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Faith Minister downgrade blamed on David Cameron's binning of 'Big Society' agenda

Tue 11 Aug 2015
By Desmond Busteed

The apparent abolition of the Minister for Faith portfolio by the Prime Minister has been blamed on a change in government policy and described as 'a shame' by a leading Christian think-tank.

Premier exclusively revealed on Monday that the responsibilities of the position have been delegated to a junior minister.

After the election, the job remained unfilled, and it has now been announced that its core responsibilities have been passed to Baroness Williams of Trafford, a parliamentary under-secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The position was created in 2012 and given to Baroness Warsi, the first Muslim to sit at cabinet, to "promote faith, religious tolerance and stronger communities" within the UK.

Sir Eric Pickles was appointed to the brief after Baroness Warsi quit the role in protest over the coalition's response to the conflict in Gaza in 2014.

"Having a minister who is just able to pull people together, to network, to encourage, to equip and to push forward recommendations from people like the Equality and Human Rights Commission or work that we and others are doing on the role of proselytise is a really helpful thing to have and it's a shame that it looks like we're not going to have it," said
Elizabeth Oldfield, director at Christian think-tank Theos to Premier's News Hour.

Theos also believes the motivation behind the downgrade of the faith minister role could be based on Prime Minister's decision to move away focus from his so-called 'Big Society' agenda.

"We've seen that just really die a death in terms of a policy or something that's been talked about. And because this role was so connected in with that 'Big Society' agenda, it may just be a casualty of that move," added Ms Oldfield.

Recently David Cameron signalled new anti-extremist banning orders, planned as part of the Government's Counter-Extremism Bill, would not only curb the activities of radical Islamist clerics but the promotion of other views deemed to go against "British values" even if it is non-violent and legal.

Ministers have defined British values in the past as including broad notions like democracy, tolerance and the rule of law.

In a speech last month Mr Cameron said that for too long Britain had been a "passively tolerant society" in which people were told "as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone".

The National Secular Society has welcomed the government's decision to axe the faith minister role, saying it had been 'abused' by both previous Ministers who it says "used their position to favour their own particular religious views".

Listen to Elizabeth Oldfield, director, Christian think-tank Theos speaking to Premier's Des Busteed on the News Hour:

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