WE’RE ‘all in this together’, according to David Cameron, although judging by his latest speech, only if you’re a Christian. Speaking to the Church Times before Easter weekend, Cameron made passing mention to other faiths and indeed to those with no faith at all, but emphasised the Church of England above all else.
Does God have a place in politics? In many respects He is there by default: the Queen is, after all, Defender of the Faith – duty-bound to maintain the Church. Archbishops and bishops are appointed by the Queen with advice from the Prime Minister, and in that sense Cameron’s role is intrinsically Christian. But times are changing. Prince Charles, a committed Anglican, has made it clear that when he becomes King he intends to take the title Defender of Faith: a subtle but significant difference. He has been patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies for 20 years, and has made no secret of his interest in other religions beside Christianity.
Where David Cameron went wrong was not in proclaiming his own faith – although I would argue his beliefs have no bearing on his ability to lead Parliament – but in describing Britain as ‘a Christian country’. In doing so he takes a step further towards the right, and places another row of bricks on the wall that divides ‘them’ and ‘us’. In the last census around 60% of Britons described themselves as Christian – down from 70% a decade previously. It is safe to assume that figure has fallen still further. With 25% of the population describing themselves as ‘without faith’, it is inaccurate and divisive to apply a religious label to an entire nation.
Racism and religious hatred is a very real and terrifying problem in Britain today. UKIP drip-feeds bigotry via the gutter press, scaremongering those who should know better that their jobs, their homes, their families are at risk from anything ‘foreign’. At the very point at which he should be standing fast to promote equality and diversity, Cameron does the opposite. ‘Britain is a Christian country,’ he proclaims: the implication being that if you are not a Christian, you are an outsider. You don’t belong.
Last month David Cameron cemented his white middle-class credentials, when he told a rapt group of John Lewis employees that he was a Waitrose customer through and through. “If I shop in Waitrose,” he said, “it takes me about twice as long, because everyone wants to stop…and chat.” One assumes that, in this quintessentially British store, Mr Cameron has found some kindred spirits. The rest of the population – the majority, lest we forget – hit by austerity and scrabbling around for bargains at budget supermarkets, are apparently far less talkative. “I can dart round very quickly [in other supermarkets],” Cameron says. He concludes from this pop sociology that such customers are less engaged. I suspect these people, representing society at large, are not less talkative at all. They just don’t want to talk to him.
Clare Mackintosh is a freelance feature-writer, columnist and crime novelist, and a former Police Inspector. Follow her on Twitter @claremackint0sh or read her blog at www.claremackintosh.com/blog