Heaven protect us
spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London), on Labour's New Age posturing.
The British are supposed not to like having religious beliefs imposed on their politics. So reports that a new, high-powered Home Office committee has been charged with ‘injecting religious ideas across Whitehall’ have set alarm bells ringing. But on closer inspection, things appear even worse than that. New Labour is falling back on pseudo-religiosity because its Government has no firm beliefs to impose, Christian, secular, conservative or socialist.
A Sunday newspaper report yesterday revealed plans for a Faith Community Liaison Group, to include ministers, officials, leading MPs and representatives of faith groups. The committee chair, Fiona Mactaggart, the minister responsible for ‘civic renewal’, says that it aims to involve ‘the faith communities’ perspectives and needs in policy development across government’.
The newspaper claimed that the committee would reflect Tony Blair’s ‘deeply felt beliefs that the answers to most questions can be found in the Bible’. If true, that would be worrying enough. Yet the Prime Minister’s beliefs often seem rather less certain. He is an Anglican who worships in Roman Catholic churches, and carries the Koran around as well as the Bible. His wife, Cherie, is a devout Catholic who also worships at the church of Carole Caplin, reportedly wearing magic crystals to ward off the evil of mobile phones.
On holiday in Mexico a couple of summers back, the Blairs took part in an ancient Mayan/New Age rebirthing ritual in a pyramid ‘womb’, praying to the four winds, screaming and smearing each other with mud and water melon. It all looks less like an unshakeable set of convictions than a promiscuous pick-‘n-mix of pre and postmodern brands of spirituality.
The new Home Office body is no movement for Christian renewal. Representatives of Christian Churches, including the evangelicals, will sit alongside those from the Jewish, Sikh, Muslim and Hindu faiths. But how can a committee hope to reflect the ‘perspectives and needs’ of such diverse and frequently hostile faiths? Only by ignoring important issues, rather as one keeps the peace at family get togethers by restricting the topics of conversation to pets and babies. This is multicultural religion-lite.
If the Government is retreating behind such vacuous religiosity, it looks less like an act of conviction than a substitute for it. New Labour is grasping for something that might give a semblance of deeper meaning to its flagging project.
The old British Left often combined a muscular Christianity with welfare-state socialism. Both currents have been left behind by history. When Blair overtook Clement Attlee as the longest-serving Labour Prime Minister last week, some nostalgists wished for a return to Attlee’s times. Yet the ideas of 1945 look as tired today as Tony Benn’s impression of a cardigan-wearing country vicar.
The trouble is that new Labour leaders have found little to replace the Left’s old-time religion, beyond the platitudes of the Third Way. This helps to explain why they are now reduced to praying that a hotch-potch committee of faith communities might somehow promote what one supportive MP calls ‘values in public life’. Just what those values might be, however, he does not say. The Prime Minister can only dream about religion acting as the opium of the people today. Karl Marx’s further definition of religion as ‘the soul of soulless conditions’ seems more pertinent. Blair would like to summon up some air of spiritual belief in a bid to inject a little soul into a soulless political class.
While the Prime Minister indulges in high-minded gestures about consulting the gods, down in the real world power is increasingly exercised by business managers, accountants, judges and other unelected bodies. Perhaps those seeking a more secular, democratic alternative should go back to basics. When the term left wing first attached itself to those on the left side of the French National Assembly in 1789, it meant the rejection of organised religion and autocracy. A popular slogan of the day was ‘strangle the last aristocrat with the guts of the last priest’.
That might be a little extreme for current tastes. But how about ‘gag the last law lord with the crystals of the last lifestyle adviser’, for a start?
This article is republished from The Times (London)
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