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HOLY ORDERS How big a voice does Christianity have in the political arena? Andrew Hawkins finds out
The National Secular Society’s (NSS) pyrrhic victory in stopping Bideford Town Council’s oﬃcial prayers, and Eric Pickles’s fast-track legislative response, say much about the contrast between the apparent power of aggressive secularists and the political realities.
Far from claiming to speak for the majority, the NSS is a veritable David to the Goliath of the religious community. If blogger Archbishop Cranmer is to be believed, the NSS has a mandate similar in size to that of the British Sausage Appreciation Society (7,000).
By comparison, some 1.7 million people take part in a Church of England service each month, which is four times the combined membership of all three main Westminster political parties. Then there are, of course, other denominations and faiths, such as the UK’s 2.8 million Muslims.
Li le wonder, then, that party leaders pay lip service – perhaps cynically – to this sleeping giant. When first quizzed about his religious views, David Cameron used the old oxymoron of claiming adherence to Christianity while insisting it should be private. Sorry, Dave, but you can’t get away with that – Christ’s parting words were to “go and make disciples of all nations”. While having once forgo en the old maxim that the Labour Party owes more to Methodism than to Marx, Tony Blair appears, since leaving oﬃce, to have repented of his coyness about ‘doing God’.
The only party leader who is consistently transparent on such ma ers is Nick Clegg, whose atheism is more visible, and for which he pays a political price.
He was picketed by religious groups during the 2010 election campaign for his stance on family and parenting issues, which, as outlined in the poll opposite, went down like a lead balloon with some Christian voters.
Indeed, a ComRes/Premier Media poll of Christians conducted before the last election found that only six per cent thought he would make the best prime minister, compared to 37 per cent who said the same of David Cameron, and 20 per cent of Gordon Brown.
As Pickles knows, Britain’s churchgoers are a constituency that cannot be ignored. As the poll
Blair appears, since leaving office, to have repented of his coyness about ‘doing God’
8 | April 2012 | Total Politics of churchgoers on the next page shows, the top campaign issues all relate to policy areas where faith groups have cause to be concerned.
How important would you consider each of these issues is to campaign on?
Freedom of religious expression 68% Marriage 67% Care of the elderly 59% Assisted suicide/euthanasia 54% Persecuted church overseas 54% Abortion 50%
base: 529 regular churchgoers, July 2011
POLL TO WATCH
iS t o c k p h o t o / M a k h n a c h _ M;
Faith communities have at times, over the past two decades, expressed considerable displeasure about political changes. If Labour set out in 1997 to create a social revolution, it succeeded. However, this resulted in a rash of high-profile court cases that continue today, and it spawned new mediasavvy lobby groups intent on pushing back against further change. And these campaigns were not just fought by religious groups – the campaign against the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill in 2004 united Rowan Williams, the NSS and evangelicals like the Barnabas Fund in its opposition.
However, Cameron would probably be unable to do today what Blair, with his overwhelming mandate and massive House of Commons majority, did back then, but he’s determined to try. Blair needed strong support from his own backbenchers, something that Cameron lacks and which could be critical, given his enthusiasm for measures such as legalising same-sex marriage. The majority of Conservative MPs oppose the PM on this issue, even if they are afraid to say so publicly, and their own voters are unenthusiastic. It’s hard, therefore, to see what political advantage there is in Cameron fighting his own side over an issue of supreme unconcern to most of the public.
Britain’s religious communities – and in particular the Church of England – have suﬀered from the worst of all worlds. It has a empted to accommodate a fast-evolving secular culture by compromising with it, while at the same time failing to adapt and modernise its own leadership structures to be more relevant and eﬀective in both contemporary public debate and in a racting new members. It almost needs a bit of persecution to shock it into reforming itself and crystallise what it stands for.
Over the longer term, demographics will be critical. In a Richard Dawkins Foundation/Ipsos MORI poll, more than twice as many over-65s as those aged 15 to 25 and who described themselves as Christian in the 2011 Census, could correctly identify Ma hew’s Gospel as the first book of the New Testament. More young people incorrectly said Genesis. This lack of biblical literacy is a reflection of changing childhood habits: fewer than one in five aged between 15 and 24 said they learned most about Christianity as a child from church or Sunday school, compared to almost 50 per cent of those aged 65 and over.
If this trend continues, the church will have a far greater problem on its hands than gay marriage and lawsuits from the National Secular Society. ■ u Andrew Hawkins is chairman of ComRes
YouGov found the British public to be strongly averse to military intervention in Syria in early February with fewer than one in ten supporting sending troops to overthrow President Assad. By comparison the first ComRes poll a er the Libyan action began in 2011 showed 35 per cent support – so higher but still not overwhelming – and, for comparison, early support for the invasion of Iraq was over 50 per cent. In the wake of the tragic death of Marie Colvin and toughening rhetoric on both sides it is likely that support for a stronger stance will increase.
BEHIND THE FIGURE
In a ComRes/ ITV Index poll (19 Feb), almost two-thirds of the public (62 per cent) said they thought the NHS ‘is in crisis’. The dictionary defines crisis as “a time of intense diﬃculty or danger” which perhaps applies more to Andrew Lansley’s tenure as health secretary than to the service he oversees. In a sense, the public are correct; ‘crisis’ derives from the medical Latin relating to a ‘decision point’. None of which helps the perception that the government has lost control: barely one in five think the NHS is oﬀ the critical list.
BLOGGER WRITES...ASAPUNGENTFUGPERVADESWESTMINSTER, JERRY HAYES HAILS THE START OF RESHUFFLESPECULATION SEASON
That earthy whiff hovering over Westminster is a byproduct of ministers filling their boxers at the prospect of a reshuffle. The political rutting season – politicians fighting for their territory, manoeuvring for promotion, praying for deliverance – has begun. And when it’s all over, Cameron will need a team of sniffer dogs to remove the heads stuffed up his backside.
This is the time when journalists persuade editors that they’re on the inside track, when all they’re doing is having lunch with the odd SpAd, desperate to protect his boss and rubbish his rivals.
But nobody has a clue. The press are like meercats sniffing the wind, huddling in bars for protection and printing mindless speculation from “well-placed sources”, “No 10 insiders” and “people close to the prime minister”, who are just as clueless as they are. Prepare yourself for endless grassroots polls from ConservativeHome, demanding promotion for every green-inking, swivel-eyed, carpet-biting Little Englander who passionately believes that the only issue that people care passionately about is a referendum on the EU.
The truth is that only Cameron, Clegg and Patrick McLoughlin will decide, and I doubt whether they’ve given much thought to a reshuffle just yet.
Prepare yourself for some shameless self-promotion by desperate backbenchers who would murder their grannies and strangle the Andrex puppy to get their plump bottoms onto the back seat of whatever ghastly mid-range family saloon passes for a ministerial limousine.
And what will I do? Why, behave as responsibly as everyone else and publish any bits of tat, gossip and self-serving speculation that’s spoon-fed to me over a three-bottle lunch. For ‘tis the season when Our Man At The Minibar walks tall. ■ u Former Conservative MP
Jerry Hayes blogs at Dale & Co, www.iaindale.com
Total Politics | April 2012 | 9
36 | April 2012 | Total Politics
36 | April 2012 | Total Politics
The Man WiTh TWo Brains
WillettsCarolineCramptonquizzes the universities and science minister about his obsession with social mobility, intellectualism versus pragmatism and his nickname
David Willetts has shown himself to be a very patient man. Not least because it seems that no matter what he says or does, people won’t stop referring to the size of his brain and his ability (or otherwise)
to use it. Under this kind of cranial scrutiny, less even-tempered men would have long ago flown Parliament for the sanctuary of the nearest ivory tower.
pointed: “I am reluctant to argue with Two Brains, but I think he’ll find the link is with question 14.”
However, Willetts remains, as you would expect given his nickname, philosophical about the assumptions that have been made about him.
“I guess there are worse nicknames to have,” he says, smiling wryly at the question. He considers for a moment: “‘Two Chins’ would be a lot worse.” There are no prizes for guessing which of his cabinet colleagues might be known as that, but Willetts delicately refrains from making the joke. Instead, he reveals that he’s always thought of himself as a pragmatic, rather than intellectual, person.
Not Willetts. This year marks his 20th as an MP, and he’s spent much of his time in Westminster on the frontbenches – as paymaster general in John Major’s government, then in a whole host of
“The irony is that, coming from Birmingham, I always like to think you can actually contribute in a very practical way. One of the things I love about this universities and sciences job
‘there are worse nicknames to have. “two chins” would be a lot worse’
Justin shadow cabinet posts, including education, welfare, and trade and industry, and now as minister for universities and science. It was a remark by a veteran lobby hack that landed him with the nickname ‘Two Brains’ – a reference to his interest in social theories and academic approach to policy. Now, it’s become almost too easy to assess all Willetts’ actions on the basis of whether he’s considered to have engaged one, both or neither of his brains. Even the Speaker likes to indulge himself from time to time. During a question time in December, he corrected Willetts on the numbering of his answers with a is that in this area there are real things you can do to help young people in the future. So, I hope there’s never an indication of being detached from reality – there are few things more real than the kind of stuff that I do here.”
‘Here’ is his top-floor office in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. It boasts an entire wall of glass looking out over Westminster Abbey, with his desk pushed right up against it. “I always think I’ve done well out of that deal,” Willetts says. “I get to look at the Abbey, but I can’t imagine they get much out of looking back
Total Politics | April 2012 | 37
TOTAL LIFE u HINTERLAND
JULIAN HUPPERT MP The Lib Dem shares his favourite pastimes of cycling and cooking
When I need to relax and get away, at least briefly, from political life, there are two things I love to do. And which I prefer depends largely on the weather.
The first is cycling. I use a bike as my main form of transport. I’ve been a member of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign for many years and I’m fortunate to live in a part of the country that has more cyclists than anywhere else in the UK. Cyclists are very well catered for in Cambridge, with cycle paths and cycle lanes that make ge ing around the city very easy. It’s great to see people of all ages, including schoolchildren and the university students,
The repetitive pedalling motion is a great way to let the brain think slowly and calmly and even Australia and the Slovenian Alps. I’ve had day-rides and week-long tours, under blazing suns and through rain, and it’s been just fantastic.
When it’s dark, however, and the weather turns nasty, I turn to my other pleasure – cooking. Unfortunately I don’t get to do it enough these days, but there’s something extremely satisfying about pulling together an interesting new meal. I’ll happily spend much of a day preparing and cooking for something really worthwhile.
A few years ago I did a cooking course, and I really recommend it. There are courses ranging from the extremely basic to really top-notch. So there’s something to suit everyone – and there’s so much to learn. It certainly increased my confidence with more unusual cooking styles. I’m now far happier
AWKWARD BORIS MOMENTS
It wasn’t easy, but we managed it. We’ve selected the ten most toe-curling moments in Boris’s recent past riding their bikes and enjoying the experience.
But real escapism for me is taking out my road bike (a Trek 1.7, for anyone who cares) for a long cruise. It’s wonderful exercise, and the repetitive pedalling motion is a great way to let the brain think slowly and calmly about anything – or nothing.
It’s also one of the best ways I know of seeing the countryside. Driving is too fast, and the glass stops you from really engaging with the outside world. Hiking, although great fun, is too slow.
And it’s surprisingly easy to take everything with you as you go. If you travel lightly, it can all fit into a saddlebag.
I’ve taken some great rides – around Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suﬀolk, Cornwall and Scotland,
about preparing a whole squid than I would have been. I once threw a garlic-themed dinner party – two bulbs per person, from chicken kiev to lime and garlic Sorbet. We did warn the guests in advance…
My cooking style is fairly Asian-influenced. I have a particular thing for hot and sour soup, for which you can use up almost any vegetables to hand, and fresh Vietnamese spring rolls – not the deepfried versions. But there are also British and French staples. Like any cook,
I have favourite dishes I can throw together when I don’t want to plan too much.
And, of course, a er the cooking, there’s the great pleasure of eating. ■ u Julian Huppert is the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge
T h e
Tr e k 1.
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80 | April 2012 | Total Politics
Safe as houses On his way to give evidence before the home affairs select committee inquiry into last year’s riots, Boris tactfully juxtaposed the seriousness of the hearing with the silliness of his headgear. We can only hope he took it off before he got to Parliament.
Wiff-waff (left) And it’s Johnson in the back of the net! Boris took promotion of the summer initiative ‘Playsport London: FreeSport’ – launched in 2010 to encourage Londoners to get active – rather seriously as he sought to thrash the school children he was playing against.
He shoots... (right) Boris shoots a hoop on the campaign trail in 2008, while LBC Radio extends a microphone, as if to catch a stray grunt. Did this level of concentration and delicate poise help Boris triumph over Ken the following week?
Excuse me? (left) Boris poses alongside cast members of West End musical Priscilla: Queen of the Desert to promote a new initiative celebrating entertainment and shopping in the West End. As is so often the case with Boris, we can only speculate as to what elicited the bemused expression.
Eng-ger-land, En-ger-land, En-ger-land (above) Two days before England’s abysmal performance against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup, Boris shows his patriotic side in a pair of sunglasses that aren’t made of glass and don’t protect your eyes from the sun. All in the line of duty.
abysmal performance against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup, Boris shows his patriotic side in a pair of sunglasses that aren’t made of glass and don’t protect your eyes from the sun. All in the line of duty.
I am man! (right)
I am man! (right)
Heralding the launch of a Tokyoinspired ‘scramble crossing’ scheme,
Heralding the launch of a Tokyoinspired ‘scramble crossing’ scheme,
inspired ‘scramble crossing’ scheme,
which allows pedestrians to cross West End interchanges diagonally as well as laterally, Boris brandishes which allows pedestrians to cross West End interchanges diagonally as well as laterally, Boris brandishes
West End interchanges diagonally as well as laterally, Boris brandishes a large, fluffy drumstick at the crowd – universally acknowledged to be a sign of extreme manliness.
a large, fluffy drumstick at the crowd – universally acknowledged to be a sign of extreme manliness.
crowd – universally acknowledged to be a sign of extreme manliness.
Hop off, now (below) Boris attends a press conference with London’s transport commissioner Peter
Boris attends a press conference with London’s transport commissioner Peter
Hop off, now (below) Boris attends a press conference with London’s transport commissioner Peter Hendy to announce the launch of the new Routemaster bus design. This will reintroduce the much-missed ‘hopon hop-off’ service – which Boris and Peter seem suitably enthusiastic about.
We’ve all had a few (left) Looking like the guy who gets dragged along to the party when all really he wants to do is stay home and watch Casualty, Boris celebrates St George’s Day with David Cameron and two men dressed as knights. Lads on tour.
The British are coming! (right) Boris meets with veterans in uniform
Boris meets with veterans in uniform during a Veterans’ Day celebration in 2008. We know what was really going on here – but it looks as though Boris thought it was a coup.
though Boris thought it was a coup.
Kung Fu Panda (right) Boris struts his stuff at International Paralympic Day last year, proving that, table or no table, he is capable of looking silly playing tennis. With idiosyncratic panache, Boris looks set to flying-kick the tennis ball out the court.
Total Politics | April 2012 | 81
Total Politics | April 2012 | 81
Regulars Letters 5 Diary 6 Roland Watson of The Times Polling 8 Andrew Hawkins looks at Christianity’s role in politics Blogger writes 9 Former MP Jerry Hayes The idea 10 Hopi Sen on Labour’s growth problem The insider 11 George Pascoe-Watson says Steve Hilton will be missed because he is the real innovator behind small business growth Debate 12 Is our monarchy outdated? Ronnie Campbell MP and Andrew Rosindell MP disagree Felicity Parkes 13 The anonymous researcher explains how MPs should prepare for the stress of a reshuffle Events 14 The dissenter 16 Dan Hodges says May is crunch-time for Labour Data 17 Ministerial profile 18 Lord Marland MP of the month 20 Julian Huppert MP
Total Campaigns A question of independence 24 David Torrance examines how the parties are approaching the campaign for and against Scottish independence Drinks with… 26 38 Degrees’ Hannah Lownsbrough
Features Being British 28 Sadiq Khan, the shadow justice secretary, writes about how he identifies himself at a time when nationhood is so vital Natascha Engel 32 The chair of the backbench business committee has many admirers but the whips aren’t among them. After a tough year, the Labour MP is back on the map David Willetts 36 Social mobility and double chins: Caroline Crampton finds out why the brainy universities minister doesn’t have his own department. Stephen Twigg 42 The shadow education secretary tells Mark Ferguson about what he actually thinks of free schools, how he felt about that Portillo election and why he doesn’t need to dye his hair The Blair effect 46 Helen Grant MP admits to flirting with New Labour under Blair before finding her home in Cameron’s Conservatives In conversation with… Andrew George 48 We chat to the most prominent member of the small group of Lib Dem MPs who desperately tried to kill off the NHS bill. Why does Andrew George rebel so often? Justine Greening 54 The transport secretary speaks of new plans for an 80mph speed limit, what it’s like to work with George Osborne and how swimming with an Olympic coach taught her about politics special section Full-speed ahead 62 FirstGroup and Total Politics team up to explore a growing customer base at a time of growth for large rail infrastructure projects
Total History The Falklands 70 Conor Burns MP writes about how Margaret Thatcher shaped the 1982 Falklands conflict Debate from the vault 72 Snippets from the 1982 Falklands debate in Parliament History of one object 73 The Life Peerages Act Memorabilia 73 David Hanson MP They were also MPs 74 Lord George Gordon (1751–93)
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Total Life Book review 76 Former chancellor Alistair Darling on The Bank, a recent history of the Bank of England Brought to book 77 Damian Collins MP My old book 77 Murdo Fraser MSP Researchers’ stories 79 Hinterland 80 Julian Huppert MP on his love of cycling and cooking Top ten awkward Boris Johnson moments 80 Lunch with… 82 Paul Flynn MP
Total Politics | April 2012 | 3