Religion in Schools
The recent accounts of Islamic teaching in British schools has
raised a more fundamental question of why we have any form of religious
education in schools today?
Schools should have a duty to instruct children in facts and to
ensure they are given the truth, and not the opinions and ideas of faith
and belief that hold no basis in fact. Furthermore, schools should be
giving a clear message of the values and society that we have and
wish to perpetuate in this country. Religion should play no part
in this and parents should use separate religious education to
instruct their children if that is their choice. It should not
be the duty of British schools to influence young people’s minds
with religious dogma.
Teachers have a very important responsibility to ensure the information
they give to children is based on the truth. Children cannot tell the
difference when young between fact based instruction in regular subjects
such as mathematics, English, science, history, geography, etc and the
dissemination of religious ideas, doctrines and scriptures which often
have little or no basis in fact and are generally designed specifically
to get across a religious message.
Even worse are the infliction of religious practices on children when
they are not capable of making the choices of their faith for themselves.
They should be given the truth and allowed to grow up to make their own
choices about their beliefs. It is not the role of schools to shape the
religious inclinations of a generation and so all forms of religious
practice should be removed from schools totally, whatever their background.
There is a lot of debate at the moment about house prices.
First time buyers in particular are unable to afford the basic
price of a starter home and the general consensus is that we are
not building enough houses. There are two major issues here.
Firstly, if one looks at how people in other countries live, the idea
of owning your own home is a true luxury and what we need to acknowledge
is the need for large scale, low-cost housing in the form of flats and
apartments. Although our history of such property is woeful, having
built so many blocks of flats which rapidly turned into high-rise slums,
we still have to look hard at proper, workable housing solutions in
high-rise accommodation, which is not automatically seen as
low-standard. There are many examples of good practice
in places like China and Hong Kong at least. For many young people
a small flat or apartment is a much more suitable start to their home ownership.
The second point is that house prices have risen significantly
because people have been able to pay. Since the deregulation of
the financial services sector pioneered by earlier conservative
governments, people have been able to borrow absurdly large sums
to buy properties, securing mortgages at many times their annual
incomes and resulting in them having unmanageable levels of debt.
This just makes it possible for them to pay the higher prices and
this just pushes up house ‘valuations’. The old model which severely
restricted people’s borrowing ensured house prices could not rise
too rapidly, especially in relation to incomes.
Building more houses or reducing stamp duty will not bring down
prices or making it easier for young people to get on the housing ladder.
Are Batteries the Answer?
The plethora of new electric and hybrid vehicles would imply
that battery powered transportation is the future. Car manufacturers
such as Tesla have been hugely successful selling their up-market,
luxury, zero-emission cars and mass-produced vehicles such as the
Toyota Prius and the Nissan Leaf have been embraced fully by those
wishing to limit the impact of their vehicles on the environment.
Notwithstanding the fact that the electricity they use to charge
their batteries in the first place is likely to have been generated
by the burning if carbon fuels, the question remains: are batteries
No matter what technology is used in the batteries it is still
necessary to get the requisite charge into them. Where charge is
current x time, the quicker the charge, the higher the current needs
to be. Consequently, it will always take a finite time to charge a
vehicle, whatever the technology used. Significant energy is required
to provide for these vehicles, so if we have huge numbers on the road
the capacity of the grid would have to be increased substantially,
even if some electricity is generated locally with solar or wind
power. Already our grid is over-stretched and incapable of meeting
present demand, so that is a problem which will only get worse and
until we properly embrace nuclear technology.
If we widely adopt battery technology are we in danger of making
Lithium the currency of the future replacing oil? Can we commercially
source enough Lithium? Are we seeing parts of the world such as
Bolivia, being exploited for their Lithium deposits? Will we find
newer battery technologies?
All in all, batteries are a good method for storing energy in
relatively small quantities for lightweight, handheld applications
such as mobile phones, but not as suitable for very high-capacity
applications such as transport which require such huge numbers of
Li-Ion batteries. A far better method would be to store the energy
using Hydrogen, which can be generated off-line using electrolysis
and which produces no pollution. With sufficient, low-cost electricity
provided by new generations of nuclear power plants yet to be developed,
providing the electricity, we could look forward to a truly zero-carbon
future. All we need is a bit of vision.
This Government is totally inadequately supporting these two
vital technologies for the future: nuclear and hydrogen. While you
can buy and fuel Hydrogen cars in California, there is no initiative
in place in the UK to promote such a radical solution, which will
be so much better than batteries. This is an opportunity for us.
We are innovators and we can solve the various technical problems
we might face, but we need foresight and courage to invest. It is
here we should be able to turn to our leaders to make it happen.
The recent election and the EU Referendum have highlighted some
of the major weaknesses of democracy, but specifically the basic
problem of how voters are able to judge issues that are extremely
complex. It is now self-evident that very few people really had any
idea what Brexit would actually mean, despite the many that voted
to leave the EU. How many really understood how the European Union
had contributed to our nation and continues to do so today and how
many really had a clear view of how the problems we face are down
to the EU? Did the EU just become a convenient way of finding someone
other than ourselves for our current state of affairs?
During the election people were offered so much by all parties,
but is it likely that the full implications were understood by many
people? It is easy to offer students free tertiary education, no
student loans and even grants, it is easy to offer re-nationalisation
and substantially more money spent on the NHS, education etc, and
to fund it all from higher taxation and lots more borrowing, but
what does that mean for the future? Is it just another opportunity
to increase the level of state debt that will be a burden to future
To begin with the main issue of the election was the Brexit
negotiations and terms. Negotiating such a complex arrangement is
a huge undertaking and likely to take a long time, and it is obvious
we will not be in a strong position to dictate terms. So, what are
people’s expectations of the negotiations and where do they think
we are likely to end up? Are we going to find the EU being responsive
and friendly or will they be robust in negotiations?
It could be argued that for the electorate to make a proper and
informed judgement about such complex issues requires significant
engagement on their part and an ability to grasp wide-ranging aspects
of government. It can also be argued that few people, even those in
parliament today, can really claim to be as conversant and familiar
with these issues as they need to be to make a proper balanced judgement
as to which is the right way to go.
The solution in the past has been to have parties which have general
inclinations to one political philosophy or other and to back the party
that most closely represents your perspective on social issues and politics
in general. That invariably meant that the parties pursued idealistic policies
with unreal expectations of life, glossed over many of the critical issues,
avoided those factors that made their philosophies look flawed and distracted
voters with promises they knew would be hard to deliver on. Voters on the other
hand were happy to back the general philosophy and trust that would result in
policies in line with a certain expectation and this removed any need for people
to make serious value judgements about the detailed issues. You didn’t even
need to agree with everything your party promoted.
It also meant that the parties offered specific bribes to voters to get
their vote, which in the end is all that matters. Promises of things that
people find attractive and endearing today, without addressing the longer-term
But more recently this has become a much harder proposition as politics
addresses such very specific complex issue such as Brexit. Voters are forced
to make judgements about these issues, even though they do not understand
them and the people who in the past have done the interpretation for them,
have abjected themselves from the responsibility of doing it this time, and
probably were in no better position to do so anyway. What was even more
alarming was that our elected representatives left to make the judgement
for themselves, as we would normally expect them to, would have come up
with an entirely different verdict.
How had democracy served the American people? It is hard to believe
that Donald Trump represents the best available in the US.
Democracy of sorts exists in other aspects of our social system. For
example, we assume a jury with 12 people chosen at random is the best
overall arbiter for the guilt or innocence of the accused. However,
again we see a level of complexity in many cases, not to mention issues
of prejudice and pre-judgement that must inevitably result in dubious
outcomes. How many innocent people have been found guilty through the
basic inadequacy of people to make such judgements in complex cases?
Perhaps the biggest issue with political democracy is the candidates.
People need no real qualifications to become MPs, or even cabinet ministers
and prime ministers, and yet these are significantly challenging roles and
the responsibilities they carry are substantial.
Many alternative political philosophies exist around the world and
it is hard to identify any that might be better. However, if you ever
choose to join the governing body of a state school you will discover
that only a proportion of the people on the board are elected. The
remainder have a position based on their role or qualification or the
organisation they represent and some are invited to join by exiting
members. This gives a chance that the people involved can contribute
in a meaningful way and to bring skills, expertise and experience that
proves valuable to the governing body.
Perhaps we could have such a system in parliament? Groups of people
who qualify to be a part of Government and a number elected to parliament.
Perhaps we could have some form of qualification to be able to stand for
election and those selected, probably by parliament, would be those with
special skills and expertise and a willingness to contribute to the nation
in service. People could be selected from all sorts of walks of life to
offer their valuable experience to the process of government.
Again, as it is with the school, we could ensure all those members,
in whatever way they become members, arrive in parliament and then elect
their government and their leaders and ministers. Although party politics
would play a part in the election, it would carry no specific weight within
parliament and every member would act independently according to their own
Legislation would be put forward by anyone, but would require a specific
level of support. This support might come from party allegiances, or from
government departments, ministers or even the prime minister, and then all
members would vote on that legislation. Each bill would have a specific
champion and it would have to be presented, not just in terms of what it
entails, but also considering every aspect of its implementation,
including resourcing and financing.
Although such a system would be more complex in some ways and would
require the government to promote its legislative programme much more it
would result in a far better outcome for the nation. I realise we are
much constrained by tradition here and those existing players do not want
to see a change here, but it would be good to see us make some changes
that might actually help us to improve the current situation we find