On the Sky News channel today, during the televised leaders debate featuring five candidates for the Labour Party Leadership, a question was posed of the candidates ( YouTube – 2 of the 5 Labour Leadership candidates knew that St George’s day is on 23rd April ) which caused a bit of a flurry on Conservative home Only two of Labour’s putative leaders know when St George’s Day is – LeftWatch
The question quite simply was to give the date of St George’s Day – and 3 of the candidates got this wrong,
(For those of you who don’t know, St George is the patron saint of England, with St Andrew, St Patrick and St David being the patron saints of Scotland, Ireland & Wales respectively)
There is a long tradition of wrong-footing politicians with unexpected questions – like how to pronounce Barnoldswick, or Slaithwaite – or indeed what Menzies Campbell’s name really sounds like. Asking candidates who their favourite Spice Girl or Tellytubbie was, proved a novel way of exploring knowledge of current affairs, and more recently quizzes about Bill Shankly and Ferry Cross the Mersey have been used to try and catch unsuspecting political hopefuls out.
So this unexpected question is perhaps also entirely predictable.
Does it matter that they couldn’t answer ?
Well I’d probably have got it right – I had the 4 patron saints’ dates for the UK drilled in to me as a Cub Scout between the ages of 9 and 11. Assisted in no small part by Blue Peter, who never failed to remind us when there was one coming up (I preferred Bleep & Booster myself).
I remembered St. Andrew’s Day because it was my brother’s birthday – and also Winston Churchill’s – as my working class Tory grandmother was very fond of reminding him. 30th November
I remembered St. David’s Day because it was easier to remember because it was on the 1st day of the month – and also because it was more or less in daffodil time - 1st March. My working class Tory Grandmother would also remind me as this was one of the 12 days per year when she said “Rabbits Rabbits Rabbits” to everyone she met.
I found St Patrick’s difficult to remember because that was the other March one. It was also difficult because my racist working class Tory Grandfather claimed every thing was the fault of the bloody Irish (except for the things that were the fault of Arthur Scargill and Joe Gormless), and my working class Tory Grandmother felt it best not to rattle his cage. In later life I’ve remembered it because it’s the only one of the four patron saint’s days that ever gets celebrated by anyone March 17th
St George’s day was a funny one to remember because it’s the Queen’s Birthday on the 21st April, St George’s day, and Shakespeare’s birthday on the 23rd of April and my birthday on the 27th. Or was it the Queen on the 27th, me on the 23rd and St George … – you get the picture . My working class Tory Grandmother also had lost interest by this time as it was Spring, and she was getting ready to provide me with a suitably wonderful birthday present. Usually I could just about work out when it was though.
Having lived in England all my life and as an Englishman, how have we celebrated our patron saint’s day ? Well I can honestly say that except for 3 years I never have. Nor do I remember any body else doing, although I’ve seen a few things on pub black boards promoting Happy Hours & the like in recent times.
Those 3 years were of course when I was part of the Cub Scouts. I was the “sixer” of the Yellow Six, and as most of Yellow Six turned up and paid their subs I got to hold the flag at the St George’s Day Parade. This involved meeting with all the other scout and cub groups in the area, and walking down the middle of a road for about half a mile to a Church of England church (this remember was in a fairly secular area, where such Christians as there were, were far more likely to attend non-conformist churches or “chapels”) , where we then had to sing a few hymns and listen to a vicar. The hymns invariably included “Onward Christian Soldiers”, “I vow to thee my country”, “Stand up Stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross”, and “Soldiers of Christ Arise”. All of which to be fair were fairly standard fare from my County Primary School.
As an adult I’ve looked back on those times and felt saddened that as children we were effectively schooled in a para-military fashion – donning uniforms, waving national flags, swearing allegiance to our monarch, and to the established church, with it’s militaristic soldiers of Christ. In truth I can’t say it’s done me much harm. It seems a bit weird though.
So that’s what I associate with St George’s day – jingoism & indoctrination – which are thankfully far less common now. As an atheist who’s spent some time swotting up on Christianity as well, I have to say also that the whole cult of sainthood is one of the weaker aspects of Christianity, which stretches the credibility of the movement as a whole.
So what I’d have liked at least one of the candidates to answer would have been this :
“I’m not interested in St George’s day, because I’m not a Christian, I don’t support an established religion, and I have no wish to prop up the church and it’s non-elected leader the Queen by promoting it”
That would have made news. Sadly it would have also played right into Sky and Adam Boulton’s hands, and have lost Labour votes for many years to come. So maybe it’s better that they didn’t rise to the bait.
It wasn’t that tough a question really I guess – and the candidates I’ve voted for as first and second choice both got it right.
A far easier question actually than predicting when Ash Wednesday falls – something which Sky News’s Kay Burley has found difficult in the past :
This morning, my memories of my experiences in recruiting staff myself prompted me to blogg about the legalities of actually demanding a would be employee to demonstrate that they are not an illegal immigrant. This in relation to Baroness Scotland’s recent faux pas ( Baroness Scotland – Did she look at the passport ?, and why it doesn’t matter ! )
It took only a matter of minutes for another aspect of the same recruitment experiences to be jogged into my memory by a blog which provided me with another insight that the ace journalists didn’t seem to have grasped. In this case it was Adam Boulton blogging (The Pill Question on his SkyNews blog) about Andrew Marr’s questions on his BBC Show on Sunday to the Prime Minister Gordon Brown (The Andrew Marr Show) asking him whether he takes prescription pain killers.
Adam makes quite a song dance about this clearly trying to claim the moral and journalistic high ground over Andrew Marr, but finally deciding that, yes – it was OK to ask this question because it is in the natural interest to find out if the Prime Minister is suffering from a health problem. He says :-
“My own view is that the physical and mental health of the national leader are legitimate areas of inquiry.
The American President publishes the results of his medical examinations and I don’t see why the British Prime Minister shouldn’t. We should know if there is a problem which is specifically affecting the way he or she does his job.”
Can’t quite see the moral high ground myself there Mr Boulton.
Before I get to why I disagree with him, I’d like to point out that the question wasn’t really about health – he wasn’t actually asked about his eye-sight, although Marr talked about it, and that’s also what the PM talked about – he was just asked about medication.
This was straight out of the top drawer of “Have you stopped beating your wife bishop ?” questioning. He might as well have been asked “Do you still do the odd couple of lines of coke Gordy ?” or “Is your erectile disfunction problem still as bad as it used to be ?”. Questions which are impossible to answer without generating a negative headline, and all just like Andrew Marr’s question, thrown apropos of nothing in particular (other than smear campaigns on right wing websites).
It was interesting in fact how within minutes of this interview it was being reported via Twitter that he’d been asked not about pain killers but about anti-depressants. Compounded by the now re-edited piece Should Marr Have Asked THAT Question? – on Ian Dale’s blog. Which seemed to draw on the long running and apparently totally fictitious rumour on several right wing blogs that the Prime Minister is suffering from depression and god knows what other mental illnesses.
How convenient for them to make this error (and whether Iain Dale removed the reference or not, his good friend Guido Fawkes clearly didn’t worry about the smear on the “Prime Mentalist”).
Anyway – how does my experience recruiting staff in schools relate to this issue ? Well clearly sometimes people apply for jobs with illnesses or other medical conditions which make it very difficult to actually do the job in practice. Which is why on recruiting we place a health questionnaire in with the application forms.
Thing is though, I never see those forms – they are placed in a sealed envelope and sent directly to our Occupational Health advisers (if the candidate is appointed). They read the form, they sometimes talk to the person, they some times ask them to go for a medical, rarely they seek permission to speak with their doctor.
After all this they send me a letter which says simply “This person is fit for employment” – or “This person is not fit for employment” or “This person is fit for employment subject to the following guidance …”
If health problems crop up at a later date I can ask about them, but the employee does not have to tell me. I can refer to Occupational Health and they can write to doctors (having gained written permission from the employee) to ask for further information about health problems.
The bottom line is – Yes – health is important to a persons ability to do the job, but unless I have advice that I need to make adjustments due to a persons health, or that they are unfit to do the job, then the patient’s (employee’s) health – including treatment and medication is entirely confidential.
and I really can’t see why that should be any different for a teacher, a classroom assistant, or any other person – including the Prime Minister
So in my book that goes for Adam Boulton, and Andrew Marr as well :
Gordon Brown’s prescriptions from his doctor are confidential.