April 2012

Demos: "Religious people are more likely to be politically progressive"

This is a copy of an article that I have posted on Lib Dem Voice.

It seems appropriate on Easter Day to report the findings of the report entitled Faithful Citizens by the think tank Demos.

I have been embarrassed and saddened by the portrayal of "the church" as bigoted and homophobic recently, and this research helps to counterbalance that impression. Demos' report implies that people of faith are more likely to share Liberal Democrat values than to hold the conservative fundamentalist views often described in the media.

13% of citizens claim to belong to a church or other religious organisation, so these findings refer to believers across all the faiths in the UK, although Christians are by far the largest group.

The summary of the report states:

"People of faith are likely to be a vital base of support for any future election-winning progressive coalition. Our research suggests that religious citizens in the UK are more likely to be civically engaged and politically active than their non-religious counterparts. They are also more likely to hold progressive political values on a number of important political and economic questions at the heart of twenty-first-century policy. Despite the trend of decreasing religiosity in the UK, religion remains important to a broad range of active and engaged citizens – and so it must to politicians."

Their research findings showed that:

  • "Religious people in the UK are more likely than non-religious people to volunteer regularly in their local community, to feel a greater sense of belonging to their local community and Britain, and to have higher levels of trust in other people and social institutions. They are also more likely to feel they can influence decisions locally and nationally.
  • Religious people are more likely than non-religious people to engage in volunteering in their local community, and to take decision-making roles in committees and through local leadership forums, such as being a councillor, school governor or magistrate.
  • Religious people who said that their religion was very important to their sense of identity were more likely than those who said it was not important to their identity to be civically engaged and to give to charity via their place of worship."

On specific issues they found that 55% of the members of religious organisations placed  themselves on the political left or centre left. They were also more likely to value equality over liberty and were less likely to hold a negative attitude towards immigrants.

I am a case in point.  I was brought up in a Baptist family, where the theology was liberal and the work ethic was strong. I grew up with the values of liberty (the early Baptists were persecuted for their beliefs, so freedom of belief and freedom of speech are among their founding principles),  equality (because all people are equal in the sight of God) and service to the community (because Jesus told us to love our neighbour) . So I found a natural political home within a party which shared those fundamental values.

So we should not be afraid to acknowledge the fact that many members of the Liberal Democrats, like me, joined the party because of, not in spite of, their faith.

May I wish a blessed Easter to all readers who are celebrating this great Christian festival today, and a happy holiday weekend to everyone.

Diary of a Games volunteer - McDonald's this time

According to Private Eye I'm not allowed to write this. They claim that LOCOG has "banned volunteers working at the Games from making Facebook posts", and since this is going to be reposted on Facebook maybe I am in danger of disciplinary action. (What form could that take, I wonder?)

On Friday I got a chance to check what the rules were at my latest training session, and the truth was both realistic and unsensational. Of course they can't stop us from chatting online about the Games and our roles in it, but we are asked not to reveal operational details. That sounds like normal business practice to me, especially in an area where security is important.

What LOCOG is getting heavy about is brand protection, and volunteers (aka Games Makers) have been asked to be sensitive to the branding issues. You have probably heard that the O2 will be renamed the North Greenwich Arena for the Games. All traces of its owner's branding will be removed so as not to undermine BT which is an "Official Olympic Partner". I really can't get too bothered about this; after all, commercial sponsorship is essential. 

And that is why I found myself at McDonald's University in East Finchley last Friday.

It is easy to scoff at McDonald's (though that would definitely attract the brand police). However it does have an excellent reputation for its staff training programmes, which was why it was chosen as the training provider for Games volunteers.

But "University"?  Surely the definition of a University is a chartered institution that is empowered to offer its own degrees. It turns out that the training centre does offer foundation degrees accredited by Manchester Metropolitan University, and the courses are free to staff. That is to be applauded, but, as a former FE lecturer who taught on foundation degree courses, I just feel that McDonald's credibility in work-based training would be enhanced if it made slightly more modest claims.

Anyway, I was there for half a day of training with fellow Events Services Team Leaders. Now I had imagined that most of the Games volunteers would live in London, so I was pretty surprised at the number of fellow volunteers who had travelled, at their own expense, from Scotland, Northern Ireland, Cumbria, the West Country and other parts of the UK to attend the training.

I also learnt that many of the LOCOG paid employees are Games veterans, having worked at previous summer and winter Olympics and Paralympics. It was quite reassuring to know that not everything was being invented from scratch!

The training was well-designed, varied and useful - and this time I did get some chocolate, provided by the Official Snack Provider of the Games.



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