Monday, December 15, 2008

Faith Schools

The issues of faith bschools is a complex one which raises difficult question for all Liberal/liberal people.

The recent report from the Runneymede Trust, "Right to Divide" (available at: is this:“Faith schools should be for the benefit of all in society rather than just some. If faith schools are convinced of their relevance for society, then that should apply equally for all children. With state funding comes an obligation to be relevant and open to all citizens.”

Some faith schools are very good, inclusive institutions which play an important part in promoting community cohesion. In Oldham, there is a church of england primary school which is 99% Muslim. In Norfolk, there are church schools which are far more welcoming of children from traveller or migrant worker fmilies than other schools. There are other faith schools who do have admission policies that are dubious. Not every Faith School is the same-some are progressive others less so.

For me, an important question emerges- If all faith schools are proved to be fully inclusive and follow the principles behind the Accord coalition ( which include:

  1. Operating admissions policies that take no account of pupils’ – or their parents’ – religion or beliefs.
  2. Operating recruitment and employment policies that do not discriminate on the grounds of religion or belief.
  3. Following an objective, fair and balanced syllabus for education about religious and non-religious beliefs – whether determined by their local authority or by any future national syllabus or curriculum for RE.
  4. Being made accountable under a single inspection regime for RE, Personal, Social & Health Education (PSHE) and Citizenship.
  5. Providing their pupils with inclusive, inspiring and stimulating assemblies in place of compulsory acts of worship.

If these principles were put in place, would opponents of faith schools still want them closed down?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tackling the DR Congo crisis

I am supporting Amnesty International's call for action to avert the continuing crisis facing the DR Congo.

That means welcoming the commitment that Gordon Brown has made to support a request put to the UN Security Council by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to add a further 3,000 soldiers to the 17,000 strong force currently stationed in the DRC.

It also means urging the UK to encourage other members of the UN Security Council to also offer their support by the time they next meet to discuss the deployment of peacekeepers later this month.

In particular it means urging the UK and other Security Council members to act and agree to:

1. Urgently reinforce MONUC peacekeeping contingents in North-Kivu province and in the Ituri and Haut-Uélé districts of Orientale province· Urge all parties to the conflict to ensure that humanitarian aid agencies are not hindered in their work to provide aid to displaced people,

2.Press the governments of the DRC and Rwanda to refrain from providing moral or material support to armed groups operating in eastern DRC. · Assert that justice and an end to impunity must now have a central place in the search for durable peace in the Great Lakes Region.

Please join the campaign and encourage Government action on this by visiting:

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Today the regime sentenced 14 leading democracy activists in Burma to 65 years in prison. If they are forced to serve their full terms, they will die in jail. The sentences were handed down at around 1pm, behind closed doors in Insein prison special court in Rangoon. Family members were not allowed to attend the hearing. The sentences today relate to only five charges. They are all charged with a total of 21 charges and face further sentences as their trials continue. Those sentenced are all prominent members of the 88 Generation Students group, which led the peaceful demonstrations last September.In a separate hearing held in Insein prison special court, labour activist Su Su Nwe was sentenced to 12 years and 6 months. Take action.

Please send an email to the UN Security Council urging Ban Ki-moon to visit Burma and make the release of political prisoners his top priority:

Only yesterday EU foreign ministers met and called for the release of all political prisoners. The EU promised to increase pressure on the regime if there was no progress to reform, but despite the situation getting worse they have taken no action. The UN must act. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due to visit Burma in December, but there are fears he may back out of the visit because of the difficulties in negotiating with the regime. These sentences make it all the more important that Ban Ki-moon goes ahead with his visit. Despite 37 visits to Burma by UN envoys, things have only got worse. His personal engagement on Burma is needed.

Take action.Send an email to the UN Security Council urging Ban Ki-moon to visit Burma and make the release of political prisoners his top priority. Take action here:

Thank you for your support.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Democratic Republic of Congo

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo has gone from being the world’s bloodiest forgotten conflict since the Second World War to headline news around the globe in a matter of days.

A flare-up in fighting between rebel and government forces has left the east of the country in a calamitous condition.

Despite a ceasefire holding, Tearfund partner HEAL Africa describes the situation as a tinderbox.

HEAL Africa runs a hospital in Goma, the capital of conflict-hit North Kivu province, and has seen evidence of rapes and torture.

Staff are treating all manner of wounds and injuries inflicted on people from both rebel and government forces as well as bandits. They are showing the compassion of the local church in a situation where many aid agencies have had to halt their work.

The conflict goes back many years but reignited in August with the breakdown of a peace agreement. According to who you ask, it has its roots in Hutu-Tutsi ethnic tensions or stems from a desire to control the country’s abundant natural resources.

Please use the following points to guide your prayers

• Please pray for lasting peace in North Kivu and that international pressure is effective in stopping the fighting and suffering. Pray that the UN peacekeeping force is able to play a more involved role.

• Please pray that the hearts of rebel leaders, the DRC president and government and Rwandan president and government are softened, so that they see the suffering of conflict-affected people and look for a peaceful solution instead of being dominated by their political, economic and military interests.

• Pray that the security situation improves quickly so aid agencies and Tearfund partners can help more civilians caught up in the conflict.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

a new dawn

Barack Obama has succeeded in bringing together a broad-based movement for change (not just hoping for change but being the change) . Focusing on the issues of the day including economic downturn, the war on terror and wider social justice issues such as access to heath-care and education, Obama has given the Democrats confidence and purpose- 2 vital elements in any political campaign. Added to that, his inspiring rhetoric, a clear narrative and a well-funded, hyper-efficient, organised grassroots operation have mobilised millions of people across the world to join him in his journey. Many politicians attract support, few genuinely inspire people.

Like others across the globe, I was moved by the momentous scenes played out across the US-the queues of people to vote, the sheer enthusiasm of the voters (not always evident in UK elections!) and unbridled joy of his victory. In particular, the reactions of the older generations of african-americans who still bear the scars of the civil rights struggle will remain in my memory for ever.

Realising the uncertainty and pain caused by recession, the Democrats have rightly called for celebrations to be principled and brief and rightly expectations need to be managed but today is a day for celebration and optimism. An American peace worker has declared: "Before, we said 'yes we can.' Yesterday, we cried 'yes we did.' Today, it's 'now we will." In politics winning elections is often seen as the triumphant culmination of a campaign when it is actually the beginning. Gaining power is one thing, using it positively can be harder.

My prayer is that I will look back in years to come and remember where I was the night Barack Obama made hope for change a reality.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Climate Change Bill Campaign Victory

Climate Change Bill campaign victory
Tearfund and the Stop Climate Chaos coalition today celebrated victory in their campaign to cut UK greenhouse gas emissions.
Ed Miliband, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, has announced that the UK will set a 2050 emissions reduction target of 80 per cent in the Climate Change Bill.
Tearfund, along with the Stop Climate Chaos coalition, has been pushing for the target that had been set at 60 per cent to be increased to 80 per cent.
Over the past two years, thousands of Tearfund supporters have prayed and lobbied and written to MPs and Ministers to raise concern about the impact climate change is having on the world’s poorest people.
Tearfund Advocacy Director Paul Cook said, `This is a victory for the coalition of campaigners who’ve done a sterling job making their MPs aware of the issues.
`We are pleased the government has announced a target that matches the science and gives the UK integrity on the international stage. This signals justice for people in the poorest countries who contribute least to carbon emissions, but are bearing the brunt of climate change.'
Push for more progress
But the failure to include the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping emissions in the Climate Change Bill in today’s announcement, as recommended by the Climate Change Committee, is disappointing. The burden now rests with MPs to make sure that these highly polluting industries are not let off the hook.
Tearfund is also worried that the government may undermine these targets by seeking to buy in at least half their emissions cuts in the form of carbon credits from overseas.
Paul Cook said, `The science makes it clear that emissions cuts must take place at home in the UK, and that we must make bold decisions now on new green energy infrastructure.'
Tearfund also has major concerns about the government’s on-going plans to develop new unabated coal-fired power plants starting with Kingsnorth in Kent, which alone would emit as much C02 as the world’s 24 lowest emitting countries combined.
These plants are incompatible with today’s announcement - any decisions around the UK’s energy infrastructure must support investment in renewable power and energy efficiency and not undermine an 80 per cent target.
We need to urge MPs who will be voting on the Climate Change Bill in coming weeks to ensure that the vast bulk of emissions cuts are made in the UK – take action here.
But despite these shortcomings, we can still celebrate the 80 per cent target – a reward for over two years’ campaigning.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


The death toll from Cyclone Nargis continues to rise and over 1.5 millionpeople are now at risk. We know that diseases, such as cholera, dysenteryand malaria, are spreading. If the world does not intervene soon, the deathtoll could rise by thousands every day.No country could cope with a disaster of this scale alone, yet Burma¹sGenerals are shunning the world¹s offers of help; they¹d rather see theircitizens die than accept help from overseas.If any country can make the generals change their mind, it is China. We havewitnessed the recent terrible loss of life in China following thedevastating earthquake. However, the response to the two natural disasterscould not be more different. While the Chinese government responded quickly,dispatching 50,000 troops, and Premier Wen Jiabao immediately flying to thedisaster area, the Burmese regime continues to block aid efforts.China has a very close relationship with Burma¹s generals, supplying themwith weapons, economic assistance and protecting them at the UN SecurityCouncil. This weekend China blocked moves at the UN for a Security Councilresolution telling the generals to let aid in. Every hour China protectsBurma, more people will die.

Monday, May 05, 2008

one match that sums up a season

One match that sums up a season is an apt description of Norwich City's 4-1 away defeat at Sheffield Wednesday yesterday.

First half we dominate; golden goal from Huckerby; lots of possession and creating chances but failing to put any away.

Second half we lose concentration and start making mistakes letting Sheff Wed not only into the game but letting them score 4 as our defence does its' familiar disappearing trick.

It is true that Wednesday were still in danger of relegation and we were safe (just) but the huge travelling support deserved more.

The only other highlight was the fantastic send-off for Dion Dublin-what a legend!

At last this rollercoaster of a season is over. When we were not only bottom but 5 points adift relegation seemed an absolute certainty. What a difference Glenn Roeder made with some awesome loan players and a 13 match unbeaton run made us dream of the play-offs. Norwich being Norwich though we flirted with the relegation zone before finally making ourselves safe.

This summer needs some serious buying and rebuilding. We will now see how good Roeder is. Massive investment is needed. Dela needs to sell lots of books. Regular crowds of 25000+ deserve more than a great stadium and unique Delia branded restaurant, bistro, diner and hotel.

Roll on next season. ON THE BALL CITY!

Local Elections- some random Liberal Democrat thoughts

Here are my inital random thoughts from the local and London mayoral elections:

I am both encouraged and concerned.

That we could have done a lot worse and it appears that we did well in our key parliamentary areas.

That we are not very good at fighting elections under PR.

That if, as time moves on, Brown looks certain to lose overall majority, he could offer some form of PR to win our qualified support in Parliament.

That, if the economy does start to pick, he could still get hiomself ouf of the hole he finds himself in.

That the tories are quite capable of blowing it and the smugger that Cameron, Johnson and Osborne get the more people will go off them.

That the European Elections will raise the profile of UKIP which may cost them some votes.

That the Crew and Henley by-elections will be tricky.

That a clearer narrative and identifiable policies are needed.

That the London camapign shows that when Labour and Tory are really going for each other, we need to develop very sharp elbows!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Leading Burmese Democracy Activist Facing Blindness-take action now

The Burma Campaign is extremely concerned for the safety of leading democracy activist Min Ko Naing, who is being held in Rangoon¹s notorious Insein Prison. He is
suffering from a serious eye infection and may go blind because he is being
denied medical treatment. It is reported that his eye condition has
deteriorated to the point that he is unable to sleep or eat because of the
pain the infection has caused.

Min Ko Naing has been in prison since August last year. He was arrested for
leading protests in Rangoon. The protests triggered the biggest
demonstrations in Burma since the 1988 uprising, but were brutally crushed
by the dictatorship. We will never know how many were killed during the
regime¹s brutal crackdown. Today, the situation in Burma remains as severe
as ever. Arrests continue and torture is routine. Political prisoners are
singled out for brutal treatment, including the denial of medical treatment.

Min Ko Naing is a leading democracy activist and one of the most famous
student leaders from the 1988 uprising. He was arrested in 1989 and spent
more than 16 years in prison. He was severely tortured and held in solitary
confinement for most of his sentence. He was released in 2004 and despite
constant threats and harassment by the regime, he has continued to campaign
for freedom and democracy in Burma.

Please take action now. Visit
and send an email to urge
the Burmese authorities to allow immediate medical attention to Min Ko Naing
and all political prisoners.

Thank you very much

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Stop violence and intimidation in Zimbabwe NOW

The Zimbabwe Election Commission owes it to the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe to announce the presidential result without further delay, to enable people to begin the urgent task of rebuilding their shattered lives and economy. The campaign of violence and intimidation that has been embarked upon by members of the ruling party, following the announcement of the parliamentary election results, must stop NOW. Surely people who hold power in any country have a first duty to care for the poor and vulnerable rather than for themselves.

By all reports, the impact on the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans has been immense. The people of Zimbabwe appear to have voted for change and the leaders of Southern African states bear a huge responsibility to ensure that the will of the people is respected. If that doesn’t happen, the crisis in Zimbabwe could have an increasingly devastating impact on the entire region.

Like churches across the world, I am proud to express my solidarity and support in prayer and action with partner churches and agencies in Zimbabwe and pledged to continue working together to achieve peace, justice and prosperity there. They have illustrated the plight of Zimbabweans with statistics, including:

INFLATION In 1987 inflation averaged 11.9 percent. It surged to an official record of 100,586 percent in January 2008, but economic experts say the real rate is much higher.

LIFE EXPECTANCY Average life expectancy dropped from 63 years in 1990 to 37.3 years in 2005, according to World Bank and U.N. figures.

UNEMPLOYMENT Estimated at about 80% of the working population.


Friday, March 07, 2008


I don't think I have ever felt as disillusioned by the party as I do at the moment. What a complete and utter shambles!

We should be the party engaging with the issues of the Lisbon treaty. We should be the party putting forward the case for Britain to be at the heart of a modern, democratic and forward looking union. We should be the party rising above the splits and empty rhetoric of the other parties, emerging from the debate with integrity and an enhanced reputation amongst the pro-Europeans in our communities.

But no, what do we get? A pre-planned walk-out followed by a parliamentary party split on a three line whip to abstain. Lousy tactics meant no coverage of the Liberal Democrat position on important issues. We managed to finish up a laughing stock enabling Labour and Tories to attack us on an issue we should have been leading on. Frankly if we couldn't hold a line to abstain, we might has well have voted no. By doing so, I suspect we would have won more support in the country than we lost by playing games at Westminster.

Our hardworking and progressive MEPS, led by Andrew Duff, who led for ALDE in convention and parliament have been completely let-down by their Westminster colleagues. They are surely owed some humble apologies in Liverpool.

Finally to the rebels, consider the implications of what you promise at election-time. I hope it was worth it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

UN Security Council must discuss Burma again

The Burma Campaign UK today called on the United Nations Security Council to hold an emergency session to discuss the Burmese regime's defiance of Security Council and General Assembly demands.

On Saturday 9 February the junta announced that it would hold a referendum on a new constitution in May, and general elections in 2010. However, the constitution enshrines military rule, giving 25 percent of the seats to the military, and also gives the military effective veto power over decisions made by Parliament.

³This is a move away from democracy, not towards it,² said Mark Farmaner, Director of the Burma Campaign UK. ³It is public relations spin because they are afraid of stronger sanctions being imposed. They are defying the Security Council by going ahead with this sham process and refusing to hold genuine talks with Aung San Suu Kyi and leaders of ethnic groups. There needs to be a strong international response to say that this will not be accepted.²

By going ahead with the next steps of its so-called 7 stage road map to democracy, the regime is sending a strong message that it is not genuine about engaging with the United Nations in a real process of national reconciliation and reform. The regime has yet to enter into genuine dialogue with the National League for Democracy and Aung San Suu Kyi. It has, in effect, banned UN Envoy Ibrahim Gambari from entering the country. A visit scheduled for December was delayed until January, and then pushed back to April. This prompted the UN Security Council to issue its second Presidential statement on Burma, calling for Gambari to be allowed into the country.

It is no coincidence that the announcement comes at a time when the regime is facing increasing economic sanctions following its brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in September last year. The USA, EU, Australia, and Canada have all announced new economic sanctions. Last week the USA introduced new sanctions targeting business cronies of the regime, and further sanctions are being considered by Congress. The EU is also considering strengthening sanctions when it renews the EU Common Position in April.

The regime's claims that it is committed to moving towards democracy run completely at odds with the facts on the ground. Since the September uprising they have continued to arrest activists. There are now more than 1,800 political prisoners, an increase of more than 700 from the year before. The regime is also stepping up its campaign of ethnic cleansing in Eastern Burma. The UN has condemned the regime for breaking the Geneva Convention by deliberately targeting civilians in Eastern Burma. More than half a million people are internally displaced after being forced to flee their homes.

The Burma Campaign UK is also warning that the regime will do everything it can to fix the outcome of the referendum and elections. There are serious questions about its ability to hold a referendum in which all people can participate. There are no proper lists of potential voters in the country. The junta¹s definition of a referendum could include forcing people to attend mass public rallies, and then to claim that as a mandate. In addition, political parties such as the National League for Democracy are not allowed to operate freely. It is also illegal to criticise the draft constitution, and to do so is punishable by up to 20 years in jail.

³The regime lost the election in 1990, so just ignored the result,² said Mark Farmaner. ³This time we can be sure every stage will be rigged to ensure military victory.²

The Burma Campaign UK is concerned not only about the fact that the process is designed to keep the generals in power, but also about the impact on ethnic people in Burma, and on ceasefire agreements with armed ethnic groups. Their aspirations are for a federal state that would provide a degree of autonomy from central government, and protect their culture and rights. There are no provisions for this in the constitution. This is not only a threat to ethnic people, but also threatens the stability of the country. There appears to be a real possibility that some ceasefire organisations could return to arms, or split, with factions once again taking up their guns. If this were to happen on a large scale, it would not only completely change the current political situation within the country, but also threaten a new human rights and humanitarian crisis, as the regime ruthlessly targets civilians in conflict areas.

³What the regime has announced has nothing to do with democracy,² said Mark Farmaner. ³It is about preserving military rule and avoiding economic sanctions. The international community must not be fooled again. The United Nations Security Council must take action. In addition, the UK and EU must impose further targeted sanctions to help force the regime to the negotiating table.²

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Child offender facing execution-please take action


Behnam Zare' (18) is at risk of imminent execution for a murder committed when he was 15 years old.

Despite it's obligations under international law, specifically the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Iran remains one of just a handful of countries that continue to execute child offenders - people under the age of 18 at the time of their crime,

Reports suggest that Behnam Zare' is now facing execution within 72 hours, The order to carry out his execution has been sent to the prison where he is held.

Please urge the Iranian government to stop the execution without delay. Follow the link below and take action.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Making UK Poverty History


2008 will see a series of local, Diocesan, regional and national events across the UK, putting issues of poverty and homelessness on the agenda for churches and policy makers everywhere and to press all political parties to sign up to a goal to end poverty in our nation by 2020.

Opening Doors, Opening Hearts is about opening hearts to hear the stories people have to tell about being homeless, badly housed, and poor. It offers opportunities for dialogue, springing from the conviction that together we can open doors to a better housed, better paid and more just society.

A significant starting point is Poverty and Homelessness Action week (27 Jan-3 Feb) when local churches and Churches Together groups in partnership with local projects, CABs and other agencies, are holding Poverty Hearings and similar events. The events will be about hearing the voices and stories of people experiencing poverty and homelessness in their own towns and neighbourhoods. Each event will draw out the three most important issues around housing, homelessness and poverty in the local community, and suggest possible solutions. For information and worship resources, please visit: or

Other events will include a regional poverty hearing in Cambridge (date to be announced) and a series of initiatives under the HOPE 08 banner (