“Well it’s a start Prime Minister”
It’s Wednesday Morning, the end was in sight, my team and I had were coming to the end of our stint at the party conferences. I was just about to pack up our displays in Manchester, when a Party Official said to me “Daniel you’re a faith leader, you should be in for the PM’s speech in the special area for faith” Before I knew it I was whisked away amongst serious looking characters, speaking in short and earnest bursts into jacket sleeves whilst pressing their earpieces further into their ears.
One thing you can say for Mr Cameron’s Conservatives is that they are a well-oiled machine, I would rather have a big event, like a wedding, run by the Cameroons than the Corbynites any day. But amid the slick presentation I was keen to see why I had been whisked into the hall, a great honour I have no doubt, but I have to confess that in amongst it all, I was concerned the TV camera would pan to me enthusiastically clapping the return to capital punishment, or some other equally bad photo opp. (Remember all of us that week entering the conference, whether party member, MP, or a neutral exhibitor like ourselves, had been subjected to insults and threats and quite a few eggs, guilt by association very much sat on our shoulders, in a yokey mess.)
What I wanted to hear was what was David Cameron going to say about faith. Had the FaithAction conference catch phrase ‘faith is what goes on underneath’ somehow seeped through the conference ranks, permeated from the exhibition hall, to the Prime Minsiter’s speech writers and now he was going to end conference with a significant pledge to faith organisations, taking our local faith covenant and making it national by committing government to working with faith communities for the betterment of society?!
There was some mention of partnership, but the weight of the speech, which related to faith, came from the perspective that faith is a problem. Rather than talk of the significant positive contributions individuals make to society because of their faith, or the work done by faith organisations to support the most vulnerable, there were some dark threats around intolerance and crude lazy liberal lumping of issues together.
I would not expect a Conservative Prime Minster not to talk of security and the issues in the middle east. But there was room to talk of the Voluntary sector and faith organisations and the need to have a honest discussion of what society should look like and how civil society can play a part, or even take a lead in the design of what is to come.
More and more as the contribution of faith to society is recorded, critiqued and evidence, the size of the numbers involved warrants some comment in Leaders speeches. Faith is not a minority of extremists on the outer wings of society, but in the beating heart of everyday life. Developing solutions to pressing social need and making a positive difference.