English Baccalaureate – questions outstanding

There’s a dangerous tendency among most of my fellow politicians to assume that what’s worked for them can work for everyone else.  With hands on the ministerial levers there is a tempting opportunity to impose your life experience on the rest of society.  In no area of policy is this more true than education.

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The morals of tax evasion and avoidance

Backbench MPs have debated tax evasion and avoidance, led off by former Labour minister Michael Meacher.  The debate on Thursday afternoon was one of a series organised by the Backbench Business Committee.  This committee is breathing life into the Commons chamber, stifled by Government business in previous Parliaments.  They respond to Dragons’ Den type pitches from MPs, asking for time to discuss their preferred topic.  I am hoping to initiate a debate on reducing the voting age, something I tried seven years ago.

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In praise of the National Lottery

It’s Sunday lunchtime and at the mid point of the London Olympics Team GB is 3rd in the medals table.  We’re on course to exceed our Beijing tally.  But we’ve already secured more medals than the final score at Sydney, Atlanta, Barcelona and Seoul.  We’ve matched the Athens final result from eight years ago. Atlanta 1996 was the low point, with Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent our only (joint) gold medal winners. Great Britain came a humiliatingly 36th in the overall medals table.  Our final position from Seoul to Athens was in the range 13th to 10th.

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What has the European Union done for me?

My encounter with Nigel Farrage on Radio 4 earlier this week made me think pro Europeans should speak up more often, rather than leave the stage to the sceptics and phobes.  I actually quite like Farrage – at least he says what he means and means what he says, in quite an engaging way.  But the message that he peddles, supported by a worryingly large number of my Tory coalition colleagues, is against the interests of Britain.  To positively revel in the difficulties of the Euro and willing Greece to exit and for the currency to collapse, is reckless.  Yesterday’s disappointing UK GDP figures would look rosy if the Euro collapsed and our major trading partners were plunged into monetary chaos.

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Lords reform – now where?

First the positive bit.  A vote of 462 – 124 in favour of a Bill that has a second chamber predominately elected by a proportional voting system is a major step forward.  This confirms the fact that there is a substantial majority of MPs who favour radical House of Lords reform.

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Parliament and the bankers

This afternoon the House of Commons had an ill tempered start to its debate on setting up an inquiry into standards in the banking industry. For the first two hours of a three and a half hour debate the opposition and government front benches knocked lumps off each other.  From the backbenches several MPs behaved like spluttering gargoyles, screaming abuse with scowls on faces.  In seven years as an MP it was the worst behaviour I’d ever seen.

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What to do about the banks and bankers?

I guess we were all shocked but not totally surprised by revelations about bankers this week.  Over the last few years the cornerstones of a functioning liberal democracy – a trusted legislature, independent press and free markets, have all been shaken to their foundations, rocked by scandal.

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Let’s be happier with our bodies

Anxiety about personal appearance is on the rise, with consequences damaging for health.   Many women feel they must have a perfect, thin figure.  Crash diets, smoking, eating disorders and depression are often the result.  Men sometimes follow the same path in pursuit of the six pack belly but many also want to bulk up their arms and pecs.  Does this striving to “look good ” make us happy?  And who decides what looks good?

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Supporting ethical banking

People are increasingly interested to know how they can influence Britain’s big companies.  The “shareholder spring” has seen a revolt against boardroom greed.  The AGMs of Barclays Bank and Trinity Mirror, among others, saw shareholders saying they were fed up with directors awarding themselves super salaries and fat bonuses that did not reflect company performance.

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A glimpse of the future

Great visit to an innovative research group at Bristol University.  The School of Interaction and Graphics has about twenty academics working on the products and devices of the future.  Engineers, computer scientists, physicists and even an archaeologist and anthropologist make up the team, drawn from Britain and abroad. Research done here in Bristol will soon be developed by local  new companies or be taken up by the likes of Microsoft and Nokia.  The latter also have their own product development section in Bristol, which I visited recently.  Bristol has a world wide reputation in graphics and digital design.

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