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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Inside the progressive alliance that beat Zac Goldsmith in Richmond

Frantic phone calls, hundreds of volunteers, and Labour MPs constrained by their party. 

Politics for a progressive has been gloomy for a long time. On Thursday, in Richmond Park of all places, there was a ray of light. Progressive parties (at least some of them) and ordinary voters combined to beat Ukip, the Tories and their "hard Brexit, soft racist" candidate.

It didn’t happen by accident. Let's be clear, the Liberal Democrats do by-elections really well. Their activists flood in, and good luck to them. But Richmond Park was too big a mountain for even their focused efforts. No, the narrow win was also down to the fast growing idea of a progressive alliance. 

The progressive alliance is both a defensive and offensive move. It recognises the tactical weakness of progressives under first past the post – a system the Tories and their press know how to game. With progressive forces spilt between Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Women’s Equality Party and more – there is no choice but to co-operate, bring in proportional representation and then a whole new political world begins.

This move opens up the wider strategy – to end the domination of the City, and right-wing newspapers like the Mail, so Britain can have a real debate and make real choices about what sort of economy and society it wants. A pipedream? Well, maybe. But last night the fuse was lit in Richmond Park. The progressive alliance can work.

Months before the by-election, the pressure group for a progressive alliance that I chair, Compass, the Greens, and some Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP MPs and activists, began considering this. The alternative after Brexit was staring into the void.

Then the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith stepped down over Heathrow. To be fair, he had pledged to do this, and we should have been better prepared. In the event, urgent behind-the-scenes calls were made between the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. Compass acted as the safe house. The Greens, wonderfully, clung onto democracy – the local party had to decide. And they decided to stand up for a new politics. Andree Frieze would have been the Green candidate, and enjoyed her moment in the autumn sun. She and her party turned it down for a greater good. So did the Women’s Equality Party.

Meanwhile, what about Labour? Last time, they came a distant third. Again the phones were hit and meetings held. There was growing support not to stand. But what would they get back from the Liberal Democrats, and what did the rules say about not standing? It was getting close to the wire. I spent an hour after midnight, in the freezing cold of Aberdeen, on the phone to a sympathetic Labour MP trying to work out what the party rule book said before the selection meeting.

At the meeting, I am told, a move was made from the floor not to select. The London regional official ruled it out of order and said a candidate would be imposed if they didn’t select. Some members walked out at this point. Where was the new kinder, gentler politics? Where was membership democracy? Fast forward to last night, and the Labour candidate got less votes than the party has members.

The idea of a progressive alliance in Richmond was then cemented in a draughty church hall on the first Tuesday of the campaign – the Unitarian Church of course. Within 48 hours notice, 200 local activist of all parties and none had come together to hear the case for a progressive alliance. Both the Greens and Compass produced literature to make the case for voting for the best-placed progressive candidate. The Liberal Democrats wove their by-election magic. And together we won.

It’s a small victory – but it shows what is possible. Labour is going to have to think very hard whether it wants to stay outside of this, when so many MPs and members see it as common sense. The lurch to the right has to be stopped – a progressive alliance, in which Labour is the biggest tent in the campsite, is the only hope.

In the New Year, the Progressive Alliance will be officially launched with a steering committee, website and activists tool-kit. There will also be a trained by-election hit squad, manifestos of ideas and alliances build locally and across civil society.

There are lots of problems that lie ahead - Labour tribalism, the 52 per cent versus the 48 per cent, Scottish independence and the rest. But there were lots of problems in Richmond Park, and we overcame them. And you know, working together felt good – it felt like the future. The Tories, Ukip and Arron Banks want a different future – a regressive alliance. We have to do better than them. On Thursday, we showed we could.

Could the progressive alliance be the start of the new politics we have all hoped for?

Neal Lawson is the Chair of Compass, the pressure group for the progressive alliance.

Neal Lawson is chair of the pressure group Compass, which brings together progressives from all parties and none. His views on internal Labour matters are personal ones.