Welcome publicity was received this week from the National Secular Society, the result of a survey of the views of minor parties on secularism and religion.
The NSS focused-in on our policy of phasing-out religious involvement in publicly-funded education. Ironic, given King Alfred’s victory for Christianity over paganism? Well, that was the accusation in one tweet that followed. The fact is of course that we’re the party for the Wessex of today and tomorrow, not the Wessex of 878. We’ve described before how our ruralist outlook, coupled with a radical distrust of privilege, cannot reconcile the London parties’ rhetoric about choice in education with the reality in many villages. That is to say, the long shadow cast by Victorian aristocratic patronage of the Anglican cause. In some counties, well over half the primary schools are Anglican-run. Some choice.
Our schools policy sits alongside other policies – such as disestablishment of the Church of England within Wessex – that stem from a belief that in a successfully pluralist society the State must always strive to be impartial. Defenders of the status quo routinely condemn any move to strip away religious privilege in the UK as ‘persecution’. No, it isn’t. Persecution is what Christians are suffering in the Middle East. That persecution – and the corresponding privileging of a brutally intolerant brand of Mahometanism – is more easily countered if our own conscience is clear. Are we truly different from, say, Iran? Not while the UK is the only other country in the world to have clerics sitting in its legislature as of right.
Among the leading London parties, the cross-party consensus is now well established: public services are not to be provided by public bodies. Instead, public money is to be given to private interests, with few if any conditions, to enable them to stoke the fires of sectarianism. Faith schools today, faith hospitals tomorrow? With faith welfare to follow, complete with tests of proper religious observance for the poor and needy?
If Ed Miliband can see no problem in deepening the consensus then his long-distance vision may need correcting. A favourite scenario on the far Right is an England that has descended into civil war as immigrants battle it out with the English. Bradford and Birmingham become Baghdad and Beirut. As scenarios go, it may not attract a high degree of probability. High enough though to ask whether policy-makers know what they’re doing when they hand millions from our taxes to those with a vested interest in the cultivation of mutual suspicion.