Should anyone care about Ed Miliband’s faith?
Ed Miliband made a speech at the Labour Conference yesterday. I’ve been busy enough recently that I wasn’t paying that much attention to it, but he’s made a bit of a stir by talking about his faith. Or possibly his lack of faith:
I was angry. I knew that wasn’t the way the world was meant to be. I knew I had a duty to do something about it. It is this upbringing that has made me who I am. A person of faith, not a religious faith but a faith nonetheless. A faith, I believe, many religious people would recognise. So here is my faith. I believe we have a duty to leave the world a better place than we found it. I believe we cannot shrug our shoulders at injustice, and just say that’s the way the world is. And I believe that we can overcome any odds if we come together as people.
That concludes a passage about his upbringing and influences. It’s all very interesting, but probably not entirely for the reasons he intended.
I don’t dispute that Miliband’s views would be recognised and supported by many religious people, as he says. But why the need to talk about his political views as a faith? The term carries the unfortunate implication that there’s no actual evidence for his policies, and it looks very much like a crass attempt to win a few religious votes.
Miliband isn’t the first politician to bolster his support with shows of fake piety (David Cameron’s “committed” yet nominal faith is a typically Tory cultural dogwhistle to the sort of people who talk about this being a Christian country while rarely having anything to do with the church), but we know Miliband’s an atheist. Why should he need to spin his beliefs to satisfy a few religious people?
The objection will naturally be that politicians spin things all the time, to maximise their appeal. I don’t deny that, but that relates to policy. He’s clearly been advised to emphasise this “faith” angle to attract votes, but since when has the metaphysical musing of the occupant of 10 Downing Street had any effect on how the country’s governed?
Ironically, the only time I can think of that the Prime Minister’s beliefs may have had an effect is under a Christian who didn’t generally speak about his faith, but supported all sorts of faith initiatives and appealed to God as both justification of his policies and ultimate judge when he was criticised. But strangely, it’s still generally seen as a positive for party leaders to have some sort of religious belief.
Politicians are not religious leaders, and nor should they be. Whether they have beliefs or not is a matter for them. But they’re never free to choose – there’s always another key demographic to woo, by speaking in religious terms or emphasising their great respect for some religion or other, even though they don’t follow it themselves. And this empty prattling wins votes!
I’d be delighted if political discourse was limited to policy, with private views on religion no more relevant than which end they open a boiled egg, but it looks like we’re stuck with it until we can find a new electorate.