Politics should be taught in primary schools, Alastair Campbell says
Politics should be taught in primary schools, Alastair Campbell has said, with the former spin doctor advising that the lessons for young children could be called “arguing”.
“We teach our kids that PE, running around the playground, is good for them. I think we should teach our kids to be interested in and engaged in politics,” Campbell told an audience at the Hay festival.
Speaking at the event in Wales on his 66th birthday, the co-host of podcast The Rest is Politics expressed dismay that most students in the UK do not take politics classes unless they choose to study it at A-level.
Political education needs to start in primary schools, and then become part of the “everyday debate” in children’s entire school experience, he said. “Maybe you don’t call it politics,” he said, suggesting that it could be called “arguing”, “policy” or “big issues”.
“Some of the most enjoyable stuff I do is going into schools and trying to teach young kids what politics is,” he added. “When they sit down and they start thinking about stuff, it’s just so fascinating and innovative.”
Since Eton college has produced more than triple the number of prime ministers that the Labour party has, Campbell believes that more state school students need to be taught “how to communicate, how to argue, how to fight their corner” from a young age.
Better political education is needed for adults, too, he added. “Anyone who reads the Daily Mail, please stop,” he said, addressing the audience. “It’s political dumbing down, and we’ve got to stop that.”
Though the event at the literary festival, where he was being interviewed alongside Guardian columnist Rafael Behr, was entitled Politics Without Rage, Campbell said sometimes rage “is the only way you can show why something matters”.
Questioned on his recent outburst on BBC Newsnight, when he appeared alongside former Brexit party MEP Alex Phillips, he described his response as “quite controlled rage”.
In the debate about Britain’s departure from the EU on 11 May, Campbell had repeatedly interrupted Phillips, telling her “don’t talk rubbish” and to “face the fact” that what her fellow Brexiters promised “was a pack of lies”.
When Phillips retorted by saying “It’s very rich a man who essentially was part of telling lies to invade a country to accuse me of dishonesty,” Campbell said: “I think you may have lost the argument there my dear, if I may patronise you even more.”
When Newsnight host Victoria Derbyshire tried to defuse the situation, he addressed her: “You bring these people on, you never challenge them, and you let them talk absolute rubbish about Brexit, and it’s happened on the BBC for year after year after year.”
“I wasn’t happy with myself going for Victoria at the end,” he reflected at the Hay event. “I think I did that that because I was worried that if I allowed [Phillips] to keep talking such utter bilge I would go even worse.”
Campbell asked the audience how many of them believe Brexit is going really well, and just one person put their hand up. While a book festival’s “generally middle class, middle aged” audience might not be the best survey, Campbell admitted, he believes that this lack of enthusiasm for Brexit is widespread. “I get this everywhere around the country,” he said, even in the so-called “red wall”.