wanted to play football while the Guardian agonised about what it said about Multicultural Britain Today. The Sun is not always wrong.

The second is a great bit of dialogue in the final issue which I think sums up Britishness better than most attempts to do so (you can call it Englishness if you’d prefer, but I think it goes wider). Captain Britain is talking to Faiza’s father, and academic who has been made a vampire by Count Dracula (long story). Freed from Dracula’s control, Hussain is understandably somewhat perturbed by his newfound status:

Dr Hussain: Is there a home for me there, though? Captain, I don’t want my wide and daughter to see me like this. To have to deal with —

Captain Britain: But what’s the alternative? Give up? Dr. Hussain, I think your life from now on is going to be a very British compromise — living with something terrible, dealing with it in domestic terms. Tragedy right up against sitcom, in a way other cultures don’t really get. I think if anyone’s going to understand all this, is going to want you to stay around and get through it, day by day — with all sorts of awkward conversations — it’s your daughter.

Hussain: You’re right. So I shall. You know I could murder a cup of tea.

I don’t know. It certainly ticked me anyway.

The series isn’t perfect, although the too-neat tying up of loose ends in the final issue is almost certainly mainly due to the series’ forced cancellation than anything else. But it is well worth checking out.

School vouchers: convince me

Here’s the thing. I like the simplicity of school vouchers, they appeal to my sense that policy is at its best when it is simple. Events over recent weeks have got me thinking about how we sort out the mess that is school admissions, and they seem to have a lot going for them.

However, that isn’t to say that I don’t have concerns about the system, and I’m not sold yet. Worse, the attitude of most school voucher supporters have is that anyone who doesn’t already support them is either an idiot, an unreconstructed socialist or most likely both. At the risk of exposing my inner-moron, here are my concerns. Can people convince me?

Sweden is always being cited as a socially-progressive country which has made a success out of vouchers. There are two problems with this model however. For comparisons with Sweden to work, any UK voucher system would have to give parents the same purchasing power as Swedish parents. How much is the Swedish voucher in UK money, and how does it compare with the existing spending on each child in the UK? How much extra would the UK have to spend in order to have a similar system? This is particularly significant in rural areas as the size of the voucher would be directly related to the minimum viable size of a school. Set it too low, and all talk of competition and choice will be irrelevant.

Secondly, Sweden would appear to be an overwhelmingly white, Christian country. I’ve been there, and while walking through the streets isn’t anything like as strange an experience as Finland (where seemingly everyone is white), it doesn’t appear to be a country with the same multi-cultural experience that we have. How then would a voucher system work in a country where we already already have mass voluntary segregation in our inner-city schools? Wouldn’t the voucher system simply make this worse? Would you accept some kind of quota system to moderate this? Or is segregation a price worth paying?

Related to that point is how religious schools will be helped by the voucher system. We already have Vardy Schools out there teaching science in permanent ‘quotation marks’ and trying to slip in creationism wherever they can, and there are plenty of religions scrabbling to get their hands on public money. Supporters of the voucher system appear to accept that it will open the floodgates for this sort of thing. This happens in Sweden, but the secular consensus seems to have taken hold much more strongly there than here (due again in part to it being less multicultural). What is the argument for leaving children so much at the mercy of their parent’s belief system? What are the benefits, and how do they outweigh the problems?

As I said above, I want to believe. In 2005, I blogged about how I feared that a truly free market on education might lead to gigantism, but I’m not so convinced now as I can see why people would be distrustful of McSchools (like the scary one being build in Peterborough). But I remain concerned about how such a system would work in the UK in practice. Either way, we should be debating this rather more than the staid one about grammar schools, and we certainly need a better answer to academies, particularly now that Cameron has decided that his response should be little more than “me too!” Seriously though: convince me.