How would you describe your identity or beliefs in terms of religion?
I would say I am a Spiritual person. I believe there may be something out there, but I don’t know… there is no way to know… I believe there may be something, but I can’t possibly say it is for certain. So, I would say that I believe in something… If I had to choose between the ‘believer’ or ‘non believer’ categories, I would say I am a ‘believer’.
I was christened. I remember going to Sunday School as a kid and when I was about 7, I decided that I preferred to watch cartoons more than going to church. I told my Mum and Dad. My Mum was more religious than my Dad. I haven’t really been in church since… I have been in weddings and stuff though.
Is GB an equal and tolerant society, especially in relation to religion and belief?
In GB, there are lots of people who are tolerant (in terms of religion and belief). It depends on the person you speak to. Academics are tolerant, with a worldwide view… but there are lots of ignorant people out there too. I speak to a few of them in my job. There is a lot of racism and a lot of intolerance, particularly towards Muslims. It is noticeable. So, I wouldn’t say GB is generally speaking tolerant. I would say that there are many people who are tolerant and open-minded, as well as intelligent, but many other people aren’t.
Challenges in living in accordance with your beliefs? If so, are they social, political or legal?
There are no challenges for Spiritual people in GB. To be honest, religion… most people don’t go on about religion. I don’t go on about religion myself. People don’t tend to mention God… It is not really a problem. Nobody has ever had any issue or called me out.
Has the Human Right Act been positive for our society?
Human rights are a great thing for British society. People should be treated with fairness, dignity and respect and the HRA is a good thing to me. I wouldn’t want to live in a country without human rights. The current climate about human rights in the UK is very concerning to me.
Do Spiritual people have a practical influence on human rights?
I doubt we Spiritual people have a big impact on human rights in contemporary Britain, because we are a very small group and most people are really unaware of it. They teach not to persecute any religion… It is very open-minded. I think if everyone were tolerant of other religions (as Spiritual people are), the world would be a better place, but I am afraid we are a very small group and we don’t have a massive impact. I don’t think Spiritual people have played a massive role in the way human rights are understood in contemporary society.
Do public bodies respect human rights?
I know public authorities have to respect people’s data. Whether they respect people’s rights, I am not sure… they do it at the moment, but they are mentioning all these changes which would affect human rights… such as the repeal of the HRA. So, at the moments they are respecting human rights, but probably it won’t happen in the future.
Do public bodies get the balance right in intervening in citizens’ lives?
I think public authorities do the right amount of involvement when it comes to people’s freedom of religion and belief. They don’t force people into religion and they don’t prevent religious groups from exercising their beliefs. So, I think it is the right balance at the moment. In this country, there are lots of people who say they are religious, but they actually don’t go to church. If you look at the 2011 census, for example, religion seems to be dying out… in my experience there are many more old religious people than young people.
I think public authorities should also intervene when religious groups are breaking the law. If a religious group teaches that believers of other persuasion must be murdered, obviously that is not an option and public authorities must get involved. When it comes to people wearing any type of religious symbol or dress; that has nothing to do with the State… you find people wanting to ban the Burqa. That is not on. That is an individual choice and has nothing to do with the State whatsoever. As long as people are not breaking the law, their choices should be allowed.
Is democracy a positive thing? Does it make it easier to live in accordance with your beliefs?
I prefer Proportional Representation systems, but always within a democracy. I would never want an alternative to a Democracy. Maybe a benign dictatorship under me would be better! (joke with a bit of truth!) Probably that is not going to happen in my lifetime! I think most people think they can rule the country, but I don’t think that is true and there have been horrible dictatorships. So, I reckon that Democracy is the best system.
Do you believe that you have a duty to vote?
I think it is my responsibility to vote. If I don’t vote… I should be involved and concerned, and I would make voting compulsory, but I would also include the option of voting for ‘none of the above’. If we ended up embracing a compulsory voting system, probably the first option would be ‘none of the above’. Most people in this country would vote for it. That is a sad fact and I think that would be the case.
Should Parliament have the final say in making and changing law? Would you like to see an empowerment of judiciary to strike down legislation?
I think an empowerment of the judiciary (to strike down primary legislation in the American way) would be helpful. The system as it is allows politicians not to do very much. So, if the system allowed judges to make decisions which were not based on political party allegiance, it would be an improvement. I trust the judiciary. They are well-trained, obviously they are in a stronger position to make decisions than politicians, who basically don’t have any training and they can be the worst. I would allocate more responsibility, therefore, to judges, who are much better trained than politicians.
Is majoritarian democracy a problem for minorities? Are there barriers to participation in our democracy for some groups?
I think that it is more difficult for some people to participate. A clear example is those people who don’t speak the language fluently. People don’t understand English well and they struggle to participate. As far as small political parties, I think they are clearly prejudiced by the first past the post. As I said earlier, I would go for proportional representation. Tactical voting is nonsense and very negative. You see politicians at the moment saying that if you vote for UKIP, you let the Labour in… or you let the Tories in… that is a very negative message. They are not saying why you should vote for them, they are saying why the others are worse than them. It is a very negative message. People are very disillusioned in politics, because it is all about playing a game.
Is it a problem that the House of Lords’ members are not elected?
In a way it is good to have a second Chamber which can stop some of the policies of the Government, even if it is an unelected House. It is a safeguard. However, the system could be improved. In principle, the unelected nature is completely at odds with the concept of democracy, but we have it there, and when you see of the interference of the politicians in the Lower House, you actually end up thinking that is ok to have an unelected Upper House!
How do you feel about the presence of Bishops in the House of Lords?
Even though I am not a religious person, having bishops in the House of Lords is a good thing. For instance, the Archbishop of York, Sentamu, has made very good points and has said why the Government is terrible to the poor of our society. He has definitely made excellent points. The Bedroom Tax and all the things which are coming through… they are getting much worse off and the Bishops can speak for them. From my experience, they are much more concerned about people than politicians, who are more concerned about business and making profit. So, I think it is a good thing to have Bishops and it would also be great representatives of other religious denominations. An idea would be that instead of having an unelected Chamber of people of different political parties, we could have a chamber composed of members of different religions. They would be much more moral than the Lower Chamber. The membership of that advisory chamber would be in accordance with the percentage of the population that professes each religion. So, 60% of Christians should have a 60% of members in that House.
Do public bodies respect legislation?
I cannot think of examples for public bodies ignoring legislation, but I can think of examples for public bodies ignoring the people’s voices. For example, with the war of Iraq, there were various protests against it… the NHS and the privatisation… the Government went away with it. Once they are elected they do what they wish. They promise lots of things before the elections because they are quite desperate, but once they are in, they are not interested and they do what they want to do.
How do you feel about devolution?
As far as devolution is concerned, that is a very interesting discussion. There are things such as tuition fees in Scotland. It has been a really good thing for the Scottish people to have their own Parliament and their own laws. Good luck to them! I am unsure about whether we should have an English Parliament. I wouldn’t want to see Scotland and Wales go… I know this is very selfish. I have Scottish friends who want their own country… they should if they want… but from a selfish point of view, the Scottish and the Welsh MPs are crucial… there are far too many Tory MPs in England! In Wales and Scotland, Tories are a minority, only in the rich and rural areas… I think they should become independent if they wished, but from a selfish point of view I hope they don’t.
How should people in power be held accountable?
People must be held accountable in this life. It is pointless to say that people should be held accountable in the next life. There is no guarantee that there is another life! So, leaders should be fully accountable as soon as possible. I have no idea about whether Spiritual people are proportionately and appropriately represented in Parliament and other public bodies. Spiritualism is not really something which impinges on everyday life.
Are the judiciary sufficiently independent?
I think the judiciary are independent and distant from politicians, which is great, because they really need to be. I think they are, but I don’t know the ins and outs and so on, I don’t know how close they are and how many politicians used to be lawyers and things like that. There are probably a few. It is hard to say because I am not certain on the details about how close they are, to be honest.
Both Parliament and the Government have to be kind of close to each other to be knowledgeable about subjects, but they cannot be too close… there must be some sort of separation. It is about right at the moment, but there should always be independent checks about what is going on. All the scandals with the MP’s second homes, the expenses, etc, are appalling and demoralising.
How do Spiritual people address issues they see as problematic?
As a group, Spiritual people are so loose that they cannot really exercise too much pressure. Religious people have strong presence in the news, for instance Catholics and CofE… the bishops are there, but Spiritualists, as a relatively small religion, you don’t see them there unless something affects them. There is no kind of problems in hospitals, schools, etc, that have an impact on the beliefs of Spiritualists. There is no way we can take offence. Essentially, we don’t cause any problems and regulations are not really a problem for us either. We are very easy going and not very demanding. There are lots of people on that boat… we are undecided, not Atheists… if all the Atheists came together in the USA they would be a bigger group than the Christians… but they don’t do it. Spiritual people approach these issues in the same way. Being a Spiritualist is not a massive part of your life. It does not have a big impact on others. Spiritualism is mainly an individualistic choice, rather than a group’s choice, and therefore it is very different from Catholicism, Anglicanism, etc. The focus of spiritualism is on yourself and how you behave to others. Some people believe in karma as well. It is about being a better person.
It is important to you to act within State law?
We all obey the law. Obviously, we try not to break it. However, I agree with euthanasia for example. Would I help someone who asked me to assist them? Hopefully that won’t happen, but if this were somebody’s will, I would probably do that… so, I can imagine hypothetical situations in which I would feel morally compelled to break the law. Yes, my morals make me speak on behalf of vulnerable people in our society. Obviously, it is something which I try. There have been instances in my job in which I have helped people that I didn’t have to and many people wouldn’t have done it. However, I felt I had to do it. So, if there is something unfair and I have to speak out, I do.
Is the Rule of Law applied equally?
I think the situation is significantly better for the super-rich in Great Britain. You can think of situations in which people commit fraud and they don’t go to prison. Some people spend millions of people’s money and nothing happens… tax evasion… however, if someone steals a bottle of water in a shop, that person gets a six month prison sentence. That happened during the riots. However, nothing happens with tax evasion… Therefore, if you are rich you are treated in a different and more privileged way than everybody else.
Have do you regard the increase in police powers in recent years?
Much more powers for the police certainly impinge on our civil liberties. I would personally not allow that to happen. I understand the Government is trying to prevent situations from happening, but most of the time if someone wants to commit a terrorist attack, they will find another way to do it.
Any legal changes you would like to see?
I have already said that I would change the legal system concerning assisted dying, but it could not be a case of just getting rid of old people. It should be properly assessed with two independent doctors, needless to say. Situations in which people could not improve or get better and they would be cases of prolonging the pain unnecessarily. People go to different countries like Switzerland to get a solution and this is not really how it should be. If they want to die, they should do it at home with their families and friends. Personally, I would legalise all drugs and prostitution. I would also change the whole tax system, in order to avoid tax havens. People must pay taxes in their own countries and tax evasion must be combatted with rigour.
Do you have any further comments on this topic?
People are getting increasingly abused in some contexts. There has been an increase of Anti-Semitism recently and there is a lot of hate crime against Muslims. However, I think on the whole people are free to worship in their country and the State and the Church are separate enough.
Jeff Tydesley is a loved up and happily married Trafford-born Salfordian living in Manchester. He is a cat and home owning, thirty-something public servant, trainee Counsellor and freelance writer. He is a free thinker, positive cynic, environmentalist who likes a drink, finding humour is the way of dealing with the worst of humanity’s excesses, morally and physically. Largely distraught about the way recent elections and referendums have gone, Jeff is still keen on making every vote count through proportional representation. He is also an embittered Swinton Lions rugby league fan, who also dabbles in Association and American Football. He is a punk rocker at heart, who can also find absolute joy in indie, metal, electronic and pop music.