Should I carry the burden of being a racist because previous generations of my family were racists?

I’ve posted before about my Dad and Grandmother, on his side of the family, being openly antisemitic and how I put a stop to racism in my generation. I’m also proud of the fact that our daughter Jen will have nothing what so ever to do with racism either.

But the other day my mate Phil said to me, in relation to the BLM campaign and a debate we were having about it, that he feared that some folks could end up being blamed for the ‘sins of their fathers’. Not surprisingly having had racism present in my own family it made me wonder whether I carried their racism with me. The thought horrified me.

Of course some things do get passed down from generation to generation in many families such as – support for a football team, support for a political party, belief in a religion. Indeed, there’s often an expectation that such family habits are carried on and older generations will take their youngsters to see the football team they want their children to support. They’ll take their children to partake in ‘their’ particular religion and even send them to a school which which promotes the parental religious beliefs. And yes politics too. I once heard an elderly lady say to me that she was going to vote Lib Dem for the first time in her life but she could not afford for her family to know that! I did not ask if the family was Tory or Labour but it certainly made me think.

So if we can pass on sporting team support, religion and politics what else is being passed on? Sadly, I suspect that racism can often be such a hand me down and that’s why our education system should be set up in such a way to challenge generational racism.

Surely we want young people to be free thinking individuals who are happy to challenge long held family views on many things. That’s why I oppose religious schools as my view is that having a religion, or indeed not having one, is a decision for the individual not one to be directed by family expectations.

I rejected my Dad’s religion (CofE), politics (Conservative) and racism but I bought into his love of cricket and support for the same 2 football teams. You’ll notice I only made reference to my Dad there as Mum and I shared what I think are similar political views. I rarely had any political discussions with her but I’m pretty sure she was a Chapel Liberal at heart whereas I’m a Social Liberal without any religion.

The football slogan ‘No room for Racism’ is very apt but for it to really mean anything young people need to have the confidence to reject it when it’s present in their own families.

Opening up schools again – It’s NOT easy

To those outside of the often complex world of education reopening schools even on a phased basis during our health pandemic may look to be a straight forward matter, indeed government often gives such an impression. The reality of course is very different.

I’m a Trust member of a High School Academy and have been for around a year now. The school, which I also happened to attend many years ago, is not the issue here as this affects all schools across the UK. However, what I’ve learned especially since lockdown hit us is that keeping a large school of @1000 students going is a huge task. Yes the school has remained open for vulnerable students and those who are the children of Key Workers but coursework is being set and sent home to many many more students.

Schools have onerous responsibilities not just to educate our children but to safeguard them, to help manage the consequences of children living in dysfunctional family groups, to ensure they eat regularly, to help deal with all kinds of issues which affect the ability to both learn and to grow up as well rounded citizens. That’s one hell of an agenda and it’s a very different and hugely more complex one than what I encountered as a teenager in the 1970’s.

Just take the H&S Risk Assessment process which a school has to go through to enable it to teach a wider number of students within a school during this health pandemic. I can guarantee that it will be a long and complex document for any school to put together. If you think about it the RA effectively covers the students from the point they leave home to the point they return, so if they use school buses which pre-covid 19 were full to bursting but can only now accommodate say @ a dozen of them how does that work? There’s face covering to think about on those buses too. Then how many students can a school safely take in whilst maintaining safe distancing etc. etc. And what about the school’s staff members who may themselves be vulnerable due to health issues. Of course some of the students will be vulnerable too for the same reasons.

Over the past 3 months I’ve sat in on the school governors meetings (held via Zoom) as they grapple with all the above difficulties and more and I have to say the attention to detail is admirable indeed. I’m told that my job as a Trust member is to have oversight of the management of the school by the governors to ensure the objectives of the Trust are being realised/kept to. If what I have been seeing and participating in is replicated across other schools (and I’ve no reason to think that it isn’t) then seriously detailed work is happening to plan for safe workplaces and learning places for what could well be many months to come.

Teachers want to teach, they want their students to learn and be successful so if you hear of comments being made about teachers not being keen to reopen schools please take them with a pinch of salt. Teaching unions are not being obstructive they are simply trying to ensure that schools are safe for all who work or study within them. And no I’m not just saying that as a retired trade union officer, I’m saying it because of the evidence of my own eyes.

With the ‘R’ number looking very much as though it could be creeping above ‘1’ in the north west of England as I write this posting there is naturally great caution out there about reopening of schools. That caution is both well placed and seriously considered. We must ensure that reopening schools, even with significantly less students being in them each day from what used to be normal, are as safe as they can reasonably be.

Beware easy political solutions and ‘just get on with it’ rhetoric from those in power, turning a governmental wish to re-open schools this month into lager numbers of children actually being in schools is far from easy.

And just as I had completed this posting it seems that the Penny had dropped with government, at least as far as with primary schools are concerned, as this BBC article explains:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-52969679

Policing – When it goes badly wrong

The BBC has the article on its website – see link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-52932611

I have thought for many a year that some people recruited to police our laws are fundamentally unsuited for such sensitive jobs. And I’m talking here about what is probably a world-wide problem across most if not all democracies.

Militaristic organisations like policing will always tend to attract people who enjoy being controlling, authoritarian, in charge, able to enforce etc. etc. but often of course some of them are actually the very last people a society would want in such sensitive jobs. Yes police forces across most societies have to be able to tackle hardened criminals in uncompromising ways, indeed we expect that of them. But and it’s a BIG but those very same officers are also expected to exercise discretion and to sensitively deal with other policing matters. It has long been clear to me that some officers can’t do both as it is not in their make up.

Some of the scenes from the US have been heartbreaking following the killing of an African American man at the hands of the police and the legitimate protests are no surprise. Yet the police seem not to be able to handle the need to try to keep public order whilst ensuring that legal public protests are given the freedom required in any democracy. Yes the looters need stopping/arresting but what on earth is going on when innocent protestors, by-standers, reporters etc. are in effect attacked by the police!

For policing to work it has to be by consent not by force and communities need to have confidence in it. If some sections of any society feel that policing is biased against them or even actively aggressive towards them then the police become a part of the problem not a part of the solution.

America is a violent society where guns are seemingly valued above life itself. An armed police force, which draws guns far too often, will be a job very unsuitable people will apply for and sadly get. We like to think that our society is not as racist or violent as the US but I fear that just leads to a complacent approach. I am absolutely sure that in the UK there are some unsuitable police officers out there and the fact that they are not armed we must be grateful for.

And don’t get me wrong, I’ve met some great police officers in my time in public life especially those involved in community policing. However, I’ve met others whom seemed to lack the diplomatic skills and empathy required to deal with sensitive community matters. This is an issue which needs to be resolved during the recruitment process and via continual training.

Community policing was the first major issue I took an interest in back some 40 years ago as a fresh faced trainee Liberal politician and it was the work of John Alderson (former Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall) which I saw as a piece of policing fresh air – see link below –

www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/oct/11/john-alderson

That the progress made via community policing across the UK has all but been put in full reverse due to austerity and changing policing policies/priorities is a matter of great regret to me as Alderson was right all those years ago and he’s still right now.

Covid-safe workplaces?

As a retired trade union officer an issue has been bouncing around in my head for a while now associated with the C19 return to work i.e. how do we ensure workplaces are as safe as they can be made?

In a unionised workplace the answer is pretty obvious as the appropriately trained TU H&S reps will ensure the workplace is safe. Indeed, I often recall that in my working days the TU H&S reps were often trained to a higher level than managers who actually held the legal H&S responsibilities.

But what happens in non-unionised workplaces? At one end of this will be the ‘sod the workers we want them back in grafting and beggar the consequences’ type employers who may well be putting pressure on employees to return to an unsafe workplace. At the other end there will be good employers who simply don’t know everything they should do (risk assessments etc.) and may then create a unsafe workplace inadvertently. Of course there’ll be every variation between these two extremes.

I decided to have a look at what the Health & Safety Executive were saying and here it is:-

www.hse.gov.uk/news/hse-regulatory-activity-during-coronavirus.htm

And here’s a link to the TUC and Coronavirus:-

www.tuc.org.uk/CoronavirusProtectingWorkers

If ever workers needed to be members of a trade union now is the time as many of the worries about returning to work will be dealt with without individuals having to do that worrying. I remain concerned that non-unionised workers will find themselves at a health disadvantage and during this pandemic that’s not where anyone wants to be.

Why I’m backing Layla Moran for Lib Dem Leader

This is Layla’s* vision for a better future for us all. It was published via the Independent 27th May:-

‘Around the world, people are looking to their leaders for guidance. Some people will feel safe and hopeful. Others may feel uneasy and question their nation’s choices. In moments like this, decent leadership can make an enormous difference to people’s lives.

For me, the best leadership is calm, measured and purposeful. It is open, transparent and direct. Good leaders spell out what they and their parties stand for, allowing people to grasp the ideas, embrace change and move forward together.

So, as I enter the Liberal Democrat leadership race, I want to make my vision for our country clear. In the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, I want to champion a more compassionate and cooperative United Kingdom that gives every person and our planet a chance to thrive.

Where everyone has access to high-quality education and retraining. Where politicians work together to help the most vulnerable, and key workers are respected and paid a fair wage. Where we cherish nature as the finite resource it is, rather than continue the managed exploitation we have now.

As a former teacher, education is close to my heart. I joined the Lib Dems because their education policies are best placed to ensure every child is world-ready, not just exam-ready. The educational inequalities that existed when I first joined the party more than 12 years ago are still here; in fact, many have become further entrenched.

When I reimagine the education system, I picture more investment in the early years, to reduce inequalities before children get into a classroom. More power for teachers to design a world-class education system, which recognises and supports children with practical skills as well as academic. And, a nationwide adult retraining programme to get people back on their feet and into work.

Our economic approach also needs urgent change. As the country recovers, we mustn’t leave anyone in our society behind. A Universal Basic Income is necessary to support those who fall on hard times. We must invest in education, health, social care and public services, and give all frontline workers the support they deserve. And let’s prioritise our wellbeing and mental health alongside economic growth, because now more than ever, we need to move forward positively and compassionately.

We have an opportunity to steal a march on the environmental crisis, too. In the past months, travel has reduced, and the demand for coal and oil has plummeted. This presents us with a precious opportunity to flatten the climate curve.

I want to see a UK which is not just carbon neutral but carbon negative. Young people, given they will have to carry this burden for us all, should be involved in the decision-making processes for achieving this ambitious goal. We must acknowledge the part that biodiversity catastrophe plays in pandemics, and recognise that to build resilience, we need to talk about habitat as well as carbon.

In areas such as education, economy and environment, the country simply must move forward, rather than look back. This is where I would start as the leader of the Liberal Democrats, along with our ongoing campaigns to reform our political system and challenge threats to human rights in the face of populism and authoritarianism, at home and abroad.

Of course, to make real progress and seriously challenge the Conservatives, the Lib Dems need to move forward as well.

For too long, we’ve become more defined by what we’re against, rather than what we’re for. The party lost trust when many supporters questioned our judgement in entering a coalition government. Subsequent leaders have struggled to move us on from this. We’ve also lost our campaigning edge; we need to rediscover a bold vision and also build the machine to deliver it.

Under new leadership, the Lib Dems must work together at all levels of the party, to rebuild our campaigning strength, listen to voters and restore trust. We need a national brand that complements local council successes, rather than imposing messages that work against local aims. We need to build broad support across the country, and we need to live (and look like) our values of diversity and inclusion.

This approach has worked in my constituency, where building cross-party support, listening to voters, and a strong campaigning effort led to an 8,000-vote increase in my majority in December.

I’ve listened to Lib Dems members and cross-party voters since then, and I’ve included their contributions in my bold forward-vision for our future, with education, economic fairness and the environment at its heart.

The sliver of silver in the clouds of this crisis is the once in a generation opportunity make our country fairer and more liberal. The moment for change exists, and with the right leader and vision, progress is within the Lib Dems’ grasp. We just need to reach out, seize this moment, and move forward as a strong and united party.

That’s why, throughout the leadership contest, I will be asking Lib Dems members to move forward together – and Vote Layla.’

My Views on Social Liberalism, Layla and the late great Charles Kennedy

I’ve spent pretty much all of my adult life to date pressing the case for what I see as Social Liberalism. I’ve been a lifelong trade unionist with very much left of centre views but I have never identified as a socialist as I see socialism as too authoritarian and centralising of power. The Labour Party whilst at face value being of the left is actually a very odd mixture of right, left and centrist politics, always at war with itself via its many sects. I’m a free thinking person, and an environmentalist and I want to embrace good ideas wherever they may come from; UK politics is far too tribal and it’s the reason we are in the mess that we are.

I see Layla as a breath of fresh air who will take on the establishment and fight for the common good but from a radical standpoint. I hope she will both be elected as Lib Dem leader and that she will take the Lib Dems back to the kind of left of centre politics it pursued under the late great Charles Kennedy.

And before the whataboutery starts, of course this initial standpoint does not cover all aspects of policy.

* Layla Moran is the Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon and a candidate for Lib Dem Party leadership

Cycling – What’s legal, what’s not/What’s advisable, whats not

With so many people cycling during our present health lockdown even I as a regular/daily cyclist for a few years now have been checking what cyclists legally can and can’t do on our roads. Whilst Googling around on the subject I came across this very recent Chronicle newspaper article which I thought was both well written and informative:-

www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/cyclists-rules-roads-helmet-pavement-12815392

One thing some cyclists can easily forget or even deliberately disregard is that pedestrians are the most import thing on our roads, not cyclists or indeed vehicles. The other thing about some cyclists is that they don’t have bells on their bikes. How on earth are they to warn pedestrians, whom they are coming up on from behind, that they are there without a bell? I know some cyclists will think they are not cool with a bell on their bike but I can’t get my head around that rather daft excuse.

Also, because I’m a cyclist I find that non-cyclists seem to think I should be able to explain the deficiencies of other cyclists as if we are some kind of Borg Collective! (Star Trek fans will get this). Questions I’ve been asked:-

* Why don’t you cyclists use cycle lanes/tracks and keep off the road? (I do when they are available)
* Why don’t you cyclists have a bell on your bikes (I do)?
* Why don’t you cyclists carry insurance (I do), we vehicle drivers have to so you should too.
* Why don’t you stick to cycling outside of rush hours, you get in the way. (Do I really have to answer this?)

I could go on but you get my drift. Firstly, I am no more responsible for the behaviour of other cyclists than one vehicle driver is for another. Why on earth do some non-cyclists think cyclists are?

Cycle paths often end in the wrong/dangerous places as this one does.

And another thing, bad cyclists will invariably be bad drivers too. Most cyclists are also drivers of vehicles you know.

But what has really struck me in recent times is that cycling, outside of those who do it, seems to be quite unpopular. It’s as though some folks think it should be banned. In a bizarre and dangerous incident a while back a van driver overtook me just before a junction which I had signalled to turn left at. He then cut straight in front of me and turned left into the same road and slammed his brakes on. A more deliberate act of intimidation aimed at me I have never seen whilst cycling. Not only that he jumped out and told me to get off the road! I assume he wanted me to cycle illegally on the pavement (see the newspaper article linked above)? *

Yes I too get upset when I see adults riding bikes on pavements which have not been designated for cycling; it’s wrong and in my locality Merseyside or Lancashire Police should be challenging cyclists who do it. And yes I also deplore cyclists jumping red lights; they need catching a fining just like vehicle drivers who do it.**

I find cycling fun and it keeps me fit. What’s more it’s an environmentally friendly way of getting from A to B over short to medium distances. I try not to be a pain in the a**e to other road users and I hope the recent uptake in cycling will make bike riding a normal everyday thing which no longer requires explanation, apology or accusations.

* By the way does anyone have any stats from Merseyside and Lancashire for fines handed out for cycling on pavements? If you’ve read the linked article above you’ll have noted that between 2012/13 and 2017/18 only two people paid fines for cycling on pavements in the Northumbria Police area.

** Although in defence of the odd bit of pavement riding I can think of two places in my locality were cycle tracks start/end in daft/unsafe places all but forcing cyclists to use a short section of pavement.