Monthly Archives: January 2016

Atheism

“I had atheist tendencies from a very young age. In fact some of my earliest memories are intense feelings of atheist desire. When I was about four I had a beautiful babysitter who would read me stories and then go down stairs and watch TV. One night I peeked through the living room door and saw that she was watching a saucy atheist physics documentary. When I saw those glimmering stars hanging in empty, godless space, and heard the presenter’s tired yet melodic voice, I felt something slot into place. I had not yet learned to feel ashamed of my atheism. At that stage I didn’t even know what atheism was.

“My secondary school was a religious place. One teacher told me that atheism did not exist. Another, that it was a mental disease like psychosis or schizophrenia. The mainstream view at the school was that atheism was a choice and that anybody who acted out on their atheist urges would go to hell. It was there that I developed an abiding sense of shame about my atheism. One day after church a boy asked me to go have a religious experience with him. I tried faking it, and I told him that it was my first time, and then I cried. He sent me to the church-approved doctor, who told my parents that I should probably find another school.

“It was only at university that I began to come to terms with what it means to be an atheist. To understand that non-belief comes in many forms. I joined the AAPD society – Atheist Agnostic Pantheist Deist society. We’d get pissed and go to burlesque comedy nights and shout things like “show us your soul!” to the performers. We were garish but we were free.

“It’s sometimes hard to imagine in a (relatively) atheist-friendly country like modern Britain, but across much of the world, atheism is still regarded as sinful. Young men and women are frequently stoned for atheism, and girls in particular are raped as a “cure” for their belief that there is no such thing as a loving God. But what we don’t believe is not a choice.

“Now I know that some people who call themselves ‘atheist’ are to some extent agnostic and can move between belief and non-belief, or combine the two. This does not mean that all atheism is a choice, any more than believing you are not tall is, or believing you don’t have ginger hair.

“Fortunately these days atheists have plenty of celebrity role models – actors, scientists and even politicians. I hope that any atheists reading this will appreciate that they are not alone. Whether you have told anyone, or you have not, you’re an atheist and that’s okay. I’m an atheist too. And God loves me.”

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New Labour was not awful

Long angry political post warning.

I can understand members of the perpetually disgruntled section of the public saying that New Labour did nothing of value. I can understand people who are not interested, engaged or informed about politics blandly dismissing everything that was achieved in the period 1997-2010. There are people in Britain who can be disappointed with anything and everything, at all times and in all places, regardless of the facts and regardless of their own lived experience. I’m not addressing this post to those people. I am addressing this post to those on the left and those in the Labour Party who speak of New Labour as a complete waste of time, as wholly evil, or as fundamentally misinformed.

For the millionth time, here are a few of the achievements of New Labour.

On the economy:

The minimum wage

The proportion of people in relative poverty falling every year. A fall from 27% of the population to 17%.

Sure start

The tax credits system

Redistributive changes to the tax and benefits system that reduced incomes at the top by 5.5% and increased them at the bottom by 12.4% (http://www.ifs.org.uk/budgets/gb2008/08chap14.pdf)

The longest period of uninterrupted growth in 200 years

On the constitution:
The Freedom of Information Act
The Human Rights Act
Bank of England independence
Civil partnerships

The first openly gay cabinet ministers in Britain
Devolution in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London

On health:

NHS funding doubled from 1997 to 2010

In 1997 there were 1 million people waiting for hospital treatment, when Labour left office in 2010 that number was 580 thousand.

Median waiting times fell from 15 weeks in 1997 to 4 weeks for outpatients and just over 2 weeks for inpatients in 2010.

New Labour set up NICE and brought evidence-based approaches to policy to the fore in the NHS

Significant falls in mortality from cancer and circulatory disease. Suicides at an all-time low.

Improved life expectancy for all social groups

On crime:

Crime fell more in the period 1998-2008 than at any time in the 20th century

On education:

School spending increased massively – from 4.5 to 6.2 per cent of GDP

48,000 more full-time teachers in 2010 than in 1997

76% of pupils achieving five good GCSE grades (A* – C) compared with 45% in 1997

On international relations:

Historic peace in Northern Ireland

Peace in Kosovo

Kicking the Taliban out of Afghanistan and restoring the country to the Afghan people

New Labour didn’t get everything right. But neither their actions, nor their beliefs, nor their record are wholly awful. If you think that this record is so bad then what would you prefer? Another Conservative government? Because if we can’t make a case for Labour values and Labour achievements then a Conservative government is exactly what we will get.