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Newham councillor calls PM’s Christian country claim ‘dog whistle politics’

Newham councillor for Canning Town North Clive Furness Newham councillor for Canning Town North Clive Furness

Monday, May 19, 2014
1:12 PM

A Newham councillor and Christian activist has accused the Prime Minister of “dog whistle politics” in his claim that Britain is a Christian country.

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Prime Minister David CameronPrime Minister David Cameron

Cllr Clive Furness, who represents Canning Town North for Labour, said Britain has a 2,000-year Christian heritage but that our society as it is now was shaped largely by the Enlightenment.

He said: “At one level Mr Cameron is engaging in dog whistle politics. The problem with his assertion is that it is only partial in its truth and it is coded in its desire to assert a religious hegemony.

“Many, I would go so far as to suggest most, of the freedoms we enjoy in Europe and North America owe more to the major cultural and intellectual changes of the 18th century than to the religious beliefs that they displaced.

“One might also, with a fair degree of accuracy, assert that when ‘Christians’ or rather particular ‘Christians’ were in power, freedom was diminished and persecution increased.

“This was true whether the ‘Christians’ concerned were Catholic or Protestant and it was true across the European continent.”

Cllr Furness, who is chair of Christians on the Left in Newham, and secretary of a Baptist church in Plaistow, continued: “The other problem with Mr Cameron’s assertion is that it is less and less true that as a population we are ‘Christians’.

“Between 2001 and 2011, those defining themselves as Christian in the census fell from the low 70s to just over 50 per cent.

“If one looks at those who attend a service of Christian worship once a month or more, the number of people who participate in this act central to their belief might be as low as 15 per cent.”

He added: “If asked I suspect that both Mr Cameron and myself would say that we wished Britain to be more Christian.

“The trouble is that he and I might interpret what that means in entirely different ways.”

Debate has raged since Mr Cameron’s call for Christians to be “evangelical” in their faith and receive more support from the government.

Last week, the Rev Julian Meek, of Stratford Unitarian and Free Church in West Ham Lane, said Britain was technically Christian but that truth and wisdom come in many forms.

What do you think? Email adam.barnett@archant.co.uk.

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