Sunday, 18 January 2015

Religious diversity in the House of Commons

Sunday seems to be the appropriate day for  a comment about James Arbuthnot MP's "coming out" as an atheist. Jewish and Catholic MPs have long self-identified and in recent years we have seen a gratifying and overdue influx of Muslim members. Between 1892 and 1922, we saw the first Parsi members, Liberal Dadabhai Naoroji, Conservative Sir Mancherjee Merwanjee Bhownagree and Communist Shapurji_Saklatvala. Given the Tata family's big influence in the UK and especially in Wales, it may not be long before another Parsi commoner joins Lord Bilimoria in parliament.

James Arbuthnot may have been correct when he asserted that: “It may be true that the pressure on a Conservative politician particularly of keeping quiet about not being religious is very similar to the pressure that there has been about keeping quiet about being gay,” before emphasising that he was not gay. However, he may be mistaken about the younger generation of Conservatives. For instance, I remarked that Chloe Smith affirmed rather than take the oath on the bible when she was inducted into the Commons, and that did not prevent her gaining a junior Treasury post in the first year of the coalition government.

What piqued me in the Independent article was Edward Leigh's argument "that prayers taking into account Britain's Christian heritage could help in the fight against extremism, as 'a little religion actually stops outrageous intolerance'. The former aide to Margaret Thatcher claimed Britain's whole foundation was built on Christian values." Margaret Thatcher's religion always struck me as rather Old Testament, like those so-called Christian fundamentalists in middle America. Rather than turning the other cheek, she rejoiced in smiting enemies hip and thigh and I believe she would have been the first to have complained about being swamped by Samaritan immigrants.

No comments: