David Cameron reads during the service of thanksgiving to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee at St Paul's cathedral on June 5, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cameron does God, but does Britain want him to?

Nearly half of Britons do not belong to a religion and just a third believe faith has a positive role to play in their lives. 

David Cameron used to be hesistant when discussing his Christian faith, once describing it (in a wonderful line borrowed from Boris Johnson)  as being "a bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes". He added in the 2008 interview with the Guardian: "That sums up a lot of people in the Church of England. We are racked with doubts, but sort of fundamentally believe, but don't sort of wear it on our sleeves or make too much of it. I think that is sort of where I am."

In this regard, he was the "heir to Blair" who, despite his passionate religiosity, adhered to Alastair Campbell's dictum that "we don't do God". 

But in the last week, Cameron has cast aside his previous scepticism of public expressions of faith. At an Easter reception at Downing Street, he declared: "Jesus invented the Big Society 2,000 years ago" and spoke of him as "our saviour". He followed this up with a video message in which he said: "Easter is not just a time for Christians across our country to reflect, but a time for our whole country to reflect on what Christianity brings to Britain."

Now, in an article for the Church Times, he has gone even further, declaring that "we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people's lives." The man who once said of Christianity, "[we] don't sort of wear it on our sleeves or make too much of it", is now demanding evangelism. It has been quite a journey. 

But while Cameron is now unequivocally "doing God" (almost certainly with an eye to those Conservatives alienated by his support for equal marriage), does Britain want him to? With apt timing, a new global study has found that little more than a third of people in Britain believe that religion has a positive role to play in our lives, compared to a global average of 59 per cent, while a quarter believe it has a negative impact. 

As the 2013 British Social Attitudes Survey showed, this is, increasingly, a secular country, not a Christian one. Forty eight per cent of respondents stated that they did not belong to a religion, up from 32 per cent in 1983, and just 20 per cent described themselves as belonging to the Church of England, down from 40 per cent in 1983. 

This ambiguity points to the need for a clear separation between church and state. Religious believers who oppose such a move should look to the US, where faith has flourished despite the country's secular constitution (spoken of by Jefferson as "a wall of separation) .

Indeed, in an interview with the New Statesman in 2008, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, (who went on to famously guest-edit the magazine) suggested that the church might benefit from such a move:

I can see that it's by no means the end of the world if the establishment disappears. The strength of it is that the last vestiges of state sanction disappeared, so when you took a vote at the Welsh synod, it didn't have to be nodded through by parliament afterwards. There is a certain integrity to that.

In an increasingly atheistic and multi-faith society, a secular state, which protects all religions and privileges none, is a model to embrace. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Inside a shaken city: "I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester”

The morning after the bombing of the Manchester Arena has left the city's residents jumpy.

On Tuesday morning, the streets in Manchester city centre were eerily silent.

The commuter hub of Victoria Station - which backs onto the arena - was closed as police combed the area for clues, and despite Mayor Andy Burnham’s line of "business as usual", it looked like people were staying away.

Manchester Arena is the second largest indoor concert venue in Europe. With a capacity crowd of 18,000, on Monday night the venue was packed with young people from around the country - at least 22 of whom will never come home. At around 10.33pm, a suicide bomber detonated his device near the exit. Among the dead was an eight-year-old girl. Many more victims remain in hospital. 

Those Mancunians who were not alerted by the sirens woke to the news of their city's worst terrorist attack. Still, as the day went on, the city’s hubbub soon returned and, by lunchtime, there were shoppers and workers milling around Exchange Square and the town hall.

Tourists snapped images of the Albert Square building in the sunshine, and some even asked police for photographs like any other day.

But throughout the morning there were rumours and speculation about further incidents - the Arndale Centre was closed for a period after 11.40am while swathes of police descended, shutting off the main city centre thoroughfare of Market Street.

Corporation Street - closed off at Exchange Square - was at the centre of the city’s IRA blast. A postbox which survived the 1996 bombing stood in the foreground while officers stood guard, police tape fluttering around cordoned-off spaces.

It’s true that the streets of Manchester have known horror before, but not like this.

I spoke to students Beth and Melissa who were in the bustling centre when they saw people running from two different directions.

They vanished and ducked into River Island, when an alert came over the tannoy, and a staff member herded them through the back door onto the street.

“There were so many police stood outside the Arndale, it was so frightening,” Melissa told me.

“We thought it will be fine, it’ll be safe after last night. There were police everywhere walking in, and we felt like it would be fine.”

Beth said that they had planned a day of shopping, and weren’t put off by the attack.

“We heard about the arena this morning but we decided to come into the city, we were watching it all these morning, but you can’t let this stop you.”

They remembered the 1996 Arndale bombing, but added: “we were too young to really understand”.

And even now they’re older, they still did not really understand what had happened to the city.

“Theres nowhere to go, where’s safe? I just want to go home,” Melissa said. “I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester.”

Manchester has seen this sort of thing before - but so long ago that the stunned city dwellers are at a loss. In a city which feels under siege, no one is quite sure how anyone can keep us safe from an unknown threat

“We saw armed police on the streets - there were loads just then," Melissa said. "I trust them to keep us safe.”

But other observers were less comforted by the sign of firearms.

Ben, who I encountered standing outside an office block on Corporation Street watching the police, was not too forthcoming, except to say “They don’t know what they’re looking for, do they?” as I passed.

The spirit of the city is often invoked, and ahead of a vigil tonight in Albert Square, there will be solidarity and strength from the capital of the North.

But the community values which Mancunians hold dear are shaken to the core by what has happened here.

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