Faith and the coalition: a new confidence to ‘do God’?

Michael_GoveNew Labour’s thirteen years in power were marked by a distinctive and controversial approach to religious groups, which were funded by both Blair and Brown governments as key partners in the delivery of services and the building of ‘cohesive communities’. The coming-to-power of the coalition government in 2010 signalled a major change from this approach, with funding for faith-based organisations diminishing substantially. The place of faith communities in the post-New Labour era is, though, not yet clear. Conservatives such as Eric Pickles and Sayeeda Warsi have indicated that the coalition is keen to ‘do God’, with faith organisations being an important part of the ‘Big Society’. David Cameron has emphasised the importance of celebrating and preserving the UK’s Christian heritage. But what do these developments mean for faith-based organisations?

This series contains a range of answers to this question. Articles by Adam Dinham of Goldsmiths, University of London, and Steven Kettell of the University of Warwick both offer a critical take on the coalition’s position on faith and welfare.

In Welfare is Sacred, Adam Dinham provides a short history of welfare in Britain. He defends faith groups as organisations that do the services others ‘can’t or won’t’, but criticises what he regards as New Labour’s instrumental attitude to faith organisations and the coalition’s efforts to increase the burden of religious groups by rolling back the welfare state.

Steven Kettell, by contrast, in his analysis of the ‘Big Society’ agenda, Let’s call the whole thing off, calls attention to the risks of relying on socially conservative faith groups to deliver services to an increasingly secular and socially liberal British society.

Paul Bickley of Christian think tank Theos and Dan Nilsson DeHanas of the University of Kent, writing with colleagues from the University of Bristol, both examine in more depth the relationship between the Conservatives and Christianity.

In Faith and the Coalition, Paul Bickley proposes that, while personal dispositions are not everything, the Conservative wing of the coalition has managed to converse more openly about faith than Labour because of the Christian identity of party members.

In their post, A Place for Muslims in a Christian Country?, Dan DeHanas et al, argue however that Labour was happier ‘doing God’ than its critics imply; the key difference is that Labour was driven by a multi-faith agenda, rather than Christian tradition.