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London Atheist Activist Group (informal community) Message Board ONGOING CAMPAIGNS REMIT 3: SECULAR STATE (Divorce State from Superstition!) › Can we coax any Atheist MPs out of the closet?

Can we coax any Atheist MPs out of the closet?

Jason
SweynTUV
London, GB
Post #: 88
Just in case anyone is interested in joining me in trying to coax their closet atheist/agnostic MPs to out themselves, here is a list of 25 London MPs that I think are possibly holding something back.

Constituency Member of Parliament CI Score
Brentford and Isleworth Mary Macleod (Con) 0%
Camberwell and Peckham Harriet Harman (Lab) 3%
Carshalton and Wallington Tom Brake (Lib) 29%
Croydon Central Gavin Barwell (Con) 0%
Croydon North Steve Reed (Lab) 0%
Croydon South Richard Ottaway (Con) 62%
Dulwich and West Norwood Tessa Jowell (Lab) 4%
Edmonton Andrew Love (Lab) 3%
Eltham Clive Efford (Lab) 4%
Erith and Thamesmead Teresa Pearce (Lab) 0%
Feltham and Heston Seema Malhotra (Lab) 0%
Greenwich and Woolwich Nick Raynsford (Lab) 3%
Hackney North and Stoke Newington Diane Abbott (Lab) 10%
Hackney South and Shoreditch Meg Hillier (Lab) 33%
Hammersmith Andrew Slaughter (Lab) 6%
Hampstead and Kilburn Glenda Jackson (Lab) 0%
Hayes and Harlington John McDonnell (Lab) 19%
Ilford South Mike Gapes (Lab) 6%
Islington North Jeremy Corbyn (Lab) 18%
Kingston and Surbiton Ed Davey (Lib) 31%
Lewisham East Heidi Alexander (Lab) 0%
Lewisham West and Penge Jim Dowd (Lab) 3%
Leyton and Wanstead John Cryer (Lab) 8%
Sutton and Cheam Paul Burstow (Lib) 34%
Twickenham Vincent Cable (Lib) 40%

The number on the right indicates the proportion of times that have voted on "key moral issues" in a way that the Christian Institute approves of. So low scores are potentially positive for Atheism. Not exactly scientific, but what can you do.

Remember MPs are only obliged to respond to letters and emails from constituents so it's only worth writing if you live in the above constituencies and if the letter is from you rather than LAAG. Their contact details and biographies jump out of Google easily enough.

I will repost a generic version of the letter I sent to my MP here, just in case that helps anyone get going, and also put some more links in another post that might help add some colour about their voting record. All interesting in their own right.

It's a long shot I know. The majority of them are Labour, and we constantly see the left struggling to think clearly about about this topic, but as they say, if you don't ask you don't get.

Have fun and, as Claire Rayner used to say, do let us know how you get on.
Jason
SweynTUV
London, GB
Post #: 89
Here's a starter for ten letter, if that helps:

Dear Your MP's name

I have briefly researched your public statements and note that you appear to be among the majority of London MPs for whom religious faith, or lack of it, is a private matter. Indeed only three of the seventy three current London MPs seem prepared to admit to being atheist or agnostic on matters of religion. This seems an unfeasibly small number given the more recent census. As an atheist I find this reticence troubling as it contributes to negative stereotypes of those without religious beliefs and hinders honest conversation about the role of faith in our society.

Given that that your voting record receives a mere their CI score here% approval rating from The Christian Institute I would venture to suspect that you may be an atheist or agnostic. If this is the case, I would urge you to follow Nick Clegg's lead and make this a matter of public record. If Christian MPs can adequately represent Jewish constituents and Hindu MPs represent Muslims perfectly well, why is public acknowledgement of non-belief apparently such a taboo among politicians? I have heard it argued that non-disclosure of her personal beliefs allows and MP to relate to all groups equally. In my view this position infantilises the electorate and assumes that the faithful and the faithless cannot have a sensible conversation. For some of the faithful this may be true but should we continue to pander to such prejudices? This cannot be for the best.

If I am mistaken in my suspicion and you privately adhere to a religious faith then I hope that you will not find this suggestion in any way offensive. That is certainly not my intention.

Thank you for your attention and your continued efforts in representing this constituency, both of which are much appreciated.

Yours sincerely
Jason
SweynTUV
London, GB
Post #: 90
Some useful links for checking how your MPs vote on the issues that atheists are interested in:

The Christian Institute vote tracker on "key moral issues". With this lot crosses are good and ticks are bad. A handy ready reckoner.
Skeptical Voter vote tracker summarising MPs support or otherwise for pseudoscientific nonsense. A site worth supporting.
They Work For You provides a high level roundup of MPs positions on the big topics
The Public Whip is a very comprehensive and detailed list of every vote on every issue, with a summary of what the vote was all about (a fantastic resource)


Jason
SweynTUV
London, GB
Post #: 94
Received a cordial response from my MP.

Dear Mr Swanson,

Thank you for your email. I am an atheist and I have always been open about this when people have asked me but don't feel it is necessary to make an unprompted public statement about it.

Although an atheist, I recognise the importance of religion in our society and I work hard to build good relationships with faith groups across our community - just as I would any other group.

I hope this answers your query but please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

You can find out more about the work I undertake on your behalf by following me on Facebook www.facebook.com/brake or Twitter www.twitter.com/thomasbrake.

Regards

Tom Brake
Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington

I imagine that if we were to ask the other folks on the list, we would get much the same answer; Yes, I am an atheist, but since I have to work with religious groups I choose not to bang on about it. Well OK as far as it goes, but pick a random Christian MP and google their name together with the word "Christian" and you get pages of hits. They can't shut up about it. Google my MP's name and the word atheist you get nothing. I don't think it can be an accident that after 16 years in parliament he has not once been linked with the word "atheist" in print. I imagine that atheist parliamentarians assume that their religious constituents would not be able to handle the the concept so say nothing.
Jason
SweynTUV
London, GB
Post #: 95
And my response

Dear Mr Brake,

Many thanks for your response.

I completely understand that you need to represent all of your constituents, including religious groups, so could not be perceived as being in any way anti-religious. An unprompted declaration would of course seem rather odd, but should the topic arise naturally in an on-the-record conversation I would hope that you would be happy for your atheism to be reported. There is a pervasive sense that admitting to atheism is in some sense in poor taste or even offensive and small actions such as this all help. I do not doubt your openness in informal situations but your sixteen years in parliament have so far left no mark on this topic that an internet search engine can find, whereas your religious colleagues return thousands of hits which link them to their faith. Of course atheism is not equivalent to a faith position but even so, the stark contrast speaks to the way in which atheism is viewed in our culture.

Please let me be clear that I am not suggesting that you take an "anti-theist" position, however I don't believe it is being anti-theist to point out that religious groups in this country enjoy many privileges which ought to be subjected to greater scrutiny and challenge that is presently the case. The current possibility that the religious lobby may force the PM to use the Parliament Act surely highlights this fact. Religious groups are of course important, but no more so than trades unions, political parties, charities and other special interest groups, none of which enjoy automatic tax free status or a privileged role in lawmaking. Religious groups should not feel aggrieved or victimised when these long-standing privileges are eventually removed.

Thank you again for your hard work and I hope that you will continue to apply your rational and evidence-based approach to addressing religious privilege as and when opportunities arise in the house.

Yours sincerely
Georgi L.
Guffaw
London, GB
Post #: 1,584
Another great letter, Jason.

As you say, this is the difference - religious MP's can't shut up about their religion, whilst atheist MPs seem to positively shy away from ever even mentioning it when it comes up, or even when it's relevant.

(And what's this "importance of religion" that he mentions?!...wonder if he'd elaborate on that since 'importance' is pretty unclear ...important in spreading BS? Importance in holding us back? Importance in abuse of children and women?)

He says he doesn't have any problem saying he's an atheist, but according to AtheismUK's report (see near the bottom, under DETAILS, "short report") he hasn't bothered to answer the letter asking him what his religious views or lack thereof were. (However the report doesn't include the details of my MP either though I sent them her response, so looks like AtheismUK may not have updated this list - will ask them).

( My MP didn't answer AtheismUK's enquiry, so I followed up with a letter of my own as a constituent and she replied saying she was an Anglican ...sort of...kind of...but "I respect all faiths"i.e. Usual sitting on the fence BS.)
Jason
SweynTUV
London, GB
Post #: 96
Thanks Ginny. It seems that AtheismUK's mailshot may have fallen foul of the rules/guidelines that MPs only correspond with their own constituents. I saw Rupert's correspondence on their site and you got a response when you wrote directly, so that I think is the approach we need to take. A short letter with a reasonably respectful tone seems to work (made easier for me because my MP is actually a pretty decent sort). Perhaps if enough LAAGers take a look at the list above and spot their own constituency they may at least get a confirmation of their MPs atheism and we would be able to say that of London's 73 MPs x% are confirmed atheist or agnostic.
A former member
Post #: 67
A satisfying response, Jason, except for the usual feeble caveat concerning the “importance of religion” (just in case anyone gets “offended”), but looking at both the BBC's and Sky's coverage of today's Coronation commemoration one sees the degree to which our establishment is infested with sycophantic individuals engaged in archaic and meaningless rituals. Republicans and atheists have a very long way to go in overturning the historical convention of reverence for the Anglican Church and Her Maj. Dr. Evan Harris was one of the most open and vociferous campaigning MPs for secularist causes, and even he didn’t publish his ‘Secularist Manifesto’ until after he lost his seat in 2010. Furthermore, it is not only constituents that MPs are concerned with but preferment, office and honours, still so much dependent upon patronage, and then there is the cosy “retirement” option in the prehistoric Lords. There are just too many incentives for keeping their traps shut, I’m afraid, to expect many to show their colours in our favour.
Georgi L.
Guffaw
London, GB
Post #: 1,585
Thanks Ginny. It seems that AtheismUK's mailshot may have fallen foul of the rules/guidelines that MPs only correspond with their own constituents. I saw Rupert's correspondence on their site and you got a response when you wrote directly, so that I think is the approach we need to take. A short letter with a reasonably respectful tone seems to work (made easier for me because my MP is actually a pretty decent sort). Perhaps if enough LAAGers take a look at the list above and spot their own constituency they may at least get a confirmation of their MPs atheism and we would be able to say that of London's 73 MPs x% are confirmed atheist or agnostic.
Yes, it would be FANTASTIC if even LAAGers were to ask their own MPs. As I understand it, they HAVE to reply to their constituents, but of course that doesn't mean they can't choose to respond to AtheismUk's or any other persons/organisation's enquiry. The vast majority choose not to respond, and that speaks volumes. Those few that did, gave cagey answers. But still I think the exercise has value and merit, because it raises the question. It's well known in marketing and advertising that most people need to view something multiple times before they'll buy. I think the same psychology applies - the more often the issue comes under their nose, eventually they might start taking notice.

Well done to you, great stuff
Georgi L.
Guffaw
London, GB
Post #: 1,586
A satisfying response, Jason, except for the usual feeble caveat concerning the “importance of religion” (just in case anyone gets “offended”), but looking at both the BBC's and Sky's coverage of today's Coronation commemoration one sees the degree to which our establishment is infested with sycophantic individuals engaged in archaic and meaningless rituals. Republicans and atheists have a very long way to go in overturning the historical convention of reverence for the Anglican Church and Her Maj. Dr. Evan Harris was one of the most open and vociferous campaigning MPs for secularist causes, and even he didn’t publish his ‘Secularist Manifesto’ until after he lost his seat in 2010. Furthermore, it is not only constituents that MPs are concerned with but preferment, office and honours, still so much dependent upon patronage, and then there is the cosy “retirement” option in the prehistoric Lords. There are just too many incentives for keeping their traps shut, I’m afraid, to expect many to show their colours in our favour.
Indeed, John, Indeed. The system is a self-supporting triangle, each side knows it has to protect the other two sides at any cost, in order to survive itself. Reverence?! - makes you wanna spit!
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