(Ed West is Associate Director of UK2020, the think-tank set up by former Conservative Cabinet minister Owen Paterson to devise new policies for the 2020 Tory manifesto. West is also deputy editor of The Catholic Herald and he is an author, journalist and blogger. He has written a column for The Daily Telegraph and has written and blogged for The Spectator.West has written The Diversity Illusion, which examines the adverse effects of mass immigration on British society. Peter Hitchens in The Mail on Sunday wrote that West’s book was “powerful” and that it contained an “excellent analysis” of “official propaganda about the economic benefits” of immigration.
He is the son of British journalist Richard West and Irish journalist Mary Kenny. Peter Oborne has described West as “one of the most interesting of the rising generation of political writers, who delights in destroying liberal pieties.”)
Laura Perrins: You are Associate Director of UK2020. Tell us about that.
Ed West: It’s a new think-tank set up by Owen Paterson, the aim being to come up with new ideas and policies for the 2020 Tory manifesto, by which there will be a new leader. Although we are small-c conservative we’re hoping to get a broad range of people to look at new ways of resolving some of the challenges facing the country. Once the Europe questioned is answered, one way or another, there are plenty of other things that need looking at.
LP: You have written in The Catholic Herald that the Radical Rich, who support progressive social movements such as same-sex marriage and immigration, are preaching the faith of the new establishment, just as Protestantism was a few hundred years ago. Your podcast is an absolute must listen.
I think freedom of religion is going to be a big issue in the next decade. The Radical Rich have the motivation and power to enforce their views on the rest – through extortion, such as pulling contracts from states that disagree with their radical agenda, to setting the news agenda, since Facebook have admitted bias against trending conservative stories.
How big is the threat to religious freedom and how should Christians react?
EW: I hate the use of the word ‘persecution’ because Christians in Iraq and Syria are being persecuted, while those in Britain and elsewhere in the West are just being sidelined. As Peter Hitchens says, it’s not that Christians are hated, it’s just that most people don’t care; it’s a bizarre irrelevance to them.
What I find disturbing about people who follow the new faith, or whatever you want to call it, is just how certain they are; it’s good to have convictions and beliefs but to not even consider you might be wrong can lead to this really off-putting certainty. Christopher Lasch, who I consider a prophet, wrote that identity politics ‘has come to serve as a substitute for religion, or at least for the feeling of self-righteousness that is so commonly confused with religion’.
Politics now provides those same qualities religion once did, ‘security, spiritual comfort, dogmatic relief from doubt’. The difference, Lasch observed, was that traditionally religion was not just a crutch but a burden, something that caused us continually to question our own salvation and morality: the new religion seems to lack that.
Many of the problems with what I regard as political sectarianism – things like the safe space movement in the US – stem from this political certainty.
Human beings aren’t instinctively tolerant, in fact political tolerance took a long, long time to develop after centuries of bloodshed, and only in some parts of the world. It’s something we may need to relearn from time to time.
So, in answer, Christians are not going to lose their religious freedom as such, but they will become increasingly isolated from the mainstream, and certain roles will become impossible for them to perform, in particular the medical profession. Things might also be aggravated by the growing problems attached to Islam; it’s easy for secular society to just ostracise all religions rather than tackle one.
LP: Staying on religion, what do you think about latest Government attempts to outlaw ‘extremism’? There are already laws criminalising speech and actions that incite violence, hatred of another group. Extremism is very hard to define, and this law could easily be used to crush dissent from ‘liberal values.’ Arguably, the most peaceful saint, St Francis was a religious extremist – he stripped naked in front of his father and a bishop to declare himself a follower of Christ and refused to take part in the money economy, then new, or to even touch money.
This is a dangerous law to propose?
EW: Which leads to this question nicely. I think almost anyone who lived before about 1971 would be regarded as an extremist by the current government. Whenever David Cameron talks about British values or liberal values I shudder, since they seem to be pretty novel and questionable ones; they would certainly exclude a very large percentage of native Brits. In fact, the liberal European values politicians talk about would be far more alien to my grandparents than most mainstream Islam is.
The problem is that we have imported very large numbers of people from quite different cultures into a country that is some way through a huge social revolution in which almost every more has been turned upside down. This makes it hard for migrants in particular; to take a historical comparison, when Russian Jews arrived in the late 19th century long established British Jews (who were a bit embarrassed by them) set up a school to turn these Russian boys into ‘English gentleman’. That was far easier then because everyone knew what it meant. That is more difficult to define now.
LP: Do you support Brexit?
EW: Yes, although I favour the EEA model, which might not actually reduce immigration that much, and a lot of people are treating it as an immigration referendum. The EU is a 20th century idea for a 20th century problem – European belligerence – and most of its obvious advantages, such as free trade and lower tariffs, are done at world level now. I don’t agree the EU has stopped us from going to war and the factors that caused 1914-45 are not relevant today (we have nukes, we’re also all too old), while superstates have a poor record in most regards, and tend to end badly.