In this week’s New Statesman: The new Power Christians

How God is taking over the city of London PLUS: After Woolwich – Mehdi Hasan and Daniel Trilling on how to tackle extremism on Britain’s streets

Cover Story: “God is the new CEO”

Our cover story this week is by the journalist and Anglican priest George Pitcher, who traces the rise of Justin Welby and sees a new kind of “Power Christian” attempting to reshape the City in ways conservative evangelicals now reaching retirement never would have dared. “Welby is about to shake up the management of the Church of England,” Pitcher writes. “[He] is part of a rich and powerful network that has the money and confidence to get things done.”

During the testosterone-fuelled boom years, Christian faith was about surviving in the City, but since 2008 and the revelation that it was all built on sand, Christians have been saying unequivocally that the gospel is non-negotiable, that working in commerce isn’t about surviving as a Christian but about transforming the way we do business, that Christianity is disruptive of systematic greed and corruption: that, in short, their work serves their faith and not the other way round. They are converting markets, not just people. These are the new Power Christians.

The Victorian model, in which philanthropic entrepreneurs made great sums of wealth and then gave chunks away to good causes, has passed. Nat Wei, the Conservative peer and member of the team that founded Teach First, and who, as a charismatic evangelical, is one of parliament’s more high-profile Christians, says:

We have to ask whether the redemptive work of Christ is just for people, or for organisations, too. The British model used to be that you came to church on Sunday, rather than equipped yourself to be a Christian wherever you were. Now people spend 60 to 80 hours a week in a workplace and they’re not always equipped for dealing with it through their faith. Sunday churches can be great, but sometimes they’re just cash cows to fund a ministry, or to fund the building. So the question being asked now is: ‘What is your business for?’

ELSEWHERE IN THE MAGAZINE

 

Mehdi Hasan: Extremists point to western foreign policy to explain their acts. Why do we ignore them?

Writing after the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, Mehdi Hasan tackles “the inconvenient truth” our leaders are reluctant to address – that radicalised Muslim extremists usually site western foreign policy, not theology, as justification for committing horrendous crimes: “In the vexed discussion about extremism and radicalisation, foreign policy is the issue that dare not speak its name . . .”

Some in power have tentatively accepted the link – Hasan notes that Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former director of MI5, has said publicly that “our involvement in Iraq, for want of a better word, radicalised a whole generation of young people” and even Barack Obama has called the policy of keeping Guantanamo Bay open “a recruitment tool for extremists”.

Though Hasan asserts that “Nothing – no cause, no war, no grievance – justifies the murder of innocents” and concedes “it would be disingenuous of me to claim that foreign policy is the only factor driving radicalisation and extremism”, he argues the link cannot be ignored:

. . . establishment figures continue to denounce those of us who cite the radicalising role of foreign policy as (to quote the former US state department spokesman James Rubin) “excuse-makers” for al-Qaeda. To explain is not to excuse.

 

Daniel Trilling: EDL backlash comes to Downing Street

Daniel Trilling reports from a rally near Whitehall by the English Defence League, a movement whose “ideology sits on that fault line in our culture where Islamophobia has flourished”.

The murder in Woolwich has “breathed life” into a remobilised EDL, with thousands turning out at its demonstrations across the country. Despite a lingering distaste for the movement (Trilling cites a YouGov which found that 84 per cent would “never join” the group), it cannot be denied that growing anti-Islamic feelings are “shared by the public”. We should be wary of the consequences, Trilling writes:

But the EDL’s heavy symbolism – the St George’s flags, the militarism, the often-repeated claim that “there’s one law for us and another for them” – and their use of violence and intimidation to elbow their way into the national media, find a resonance well beyond [the movement’s] size. How long before a demagogue like Nigel Farage – whose own party is experienced at playing on Islamophobia when it suits – tells us to vote for him, to do something about Muslims who “won’t integrate”, in order to keep the EDL at bay? Farage has already made similar claims with regard to immigration and the BNP. How will mainstream politicians react if the disillusionment echoed by supporters of right-wing populist movements, whether they’re street-based or election-focused, continues to deepen?

Philip Hammond: The rise of the quiet man

Andrew Gimson profiles the Conservative Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, who has risen quietly and with “self-effacing efficiency” through the Tory ranks. Publicising his stance on the EU, gay marriage and welfare cuts, Hammond has positioned himself as “a genuine Tory” in opposition to the “Lib Dem-friendly” David Cameron. And, Gimson adds, quoting the Spectator, he may even “set himself up as leader of the Tory right”.

Undemonstrative but an unquestionably efficient manager and administrator, “He might be described as a Tory version of Alistair Darling, the magnificently competent, unexcitable and uninspiring Labour Party loyalist,” writes Gimson. “Except that No 10 thinks that Hammond has become less loyal.”

Read this piece in full on our website now.

PLUS

Rafael Behr: With a bit of Chutzpah, Miliband could rip the Tories in half over the EU. Does he dare?

The NS Essay: Our ash trees are dying but we should not despair: catastrophes are natural events in the life of trees, writes Richard Mabey

Laurie Penny: Bradley Manning’s case is about more than freedom of speech

Daniel Dennett: How language transforms our lives

Felix Martin: The economic lessons of Japan are the way forward

 

In The Critics this week:

Bryan Appleyard reviews two books about the dire state of our finances – When the Money Runs Out: the End of Western Affluence by Stephen D King and Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes? by David Boyle. Both books, in very different ways, suggest that this bleak economic era is only just beginning. “The awful possibility is that the west as a whole has gone ex-growth and, as a result, we may have to change our entire way of life,” Appleyard writes. Money, he says, is a belief system, but the west as yet has no narrative to steer us back to recovery. “The hard truth may be that the crash marked the beginning of the end of the story of western success.”

PLUS

  • A (very) short story by Lydia Davis, winner of the 2013 Man Booker International Prize.
  • Julia Copus writes an essay in praise of Charlotte Mew, a poet much loved by Thomas Hardy but now mostly forgotten.
  • David Cesarani reviews FDR and the Jews by Richard Breitman and Allan J Lichtman.
  • Laurie Penny reviews David Graeber’s The Democracy Project: a History, a Crisis, a Movement. “The swagger and tendency to self-cite that might have made Graeber’s book unbearable are extremely useful, because a great deal of Occupy’s initial inarticulacy came from the unwillingness of any writer or temporary leader to ‘speak for the movement’.”
  • Leo Robson interviews Greg Bellow, son of Saul Bellow and the author of Saul Bellow’s Heart: a Son’s Memoir.
  • Patrick Diamond reviews The Socialist Way, edited by Roy Hattersley and Kevin Hickson.
  • Ryan Gilbey reviews Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra and The Comedian, directed by Tom Shkolnik.
  • Rachel Cooke reviews BBC4’s Up the Women.
  • Matt Trueman does the rounds of fringe theatre
  • A new poem, “Sisters”, by Grey Gowrie.

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What the Operation Black Vote poster row tells us about race in Britain

The poster aimed to draw attention to the cause of BAME voter participation - instead it stirred something deep in the British psyche.

Political advertising campaigns need to be controversial, but go too far and the fall-out can be disastrous. Critics of the new “white thug” billboard campaign, aimed at encouraging ethnic minorities to vote in the EU referendum, think that Operation Black Vote (OBV), the group behind the campaign, had made a spectacular misjudgement. “Racist and divisive” were some of the milder reactions on Twitter. Soon UKIP’s Nigel Farage jumped in calling it “disgusting”, and new London mayor Sadiq Khan claimed it “reinforced stereotypes.”

I took a long hard look at the poster after witnessing the torrent of hurt and anguish it provoked, from white and ethnic minority people alike. To me the poster depicted an angry neo-Nazi type young man fuelled with race hate, and an Asian elder stoic in the face of prejudice, like so many of her generation have been since arriving in the 1970s. It was set in a working class environment familiar to me, a place where even today Asian shopkeepers face regular racist hostility and the far right still organise on the extreme fringes of London in every respect.

The poster is reminiscent of a century-long grassroots struggle against fascism and the intersecting drive to raise the anti-fascist vote from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities and the progressive working class. From the battle of Cable Street in 1936 to the ousting of British National Party councillors from Barking and Dagenham town hall in 2010. Raising the BAME registration rate and vote is a challenge because of disillusionment with a political system that appears not to care about the challenges of racial barriers that cause such unequal outcomes in employment, housing and health.

OBV’s billboard poster seemed to be a collision between this experience of the anti-racist struggle and a slick ad-man. I was troubled; why should so many people see ‘racism’ in the campaign where I saw none? Surely the poster would only be racist if the thug in the image represented white people in general? To me he represented only the sort of hardcore racist who hated both my African mother and my English father for being with her. The sort of racist that hated England too. I asked myself who, in their right minds, could feel any affinity with such a vile character?

True, there were only two people in the image, one white person and one person of colour, but this wasn’t black versus white, it was BAME versus hate and prejudice. There was no earthly reason why the fascist’s skin colour should be an insult to non-fascists who only share the same ‘race’.

Throughout my life I’ve heard people of colour being accused of having a chip on their shoulder, and I’ve been accused of the same. We are routinely stereotyped for seeking out imagined racism, of being overly-sensitive and failing to understand the nuances behind something negative towards black or Asian people. Yet the deluge of anger unleashed by OBV’s campaign led me to conclude that the poster’s critics were doing exactly what BAME people have long stood accused of.

Some cried ‘if the poster showed a black/Muslim thug pointing angrily at an old white granny there would be uproar’. These are clearly people oblivious to the negative portrayal of BAME people daily amid no uproar whatsoever. Occasionally a big household brand might end up in the news for peddling racial stereotypes but mostly it goes unremarked but not unnoticed by those impacted by racism.

If racism is power plus prejudice why were so many consumed by the belief that the poster was racist? Why this overwhelming feeling that white people are being treated unfairly? After all, every study of privilege shows that power rests firmly with white people.

Part of the answer can be found in the impact of changing demographics, as illustrated by the BBC documentary this week The Last Whites of the East End which explored white working class feelings that BAME families are taking over and that traditional white English culture was being erased.

The Cockneys fleeing to Essex to ‘be with their own’ fail to comprehend that it is they themselves who are accelerating Newham’s BAME proportion through their white flight. It is a flight sparked by alarm that their ideal balance between white and colour is out of kilter, so they move and thereby accelerate segregation. White British are still the largest single ethnic group in Newham but they don’t see it that way because everyone else – Somalians and Pakistanis, Turks and Nigerians – are lumped together in one homogenous ‘other’ no matter how different their culture is from one another.

The shifting plates of race, population change and migration are building fault lines of tension that manifest in tremors of fear about white people being under attack, of being strangers in their own country. This growing sensitivity can be seen in the reaction to OBV’s poster (‘look, they’re treating us unfairly’) or Britain’s Got Talent’s Alesha Dixon called a black group “sexy chocolate men” (‘if I said that it would be racist, so surely she’s racist too’).

Nigel Farage and hundreds of Twitterers who objected to the poster don’t identify with the fascist in the image but they do feel sensitive to accusations that white people are being discriminated against – despite all the evidence to the contrary – and want to stand up for white people’s feelings, integrity and rights. They felt slighted by the juxtaposition of the white thug and serene Asian granny and mistakenly see it is an attack on them when it wasn’t really about them at all.

Where once it mattered not whether white people were portrayed positively or negatively, because white was the colourless default, now the white colour is racialised simply by proximity to someone of a different colour on the other end of a children’s swing.

As commentators and academics grapple with what integration means in a changing nation where BAME-majority cities are just years away, and white families with money flee to less diverse pastures leaving behind an increasingly threatened white working class, the demand for equal treatment for white people will inevitably grow. After decades of unfair discrimination against people of colour where politicians have failed to act, they are finally standing up for the feelings of a minority. A white minority, if not in proportionality then in certainly in mentality.

OBV’s poster aimed to draw attention to the cause of BAME voter participation. Instead it stirred something deep in the British psyche, a feeling that in a multicultural society disrespect of whiteness is a sign that white privilege is under assault. Was the poster racist? No, but it did inadvertently touch a nerve.

Lester Holloway previously worked for Operation Black Vote, and was Editor of the African and Caribbean newspaper New Nation. He is writing in a personal capacity and tweets at @brolezholloway

Lester Holloway is a Liberal Democrat councillor in Sutton and an executive member of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats. He tweets @brolezholloway