Tag Archives: evan-harris

Why do faith school supporters want them to be so awful?

I have to admit to coming out of the Lib Dem debate on 5-19 education feeling somewhat perplexed. After a complicated series of four amendments wrangling over the same bunch of lines, what the party has come up with seemed to be little more than a state commissioned figleaf scheme. Let me explain.

The motion as originally worded (negotiated on the Federal Policy Committee by, among others, Evan Harris MP) allowed faith schools but banned selection on the basis of faith. The amendment which was passed replaced this with the following commitment:

Requiring all existing state-funded faith schools to come forward within five years with plans to demonstrate the inclusiveness of their intakes, with local authorities empowered to oversee and approve the delivery of these plans, and to withdraw state-funded status where inclusiveness cannot be demonstrated.

As I snarked on the way out of the auditorium, what this amounts to is faith schools being free to discriminate, but will have their funding withdrawn if they discriminate.

In fact, however, it’s actually worse. Never mind the abstract debate, for me the acid test is the couple I know whose humanist wedding I attended who currently attend their local church every Sunday (along with their Orthodox Jewish neighbours) in order to ensure that their children are let into the local primary school. What would this motion, as amended, do about this closely observed hypocrisy? Absolutely nothing. My friends could stop going to church, not be able to send their children to the local school, be able to demonstrate the school is non-inclusive and have the school’s funding scrapped (in so doing, harming the education of lots of other children). Or they can keep quiet, go to church and act as a figleaf for the school’s “inclusive” policy when the inspection comes. Stick your head above the parapet, and you might be able to claim revenge eventually. But it is in your child’s interest to keep your head down and be a part of the lie.

What is most crazy about all this is that many of the best faith schools out there don’t have exclusive selection policies; ending discrimination on the basis of faith only affects a hardcore. Yet speaker after speaker in the debate claimed that the motion unamended was an attempt to scrap faith schools by the backdoor. It was a grotesque libel perpetuated by, among others, Vince Cable and Tim Farron. What did they hope to achieve by making such ridiculous claims?

I strongly agree that schools need an ethos, and a religious one is better than none at all. A total ban on faith schools while broadening the range of organisations which can help run schools would mean that the National Secular Society and even Microsoft could sponsor a school while the Quakers could not. There are much worse organisations than religions that could end up running English schools under this policy.

But here’s the thing: I’m constantly hearing religious people out there banging on about the Golden Rule these days, that “heart” common to all religions which we are to believe makes them vital and moral things. Yet when you go along with all that, and merely ask for the ethic of reciprocity to extend to, well, everyone, all that nice, woolly tolerance suddenly vanishes. Suddenly asking them to not discriminate is an unacceptable position. Suddenly, far from the Golden Rule, the core of religion they want to preserve is the right to shut people out. And they dress this neat little package of discrimination up in talk about the need for “inclusiveness.”

It is no wonder that the supporters of the second amendment, which called for all faith schools to be phased out, are not prepared to take them at their word. The movers of this amendment repeatedly raised the issue of homophobia in schools and how difficult it is to grow up as a homosexual in a faith school, yet this issue wasn’t addressed. Rather than deal with this fearsomely important point, in an act of supreme irony the movers of the amendment were branded extemists.

As I’ve said before, I would rather ally with a liberal person of faith than an illiberal atheist. But liberals don’t condone intolerance. The message I got from the supporters of faith schools on Saturday was that intolerance is an integral part of religion without which faith schools would not be worthy of the name. Keep saying nutty things like that and I’ll join the barricades alongside Laurence Boyce.

The Lib Dem B Team (UPDATE)

Since my last post on Clegg’s frontbench reshuffled caused such a stir, I thought I ought to at least comment on the finalisation of his team.

Firstly, on the question that adding the names makes the teams too large, I don’t accept this. The Shadow Ministers have limited roles to focus on specific areas; there is no question, as far as I am aware, of them taking a lead on issues. They are there to deputise primarily. While there is certainly an argument that the party should focus on pushing a handful of personalities – just the leader even – rather than a wide and potentially confusing group, we still need a team in size roughly equivalent to the government and Tory front benches simply to keep abreast of things.

Secondly, and I have to admit to knowing this shortly after my last post, but it is nice to see Jo Swinson and Jenny Willott on the list. I would rather see them doing substantial roles such as FCO and Justice than to be given totemic roles such as women, equalities and youth. The tendency to push women into these “soft” positions, while often well meaning, undermines them. It is one of the reasons why I view London Young Labour’s attempts to portray them as martyrs with such contempt.

Thirdly, it is interesting to see Evan Harris’ return from the wilderness. Shadow Minister for Science is an ideal role for him and I wish him well.

Fourthly, the absence of a culture minister is noteworthy. This means that Don Foster is covering the whole brief, from television through to the Olympics. Whilst this is possibly not the most crucial area of policy going, it does look as if it has been given a very low status by Clegg. By contrast I view this brief as an opportunity, if used creatively, to reach out to people normally uninterested in politics. I don’t think Don Foster has been doing that and I certainly can’t see him being able to do so if he has to do all the spadework himself.

UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that Evan Harris was already Shadow Science Minister and thus this isn’t a promotion for him. Apologies (this, Omar, is called making a correction).

It isn’t just me who gets my facts wrong however; the Guardian describes Jo Swinson as the previous spokes on youth issues. ARGH!

EXCLUSIVE: Dr Harris comes out for Huhne

Following last night’s Question Time hustings, Evan Harris MP has come out for Chris Huhne:

“I have known Chris Huhne for over 20 years as a political campaigner, journalist, businessman, MEP and leading party spokesman. He was SDP candidate in Oxford West and Abingdon in 1987 when his energetic campaign paved the way for my gaining the seat 10 years later. He has lost none of his energy, as he showed last night on Question Time. Both candidates are very effective communicators but I have been particularly struck by Chris Huhne’s commitment to ensuring that the Liberal Democrats remain a progressive and radical party. He is committed to social justice as a top priority and to the protection of equitable access to public services.”

Possibly not the greatest of coups ever, but Evan certainly has his fans within the party and is nobody’s fool. I haven’t seen Question Time yet, although it does seem to have been somewhere between a win for Huhne or a score draw, as the (relatively impartial) Liberal Conspiracy summary seems to confirm.

By the way Team Clegg, feel free to leak me stuff as well! 🙂