Archive for the ‘Blair’s Britain’ Category

End of course assessments

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

We’re getting near the end of the course, so I think it’s time to begin talking about assessment. I’m not going to set you exams, instead I’m going to ask you to write an essay – or tw essays if you are following both the writing and the Blair’s Britain courses.

 I’m going to give you a wide choice of questions – you can see them here:

End of semester essay questions

The questions are quite hard, but that’s so you can all show me how clever you are!

 I’ll talk more about the assessment tomorrow and you’ll have a chance to ask me any questions then. You can also ask questions by posting comments to this entry.

 See you tomorrow. 

Superstition in Britain

Monday, June 11th, 2007

Last week we had two classes on superstition. In the first, we looked at some common superstitions in the UK. In the second we tried doing some palm reading on each other.

 You can see my presentation here:


 For the text we read in the evening class, see the link below…


Religion in Britain

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Last week we talked about religion in Britain including the statistics generated by this year’s tearfund survey. You ca find the survey at the address below:

I’m afraid the BBC interview with the rabbi and the bishop that we listened to last week will have been taken down now – they only leave their radio programmes online for one week. Sorry I didn’t get around to putting up a link earlier. However, you can find plenty of news stories related to the subject of faith schools on the Guardian newspaper website which has special sections on religion in Britain and on education:,,179375,00.html

For stories specifically on the faith schools debate see:,,1034028,00.html 



2007 Turner Prize Shortlist

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

The shortlist for this year’s Turner Prize has just been announced. One of them, Mark Wallinger, was featured in the exhibition some of you visited in Beijing.

You can read a short news story about the announcement at:

Education in Britain

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

In tomorrow’s class I’ll introduce the education system in Britain. Especially before university, it’s considerably different from the Chinese system. The main difference is that there’s no universal university entrance exam.

 You can download the presentation for the class here:

Blair’s Britain Class 5: Education in Britain

There’s a reading comprehension that we will work through together if there is time here:


Hunting…and Blair’s Legacy

Friday, April 20th, 2007

Blair’s Britain Class 4

In this class we continued to talk about the controversy about the ban on hunting. We read arguments for and against. Those arguments were taken from the following site – you can find more information on hunting and on other popular political issues there:

We watched a video of anti-hunt protesters clashing with hunters. You can find videos on many subjects made by ordinary people on YouTube.

In the second part of the class we watched a video of a segment from the BBC Newsnight programme, in which members of the public were asked to give their verdicts on the leadership of Tony Blair. The conclusion of the pollster who conducted the focus group was that the public gives some credit to Blair for securing peace in Northern Ireland, but that this and other achievements have been overwhelmed by the Iraq War, which is hugely unpopular. You can download the video here (this is a very large file).

The Country Life

Friday, April 20th, 2007

Blair’s Britain Class 3

In this class, we looked at the growing urban-rural divide in Britain.

The whole idea of ‘Cool Britannia’ that was strongest around 1997 was modern, urban and related to the industrial working classes. Many people felt excluded, and this feeling found a focus in the controversy about foxhunting, soon after the election of the New Labour government.

In reaction to the threat against hunting, a political movement, called the ‘Countryside Alliance’, was founded. The Countryside Alliance later came to campaign on behalf of country people on a variety of other issues. These included rural housing, services, the environment, farming and the rural economy.

You can download the presentation for this class here:

Blair’s Britain Class 3: The Country Life

For more information, have a look at some of the following websites:

Britart and the Young British Artists’ Movement

Friday, April 20th, 2007

Blair’s Britain Class 2 

In this class, we discussed one aspect of the cultural renaissance that took place in Britain during the 1990s: Britart, or the Young British Artists’ Movement.

We discussed the origins of the movement in London in the late 1980s, and the importance of Damien Hirst’s 1988 Freeze Exhibition.

We also discussed the importance of the controversial Turner Prize, and of the collector and advertising moghul, Charles Saatchi.

The YBAs reached their peak in the 1997 exhibition, Sensation, which was greeted by many commentators, particularly by the tabloid press, with disgust and derision.

The characteristics of YBA art are that it rejects tradition and convention, it aims to be accessible to all, and it aims to have an emotional impact by shocking the audience.

We ended the class by asking a question that Britain was asking throughout the 1990s: is it even art at all?

I’m afraid that the presentation for this class is too large to upload to the blog. You can find more information on the YBAs from the sites below.

See if you can understand these cartoons, which are critical of Britart. You will need to understand some idiomatic phrases. Post a comment if you have any questions.

Cool Britannia: Britain in the Blair Era

Friday, April 20th, 2007

Blair’s Britain Class 1 

In this class I introduced the period that we will be looking at during the rest of the course, a period that has become known in Britain as ‘the Blair Era’.

The Blair Era began in the mid-nineties. The 1980s had been a troubling period for Britain as Thatcher’s policies proved divisive. By the beginning of the 1990s, many people had become much richer. On the other hand, whole areas of the country had been plunged into poverty as mines and steelworks had been shut, an outcome of the policy of privatisation and of the government’s battle with the trades unions

The early 1990s saw a serious economic recession. After introducing the unpopular poll tax, Thatcher was sacked by the Conservative Party. Her successor as party leader and prime minister, John Major, was seen as weak and boring, and his government was damaged by allegations of sleaze.

The mid-1990s saw a cultural renaissance in Britain in various different fields. The YBAs (Young British Artists) were taking the international art scene by storm with their shocking ‘Britart’. For the first time since the sixties and seventies, British pop music became internationally dominant. ‘Britpop’ bands such as the Spicegirls, Blur and Oasis had number-one hits in many countries. Meanwhile, British cinema, which had been in decline since the early seventies, was also enjoying a revival.

This phenomenon was labelled ‘Cool Britannia’ by an American magazine. Cool Britannia made it cool, for a while, to be patriotic, something that would have seemed strange in Britain during the previous decades. The Union Jack (the British flag) became a popular decoration on clothes and other items. 

Tony Blair became leader of the Labour Party after the death of his predecessor, John Smith, in 1994. The socialist Labour Party had been out of power for a decade and a half by that time. Blair argued that the public image of the party is what stopped it from winning elections, and that there was no point in holding fine ideals if the party never had the opportunity to put them into practice. His solution was to ‘rebrand’ the party, and to fit its goals to the beliefs and aspirations of the majority of the electorate. In the face of great opposition from within the party, Blair abolished Clause 4 of the party’s constitution (on nationalisation of industry) and introduced a system of one-member-one vote (OMOV) to reduce the power of the unions. The result was the New Labour Party.

The Cool Britannia phenomenon was associated (some said falsely) with working-class culture, and many artists, actors and musicians expressed their opposition to the ruling Conservative Party, and their support for the Labour Party under Tony Blair. Blair and his associates took advantage of this by linking their party to Cool Britannia. Pop groups wrote and performed songs for party conferences and artists designed T-shirts.

 In May 1997, the Labour Party won the general election and Blair became prime minister. A party was held at 10 Downing Street, and many Cool Britannia celebrities attended. The mood in the country was optimistic, patriotic…and cool. Britain seemed to be returning to the daylight after a long period in the dark. Other events in 1997 reinforced the feeling of national unity, above all, the ongoing preparations for the celebration of the millennium, and the death of Princess Diana in September.

Soon after the election of the government however, criticisms began to emerge. Some early actions, such as the introduction of tuition fees for university students, and the delay in introducing a promised hunting ban, angered Labour Party supporters.

Many people criticised the continued use of spin and public relations. These were seen as useful strategies in an election campaign, but when the pracitces became permanent, commentators asked whether the New Labour project was all about appearances; whether it lacked substance.

The feeling of excitement and optimism that arose in 1997 was soon tinged with disappointment, doubt and division. However, the feeling that something had changed, for better or worse, remained. The British had entered the Blair Era.

You can download the presentation for this class here:

Britain in the Blair Era Class 1: Powerpoint Presentation