Friday 28th November: This week Tristram Hunt MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, proposed that Labour would, if returned to government, legislate to remove business-rate relief from independent schools that do not enter into partnerships with schools in the state sector. At present, independent schools that are charities, benefit from business-rate relief (under the Local Government Finance Act, 1988) on account of their charitable status. Under the proposal, business-rate relief for an independent school would be conditional on entering into a ‘hard edged partnership’ with a state school. By way of example, Mr Hunt said that, as a bare minimum, all private schools should provide qualified teachers to help to deliver specialist subject knowledge to state schools, and should run joint extra-curricular programmes ‘where the state schools is [sic] an equal partner.’ He also proposed that all secondary private schools should assist with expertise to help get ‘disadvantaged state school kids’ into top class universities, including Oxbridge.
Friday 7th November: Prince Charles has highlighted the plight of Christians in the Middle East, driven out of their homes, persecuted and sometimes murdered in the war zones which stretch from Iraq and Syria to Egypt and Libya. At best they escape with their lives from the lands, in which, as he rightly pointed out, Christians have lived for 2,000 years, cohabiting peaceably with the Muslims who spread across the region in 700 AD.
Prince Charles was launching the report Religious Freedom in the World, http://religion-freedom-report.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/executive_summary.pdf, published by the charity, Aid to the Church in Need. Analysing developments in almost two hundred countries worldwide over the 2012-14 period, the report identifies 81 countries (c 41 per cent) where religious freedom is impaired (classified as “high” or “medium”). Of the 20 countries with the greatest intolerance of religious freedom, in 14 religious persecution is linked to extremist Islam. These include Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, troubled states in chaos or civil war. They also include Iran, Yemen, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, some African countries (eg Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Somalia and Sudan) and Asian countries such as China and North Korea where religious persecution is linked to authoritarian regimes.
31st October: This week the prime minister said the government had a ‘moral duty’ to cut taxes. Dr Gerard Lyons explains that low taxes do matter but the moral case should be less about tax rates and more about the social contract.
Government should have a number of economic aims. One should be to keep taxes as low as possible. It is in this context that the Prime Minister's comments this week about the moral case for lower taxes make interesting reading. Since the party conferences, clear blue water has emerged between the policies of the major parties. A commitment to cut taxes would add to that divergence.
The moral case for lower taxes appears to rest on the idea that people are better at spending their own money than governments. Yet, at the same time, it should be stressed, there clearly is a moral case for the government to spend in areas where it needs to, whether it be in terms of providing necessary infrastructure, or in terms of a workable social safety net. Perhaps, when considered this way, the moral case should be less about tax rates and as much about the right social contract.