Monday, 18 November 2013

BHA: Baroness Warsi Gets Her Facts Wrong About Britain, 'Faith' And Politics

We were very disappointed last week by comments made by Baroness Warsi, the Minister for Faith and Communities. She addressed a gathering of students at Churchill College, Cambridge, and stated that the UK's coalition government was one of the most 'pro-faith' in the world. She even said that previous Prime Ministers Sir Winston Churchill and Baroness Thatcher would have backed some of the Coalition's recent moves, including the rapid expansion of 'faith' schools under Michael Gove's Free Schools programme and the Government's promises to back Christian prayers being read at town hall meetings.

In the course of doing this, the Baroness made a number of factually incorrect statements about contemporary Britain and past governments. For example, she seems to think that the previous Labour government 'secularised' the UK – which seems strange, given that it began the modern expansion of 'faith' schools with its 'Faiths Directorate', and that it did nothing to curtail religious privilege or cut back on public money being given to religious groups. In fact, Labour's legacy stands in sharp contrast to that of Baroness Thatcher, who as Secretary for Education oversaw a dramatic decline in state-funded religious schools.

Warsi's claims that Churchill would have felt the same convictions are just as incorrect. He was well known throughout his life to be very sceptical of religion.

Like others in Government, Warsi seems to deliberately overemphasise the significance of religion to British people's lives, when polls such as British Social Attitudes Survey show that 50% of the population is non-religious. She certainly isn't advocating evidence-based policy. Warsi told her audience: "More often than not, people who do God do good.” This doesn't seem to track with the available evidence. For example, the latest British Social Attitudes Survey also shows that religion makes no difference to moral and social behaviour among Britons.

In a democracy, we think government ministers should take more care to be mindful of public opinion. Polls such as one by Ipsos Mori in 2006 have shown that if there's one group the British public thinks has too much influence where public policy is concerned, it's religious leaders. This needs to be reflected, not rejected, by those in power.