It is ironic that, in the constitutional republic that is the USA, with its constitutionally enshrined separation of church and state, any pretenders to high public office tend to not get very far if they profess having no faith. To the extent that merely avoiding mention of the issue is politically rocky territory. By contrast, in the established church UK, such unavowableness would not, we might presume, necessarily nobble a candidate’s electability. Nevertheless, why alienate a significant proportion of the electorate whose vote you court? Play diplomatically safe: don’t effuse too much on your beliefs, so as not to offend those of other faiths or excite the scepticism of those with none; patronise religion when necessary, because it can come in very handy in difficult times, when it is called upon to fill the breach created by decimation of public services. “We’re all in this together,” don’t you know?
‘Former’ Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was seemingly honest during campaigning for the last general election when he declared he doesn’t have religious faith; but then, attempting universal ingratiation, proclaimed “I wish I had.” A quite bizarre contradiction, don’t you think, in its implicit confession that his personhood is somehow wanting of some vital quality only faith can provide? Anyway, that’s centre ground diplomacy for you. Interesting how, since assuming un-mandated power, the Tories are playing up to religion more and more, what with Warsi and Pickles and Gove promulgating the faith word all over the bloody place, with the Lib Dems apparently unconcerned by it.
In the UK, then, it would seem that political advancement is decreasingly dependent on religious affirmation. The 2011 Census revealed four million less professing Christians, with those of no religion up to a quarter of the population. Such a trend would seemingly constitute further argument for disestablishment of the Church of England, and ratification of a proper secular constitution. Except, that is, for a key complicating detail: the monarchy.
Our supposedly apolitical royal family is actually, err, not. The monarch is the Defender of the (Protestant) Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England, appointing (on Prime Ministerial ‘advice’) its bishops, 26 of whom, in the only governing body in the western world to have unelected ex officio ‘Lords Spiritual’, effect the continuation of compulsory collective worship in state-funded schools in the only western democracy to do so. The Church, by virtue of its Crown connection, maintains a highly privileged position, enabling it to set its own ‘laws’, in discriminatory contravention of those of the land. The position of ‘Head of State’ is itself a discriminatory title, preventing (despite the yet-to-be-legislated ending of male primogeniture and of the ban on the monarch marrying a catholic) anyone other than a member of the Church of England – and from outside just one family at that – assuming it. And the current next in line, in his desire to ‘contribute’, further subverts our democracy, and, by virtue of his enabled circumvention of the Freedom of Information Act, we are not allowed to understand how and why?
Our elected representatives are rightly not permitted this lack of accountability. Yet, we continue to collectively endorse the upholding of an über-privileged clique, despite the insult to our citizenship that this constitutes. Why? As with faith, tradition is not a justifying argument, and deference to neither should hold as a necessary indicator of patriotism. Dissension of an institution that is most certainly not ‘in this together’ is surely the patriotic position. But we’re so bored by our own existence we go all gaga at lives disconnected, yet tangible to worship. Though unsurprised, I was nevertheless craw-stuck by how Cameron, Clegg and Miliband affected to speak on behalf of the “whole country” in their delight at the “wonderful news” of the gestation of the heir to the heir to the heir to the throne. We might hope that the latter will finally convince the unconvinced of the absurdity of this anachronistic charade. Meanwhile, despite a small cadre of MPs who (openly) support the Republic campaign, it has provided a wonderful pre-Christmas distraction from the rot, and opportunity for a wasting of Prime Minister’s Questions by others who continue to toe the toadying line.