HMQ: Come in Prime Minister, and sit down. I have been reading your recent speech about ‘British values’, and I have something I want to ask you.
Cameron: Thank you Ma’am. I hope you found the speech helpful. These are difficult times for us all.
HMQ: Quite so. You will not, I hope, think me stupid. My question is rather basic, I am afraid. I was not at all clear, from what you said, what precisely you meant by ‘British values’ and the ‘British way of life’. It did sound so terribly vague.
Cameron: Well, Ma’am, of course I meant fairness and tolerance, democracy and the rule of law, all that sort of thing. I think we Brits can take moderate pride in the way those things have shaped our long history; and they are precisely what the extremists and militants are against. We have a real fight on our hands about absolute basics.
HMQ: A great deal is at stake, I grant you. But if I am not mistaken your notion of ‘Britishness’ and ‘British values’ is somewhat narrower than those generalities. I distinctly remember, for example, how proud you were of my government’s introduction of gay marriage. Is that, would you say, a ‘British value’ which is currently under threat? And what about public attitudes to divorce, abortion and homosexuality generally. Your militants and extremists seem to be set against all those things. But so were we all not so long ago. I need hardly remind you, Mr Cameron, that I have been British for a good deal longer than you.
Cameron: Indeed Ma’am. But those laws and attitudes spring naturally and inevitably from that basic fairness and respect for the individual which is at the heart of our British way of doing things. Equal marriage is just another way of giving everybody a fair crack of the whip. We cannot let religious fanaticism get in the way of all that.
HMQ: As the Supreme Governor of the Church of England I shall have to give some careful thought to what you mean by ‘fanaticism’. As I understand it the Church itself remains opposed to many of the things you suppose to be ‘British’. My government, I seem to recall, even made it illegal for the Church of England to conduct gay marriages. To be opposed, then must be mainstream and thoroughly British. It would be a mad world indeed where Justin Welby could be called a fanatic
Cameron: Of course we must safeguard basic religious liberties, and in the case of equal marriage we did just that (despite, if I may say so, a sharp difference of opinion in the Church itself). But what I am saying, Ma’am, is that we can’t have some intolerant theocracy imposing its opinions on us all.
HMQ: I fear you are on dangerous ground, Mr Cameron. Religions, as I see it, necessarily make absolute claims of that sort. It’s the way of them all, even I fear the dear old Church of England. I think of that lovely hymn we used to have at evensong at Sandringham: ‘Hark, how the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own’. If you are going to take that on, Prime Minister, then you really have a fight on your hands.