Keeping your eyes on the road so you see what is coming up next is crucial when driving. If there is a hill you might need a gear change, a bend may require you to slow a bit. If you constantly focus on what you’ve passed and only look out the side window, the next bend in the road may take you by surprise or worse still end up causing you to crash. It is similar with Governments. If you focus solely on what is not done, or what was cancelled you miss what they are doing now and next which can often be to our disadvantage.
Yesterday, the Queen opened the new session of Parliament. It was a cut down ceremony with much of the usual pomp and circumstance missing due the cluster of official events leaving no time for rehearsals. Even the speech was cut down: Her Majesty spoke for just over nine minutes. However, what it lacked in ceremony and length it made up for in the Government’s proposed legislative programme.
Since the result of the election that few with the exception of YouGov predicted, the media has been working overtime to try and present a picture of chaos in Government. It is clear that new plans have had to be made in a hurry since the unexpected lack of Conservative majority, but there certainly isn’t chaos. There is certainly uncertainty, but that has been misinterpreted as chaos, perhaps deliberately to sensationalise the story.
Even before election results started rolling in on the night of June 8, large sections of the Conservative Party manifesto had been substantially altered or cancelled and the original policies would not have made it to the Queen’s Speech even if there had been a Conservative majority. Since the result only the bare bones of the original programme has survived. This has been the focus of much of the media’s coverage. They want to draw our attention to what is missing, to how the Conservatives have had to backtrack on so much and had to cobble together a programme for Government including only legislation that stands a chance of cross party consensus to avoid embarrassing Government defeats.
Much has been made of the fact there was only a reference to the state visit of the King of Spain and no mention of the previously announced state visit of the US President Donald Trump. The absence of it‘s mention in the speech has been interpreted as a cancellation of the visit.
There was focus on the abandoning of plans for new grammar schools, the cancelling of the policy to end free school meals for junior children and plans to change social care funding arrangements have become a mere consultation. MPs were interviewed from all sides. Commentators were rolled out to analyse the speech, journalists chatted to journalists as to what might have been but wasn’t but may possibly be in some form down the line and so it went on. In short, the liberal media have been working very hard to dress up the idea of chaos in government whilst almost completely neglecting the actual plans announced which should be courting more attention than they are.
This focus on what was ‘missing’ from the Queen’s Speech may be justified. The Conservatives proposed a number of policies they now cannot bring forward to legislation because they did not win a majority at the General Election. Some policies have had to be altered and that is bound to cause journalists to ask a variety of (legitimate) questions. However, the almost obsessive focus on what was not said has rather ignored the elephant in the room, namely what the Queen did announce the Government would be doing over the next two years.
In all, some 27 new bills have been announced. That is 27 separate areas for which the government deems it necessary to add legislation where there are not currently sufficient laws. Even over two years, that is a lot of laws to pass. It is a lot of points to debate and a lot of text to scrutinise. It is a lot of things the Government reckons it should be doing to meddle more with our lives.
BREAKING: "A commission for countering extremism will be established" 1/3 #QueensSpeech
— Defend Free Speech (@speechdefenders) June 21, 2017
Commission will "support the government in stamping out extremist ideology in all its forms," 2/3 #QueensSpeech
— Defend Free Speech (@speechdefenders) June 21, 2017
"both across society and on the internet, so it is denied a safe space to spread". 3/3 #QueensSpeech
— Defend Free Speech (@speechdefenders) June 21, 2017
Even if you take out the eight substantive Brexit related bills, you are still left with nineteen ranging from a bill on automated and electric cars to protecting victims of domestic violence and a new data protection bill. However, the key meat of the programme might not even be in legislation. Buried in the middle of the speech on the subject of national security, the Queen announced that the Government will be setting up a Commission to, “support the government in stamping out extremist ideology in all its forms”. Much has been said about Theresa May’s seeming obsession with extremism and this is the third Queen’s Speech where a promised extremism bill has not materialised, so you might think it now time for a sigh of relief. Think again because a commission might be worse for Christians than explicit legislation. A commission will be much more than just a talking shop as it will probably have wide ranging powers.
One of the reasons an extremism bill has not been brought forward is because of problems surrounding the definition of extremism and extremists. Christian groups and freedom of speech advocates have been raising serious concerns surrounding this for several years now. Legislation would require a clear definition, so without that clarity, there cannot be a successful bill. So, it would seem the Government have opted to set up a commission instead, at least for the time being. The real danger here is a commission would be working on a whole variety of laws and interpreting them in various ways to suit the theme of the day. Take the Equality and Human Rights Commission for example. The chairman (a former chairman of well known pressure group) said at a committee hearing earlier this year that he wanted to use the Supreme Court to bring more cases of supposed rights breaches forward. In essence, he wants the commission to be more active in creating unofficial law.
This is exactly what would happen with an extremism commission. Test cases will be bought before the courts and judgements will result in de facto legislation. Meanwhile the Government has bypassed all the Parliamentary scrutiny a piece of primary legislation would get. A cynic might go as far to suggest the government is deliberately establishing a commission rather than seeking new legislation. It means that as Christians, we will have to be even more watchful for signs of further erosions of freedom of speech.
There will be people who say the Government won’t be able to do this, but you only have to look at how busy Parliament is going to be debating electric cars and space travel amongst other things to see that it will be quite easy to establish a commission packed full with intolerant tolerant atheistic liberals intent on silencing the church and eradicating Christianity from the public square. Once in place they will seek to gradually, but systematically dismantle what remains of our Christian heritage. All this would be quite easy to do whilst Parliament and politicians are obsessing about Brexit and all the other legislative programmes going through Parliament. Very quickly, just as people have warned about counter extremism legislation being used for purposes other than its stated intent, this extremism commission will inevitably end up looking at cases that target Christians.
— Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) June 21, 2017
There will be many in the church so spiritually blind they will either not see or refuse to see that counter extremism measures of the sort being proposed will inevitably be used against Christians who choose to uphold the Bible. There are many people who want the true church silenced and sadly many of those people are in the church itself. Large sections of the ‘church’ now openly endorse liberal theology and have altered their interpretation of the Bible in order to fit in with the secular, ‘progressive’ narrative of society. They despise fundamentalist Christians who take a fundamental view of God and the Bible and are more concerned with seeking to live their lives according to God’s word rather than man’s view of them.
It is true that counter extremism measures do not actively set out to target Christians, but with the sort of definitions and proposed nets it is impossible to see how true Christians will not be caught up in it. It is not a big jump from there to make Christians (especially fundamental ones) the explicit target of such measures. Extremism is currently seen as anyone not upholding the Government’s own definition of fundamental British values. Amongst these ‘values’ is accepting, embracing and not discriminating against people based on race, religion, gender or sexuality. This means that a Christian who upholds the Biblical view of sexual immorality or who states that Jesus is the only way to heaven could be viewed as an extremist. Add to that the words of the Queen’s Speech where it was announced that the commission to counter extremism will stamp out extremism “in all its forms” and what you have is a direct threat or challenge to Christians.
It is very easy to get caught up in the media swarm around the altered (and delayed) Queen’s Speech. It is very easy to get caught up in ideological debates surrounding policy detail and it is very easy to get hysterical about how Theresa May is in Government but not in power. However, in the detail of the programme for the next two years that the Queen outlined yesterday, it is not what was missing that should get our attention; it is what IS in the programme that we should focus on. If we turn our attention elsewhere and take our eyes off the road ahead, we’ll lose sight of what is happening and we might only realise when it is too late.
It is right that Brexit will get a lot of attention over the next two years. What happens during this period of our leaving the EU will define us as a nation for many years to come and for those of us who believe we need to be out the EU for spiritual reasons, it is important that we exit the EU completely without leaving one foot in the door. However, we need to realise that whilst the focus is on Brexit, the Government is determined to implement its Counter Extremism strategy and the current direction of it should be a concern to all Christians and advocates of free speech. Most people agree that there needs to be action taken to tackle the radical Islamic terrorist threat and stamp out antisemitic attacks, but it is clear the approach being taken by the Government will trap ordinary people and will be an affront to civil liberties.
We must therefore stay vigilant and resist and reject any moves which will restrict our freedom to uphold Biblical values in our lives both private and public. We must watch and pray without ceasing and remember the exhortation of Paul to pray for our leaders that we may live peaceful lives (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Above all, let us not lose sight of the aim of seeing this nation of the United Kingdom transformed by God. Let us remember the words of 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people which are called by my name, shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land”.
Also published on Medium.