Christian Britain™ and the New Right
This morning’s Daily Telegraph carries a letter signed by some 50-odd signatories, calling David Cameron out on his recent proclamations about the importance of Christianity to ‘British life’ and, most notably, that Britain is a Christian Country ™.
The letter isn’t interesting for its signatories as for its content-or lack thereof. It goes down the well-trodden path. “We’re totally ok with you having religious faith, but you have to keep it to yourself, Dave-other people from other faiths have done things here, too, and you diminish them when you place Christians or Christianity-inspired acts above others.” We’ve heard this before.
What we haven’t heard, and what is apparently very difficult to imagine saying, is a more pragmatic take on the last few weeks: Mr. Cameron has started making pronouncements about Christian faith and its place in ‘British life’ in the past few weeks, in ways I can’t remember him doing in any kind of sustained way. Nobody is asking “why now?” They ought to be-with even a little bit of reflection this starts looking like another symptom of the toxicity of Britain’s political discourse.
I won’t neuter this piece by speaking to Mr. Cameron’s personal faith, of which I know nothing. I don’t need to – what’s interesting here is why he’s saying this. Maybe it’s that he’s been moved by the spirit of Lent, but given his lack of a track record in speaking out like this, and his party’s current predicament, it seems more likely he’s thinking of the most important liturgical feast in this year’s political calendar: the European Elections in May.
The rise of UKIP has meant a lot is in play for the Tories that didn’t used to be.
One of them, apparently, is the Christian right: mostly Anglican communities across middle-England whose moral character includes voting according to immigration policies, but not food banks. Once they were Tory voters-their economic security neatly assured by the same models of capitalism so excoriated by Christ. They wouldn’t have voted Lib Dem, that’d be for hippies and people who believe, to varying degrees, in a sort of European identity or social progress. How utterly foolish. Labour’s for the north, and the poor: people who don’t understand the pragmatism necessary for maintaining a certain comfort-one which, though earned, is occasionally tested by market shifts and housing bubbles engendered by the LORD to make sure they’re still going to the Church fete.
Now, though, a crisis. The Tories are for all sorts of things: liberal things. Gay Marriage, even! And we’re not even getting an in-out referendum in this parliament?! It’s too much to bear sometimes-frankly, even at this time of year, it’s worth remembering that Christ only had a literal cross to carry, and not the social expectations of establishment Britain. Who will defend us from this moral vacuum? Well we’ve been hearing interesting things about those UKIP fellows-you know, when you really listen to what they have to say, it’s hardly unrealistic. Frankly, we do have too many immigrants here. And not much to say about social values, I might add! We used to build things here, in our Christian Country ™. Now it’s gone to pot, and why? Because we got slack, that’s why. It starts with fanciful things like gay marriage and ends with looser immigration controls-or none at all, even! UKIP might not have policies on everything, but that suits us just fine-central government doesn’t really need to exist anyway, just close the borders, maintain social decency to the fullest extent of the law, and leave me to dispute bin collections with my council (they’re just awful, really, it’s as if not one of those clowns has any small business experience at all.)
These are, basically, the votes Cameron’s now touting for. The problem here isn’t that he’s making a public display of faith, it’s who it’s aimed at and why now that should have us reaching for rosaries ourselves. This isn’t a political class which exists in Scotland (though there are undoubtedly segments of our electorate which are strongly linked to religion) and yet we’re hearing more and more about it. This probably won’t be the first time Bella readers have realised that Britain and the UK are different countries, but it’s clear here in a way which reminds us, concisely, that voting no might give us the opportunity to find out what a Tory/UKIP coalition does for the people of Scotland.
I don’t know if the signatories of the Telegraph letter appealed to religious figures to join their ranks, but it would be nice to hear more (or just ‘something’, I guess) from the churches calling Cameron out on this cynical vote-winning exercise. He stokes up the sense of entitlement and fear in the heartland and uses it to bring back votes, talking about how much Christians struggle in their faith daily here, and does so, at least currently, without a full-throated rebuttal from religious figures. Why isn’t anyone pointing out that Christians in the UK can function just fine without the pandering input of politicians bent on winning the votes of people any person with a conscience would be ashamed to count as supporters?
David Cameron’s appeal to Christians in England should be a motivator to everyone North of the border who has ever set foot in a church, said a prayer or read Kierkegaard. The votes he appeals to are not yours-they are in the New-Right Anglican mould. People who believe, with equal insincerity, that food banks are just awful and that their religious expression is threatened daily. People who think that the faux-sacrifice of austerity, at disproportionately low cost to themselves, is a fitting penance for the country’s moral and economic recklessness. Professing Christians everywhere should be outspoken in their condemnation of this demagogic shift-it does nobody any favours.