The parable of the PM and the jellyfish

Maybe that sting in the warm waters off Lanzarote was God’s way of telling Cameron that religion and politics don’t mix

Share

As far as I can remember, jellyfish did not figure among the plagues visited on Egypt in the Old Testament. So perhaps God was improvising when he sent a member of this tentacled marine species to give David Cameron a message in the balmy waters off Lanzarote. Local people warned the Prime Minister that there were jellyfish just off the beach but, according to witnesses, he ignored their advice. What happened next was predictable: Cameron suddenly emerged from the sea, shouting in agony and rubbing his arm after being stung.

Has he got the message? There are plenty of reasons why God, if he were to exist, should be more than a little annoyed by the Prime Minister’s recent behaviour. Promoting religion is a risky business in British politics, so much so that Tony Blair wisely kept his views to himself while he was in office. The UK is a Christian country in name only, despite bullish pronouncements to the contrary by the Prime Minister and his pantomimic Secretary of State for Communities, Eric Pickles. (Let’s not even mention the “Minister for Faith”, the ineffable Baroness Warsi.) They seem to think that saying something often enough makes it true, yet more people belong to the RSPB than attend a church service each Sunday. By that logic, we’re more a bird-watching nation than a God-fearing one, a development for which I am profoundly grateful.

Census responses on religious belief tend to be skewed by asking people what their religion is, rather than whether they have one at all. The British Social Attitudes Survey, which tackles the question in a less loaded manner, suggests that the proportion of people who describe themselves as non-religious has risen from just under a third three decades ago to half in 2009; in the 18 to 24 age group, only 36 per cent claim to have a religious affiliation. And there’s more data to unsettle the Prime Minister, if he were not so caught up in his fantasy of presiding over a settled, God-fearing nation: according to an ICM poll in 2006, only 17 per cent of respondents believed that the UK could best be described as a Christian country. Four-fifths regarded religion as a cause of division and tension.

I doubt whether many of these people will have welcomed the Prime Minister’s recent article in the Church Times. Even though he was addressing a rapidly diminishing audience, he declared that “we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country”.

Who is this “we”? Not the UK’s Muslim, Sikh, Jewish and Hindu populations, and certainly not atheists, agnostics, humanists or anyone who believes that the state should be secular. While members of non-Christian religions get invitations to Downing Street to mark religious festivals, millions of people who do not have any religious belief are frozen out of Whitehall by a man who couldn’t even muster an overall majority at the last election.

Because he’s been Prime Minister for almost four years, it’s easy to forget how precarious Cameron’s position is; this is the Tory leader who couldn’t achieve a clear victory over Gordon Brown, Labour’s weakest leader for decades. Yet he talks smugly about “Christian” values, never acknowledging the immorality of imposing them on a population which is expressing an ever-greater preference for secular ethics. A little religious cabal around the Prime Minister keeps trying to demonise secularism, wrongly characterising it as an enemy of religion, yet it is the only practical way we can live together in a society that displays such diverse beliefs.

At an Easter reception earlier this month for Christians – mostly white men in suits, with the odd woman and a handful of people from ethnic minorities – the Prime Minister even made the remarkable claim that “Jesus invented the Big Society 2,000 years ago”. I’m not making this up: you can read his speech on the Downing Street website in which he described himself as “a sort of giant Dyno-Rod”, clearing blockages in Whitehall on behalf of Christian organisations.

In a lifetime of observing British politics, I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite such desperate tactics; with the polls stubbornly showing Labour in the lead and Ukip snapping at his heels, a British prime minister has been reduced to selling himself as an evangelical drain cleaner. Vote Camo-Rod and flush those nasty non-believers out of the system! (Generous discounts for regular churchgoers.)

Pitching for the religious vote carries huge risks for the Conservatives, suggesting they’re more out of touch than anyone could have imagined or have substantially overestimated the size of their core support. At the next general election, the Prime Minister will find himself scrapping with Ukip for a dwindling Christian vote, while Labour rallies behind a secular modern leader. No wonder God sent that jellyfish. He must be tearing his hair out as he watches the contortions of a Desperate Christian in Downing Street.

Twitter: @polblonde

politicalblonde.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf heads the inquiry  

Why should Fiona Woolf be expected to remember every dinner date?

Mark Steel
Several police officers walk near downtown Ottawa  

Nigel Farage on the Ottawa shooting: It could just as easily happen on the streets of London

Nigel Farage
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?