Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Greece vs. the Eurozone

The new Greek government that took office in January 2015 made a commitment during the election campaign that Greece would stay in the Eurozone. At the same time, it also declared that Greece’s relations with its European partners would be put on a new footing. This did not materialize. The Greek government accepted the continuation of the existing agreement with its lenders, the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission, and the European Central Bank. This was the only way of ensuring Greece would not run out of funding.
Throughout the negotiations, the crisis in Greece received intense media attention. Again, the very future of the Eurozone became a subject of much discussion on the international stage. Following days of uncertainty, public opinion in Greece appeared to have endorsed the softening of the government’s position vis-à-vis its lenders. But doubts about the future remain. The most pressing problem to be tackled by the government is covering its funding needs over the next few months. Greece will have to make a tremendous effort to meet the terms of the agreement. Within the Eurozone, there is a growing feeling that Greece is particularly problematic. The perception that the ‘Greek question’ has not yet been settled and that new difficulties will arise in the future still persists.
This most recent phase in the Greek crisis allows us to draw some general conclusions about the future of the Eurozone. The Eurozone is a project that goes well beyond the joint endeavors of its member states to implement a common monetary policy. The Eurozone has evolved into a very close form of cooperation, a joint system of addressing economic problems and building tools for its economic governance. In this context, wider political considerations cannot be disassociated from the economics of running Europe’s single currency. The recently enacted Banking Union is further evidence of the Eurozone’s continually expanding remit. In this new, more intensive form of cooperation, member states have far less room to act independently. Greece’s desire to be a part of the club without fully committing to its rules is increasingly out of touch with reality. All member states that are committed to this joint endeavor cannot neglect their responsibilities or pursue their own ‘independent’ agendas.
Despite its recent reforms and expanded remit, the Eurozone remains an unsatisfactory system of governance. While the Eurozone is now better prepared to deal with future financial crises, its ability to address their deep-rooted causes effectively is still limited. The pace of economic growth in Europe is sluggish, and—despite contrary proclamations—the problem has not yet been dealt with effectively. The initial reaction to the Greek debt crisis in 2010 failed to adequately assess the country’s economic problems, making a bad situation worse. The inability of the Eurozone’s political institutions to articulate a coherent response to the crisis put the spotlight on the European Central Bank (ECB) as a key player in overcoming the deadlock. In January 2015, the ECB launched a massive program of quantitative easing in order to boost economic growth. The ECB, however, is not a democratically accountable institution and its activities are not the subject of parliamentary scrutiny. In this sense, the ECB should not be permitted to assume the duties of a government.

“Exit from the Eurozone, it seems, is not a feasible option.”

During Syriza’s confrontation with the Eurozone, many predicted a ‘Grexit,’ or a Greek withdrawal from the Eurozone. Ultimately, Greece’s lenders did not push for it although there was incomprehension of the Greek stance. Hardliners back in Greece who had previously claimed that the Russians, the Chinese, or even the United States would come to Greece’s rescue also hesitated to press the ‘Grexit’ nuclear button. Exit from the Eurozone, it seems, is not a feasible option. Any country that attempts it will risk financial ruin. For the Eurozone itself, the financial cost of a potential exit may be manageable but the reputational damage to the project is too high to bear.
Despite the widespread belief that the Greek crisis highlighted the need for greater economic and political integration in Europe, recent developments in Athens point to the reverse. The Eurozone’s problems persist not because member states act too fast, but because they procrastinate. These problems will only multiply if each country continues to follow its own fiscal policy or implement Treaty provisions at its own discretion. A fiscal union encompassing a common budget and a common European tax regime, redistributive policies to mediate inequalities in the productive base of different countries, and the pooling of European debt in order to support the development of less successful economies, are both desirable and feasible. They must all be linked to the strengthening of the European Parliament or the creation of a Eurozone Parliament so that the leadership of the Union can be held accountable.

These developments will ensure that no member state—Greece, in particular—will be able to pursue its economic future outside the context of the Eurozone. It is only through cooperation with other member states that a country can improve its negotiating position and change the balance of power within the Eurozone. Greece’s own desire to remain in the ‘core’ of the European Union is inextricably linked to overcoming its own backwardness, pursuit of continuous reform in the public administration so that it is more cost-effective and productive, changes in its economy in order to enhance the productive and technological potential of the country, persistent efforts to defeat clientelistic networks and free-riding attitudes, as well as a new thinking on how to promote social justice and cohesion. Greece must also adopt a European policy that breaks away from its ‘traditional’ attitude of seeking exemptions and defending the self-defeating notion of its own exceptionalism. It is in every country’s interest not to be seen as a perpetual exception—a ‘problem’ that never goes away.

The European debt crisis: The Greek case
978-0-7190-9578-8  £17.99

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

England in 1820

What can we learn from looking at England in 1820? On the one hand, a great deal, but having said that, our understanding of this period has been hobbled by habitual Anglo-centricity. Even broadening out the scope of things and examining all four kingdoms of the United Kingdom does not suffice.

Great Britain and Ireland have to be seen in the context of 1820 being a year of European revolution. In September of that year, a leading London radical wrote that Thomas Paine, who died over a decade earlier, had ‘thought that he lived in the age of revolution…but the present moment better deserves that epithet’.

The revolutionary climate of 1820 was without parallel until 1848 and the actions of the British government, led by a Prime Minister (Lord Liverpool) who had actually witnessed the storming of the Bastille in 1789, must be evaluated in that context.

The heir to the French throne was assassinated and there were revolutions in Spain, Portugal and much of present-day Italy. And if we look to the early months of 1821 as well, there was a further Italian insurgency, insurrections against the Ottomans in Moldavia and Wallachia, and the dramatic development of an independence movement in Greece.

1820 was the most testing year for any nineteenth-century peacetime government. Stringent measures to suppress radical political activity had been introduced by Liverpool’s Ministry in the wake of the Peterloo massacre the previous August. Their effect, however, was mainly to drive protest underground and make it harder to monitor, while simultaneously stimulating the popular press to yet-more innovative forms of expression. Against a widely rumoured background of revolutionary conspiracy, there were popular uprisings in Scotland and northern England. Bitter social conflict in western Ireland, expressed mainly through an elusive protest movement called the Ribbonmen, tied-down whole regiments of the army. Back in London elements within the Brigade of Guards were mutinous. And a conspiracy to assassinate the entire Cabinet was only narrowly averted.

On top of all this George IV forced an embattled and nervous government to secure his divorce from Queen Caroline. Unprecedented popular indignation ensued, much of it from women reflecting a new politics of gender. The Caroline affair also triggered what we would now call a media frenzy: an explosion of satirical cartoons and pamphleteering, often ribald and some of it downright obscene, but all of it pointing to a revolution in popular print and political opinion.

Yet the political and social stability of the United Kingdom was maintained. It’s very interesting to think about not only how government was tested to the limit, but also how the processes and mechanisms through which social and political stability were maintained. A sense of involvement in – and ownership of – government increased among ‘the middling sort’. Ratepayers, who fell below the threshold for parliamentary voting or for service as magistrates, were being given an increasing stake in the government of the communities in which they lived. This process even occasionally included women too.

However, this book suggests that the ‘age of reform’ was a drawing out of processes that had been established earlier. The survival of parliament’s authority in 1820 may have been severely tested but how it survived is enlightening about the social and political stability of the United Kingdom in the longer perspective.

My book, 1820: disorder and stability in the United Kingdom takes this single, fascinating year in the broader context of Europe, revolution, and the periods before and after, to give a far longer perspective on the social and political stability of the United Kingdom. 

Monday, 13 April 2015

On the history of history teaching…

Debate about the teaching of history is never far away. The former Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has sought since 2010 to reshape the history curriculum in schools by bringing in more coverage of British history and altering assessment techniques. His plans met with some serious resistance – including from academics and school teachers. The key areas of debate echoed those raised 25 years ago when a national curriculum for history was first introduced. The terms of the debate are also recognisable in contestation about the teaching of history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. What are the aims of history teaching? Should politicians dictate the content of history lessons? What does the selection and omission of certain content reveal about the kind of national past we want children to grow up knowing? Should history be considered a conduit of citizenship education? Is there a direct correlation between the teaching of history and national identity? What influence should be given to specialist experts working in the educational sciences? What should be the relationship between the teaching of ‘facts’ over skills of historical enquiry and interpretation?

These debates – hostile and unresolved – are not new. The teaching of history has always been a topic for serious dispute. This was especially so in the period in which historical content was first taught as a compulsory component of the curriculum in the nation’s schools. In the late-Victorian period, educational provision was made compulsory and free and, given its vast cost, it is no surprise that contemporaries argued over its social and political functions. In the context of late-Victorian anxieties about the future of empire, it is little wonder moreover that the teaching of history specifically should have been the subject of such contentious discussion. Britain perceived itself threatened on two fronts: externally, she was concerned about the growth of economic and imperial competitors such as Germany; internally, the rise of an organised political Left coincided with fears about children’s emotional, moral and physical wellbeing. The combination of these factors meant that the teaching of history was prescribed, by some, as an antidote to a perceived crisis of national confidence. In such a context it is clear those seeking to promote ideologies of imperialism and patriotism saw in the teaching of history the opportunity to inculcate imperial values. To what extent was their influence the most significant? What were imperial ‘values’ and how was history intended to deliver these in a classroom context? These are just some of the questions that this book investigates.

The introduction of mass education also brought to the fore questions about how to teach. The late nineteenth century was also a period of deep-reaching investigations into pedagogy. Although there have been several studies into histories of history teaching, most have tended to focus on the content of resources used in the classroom – especially subject-specific history textbooks and historical reading books for younger children. But what of the sources used to instruct a new generation of teachers how to teach? ‘Manuals of Method’ have received less attention from researchers than they merit: these sources are valuable because, as a distinct genre of educational publishing, their authors are those who taught in teacher-training colleges, influenced the production of classroom resources, and were some of the loudest voices in debates about history teaching. In the absence of centralised state regulations on what history to teach, and how to teach it, these manuals serve ostensibly as documents of best practice. The study of these sources reveals that the intentions behind history teaching were far more complex than previously acknowledged. In addition, evidence from manuals exhibits the debt British educationists owed to continental educational theorists – in particular a little studied group called the Herbartians who came to dominate. Herbartians emphasised the centrality of history – as a subject that would mobilise the emotions – to the teaching of civic and moral values. These values, in turn of the twentieth-century England, could be made to tally with wider national and imperial objectives. In the book, I explore the extent of the Herbartian dominance of the curriculum. It appears that history teaching only became such a vital part of national-identity teaching because its teachers embraced cutting-edge educational psychology. We seem nowadays, with the state’s emphasis on facts over skills, to somewhat have reversed the ratchet.

Parallels with current disputes about history education are acute, especially so since the ‘history’ of history teaching is often mobilised in both sides of the debate. This book, therefore, aims to provide a history of the relationship between history teaching and pedagogy, and an investigation of the wider implications of this in debates about the contribution of history teaching to popular imperialism, citizenship, nation and identity.

Citizenship, nation, empire, by Peter Yeandle, is available now http://www.manchesteruniversitypress.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9780719080128