Picture credit: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images
Artillery Row

Belief and the Blob

The Bloom Review paints a grim picture of modern Britain

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities released the long-delayed Bloom Review on Wednesday to very little fanfare. Perhaps that’s unsurprising, given the logistical challenges behind its publication. The report has been delayed for three years, outliving several Prime Ministers. But the question posed by the paper, “Does Government Do God?”, is certainly worth addressing.

Colin Bloom, and by extension the British Government, have attempted to record the relationship between religion and the state in order to better recognise the contribution religiosity makes to public life. Even in our enlightened age, some within these isles remain what is creatively described here as “people of faith”. The report is 159 pages long, based almost entirely on the “lived experience” of the 20,000 or so respondents to the parliamentary inquiry previously mentioned. Stakeholders were engaged, community leaders were consulted, and policy prescriptions were prescribed free from the oppressive constraints of common sense.

While this is par for the course with such reports, Bloom’s stands out for all the wrong reasons. As noted in the introductory preamble, 2021 Census Data proves that Britain is now a multi-faith country (with no one religion holding an outright majority, as used to be the case with Christianity). This, as with any other consequence borne of rapid demographic change, invites examination and careful discussion. But Bloom’s report seems content instead to obfuscate problems where they do exist and invent them where they do not.

Let’s look first at some of the data presented to us. Bloom is keen to dispel the notion that faith is increasingly irrelevant in modern Britain. One way to support this argument is to point to the large increase in immigration from people outside of the European Union, many of whom adhere to a diverse group of beliefs. The level of religiosity maps on to migratory patterns. London, the second most ethnically divergent city in the country, has 62 per cent of citizens identifying as religious as opposed to 53 per cent outside it. These religious communities are quite concentrated. For example, “97 per cent of the Hindu population live in urban areas such as Leicester… where they represent 15.9 per cent of the population.” This tracks: the most “diverse” cities are also our most segregated.

Bloom mentions Leicester later in the report when discussing extremism amongst Hindus “who reportedly targeted public figures and politicians they considered hostile to their agenda in the 2019 UK general election … and the recent tensions in Leicester in September 2022.” Britain has taken many more migrants from the Indian subcontinent in recent years — out of the 1.1 million inward entrants to the UK last year, Indian migrants consisted of the second largest national group. India is governed by Hindu nationalists who are increasingly hostile to both ethnic Muslims and the British state, under the banner of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In response to this, as well as the concurrent radicalisation amongst Sikh separatists, Bloom advises that the “government should be attentive to the possibility of nationalist movements exploiting religious rhetoric”. The solution, then, to a polarising world influencing foreign heritage Brits is to have a stronger response from the state. This is a nice idea, but impossible to implement in any meaningful way beyond stopping the policy of importing hundreds of thousands of migrants from a state that is increasingly hostile towards our own, at a rate that precludes any possibility of integration (itself an increasingly nebulous concept in multicultural Britain, where our nation is defined in abstractions).

The raising of concerns, followed by extreme policy prescriptions, is an enduring theme throughout the report. Take the section on “Islamist Extremism”, which doesn’t mention Islamic extremism at all beyond merely gesturing to the “forensically studied” work done by other groups. This is strange, considering the claim from the Shawcross Prevent report that “The facts clearly demonstrate that the most lethal threat in the last 20 years has come from Islamism, and this threat continues”.

Instead, the author takes issue with the conflation of Islam with Islamism, and the impact this may have on individuals within the faith. While it is obviously undesirable for people to be stereotyped in this way, it seems somewhat remiss to sidestep the more pressing issue of extremism in the community. Indeed, the only source cited in this entire section links to a Guardian newspaper article asserting that the white nationalist terrorist Anders Brevik was motivated by a hatred of Muslims. One may get the (very false) impression that Islamic extremism is a marginal problem.

In contrast, the section on “White supremacy and British nationalism” and “Neo-Nazi Occultism” is rich in detail, with 21 sources attributed to the research. Bloom describes how “Christian religious imagery and language can sometimes be attributed to an imagined past (which is de facto white), where the UK was successful and thriving. A belief that the UK is a “Christian country, and we need to keep it like that” can be used to entrench an ethnonationalist agenda and gain public legitimacy for aggression towards others regarded as a threat to preserving what is perceived to be the national identity.” You may not be surprised to see Hope Not Hate in this section’s footnotes.

Now look at what Bloom suggests we do to tackle the issue of stereotyping: “The important distinction between Islam and Islamism must form part of the faith literacy training for all staff on the public payroll as recommended” (emphasis mine). This includes “civil servants in Whitehall and local councils, NHS and public health staff, teachers in schools, colleges and universities, and police, prison and probation officers” for whom training will be overseen by “the Independent Faith Champion’s Office”. It goes without saying this is a monumentally wasteful recommendation — but is even worse once we consider that the reluctance to “stereotype” has led to innocent people’s deaths.

This is a report perfectly geared to multicultural modern Britain

What is incredibly obvious is that Bloom hopes to make the case for religious belief as a concept, rather than any one specific religion. This is a report perfectly geared towards multicultural modern Britain. But it also exposes the inherent tensions behind this vision. Bloom notes the four values we teach children in school as the bedrock of Britishness: “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs”. It goes without saying that these values may seem outright alien to those living in our country today, and will become increasingly so as our state devolves further and further from the historical moment that made British liberalism uniquely possible. And so, the 22 recommendations named in this report have a decidedly tyrannical bent. The government must continue to expand its tendrils into every aspect of private life to sustain the allegedly successful project of multi-everything Britain.

The dreaded Online Safety Bill gets a positive mention, with Bloom urging the government to “use the provisions within the bill to exert much greater pressure on YouTube and other social media platforms to remove content uploaded by extremist groups (often intrafaith) which glorifies terrorist activity and is therefore illegal. Similarly, content, including in other languages, which may not be illegal but which incites anti-Muslim hatred, anti-Hindu hatred, hatred towards Sikhs, or any other kind of violent prejudice, racism or misogyny should be treated as harmful.” It goes without saying this is completely unfeasible. Highly competitive billion dollar tech firms struggle to prevent beheading videos popping up on your Twitter feed; the idea that a middle-aged Minister who hasn’t figured out how to open a PDF would do a better job at regulating is frankly hysterical.

…the faith-diverse world envisioned here is a bleak one

I myself am one of Bloom’s “non-believers”, but even I can see that the faith-diverse world envisioned here is a bleak one. As the events in Leicester last summer demonstrate, religious sectarianism between migrant groups is becoming increasingly problematic. If Bloom is correct, the problem is soon to become much worse — particularly if the extensively documented fears around Sikh radicalisation are correct. This genuine problem is then shunted to the side in favour of Blob-approved policies that fail to fix the original problem, and indeed create new ones. How can we expect every public worker up and down the country to know the religious significance of the Sikh turban, or about the hostility between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam? This is a game which has no winners.

Bloom is aware that saying the Government should promote religious freedom because it is “right and fair” means nothing. Instead, article 9 of the Human Rights Act 1998 and chapter 1 section 10 of the Equality Act 2010 are invoked. Faith is reduced to fit the prism of the “protected characteristic”, alongside sex, race, orientation, gender identity and age. Faith is little more than another box to be checked — the religious another stakeholder group to be engaged. Perhaps it’s time we face up to the sad fact that a nation that accepts every faith believes in none.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover