Opinion

Paul McNamee: Star-spangled thinking

If kids full of wonder are unable to foster their learning, then shame on us all

Maybe Churchill had it right.

The old Bulldog liked to look to space. It emerged last week that amongst the things that kept him busy
(cigars, whisky, winning the war) were thoughts of where we might find extraterrestrial life. He believed it was out there. His quote is worth repeating.

“I, for one, am not so immensely impressed by the success we are making of our civilisation here that I am prepared to think we are the only spot in this immense universe,” he wrote in 1939, “which contains living, thinking creatures. Or that we are the highest type of mental and physical development which has ever appeared in the vast compass of space and time.”

He shows a level of humanity, humility and intelligence that some of our leaders – who profess to love him, leaders on both sides of the Atlantic – would do well to pause upon.

Of course not everybody is going to be like Churchill. To expect all important leaders to have greatness in them is foolish. Not all football managers are going to be Sir Alex Ferguson.

The number of people struggling to get by in Britain has risen by four million in the last six years

But at least there could be an aspiration to reach up and hit the heights, a desire to be better. It’s not just intellectual pygmyism that is seeping down, threatening to infect us all, it’s the closure to others. Churchill was so open he was going BEYOND the planet! Now, increasingly, there is a desire to close off, to compartmentalise and to blame damn outsiders, everybody except those we believe to be of our tiny patch and closed tribe.

It squeezes light and hope, and we need to stand up to it. It’s a mindset that normalises ideas and thoughts that should not be normalised. And it stops focus on work that needs to happen.

In Britain, when Theresa May took over as PM, she promised to focus on social injustice, to speak for those just about managing and provide opportunities for children from struggling families to allow their talents to take them as far as they can.

There is little sign of this happening. With all energy on Brexit plans, and our focus frequently taken with the dark carnival of change rumbling through the White House, it’s easy to stop thinking about the tough realities all around us. Unless, of course, you’re in those realities. Last week the Joseph Rowntree Foundation revealed that the number of people struggling to get by in Britain has risen by four million in the last six years. This is illuminating if not particularly instructive.

Watch the Pride special collection.

Our LGBTQ+ film playlist offers a new and interesting angle on LGBTQ+ love and struggle – giving an international overview by taking us inside some of the most and least sexually liberated countries in the world.  

Sign Up Now

It doesn’t tell us how to fix this shameful situation. Stagnating wages and cuts to income support may be somewhat to blame but what are the wider societal steps that can be taken to fix the worsening situation? We’re still waiting to hear from the PM on that.

We believe literacy is key. Better literacy, early access to books and keeping libraries open won’t solve everything, of course. But we will continue to bang the drum to make changes to help literacy improve the life chances of those born without a silver spoon.

If there are kids on tough estates looking up at the sky and having the same thoughts as Churchill but unable to take the step into learning more and opening up the incredible vistas of their imagination – and their future – then shame on us all.

Chronic narcissists and soundbite specialists in charge will only do so much, if anything at all.

The real change has to come from us.

If you have any comments please email me at paul.mcnamee@bigissue.com, tweet @pauldmcnamee, or send a letter to The Big Issue, 43 Bath Street, Glasgow, G2 1HW

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
The difference between Glasgow and Edinburgh? Glasgow's beauty is not overt, but subtle and beguiling
The Glasgow studio of the Duke of Wellington
Robin Ince

The difference between Glasgow and Edinburgh? Glasgow's beauty is not overt, but subtle and beguiling

What we can learn from how US has criminalised rough sleepers – and how Sunak may follow suit
Homelessness

What we can learn from how US has criminalised rough sleepers – and how Sunak may follow suit

I had no idea what chemsex was until my son's death. I want to help other parents avoid heartbreak
Anonymous

I had no idea what chemsex was until my son's death. I want to help other parents avoid heartbreak

Myth of hard work needs to be busted. Luck and privilege are usually behind success
A man having a nap on a bench
Sam Delaney

Myth of hard work needs to be busted. Luck and privilege are usually behind success

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know