by Tulip Siddiq, Labour MP, Hampstead and Kilburn
This week I was privileged to speak at Hampstead Synagogue for their Shabbat UK lunch. I took the opportunity to give my thoughts on the role of faith in British politics and the lessons we can learn from the great religious institutions, such as shabbat.
It seemed particularly appropriate timing to reflect on this issue, given my recent visit to Paris with the All Party Group on Anti-Semitism.
I began jokingly with the remark that a day of rest may not be such a bad idea for Westminster politics, where the pace of activity means MPs occasionally lose sight of the bigger picture.
However, I wanted to assure my constituents in attendance that despite my lack of observance of shabbat, I always have the residents of Hampstead and Kilburn at the front of my mind.
In contemporary politics, faith is a word with predominately religious connotations, but I believe it also serves a secular purpose.
Some jolt at the notion of faith and politics mixing, but this is to narrow the term “faith”, and to misunderstand the requirements for a trustworthy political process.
For politicians to deliver for those they intend to serve, there must be faith in the process they work within.
The work of government must be geared towards answering one fundamental question – do the laws we wish to pass transform peoples’ lives for the better? Instilling faith into our politics is vital for convincing people that we have the answer to that question.
Unfortunately, a common association of politics and faith is the need for the former to protect the latter.
The levels of hate crime in this country and across the continent remain of deep concern to myself and colleagues across the House of Commons. In Paris, I saw the extraordinary measures being taken by French officials to protect Jewish schools, synagogues and cultural centres.
I was profoundly shocked that Jewish communities are having to endure such measures, but I left feeling resolute in the belief that Labour must reflect on its relationship with the Jewish community and outline its steadfast support for the welfare of those integral to our own history and that of the country at large.
It is well-known that anti-Semitism increases at time of tensions in the Middle East, and the same is true for Islamophobia after flashpoints at home or abroad.
In my speech, I reflected on the similarity between letters received from Jewish mothers, regarding concerns over their children wearing school uniforms on public transport, and those from Muslim women who often face abuse in the streets for wearing headscarves. Neither have a place in a civil society.
It saddens me that the political relationship with faith is increasingly one of a protective purpose, but our support in this regard remains absolutely vital. More positively, the role of faith in creating a more cohesive society is plain to see and should be celebrated with vigour.
Judaism, like the other great religions, has a conceptual ambition of such scope that it has outlasted many major political movements. For the movements that remain, the influence is still clear.
The sheer volume of faith-related initiatives encouraging social action and progress is telling and highlights the very best of what faith can bring to political life.
I therefore used my speech to celebrate the impact of events such as Mitzvah Day, and to reflect on my time at the Camden Faiths Forum, established to propel interfaith relations in the local area.
The relationship between faith and politics is a complex and deeply personal topic of discussion. While both possess the ability to conjure up moments of great joy and immediate challenge, the shared values of the two make it difficult to keep them in separate worlds entirely.
It was a privilege to speak to a packed shul on this issue and I hope I can carry Shabbat UK’s values of mindfulness and personal reflection into the remainder of my work in the forthcoming Parliament.