It is worrying that Eric Pickles is in charge of religion for this government. I first came across his footprints in Bradford, where in the Eighties he was as much responsible as any other politician for the introduction of ‘multicultural’ policies into English cities. He understood that there were Pakistani Muslim votes at stake, and introduced policies to gratify their sensibilities, something conveniently forgotten once he moved down to Essex.
The central flaw in this policy was not that it encouraged Islam but that it locked Pakistani machine politics into the indigenous machine politics of local government. Labour turned out to be the main beneficiary of the process, though you can’t fault Pickles’s political astuteness in trying to make his own party benefit instead. But all in all, the identification of Islam with the power structures of rural Pakistan has been bad both for the religion and its neighbours. You can’t, for example, understand George Galloway’s victory in the Bradford West bye-election except as a reaction by young Muslims against the power of traditional networks, inside and outside the Labour Party.
His latest op-ed in the Telegraph is the usual mixture of exhortations to motherhood and apple piety but it contains one paragraph of really startling religious and historical illiteracy.
‘Britain has a broad and generous vision of citizenship. It is important that we all take responsibility for defending it. The first is by standing up to the overt and noisy bullies. Second is constant vigilance against the sly pedlars of hatred whose crude prejudices masquerade as religious piety. Jesus recognised this risk when he warned us to ‘watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.’ One of the foundations of the Church of England was its ‘via media’ – or middle way between religious hotheads.