Faith and Politics. Oil and water?

Angel

They say that fools rush in where angels fear to tread so class me as a fool for at least the rest of this blog!!

I have been deeply troubled for some years by the way that faith is increasingly being weaponised as a political tool. Let me declare from the start that I have no religious faith myself. I believe that when my life ends there is no afterlife, heaven or hell. The light goes out and all that is left of us is the good or bad memories that we leave behind.

That has not stopped me working with and enjoying the company of committed members of all religious faiths. My oldest political friend is David Alton. I probably have only had a major disagreement with him on one issue in the 50 years that I have known him and that is the issue of abortion. One of the ‘living saints’ that I have known was Akbar Ali who was a mainstay of the Moslem faith in Liverpool as well as being the President of the Liberal Democrats here.

My feelings on faith were strengthened when I lived for three years in Turkey; a Country which is 95% composed of Moslems. I could not have been made more welcome in to communities while I was there although I was not of that faith. Something that I find amazing is that hundreds of thousands of Brits go to Turkey every year and many of them still continue to not like Moslems although they also say that Turkish people are so very friendly.

Now we have in two of the three main Parties in the UK a real problem with perceptions of faith which seems to be part of the DNA of certain sections of those Parties. This is not to say that most members of those Parties are racist or themselves have beliefs against particular faiths. I have no doubt that most members of the Labour and Tory Parties abhor faithism and racism just as much as I do. But somehow there is an inbred suspicion of people who are of a specific faith that defies all reason within those Parties.

For many Tories the demon to be exorcised is the Moslem Faith. We could see that best in the way that Zac Goldsmith skirted the laws on discrimination in the way he fuelled suspicion when he stood to be Mayor of London. His main opponent was of course a Moslem. I noted with a concern the blue on blue fire that a Tory Moslem Peer took recently when talking about these issues.

Within the Labour Party the problem is with people of the Jewish faith. This clearly goes right to the top. Jeremy Corbyn clearly does not like things that the state of Israel does particularly over its appropriation of land and treatment of Palestine. In fact, although I would not go as far as him, I agree that the Israeli Government for decades has been doing the wrong things regarding Palestine. But there is a huge difference between criticising a national government and accusing people of wrong doing in the world-wide Jewish diaspora because their religion led them to do or not do certain things.

I am particularly appalled at the way parts of the Labour Party are treating our own Jewish Labour MP, Luciana Berger. I disagree with some of the things that Luciana does and some of the ways that she votes but I don’t doubt that she is a good woman who believes in the same sort of just society that I believe albeit seeing a different route to achieving it.

Let’s transpose ‘Jew’ with ‘Christian’ and look at the folly of such a belief. I loathe Donald Trump above almost any politician in the World at present. Yet I would be stupid to say that Christians are evil because a Christian Leader of a predominantly Christian Country is doing evil things.

My own Party has also had discrimination issues. Anyone who says that there are not issues in any Party are probably part of the problem. Yet our problems are few partly because we deal with such issues quickly when our Members stray from our tolerant beliefs. With one or two exceptions I have no idea what religion, if any, most of the Lib Dem members in the City belong to. We normally only know for logistical reasons like who won’t deliver or door knock on a Friday; Saturday or Sunday!

So, as I look at my own City as a whole I can see how things are changing in all religions. Christian Churches have closed and are closing as more and more people declare themselves to be of no faith. The biggest reason that more have not collapsed is because of the influx of immigrants, permanent and temporary, from places like Poland. In my own ward Dovedale Baptist Church will hold its last service on 16th September.

At present Mosques are growing but largely as a result of the number of immigrants in our City. When I look at longer established families, say 4th generation and older, I see no more adherence to faith than in the rest of the indigenous population. Religion for them is festivals; weddings and funerals.

Liverpool is a famously tolerant city. For more than 200 years people have come to Liverpool and stayed here. Sailors from across the World have married here and brought up families. 40% of our population could trace back to Irish roots only 50 years ago. There are sizable populations from more than 110 Countries living inside our City Region.

By and large we live in harmony with religious leaders making great efforts to work together at times of internal or external crisis. The interfaith groups are very strong here and religious leaders also work closely with political leaders on other discrimination issues such as sexual and gender orientation. All the faith groups with which I am acquainted do great things for causes like poverty. In my ward almost all the youth work is done by the Churches who open their buildings to a range of community uses irrespective of the religious orientation of the users.

I believe that any Leader be they political or religious sets the standards by which others in wider society feel comfortable. Many racists feel more comfortable to be overt about their beliefs because of the way that politicians used race and immigration as a ploy during the referendum on Europe. Every time a politician goes on Twitter or elsewhere and says hurtful things based on race and faith others get emboldened to spew filth. Famously the religious divide in Liverpool was bridged by two very great men. Archbishop Worlock (Catholic) and Bishop Sheppard (C of E) did so much joint that they were known as ‘Fish and Chips’ because they were always together and always in the papers.

Theirs is a lead that all politicians should follow. Careless or abusive talk may win votes in the short term but it destabilises our Society in the medium and long term. The United Kingdom became strong because it embraced immigrant communities from the Jewish diaspora; from Huguenots fighting religious oppression; from Ireland and from all our colonies. In these troubled times we need to find those things that unite us and not divide us. The vast, vast majority or people of every faith are good and tolerant people. If we truly recognise that and embrace all their skills and intellects we can create a Greater Britain than we have ever known.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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