Stewart Jackson and Christopher Davies on Politics and Religion

church_and_state17:17 Tuesday 22nd April 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: Leading public figures have said the Prime Minister’s claim that Britain is a Christian country risks sowing alienation and division in society. It follows an article from the Church Times by Mr. Cameron in which he wrote of his own faith, and his desire to infuse politics with Christian ideals and values.
CHRIS MANN: Let’s welcome first of all Stewart Jackson, the Conservative MP for Peterborough. Hello Stewart.
CHRIS MANN: And also Dr Christopher Davies. Hello Chris.
CHRISTOPHER DAVIES: Hi Chris. I’m here too.
CHRIS MANN: A member of the Cambridge Humanist group. So what’s wrong with the Prime Minister’s comments?
CHRISTOPHER DAVIES: Would you like me to take that first?

CHRIS MANN: Yes please.
CHRISTOPHER DAVIES: OK. I think that David Cameron’s message is a cause for concern. I think it should be challenged on several counts. I think the first count is the previously stated and implied assumption that the UK is a Christian country. Now this is, I believe, misleading, arguably factually incorrect and increasingly obsolete. The majority of the UK population are not religious, and they identify themselves as not religious. You can look at the British Social Attitude survey, which has been produced steadily for thirty years, and it shows a persistent increase in the non-religious fraction of the population, and a comparable decline in Anglicanism, and no significant change in others. The proportion of the non-religious in the UK now has exceeded 50%. The censuses of 2001 and 2011 confirm this trend, and I think by ignoring this, and continuing to record encouragement and Easter messages, not just to Christians, but I think David has also recorded messages to Sikhs on Vaisakhi, and Hindus on Diwali ..
CHRIS MANN: I think we’ve got your point. I need to bring in Stewart Jackson at this point to get a response to that. So no longer are Christians in the majority, so it’s no longer a Christian nation Stewart Jackson. A simple point.
STEWART JACKSON: And completely wrong. Most of our culture, law, governance, our education, is based on Judeo-Christian principles, which goes back to the Bible All the Prime Minister was saying was that he was a Christian, and that in his opinion Christianity is a force for good in the community. And you only have to look somewhere here like in Peterborough, where the Christian community is alive and growing, with things like befriending clubs, food banks, Narnia clubs, charity works. That’s what he was saying. He wasn’t pushing a Christian line. He was actually saying that it’s because of the inherent tolerance and freedom in our country that Christianity flourishes. So the idea that we’re not a Christian country when 59% of respondents in the 2011 census self-declared as being Christian is absolutely nonsense.
CHRIS MANN: Christopher Davies?
CHRISTOPHER DAVIES: I have to say that that’s rubbish. The YouGov carried out a poll for the Government in 2011, which gave the lie to that. It showed initially that 55% of people when asked what is your religion said oh it might be this or that. But when they were asked are you religious they then said er no not very. In fact not at all. And so when you actually do this without a leading question, you find that most people are not religious.
CHRIS MANN: I do recall that Alastair Campbell when he was asked about religion said “We don’t do God.” But of course Tony Blair very much did, didn’t he? Margaret Thatcher did. David Cameron does. It’s a tradition. Is it something that you think politics should stay away from?
CHRISTOPHER DAVIES: Well in the YouGov poll in 2011, when people were asked whether they thought religion should have anything to do with politics, 78% of them said no. keep religion out of politics. When they were asked whether Christianity should have anything to do with politics, even 70% of the highly Christian element there said no.
CHRIS MANN: Ed Miliband originally said, I’m not religious but I am Jewish. I think Nick Clegg has come out as a non-believer of course. What about this idea Stewart Jackson that politicians should just stay away from religion? Stewart?
STEWART JACKSON: Hi. Yes, can I get a word in edgeway here Chris? Because you’ve allowed Dr Davies to say that because he doesn’t like the question he definitely doesn’t like the answer. The question was pretty straight forward.
CHRIS MANN: I just asked you to respond there.
STEWART JACKSON: The census – the people were self-declared as Christians, and the concern I have is this isn’t a question of mixing politics and religion. It’s a question of aggressive secularists, militant atheists like Dr Davies trying to push the Christianity and Christian works out of the public space, to delegitimise Christians, and to say they shouldn’t be part of society. In fairness they also do the same for Muslims Hindus Jews and others. And the fact is all those religions have weighed in to support David Cameron and have said that they don’t have a problem with him describing the UK as a Christian country. Can I just make one point? I rather think they’re looking at the wrong end of the telescope. Where are they complaining about misogyny and religion, about sharia law, about draconian laws in other countries and human rights abuses and freedom of speech, all issues associated with some parts of the world? No, they have to attack the Church of England and Christianity in this country, where we have freedom and tolerance. And I think they’ve absolutely misjudged the public mood.
CHRIS MANN: Stewart Jackson, thank you for joining us. Conservative MP for Peterborough. And also Dr Christopher Davies from the Cambridge Humanist group.