My Open Letter to Westminster

Henry Hopwood-Phillips 10.53am

There is a caustic and remarkably resilient strain of liberalism that is proving intransigent in spite of an unravelling of the trends that caused it. We live in a post-white, post-Christian society; however, an entrenched elite refuses to yield political ground to the sincere viewpoints of Islam and other minority faith groups on a range of vital issues from dress to diet, from war to homosexuality.

These vested interests are manifestly preventing many ethnic minorities from flourishing. I therefore call upon all liberals - a political class that is almost exclusively white - to resign immediately so that a new political order, perhaps one that can reflect the new demography of the country somewhat better, can take root; and liberalism - that relic of an old order - be extinguished alongside the late imperialism that devised it.

This late imperialism may come with extra servings of hand-wringing but its first principles remain the same. Countless Islamic countries are invaded on an almost annual basis in the name of foreign ideals Muslims never subscribed to.

When Muslims do manage to escape their homelands (countries that have become war-torn thanks to western well-wishers whose enthusiasm for demolishing our governments has never quite been matched by their zeal to replace them), they have been exposed to the unrelenting judgement of “the English” (a misnomer surely, for m’learned academics tell us that no such people exist), who no less unremittingly chime to the high heavens panegyrics about their levels of tolerance.

It is this “tolerance” that informs Muslims that the ideals they teach to their children are wrong. It is this tolerance that tells Muslims that protecting their women’s dignity is oppressive. It is this tolerance that tells Muslims that eating their meat in the Qur’an-honoured way of their forefathers is a disgraceful way to treat livestock.

Historically speaking, we can all understand why this uppity and entitled elite think they have the whip-hand over us. But we are no longer living in an occidental hegemony circa 1945, and we call on Westminster to reflect this.

————————————- Spoiler Alert ~ May contain satire ———————————-

Follow Henry on Twitter @byzantinepower

Gay marriage vote is very simple: forget the politics, vote for what you believe in

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Nik Darlington 8.42am

There is a lot for Tories - or even just any sensible observer of politics - to be unhappy about over the Government’s same-sex marriage reforms.

No mention in either Coalition parties’ 2010 manifestos. No mention in the Coalition Agreement. Neither perceived nor existential agitation for it from homosexual people or otherwise. Manifesto commitments pertaining to marriage - such as recognising marriage in the tax system - that probably ought to take priority.

So any sensible observer of politics (and there are many insensible observers giving voice) can understand why grassroots Tories are protesting and writing literally thousands of emails and letters to MPs, why there is talk of deselections, and why scores of Tory MPs intend to vote against the Bill today.

It is, therefore, an upsetting and destabilising time. One old-timer I consider to be largely sensible about these things phoned me up yesterday to bemoan politicians spending so much time fussing over it when there are more important matters at stake, whatever the merits of the policy itself (they were in favour of it). This is partially unfair, given that the Government is so sweatily ram-rodding the issue through Parliament (just one bone of contention). Though sensible observers could be forgiven for thinking this is all MPs have been doing lately, given the corybantic manner in which the media are covering it.

Yet these difficulties notwithstanding, there remains a simple, unalterable fact that for me - and I’m sure for many others - makes voting down this proposal impossible. David Cameron maybe should not have chosen this moment to pose the question. Though now the question is posed, I could not sensibly oppose it. We cannot ignore it, or wish it would go away.

It is said that some MPs couldn’t really care much for the policy, but believe the Prime Minister to have been a clod for pushing it and shall vote against (or abstain) to spite him. There are many who genuinely and deeply believe the policy to be inherently wrong - whether out of religious belief or traditional social mores. I am comfortable with it according to my own Christian faith; yet in the same vein, I must respect others’ interpretation. It is a tricky one this, to put it mildly.

The Conservative party cannot gain from this, if ever that was indeed the leadership’s intention. Thus let us forget for now the party political ramifications, even if the media refuse to. 

It is a free vote. MPs should vote according to what they believe, not whether they will gain or lose personally from it, or how it makes their party look, or whether they think they should even be having to cast a vote. Above all, let us not in the heat of the moment, with passions high, make this a more difficult matter than it is.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

A small minority of the Church has got this all horribly, horribly wrong

Jack Blackburn 9.58am

I write this with a heavy heart. It has hitherto been my fervent belief that the Church of England is an organisation of tremendous value to this country, providing an important voice to public debate and articulating beliefs and positions with sincerity and without a glance toward whether they might be popular.

This is admirable and important in a democracy, and entirely in keeping with a truly secular democracy that such a voice is heard, and it is so with other religions.

However, the Church of England stands at a crossroads. Opposition to same-sex marriage puts it on a collision course with the state, and increasingly it sounds and behaves in an antediluvian fashion, pushing it further and further away from the concerns of its parishioners and from the heartbeat of national discourse.

Crucially, some of the theological arguments fostered in the communion are growing increasingly dishonest, refusing to admit the validity of new ideas and clinging with all of the fastness of rigor mortis to outdated mores and the narrowest possible view of the world.

It must be stressed that this is not the case for every member of the CofE. It certainly has not been the case for the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, and I have every confidence that his successor will uphold and defend the best traditions of this great institution.

As this week has shown, it is not even the case with the majority of the Synod. However, the actions of a grimly determined minority have moved the Church to the point of irrelevance. This can only be rectified when it recognises the ability and God-given right of women to preach at all levels.

Some of the blame must lie with the voting structures of the Synod that has blocked the voice of the majority, but it should never have come to this.

The fact of the matter is this: the only theological tenets that an enlightened believer can hold to are that God created us equal, Jesus treated us all as equals and, whatever truth there is in the words and actions of Christ, that truth can be expressed by any one of us, black or white, straight or gay, male or female.

The decision to block female bishops may be the wish of a minority that is at best misguided and at worst bigoted, but it is not the will of a God who came to Earth and revealed his greatest message of resurrection first to a woman. Imagine if Jesus had told Mary that she was unable to preach the good news. Where would the Church be then?

God did not create us into roles. Man put us into them. Man should know his place.

Follow Jack on Twitter @BlackburnJA

A One Nation defence of the Church of England

David Cowan 6.01am

At the beginning of Holy Week this year, David Cameron made another foray into religious affairs. It was a rare glimpse of that elusive aspect of the Prime Minister’s character - his Christian faith.

Mr Cameron’s most significant defence of Christianity to date was during the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible (see Jack’s and Daniel’s comments). He claimed:

"Britain is a Christian country and we should not be afraid to say so… the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today."

It is Christianity’s conceptualisation of the nation that is at the heart of Mr Cameron’s moral code. This is evident in his vision for a ‘Big Society’, where responsibility, duty and community are most valued. And of course the institution that upholds the Christian faith and defends these values is the Church of England.

The local church is often at the heart of our communities. It provides spiritual support as well as voluntary assistance to charities, social enterprises and, importantly, schools.

The Church of England currently educates one million children in 4,800 schools, making it the biggest single provider of education in this country. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, has reaffirmed the Conservative party’s commitment to supporting faith schools by urging the Church to run more academies.

Throughout the Conservative party’s long history, the defence of the established Church has been second nature. Christian morality has been a significant guide for many One Nation Conservatives, including Harold Macmillan, who said:

"If you don’t believe in God, all you have to believe in is decency. Decency is very good. Better decent than indecent. But I don’t think it’s enough."

A Christian ‘fightback’ should be supported by One Nation Conservatives within the context of greater toleration. We live in a pluralistic society. Other cultures must be respected. Yet Christians have become somehow exempted from the toleration afforded to others and fair game for discrimination by aggressive secularists.

Wearing a cross at work, holding town hall prayers (see Jack’s comments on these pages), Norwich County Council’s banning of a local church from a community centre.

It is appalling that this victimisation of ordinary Christians is happening at the same time that Yusuf al-Qaradawi is allowed to stay in this country, be embraced by Labour’s London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone, and defend suicide bombing, wife beating and the violent persecution of Jews and homosexuals.

Discrimination against Christians has also been a defining feature of the debate about same-sex marriage, in which opponents are brazenly dismissed as homophobes. The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, for instance, is opposed to gay marriage but supports civil partnerships and has certainly not expressed hatred towards homosexuals.

It also says a lot about the current state of the debate that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is forced to ban “gay cure” adverts from the capital’s red buses, while Christians offended by gay rights charity Stonewall’s campaign are denounced as bigots.

How can we possibly have a grown-up debate about an important subject such as same-sex marriage if senseless demonisation is allowed to trump rational discussion?

Whatever side you take, there is a principle at stake here. Toleration has to incorporate toleration of those people who we disagree with or believe to hold intolerant views. It is time for toleration in Britain to live up to Voltaire’s famous and apocryphal quotation: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Regrettably, Mr Cameron’s attempts to tackle aggressive secularism have been undermined by George Osborne’s recent blunders over the so-called 'charity tax' and 'heritage tax'.

The Government is launching a formal consultation on charity tax relief and will hopefully heed the advice given by Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister, on BBC’s Newsnight recently.

But we have yet to see if the Government will reverse its decision to slap a VAT bill of £20 billion on the 12,500 listed church buildings. There is already an e-petition with a growing number of signatures demanding that the VAT zero rate on alterations to listed buildings be revived.

This hit to charitable giving and listed buildings threatens irreparable and unnecessary harm to churches such as Wakefield Cathedral. Many churches stand as bastions of beauty and monuments to tradition. Several have stood since Norman times. It would be a crime against our common heritage to allow these tax policies to continue.

Once upon a time it could be said, with some truth, that the Church of England was ‘the Tory party at prayer’. David Cameron and other One Nation Conservatives should have the courage of their convictions to defend and praise the established Church’s role in the spiritual life of the nation and the wellbeing of communities; to fight for full religious toleration; and to conserve our precious buildings.

Follow David on Twitter @david_cowan

Gay marriage is at the heart of the urgent need to separate Church and State

Jack Blackburn 6.00am

Church and State are talking at crossed purposes on gay marriage, but what goes unnoticed is that this confusion goes right to the heart of our nation’s constitution.

As far as the State is concerned, homosexual relationships should be treated coterminously with heterosexual relationships. By extension of this fact, gay marriage ought to be permitted and accepted.

However, from a theological perspective, this is contradictory and nonsensical. Marriage is a sacrament, a central pillar of the Christian faith, and defined as exclusively heterosexual.

Christians are entitled to that view. And in somewhere such as the United States, where Church and State are separate, they can agree to disagree in this fashion. But here in Britain, with an established Church, that is a luxury we cannot presently enjoy.

The Church of England is directly affected by what is spoken in Parliament and what Her Majesty the Queen - the Supreme Head of the Church - signs into law. There is no getting around that. The Queen cannot give her royal assent to a Bill legalising gay marriage without challenging a tenet of the Church. We have here a real dilemma. We must be honest about this, but of course something has got to give eventually.

It would be welcome to hear a dissenting Christian voice loud and clear - following the Prime Minister’s own statements on the subject - because the theological debate is not open and shut.

Indeed, to say that marriage is a union that can only exist between a man and a woman is lazy, unsubtle and vacuous. It does a disservice to what the institution should mean.

The explicit definition of marriage as exclusively heterosexual is derived from texts written more than two millennia ago by people living in a homophobic world that demanded the execution of homosexual men.

The modern Christian, called by Jesus to make love their first and only aim, should realise that the old ways are not beyond question. In fact, they are challenged by that stronger tenet of love.

The true essence of marriage is the formation of a loving union - if that is between people of the same gender or different genders, it ought not matter. The loving God would be more pleased by the gay couple who spend their entire lives together than the man of many marriages.

Nevertheless, this does not rest easily with the theological conclusions of many Christians across the country who, I hasten to add, are not homophobic by nature. These Christians will maintain that marriage is a sacrament, clearly defined, and the word cannot simply be borrowed by the State to fulfil its social aims.

The word and the institution are of central importance to Christian faith. This is the responsible view of Tony Baldry, Conservative MP for North Oxfordshire, and the Church Commissioners. (The faux-amusing rhetoric of Peter Bone and insulting language of Cardinal O’Brien are contributions we could do without, and which do their side of the argument no good at all.)

This is yet another issue that indicates why the Church must begin to remove itself from State affairs. Neither Church nor State any longer benefit from their connection; rather, they suffer from it, finding not greater strength but deeper division.

In this instance, the Church is being held hostage to a legislature that is doing what it thinks is best for society. It has a democratic mandate to do so. Therein lies the problem for the Church today: it represents only one section of modern British society, for which Parliament must legislate, and yet the Church unduly influences, and is influenced by, that Parliament.

The need for separation is increasingly apparent and urgent. However, it cannot happen while the Queen is head of both. The dilemma shall continue unresolved.

Follow Jack on Twitter @BlackburnJA

One Nation Conservatism is the best vehicle for reaching out to all parts of society

Samuel Kasumu 7.12am

Following the recent series of articles entitled ‘The Origins of Race Policy’ and the much critiqued piece that I wrote for ConservativeHome, time has come for me to articulate my own personal discourse on the matter of race and political representation. This is the first time I’ve officially disclosed my political views (though recently it has clearly become less of secret), as I have previously held positions where it would have been inappropriate to do so.

These roles varied from my time as vice-president of my students union in 2007; up to being the chief executive of a social enterprise representing thousands of members; and subsequently running the largest ever debate tour of its kind in the UK where I chaired a number of debates and heard thousands of people all over the country.

Those experiences, along with my political education through the Conservative Christian Fellowship, and through studying a Master’s in Ethnicity, Migration & Policy, have led me to the following conclusion: government is undoubtedly the most powerful institution in our natural world.

Government is what ensures resources are allocated effectively in order to fulfil good outcomes for humanity. It is also the main mechanism for protecting many of its stakeholders from various evils. Even within the most unconventional and evil of governments in certain nations there remains an element of order that could not exist without having any institution at all.

Government is essential, and politics is therefore the science that underpins it.

The challenge that all countries still face is this: what role should any government playin in ensuring all people are treated equally?

It is something that people across history have fought for and even given their life for. Today in Britain ‘equality’ is a term that has evolved to represent a variety of groups that are marginalised in various ways including ethnic communities, women, those from lower socio economic backgrounds, and people with disabilities. It can also incorporate themes such as sexuality.

Our mission should be to give a voice to those people who are marginalised in society. The hope is to see a balanced representation of people within power structures, particularly within the political classes. I believe that genuine equality can only ever come to pass when people from all backgrounds feel as if they can actively participate within our many power structures, including within government. The only way that this can truly be manifested is through the actualisation of a political system that is truly representative of the population that it presides over.

This is not simply a call for more Members of Parliament from non-traditional backgrounds, but a call for more people involved in politics at every level. There must be more people running for council seats, more members of local associations, more influential policy makers, and more political commentators from diverse backgrounds. Politics may be spotlighted on Parliament; but Parliament is far from being the place where the story starts or ends.

In May 2008, I decided to join the Conservative party. This wasn’t to say that I agreed with everything the party stood for; in fact it was probably quite the opposite. The Conservatives had huge potential to craft a new message about equality, something in many past instances it had failed to do. My personal work belongs within the Conservative party, however I will continue to mentor and support young people regardless of their politics.

I have never directly experienced any form discrimination or prejudice within the Conservative party, though I agree that the party can suffer from a crisis of image.

While I have had the privilege of engaging with some of the most fascinating people at various levels, I recognise that there remains some resistance to change. Some feel that by identifying any form of marginalisation we risk being counterproductive. Others feel that any call for equality would equal some form of attack on meritocracy. My reply to those people would simply be that meritocracy has actually always been a myth in many senses of the term. If you start any race with a head start how could you justify the outcome being fare? And if no one gives you the tools you need to run effectively where is the meritocracy?

My final thought is quite straightforward: no political party should have a monopoly over any type(s) of voter. Not only does this encourage complacency, but it also hinders innovation. It can also mean that when one Party is not in power certain areas of policy remain sidelined.

Solidarity should therefore be along policy lines at best, rather than simply party political allegiances. This continues to be the case for a variety of voters in Britain, and I believe that the message of One Nation Conservatism is the vehicle that can be best used to demonstrate that Conservatives can be a credible option for many people in the future. It is in this centre ground where elections are won.

I am still quite young, and no doubt as I learn more my thoughts will evolve. But for now my hope is that one day, like my hero Martin Luther King Jnr, I will be able to look back and say that I have served my generation, I have ensured progress, and I have fought a good fight.

Samuel is an award social entrepreneur and political commentator. He has previously been highlighted as a Future Leader by Powerful Media, and is the first ever GBA Young Star of Enterprise (CBI/ Real Business Magazine)

Follow Samuel on Twitter @samuelkasumu

Bideford: Not only have Christians done no wrong, they only ever intended to do good

Jack Blackburn 12.58pm

Legally speaking, the High Court’s ruling that Bideford council was breaking the law by having prayers on its agenda was absolutely correct. It does, however, demonstrate an unfortunate state of affairs in this country concerning how we view religion and how we actually approach the idea of toleration.

It should be stressed that, despite what either side of the debate would like you to think, Friday’s judgement was very narrow. Christians have cried wolf by claiming some form of “marginalisation” in this ruling. Mr Justice Ouseley’s judgement stressed that it was the fact that these prayers were formally added to the agenda of Council meetings which was unlawful. The prayers are not illicit, but the law suggests that there is a time and a place for them.

On the other hand, Clive Bone, the former councillor who brought the case, and the National Secular Society should not be claiming a victory. They’re uppermost aim was to claim that what Bideford council had done in putting prayers on the agenda was against Mr Bone’s human rights. Mr Justice Ouseley rejected this outright. All Mr Bone and the NSS served to do was to clarify a point of law, which Eric Pickles claims is soon to be outdated when the Localism Act comes into force.

So either way, the Bideford ruling is not as extreme as has been represented, but the reaction to it does highlight a depressing state of affairs. The view that we should “tolerate people’s beliefs” is widely held but often expressed in manner which makes the act of toleration sound like an onerous task, akin to keeping a dangerous lunatic happy so that they do not overrun the asylum.

In certain instances, the general rule of tolerating everyone’s sincerely held beliefs logically runs into absurd situations which are rightly put under intellectual scrutiny. For instance, can we really tolerate the sincerely held beliefs of Muqtada al-Sadr? Clearly, most reasonable people would say no, implying the conclusion that there are limits to our toleration.

Did Bideford Council transgress those implicit limits? No. Not even close. The less hysterical Christian response has highlighted that all the councillors were doing was conducting a ritual according to the beliefs of their faith to assist them in making the best decision for their constituents. They did not force Mr Bone to partake, and many other councils across the country do not force their councillors to take part in prayers (Christian or otherwise), though it is reasonable to say that the prayers do not have to be the official agenda.

But one could equally say that it costs nothing for an atheist councillor, or a councillor of a different faith, to sit there and accept the prayer in the spirit it is given, which is one of goodwill and generosity. It should be noted that this is not a Christian issue. Indeed, the NSS gleefully pointed to an incident in Portsmouth when a councillor walked out to avoid a Muslim prayer. The councillor’s actions are as bad as those who do not accept the prayers in the spirit they are given. Any prayer, sincerely offered with a view to making better decisions should be accepted as a good gesture, even if you think the prayer will have no effect.

To claim that prayers at council meetings come even close to a violation of human rights is absurd, and one can understand why Christians have been so upset. Not only have they done no wrong, but they only ever intended good.

In part, toleration means accepting the generosity of a religious tradition and being grateful for its benevolence. Regardless of whether or not you think it is going to have any actual effect, the act of prayer itself has meaning. In the case of al-Sadr, that meaning can often be malicious and we should stand against that. In the case of Bideford council, our society, religious or atheist, should have taken this generous act with thankfulness.

Follow Jack on Twitter @BlackburnJA

Why atheists can agree with Mr Cameron too

Daniel Cowdrill 6.01am

David Cameron’s speech at Christ Church to commemorate 400 years since the publication of the King James Bible was a commendable attempt by the Prime Minister to engage with faith in a way that predecessors have tried to avoid.

Mr Cameron makes an interesting point that in politics, as in political history, faith is important.

A study into Margaret Thatcher, for example, would be incomplete without reference to the fact that she listened dutifully to her father, a Methodist lay preacher, every week of her childhood (and a fascinating new book on ‘God and Mrs Thatcher’ is due in 2012). Indeed, future studies of Cameron will also be incomplete without reference to his upbringing next to a parish church where both his parents volunteered.

David Cameron’s thesis is that the realisation that God created man in his own image was a ‘game-changer’ for human civilisation. When each individual has a common power above them, and when every individual is of equal and infinite importance, created in the very image of God, it created an irrepressible foundation for human dignity and the basis for Christian values such as responsibility, charity, compassion, tolerance, humility, self-sacrifice, love, and the common good.

As an atheist I think these are all virtues, but I approach them from a different angle. The German philospher Ludwig Feuerbach disagreed with the idea that God created man in his own image, but that man created God in his own image. God is the outward projection of the wise, moral, and sympathetic being that man can only aspire to be.

It is the reverse of the 'Creation of Adam', the centre of Michelangelo’s ceiling at the Sistine Chapel. God and Adam hold their hands out towards each another, one passively the other forcefully, poised on the brink of creation. Feuerbach would see it differently. He might point to the obvious fact that although God and Adam reach towards eachother they don’t actually touch. Adam gazes longingly into the sky at a vision of godliness, a projection of his own good qualities.

Where I diverge with Feuerbach, however, is in Part Two of Feuerbach’s ‘Essence of Christianity’, published in 1842. He suggests that the Chrisitian belief in salvation makes us more tolerant of vice than we would otherwise be. In other words, we don’t have to stand-up to bad people because they’ll get their comupance when they arrive at the pearly gates.

However, this seems to jar with the good intentions of so many faith based groups. David Cameron is correct to point to the tremendous work that faith charities and churches do here in the UK and abroad to uphold human dignity and rights, and to their role in the social fabric.

While as an atheist I cannot accept the creation of man by God, as a human being I can agree with the virtues that spring from Christianity. They are, in the end, human qualities.