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The Tale of Two Scandals (or the Telegraph’s Missed Opportunity)

7 Jun

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for the University of Birmingham student paper ‘Redbrick.’ The original is available here. To be clear, I disagree with the headline’s assertion that Laws’s practice was unethical. This article continues with some of my ideas from a previous blog post on David Laws.

The recent case of David Laws has illustrated the hypocrisy about how sexuality is often represented in Britain today. The Daily Telegraph accused Laws of illegally claiming expenses on the rent he was paying to his landlord who was also his long-term, though secret, boyfriend. Laws soon resigned from his ministerial post where he was responsible for reducing government spending. The ethics of Laws’s expenses claims are much disputed but that is to miss the most crucial aspect of the episode. If he had been open about his sexuality, he could have also claimed for his partner’s living costs and hugely increased his claims. His motives were clearly to keep his homosexuality private and the effect was to save the taxpayer money!

The Telegraph maintains it did not intend to divulge Laws’s sexuality. This is little more than a cynical attempt to deflect criticism that they were unfairly violating Laws’s privacy. As soon as Laws heard the story was soon to be published, he had little choice but to declare his sexuality. Neither his friends, nor his very traditionally Catholic family were aware that he is gay. Laws grew up in an inhibited family environment during a time typified by the Conservative government’s legislation banning the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by teachers. It is hardly surprising that Laws valued his privacy so highly.

Many in the media and various (mainly Labour) MPs have argued however that it is equally as unethical for a privately gay MP to bend the expenses rules to avoid his sexuality being revealed as it is for an aristocratic MP to claim for his moat cleaning bills. In many cases, the viewpoint underpinning this assertion is that there is no reason for gay people to keep their sexuality secret in modern Britain. Two tweets from Ben Bradshaw, a gay Labour MP, epitomised this stance and asked ‘why should anyone in Britain today feel ashamed to acknowledge they’re gay’ and later ‘when is “protecting your privacy” a euphamism [sic] for feeling shameful about who you are?’

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Why Foreign Languages Should be Compulsory for GCSE Students

8 May

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for the University of Birmingham student paper ‘Redbrick.’ The original is available here.

It is no secret that Britain is bad at for­eign lan­guages. Nearly every­one who has taken a hol­i­day in Europe has at some time had to rely on a res­i­dent of their host coun­try being able to under­stand and speak Eng­lish. It seems unlikely that this is going to change any time soon. Just 44 per cent of pupils took a for­eign lan­guage GCSE in 2008 com­pared with 78 per cent in 1999. The sit­u­a­tion is much more severe in com­pre­hen­sive schools where 41 per cent of pupils chose a lan­guage GCSE at 14 com­pared to selec­tive and inde­pen­dent schools with 91 per cent and 81 per cent of pupils tak­ing a lan­guage GCSE respec­tively. In 1996, 6.4 per cent of A-level entries were lan­guages, a fig­ure that had dropped to 4.8 per cent by 2009.

The rea­son for this is clear. In 2002, the Gov­ern­ment removed com­pul­sory lan­guage stud­ies from the post-14 cur­ricu­lum and instead pushed for an increase in lan­guage learn­ing in pri­mary schools, which took a fur­ther seven years to intro­duce. Learn­ing lan­guages at a younger age is indeed cru­cial; our abil­ity to learn new words pro­gres­sively decreases from the age of 10 and those who have learnt a lan­guage find it much eas­ier to learn oth­ers later in life. Unfor­tu­nately, the con­se­quences of mak­ing lan­guages optional at GCSE are dan­ger­ous not just for pupils’ uni­ver­sity and job prospects, but also for the British econ­omy and military.

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Balancing Faith and Sex Education

7 Mar

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for the University of Birmingham student paper ‘Redbrick.’ The original is available here.

Learning about sex, con­tra­cep­tion, abor­tion, sex­u­al­ity and sta­ble rela­tion­ships is an undoubt­edly nec­es­sary part of children’s school edu­ca­tion. What is less cer­tain is the posi­tion reli­gious val­ues should take in this. Some argue that chil­dren should learn about these impor­tant issues with­out being influ­enced by ‘out­dated’ reli­gious val­ues. Oth­ers main­tain that schools with a reli­gious ethos should be able to at least tell stu­dents what their reli­gious faith teaches on these matters. Continue reading

Britain Isn’t Broken and Here’s Why

19 Feb

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for the University of Birmingham student paper ‘Redbrick.’ The original is available here.

Lately, newspaper headlines have announced that we live in ‘Broken Britain.’ David Cameron, the Conservative party leader, regularly refers to British society as broken. And it seems Cameron and the headline writers have found – or created – a ready audience. A recent edition of the BBC’s Question Time was dominated by the topic of Britain’s broken society with one audience member saying she ‘couldn’t recognise it from when she grew up.’ In a Populus poll, 70 per cent of participants agreed with the statement, ‘society is broken in Britain.’ But what is meant exactly by ‘Broken Britain?’ Is this vague phrase anything more than just a catchy slogan, playing on the public’s fears? Continue reading

Wikileaks Needs Our Support

12 Feb

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for the University of Birmingham student paper ‘Redbrick.’ The original is available here.

When an ex-SAS offi­cer John Wick came across the details of MPs’ expenses claims, he con­tacted the Daily Tele­graph for pub­lic­ity. But what hap­pens when jobs, lib­erty or lives are threat­ened if cen­sored infor­ma­tion can­not be leaked anonymously?

Since 2007, Wik­ileaks has offered an online repos­i­tory for anony­mous whistle­blow­ers to upload doc­u­ments show­ing uneth­i­cal prac­tices by gov­ern­ments and com­pa­nies. These doc­u­ments detail mis­de­meanours rang­ing from oil-traders Trafigura’s dump­ing of toxic waste off the West African coast to human rights abuses in China to the names of British National Party mem­bers includ­ing sev­eral police offi­cers, doc­tors and solicitors. Continue reading

On the Virtues of Coalition Government

5 Feb

This is a reprint of an article I wrote for the University of Birmingham student paper ‘Redbrick.’ The original is available here.

At some point before June 2010, Britain is to become an elec­toral bat­tle­ground. Polit­i­cal par­ties will be cam­paign­ing for our votes at a gen­eral elec­tion, with vot­ers poten­tially being swayed by issues such as the econ­omy and the MPs’ expenses scan­dal. How­ever, this elec­tion may be his­toric for the most unex­pected of reasons.

In Britain, one party usu­ally gains a major­ity of the seats in Par­lia­ment, mean­ing they do not need the sup­port of the oppo­si­tion par­ties to make laws. How­ever all this might change after the upcom­ing elec­tion. For the first time since the 1970s, there is a strong pos­si­bil­ity that no sin­gle party will gain over­all con­trol at West­min­ster, result­ing in what is known as a hung parliament. Continue reading

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