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Eric Pickles ‘does God’, but does the government really agree?

15 January 2013

1:56 PM

15 January 2013

1:56 PM

Personally, I don’t wear a cross, on the basis that I’m not much of an advertisement for Christianity and I’d risk diminishing the brand. But for Eric Pickles, Communities Secretary, and Nadia Eweida, the former British Airways employee who has just won her appeal about cross-wearing at work at the European Court of Human Rights, it’s a basic freedom.

It’s hard to gainsay the judges’ view that manifesting your faith is a ‘fundamental right’. Any organisation that doesn’t have a problem about Muslim women wearing scarves and Sikh men wearing turbans but which gets uppity about a small cross, really does have a problem with consistency. As Pickles says, the symbol should be ‘discreet’, and as he didn’t say but the judges did, it shouldn’t pose a health and safety issue, which is presumably why they threw out a Christian nurse’s bid similarly to wear a cross at work, but otherwise it’s a no-brainer.

But what a useful man Pickles is. At the same time as the government lawyers were fighting at taxpayers’ expense to oppose Eweida’s appeal, he was preparing to sound off to British Future and Policy Exchange about how the Government does ‘do God’. Traditional freedoms, he maintains, are under threat from the ‘intolerance of aggressive secularism’. Fine, except that some of that intolerance is either sanctioned by government or promoted by it. I’ll get onto that later.


But he’s a sort of lightning conductor, is Pickles. If you’re a Tory voter who feels that the relationship between Westminster and Brussels is lopsided, why, the Communities Secretary feels just the same. If you’re worried about the impact of EU expansion on immigration and housing, well, Pickles is there too. From dustbin collections to saying prayers in council meetings, Pickles can be relied on to express the concern of normal voters, even while the government he’s part of goes on just as it did before.

My own rapture about the ECHR ruling about cross wearing is modified by the fact that the other cases before it were thrown out. One of them was Gary McFarlane, a Relate councillor who has a problem about providing gay people with relationship counselling, and Lillian Ladele, a registrar who didn’t want to conduct civil partnership ceremonies and who would, presumably, have even bigger problems presiding over gay marriages. They argued that their stance made them conscientious objectors. Ladele’s lawyers argued that employers should be required to make ‘reasonable accommodation’ for minority beliefs.

And that seems just to me. No one has ever suggested that in an organisation the size of Relate or in any register office there aren’t several employees, most of whom wouldn’t have a problem taking the clients that conscientious objectors turn down. In the NHS, obstetrics departments might not go out of their way to employ people with moral objections to abortion, but those who in conscience refuse to carry out terminations are covered by colleagues with no scruples on the matter. Where’s the difference?

Granted, an organisation cannot function if employees cherrypick endlessly about whom they are, or are not, prepared to provide a service for; the bar for moral objection must be set high. But if an individual does feel that homosexual civil partnerships are not in the interests of society, or may in themselves be morally problematic, that isn’t an offbeat individual view; it’s one that was widely held until about 15 minutes ago and is still held by mainstream faiths.

The  UK equality law explicitly forbids denying goods or services to people on grounds of sexuality, and that’s because it was enacted by a Labour government with the support of prominent Tories, chief among them, David Cameron and George Osborne. One of the consequences of that well-intentioned law was that reputable Catholic adoption agencies were simply put out of business for discriminating in favour of married couples as adoptive parents.

It would have been possible for the Tories to have pressed for an amendment to ensure the act didn’t treat adoption in the same way as the provision of insurance and which exempted religious bodies from its provisions in some areas, but they chose not to. With that record, it’s hard, wouldn’t you say, to take Pickles entirely seriously when he declares that Tories are, in general, on the side of faith?

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Show comments
  • David Lindsay

    Had British Airways been planning on changing its tail fin, which at present features a detail from a flag made up of no fewer than three Crosses?

    There was none of this when it was owned by the Union of which that is the Flag.

  • andagain

    From dustbin collections to saying prayers in council meetings, Pickles can be relied on to express the concern of normal voters

    Normal voters or normal Tories? The two are not the same. If they were, the great majority of the electorate would vote conservative – something that has never happened in the history of the party.

    • Colonel Mustard

      They do in England – apart from in the cities stuffed full of immigrants and bolshy Celts.

      • David Lindsay

        Not for much longer.

        On 30th December, The Observer ran a letter denouncing the Government from the civic leaders of Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield while on the same day the Sunday Telegraph ran a letter denouncing the Government by the civic leaders of 120 rural areas, organised out of Rutland.

        Liverpool, Newcastle and Sheffield were all run by the Conservatives during the post-War period, and by the Lib Dems into recent years. Labour did what was necessary there. Why not now in the areas of the 120 or more rural councils that are also up in arms?

        UKIP is the home from home of people who think that pure commissioners are exactly what councils ought to be, who do not believe in buses or in public libraries at all, and so on. Hope must come from elsewhere than that quarter.

        There is no reason for any Lib Dem or (following the defeat of independence in the 2014 referendum) Scottish Nationalist, or for more than about 80 Conservatives, to be returned to the next Parliament. No reason at all.

        Where Labour is in third place or below, and perhaps also where it is in a sufficiently distant second place, then it should dispense with any requirement that its prospective nominees be party members, although they would of course have to join if they were selected. Provided that they had been registered voters within the constituency’s then boundaries for at least 15 years, and provided that they were recommended to the Constituency Labour Party by the public signatures of at least five per cent of the voters.

        If affordable, the Constituency Labour Party General Committee’s shortlist of two such applicants should be submitted to an independent, binding ballot of the entire constituency electorate. Labour should also undertake to meet maximum election expenditure in every constituency. The unions are loaded. Immense possibilities, if one knows where and how to look.

        Those who are about to be cut out of the system deserve strong local parliamentary candidates, either directly from Labour, or where necessary with trade union funding and no Labour opponents, the better to secure election and the better to hold the Miliband Government to account on behalf of all parts of this One Nation. One Nation united in opposition to this neo-Blairite Coalition.

        Just so long as, since the rural revolt is being run from Rutland, the candidate who removes Alan Duncan is as committed as he is to the Good Old Cause, as well as doubtless possessing views on sexual morality and on drugs more in keeping with those of his or her constituents. But those would be whole other posts.

        • Noa

          Quasi-democratically nominated Labour candidates, selected on merit? Their funding might be channeled through the Unions, but those funds have, as we know, been accumulated at taxpayer expense. Unlike their serious UKIP rivals, who would, I feel, be the main beneficiaries.

          But it’s good pie in the sky.

          You know though that, reflex centrist that he is, the Union controlled puppet Miliband would never countenance such a …democratic…idea. It would be like having an EU referendum.

          • David Lindsay

            There are, by definition, no “serious UKIP rivals”.

            Even leaving aside the fact that UKIP’s only objection to the cuts is that they do not go far enough, which is the recipe for receiving no votes at all in rural areas or from the upper middle classes who have already lost their Child Benefit and are looking at losing their Winter Fuel Allowances as well, UKIP is never going to win a seat, and it is well on course not to exist by 2015.

            The always inevitable bust-up between the Old Right and the New Right has already begun in earnest, and there are still two and half years left to go. UKIP is now statistically tied with the Conservatives even for the European Elections that it was supposed to win next year, with Labour out of sight ahead of the pair of them. Yes, for the European Elections. And all of that is without even mentioning UKIP’s, er, difficulties with money…

            There is no seat that a Labour candidate, or a friendly critic and critical friend whom Labour had given a free run and plenty of union cash (of which there are pots and pots if you know where to look for them, even in things like the NUM with hardly any remaining members, never mind in the big ones), could not reasonably aspire to win in 2015.

            Whereas there is no seat that UKIP could reasonably aspire to win. Not a single, solitary one. Where, exactly, is UKIP is any danger of being the First Past The Post? Where?

            • Noa

              If one was to momentarily accept your line of argument, that the Tory Right and UKIP are ripping each other apart. (Which I don’t.)

              Why would Labour want to change its policy by substituting live donkeys for dead ones?

              • David Lindsay

                You’ve lost me now.

                • Noa

                  Now clarified.

    • Fergus Pickering

      The great majority has never voted for any party, has it? Conservatives have been returned to power in most elections since the Great War.

      • andagain

        The great majority has never voted for any party, has it?

        No. The average supporter of any party is going to be rather different from the average voter. Appealing to the party is therefore a very different thing from appealing to the electorate.

        Surprisingly few supporters of any party seem to be able to remember that.

  • CraigStrachan

    The time of discrimination against gay people has passed. Individuals are of course free to continue to harbor their personal prejudice, but such prejudice may not be made manifest in provision of goods or services. Simple, really.

    • Colonel Mustard

      What about discrimination against Ukippers and little englanders? Has that passed?

    • Noa

      So, to be clear what you mean, being open minded and not of a discriminatory nature, you do not object to the people serving you wearing variously, a cross, crucifix, lambda or burqua?

      • CraigStrachan

        Don’t really care what they wear, as long as the service is good.

  • 2trueblue

    Pickles has spoken and in the current climate I think that is a good thing. By his attitude in his conversation with A Neil he stuck to his ground on the issue of expected future immigration figures and says he will speak when he has the facts. A change from the vacuous ramblings we continually get from a vast number of our politicians. We live in a pretty intolerant country where the majority are silenced by our politicians to pander to the minorities. Liebore have a lot to answer for, and Cameron needs to engage his brain and have a reality check. He will be a one term PM the way he is going. Never underestimate the intelligence of the man in the street.

  • El_Sid

    I’d apply the penis test to religion.

    It’s quite OK to have one, but there are many places where it shouldn’t be shown in public, and it’s never acceptable to ram it down someone’s throat except in private, between consenting adults.

    • Noa

      Is there any restriction on which of the three sexes the privacy rule applies to?

  • wrinkledweasel

    “I don’t wear a cross, on the basis that I’m not much of an advertisement for Christianity and I’d risk diminishing the brand” I know what you mean.

    However, this is all getting a bit silly. On one hand there is nowadays a constant battle to assert oneself in the hierarchy of political correctness, so much so that erstwhile pariahs like homosexuals are now applauded – and for what, advertising their own sexual preferences?

    Jews were once prevented from working in the professions. At first, they could work as doctors, nurses, lawyers etc, but only for other Jews. Later on they were transported to special factories and gassed.

    There is a real and present danger that the masses will accept that a minority, such as Christians, can be exempted from the protections championed by the lefty liberal elite.

    They will not do it because they are particularly bothered, they will acquiesce because they do not particularly care.

    Then, when they start disappearing altogether, not enough people will ask, “Where are they?”

    It has happened before and it can happen again. I think it is time to ask if we should be sleepwalking into persecution or to take a decisive and visible stand.

    And of course, it is not just Christians. UKIP, now the third largest party, is treated similarly. How much more will we take before it is too late?

    • David Lindsay

      Opinion polls are not votes. And UKIP is sliding back again even in the opinion polls, with its Leader begging publicly for a pact with Labour and with its support even for the European Elections statistically tied with that for Cameron’s lot.

      During this Parliament, a party which has never won a Commons seat, and which neither controls nor is it the Official Opposition on any local authority, has had its Leader on Question Time more times than anyone else apart from Vince Cable, who, whatever else he may be, is a Cabinet Minister. Farage has been on more often than all trade union leaders, with six million members, put together!

      And that is just Question Time. See also Newsnight, Any Questions, The Daily Politics, and so on. A lower-middle-class provincial insurgency, such as UKIP affects to be, would never be treated like that. It is, because it is public school and Home Counties to the core. We all know what that means.

      • wrinkledweasel

        What a load of total carp and rowlocks. It’s not even worth a fisking.

  • Surlautobus

    “But what a useful man Pickles is. …..
    But he’s a sort of lightning conductor, is Pickles.”

    What a lovely idea. Mr Pickles as the Tory equivalent of Labour’s Mr Prescott.

    • Noa

      Theres really no comparison with the fatuous Prescott. His major contribution was to demolish tens of thousand of serviceable houses and compel us to buy unreliable condensing boilers.

      Pickles maintains and practices, indeed epitomises common sense, with ideas like weekly rubbish collections. Unfortunately that’s a rare community in Labour dominated local government.

      • Surlautobus

        Sorry, all I meant is that Pickles is totemic to the Tory Heartland, as was Prescott to the po faced Labour tribes of the north.
        As is so often the case ability or lack thereof lie in the usual places.

  • Tom Tom

    It is hard nowadays to think Crosses as adornment signify Christians unless worn by clergy. Such is the state of things that jewelry may not in fact be a Christian symbol – but I think it is now a litmus test where once it was not. A sorry state of affairs. Personally I would rather that Christians rejected The State completely. It is a Hegelian Construct and is antithetical to Individual Conscience and inevitable leads to Enslavement as John Locke was well aware. The State is a threat to Liberty which used to be a core belief in England.

  • Colonel Mustard

    Let’s face it the Equality Act (© Harriet Harmon) was only ever intended to apply to left-wing ethnophile favoured identity and “victim” groups not to the majority white, English, Christian, heterosexual population. So more equalising than equality and equalising in a very special, New Labour way. Majorities don’t need protection against discrimination but minorities do, especially if the legislation can be used as an ideological battering ram against the hated “hideously white” status quo (like rubbing the right’s nose in diversity).

  • MichtyMe

    Displaying the crucifix is not Christian, it is idolatry.

    • Noa

      Not so. We are free, not ‘wee frees’.

      • MichtyMe

        At the reformation the crucifix was flung out with the holy relics and the rest but appears to have crept back again.

        • Tom Tom

          It never went away for Roman Catholics. There is a world beyond Protestantism – it includes Copts, Orthodox, Roman Catholics


          So? The Reformation was nothing but bad news for the Christian faith and led a rather decayed West much further away from the Gospel.

        • Noa

          That you believe that wearing a cross is idolatrous is not the same as your right to wear one being denied to you.
          Unless you also continue to retain 16th century values of tolerance.

          Is the wearing of the burqua and niquab acceptable to you?

    • Fergus Pickering

      I see you, sir, are a follower of Calvin and Knox, the nearest we have to Islam within the Christian church.

      • David Lindsay

        Calvin, though wrong in many ways, is much misunderstood and much misrepresented.

        • Fergus Pickering

          Well, let’s stick with Knox and the mad Covenanter bastards that infest Scotland. Bonny Dundee had the right idea there. And Robert Burns, he had the right idea too. .


    My concern about Romanians is the easy access this will provide to Gypsies, who will no longer need to send money home to build attractive detached mansions but will have them provided here free of charge by the Housing Minister. I welcome moderate numbers of Romanian Christians to help support the rest of us.

    That is the problem I have with immigration. There is too much, and too much of the wrong sort. It is still very difficult for Syrian Christians to come here, but not that hard for rural, illiterate Pakistanis.

    I am glad that Mr Pickles has noticed some of the anti-Christian activity of this Government. But it is a shame he has done nothing about it. What will he do about the subversion of language which is ‘gay marriage’? Does he have a view about the monstrosity which is transexuality? Or is he happy with all of this and much more and much worse as long as we can wear a discrete cross?

    We don’t need words. We need actions. Because we can already see what actions this Government is taking and intends to take to ensure that the Christian civilization and heritage of the British is demolished as quickly as possible.

    • Fergus Pickering

      Heavens! I thought Romanians were all vampires, devil-worshippers and gypies!

      • dalai guevara

        Far too many mentally decrepid townies gather on these pages – have we not all heard this mant times before? Indians, Pakistanis, Caribbeans, Polish…now Romanians. Some people never get tired of this blaming others for their lack of success.

        • Span Ows

          I blame the Romans and Vikings myself.

  • EJ

    What does Mr Pickles (who has no idea how many hundreds of thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians are due to arrive here imminently) have to say about yet another grooming gang on trial for committing the most hideous acts against young girls in Oxford? Deafening silence I assume. All part of the wonderful enrichment programme rolling out across the country, eh?

    • Tom Tom

      a good reason to deregulate gun ownership