God my head in.
Dave, it’s me.
I just about made it through last week. I was running low on fossil fuels but luckily I didn’t go into a blind panic about when I’d next be able to go shopping to buy crap I didn’t need, and I also just about resisted the urge to convert my garage into a fuel depot.
Actually, when I say we have corresponded, I mean I have written to you. You’ve still not written to me. Bad prime minister, bad.
I see you’re playing with religion (again). Perilous business. I’ve had a look at your recent speech to religious leaders at Downing Street and run it through my BDM® (Bollocks Detection Mechanism). See below. Your wording is
As you know, we have receptions here for Diwali, for Eid, for Jewish New Year, and I think it is right and it is proper in a Christian country to celebrate this – the most important of the Christian festivals, Easter – right here in Downing Street.
A major religious group you have forgotten, hmmm? The 2001 census revealed there were more Jedis than Jews, so why didn’t you mention them? When was the last time Mace Windu was at Downing Street telling you how moist Samantha’s Battenberg was? And you’re trying to endear yourself to people of faith? I find your lack of faith disturbing.
Who are you to decide which is the most important Christian festival? Surely without Christmas Jesus would never have been born, and so he would never have died? And surely if he had never died he would never have risen from the dead? I know that doesn’t make sense, but does that make sense?
We. Are. Not. A. Christian. Country. (See Commandments 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 of that link.)
So I’m very proud to have brought together such a prominent group of Christians in so many different walks of life, so many different charities, so many different churches.
Mate, don’t flatter yourself. I imagine it’s really no major achievement to get these muppets round to Downing Street because religious leaders would willingly attend the opening of an Easter egg if they detected the slightest likelihood of increasing their power base.
I think it’s a great event that we have it and I’m proud to hold it again. And it is, as I said, we obviously spend a lot of time celebrating Christmas and thinking about Christmas, but actually, really, Easter in many ways is the one that counts.
As I say, if the bearded one was never born he would never have been tortured on a lump of wood. (By the way, maybe you should have reminded your new best friends forever that Jesus had two dads – that might make gay marriage easier for them to swallow.)
Even those of us who sometimes struggle with some parts of the message – the idea of resurrection, of a living God, of someone who’s still with us – is fantastically important even if you sometimes, as I do, struggle over some of the details. It’s a very important message. It’s a message of hope.
“Struggle over the details”? Is that a polite way of saying you don’t believe in rubbish? Why can’t you just say that? And talking of hope, what about the Jedis again and “A New Hope”? Affixing “new” to something always makes it better. Just ask your mentor, Blair.
What I wanted to say to you today, really, I think I’ve got three points, one plea and two challenges, if that’s all right.
A plea? A plea? If that’s alright? You are the democratically elected leader of the United Kingdom and you are making a grovelling plea to self-appointed theocratic leaders who would quite happily deprive many citizens in this country of lawful rights. Plague on your house (all of them).
The three points are these: the first thing is: I think there is something of a Christian fight-back going on in Britain and I think that’s a thoroughly good thing.
I think you are thoroughly talking bollocks. You represent people of all faiths and none.
I think you could see it in the enormous reception of the Pope’s visit;
Ah yes, he who warns us of the dangers of idolatry and celebrity culture whilst doing his own rock-star tour of the UK. That pope fella is nothing if not ironic.
I think you could see it with the successful return visit that Sayeeda Warsi led.
Successful in what sense? In that she successfully managed to board a flight, meet someone equally as incoherent and intolerant as herself, talk rubbish, and then catch a flight back home? Is that how you measure success at Downing Street?
I think you can see it, actually, in the reception to Sayeeda’s superb speeches about standing up for faith and celebrating faith and, as she so famously put it, actually doing God in Britain.
Of course she wants to do God. Without God Moroness Warsi would have no unique selling point as the first female Muslim cabinet minister. She would simply be another useless female cabinet minister, rather than a Muslim one. And even though Islam is not a race, it’s always handy for her to have a quasi race-card up her sleeve (“Davey, Davey! They’re being Islamophobic again! Make them stop, puwweeeeeeez”.)
So I think you can see it in those things. I think you could also see it in the very happy celebration of the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.
A book. That’s all it is. Nice bits, bad bits, but just a book. Written by men, for men.
I think that was another event that helped in this Christian fight-back, and I think there have been one or two good examples of the Christian fight-back as a thoroughly good thing: the fact that we’ve had that argument and won that argument over Biddeford Council and the fact that if councils want to say prayers before council meetings they should.
Can the Prime Minister of a democracy now overrule the decision of a court? I need to dust down my Constitutional & Administrative Law notes from the first year of my degree. I’m sure I scribbled down something about – what was it now – “separation of powers”, I think.
You haven’t won anything. If only Bideford Town Council had said prayers before the meeting and the prayers hadn’t formed part of the formal agenda (as was offered as a compromise by the councillor), the case would not have been litigated. There is not and never was a problem with prayers before the meeting.
We do in the House of Commons,
why on earth shouldn’t local councils do that as well?
Excellent question. A very difficult one, in fact, but one I will attempt to answer. The only response I can think of is, “because they are local councils and not churches and because our secular legal system has ruled that prayers are outside of their power”. Is that ok?
I think we see the fight-back in this very strong stance that I’ve taken and others have taken in terms of the right to wear a crucifix. I think this is important. People should be able to express their faith, and so I think there’s something of a fight-back going on and I think we should welcome that.
I can do no better than refer you to this excellent article.
The second point I want to make is: I hope that the fight-back will be based around values more than anything else. I think that we have lots of things going for us as a country, all sorts of difficulties and challenges, but the greatest need we have in our country is to have strong values and to teach our children and to bring people up with strong values. The values of the Bible, the values of Christianity are the values that we need – values of compassion, of respect, of responsibility, of tolerance.
…of not questioning authority, of intolerance, of misogyny, of homophobia, of slavery, of child sacrifice, of genocide, of rape…
Now, I’ve made this argument many times that you don’t have to be a Christian or you don’t have to adhere to another religion to have strong values, to believe in strong values or to pass those values on to your children, but the point I always make is that it helps.
I agree: some people regulate their behaviour on the basis they believe someone is constantly monitoring them, so to that extent it can indeed help. For others, the true measure of morality is how you behave when no-one is watching.
We’re always trying to tell our children not to be selfish, but is there a better way of putting it than ‘love they neighbour’? We’re always telling our children to be tolerant – I know I am, and often a fat lot of good it does me – but is there a better way of explaining tolerance than saying, ‘do to others as you would be done by’? It’s the simplest encapsulation of an absolutely vital value and the Christian church and the teaching of the Bible has put it so clearly.
Here, I can do no better than to quote myself, from the end of this post: “as secularists we strive to create a political and legal framework that protects the lawful rights of everyone – even of those people with whom we disagree strongly, such as religious extremists. Which is considerably more than they do for us. Never mind the achingly transparent hollowness of ‘Do unto others’ or ‘Love thy neighbour’. As secularists we do better unto others. And we love thy enemy.”
We’re always telling our children that they must make the most of what they have; they must not waste what they have been given, and is there a better way of putting that than ‘don’t hide your light under a bushel, make the most of your talents’?
Yes, there is a better way. You can say, “blind faith is an ironic gift to return to the supposed creator of human intelligence”.
So I think that Christian teaching can help us to have the strong values that we need as a country and we should be celebrating that and shouting about that.
There are already plenty of people celebrating Christian teaching and shouting about it (i.e. your guests). Don’t do their job for them. Think about those unemployment statistics.
The third point I want to make, and I think this is part of the Christian fight-back, is we should be very proud of the institutions that the churches in Britain support. I think, particularly in an age where we’re really making some progress on improving levels of attainment in school, we should celebrate the link there is between churches and schools, and indeed between mosques and schools and synagogues and schools. Faith has a huge amount to bring not just to our national life in terms of values; it has a huge amount to bring in terms of strengthening our institutions and I think it’s a good time to celebrate that.
Don’t thank God for faith schools. Thank the taxpayer.
I can think of better ways of fostering interfaith cohesion than separating children – and educating them – on the grounds of religion. Scrapping all faith schools, for example.
Now my plea: my plea is that I hope that in spite of the disagreements and the arguments we will undoubtedly have, the plea is that I hope we don’t all fall out too much over the issue of gay marriage. Let me just make this point. What the government is consulting over is a change to civil marriage, to what happens at the registry office. It’s not consulting over what happens in the church. I’ll just make this point, which is that inevitably there’s a consultation, inevitably there will at some stage be a vote and inevitably there’ll be some quite strong arguments between now and then, and there’ll be some strong words used. But I hope we can keep the strength of the language at a reasonable level and that goes for both the proponents of gay marriage and indeed the opponents of gay marriage.
Let me save you some brainpower because it seems you’re already running on empty (that was a topical reference to the fuel crisis, incidentally). One word: disestablishment. Let religions do what they want and let them keep their nose out of stuff that actually matters.
The point I’d make is this: if this does go ahead it will change what happens in a registry office; it will not change what happens in a church. If this doesn’t go ahead, to those of us who’d like it to go ahead, there will still be civil partnerships, so gay people will be able to form a partnership that gives them many of the advantages of marriage. So I hope we can just keep the debate at a rational and sensible level, but on the basis that we’re not always going to agree. That was my plea.
For a minute I thought you said you wanted a debate with religious leaders at a rational and sensible level. Oh, you did. Good luck with that.
Now let me go to my two challenges. The two challenges are these. The first one is overseas and the second one is at home. The one overseas is this: I think there’s huge potential for what I call and what others call the Arab Spring and the growth of democracy in the Middle East, but there’s also an enormous danger in terms of the persecution of minorities and particularly the persecution of Christians.
Is the persecution of Christians taking place in the name of secularism? No. It’s taking place in the name of the religion of peace. And you’re singing to the wrong choir about democracy, by the way. You are right to talk of a “challenge” – religious leaders see democracy as just that.
By mentioning the Arab Spring you presumably like to think you’re supporting those fighting for their human rights and democratic freedoms in the Middle East, yet here you are seeking the approval of religious leaders who are often the biggest obstacle to human rights and democracy in this country.
The message you are therefore sending to Cairo, to Homs and to Tehran is that Arab Spring revolutionaries are entitled to fight for their freedoms but that once they have them, those rights will be subject to the discretion and approval of religious leaders. Question: why should they bother fighting for them? I imagine that’s the kind of support the Arab Spring can really do without, Dave.
Now, Britain is fully engaged in the world; we have the second largest aid budget of any country in the world. We’re one of the few countries keeping our promise to spend 0.7% of GDP on aid, and we do have real influence, real heft in these countries.
All the more reason for this country to be a shining beacon of democracy, human rights and secularism to those other countries. And all the more reason not to fawn over religious leaders and give them the impression that democratically elected leaders need their consent or blessing to govern. They DON’T.
I think there’s a really important moment, and this is the challenge, is for the churches and Christians to work together with government on agendas to persuade these newly democratising countries not to persecute minorities and to respect Christians the world over and the right to practise your religion.
Are Christians in this country being persecuted? No. Are Christians in this country slowly realising that they are as equal as non-Christians in front of the law, even though they might be superior to non-Christians in the eyes of God? Yes, but very slowly.
The domestic challenge is, and you’d be surprised if I didn’t bring it up, the issue of the Big Society.
I think there is enormous potential in churches and faith-based organisations to tackle some of the deepest problems we have in our society, whether it is educational and under-attainment, whether it is homelessness, whether it is mental health.
Translation: “I think there is enormous potential in governments devolving their responsibilities to churches and faith-based organisations, and frankly who cares if they comply with equalities legislation as long as it improves the balance sheet and keeps you weirdos off my back?”
Mental health? You want these guys to solve mental health problems? As the saying goes, the scandal is that priests are allowed into mental institutions and allowed out again. Giving these guys a say in mental health issues is right up there with chocolate fireguards and helicopter ejector-seats.
Just wandering around the room chatting to some of you, I was talking to a lady who runs very important residential clinics for young people who have been self-harming or indeed have eating disorders – a classic example of someone of faith who has a great belief in wanting to do good, in wanting to change the world and we should be encourage those faith-based organisations into the solving of social problems.
Good on her; let her help anyone she wants. But when faith-based organisations provide services to the public under the banner of the Big Society there is a risk – no, there is actually an inevitability – that they will do precisely that: help only those who they want.
Tomorrow I am going to be going to the City of London, not to make a speech about the importance of the City raising finance for business, but on the importance of the City raising finance for society. Big Society capital in effect with the Big Society Bank is going to make money available so that organisations, that social entrepreneurs in this room can take that money and expand their social enterprise to cover different parts of the country or to make it bigger to solve bigger problems, to take on bigger challenges. This is an agenda that I think is vital for the future of our country; it’s one that I’m passionate about, but I think it gives the biggest possible opportunity for churches up and down the country to have a real social mission as well as having a moral, religious and a spiritual mission. I think it’s a great opportunity for faith to show its power to move mankind, to move mountains, to get things done.