Myth-busting

In my previous article (120: No More Faith Schools) I argued that, in a contemporary multi-cultural society, it is necessary to have a secular education system. There is no place for a state-supported system of faith schools. Such schools are discriminatory, divisive, controlling and a wrongful use of public money.
Religion has a definite role and function in public education, but not one based on a confessional and/or evangelical approach that cedes control of the system to religious institutions and sacerdotal influence.
Earlier this year the National Secular Society (NSS) launched its campaign called No More Faith Schools. The objective of this campaign is to petition for an inclusive education system – an education system that is free from religious discrimination and proselytization. The campaign recognizes that the influence of religious groups on state education urgently needs to be rolled back.
Part of the NSS campaign is to expose some of the myths surrounding faith schools and their operation in the UK.
In this article I wish to mention five of ten such myths and, as with all myths, religious or otherwise, to expose their lack of reality and basis in fact. In a subsequent article I will complete the list of ten myths with a further five
(In what follows, I acknowledge the use of material from the NSS’s campaign).
MYTH 1: “Faith schools give parents greater choice”. The reality is that faith schools actually restrict choice for many parents.
The proliferation of faith schools serves to restrict choice for parents who do not want a faith-based education for their children, or who do not share the religion of their local school. In some parts of the country, parents are left with little other option but to send their child to a school with a religious ethos.
Though religious organisations want more faith schools, most parents and the general public just want good local schools and acceptable academic standards – very few choose faith schools for their religious characteristic.
On the other hand, some families who may be desperate for their child to attend a religious school (usually Church of England), sometimes lie about their faith, attend church, or even have their child baptised into the faith of the school, in order to increase their chances of getting in. In this way, religious selection in faith schools unfairly limits parental choice.
Surveys have shown that the vast majority of voters, including those from every religion surveyed, disagree with religious selection in school admissions.
Therefore, a move towards an inclusive and secular education system would mean no child would be discriminated against on account of their parents’ religion or belief, and that all schools would be equally appropriate for parents of all faith backgrounds, or none.
MYTH 2: “Faith schools achieve better results”. The evidence does not support this contention.
There is nothing magical about a ‘faith ethos’ when it comes to academic success. Where church schools do achieve marginally better results it is usually down to faith-based selection – this also leads to social selection which unfairly benefits middle class and better-off parents.
Research published in 2016 by the Education Policy Institute found that after adjusting for “disadvantage, prior attainment and ethnicity,” pupils in primary schools with a faith ethos “seem to do little or no better than in non-faith schools”. Pupils in secondary schools with a faith ethos record only “small average gains” over non-faith schools or “just one-seventh of a grade higher” in GCSE results.
Various bodies have published research which shows that schools with a faith ethos, whilst showing minute academic gains, came with a risk “of increased social segregation”, “admit fewer pupils from poor backgrounds than the average non faith school”, and operate extremely convoluted admissions procedures that enable them “to select their pupils from more affluent backgrounds than non-faith schools.”
One body of research found that the influence of religion on education may even be detrimental to some results, that is, “excess time spent on religion in schools harmed progression in other subjects – including maths and science”.
MYTH 3: “Faith schools are better at teaching children morals”. Against this bland assumption it needs to be emphatically asserted that the teaching of basic morals is not solely the domain of faith schools.
All schools teach children such basic values as honesty; integrity; compassion; tolerance and many others. There is no evidence that faith schools do it better. All maintained schools in the UK have to promote basic human values in education (the spiritual, moral, social and cultural values and development of all pupils).
So too, all schools must actively promote the values of “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs”. Such values are often mistaken as “Christian values”. This is a mistaken notion, as is the fact that “non-Christian” values – therefore persons – are inferior. Church school inspections are often guilty of promoting this dichotomy.
Education about ethics and morality in schools should be based around the universal principles of reason, empathy and the concept of fundamental human rights, rather than forced through the lenses of religious teachings.
MYTH 4: “Faith schools are necessary to protect parents’ religious freedom”. The state has a duty to provide schools and to respect parents’ religious freedom, but the case law is clear that this doesn’t create a duty for the state to provide faith schools.
Religious institutions cater for the variety of family religions. Schools cater for education, not sectarianism. All state schools should be open, inclusive and equally welcoming to all children whatever their religion and belief backgrounds. This is not to be anti-religious. Parents may wish for but do not have a right for the state to raise their child according to religious tradition – nor to cover the cost of doing so.
Religion and belief communities exist to promote their worldviews, schools don’t. Faith schools undermine many parents’ ability to raise their children in accordance with their religion/belief.
It’s also a mistake to assume that religious people necessarily want faith schools. Many people of faith are opposed to religious discrimination. They don’t see faith inculcation as the state’s role, or have other reasons for supporting inclusive schools.
People live out their religion or belief without the need for faith-hospitals, faith job-centres, faith-transport systems or other faith based/divided public services. Why faith schools? An inclusive school would be secular, that is, it would neither be specifically religious or atheist; it would fulfil the educational requirements of all children as individuals.
A secular education system is perfectly consistent with protecting individuals’ religious freedom.
MYTH 5: “Faith schools don’t do any harm – why not let them just be?” On the contrary, faith schools build division into society and undermine religious freedoms. The harms vary depending on how aggressively they push their religious ethos.
Research has shown that faith schools have a negative impact on social cohesion, foster the segregation of children on social, ethnic and religious lines, and are antithetical to freedom and equality.
Organising children and young people’s education around religious identities is the worst possible response to Britain’s growing religious diversity. Schools are our golden opportunity to foster understanding and tolerance amongst tomorrow’s generation. It is utterly misguided to squander this opportunity by continuing to fund and promote faith-based education.
Of course there is a range of faith schools and some are more harmful than others, especially those that push their religious ethos very aggressively, sinisterly seeking to shield children from secular knowledge and actively turning pupils against the society in which they will grow up.
Faith schools propagating the idea that religious identity/inculcation is a valid purpose of education, including the traditional CofE faith schools that are seen as more of a ‘light touch’, actually promote and validate intolerant attitudes elsewhere in society.
Legitimizing the idea of organising state education around religious identity/inculcation, opens the doors for the worst aspects of faith schools and are directly responsible for creating a ghettoised education system.
Myths 6-10: to be continued…
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No more faith schools

Earlier this week I wrote to my Member of Parliament. The purpose for doing was to draw his attention to the National Secular Society’s No More Faith Schools campaign. (In what follows I acknowledge some use of the said campaign’s material).
As a member of the National Secular Society (NSS), I support the separation of religion and state, as well as equal respect for everyone’s human rights, so that no one is either advantaged or disadvantaged because of their beliefs. In recent years I have become more concerned that faith schools are fuelling segregation, discrimination and inequality, both in my local area but also nationwide.
So, in writing to my MP, I wanted to urge him to raise the issue of state-funded faith schools and to support an inclusive and religiously-neutral approach to education, in which children of all faiths and none are equally welcome in all schools and are able to develop their own beliefs.
Successive national surveys have shown conclusively that the UK is becoming increasingly irreligious, particularly with respect to formal religion and especially amongst the younger generation.
At the same time, the diversity within religions in the UK is growing. We need schools that reflect this and are equally welcoming to pupils from all faith backgrounds and none; an education system and schools that do not teach religion from one exclusive viewpoint.
Faith schools fail to do this.
Too often faith schools separate children according to the religion of their families, resulting in religious segregation and, very often, ethnic segregation. This does not adequately prepare children for adult life in a pluralist and multi-cultural UK.
Faith schools also teach their particular religious persuasion in a “confessional” manner, which not only implies that their religion is more “correct” than other worldviews, but also means children are given limited opportunity to form their own opinions or to adequately engage in dialogue across the various religious faiths.
This is a pathway to bigotry and prejudice.
It is unfair that many faith schools are allowed to prioritize children from a particular faith. We all pay for state faith schools regardless of our beliefs – religious or otherwise. I firmly believe that such schools should not then be given the right to discriminate against children on the basis of religion.
A further and significant consideration is the fact that, as faith schools are funded by public money, the British public should have some control over these schools and what religious philosophy and ethics they teach.
National polling consistently indicates that voters are opposed to faith schools. Parents want to send their children to schools that offer a high standard of education. The vast majority of parents don’t consider religion to be an important factor when making this choice. This situation is understandable, but indicates a misunderstanding of the value of religious studies in the educational spectrum.
I want to see the UK work towards making our state education system more inclusive and fair for families of all religions and none. The state has a duty to provide high quality, inclusive education for all children.
The foregoing is, in essence, what I wished to draw to the attention of my MP – urging him and the government he represents to take action to encourage the growth of inclusive schools with no religious ethos. The ultimate aim is to phase out faith schools. That is why the NSS has recently launched a national campaign dedicated to bringing an end to state-funded faith schools.
No More Faith Schools will urge the creation of an inclusive education system free from religious proselytization and discrimination.
The campaign is timely for faith schools account for around a third of publicly-funded schools in England and Wales, while many Scottish and Northern Irish schools are divided along sectarian lines.
No more indoctrination; no more segregation; no more discrimination. No more faith schools!
Of course, the above is not an argument for not teaching the subject of religion in a state system of secular education. On the contrary, as a former teacher of Religious Studies (Religious Philosophy and Ethics) in the state secondary sector, I am of the view that there is a strong argument for teaching religion in state-funded schools.
The question is how? With what specific pedagogical approaches and methods is the subject to be taught? Are we to move religious studies into a subject syllabus which the philosopher and educator A.C. Grayling has called the “history of ideas”?
But these are questions for another article!
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In which camp?

The religious festival of Easter is concluding. For the Jewish faith it is the remembrance of Passover; for Christians the remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Easter event is often accompanied by celebrity people, of all faiths or none, conveying their Easter greetings to the multitudes, irrespective of whether the ears of the people are eager or otherwise to hear what is being delivered.
Charles Windsor, the so-called Prince of Wales, was no exception. Mr Windsor dedicated his 2018 Easter greeting to persons worldwide who have suffered religious persecution, that is, persons who have undergone suffering of any kind as a consequence of their faith. Charles Windsor was non-specific about which faiths he had in mind, but there is little doubt that his mind would likely have had a Jewish and Christian focus.
Now, Charles Windsor was also non-specific about the nature and form of this persecution. Notwithstanding, as seems typical of this character, he appeared publicly in a nationally televised photo-shoot with both leaders of the various Christian faith denominations and non-Christian faiths. Such appearances and the accompanying sentiments no doubt seek to justify his royal function.
Noticeably absent from the faith leaders’ line-up was a female representative of any of the gathered faiths. this being the case, it might have been appropriate that it was Charles Windsor, rather than Elizabeth Windsor, who gave the Easter greeting to the religious leaders…..a matter of gender protocol?
So too, there was nothing of the Maundy Thursday “foot-washing of the poor” ceremony that sometimes and in some places accompanies this occasion – as with the example of the Roman Catholic Pope. Nothing particularly new there, then, especially in view of Mr Windsor’s personal life-style! However, he was – as is usual with this celebrity – all smiles, handshakes and sleeve-tugging, with the occasional and characteristic brief moment of conversation, as the opportunity afforded.
Who would know what the snippets of conversation were all about – perhaps he was actually being informed for the first time about the form and severity of the persecution being experienced by the adherents of a particular leader’s religious faith. He gives every appearance that he actually cares what the faith leaders have to say about the possible persecution of any persons belonging to the religious movements that they represent.
To a large extent, however, the substance of that concern remains a matter of conjecture, as does the genuineness of the various world religions to the nature and extent of the persecution faced by each of them. The conflict in and between the different major worldwide religions is in itself a cause of the persecution each experiences!
What Charles Windsor seemingly fails to realize is that, from the perspective of history, his status and office stands closer to the camp of the persecutors than it does to the persecuted. He is the heir to a royal heritage that may one day give him not only the title of King of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, but will also enthrone (an interesting word) him as the Head of the Church of England and place him at the pinnacle of the worldwide Anglican Church.
These titles will be his by reason of a monarchical line that has historical and constitutional sanctions. The actual formation of the Church of England took place in consequence of a despotic late-medieval English king’s desire, for entirely self-centred reasons, to break with the Roman Catholic Church and establish a dual hegemony over the English state and church. The rest is, as they say, history.
Apart from the dubious historicity of the sanctions Charles Windsor will inherit when he becomes the reigning British monarch and the Head of the Church of England, the only people, give or take a select handful of politicians, who will have any role or function in the official conferring of this office/inheritance will be those attached to official and hierarchical positions in the Church of England. So much, then, for the United Kingdom as a genuine and practising multi-faith nation!
All things being equal, therefore, as the king-in-waiting and the next Head of the Church of England and worldwide Anglican churches, Charles Windsor stands to inherit, as of right, the highest office of the established church in the supposedly democratic nation of the United Kingdom. This is the British establishment in its most public and privileged manifestation.
Institutional religion, of course, has never been something that has epitomized the democratic ideal. In itself, the fact that the United Kingdom has an established Church of England, means that all other Christian denominations, as well as other religious faiths, suffer by comparison and in practice – in terms of reputation, political patronage and position, financial provision, property acquisition and ownership, as well as any other advantages accruing to a religious title which carries national political and constitutional importance.
Of course, the position occupied by the Head of the Church of England carries with it certain demands of the person who occupies or aspires to the position. These demands are religious, moral, philosophical and, of course, constitutional. These demands suggest the necessary proclivities of any candidate for the office.
With this perspective, it is of some importance to note that it was not that long ago when a former Attorney General of the present Conservative Government considered that Charles Windsor was not a suitable candidate to be the Head of State for the British nation and, therefore, not suitable to be the Head of the Church of England, never mind the worldwide Anglican communion.
It is quite apparent that, based on moral as well as theological grounds, many of the constituent churches of global Anglicanism have a much higher regard for the nature and character of the office than does their British counterpart. A search of the British Constitution, as well as the statutes and rules of the Church of England, would probably verify such an opinion.
History has shown, however, that any establishment – be it legal, military, sporting, business or religious – has a way of overcoming obstacles, no matter how severe these hindrances may be. In recent times it has been noticeable that those duties which Elizabeth Windsor, as the Head of the British State and by extension the Church of England, has been unable, or unwilling, to fulfil, have been performed in the main by her grandsons, William and Harry, rather than her son and heir, Charles Windsor. This may, or may not be, significant.
This was not the case, however, when it came to the serious matter of royal Easter greetings and the photo-shoot with the national religious leaders. This was a duty that required to be fulfilled by someone who possessed present or future stature as a representative of British institutional religion. As the likely next-to-be Head of the Church of England, Charles Windsor was such a person.
Interestingly, it was a task to be performed not by the actual and functioning religious leader of the Church, that is, the Archbishop of Canterbury, but by the titular Head of the Church of England – in this case the Prince of Wales acting in the place and on behalf of Queen Elizabeth. Is the enthronement process already in motion – psychologically if not practically?
The reigning British monarch is the Head of the Church of England in title only, that is he or she is the holder of an office without any of the correspondingly specific functions or obligations. That person has been described somewhere as a “titular saint”! There is some argument that this could apply to Elizabeth Windsor, but Charles Windsor…?
Easter is recognisably a season when the traditional Easter greetings are conveyed by accepted celebrities to the masses – or by national leaders to selected and significant others. This practice is generally considered to be appropriate, especially when it is seen to be an ongoing and relatively harmless aspect of the function of royal personages.
After all, much is made of the monarch dutifully attending the appropriate Easter church service (always in a state church, never in a Roman Catholic or a non-state Protestant church, and certainly never in one of the expanding number of non-denominational churches in the UK) – another photo-shoot opportunity, perhaps, to underline the fact that the monarch takes with utmost seriousness her role as the head of the established Christian church in the land.
In offering his commiserations for the present suffering and best wishes for future resolutions and reconciliations to the gathered British leaders of national and international faith movements, Charles Windsor was carrying out a royal function. How personally meaningful it was, never mind a faithful part of his sacred duty, is something we may never know.
Whether or not Charles Windsor thinks that his greetings will make any difference to the situation of religious persecution worldwide is a moot point. Better minds and more extensive physical and spiritual efforts than his have tried and failed.
Whatever else it may be, religious persecution is not simply a consequence of what a person believes. It has just as much to do with social class and caste, lack of personal and political power, national and regional identity, as well as the pervasive and persuasive influence of ideology and myth.
The above being the case, Charles Windsor and, probably, those faith leaders to whom he conveyed his Easter greetings, rather than being with the persecuted may well be closer to the camp of the persecutors than they themselves realize.
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Feel the heat!

As readers of this blog will be aware, I am in regular receipt of The Daily Review, the online Australian arts and literature review.
Through this review I have been made aware of the fact that in the coming year Australian television viewers (and, hopefully, British viewers) will be able to watch television series of such Australian movie classics as Picnic at Hanging Rock and Romper Stomper – the first set in a rural location of my home state of Victoria and the second in an old haunt of mine, Footscray, in the western suburbs of Melbourne.
 The Daily Review keeps me in touch with Australian culture – stage and screen, visual arts, music, literature and politics. For several months now, The Daily Review has been commenting on a first novel written by the Australian writer Jane Harper. The book is called The Dry, and has been described as “an atmospheric, page-turning debut mystery, where a small town hides big secrets”. The reviews for the book attracted my reading interest.
Nearly half of my life was lived in Australia and I can well remember travelling quite extensively in the eastern half of the country. This would have involved experiencing the drought conditions described in this novel; as well as driving through, also occasionally stopping for fuel and meals in, small outback towns like Kiewarra – the location of The Dry. The script and character descriptions, the rural conditions and countryside atmosphere so accurately detailed in this novel are, therefore, authentic and personally appealing.
What familiarity with the cafes and service stations of the foregoing did not give to me, however, was a sufficient appreciation of the variety of experiences and intrigues brought out in the subtle mix of personalities and motives that so characterize the individuals whose combined stories make this novel so captivating. The novel compensates for this deficiency.
Attributable to the worst drought in Australia for a century, with no rainfall in Kiewarra for two years, the tensions in the town have become unbearable. Three members of the town’s well-known Hadler family have been brutally murdered. Blame for the tragic deed has been placed on Luke Hadler, the father of the family, who, it is alleged, committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six year-old son.
A former resident of the town, a Melbourne-based policeman called Aaron Falk, has made the six hour car journey from the big city to attend the funeral of the family. Luke Hadler was Falk’s childhood best friend. Falk is inevitably drawn into the investigation and an unexpected re-involvement with the town and its people – a community that, for reasons detailed in the story, had rejected him twenty years earlier. That rejection has to do with a secret that Aaron Falk and Luke Hadler had shared. That secret is now threatened with exposure. Sweat is not always induced by the heat of the down-under sun!
The story unfolds with excruciating tension as Falk probes deeper into the killings and, inevitably, is drawn further into relationships of both hate and romance with several of the townsfolk. So too, Falk is forced to face some secrets from his personal past as he seeks the truth behind his friend’s crime – all the time wrestling with the tension “how someone like him (Luke Hadler) could do something like this (murder his own family)”.
As described by various journals, this crime book of the month is a “riveting page-turner” as the plot advances inexorably towards the truth of “who killed the Hadler family”? Further, The Dry “is a most assured crime debut that grips like a vice”.
This book just cries out for an accompanying movie and there are a number of Australian producers, directors and actors who could and would make a marvellous murder- mystery thriller of it. Picnic at Hanging Rock and Romper Stomper are just two movies that offer a testament to this possibility. John Jarratt (Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1975) and Russell Crowe (Romper Stomper, 1992) would concur.
If you, the reader, have enjoyed reading those cold and calculating Nordic crime novels from the northern hemisphere, then be sure to read “The Dry” and feel the relentless, uncompromising and energy-sapping heat of the southern hemisphere. I invite you to feel the heat!
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Soul and inspiration

Being a resident of the United Kingdom, I have not had the opportunity of either attending a concert, or, in the absence of a discography, any other way or listening to music performed by the “Australian World Orchestra” (AWO).
The AWO was established in 2011 by Australian conductor Alexander Biger and his sister, the film-maker Gabrielle Thompson. The inaugural patron of the orchestra was Sir Charles Mackerras, the great Australian conductor who died in July, 2010. He was the uncle of Biger and Thompson.
As the name implies, the Australian World Orchestra is an orchestra composed of world-class musicians who perform with other major orchestras around the world – elite musicians from the international stage who make music with orchestras such as the London and Chicago Symphony Orchestras, the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras, as well as from Australia’s own accomplished state orchestras.
A number of critics world-wide consider the AWO to be one of the world’s great orchestras.  Following an AWO concert conducted by the renowned British Conductor Sir Simon Rattle, one commentator went so far as to say, “Sir Simon Rattle shows the Australian World Orchestra’s in a class of its own”. This is, indeed, lavish praise and is echoed in the work with the AWO associated with other conductors, such as the Italian Riccardo Muti and the Indian Zubin Mehta.
Being effectively a guest ensemble, the AWO is limited in the time available for concert performances and opportunities to record its music. Therefore, and unfortunately for local (Australian) music lovers, it gathers only for a week every year, and plays just three concerts in Sydney and Melbourne. World tours by this orchestra are a rarity.
In the interests of the lovers of classical music around the globe, it is to be hoped that available time and circumstances will permit the music of the Australian World Orchestra to be more widely accessible and known.
It was in reading an article about the work of the AWO and its conductor, Alexander Briger, that I was reminded of a classical music concert that went out on British TV last year. The orchestra brought together an invited guest ensemble of internationally acclaimed musicians and, whilst not being the AWO, it contained a number of Australian musicians. For me, the highlight of the aforementioned concert was the rapt performance of Gustav Mahler’s sublime 9th Symphony.
As a leading musicologist, Professor Robert Greenberg, the Music Historian-in-Residence with the San Francisco Performance and a former Instructor with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, has stated: “Mahler’s music focuses on the lonely, isolated individual, the struggle between hope and despair, the questions of death and redemption, and the grieving process.” In many ways, the music of Mahler is about the experiences of every human being.
As you, the reader, may be aware, the 9th Symphony, the composer’s last completed symphony, is about Gustav Mahler seeking of some form of resolution of his life experiences. These experiences included a lack of public acceptance – he was an Austrian-born Jew; the trauma of tragedy – the deaths of a close brother and a much-loved daughter, as well as the adultery of his wife.
Mahler was a conductor and composer who suffered at the hands of the prejudices that went along with being at the close of one era, “Romanticism” – the 18th century literary, artistic, and philosophical movement that emphasized emotion and imagination and an appreciation of external nature, and the beginning of another era, “Expressionism” – the early 20th century art movement that celebrates inner reality as the only reality, the importance of emotional experience over physical reality.
Coincidentally, the development of Mahler’s music, as with other composers of the Expressionist movement, took place at a time in history that witnessed the rise of Existentialism, “the tradition of philosophical enquiry that held the belief that philosophical thinking begins with the human subject – not just the thinking subject but the acting, feeling, living and authentic human being”. The “Existentialist Attitude” was first brought to the attention of the philosophical world by the Danish Christian philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard.
Human beings live an existence that is characterized by disorientation, confusion or dread in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world – a tragic world. In this world the individual is responsible to give meaning to life and living it with passion and sincerity, with “authenticity”. Through his sublime symphonies and songs, this is what Gustav Mahler sought to do and express, and to inspire others to do the same. His is the music of soul and inspiration.
After listening to the Australian World Orchestra performing the “life affirming” 4th Symphony of the paramount Russian composer, Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky – another major composer whose music expresses tragedy (observe his 6th Symphony), one commentator was moved to quote the following words of Tchaikovsky: “If you cannot find reasons for happiness in yourself, look at others. Get out among the people… Oh, how happy they are! Life is bearable after all.”
It is the music-making of orchestras such as the Australian World Orchestra, the music of great composers like Gustav Mahler and Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, and the thoughts and writings of philosophers such as Soren Kierkegaard and the Existentialists, that do, indeed, help to make life bearable… and much more!
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Meltdown in more than snow

This week sees the gathering for the World Economic Forum (WEF), a Swiss non-profit foundation based in Geneva, Switzerland. It is funded by a membership of 1,000 top companies, typically wealthy global enterprises that play a leading role in shaping the future of their industry and/or region. The WEF mission is cited as being ‘committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas’.
The WEF is best known for its annual meeting at the end of January in the snow-bound Swiss Alps region of Davos. This meeting brings together, by selection and invitation only, some 2,500 top business leaders, international political leaders, economists, celebrities and journalists for up to four days to discuss the most pressing issues facing the world. It could be said that it is a meeting of the rich and the powerful, the movers and shakers, the owners and the bestowers. The Davos forum, a ‘jolly’ of excessive proportions and great expectations, is limited, however, by the constricted view of its committed cohort and the exigent nature of its economic environment.
What takes place at Davos, or purported to have done so, is selectively reported to the world (not all journalists are given access to all events at the forum). Inevitably, the foundation hosting the Davos forum produces a series of research reports and engages its members in sector-specific initiatives. Just as inevitably, however, these reports and initiatives rarely make their way into the public forum. The WEF and its annual escapade in Davos is a vision of capitalism in action, whilst the stated mission of the WEF is often difficult to square with its proposed or actual outcomes.
Davos 2018 is being held against the backdrop of the collapse of the Carillion Construction and Services Company in the UK. The Carillion affair has exposed how ‘government outsourcing is failing the public by delivering poor quality public services, exploiting workers and relying on the tax-payer to prop up unsustainable business models.’
One editorial opined that ‘the scandal (of the Carillion collapse) goes to the heart of state-aided casino capitalism which profits hedge fund speculators when firms fail and subsidizes stock market gambles with public cash – and taxpayers pick up the bills when it fails’. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called it ‘a watershed moment’. The 2007-08 collapse of banks should have been a turning point – sadly it was not. One wonders to what extent this form of outcome, with its roots in the kind of capitalism championed by the WEF, is ever on the agenda at the Davos forum!
One author who had a keen insight into  matters related to the foregoing – and possessed the background and expertise to justify that insight – was Professor Stephen Haseler.
Professor Stephen Haseler died in July, 2017. He was a prolific author – writing on issues of law, politics and political parties, international relations, democracy, economics and inequality, powerful and wealthy elites, and, increasingly in his later years, the UK’s role in the European Community. Prior to his sudden death, Stephen Haseler was the Director of the Global Policy Institute at the London Metropolitan University. He was a social democrat and a republican.
In 2010, Professor Haseler published a book called Meltdown UK: There is Another Way. This book had precedents in two previous publications, The Super-Rich (2001) and Meltdown (2008). In many ways, these two books were prescient warnings of what was to come. The central focus of the 2010 book is the great financial crash of 2007-8, an event of world-changing implications.
Professor Haseler tells the story of how Britain’s leaders – from Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair – through arrogance and recklessness turned Britain into an ‘island experiment’ for global finance and ‘market madness’. The great banking crisis in 2007-08 caused economic turmoil, the price for which the UK, amongst other economies, is now paying. He considers that the UK was the laboratory for the whole global neoliberal revolution.
Despite government action in 2008 following the Wall Street crash, emerging changes in the financial system – including bail-outs, part-nationalization, initial stimulus packages – though necessary at that time, have not worked. Banks remain largely unreformed and recovery is proving to be elusive, even to the extent that, at the time of the publication of the book, the West stood on the brink of another, the ‘double-dip’, recession. The cause of this is that the 2008 measures did not break sufficiently with the thinking of the governing market consensus. It is sobering to realize that there have been some seven Davos forums since 2010 and the publication of Meltdown UK: There is Another Way.
Professor Haseler’s standpoint is that Britain’s contemporary economy is unbalanced, service-based, financialized and highly globalized. The UK is a low-tax-haven, servicing off-shore economies. Further, and precariously, Britain’s political and financial class is ill-prepared to deal with the new and oncoming crisis.
In support of the foregoing, the argument of the book leads from the unbounded power of the City of London, through the route of free trade and global capital, to the attractions of these directions to leaders such as Thatcher and Blair. Then, following the financial crash of 2007-8, the British faced a crisis in jobs, debt disaster, broken British capitalism and a ‘socially useless system’.
In a telling postscript, Stephen Haseler indicates that the end result of this is that ‘the UK would enter a self-defeating and self-lacerating downward spiral, with increasing unemployment, threadbare welfare services, dashed expectations and low morale – possibly even social conflict.’ It can be left to the reader’s observations and judgment as to whether any of this has transpired in the UK since the book was written – in 2010. Notwithstanding, Professor Haseler suggests a bundle of remedies for the situation.
The government should use public spending in order to eventually eradicate national debt. In the event, he suggests, this process would threaten to destroy British national life. The solution to this threat would be to re-engage, re-embrace, social democracy – rejecting the neoliberal model – with the objectives of job priority, growth and the extension of wealth in the West. This will require a stronger state that grapples with inequality, as well as radical democratic reform and, as expected of a convinced pro-European, deeper European coordination.
Further, Professor Haseler believes that Wall Street and the City of London are no longer in the position where they can lecture on financial management. Both seem to be oblivious to the damage they have caused, and are still causing, to the world economy – the UK including. They should make way for a new course to be charted and followed by the financial institutions.
A central contention of this book, Meltdown UK: There is Another Way, is that the UK’s economic crisis is the result of the obsession of Britain’s elites with a ‘global role’. Allied to ‘market extremism’ this becomes a ‘pathology’. There are those within the British establishment who still harbour imperialistic illusions – undiminished during the thirty year period of increasing British weakness and vulnerability under the leadership of Thatcher, Major and Blair.
This is a book that clears away the haze of those years, a book that deserves to be read.
One commentator gave a short and sharp review of the book when stating that… ‘This is a well written, excellent book that tells the truth about the greedy bankers who caused the financial crash and the politicians who let them do so – most of which has been swept under the carpet by mainstream media.’ One might also add that that the reality of the situation is unlikely to be intimately discussed at the Davos forum – in January, 2018, or any other year!

RSC

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Not as a stranger

On Monday, January 15, 2018, an important meeting is to be held of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Choice at the end of life. The meeting will take place in the afternoon of January 15 in Committee Room 15 of the House of Commons, the home of the British parliamentary system of democracy.
The meeting will be an opportunity for Parliamentarians to hear evidence from an important piece of research recently published by the Campaign for Dignity in Dying. The research is entitled The True Cost: How the UK outsources death to Dignitas. This important new research was launched in November of 2017.
According to Sarah Wotton, the Chief Executive of the Campaign for Dignity in Dying, the new research “exposes how damaging our current law is for dying people and their loved ones.”
In the published research, nineteen people gave their personal account of trying to achieve choice at the end of life. As Sarah Wotton further comments: “Individually these stories are moving, together they form the most robust and compelling case for change we’ve seen to date. We need every decision-maker in the country to be aware of how damaging our current law is”.
Dignitas is a Swiss non-profit members’ society providing assisted/accompanied suicide to those members of the organisation who suffer from terminal illness and/or severe physical and/or mental illnesses. Based in Zurich, the organisation is supported by qualified Swiss doctors.
In the UK it is currently illegal to assist someone to die. As a result, many people travel to Switzerland to arrange an assisted death.
All MPs have been invited to the meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Committee for Choice at the end of life on January 15. The nature of this meeting is, therefore, one that I would expect a significant number of MPs to prioritize – despite their busy timetables. It is surely incumbent on all MPs to consider all viewpoints and not just their personal views or those of their political party. This is an important aspect of our parliamentary system.
Furthermore, as a member of the Campaign for Dignity in Dying, I believe that this meeting is a crucial one for all MPs to attend. I do so for the following reasons:
  • It will provide an opportunity to hear about recent research (as contained in the above  -mentioned report) of the experience of those who have travelled abroad for an assisted death.
  • There will be the opportunity to ask questions, respond to the research and hear first-hand from some of those with experience of travelling to Switzerland.
Amongst other things, the research to be presented will show that:
  • One British person travels to Dignitas to die every 8 days.
  • Two thirds of Britons would consider helping a terminally ill loved one to travel to Switzerland for an assisted death.
  • The cost of an assisted death in Switzerland is, on average, £10,000. This denies the option to the majority of people in the UK.
  • Instead, terminally ill people are taking matters into their own hands by attempting to end their lives in unenviable circumstances.
  • This is despite the UK having some of the best ranked palliative care in the world.
As a former minister of religion, I have personally experienced a number of persons, including my own mother, who have died from long, painful and debilitating illnesses. For such persons and where requested an assisted dying would have been merciful, humane and loving. To my great regret this is presently not an option in the UK.
Surely, it should be considered of the utmost importance that suffering souls can choose when to die and to do so in their own country and not as strangers in another? It was this strength of feeling that motivated me to write to my MP that he attend the meeting of the All-Party Group for Choice at the end of life on January 15, 2018.
It may well be that my MP does not share my views on the matter under discussion and parliamentary review – it would not be the first time in my experience of my constituency! However, if such is the case, it is important that, as my parliamentary representative, the MP concerned at least attends a meeting where my views are expressed by others.
After all, it is not as if the purpose of the gathering of MPs in Committee Room 15 – to become more and better informed about The True Cost: How the UK outsources death to Dignitas – is unimportant!
RSC

 

 

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