Wednesday, July 30, 2014

News from the House of Lords

On July 22 both Houses heard a Statement about the so-called Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham, a story that has been covered more or less adequately in the media and, therefore, needs no repetition from me. It is worth reading the Statement, though, because it sets out some of the facts in order and with cogency as well as giving some idea of what the government and the local authorities (these are schools that are or have been for most of their existence, part of the state education structure, inadequate in many ways but rarely so scandalous) intend to do.

I think we can discard the usual bleating about better training of governors, here produced in the first place by Baroness Jones of Whitchurch. Does she really think that it is lack of training that caused people to institute a system whereby any head teacher who opposed a noxious ideology was eased out of position? Was it lack of training that turned Birmingham councillors into pusillanimous collaborators? I think not.

The following contributions are of some interest, too, and probably worth reading but they do not convey anything of great value, except for Lord Rooker's perfectly sensible suggestion that Birmingham should really be turned into three local boroughs instead of one, though how that would have solved the twin problem of the determined promoters of an intolerant ideology and of pusillanimous collaborators is not clear.

We then get to Baroness Hussein-Ece, a new name to me, possibly explained by the fact, that she is one of the enormous cohort of peers nominated by this government that has been even better at packing the Upper House with people who are unlikely to stray off  message than the previous one. Her career in the purely administrative and minority rights related parts of the public sector, does not inspire one with great confidence. And, indeed, her comments are exactly what one would expect:
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for the Statement. It is a relief that this applies to a very small number of schools, however important it is, and to note that there are serious problems of governance. It is important to underline that there is no evidence, as we saw in the lurid headlines, of a “plot” or of violent extremism.

We know that there is a difference between religious conservatism and extremism. That has not really come out in a lot of the narrative from these schools. It has been quite damaging. Can the Minister comment on that? Does he agree with me that when we talk about values, we need a shared level of standards, values and accountability for all schools, be they faith schools, free schools, academies or private schools? Would he also agree that we need to refrain from the generalisation that we have seen that stigmatises whole communities and faiths. This has been very damaging and will make it more difficult for moderate people in Muslim and other communities who want to get engaged in public life to become school governors and councillors, and to play a full role in British civic society.
Naturally, one has to agree that whole communities and faiths should not be stigmatized and that Muslim moderates should engage in public life and to make their moderate ideas very clear, indeed. Some, undoubtedly, do though the noble Lady seems to have been less than active on that score. But it is time for more members of that community to engage and to make their voices heard. Historically, the silent majority achieved very little against a vocal and ill-intentioned minority. We then come to Lord Pearson of Rannoch, a great favourite of this blog, as readers will have realized and he has tried to widen the question:
My Lords, do the Government agree that this scandal, like Muslim segregation and Islamist violence more generally, is a problem that arises from within Islam and can be cured only from within Islam? Given all that is happening in Africa as well, why do the Government go on intoning that Islam is a religion of peace?
There are two issues here: one is the obvious one, raised above that it is the "silent majority" of Muslims that needs to speak out "from within Islam"; the other is the ridiculous insistence on that moniker, "religion of peace". No other religion is described consistently as such, in the teeth of all evidence. As we look round the world, we have to say that while the vast majority of Muslims are not violent and are not terrorists, most (though not all) of the violence and terrorism comes from people who use their adherence to Islam as the reason for it. Indeed, the few Muslims who do speak out against that trend say so, themselves.

Sadly, the Minister, Lord Nash, (and here) found it impossible to depart from the script that his minions had prepared for him:
I think that what has happened in Birmingham is unacceptable to all the communities there, including most of the Muslim parents and teachers. I do not recognise the noble Lord’s analysis of the religion of Islam, which I see as a religion of peace. I do think that there are issues in relation to developing counter-narratives to extremism, but I do not think that there is time to go into that here.
What is missing from this account is the unseemly row that broke out in the House when Lord Pearson put his question. (Well, what do you expect will happen when even the Upper House, the last bastion of this country's constitutional edifice that is more or less standing, is packed to the extent it has been?) There were demands that the Minister should simply ignore the comment as it was so seditious and more than sotto voce suggestions that the noble Lord was obviously mad. So, in a way, it is to Lord Nash's credit that he preferred to give a measured though unilluminating response and did not, unlike the councillors of the good city of Birmingham, succumb to the hysteria.

Of the subsequent discussion [I am afraid people have to scroll down to read all contributions but it is not a long debate] Lord Bew's comment and question about the teachers, criticized in Peter Clarke's report is the most interesting one.

Press Association picked up the story on the same day and cobbled together a reasonable article, which was published by the Daily Mail on line. The Guardian, as so often, managed to muddy the issue in this piece.


  1. The House of Lords is now so unimpressive, having sunk nearly to the level of the House of Commons, if in a slightly more elegant and civilised style, that one expects little more of it. Watching the debate on the salary and Cabinet status of the Leader of the House of Lords one could only agree with the motion in principle, but given the qualities and qualifications of the self-styled 'Beyonce of the House of Lords' (although I have no idea what she meant by this, but can only imagine that it is something similar to Cathy Ashton being described as 'the Bo-Peep of diplomacy) one could only conclude that she would be cheap at half the price.
    A House of Lords that 'did nothing in particular but did it very well' would sometimes seem to be a comparative improvement, I fear (I admit to a weakness for Gilbert and Sullivan).

    1. Much to be said for G&S. It is extremely sad to see the destruction of the House of Lords by the Blair and the Cameron governments.