An interesting insight into the vision David Cameron has for Britain comes from an article he has written for issue 68 of Keep The Faith magazine.
For the uninitiated, Keep The Faith styles itself, according to its blurb on Google, as 'Britain's leading magazine about black faith'. Personally I am not sure how 'faith' can be black or indeed any colour, and I feel rather perturbed by the suggestion that it can be. Then again I have always been a staunch atheist, so what do I know?
In a way, Cameron's approach to Keep The Faith is far from unique. Issue 68 is devoted to a series of condemnations of this summers riots, and Cameron makes it clear that he sees faith as a way of countering such violence. Underwhelmed as I was by the political content of the riots, it is hard not be reminded of the way the 1980s urban clashes were followed by politicians embracing multi-culturalism, community leaders and religious figures in the inner-cities - all to buy off future problems. Put simply, the Prime Minister does not want to see young black kids on street corners, but in church. Here Christianity remains in its traditional role as far as British political leaders are concerned - it is for civilising black people.
What is also interesting, and deeply disturbing, is how Cameron sketches the big society to this audience. Consider this quote:
"I don't agree with people who say there is no place for faith in society and public service. Just look at the good work of faith schools - including the one my own son and daughter attend - or the work of Street Pastors and the Salvation Army. In every town and every city, there are charities and voluntary organisations of all faiths doing teriffic things. And through the new Localism Bill, they are freed up like never before to transform their local communities. This revival is at the heart of what I want to achieve."
The privatisation or reduction of public services, with religious organisations filling the gap, was envisaged in the US by the neo-Conservative right and by George W Bush. In Britain, it picked up pace in London with Ken Livingstone's funding of East London Mosque's welfare programmes, and is set to continue with the big society. On this issue at least, the right, the left and the centre-right appears in harmony.
Several problems emerge with this approach. Firstly, what about those who don't want their local community 'transformed' by the church down the road? When Cameron praises faith schools, is he really unaware of the division they have fostered in Northern Ireland, and to a lesser extent Scotland? Why is their promotion in England going to be different, especially when we already see significant differences between, to take one example, Muslim and non-Muslim communties in places like Birmingham and east Lancashire? What if traditionally antagonistic faiths compete for influence in the same area, both looking to 'transform' the community?
Writing for Shift magazine in 2010, I warned that the big society was likely to end up as an Islamist beanfeast. The reality now appears worse - a beanfeast for any religious current going.