Baroness Warsi: political patsy?

You can’t keep a good zombie argument down, it seems. The grandiosely but confusingly titled Baroness Warsi, ‘Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Minister for Faith and Communities’, continues her fawning endorsement of the role of faith in politics. Utterly pointless and inept, but yet again afforded opportunity to re-bang her drum, retuned for a speech delivered earlier this week at the Churchill Archives ‘Faith in Politics’ Conference at the University of Cambridge. The text of this juvenile dross can be found at her website, where she unashamedly displays a photograph of herself grinning in the company of a disgraced theocrat fascist.

The warning bells ring early on:

‘For the Conservative Party has always put faith at the heart of policy making.’

Note the assumption that this is automatically taken as an unquestioned virtue, rather than as signifier of a lack of progressive imagination. It is actually a very disturbing statement, in its suggestion that faith (should) override(s) evidence as a basis for policy. And is it actually true? Do we recognise so-called ‘Christian virtue’ in “We’re all in this together” policies which disadvantage the poorest and weakest in society?

Warsi, in the way of those who (affect to) consider that faith should override, makes appeal to authorities, as though their faith and/or faith pronouncements somehow count as evidence for her argument. But her doltishness prevents her from seeing that such appeals are only (questionable) evidence for the faith of the individual cited. Or… evidence of that individual’s invocation of faith to serve whatever purpose.

So, is it relevant that:

‘Churchill’s letters, speeches and papers make repeated references to faith.’

that he

‘… was a big supporter of the Established Church.’

that he

‘… urged Britain to “most strenuously resist any measure which [would] aim at severing the connection between church and state”.’

? A former Liberal with a not unsullied record who, as Conservative wartime Prime Minister,  presided over arguably the closest we’ve ever come to working socialism at a time when it was necessary to galvanise the people. The established church which Churchill needed onside was the Church of England. But Warsi doesn’t let denomination complicate matters; rather she spins it towards her prime agendum:

‘These Christian ethics, these universal values… were defined in opposition to evil, namely Nazism. In fact, his wider criticism of totalitarian ideologies was that they were ‘Godless’.

This is all about Warsi’s (personal or designated?) contra-secularism campaign. Her persistent feigned ignorance of what secularism actually is, so as not to complicate her attack of it. Her need to be seen to be doing something worthy; and her cheap PR for the party she represents. And what better figure of appeal than Margaret Thatcher, whom she labels:

‘… our greatest peacetime Prime Minister… whom we so sadly lost this year…’

Well, if it doesn’t do to take swipes at the recently deceased, neither does it do to unfittingly eulogise them. Personally, I never shed a tear. Whether or not the label ‘great’ prompts quizzical frown, ‘greatest’ is highly challengeable. But that’s not the issue here. Rather, it is why Warsi posits as argument that:

‘… she was a minister’s daughter. Someone who believed that faith had a firm place in politics.’

As well as the first woman to become Prime Minister, Thatcher was, interestingly, also the first scientist to do so. Admirable on both counts (though under her stewardship, science funding suffered). But again – invoking another (dead) politician’s faith is not justification for faith in political matters. But Warsi is

‘… concerned with… public policy being secularised. To the extent that Christmas was being downgraded.’

Downgraded?! Have you switched on your TV these past couple of weeks; or walked round any city centre shops? Christmas is increasingly the preserve of the money god, not the Christian one.

Note that this is all about the Conservative Party; that its coalition partner is led by the faithless Nick “I wish I had” (faith) Clegg is apparently inconsequential (which I guess it is). As she tick-lists its faith-promoting achievements, virtually every statement she makes rankles:

‘That, unlike the previous government, we would ‘do God’. We didn’t just get behind faith schools, we created more.’

Why is increasing the segregation of our nation’s children by faith regarded as a positive?

‘More recently, standing firm against the calls to legislate over what women can and cannot wear, when the veil, or niqab, came under fire.’

Forgive me, but your confusion confuses. Are you advocating a woman’s right to independently decide what she does and does not wear? That would seem a secular argument. As would:

‘… a whole-hearted, unwavering intolerance of intolerance… that we protect people from discrimination, bigotry and intolerance.’

And:

‘This government completely rejects discrimination against a person because of their faith… I am proud to say we have done more than any other government to tackle Islamophobia.’

Oh really? Well, would you mind explaining exactly what you mean by the word, and precisely what you deem as, ‘Islamophobic’? Does criticism of Islam qualify? Do you reject the criticising of ideas and of political Islam, or do you endorse the right to free expression? Come on, Baroness, just where do you stand on this? Can you explain without “but”s?

Warsi is unabashed at:

‘Giving religion a voice at the top table. Not a privileged position, but an equal informer of the debate.’

How is being at ‘the top table’ not a privileged position? And what on earth is this cipher of a politician doing sat there? One who offers up absurdities like:

‘What really matters is that we support people in their right to believe.’

What is ‘right to believe’?

How does ‘Putting faith in its rightful place – at the heart of British politics’ marry with increasing inequality in a country with one of the largest income disparities in the world? Is it helping the poor and disenfranchised, and immigrants? Or is it just a PR ploy to keep us all obsequiously in thrall to the status quo? Is Baroness Warsi herself merely a ploy? A distraction? A diversion? It is certainly hard to take seriously someone who spoke as though addressing a junior Sunday School. (Surely Cambridge can do better than this, can’t it?) And is she aware? Or is she just a political patsy?

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