14 Jul

No coffee or croissants but we were delighted to be joined by guests from the Worshipful Companies of Tax Advisors, Insurers, Chartered Surveyors, Management Consultants, Information Technologists, Woolman and Glaziers as we gathered at an early hour to hear the Rt Hon Alistair Burt speak about. ‘Government to Gulf – Coping with Faith in the Public Square’.

A former Secretary of the Parliamentary Fellowship, Alistair has experience as a constituency MP and Government Minister, dealing with those who seek influence on domestic legislation from a standpoint both of faith and of vehement opposition to it. Across the world as a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office he has seen faith harnessed to political power from the United States to the Middle East and the Gulf, and he reflected on the nature of a debate which is fundamental to politics today.

He started by speaking of his upbringing in which faith and service had always been combined. As an MP this led him, among other things, to take part with colleagues from other parties in a visit to South Africa in the apartheid era and to oppose the Poll tax and Sunday trading.

He said that the space for faith – all faiths – in the public square is hotly debated across the globe, and some awareness of it is essential to navigate the modern world. Calling for the need for tolerance he also spoke if the dangers of weaponising faith in democratic countries giving examples from countries such as India, Turkey, Hungary, and Trump’s America.

Questions and discussion following the talk included the difference the new coalition government in Israel might make, Alistair’s hopes for the Biden administration and a return to a Middle Eastern foreign policy, whether tolerance these days equals affirmation in the West and was it now extremist to tell someone that you think their view is wrong?

He was also asked how we navigate the discussion of faith in the public square without being accused of weaponizing it, especially in business and work.

It was a fascinating talk and one member commented afterwards that he could have listened all day. Alistair made many excellent points about tolerance and mutual understanding and was an outstanding speaker.

Sue Algeo