Friday, 30 October 2015

Equality and opportunity is bedrock of good education - my Catholic Universe column

This week two stories have caught my eye which have caused me to search my soul and perhaps reconsider my views on our education system. Let me elaborate.

I first became a member of the Labour Party under the leadership of Tony Blair. As thousands of traditional socialists were leaving Labour, a great many in response to the Iraq War whilst others were departing because of New Labour’s ‘neoliberal’ approach, I was marching in the opposite direction because I could see how a great many ordinary, middle and working class people were flourishing under the party.

I liked what Tony Blair had to say. I was more than happy, and still am, for people to get on and make money so long as they pay their fair share of taxation to enable those at the bottom to be protected.

Frankly I’ve never particularly given two hoots about the gap between rich and poor. What’s been more important to me is that those people who live in poverty can be helped and encouraged to work their way out of it through a fair benefit system and real equality of opportunity.

When I first signed up to the Labour Party I very much liked the fact that on the whole what we were bothered about was not processes but outcomes. Mr Blair and his colleagues were never too concerned about the rights and wrongs of public versus private sector, their real objective was about services being the best possible for everyone for the money available.

Although, certainly in Labour Party circles, Mr Blair is the socialist equivalent of Lord Voldemort I still think many of his solutions, his ‘third way’ if you will, was the right approach.

One of the areas that fifteen years ago the still fresh Labour Government placed a great deal of emphasis on was the inception of academy schools.

In these days of rebirth for Labour I know we are now all supposed to be against academies, they smack too much of the private sector, but how can we be?

I was struck to read this week that there are now more than 400 Catholic schools up and running in England as academies. It made me quite proud to know that it was a Labour Government who started the path of conversion, which in fairness the Conservative Government has continued and broadened, which enables faith schools to effectively steer their own course.

Catholics have always known that we benefit from some of the finest state schools that there are, surely it makes sense to allow them to improve semi-independently, using their own expertise, rather than force upon them a raft of centralising diktats?

Funnily enough the press release issued by the Catholic Education Service last week quotes my home diocese of Nottingham where now more than 60% of our faith schools are academies.

In a quote the Nottingham Diocesan Director of Education Peter Giorgio said ‘Academies provide schools with the autonomy to cater for the educational needs of their pupils. What’s more academy status gives Catholic schools greater freedom to develop their commitment to the formation of the whole child.’ I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Of course, not all academy schools just like not all maintained schools are successful but it is worth noting the difference between converter academies – those good and outstanding schools who have chosen to go down the route of conversion – versus sponsored academies – struggling schools who have for want of a better word have been pushed through the process under the guidance and management of a theoretically high performing sponsor. Fortunately faith schools largely fall into the former category.

It takes time for outcomes to be effectively measured in a child’s life and therefore a few years into the widespread adoption of the academies program independent comparison of them against maintained schools is still a little threadbare.

In January of last year the Department for Education carried out an analysis of schools that had converted to academy status voluntarily and their OFSTED inspection outcomes. The key findings were encouraging.

Primary converter academies that were previously rated as ‘outstanding’ were more likely to retain that status at their next inspection than local authority maintained schools. ‘Good’ schools were more likely to progress to a better rating and less likely to slip back than their LEA counterparts.

The same was true, although at more marginal rates, for converter secondary academies.

It should never be the job of government to tell good parents how to raise their children but rather to enable them to do so in the best way they see fit. The Labour Party should be proud that they set the ball rolling for parents with faith to have their children educated under a system that is increasingly working and will in the longer term produce far improved outcomes.

Not all is rosy in education however.

As opposed to academies, which can be of great benefit to communities and all of the children who live in them, grammar schools are anathemas, simply put they should be consigned to the dustbin of history.

There is no other way to describe a system which consigns children at the age of eleven to a category of being first, or second, rate. But that is exactly what grammar schools through the 11 plus do.

Proponents of grammar schools may argue for their fairness and that selection is based on academic ability but the facts are stark.

This week the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, approved plans for the first new grammar school in Britain in 50 years.

The Weald of Kent school based in Tonbridge have effectively side stepped the ban on new selective schools by seeking to open a 450 place ‘annex’ in the town of Sevenoaks more than seven miles away.

If leaks are to be believed neither Mrs Morgan, nor indeed Mr Cameron, were overly enamoured by the idea of establishing such a school but the legal advice provided to them was clear that turning down such an application may well lead to loss under judicial review.

Whatever the truth similar applications will follow from existing state funded grammar schools up and down the country.

Government’s role should always be to promote the concept of equality of opportunity and yet grammar schools perhaps do more to prevent the notion than any other single thing.

Reporting in The Times shows that Kent has more grammar schools than any other local authority but by the County Council’s own admission only 3 per cent of children attending them were entitled to free school meals, the comparative rate in the county’s comprehensive schools is 15 per cent.

Children in Kent who fail their 11 plus exam are sadly being consigned to the dustbin of education, unintentionally I am sure, from an age when they should be enjoying playing football or climbing trees.

Nationally 34 per cent of children in receipt of free schools meals achieve 5 ‘good’ GCSE’s including English and Maths. In Kent statistics show just over 1 in 4 children from poorer homes end their secondary schooling with benchmark expectations.

It’s a universal truism that parents want the very best for their children. I know I do.

I want to see my offspring have the chance to go to a good, Catholic school that can keep striving to improve under whatever system of governance is best for it but the last thing I and, I think, countless other parents want is to see children, mine or anyone else’s, rooted out at 11 to stagnate in what are all but in name a system of secondary moderns which were not fit for purpose 40 years ago.

Let us sincerely hope if the Secretary for Education truly does not support the establishment of new grammar schools  that whatever loopholes have allowed the creation of one in Kent can be ironed out swiftly.

Let's celebrate volunteers, the heartbeat of our community - my Catholic Universe column

Being sports fans my children and I were pretty excited to discover last Christmas morning that Santa Claus has delivered to us season tickets to watch this year’s three NFL American Football matches to be played at Wembley Stadium.

A couple of weeks ago me and my sons joined 80,000 other fans to watch the high flying New York Jets beat the Miami Dolphins and this week, quite possibly as you are reading this column, we are heading back down to London for another sell out tantalising matchup between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Buffalo Bills (note: if any of you are big Gridiron fanatics I do realise that a game between the Jags and the Bills is anything but tantalising).

Two weeks ago was my first trip to the new Wembley Stadium and it is amazing but my word, it’s expensive. Our ‘cheap’ tickets had a face value of £55, parking £30, hotdogs £8 each and the obligatory replica shirts for my two offspring another £75 per child. The NFL was without a doubt one of the most costly family trips we’ve ever been on. This week I shall be packing sandwiches.

Still, we like sport and we like to see it whenever and wherever we can live. Fortunately not all sport costs the same exorbitant prices as NFL or an international football match. Take a look much closer to home and you will often find engrossing and highly entertaining games which aren’t going to break the bank.

From late April to early September my whole family could regularly be found at Grace Road, home of Leicestershire County Cricket Club, loving every moment of the explosive Twenty20 matches or enjoying the long summer days during a County Championship game. A whole summer of sport, around 30 days, for just £200. Marvellous.

Last weekend as a family we were looking for something to do and after checking on the internet we realised that the Basketball season had started once again and the undefeated Leicester Riders, a big name in British Basketball, were playing at home to the Manchester Giants.

I checked if seats were available and indeed they were and ordered a family ticket for the five of us sat just two rows behind the Manchester player’s bench.

Being so close to the action in a professional sporting tie is a great thrill for the children but as an adult can be a little off putting. The problem is that after running around for 48 minutes the ever alternating giants of players can be, how shall I put this nicely, a little pungent. But in a stroke of good fortune, or maybe they just weren’t working hard enough, the Manchester squad remained fragrant throughout. We had a wonderful time.

How much I ask would similar seats have cost us at Old Trafford or the Emirates? I dread to think but in Basketball being so close to the action cost the much less princely sum of £37. For all five of us.

I can rail on for hours and hours about how affordable high quality, professional sport can be if you know where to look. If I had chosen to at the same time as the Basketball was being played in Loughborough I could have taken the short trip up the road to watch Nottingham Panthers ice hockey squad take on their arch rival Sheffield Steelers for a similar price, but the match was sold out.

A lot of people are already in on the secret that away from football and possibly rugby union a great deal of sport can be enjoyed at very affordable prices.

But strangely today this column isn’t about sport but rather about one of the things that makes it so accessible. The volunteers.

All too often British professional sporting clubs are run on a shoestring. Many lose money and without the input of finance from governing bodies who have access to the wider television and sponsorship funding they would simply fold.

But go along to any professional basketball, cricket or ice hockey match and you will see people giving of their time and effort to make their club viable in the long term.

It struck me that all the razzmatazz I saw at Wembley was there on display as I watched the basketball. There was the ticket office, the merchandise, the hotdogs, the raffle tickets and even the cheerleaders and drummers but instead of them being delivered by someone in a high vis uniform those invaluable jobs in a sporting event were being carried out by mums, dads, children and grannies and grandads simply proud to be wearing a Leicester Riders polo shirt.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of our society.
In my electoral division there is a group called Friends of Thringstone, just one of many organisations I could use to highlight my point. The Friends aim is to promote the environment of the village and to preserve and promote its history for the benefit of residents and visitors and, my word, this group of volunteers do it with style.

In 2011 these extraordinary men and women were awarded the Queens Award for voluntary service. Earlier this year they were the recipients of the Keep Britain Tidy Diamond Jubilee award for ‘The Big Tidy Up’. But more importantly their real achievement is the pride they take in their community and in making their village a better place to live.

The awards would mean nothing if they were not accompanied by action and last weekend whilst many of us were lying in our beds the Friends of Thringstone were out in the village planting 2,000 spring flowering bulbs so that after a long winter their community would start the new year with a vibrant show of colour.

Next spring most people won’t even realise why their village looks so pleasant, they will simply take it for granted that it does, but without dedicated volunteers giving their time with humility so much that we all take for granted just would not happen.

How many of our parishes are kept afloat by a small group of people polishing brasses, arranging flowers and organising fund raising events?

How many in the congregation even consider that they are all jobs which need to be done but never give a second thought to doing them themselves?

The truth is without volunteers much of what we treasure in our communities would never happen. We wouldn’t have the sports clubs, scouts or army cadets that help develop our young people, we wouldn’t have the luncheon clubs for our older people and much of what is done in our parishes would be simply left undone.

So, here is a call.

There is a good chance if you are reading this that you already volunteer in your community (I like to think of Catholic Universe readers as people who ‘Do’), but in the very small possibility that you don’t right now please think about how you can help.

We can all say that we’re simply too busy but the truth is there isn’t one of us out there who doesn’t already benefit in some way from the work that volunteers do.

Even if it is just an hour here or there please ask yourself ‘How can I do my bit?’

I will guarantee that you will make our world a slightly better place to live.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Tragedy of a fallen police officer - and communities that produced his alleged killer - my Catholic Universe column

Just over a month ago I wrote this column about the duty we all have to honour those men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line for our society on a daily basis. I wrote not just of the members of our armed forces who have fought in foreign theatres of war but of the thousands of extraordinary people who work putting out fires, saving lives in our hospitals and upholding law and order.

I wrote ‘Thankfully, in our mostly law abiding country the deaths of serving police officers…are rare occurrences…’ I couldn’t have possibly have foreseen that the next such tragedy of an officer being killed whilst on duty was only a few weeks away.

This week our nation was shocked and saddened by the death of Merseyside Police Officer David Phillips who died from internal injuries after he was mown down by a stolen vehicle whilst trying to apprehend the driver who was fleeing the scene of a suspected burglary.

PC Phillips was, by all accounts, an exemplary officer who mentored new recruits, helped to raise funds for charities in his down time and was a devoted husband and father to his wife Jen and two young daughters Sophie and Abigail.

Perhaps the most appropriate words to describe PC Phillips were included in the message left by his daughter, Sophie, at the scene of his death. He note simply said ‘Daddy, my hero, my super daddy, my world.’

In the grand scheme of things it means very little but I would like to thank him and his family for his service and sacrifice to our nation. PC David Phillips and his colleagues serving to protect us every day are heroes. He will not be forgotten.

As is always the case in tragedies such as these the full resources of the police service were rightly put to use to apprehend those responsible for the death of PC Phillips.

In a very short space of time arrests were made and an 18 year old man from the Wallasey area has subsequently been charged with his murder and it struck me as it does time and time again when we hear of this type of incident that it’s not just the lives of one family that were altered forever a few days ago.

Before I go any further I must be clear. This column is in absolutely no way an apology or seeking to justify the events surrounding the death of PC Phillips.

If anyone is found guilty of being culpable for the murder of a police officer during the course of his duty the full weight of the law should be brought upon him and the sentence imposed upon him should be severe. To my mind and I am sure to that of a great many more mitigation for such an abominable crime should be extremely limited.

It was, however, the age of the accused that caused me to think further.

At 18 we are all deemed in the eyes of the law to be adults. We must all take responsibility for our actions, we must all pay taxes and if we commit crimes we must face up to the consequences. That state of affairs is only right and proper.

But for anyone who has children of that age, or who works with them, we know that a great many 18 year olds are a long, long way from the maturity needed for adult life.

Whilst the law may be clear that adulthood starts on ones eighteenth birthday reality shows that childhood in all too many cases continues for many for months and, in some cases, even years.

Last week The Sunday Times published a long expose looking at the culture of ‘laddism’ in British universities, and what the establishments are trying to do to tackle it, which particularly manifests itself during Freshers weeks. The article documents tales of groping, excessive drinking, hedonism and passing out which, it claims are prevalent at this time of year.

In one section the author, Katie Glass, beautifully writes ‘On the streets, absurdly young-looking teenagers trundle suitcases and heave duvets out of parent’s cars, giving them self-consciously discreet kisses goodbye, as they head towards the halls.’

In that sentence we have before us all that we need to know. These 18 year olds, for that is what most Freshers are, may well be taking their first steps into adult life but a great many do not have the skills or maturity to deal with the challenges that lie immediately ahead of them.

It does not matter if at 18 you are turning up to attend one of our nation’s most prestigious places of higher education for the first time, or whether you are starting adult life in one of our most deprived areas so many of our young people are not ready, but ready they must be.

But of course the support mechanisms in place to help young people into adulthood vary dramatically throughout Britain and differ between one family and the next.

In the run up to the 1997 General Election a great deal was made about, then Leader of the Opposition, Tony Blair’s mantra ‘tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime’.

In what became a seminal soundbite of the age Mr Blair sought to enunciate a vision that where offending happened it should be vigorously tackled but at the same time greater action was needed to educate and enable young people and families to move away from lifestyles which lead to criminality.

In some ways Mr Blair’s vision was a success. Anti-social behaviour and low level criminality remains at historically low rates. In other ways being tough on the causes of crime has failed.

In 2000 the then Labour government produced its periodic statistics on deprivation in Britain. At that time the 5 most deprived local authorities in the country were Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Knowsley, Manchester and Great Yarmouth.

Earlier this year the statistics were produced again. The top 5 of most deprived areas this time around were Manchester, Liverpool, Tower Hamlets, Knowsley, and Middlesbrough.

Four of the five most deprived areas of our country are the same, although in a slightly different order, as they were 15 years ago.

We know that criminality is all too often linked to deprivation, and we know that deprivation affects health, education, and countless other demands on public services.

When we look at 18 year olds we know that with a few exceptions their future life expectations have been formed in the events that have already happened to them and the surroundings they have been raised in.

As a nation we must be doing so much more to give those adult children the opportunities they need to make positive contributions to our society.

Friday, 9 October 2015

No more excuses: the USA must end its crazy addiction to guns - my Catholic Universe column

Abraham Lincoln once said ‘We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.’

Until a week ago if you ever Googled for Roseburg, Oregon on a computer the most likely result you would have jumped to in your search would have taken you to an anonymous page about a nowhere little town.

The first sentence of the Wikipedia entry about that place could lead you to believe that Roseburg is far far more important than in reality it is. Roseburg’s entry starts out with the words ‘Roseburg is a city in the US state of Oregon.’

Of course though it isn’t. Roseburg isn’t a city, it is barely a town of significance. In the 2010 census Roseburg was smaller than Buxton or Workington or Market Harborough.

I’m sure that Roseburg is a perfectly nice place but until last week my guess is that we could all have gone happily through our lives without ever hearing of it.

And then just over a week ago Roseburg made its way into the public consciousness for entirely the wrong reasons.

A madman had run amok with a gun at the local Umpqua Community College and had killed 9 people and injured 9 others.

Of course we are shocked and saddened by such a tragedy, we are shocked and saddened because Roseburg has become the norm.

This year alone 9 people were killed in Charleston, South Carolina in an attack on a local church, another six were murdered in Isla Vista, California by gunman Elliot Rodger before he turned the weapon on himself, yet another two were shot dead in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Since 2010 there have been mass killings in Huntsville, Alabama; Manchester, Connecticut; Tucson, Arizona; Seal Beach, California; Oakland, California; Aurora Colorado; Oak Creek, Wisconsin; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Brookfield, Wisconsin; Santa Monica, California; Washington DC; Fort Hood, Texas and perhaps most tragically the murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The saddest thing though is that apart from the sheer horror of Sandy Hook, or before that Columbine, we will soon forget the name of Roseburg like we have of Seal Beach or Oak Creek.

So commonplace have these mass murders become that if in a few short weeks we ever hear the name Roseburg again we will follow up with the question ‘Didn’t something happen there, once?’

From five thousand miles away I watched the news unfolding about another tragedy and I shed a tear. I can’t begin to comprehend how families feel after such an event and I can’t begin to understand how a country as wonderful as the United States of America can allow such tragedies to happen time and time again.

It is simply astonishing to me that any developed western democracy would allow, as a constitutional right, anyone to have access to firearms and yet just such a right is conferred upon citizens in the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution. It is fiercely defended by advocates including many gun owners and rights groups such as the powerful and well-funded National Rifle Association.

Although in the years that have followed courts have sought to make judgement clarifying the wording of the amendment, and laws have been made to limit its reign, that sentence introduced to the constitution in 1791 still holds force.  

‘A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’

Last Thursday evening yet again President Obama went into the briefing room of the White House to speak to the nation that he leads. It may well have been the rawest, most helpless speech of his presidency, it may well go down as his greatest.

In his words the President said ‘There is a gun for roughly every man, woman and child in America. So how can you, with a straight face, make the argument that more guns will make us safer? We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don’t work…is not borne out by the evidence.

‘We know that other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that eliminate mass shootings. Friends of ours, allies of ours – Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours. So we know there are ways to prevent it.’

Advocates for the constitutional right to bear arm will be heard to say that ‘it’s not guns that kill people, people kill people’, they will speak of the wisdom of the founding fathers but there is no doubt that a measure passed more than two hundred years ago in the wake of a war for independence is not fit for purpose today.

In Britain we have never had a gun culture in the same way as our cousins over the Atlantic but those of us who are old enough can still clearly remember that day in 1996 when we first heard of the tragedy unfolding at Dunblane Primary School.

The response from government was swift and some might argue draconian but the simple fact is that we have, thank God, now nearly twenty years on never experienced another day like that.

You may have questioned by now that desperately sad though the events in America may be, what does it have to do with us?

The answer is simple.

The reason that effective gun laws have never been enacted in the United States is because proponents of gun freedom hold on steadfastly to rights conferred more than two hundred years ago.

But the world changes. What may have been appropriate during the days of Thomas Jefferson almost certainly isn’t now.

In a world that we now live in, barely recognisable to the founding fathers, it is incumbent on the people of the United States to call for change and for us to support them.

As Catholics we know that whilst our faith is steadfast the ways in which it is lived must change, the same goes for venerable constitutions.

Even across the pond we know that the American Constitution can change and can be wrong. We need look no further that the introduction and swift repeal of prohibition to highlight that simple fact. Let us be under no misapprehension that that second amendment can be repealed what prevents it happening are those men, as Lincoln said in a different context, ‘who pervert’ it.

When we see injustice, when we see lives tragically snuffed out, when we see a world leader helpless to act it does not matter that we are not American. It matters that we are human and we must cry out for these horrific, all too often, events to be stopped.

Humble pope teaches us all a lesson to remember - my 2 October Catholic Universe column

I’ll never forget Sunday 30 May 1982.

The whole parish had disencamped from our Leicestershire home for the historic visit of Pope John Paul II to Coventry Airport. The fever of that trip was especially heightened for us primary school children as our gentle and fatherly headmaster Peter Skoyles was at that time one of the very few permanent deacons in the country and he would be assisting the Holy Father with mass that day. The flags and rosettes had been purchased and the Ladybird book chronicling the life of Karol Wojtyla virtually memorised. The excitement in our parish was palpable.

And I missed the whole lot after being diagnosed with German measles two days earlier.
The visit of His Holiness back in 1982 was unprecedented and sadly, it seems to me at least, by the time Pope Benedict made his own state visit to Britain 28 years later much of that earlier excitement and fervour had been lost.

Watching the television over the past week though and seeing crowds clamouring for a sight of Pope Francis on his trip to Cuba and the United States has filled me with hope.

To see thousands upon thousands lining the streets of New York has been inspirational.
To watch His Holiness arriving at the White House in a humble Fiat 500 marks out, when countless others would have turned up in luxury limousines, his humility. It can’t have been bad for the Italian motor industry either.

Every time we hear Pope Francis speak it’s a reminder to us of the biblical messages of charity, subsidiarity and good stewardship for our earth and its peoples. Every time I hear his message it fills me with hope for the future of the Catholic Church and our planet.

In a world where the President of the United States is often seen as its undisputed leader, and where prime ministers and other heads of state seek to visit him, it is a mark of the regard that the Holy Father is held in that President Obama and his family went to greet Pope Francis at the airport as he touched down at Andrews Air Force Base on his flight from Cuba.

Of course whilst most are delighted at the visit of His Holiness not all Americans are entirely enamoured by the message he preaches. Amongst the wall to wall press coverage of each engagement some commentators, particularly on the Republican right are questioning whether the Pope is left wing, or even a Communist?

In what has become one of the soundbites of his visit one journalist asked him if he was ‘a little to the left’. His Holiness’ answer was beautiful in its simplicity and yet strikes to the heart of political differences ‘My doctrine is that of the social doctrine of the Church.’

Catholic politicians will often seek to argue that their views are compatible with biblical teaching. Indeed at least six of the current crop of potential Republican candidates for the Presidency will spend a great deal of time doing just that but the beauty of Pope Francis is the clarity of his message, the lack of room for interpretation.

Perhaps the highlight of Pope Francis’ diplomatic engagements during his visit has been his address to a joint meeting of Congress, the first time a pontiff has been invited to deliver such a speech.

His Holiness’ address was undoubtedly a much needed reminder to politicians of all persuasions, not just in the United States but across the globe, of their true purpose.

Speaking directly to members of Congress Pope Francis said ‘You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy commons needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.’

I would venture to say that virtually every politician enters public life seeking to fulfil that vocation that His Holiness clearly enunciates. The problem is that in the face of political opponents espousing strident views we all too often forget.

Just such an occasion happened to me this week.

It is no secret that despite being a Labour Party councillor I am not a great fan of our new leader, I believe he is wrong for the party and wrong for our country.

There are many Labour members who vehemently disagree with me, probably right now the majority. Many will contact me on social networking sites to tell me their forthright views and question, despite the fact that I have voted Labour my whole life, whether I am in the wrong party or perhaps invite me in usually derogatory terms to join the Conservatives.

It was precisely during one such interaction that I completely forgot the message of Pope Francis and called members of the far left of my party ‘loons’.

I had in simple terms forgotten my vocation and instead got drawn in to name calling. I hope fortunately for me and without causing too much offence I quickly remembered why any of us enter politics and apologised for any harm I may have caused.

Of course Mr Corbyn isn’t a lunatic. I may disagree with him on a great many issues but he is genuine and seeks to improve our nation in a considered way shared by many others.

A second event occurred this week which caused me to consider the Pope Francis’ words.

At a meeting of Leicestershire County Council my Labour colleagues had tabled a genuine motion regarding how we in the county could provide assistance to Syrian refugees, the need to be at the forefront of providing support and showing community leadership to local residents that such action was not only necessary but desirable.

I honestly believe virtually every member of the Council held broadly similar views that those in desperate need should be provided support. No one was a million miles away from the sentiment of our motion and yet somehow the issue became one of party politics and sniping across the chamber.

In drifting to party allegiances and age old enmities we forgot our vocation.

I don’t particularly highlight my Council as being better or worse than others or indeed better or worse than national governments. We simply forgot our purpose.

Sometimes all of us need to be reminded by someone on the outside what our vocation, our life, is all about.

That is exactly what Pope Francis has set about doing in his words and his example.

I’m very humbled by such a teacher, someone who I firmly believe can lead not just politicians but all of us to a better life, we must do our best to follow him.