Doing God: Why is Cameron calling himself 'evangelical'?

Easter has done something odd to the prime minister.

Last week he said his moments "of greatest peace" came when he attended eucharist in a Kensington church. He pointedly made reference to "our saviour" throughout.

Now he has published an article in the Church Times in which he calls on Britain to be unashamedly "evangelical" about its faith and described it as a "Christian country".

It comes a week after local secretary Eric Pickles called on secularists to stop preaching "politically correct intolerance" and "get over" the fact Britain is a Christian country.

Both men are plainly right that Britain still has no separation of church and state and retains Christian institutions.

But in the broader sense, their insistence that Britain remains a Christian country is difficult to stand up. Churches used to point to the 72% of people who described themselves as Christian in the 2001 census. That became more difficult when the 2011 census showed just 59% of England and Wales identified themselves as Christian.

That figure is almost certainly an over-estimate. We know that people who tick Christian on the census have a very broad assessment of the word, which involves history and cultural identity. The census is also problematic because one member of the family typically fills it in for everyone. Surveys, on the other hand, are usually filled out individually, giving a more nuanced view.

When the question is more strictly worded, the numbers reduce substantially.

The 2009 British Social Attitudes survey asked: "Do you regard yourself as belonging to any particular religion?". 50.67% of respondents selected 'no religion'. A YouGov survey from 2012 found 76% were 'not very religious' or 'not religious at all'.

So who is Cameron appealing to?

Not so long ago the prime minister took a witty approach to his faith which seemed to chime much more naturally with British religious sentiments than his current rhetoric. He once described his faith as "like Magic FM in the Chilterns" - fading in and out.

Now he has markedly shifted in tone, adopting an 'us' and 'our' manner of speech and using words like 'saviour' and evangelical', which sound more at home across the Atlantic than among the more relaxed standards of British religious discourse.

Everything the prime minister does between now and polling day 2015 is about winning the general election, in an unusually tight race. That is the prism to look at his newfound religious approach.

For this, he must drag back as many naturally-Conservative voters as possible, shoring up his support against Ukip and bolstering the party for the fight ahead.

Cameron is attempting to appeal to those most outraged by same sex marriage – the most conservative element of the Church of England who could be tempted by Nigel Farage's more reactionary political offer.

At the same time Cameron tries to appeal to the more progressive elements of the church, which he has alienated with austerity and welfare reform. He dedicates extensive passages of his Church Times article to defending his decisions in language church-goers will understand.

Finally, he reiterates the broader argument – accepted by most religious people – that faith is being swept out of the public sphere by a new 'militant atheism' which insists on firm secular standards.

The appeal suggests Cameron has a religious problem, or at least that he believes he does.

He is blamed by the religious right for gay marriage, by the religious left for welfare reform and by most people of faith for the sneaking suspicion he has failed to stem the tide of secularism in British society.

The Church Times article suggests he intends to rectify that problem, but he will need to tread carefully: what appeals to one side of the church may not appeal to the other.

There is another, more substantial danger. The British public will be wary of religious rhetoric from a prime minister – especially if it seems it is being used for political advantage.

Liam Fox accuses Snowden of 'treason' - but ignores his own past

Former defence secretary Liam Fox has been more prominent as a backbencher than he was as a minister. The Tory backbencher has constructed an identity as Washington's neo-con outpost in Westminster since standing down ignominiously in 2011. And yesterday he went to Washington to sing from the neo-con hymn sheet once more.

Freed from the stifling constrictions of British political discourse, he went native and turned into a Fox News host, angrily denouncing Edward Snowden and Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger.

"Snowden thinks of himself as a cyber-age guerrilla warrior but in reality, he is a self-publicising narcissist," he said.

"He did not find or expose anything illegal. Let us not imbue his cowardice with higher motives. Let us not confuse his egotism with public service. Let's not call his treachery by lesser terms. For once, let's say what we mean. Let us call treason by its name."

Moving on to the Guardian, Fox added: "Their toxic mixture of ignorance and arrogance is compounded by basic incompetence in the way in which information has been handled."

Rusbridger has shown "no sense of understanding, never mind remorse, about what damage might have been done to the security of the country," he said.

"This attitude is testament not only to the egotism and self importance of the man but the feeling of impunity that both he and Greenwald seemed, and still seem, to exhibit."

So while we are on the topic of treason and basic incompetence, topics which Fox himself has raised, it may be worth casting our mind back to the heady days of 2011, when he was forced to stand down from his job over his relationship with a man called Adam Werritty.

Werritty and Fox were best friends forever. He attended meetings and fundraising dinners with Fox. His business cards described him as an "advisor to the Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP". He met with a string of world leaders, including the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa. He was hosted at the Ministry of Defence headquarters in Whitehall 22 times. They even went to Larry Flint's Hustler Club topless bar in New York together. And Fox took Werrity, who had not been vetted and had no official role, into meetings with senior figures in the defence world, including one with an American general.

Where did Werrity get all the money to tag along on these various trips and functions?

The answer to that question was left to Gus O'Donnell, then-Cabinet secretary. His report into the affair found funding came from Pargav, a company which paid over £140,000 towards Werritty's first class airline tickets and five star hotel rooms.

And who funded Pargav? According to media reports, the money came from high profile Tory-donating businessmen, an international investigation company, a corporate intelligence company with a close interest in Sri Lanka, supporters of close UK-US relations and prominent pro-Israel advocates.

Whatever it was they thought they were doing when they funded the friendship between Fox and Werritty, they were willing to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on it.

Fox could have avoided all of this by simply making Werritty a special adviser, funded by the government and security cleared. But he did not.

So was it "treason" or "basic incompetence"? If one wished to be unkind, one could make the case for the former. One could certainly make the case for the latter, regardless of generosity.

Of all Liam Fox's many faults, throwing stones in glass houses may be the most pertinent of all.

The MoJ inadvertently disproves Grayling prison book ban defence

Chris Grayling has a fistful of excuses for the prisoner book ban.

The most consistent of these is that it would be impossible for prisons to allow a free flow of parcels to inmates.

In a letter to the Poet Laureate, the justice secretary wrote:

"There have always been pretty tight rules about the receipt of parcels in prisons, under both this government and the last one.

"There is good reason for this. Our prison staff fight a constant battle to prevent illicit items, such as drugs, extremist materials, mobile phones, Sim cards and pornography getting into our prisons.

"I'm afraid that it is inconceivable that we could impose the additional operational burden on our staff of carrying out detailed assessments of an unlimited number of parcels coming into prisons.

"This is something that has never happened before and could not happen now."

In private conversation, otherwise critical MPs say they sympathise with the logistical security nightmare of parcels being sent into prisons. It's this issue which has prevented several of them taking a tougher stance against Grayling.

Unfortunately, it's nonsense - as the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has inadvertently admitted.

Last week, shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan asked justice minister Jeremy Wright what types of contraband were found in items of post being received by prisoners in the last four years.

This was Wright's reply:

"The number of individual items of post sent to prisoners is not recorded by prison establishments. Finds of contraband are recorded on a central incident reporting system as either a drug-related incident or a miscellaneous incident. In order to establish the number and type of contraband found in post received by prisoners, in each of the last four years, would require the interrogation of over 62,000 individual electronic incident files. This could be achieved only at disproportionate cost."

This is the standard government response to something it does not want to talk about: It simply does not record it. Then it cannot be forced to reveal it.

But the fact the MoJ took zero interest in how much contraband was being smuggled into prisons using parcels suggests this may not have been as big a problem as Grayling was making out.

If the MoJ elected not to track it, one can only conclude it wasn't much of an issue.

That corresponds to what we've heard from prison staff, who were surprised to learn that they had struggled so much with parcels.

Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, said:

"For decades prison officers have dealt with parcels. They searched them.

"The reality is it was never really a problem. Now and then people tried to smuggle drugs in that way. But as professional prison officers we found these items.

"The majority of these books and magazines that came in didn't have any drugs in them at all.

"People have been having their books sent in for 20, 30 years and now all of a sudden it's become a big issue for the secretary of state."

Not content with this level of misdirection, Grayling's people sent sympathetic newspapers photos of contraband being smuggled into prisons through parcels. The most prominent of the photos, which led their relevant pieces in the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, was of some hash buried in a hollowed out Weetabix.

Grayling said:

"The routes used to try to do so are wide-ranging and ingenious. We see drugs and weapons sewn into the lining of shoes, concealed in clothes, and hidden in essential household items.

"We have even seen drugs concealed inside a hollowed out Weetabix."

What was not mentioned by the MoJ or the newspapers is that it was already illegal to send prisons food, or bring in food during a visit - and had been since 1998.

It's unutterable, made-up, desperate nonsense.

Before November it was up to individual prison governors to decide on their parcel policy. Grayling overruled that and imposed a blanket ban. He has been unable to show any demand for the action, which runs against the Tories' reported commitment to devolving power away from the centre.

Grayling might be able to defend his ban on the basis of "right-wing solutions" to reoffending. He has done a pitiful job so far, but good luck to him. But let's not pretend it has anything to do with prison security.

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