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Author Archives: Tina Hearn

The erosion of democracy in healthcare policy

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Tina Hearn turns to William Temple for the principles that must be prioritised in healthcare policymaking if we are to truly ‘build back better’.

‘History may not repeat itself, but it can rhyme’ (Mark Twain).

Before the end of the Second World War, William Temple and aligned proponents argued there was a pressing need to ‘build back better’ in all policy areas, including welfare—a position eventually embraced by all parties. The trope of ‘build back better’ echoes again across the polity today, so, yes, history has rhymed around the broad need for policy reform. However, today, there are also profound dissonances with regard to Temple’s policy principles.

To inform the project of building back better, Temple crafted a series of principles in Christianity and Social Order, as well as in his broader writing. One of Temple’s key principles was the Christian idea of fellowship in the form of democratisation, which he claimed should inform all areas of socioeconomic life. He argued that democracy and its constituent principles—such as representation, responsiveness, and accountability—‘deepens and intensifies personal fellowship’ giving ‘the highest value to the personality and personal relationships of all citizens in the community’ (Church Looks Forward, pp. 142-143). Temple viewed de-democratisation as corrosive of human personality, fellowship, and broader society.

However, many contemporary policy developments are highly dissonant with Temple’s principles. This is evident across a range of contemporary policy developments, which will profoundly shape welfare policy futures, including the Health and Care Bill which has just received its second reading in parliament.

A widespread concern about the Health and Care Bill, is that it embodies a range of de-democratising policy principles and provisions. For example, as the British Medical Association (BMA) has noted, the Bill contains provisions which afford increased powers to the secretary of state, arguing that it is ‘totally wrong for Government to have the power to abolish arm’s length bodies without due scrutiny, approve or reject Integrated Care System (ICS) chairs, or interfere with local decisions’. The BMA has also expressed concerns about the threat of private health providers having a formal seat on ICS boards, the new decision-making bodies, and wielding influence over commissioning decisions. This is already the case in Bath and Somerset where Virgin Care has a seat on the local ICS and is leading on the Integrated Care Record Initiative.

Temple argued that the ‘private sector will inevitably put private sector interests first. If we want to put the public interest first, we must so organise our life that those who are chosen for their concern with and qualification to judge the public interest are in positions of control’ (Church Looks Forward, p. 110)—a view supported by evidence on private provider companies. People who receive care and local communities are also important stakeholders here. However, the Bill has no specific provisions for patient or community representation on the new Health Boards. The Bill thus exhibits tendencies towards amplifying centralisation and sectoral commercial interests rather than democratisation. 

The scope for outsourcing health services to the private sector in the Bill, arguably poses further democratic risks and erodes accountability. This is not new: the significant expansion of outsourced health care since the 2012 Lansley Act has created multiple democratic fault lines across the NHS. A lack of transparency, regulation, and accountability around outsourced provision has been widely noted both prior to and during COVID. This is a worrying trend, amplified by the diminution of transparency through repeated appeals by the government to ‘commercial confidentiality’ to justify non-disclosure of a range of procurement and contractual information. There are also concerning indications that there are moves towards reducing the level of regulation still further, with a regulatory review contracted out to KPMG.

The anti-democratic implications of the increase in health service provision exports to private sector providers also needs to be considered alongside the strong anti-democratic tendencies which increasingly prevail across the economy. For example, the representation and participation of labour in discussion and decision making has been significantly eroded. The exercise of monopoly power in the form of the dominance of large corporations has increased. And there has been an increasing number of service contracts issued to companies such as private equity, whose primary drivers are shareholder returns rather than public good—a trend echoed in social care services.

It should be noted that the Health and Care Bill forms just one plank of the government’s proposals to ‘build back better’ for the future. This brief review of some of the provisions of the new Health and Care Bill indicate that the provisions and principles of the Health and Care Bill run counter to, and so undermine, Temple’s appeal to fellowship and democracy. More worrying still, these tendencies are also evident in policy initiatives and proposals to reform further areas of the welfare state, including education, social security, and housing—and indeed extend beyond welfare reform, for example, in the Crime, Policing and Courts Bill and proposals to reform judicial review. Of course, there are different views around what principles should inform any process of ‘building back better’. However, current developments do not sit comfortably with Temple’s principles, nor with a wide range of positions on the political spectrum, including the professed libertarian position of the current administration (for whom, logically, a centralising, controlling state is an anathema).

Much of what could be done to improve health policy such that it rhymes more effectively with Temple’s principles of fellowship and democracy could be achieved through annulling the policy dynamics outlined above. Of course, democratising initiatives could be extended far beyond this: equalities legislation and social purpose provisions could be firmly integrated into procurement processes, prioritising public-interest-oriented service provision; service principles could be developed through deeper and wider consultation; top-down management processes could be replaced with stakeholder management models; and the list could, and should, go on. As Temple presciently noted, without due attention to clear policy principles there is a risk of welfare policies emerging that have strong, centralising, anti-democratic inflections—the direction in which we clearly seem to be heading.

Dedicated to Prof Kailash Chand OBE FRCGP, who died on 26th July 2021.

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Liberty and response-ability in the time of coronavirus

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Tina Hearn, Associate Research Fellow at the William Temple Foundation, proposes that policies for the coronavirus crisis should embody the concept of ‘response-ability’.

The coronavirus outbreak has already been deeply traumatising for many families, communities and nations across the globe. It has been particularly so for people with chronic health conditions, compromised immune systems, life-threatening illnesses and those who have children, family members, friends and colleagues who are vulnerable. My twitter feed currently reverberates with expressions of powerlessness and fear. For example:

‘For the first time today I accepted that maybe I won’t make it through all this… I have a compromised immune system, I have a chronic illness, I am the person in the “well we all have to get used to losing someone before their time”… I am scared and so sad.’

Urging people to take personal responsibility (hand-washing and self-isolating) has been a primary focus of government policy to date—an emphasis which has considerably amplified people’s fears. And these fears are completely understandable in the context of many people’s lived experiences. For example, around 15 million people in the UK have disabilities, chronic or life-threatening conditions. Many disabled and chronically ill people depend on social security for their income. But, given that social security has been frozen since 2016, people often have insufficient money for food on a weekly basis, let alone the ability to take on the responsibility to stock up, self-isolate and protect themselves. This is also the case for many of the 14 million people in the UK who are now in poverty. Indeed, many foodbanks are fast running short of supplies.

Many older people, who are more likely to have underlying health problems, have resonant fears. Observing the situation in Italy, where medics have had to make choices about who receives treatment, older people have not been a priority. (It is worth highlighting that Italy has twice as many intensive care beds as the NHS.) In the UK, government austerity policies have involved significant constraints on health service funding and deep cuts to social care budgets over the past ten years, both of which can be life-saving resources for older people. Older people’s fears have been further reinforced by media commentators who routinely devalue older people, often in a quite shocking manner. For example, the Telegraph journalist Jeremy Warner stated this week that economically the coronavirus “might even prove mildly beneficial in the long term by disproportionately culling elderly dependents”.

Given this context, we need to question government policies which revolve around prioritising personal responsibility. In the face of profound material privations, this advice rings pretty hollow for many disabled, chronically ill and older people. How can this almost exclusive policy emphasis on the exercise of personal responsibility be accounted for in relation to people who simply do not have the resources to exercise that responsibility? That is a very big question, and a wide range of explanations have been offered.

Some of those explanations are based on observation. For example, Conservative MP Nadine Dorries argued there is a tendency for ministers to be totally out of touch with the life experiences of ordinary people, capturing this in her observation that ministers are often “posh boys who don’t know the price of milk”. Other explanations have focused on how current policies reflect many of the government’s core ideological principles, which include the following examples.

First, there is a far greater priority placed upon the welfare of the wealthy and the markets than the welfare of ordinary people. For example, the lion’s share of alleviating the burden of the deficit arising from bailing out the banks following the crisis of 2007-8 has been borne, not by the banks themselves, but by the social security budget, and hence by people with chronic health conditions and disabilities—thus significantly depleting people’s ability to exercise personal responsibility.

Second, there has been antipathy towards, and a move away from, policy interventions that are framed in terms of community, such as social care. Instead, there has been an increasing valorisation of, and move towards, policies which shift costs and responsibilities from the state onto the individual. As Maurizio Lazzarato puts it, there is a move to ‘responsibilise’ the individual. Yet in the UK context of high levels of inequality relative to other countries, this increasingly diminishes people’s ability to exercise responsibility.

Third, and a related point, the government has a tendency to prioritise liberty, and a very thin, legal and contractual conception of liberty, which it diametrically counterposes to security—through, say, government welfare resource provisions. However, as Raymond Plant and indeed William Temple in his ‘Christianity and the Social Order’ emphasise, liberty and security are not in tension, but rather intimately entangled. Liberty requires security in the form of resources, such as adequate income, shelter, care and health services. Only with such security do we have the liberty and therefore the ability to exercise responsibility meaningfully.

The analysis above could be developed at length. However, the key point is that this more developed conception of liberty and responsibility suggests that, in the context of the current coronavirus crisis, the government and policy-makers need to move away from embracing and promoting a thin conception of liberty and responsibility and frame their policies with reference to a conception of liberty and ‘response-ability’—in short, developing policies which enhance the abilities of people to be able to respond and stay safe.

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What sort of society do we wish to become? – Borges’ forking pathways

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Associate Research Fellow Tina Hearn steps back from the current political turmoil to consider the wider context of our debate and how the conversation needs to be broadened.

Jorge Luis Borges’ evocative essay ‘The Garden of Forking Pathways’ portrays life as a series of forking paths; each ‘fork’ signifies a point at which questions are raised and a range of alternative pathways are variously illuminated. Sometimes, these questions are intimate. What should I do? What would be an ethical way forward for our team? At other times, questions have broader purchase. What sort of society are we?  And what sort of society do we want to become?

At a forking pathway in the first half of the 20th century, William Temple and his contemporaries confronted the question ‘what sort of society are we?’ head on. It was a question which emerged from an emotionally raw, war-torn and fragile country, founded upon a profoundly asymmetrical and corrosive economic system that was broadly self-serving regarding its own welfare and security. Few economic enterprises directly engaged with the ethical questions of the security and welfare of their workers, families and communities. Hence, the insecurities and indignities of destitution, poverty, unemployment, casualised and insecure work, low pay and the ever-present fear of the workhouse were widespread. These conditions provoked Temple to contend in his essay ‘Christianity and the Social Order’ that:

“[Economic concerns] occupied a greater place in the ordering of life and the shaping of individual ambitions than in any previous period […] (men) ceased to ask what was the purpose of this vast mass of production. It tended to be an end in itself. It was no longer subordinated to the general scheme of a complete human life in which it should be a part.”

Temple also engaged with the question ‘what sort of society do we wish to become?’. Various ways forward were illuminated at the time, including laissez-faire marketisation, populism and authoritarian nationalism. Temple signposted an alternative pathway in ‘Christianity and the Social Order’, in which he mapped the key co-ordinates of a social infrastructure for achieving security and wellbeing for all, subsequently crystallised in the Beveridge Report. This infrastructure, in particular the social security system, which Beveridge described as the linchpin of the whole system, was designed to counter-balance the vagaries of a deeply asymmetrical economic system such as widespread economic insecurity and lack. It was ultimately Temple and Beveridge’s pathway that was most brightly illuminated, and thus embraced, affording greater security and dignity for many people.

The question of ‘what sort of society do we wish to become?’ emerged again in sharp relief in the insecure socioeconomic context of the late 1970s and 1980s. The array of forking pathways at this juncture were unevenly illuminated. The path which won the day, recursively construed the needs and welfare of markets as paramount, and the post-war social welfare settlement and its role in ensuring broader human security and wellbeing as corrosive. Thus, markets were deregulated, corporate taxes were cut and the size of the state was constrained—a pathway which has broadly been followed for a significant part of the last 40 years. Following the financial crisis, however, these trends have been profoundly amplified. A trenchant programme of austerity has been implemented which has eroded our social infrastructure. In particular, our social security system has experienced the deepest cuts further amplifying socioeconomic insecurities and indignities.

Thus, 14 million people are now in poverty—more than half of whom are in work. The social security system has been restructured under the rubric of Universal Credit and payments frozen, resulting in rising numbers of evictions, homelessness, destitution and ballooning demands for emergency support from foodbanks. The Citizen’s Advice Bureau reports that many people dependent on social security are no longer able to afford sufficient food or pay their bills. Education bodies report that staff are having to provide food and other essentials for hungry children; health problems associated with poverty such as malnutrition are rising. Our social security system was described in the UN’s recent report on poverty in the UK as producing the “systematic immiseration of a significant part of the British population”.

Borges argued that history does not repeat itself, yet historical dynamics can certainly resonate and there are clear resonances between the landscape that Temple surveyed and the contemporary landscape to which we are now witness.

Today, there is little doubt that we are engaging with a series of Borges’ forking pathways, each of which, in different ways, engage with the questions ‘what sort of society are we?’ and ‘what sort of society do we want to become?’. These questions are perhaps inevitably inflected through the prism of Brexit and include issues such as the future welfare and security of our environment, our economy, and our political infrastructure. However, as Ruth Lister argues, as a broader society we seem to have developed an ‘art of ignoring the poor’ and so pathways which could engage with the profoundly important issues of human security and dignity largely remain obscured. As Borges notes, issues have to be effectively illuminated for a pathway to be both recognised and traversed. Thus, in the current febrile political atmosphere, there is arguably an urgent need for us all to contribute in our different ways to illuminating the fact that current understandings of ‘security’ need to be broadened and rendered much more inclusivist.

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Blinded by grace? by Val Barron

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Social Policy is in Crisis

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Social policy is in crisis and utilitarian ethics forms a key and too often unquestioned axis of this crisis argues William Temple Foundation Associate Research Fellow Tina Hearn.

That social policy is in crisis is an oft repeated view. But given the considerable evidence, it is a contention which is difficult to refute.

Take having a roof over your head as an example. House prices have surged such they are now out of reach of the mortgage multiplier of the average income. As a report by the housing charity Shelter illustrates, the social housing stock is shrinking, such that more than 100,000 families have now been on social housing waiting lists for more than 10 years. In addition, whilst the private rental sector has expanded dramatically, deregulation has led to rising evictions. Rental costs are now at such a level that an acute problem of affordability has emerged which has hit the young and the poor particularly hard and has relentlessly driven up the costs of the housing benefit bill. Furthermore, over the course of the last year we have seen a record number of people becoming homeless, a phenomenon fuelled by the roll out of Universal Credit and resulting in many people being evicted from their homes.

Housing Minister James Brokenshire has now accepted that the Government now, “needs to ask [itself] some very hard questions,” about policy choices and how those choices have impacted on some of the poorest members of society. Levels of homelessness are also at record levels and, in turn, record numbers of homeless people (i.e. 600) have died in the last year alone.

It would also be possible to extend this commentary to many other policy areas: record and growing levels of child poverty, escalating levels of hunger and a spiralling need for food banks, a prison system marked by increasing levels of violence, an increasingly precarious NHS and schools are experiencing significant budgetary stress, and so on. In short, social policy is undergoing a crisis. What is contested, however, is the nature of the dynamics which are underpinning, feeding and fuelling this crisis.

Many have argued, including Government ministers, that Brexit has operated as a distraction. It is repeatedly suggested that the Brexit has sucked the oxygen out of political and public debate such that the policy crises outlined above are inevitably deprived of attention and resources. Furthermore, it is argued, the pragmatics of Brexit have meant that the Government, and in turn the civil service, have necessarily needed to divert their energies. Thus, in December 2018 John Manzoni, the Civil Service Chief Executive told MPs that around 10,000 civil servants were now working on preparation for Brexit, with 5000 more in the pipeline. Many of these civil servants have been seconded from key departments such as Work and Pensions, Defence and Justice and, as a consequence, their policy work has had to take a back seat.

However, such approaches to the social policy crisis are arguably rooted in a utilitarian ethical pragmatism—a view that aims to maximise ‘utility’ for the majority, thus rendering individual human needs and dignity dispensable. But questions need to be raised as to how defensible it is to formulate and implement policies which in effect frame unmet human needs as policy collateral, thus negating significant dimensions of human agency and the well-being of vast numbers of people.

Not only does the propensity to affirm and deploy utilitarian ethical pragmatism happen far too often, it has also been significantly amplified due to the sheer reach of some policy initiatives, for example the austerity programme. After the financial crisis, various policy responses were open to politicians, for example: an expansionary fiscal and reflationary monetary approach as initially adopted by Gordon Brown; Skidelsky’s idea of people’s qualitative easing; re-pegging corporation tax back closer to EU levels; addressing corporate tax avoidance and confronting the tax gap; implementing a more progressive tax structure; supporting the EU in introducing financial transaction taxes. As many experts have highlighted, the political options available were very wide-ranging indeed. UN Rapporteur Professor Philip Alston argues that the decision to address the fiscal deficit via cutting public services, the costs of which have disproportionately fallen on the poor and those rendered vulnerable in society, was a clear and consciously taken political choice. Again, a utilitarian ethics of pragmatism came into play: those least able to afford to bear the costs of these measures and least able to resist them, became a means to an end—their human agency reduced to their use value.

Utilitarian ethics have also been used to frame many specific policy areas too. For example, income support policies, such as Universal Credit, are primarily driven by the imperative to convert people to the status of worker, which is increasingly seen as the only credible or legitimate status and function in contemporary society, to the neglect and detriment of many other aspects of their lives.

Politicians would do well to heed William Temple’s words:

“Every human activity must be considered in relation to its context in the whole economy of life. To isolate man’s economic activity and to judge it by its own ‘laws’ alone makes the economic process an end in itself, which it is not: for ‘it and all its parts are primarily a means to something more than economic—the life of man’.” (Iremonger, 1948: 437)

Indeed, Temple also noted that in all areas of life, it is ethically and socially corrosive to engage with people purely in terms of their use value.

Social policy in Britain is clearly in crisis. What is more, the instrumentalism and inhumanity of an often economistic form of utilitarian ethics forms a key, and too often unquestioned axis, of this crisis.

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When the shocking numbs us, what do we do?

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Associate Research Fellow Tina Hearn urges us to allow ourselves to be shocked by some of the recent statistics on UK poverty and asks what action we can take.

When was the last time you were shocked by the news?  When were you last so outraged by what you heard that you felt you had to do something?

Political news tends to ebb over the summer, creating spaces for issues which otherwise struggle for attention when Westminster politics is in full flow; yet notwithstanding Brexit, some arguably shocking news stories have received limited coverage this summer. For example, statistics have been released which indicate profound and growing levels of poverty. The recent Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) report, whose commissioners included Justin Welby, highlighted that there are huge and growing disparities in income and wealth in the UK, with 14 million people living below the poverty line (22 per cent of the population!), including 4.5 million children. These findings were confirmed by the report from the Social Metrics Commission (SMC), which formed as a response to the Government’s abolition of child poverty targets as an official measure in 2015. Equally shocking, given the constant refrain of “work is the best route out of poverty”, 67 per cent of those 14 million people are living in working households. The Child Poverty Action Group’s commentary helps to humanise these statistics:

Even more shocking is the fact that the bulk of the Government’s austerity measures, such as cuts to Tax Credits (top-up payments for working families on very low pay), have been focussed on the poorest in this country, further exacerbating poverty. Policy initiatives such as Universal Credit, which is currently being rolled out, are also contributing to pushing people further into poverty through abnormally high rates of sanctions, system errors and payment deductions. As the IPPR report notes, figures such as these should be placed in the context of the fact that:

“Forty-four per cent of the UK’s wealth is owned by just 10 per cent of the population, five times the total wealth held by the poorest half, while the richest 1 per cent are estimated to own 14 per cent of the nation’s wealth.” (p.18)

It is a matter of national shame that our country faces a UN probe over extreme poverty in the UK. Overall, a shocking indictment of the political and policy decisions of the sixth richest country in the world. William Temple was certainly shocked about levels of poverty and inequality the 1940s, so why are more of us not shocked today?

A range of explanations exist as to why people are seemingly immune to these statistics:

  1. There has been a long-standing political and policy narrative of hopelessness, that globalisation is now an irresistible force, and that it is a key factor in driving down wages. However, according to a recent survey, one in ten firms are failing to pay the minimum wage. As a House of Commons Library report notes: “Very few prosecutions are in fact brought. There was one successful prosecution in 2017”. (p.18) We should not feel hopeless; we should be shocked. And we most certainly should implement these and other important legal protections rigorously.
  2. There are also powerful, derogatory narratives which portray low income families as hopeless cases and people in receipt of income support as less than human. These stories are frequently voiced, and so normalised, by some on the political right and the press. These narratives actually refer to people who struggle to pay ever rising rent and utility bills, and to children who are cold, going hungry, and not able to join in activities with friends in the context of significant disparities of income and wealth. We could and should act.
  3. William Connolly argues that issues such as poverty lack political momentum because of people’s continuing faith and hope in the false promises of our economic system: “the only route out of poverty is work” (most people in poverty are in work), “wealth will trickle down” (wealth has in fact trickled up), “we should place our hope in growth and progress in the future“. However, the IPPR report indicates stirrings of change; people are increasingly agreeing that the UK economy does not work for the poor, low paid and many other social groups.

The dynamics of political change are various, but they often involve jolts or shocks. Sometimes, change comes about through the gradual accretion of small jolts. Perhaps you could contribute by sending your family and friends a link to this blog and ask them what they think? Sometimes political change is about contributing momentum to bodies with the capacity to create bigger shocks. So consider signing up to organisations like Christians Against Poverty, the Child Poverty Action Group and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Sometimes political change is about co-creating tipping points, contributing to a profound shock as William Temple did to the post war welfare state at Malvern. Few of us have that sort of influence, but as the suggestions above indicate, it is certainly possible for us all to contribute to something shocking this week!

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Windrush and the New Public Management Machine

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Tina Hearn considers the underlying causes of the recent Windrush scandal and the dehumanisation of public policy.

The impacts of the UK’s ‘Hostile Environment’ immigration policy have been truly shocking. From deportations to the withholding of life saving cancer treatment, people unable to be with relatives during illness, to loss of jobs, homes and human dignity – the list goes on and on and is not confined to the Windrush generation.

One view which struck a particularly raw nerve was offered by Bob Kerslake, former head of the civil service, but in post at the time of Theresa May’s creation of the ‘Hostile Environment’ policy. He reported that there was considerable controversy amongst ministers at the time about this policy and that some ministers were of the opinion that the ‘Hostile Environment’ approach to immigration policy was in various ways “reminiscent of Nazi Germany.” The Windrush event has clearly not involved mass genocide or atrocities that took place under the Nazi regime, so why might some ministers have felt this way? Isn’t this just emotive, political hyberbole? Or was it perhaps about the racialisation of immigration policy? Or whether immigration policies take mechanistic, dehumanised approaches to policy administration? These are important questions to examine properly if the new Home Secretary is to achieve his stated aim of creating a fair and humane immigration policy.

So can immigration policy be considered as racialised? It is interesting to reflect on how terms such as ‘Britishness’, ‘immigrants’ and ‘race’ are commonly framed in immigration-related political and policy discourses. The use of the naturalistic term ‘race’ has diminished in political or policy discourse. This is not surprising and on at least two counts: the US Government’s Human Geome Project and numerous other studies have evidenced that there is no scientific evidence to support claims for distinct categories of human ‘races’. The term ‘race’ has also been associated with contentious political and policy issues and as such its use has also diminished. However, as Professor Martin Barker has noted, whilst the term ‘race’ has become submerged there is a concomitant tendency for the term to be reframed and expressed in naturalised, cultural or psychic categoric forms. So for example Amber Rudd’s resignation letter contained a naturalistically inflected reference to the cultural and psychic disposition of ‘instincts of the British people.’ Further, in the Windrush debate, both politicians and commentators continue to use politico-cultural categories such ‘colonial peoples’ when referring to those who are British citizens, yet continue to be categorised and so badged as different, as aliens within. It is worth underlining that Black Britons have been significantly and disproportionately affected by the ‘Hostile Environment’ policy, and that under the criminal justice system, any policy institution or suite of policies which disproportionately affect Black British people is a technical example of the phenomena of institutional racism.

Second, could the ‘Hostile Environment’ approach to immigration policy be described as mechanistic and dehumanising? Arguably this approach reflects broader contemporary approaches to governance and policy-making. Ironically, Amber Rudd gestured towards this point in stating “I am concerned that the Home Office has become too concerned with policy and strategy, and sometimes lose sight of the individual.” Although the buck-passing element of this was not especially admirable, it touches upon a crucial problem. A problem which is arguably deeply ingrained in the style and approach to policy management which has been adopted and implemented across all government departments, i.e., new public management (NPM). Some of the main elements of NPM include: concentration of power at the top of political and policy hierarchies, management and regulation of the entire policy system through the use of quantified and inflexible specifications of policy inputs, outputs and processes, which are underpinned and heavily enforced through audit, performance measurement and sanctions. Evidence of the effects of this approach to policy have repeatedly emerged as the Windrush scandal has unfolded, with reports of rigidly enforced targets, a culture of hostility and dehumanisation fostered among staff and feelings of dehumanisation and despair widespread amongst British citizens having to deal with immigration services. This problem has been both exacerbated and amplified, yet also worryingly occluded by the outsourcing of immigration services to private companies. It seems we have moved towards a system of governance and policy-making which is at best systemically rigid and insensitive; at worst, a form of institutionalised inhumanity and cruelty.

The Government have responded to the indignities and cruelties of Windrush, by claiming that it was a mistake and that it will be put right. However, it is deeply concerning that this is not an approach to governance and policy making which is confined to either one or two ministers nor indeed a single government department. It is an approach which has been adopted across government with similar effects.

For example, the same political approach and policy technologies underpin the institutionalised cruelty of immiseration created by benefit sanctions, the cruelty of work capability assessments in the benefit system, the warping of objectives and processes in the education system, the denial of health care on the basis of discredited BMI indicators, the rapidly increasing numbers of child poverty in the face of cuts to Universal Credit – this list could go on and on. This is a problem which now permeates our entire political and policy system.

It is really important that these issues are aired and examined and that this should take place before the window of political and media attention upon Windrush closes. But perhaps that window is already incrementally closing? For example, Savid Javid the new Home Secretary’s voting record indicates that he has consistently supported the ‘Hostile Environment’ policy. The Government initially refused a request from Caribbean politicians to discuss the issue and has also voted down a parliamentary request for Government papers associated with this area of immigration policy to be released for political and public scrutiny. Government censorship of public policy processes which involve marking and badging people as different, and treating them as less than human, does not auger well for responsive and accountable Governance for the future, and in turn, neither does it auger well for a developing a humane, non-racialised approach to immigration policy.

The state is a barometer of how far edicts such as “love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt 19:19) are nationally respected and observed – it remains to be seen if it can be so.

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What have our Food and Bodies Become?

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In a culture of both food deprivation and obesity crises, Tina Hearn considers how we might better think about food and about our bodies.

In June, UNICEF published a report indicating that one in five children in the UK suffered from food insecurity and one in ten were severely food insecure. This means that amongst the world’s wealthiest nations, the UK has some of the highest levels of child hunger and deprivation. The TUC also recently released a report which revealed that one in eight working people were having to skip meals in order to make ends meet. The Trussell Trust, which is the largest, but by no means the only provider of emergency food, reported that it has distributed the highest ever volume of emergency food, i.e. more than one million food parcels. What we seem to be seeing here is an increasing alignment with the desperate conditions which Temple described when he reflected “the poor are not housed…nor the hungry fed.”

So why is this the case? A crucial factor is that our current economic model is broken, as signalled in a report issued by the IPPR Commission on Economic Justice. Key issues here include an economic and taxation system which is heavily oriented towards corporate well-being and welfare, facilitates the upward siphoning of wealth, produces widening inequalities and intensifies poverty. Changes in labour market and employment policies have decreased workers rights, creating downward pressure on bargaining power and in turn increasing insecurities for workers as manifest for example in the ‘gig economy.’ In addition, the cumulative effects of austerity policies which include long term public sector pay caps and welfare retrenchment have compounded these problems, and further rises in the levels of poverty and food insecurity are predicted for the near future.

You would think that there would be public outrage about such high levels of economic and in turn food insecurity, deprivation and hunger, but this is not the case. Indeed, public attitudes, which have traditionally formed an important source of resistance to circumstances such as these, seem to have hardened in relation to welfare and poverty. Could the way in which we think about food and in turn bodies provide some insights?

Arguably, dominant ways in which we think about and engage with food are anchored in and reflect the predicates of this broader system and, as such, contribute to consolidating its privatory tendencies. For example, the increasing intensity of work through the predominance of management techniques such as the audit culture, plus the acute pressures upon budgetary management presented by the intensities of low paid work, multiple jobs and poverty, have created pressures and demand for  processed food such as ready meals and take-aways, where the emphasis is upon speed, the instrumentalisation of food and the individualisation of eating practice.

Food is also individualistically and instrumentally inflected through the highly popular and often expensive craze for ‘super foods.’ Here the emphasis is upon cellular and tissue re-engineering of the individual body through the instruments of active constituents of foods such as flavonoids, biotics and enzymes. Practices such as these have aesthetic and ascetic inflections too. For example, they give rise to notions of virtuous eaters, i.e. aesthetically ideal, thin, lean bodies, and their corollaries sinful, unruly, often large bodies – comparison and competition are often key drivers here. Arguably individualism, responsibilisation and instrumentalism have become entrenched in the way in which we name and form our relations with food and so naturalised in our cultural catechism of food and bodies.  If you are unable to secure enough food, it is often construed as a matter of personal failure rather than public shame. So what are some of the ways in which we might think about food and bodies differently?

In her book ‘Fat Jesus’ Lisa Isherwood, with reference to the Songs of Solomon, argues that food and bodies can be inflected quite differently. Here food is mobilised to figure the inter-dependencies of human expressions of shared incarnated desire, sensuality and spirituality. Interestingly this is signed through the assertively affirmed beauty of the ‘comely’ body, rounded thighs and heaped belly of a generously enfleshed woman. In using this example, Isherwood underlines that food is relational and that the body is a site where creation is lived and sensed. She adds that a large body is a life lived as testament to the abundance of creation, thus affirming an inclusive and celebratory aesthetics with an emphasis upon voluptuousness of creation. There are echos here of Temple’s own orientation to food, which included affirmation of sensuality, family, sociality and bonding.

Hannah Bacon also highlights the relational and social dimensions of food as found in Sophia’s Banquet, where food is used to figure both an aesthetic and ascetics of openness, inclusion and sharing (Proverbs 8, 9), a stark contrast to the instrumental and utilitarian ethics which pervade individualistic, introspective forms of eating practices. Social eating is also generative of further ethical values such as inclusion, acceptance and mutual enjoyment – values which affirm a fertile and abundant openness. In her book ‘Fat Activism’ Charlotte Cooper also talks about food as a medium which can not only embody acceptance and inclusion, but can also be about fostering other forms of expression such as bonding, enjoyment and having fun, as well fostering political consciousness.

All of these examples signal both the possibility of and also the need for a shift in the way in which we think about and relate to our food and bodies. Arguably, just like our economic model, our current models of food and bodies are broken. There is a need for a different model which embraces sufficient and healthy food as fundamental to our humanity and also validates the integrity of all bodies, in particular those bodies which are currently defined as failures, for example bodies which are clinically and culturally defined as overweight or obese.

Tina’s forthcoming Temple Tract ‘Theology and the Politics of Flesh’ shares some further reflections on this challenge, which you’ll be able to read soon…

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So What’s Wrong with the F-word?

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Spring has arrived, bringing brightness and a gentle warmth back into many of our lives. Yet it’s also a time of year when we are assaulted by a deluge of calls to beach-body readiness and action against the F-word: ‘tackle those winter bulges’, ‘the battle plan diet’, ‘fight the flab’, ‘wage war on your waistline’, – calls to arms in a battle against what are construed as a dangerous, common enemy: fat bodies.

So what are some of the drivers of these ‘battle calls’? The imaginaries of ‘fat wars’ have deep and multiple roots, among them a particular reading of Christianity. For example, in Psalm 119:70 the arrogant are portrayed as possessing hearts that are ‘fat and gross’, intrinsically linking moral and somatic pathology. Paul also warns that appetite can be destructive of both self, community and possibilities in the afterlife. These somatic imaginaries are also gendered and sexualised through the imagery of the Fall. Similar judgemental, othering and often punitive themes have been serially echoed through time in the practices of the flagellants, Calvin, the Puritans and countless further iterations. As this period of Lent may have reminded us, controlled appetite and slim bodies are similarly and variously linked to the themes of redemption, holiness and salvation.

This model of Christian ethics also shares a conceptual template with contemporary economics, culture and politics, which are imbued with the principles of individualism, self-discipline, lean efficiency, competitiveness, maximisation of surplus and profit, which in turn form sacralised benchmarks for the being of all bodies. In contrast, non-normative bodies are constructed as objects of disdain or abjection, and so marginalised. Yet paradoxically, consumer capitalism also actively inflates bodies. For example, fat and sugars in the form of corn syrup are purposely added to a wide range of foods to generate desires to buy and eat more, exploiting our instinctive, survivalist drives. As Scientific American highlighted in 2016, fat and sugar are addictive in ways that parallel gambling or cocaine. Further, Dupuy suggests the recent rise in ‘obesity’ is a mark of capital’s productive and marketing success which, in turn, underpins a complementary, multi-million pound slimming industry.

The narratives and practices of that slimming industry, which are intimately related to those of anti-fat pharma and redemptive private medicine, tend to portray images of soft, fleshy bodies as disfigured and in need of redemptive measures. Quasi-religious, ideal images of thinness are serially deployed, and salvational regimes include controlling carnal urges, ‘taming the flesh’, regulatory coding of permitted and non-permitted eating, rituals for self-flagellation, confession and public shaming of failure. Self denial and sacrifice are celebrated. All are underwritten by an idolatrous and eschatological ideal of perfected, ‘born again’ flesh. This amounts to the propagation of shaming and devaluation of bodies on an industrial scale, dynamics which are complemented by the media.

All forms of media cultivate an affective milieu in which larger bodies function as markers of disorder, indulgence, indiscipline and incivility. Such imagery is disproportionately applied to and used to shame the poor, unemployed and the token celebrity who has ‘failed’. In contrast, lean figures are portrayed as normative, virtuous and desirable. Morality and worth are accorded not only by weight, gender and class, but also ‘race’ and sexuality as evidenced through publications as diverse as ‘Diva’, ‘Asian Women’ and ‘Vogue.  These images are thus not only devaluing, but also divisive and colonising.

The collateral damage of this ‘war against fat’ is threefold. First, there is logical collateral – as Berreby argues, these individualising blaming and shaming practices have little logical or scientific bases. Second, these ‘fat wars’ also generate political and ethical collateral too. These imaginaries not only comprise oppressive forms of social regulation and control, they are also divisive, discriminatory, exclusory, create hierarchies and mitigate against equality of respect and social justice. At an inter-personal level they can also foster a competitive comparative ethos and even aggression towards nonconforming flesh. The dynamics of dehumanisation, loathing, ostracism, bullying and aggression towards larger bodies are of particular significance in the context of rising hate crime. Third, at a psychic level, ‘fat body’ narratives can generate feelings of inadequacy, humiliation, anxiety, self alienation, loathing as well as shame. Overall, this ‘war on fat’ is cruel and dehumanising, renders larger bodies docile and as such comprises a systemic form of discrimination and oppression.

So are there alternative religious approaches that might suspend such hostilities to the body? Temple would be a good example here. Whilst he lived during a period dominated by a Christianity which was lean and muscular in its somatics, larger bodies were widely conceived as greedy, effeminate, irrational and uncontrolled. Indeed, Temple’s own proportions did not go without comment among politicians of the time. Nevertheless, Temple valorised the utility of his larger body on the rugby field and further embraced table fellowship to the full (and beyond!) from Bermondsey to Balliol. In doing so, he contested, rejected and inverted the shaming somatic values of the cultural milieu around him. Temple was a political radical in many ways, but his somatic radicalism, as expressed in his embrace of a kinder and more accepting approach to all bodies is often overlooked.

Arguably, there is a similar, pressing need to reframe somatic economics, politics and culture today, to identify ways of being and forms of well-being which do not put us at war with our own bodies, or with each other’s, and which are not tied to profit-driven motives. There is a need for frames which recognise and affirm the vibrancy of difference, diversity and their interrelatedness. Relational Christian Realism is one such approach and the organisation Health at Every Size offers another.  Both embrace the import of biodiversity and interdependence, and gesture towards a possible future in which there would no longer be a need to fear the F-word.

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Port Talbot: Values Beyond Value

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When the news of Tata Steel’s decision to close its British plants broke, Business Secretary Sajid Javid indicated that he was unaware of either the detail or the time scale. Many MPs and commentators asserted that the steel plants should be allowed to fail, enabling the exercise of the ‘creative destruction’ of market forces. This process has been interwoven with community protests, pressures exerted by the Community Union, concerns around the Government’s reluctance to agree to tariff parity with the Chinese and arguments around strategic importance of assuring core industries. Whilst possibilities of an alternative buyer seemed remote, the Government posed this as ‘the best option’. In recent days the government’s view has shifted, suggesting that it may assume the role of an economic partner, an option first intimated as an undesirable, ‘last resort’. Important questions around both logic and values are implicated in this series of developments.

There are many reasons why the Tata scenario has unfolded in this form. However, a key part of the explanation, lies in the government’s propensity to prioritise the value of the unimpeded exercise of markets, in particular corporates, their interests and values. Corporates and markets have effectively been afforded the status of ‘the new public’, their interests and values elided with ‘the public interest’ and thus the notion of social value is effectively conflated with the acquisition, control and disbursing of property and money.  However, there are alternative views which embrace a much broader conception of values. William Temple argued that economies which centred solely or largely upon the valorisation of the interests of ownership and profit were unacceptable, and that production should be socially useful. This is by no means an outdated view. There has recently been renewed interest in the German Mittelstand and Nordic stakeholder models, for example, John Studzinski of the Blackstone Investment Group endorsed models which embody the ethos that business should be socially useful and principles such as representation, trust and social value accorded significant weight.  Trust and representation are of course relational values, which invites my next point.

As in many other contexts such as local planning decisions and soon, local education, the identities of local people, communities and representative organisations such as Community Union in Port Talbot have had to fight hard for recognition, voice and influence. In many respects their experience forms the corollary of the points made above. That is, the UK operates on the basis of a model of the social, public interest and social value in which the personhood and values of corporations and markets predominate and those of other stakeholders and values such as co-operation and community, figure as ephemeral or remain invisible. Again, there are alternative views which embrace much broader, inclusive and coherent values. Temple argued for a broader ‘stakeholder’ model, in which communities, workers and unions were affirmed as legitimate and valued economic partners. The Mittelstand model also affirms the value of a notion of economic community and co-operation between employers and employees through mechanisms such as works councils. Further, the report of the Ownership Commission in 2013, which included Roger Carr (President of the CBI and chairperson of Centrica) and Ruth Sunderland (Associate Editor at the Daily Mail), argued there was a need for ownership policies which incorporated a broader value base, reflected in practices such as wider representation, engagement and shared stewardship. Each of these views embraces a broadening of values to achieve common well-being. The state also can be productively viewed as an expression of community and as such, a key stakeholder. So why is state intervention perceived as highly problematic?

As noted above, the government view state involvement as a ‘last resort’. This devaluation of the state may be argued to be highly ideological, lacking in weight and fast assuming the status of an idealist secular theology.  Dr. Barry Morgan Archbishop of Wales posed an illuminating challenge “if you can save the banks, then you can save the steel industry”; they are both strategic industries and the people situated in both matter. Professor Mazucatto digs deeper, and argues that whilst we are currently being sold the narrative that the state is a ‘meddler’, simply a spender and acts as a drag on the vitality of markets, this is simply not the case.  The state can be and indeed repeatedly has been both entrepreneurial and creative. Indeed, the viability and successes of many businesses vitally depend upon its activities, not just in terms of research and investment – think of the enormous scale and beneficiaries of QE! Temple did and would certainly continue to concur with the position that the state can and indeed does play a vital and valued role in assuring both the wellbeing of both business and communities. But today the state is being reconfigured and rooted in different values.

Why has the potential closure of Tata Steel struck such fear into steel work communities? Temple underlined that people, communities and civil associations should be both recognised and valued. However, arguably, the only sense in which such forms of personality are currently afforded significance is in the dubiously ring-fenced and increasingly controlled arena of civil society. State activities as expressions of our association such as the provision of security in the face of say unemployment or disability, are portrayed as sapping both economic and moral vitality. Reflecting these sentiments, welfare has become increasingly discriminatory, punitive, impoverishing and exclusory, as reflected in the devalued and arguably demonised figure of ‘the scrounger’, viewed as located in a twilight zone outside of society. Temple vigorously refuted such ethics and values implicated in the context in which he was writing. People and communities thus understandably fear not only the physical degradations of increased levels of privation associated with unemployment, but also social devaluation too. The memorable observation from ‘Men without Work’ which Temple coordinated captures something of this fear:

The unemployed ‘are not simply units of employability who can, through the medium of the dole, be put into cold storage and taken out again immediately they are needed. While they are in cold storage, things are liable to happen to them’.

The rationale for the government’s position is that its views and associated values are anchored in what is claimed to be a value neutral ‘hidden hand’ of the market, which creates both vigorous economies and moral actors. Our reflections suggest that in terms of values this is a highly limited, ideological view, and that there is a need to recover and reinstate a broader value set as embedded in the Mittelstand and Nordic models and Mazacatto’s points around the centrality of value creation. Further, given the broader values which communities and organisations have illuminated in the struggles around Tata, arguably local communities have articulated a more insightful and intelligent vision of values than our political class. Temple’s argument that there is a need to embrace a value base in both the economy and beyond which affirms the integrity of all personalities, both the politically powerful and visible and those who are not so, continues to ring true today.

Tina Hearn is an Associate Research Fellow of the William Temple Foundation.

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Sound and Fury: Signs of a New Politics?

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You could be forgiven for thinking that the contemporary political air is ever ‘full of sound and fury’. For example, witness the furore over the decision to include a service with refugees in a recent episode of the generally fusty ‘Songs of Praise’. The Express subsequently spoke of the BBC having provoked ‘fury’ for arranging to film the programme in a ‘lawless ghetto’; the initiative clearly framed as a threat. Nigel Farage’s reported comments provide an important pointer to the roots of the indignation, i.e., “It’s overtly political and an attempt by the BBC to try to influence the debate. I am wholly opposed to it. It looks and feels like political activism to make us look at the migrant crisis differently”. Damian Collins MP (Media and Sports Committee) also opined “I don’t think it is appropriate at all to insert Songs of Praise into what is a very complex political and international situation” and called for the episode to be cancelled. The Sun underlined the need for a defence, asserting “Calais is burning and the calls going out are for more CS gas, more razor wire and more troops — not more choirs”.

Similarly themed emotional sounds and furies have been expressed around the Corbyn challenge in the Labour Leadership contest. Alistair Heath, Deputy Editor of the Telegraph, headlined an article “a Corbyn victory in the Labour Leadership battle would be a disaster”, in arguing for initiatives such as “public ownership of railways” and the prospect of “demonising business”, i.e. entryism of different ideas and practices, such as: inclusivism, a broader definition of the public, a politics of hope, again perceived as discordant with and in turn a clear threat to contemporary political orthodoxies. Inevitably this threat has been framed in more emotive, arguably apocalyptic language by the press, for example in the dystopian nightmare painted by the Daily Mail’s David Thomas, the theme of defence again figured strongly. There has been an extensive media campaign in support of a defensive tactical response to this perceived threat of Corbyn to the electoral prospects of the Labour Party and benefit for the Conservatives, for example the #ToriesForCorbyn Twitter campaign. However, sounds from sources such as Conservative Home, the Spectator and other commentators on the right have tended to be more muted and reflective.  ‘Conservative Home’s Daniel Hannan notes that facilitating a Corbyn victory could well be a bad move in that it could encourage decadence and so weaken the Conservative Party’s defences.

These three key themes: difference, threats and defence, have echoed through a wide range of political interventions, for example, responses to the Church of England’s pastoral letter at the beginning of this year, Iain Duncan Smith’s response to the Trussell Trust’s call for a dialogue over foodbanks and so on. Arguably all of these debates provoke the question, ‘why on earth are these various differences perceived as so threatening, and the current political settlement perceived as in need of defence’? In some senses, perceptions of threats and the need for defences seem inexplicable. Many key features of the current political settlement, referred to here using the shorthand Neoliberal Corporate Capitalism (NLCC), have become both generalised and increasingly entrenched within the foundations of law, politics, a range of institutions (including the Church), policy and indeed common sense. In many respects their various parameters and processes seem to have become set in stone, and to extend the metaphor, have assumed the form of a solidly founded, new orthodox temple. However, on closer inspection, it may be argued that the foundations of this new temple are somewhat shaky, masonry and scripture often paradoxical, contradictory, incoherent and so ‘cracked’. Arguably interventions such as the Corbyn campaign, the refugee church service in Calais and often local faith-based interventions and beyond, have been instrumental in contributing to an emerging, penetrating structural survey which has revealed increasing numbers of cracks and so challenged the new orthodoxy, and in turn, gestured towards a politics of the new. They have done so in relation to a plethora of features and in a wide range of contexts, far too many to detail here. However, two brief examples can hopefully form contributions towards the illumination of this broader contention.

One example of a ‘crack’ in the prevailing orthodoxy is revealed through challenges to the contradictory NLCC propositions that the appropriate boundaries within which difference should be expressed, are defined at the same time, as broadly open in relation to peopled business and markets, and yet for working people and refugees, are invariably bounded and so limited by ‘the nation’. The Bishop of Dover challenged David Cameron’s use of the term ‘swarms’ in demarcating this difference and called for the need to remember our common humanity, a subversive charge which dovetails with and highlights the contradictions between such forms of differentiation and neoliberal contentions around the foundations of an individualism which makes claims for equal moral worth, negative liberty to enable the free articulation of difference. Both the Bishop of Dover’s arguments and related claims, form a more fundamental subversive charge in that it is underwritten by a rubric which affirms 100% universality and the affirmation of the sanctity and relations of all humans, companion species and indeed the very fabric of the earth – thus affirming difference not as limiting or divisive, but rather as a relational, universal principle, mode of existence and production in its own right.

A second example of a crack in the prevailing orthodoxy, is the NLCC proposition that difference can also be coherently and adequately conceived through the relations of a myriad of atomised, market individuals. This logic has been challenged in various ways, such as emerging sharing economies. In addition, DEMOS and the Cinnamon Faith Action Audit evidenced the volume and reach of faith-based modes of production in the public sphere, the majority of which are increasingly outward facing, forming relational forms of difference. Richard Reddie in his research with Black community churches argued that there has been a ‘step change’, from tea and sympathy towards more openness and engagement. Faith-based modes of production which involve the creation of differential relations which cut across NLCC boundaries of difference are also evidenced in activities which have proliferated. Further examples include the efforts of foodbanks to forge community and organisational relations in response to the growing prevalence of food stress, and challenging pathologised forms of difference as found within the logic of government discourses around recipients. Clear attempts to reframe difference as relational are also evidenced in the activities of various Occupy movements, such as Christian Occupy, Occupy London, Manchester, Glasgow and arguably the Corbyn campaign. As the Guardian’s Matthew d’Ancona observed, “a quite different form of politics is emerging, with a quite different structure… it is “synchronic” (cross-sectional) rather than “diachronic” (part of a serial narrative, with a before and after)”. A phenomena which William Temple Foundation’s Director Chris Baker gestured towards, when reflecting upon the trans-local nature of faith-based groups.

I could go on, however, two important points can be made. First, for the future, the paradoxes, contradictions and incoherencies as ‘cracks’ implicated in the prevailing orthodoxy in some or perhaps many respects, may ‘signify nothing’ i.e. have no future – perhaps one insight into the broader puzzle of why the contemporary political establishment is ‘full of sound and fury’. Second, that faith groups need to pay careful attention to the logics which they confront and engage with, in terms of their own practice, and in particular to ensure that they are able to make coherent and meaningful contributions to the emergence of a politics of the new. If not, they too may be inevitably subject to the criticism that their interventions amount to little more than an indulgence, “sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

Tina Hearn is an Associate Research Fellow of the William Temple Foundation.

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