I was at the Labour Women’s Network political conference on Saturday, which was a wholly wonderful experience – it is so unusual to have so many fabulous women speaking and engaging about Labour politics, but one point was raised which I found quite difficult to agree with.
Part of politics is compromise, and engaging with people who you do not agree with all the time. This is something that politicians need to do with faith groups – it is important to have a relationship with people from all areas of the community that you represent, and to be respected by them, but there has to be a line.
We could use the analogy of making a new friend – you begin by finding the things that you agree on, and build up respect. As your relationship grows, you find areas where you disagree, but because you respect that person, you accept them as a friend despite these views. This all applies to Labour politicians and building relationships with faith groups, and were expressed at the LWN conference as something that it is important to do as a means to reach people who traditional campaigning would not reach, and share many moral values with the party.
The question for me is, would I be a friend with someone who thinks my sexuality, or right to access to contraception or abortion is inherently wrong. I would not. Why are making these exceptions seen as not a problem when we deal with faith groups? There is a significant difference between disagreeing with someone on how to provide support for homeless people, and being accepting of someone’s sexuality.
I fully accept, that not all faith groups are for example anti-choice or homophobic, but some are, and it is a worry that we are too willing to forgive these views for the fear of the conversation being difficult or awkward.
The Labour party is rightly proud of our record on equality, should we be so willing to ignore the flaws of religious groups because we agree so much on social justice? By all means work together on fighting social injustices, but we have a duty to speak up for our values on equality – women are not second class citizens, nor is homosexuality abhorrent.
We should not be using venues which host ‘gay cure’ events like the Emmanuel Centre. We should not be posing for photographs with church leaders who agree with us on social justice, but spend the rest of their time telling the media that marriage equality would cause a plague of locusts. Labour have to stop being afraid of standing up for our beliefs on equality.
Of course we need to have relationships with religious groups and organisations, but the fear to challenge out-dated or disgusting views has to go. Perhaps an extreme example – I agree with Nick Griffin that school food needs to be improved, but you don’t see me joining him in a campaign for it. The issue obviously become more complex with less divisive organisations than the BNP – should Labour be considering The Salvation Army as a friend, since they provide some vital services to people who need them irrespective of who they are, but membership is not allowed to ‘practising’ homosexuals?
We cannot shy away from the difficult discussions, because taking the easy path is just cheating ourselves. It is easy to work with your local mosque on coordinating support for local homeless people – it is not so easy to stand up for your beliefs on equality.