Church of England commits sins against statistics

"Four out of five British adults believe in the power of prayer." Really? <em>Really?</em>

For a bunch of people who want to save our souls, the Church of England is remarkably happy to commit sins against statistics.

The Church has released a press release claiming that:

Four out of five British adults believe in the power of prayer, according to a new ICM survey in the run-up to Easter… Asked what it would be for if they were to pray, 31 per cent of respondents cited peace in the world, followed by an end to poverty in the world (27 per cent), a family member (26 per cent) and healing for another (22 per cent). While 5 per cent said they did not know what they would pray for, 14 per cent said they would never pray.

Which isn't really true. Lower down, the press release reveals the actual question:

Irrespective of whether you currently pray or not, if you were to pray for something at the moment, what would it be for?

So four out of five British adults do not "believe in the power of prayer"; four out of five British adults are polite enough to answer a direct question. And 14 per cent of British adults are so sceptical of the power of prayer, that even when they are asked a question which specifically instructs them to ignore whether they pray, they still refuse to answer.

Amazingly, the Telegraph not only wrote up the "research", but strengthened the conclusion, adding in the 5 per cent who "said they did not know what they would pray for" to come to the conclusion that:

Six out of seven people still believe that prayers can be answered despite a dramatic drop in formal religious observance, a study has found.

It's almost as though the CofE relishes the idea of a war between religion and science almost as much as Dawkins does.

Canterbury cathedral. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech on the arts in north London on September 1, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Can Labour MPs force Corbyn to bring back shadow cabinet elections?

It is not up to the parliamentary party whether the contests are reintroduced. 

Soon after Jeremy Corbyn became the frontrunner in the Labour leadership contest, it was reported that he intended to bring back shadow cabinet elections. But as I later wrote, that's not the case. Corbyn has resolved that he will maintain the right to appoint his own team, rather than having it elected by MPs (as was the case before Ed Miliband changed the system in 2011). As he wrote in the NS: "Whoever emerges as leader on 12 September needs a shadow cabinet in place as soon as possible. I will appoint a strong, diverse shadow cabinet to hold this government to account from day one."

Now, ahead of his likely victory a week on Saturday, Corbyn is under pressure from some MPs to reverse his stance. Barry Sheerman, the former education select commitee chair, told me that he wanted a "serious discussion" within the PLP about the return of the elections. While some support their reinstatement on principled grounds, others recognise that there is a tactical advantage in Corbyn's opponents winning a mandate from MPs. His hand would be further weakened (he has the declared support of just 14 of his Commons colleagues). 

But their reinstatement is not as simple as some suggest. One senior MP told me that those demanding their return "had not read the rule book". Miliband's decision to scrap the elections was subsequently approved at party conference meaning that only this body can revive them. A simple majority of MPs is not enough. 

With Corbyn planning to have a new team in place as soon as possible after his election, there is little prospect of him proposing such upheaval at this point. Meanwhile, Chuka Umunna has attracted much attention by refusing to rule out joining the left-winger's shadow cabinet if he changes his stances on nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation (a lengthy list). Umunna is unlikely to remain on the frontbench but having previously pledged not to serve, he now recognises that there is value in being seen to at least engage with Corbyn. Were he to simply adopt a stance of aggression, he would risk being blamed if the backbencher failed. It is one example of how the party's modernisers recognise they need to play a smarter game. I explore this subject further in my column in tomorrow's NS

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.