Author Archives: Peter Taylor

Local leadership in Watford

When I was standing to be the Elected Mayor of Watford in 2018, Sir Vince Cable kindly came to help the campaign several times. When asked by local journalists why electing Lib Dems in local government mattered, his answer was always a straightforward one; because up and down the country we provide caring and competent local leadership. During the coronavirus pandemic I have seen Lib Dem-run councils doing just that.

As soon as the scale of this emergency became clear, Watford’s Liberal Democrat councillors and campaigners started to phone hundreds of older residents to ask them if they were alright and to find out what help they might need. This was extremely well received and meant that we were able to identify many people in particular need at a very early stage.

From the very outset it was clear that the whole way the council operated would have to change with many staff moved to new priority areas. Our approach has focused on making sure that our town is caring for all those in need, that key services are maintained, we engage with our residents and that Watford remains as connected and positive as possible.

Many people wanted to know what they could do to support those more vulnerable than themselves during the lockdown. To make sure that local volunteer effort was coordinated and effective we worked with local voluntary groups to set up ‘Watford Helps’. Over 1,000 people have signed up and are helping people to get the food and medicines that they need and making friendly phone calls to those who are lonely or isolated.

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A liberal case for faith schools

At the age of 11 I had a choice. I could either attend a Catholic secondary school or a secondary school without a religious character. I chose the Catholic secondary school. This school, Notre Dame, had a catchment area covering half the city of Sheffield. This meant that there were pupils from affluent and less-affluent areas, from the inner city and the suburbs and from the families of many nationalities. I had classmates who were Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Muslim and of no-faith at all. Had I chosen the non-Catholic school, all of my fellow pupils would have lived in the same neighbourhood and would been almost uniformly white-British.

My experience was not an exceptional one because Catholic schools are diverse. They have more pupils from deprived neighbourhoods, one third of the pupils attending Catholic schools are not Catholic and the percentage of black and minority ethnic pupils in Catholic schools is significantly higher than in non-faith schools. They are also more likely to have an Ofsted grade of good or outstanding. Not only that, Church schools provide a rounded education with a strong emphasis on the social and moral development of everyone, helping each person to recognise the importance of being active in their communities.

Critics of faith school frequently argue that allowing faith to be used as an admissions criterion is discriminatory and that everyone should be able to study at faith schools. An obvious response is that many pupils in Church schools do not share the faith of the school they attend. For example, there are over 26,000 Muslim pupils attending Catholic schools in England and Wales. It is important to remember that the Church provided the land, buildings and ongoing financial support for Church schools. Is it liberal to argue that central government should insist on one set of admissions rules for every school, of whatever type, in every circumstance without faith communities having a say?

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