Why Dickens got his facts wrong, sir;Another Voice;Opinion;Interview;Thomas Gradgrind

27th August 1999 at 01:00
IF there's one thing folk know about Thomas Gradgrind it is that he places due emphasis on facts. Facts, sir.

Charles Dickens, notorious libertine and adulterer, lampooned me as a man who had the multiplication table always in his pocket, ready to weigh any parcel of human nature and tell you what it amounted to.

Mr Dickens, a man who even had difficulty calculating how many women society had licensed to hop into his bed, castigated me for the model school that I kept in Coketown. My academy may have laid unusual emphasis on the balance sheet, sir, but at least no one emerged from it unaware of how many women one can marry at a time!

However, in a week when British children have been learning how well they regurgitated facts for the examiner, I do not intend to rely on the degeneracy of Mr Dickens to defend myself. I believe in facts, sir, and the facts speak for themselves with Gradgrind's Academy in Coketown again producing some of the best GCSE results in the country.

Let none of us forget some of the formidable minds who have passed through the academy in recent years. I would single out Friedman, Professor Milton, the distinguished monetarist who first put a price-tag on every aspect of society.

Not to mention Thatcher, Lady M, who was the first to recognise that the prices of certain things - healthcare, state education, compassion to name but three - were far too high for a truly utilitarian state. Since these eminent Gradgrinnians blazed their trail I have seen others proudly follow. Let me single out Birt, J, of the BBC, who was the first to realise that making programmes was a far too risky business and replaced his producers with accountants. Woodhead, C, another bright Coketown boy who was the first to recognise that academic excellence could be calculated to the smallest decimal point (and who has always given the academy an excellent write-up, I might add).

The current Government also has a number of Gradgrinnians on its books. Indeed Coketown economics still dominate just about every aspect of post-Thatcherite British life. Were I a man of emotions, sir, I might well take pride in this fact. Why then is it that I daily hear my name derided by fashionable liberals? Men such as Bragg, Lord M, a former Gradgrinnian whom I expelled for chattering in classes!

There is a bitter taste left in my mouth by this, sir, and that taste is the taste of humbug. Humbug, the very charge which that great fornicator Dickens, thrust down my throat in 1850! The fact that my own son robbed a bank and fitted up Stephen Blackpool for the theft is held as an indictment of Gradgrinnian ethics.

Licentious folk, like Dickens, consider Stephen Blackpool's subsequent death to be the result of Thomas Junior's dishonesty and believe this proves my whole morality bankrupt. Moreover they criticise me for helping Thomas Junior out of the country when matters looked difficult for him. Yet I ask you what practical benefit was there in coupling a prison sentence to my son's disgrace? We would only be tying down more state finances by keeping young Thomas in jail.

These same irresponsible liberals once again ignored the facts when they criticised Baroness Thatcher for helping her own son Mark whenever he got into scrapes. They even swarmed against Sir John Birt for using his influence to find a job for his daughter at LWT and against the chief inspector of schools for hushing up an alleged indiscretion from his youth (or someone else's - I can't quite recall the details).

Yet all this is to misunderstand the Gradgrind philosophy. Facts are indeed the only thing that matter, sir. Facts, sir. But some facts are just too important to be reported in the tabloid press. When we add up the balance, what profit is shown by always coming clean? That is what Gradgrind can teach today's politicians, sir. And a lesson worth learning they think it too.

I am a retired industrialist. I am a man of wealth and vision who is willing to put his expertise and idealism behind whichever government is in power. I know Blair, T, secretly subscribes to my ideas and I have lent a number of his colleagues money to ease the cost of house-buying. All I ask in return is a small post in acknowledgement of Gradgrind's undiminished influence over British political life. Chairmanship of a Government task force would do.

Thomas Gradgrind is principal of Gradgrind's Academy, Coketown, and a fellow of The Institute of Factual Studies. He was speaking to Adrian Mourby.

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