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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.

House Prices

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 the solution?

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.

Democracy

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 generations?

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 consequences.

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.

Alternatives

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 conscience.

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 ourselves in.