Recent Articles

Should religion have a role in British politics?

by Mike Ion     June 28, 2009 at 6:15 pm

Last week Michael Sandel delivered his second Reith Lecture and looked at the relationship between morality and politics, more specifically the interaction between religiously inspired morality and politics.

He argued, correctly in my view, that you cannot remove morality from political discourse and so it is far better to have it out in public.

In the UK we tend to discourage our politicians from talking about faith, we famously ‘don’t do God.’ Why?
continue reading… »

Labour heartlands: fertile ground for the far right?

by Mike Ion     April 24, 2009 at 11:00 am

The increase in support for the far right in cities like Stoke-on-Trent over the past decade well illustrates the need for Labour to strengthen its appeal to the white working classes as well as to middle England. Any increase in support for the BNP raises all sorts of questions about how progressive politics deals with the rise of the far right in Britain. The Labour Party has long argued that, as a nation, we should do whatever we can to tackle xenophobia and racial hatred from wherever it surfaces. This, of course, is right but the key question is how is this best achieved?

continue reading… »

Good politics v ideological politics

by Mike Ion     April 15, 2008 at 12:01 pm

According to the Democrat sponsored strategy think tank, Common Good Strategies much of what passes for debate and argument in today’s world revolves around the politics of division and personal destruction.

The American columnist, E.J. Dionne in his book ‘Why Americans Hate Politics‘ argues that one of the main reasons for people being turned off politics is because it (political debate) seems irrelevant to them, they feel that they are being manipulated because they are always being asked to make false choices: you’re either staunchly religious or vehemently secular, pro-business or pro-unions, pro-growth or pro-environment, for civil liberties or against them, a progressive or a dinosaur.

The truth is, of course, that most people don’t think like this, most people don’t live their lives in this way, and most people long for a politics where we have genuine arguments, vigorous disagreements, where we don’t claim to have a monopoly on what is right or wrong, where we don’t demonise our political opponents. Most people want their politicians to engage in what Barack Obama has called a “fair-minded” approach to politics; politics that understands that truth and certainty are not the same thing.
continue reading… »

We need faith in fair minded politics

by Mike Ion     January 31, 2008 at 2:45 pm

Kate Belgrave’s piece on Monday, Jesus. H. Christ. Rides. Again, refers to the “Jesus freaks” in Brown’s Cabinet and asks why followers of God still get airtime in politics and press. Kate’s piece well illustrates that many people – particularly those who take a left of centre approach to politics – either ignore or at least fail to acknowledge the power of faith in people’s lives.

With debate raging about the Embryology Bill, veils, faith schools and social cohesion, I wonder if it isn’t time for those who espouse the “progressive” agenda to debate just how to reconcile faith with our modern, pluralistic democracy.

We are not alone in struggling with this issue. In the United States Barack Obama has recently argued that his own party has been reluctant to engage in serious debate about the issue of religion and politics. Speaking back in June last year he said: “At best, we [Democrats] may try to avoid the conversation about religious values altogether, fearful of offending anyone and claiming that – regardless of our personal beliefs – constitutional principles tie our hands.”

The reality of political engagement is that we have to meet people where they are – even if we do not agree with where they are. If, as a progressive movement, we are to communicate our hopes and values in a way that is relevant to the lives of others, we cannot abandon the field of religious discourse. In his speech, Obama argued that secularists are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into public debate.
continue reading… »

The annual school league tables confusion

by Mike Ion     November 27, 2007 at 11:34 am

The silly season is almost upon us. Soon the likes of the Daily Mail will be publishing a list of the ‘best’ and the ‘worst’ secondary schools in the country. Local papers will be naming and shaming those schools in their area that come at the bottom of the league tables and the letters pages will be full of indignant parents either defending the school their child attends or calling for the head and the governors to go.

So if we have to have school results published (sadly I think this is a Genie that is well and truly out of the bottle) can we at least agree on the format in which these results should be published. At present the DCFS publishes GCSE results in three different ways: raw results, value-added results and contextual value-added results (CVA). Confused?

Well you might well be if, as a parent, you were trying to judge whether school X is successful, complacent or under-achieving.
continue reading… »

Why it’s worth raising school leaving age

by Mike Ion     November 7, 2007 at 12:16 pm

I struggle to understand why anyone on the Left of British politics could oppose Gordon Brown’s moves, mentioned in the Queen’s speech yesterday, to raise the education leaving age to 18. Let me repeat that, I said raise the education leaving age to 18, I did not say raise the school leaving age to 18.

A study in Canada cited by Alan Johnson when Education Secretary found that the introduction of tighter provincial restrictions on leaving school between 1920 and 1990 had helped in raising both average attainment and average incomes. The study found that students compelled to attend an extra year of school experienced an average increase in annual income of about 12%. It also found that compulsory schooling is closely associated with significant benefits in terms of other socio-economic outcome measures ranging from bi-lingual abilities, employment and poverty status.

It concluded that the personal costs of dropping out of full time education aged 16 were high. The study estimated that the earnings foregone as a result of leaving school early ranged from about one to two times the average dropout’s lifetime peak annual wage or three to six times the earnings forgone by staying in school.

What is not in doubt is that the longer a young person stays in education the greater the chance that he/she will acquire additional skills and significantly more opportunities in life as a whole. It has been shown many times that those who have stayed on in education longer often find it easier to find work and that they are much more likely to find that work satisfying. Similarly, the level of education among the population can have a positive effect on the economy as a whole as they can be more efficient workers.

As the Ontario study has shown, the impact of extra years of education on earnings and economic productivity is also disproportionately heavy at the lower end – that is, two more years at school for a 16 year old will make a much greater percentage difference to their later economic worth than two years of graduate work for a 22 year old.

The raising of what should really be called the “education leaving age” would, in my view, be a positive move that would help to promote greater equality. More importantly parents who left school young are more likely to have children who leave school early. Forcing all children to stay in school longer could break this cycle of disadvantage. Increasing the education leaving age is, I believe, crucial to the long-term investment in the talents and abilities of our nation.

For example it is worth noting that in many countries a very large majority of young people voluntarily stay in education beyond the end of compulsory schooling (e.g. France, Germany and Japan). If these countries can already bear the extra cost without economic collapse, it should be possible for nations like our own to cope as well. Raising the education leaving age to 18 is a progressive, bold and socially just policy – we should be pleased that it will be introduced by a Labour government.

This is a guest post. Mike Ion was Labour’s PPC for Shrewsbury in 2005.
Mike Ion’s weblog is at He also blogs for Comment is free.

¦ ¦