For God's sake . . . this isn't offensive

The British Humanist Assocation's census campaign adverts were rejected by billboard companies. Why?

The British Humanist Association hasn't had the smoothest ride in its attempt to spread the atheist word through advertising.

In 2009, it was advised by the Committee of Advertising Practice to add the word "probably" into its bus campaign slogan declaring: "There's probably no God. So stop worrying and enjoy your life." According to the committee: "The inclusion of the word 'probably' makes it less likely to cause offence, and therefore be in breach of the advertising code."

Now, the pesky atheists are in trouble again -- they were told that their new campaign was too offensive to run on railway station billboards. So what crime against God and good taste have they committed this time?

Well, the association is trying to persuade non-believers to declare themselves as such on the census form, so it will be a more accurate representation of the religious/non-religious make-up of the country. It's an important point. The 2001 census's figure of 71.8 per cent of Britons being Christian is often invoked by policymakers in debates over, for example, faith schools. (And yes, that's the same census where 390,127 people said they were Jedis. When will their faith school needs be taken in account, eh?)

According to this blog post by the New Humanist, the association came up with the slogan: "If you're not religious, for God's sake say so." And that's what seems to have caused the trouble, with the companies which own the advertising space telling them the phrase "for God's sake" could cause "widespread and serious offence". The amended tagline now reads, "Not religious? In this year's census, say so."

I asked Andrew Copson, chief executive of the BHA, who had made the decision to reject the adverts. He said the BHA was told by CBS Outdoors, who administer billboards in stations, that its "franchise partners" had rejected them. (I called CBS Outdoors to check this, but their press office haven't got back to me yet.)

As Paul Sims points out on the New Humanist's blog, it seems a very odd decision. Pro-religious adverts, such as those for the Alpha course (a Christian programme), the Christian Party and the Trinitarian Bible Society, have recently appeared on public transport. "The Trinitarian adverts said 'the fool hath said in his heart, there is no God'," Copson told me. "That seems more offensive, if you want to look at it that way! It's ridiculous."

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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I believe only Yvette Cooper has the breadth of support to beat Jeremy Corbyn

All the recent polling suggests Andy Burnham is losing more votes than anyone else to Jeremy Corbyn, says Diana Johnson MP.

Tom Blenkinsop MP on the New Statesman website today says he is giving his second preference to Andy Burnham as he thinks that Andy has the best chance of beating Jeremy.

This is on the basis that if Yvette goes out first all her second preferences will swing behind Andy, whereas if Andy goes out first then his second preferences, due to the broad alliance he has created behind his campaign, will all or largely switch to the other male candidate, Jeremy.

Let's take a deep breath and try and think through what will be the effect of preferential voting in the Labour leadership.

First of all, it is very difficult to know how second preferences will switch. From my telephone canvassing there is some rather interesting voting going on, but I don't accept that Tom’s analysis is correct. I have certainly picked up growing support for Yvette in recent weeks.

In fact you can argue the reverse of Tom’s analysis is true – Andy has moved further away from the centre and, as a result, his pitch to those like Tom who are supporting Liz first is now narrower. As a result, Yvette is more likely to pick up those second preferences.

Stats from the Yvette For Labour team show Yvette picking up the majority of second preferences from all candidates – from the Progress wing supporting Liz to the softer left fans of Jeremy – and Andy's supporters too. Their figures show many undecideds opting for Yvette as their first preference, as well as others choosing to switch their first preference to Yvette from one of the other candidates. It's for this reason I still believe only Yvette has the breadth of support to beat Jeremy and then to go on to win in 2020.

It's interesting that Andy has not been willing to make it clear that second preferences should go to Yvette or Liz. Yvette has been very clear that she would encourage second preferences to be for Andy or Liz.

Having watched Andy on Sky's Murnaghan show this morning, he categorically states that Labour will not get beyond first base with the electorate at a general election if we are not economically credible and that fundamentally Jeremy's economic plans do not add up. So, I am unsure why Andy is so unwilling to be clear on second preferences.

All the recent polling suggests Andy is losing more votes than anyone else to Jeremy. He trails fourth in London – where a huge proportion of our electorate is based.

So I would urge Tom to reflect more widely on who is best placed to provide the strongest opposition to the Tories, appeal to the widest group of voters and reach out to the communities we need to win back. I believe that this has to be Yvette.

The Newsnight focus group a few days ago showed that Yvette is best placed to win back those former Labour voters we will need in 2020.

Labour will pay a massive price if we ignore this.

Diana Johnson is the Labour MP for Hull North.