Is faith a very good starting point for progressive politics?by Stephen Timms / October 18, 2013 / Leave a comment
Last month, think-tank Demos published The Faith Collection, a compendium of their recent work on faith and politics, edited by Jonathan Birdwell and myself. It argues that members of faith groups, and faith-based organisations, have a strong contribution to make to progressive politics. The writers of this essay provided an introduction to the report, and are particularly anxious that these arguments should be heeded by the Labour Party. Faithful citizens will be vital in winning an election; their ideas will be invaluable in building a successful political programme; and their energy will be needed to put key parts of that programme into effect.
The Demos report includes research indicating that–contrary to the assumptions of many–religious people in the UK are more likely to place themselves on the left of the political spectrum than on the right. They are more likely to be compassionate to immigrants and to value equality over freedom, positions traditionally associated with the left. The research, from the European Values Survey and the UK Citizenship Survey, suggests they are more likely than their secular counterparts to express their political convictions through voluntary action.
The report looks at the contribution of 20 faith-based and faith-motivated organisations as providers of public services, both voluntarily and through commissioning, working in areas such as welfare to work, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and youth services. The research–albeit limited in scale–suggests that faith-based providers are highly motivated and particularly effective in some areas, with no evidence of aggressive proselytising or of discrimination on grounds of faith. It also proposed that local authorities should encourage collaborations between service providers with different faith backgrounds, and should undertake a “faith service” audit of their local communities to identify further areas for collaboration between groups.
The Demos report argues that faith is a very good starting point for politics, and for progressive politics in particular, because faith inspires, on a large scale, exactly the values that can make politics work: responsibility, solidarity, patience, compassion and truthfulness. We will comment on each of these in turn.
First, responsibility means recognising that a better future won’t emerge from nowhere. It only comes when people take ownership of the task of improving their own lives. A group of Muslim young people discussing this drew attention to the Qu’ranic assertion: “God will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” That is what is so…