Academic finds that EU 'leave' voters do not equate Bible with British values

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge speaks with well-wishers during a visit to Barrow-in-Furness, northern England in 2013.Reuters

Politicians who appealed to the Bible and "British values" in an attempt to persuade voters to opt to "remain" in the European Union might actually have had the opposite effect and made them more likely to vote "leave", according to a new study.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron claimed when in office that Britain is a Christian country and said the Bible was a key source of British values.

Professor James Crossley, a former shipyard worker in Barrow-in-Furness and now at St Mary's University in London, has reported his findings in an academic article in the Relegere journal which reports studies of history and religion.

He found that in places such as Barrow-in-Furness, an industrial town in the north-west of England which voted 60.6 per cent to leave, the EU referendum "brought to the fore grievances that had been building for decades, particularly in towns that have faced sharp industrial decline."

He found "regular ridicule aimed at political claims of the Bible as the source of English or British values and identity."

He said this dislike for the Bible must be understood in the context of "hatred towards political and economic authority." In Barrow, just 0.2 per cent of the population is Muslim but Islam was also seen as a source of "threatening authority."

In the latest 2011 Census, 70.7 per cent identified as Christian, much higher than the national average of 59.3 per cent. But for many, identifying as Christian did not necessarily mean going to church.

Crossly reports that his own experience growing up in Barrow was a place of "indifference" about anything religious and where questions about belief in God, the Bible or going to church were "potentially embarrassing."

When he interviewed people for his study, he did not find that they had any particular hatred for the Bible or Christianity.

The Bible and Christianity were simply seen as ineffective "half-forgotten relics of the past".

Meanwhile, on Facebook, people were happy to post about guardian angels, personal angels, fairies, ghosts, the supernatural and a heaven where dead relatives, friends and pets had gone to.

Crossley told the North West Evening Mail: "The stark difference between politicians using religion and voters in a place like Barrow not liking or noticing this (some didn't even believe me when I showed them that politicians said such things) is an important result for my research and needs to be explained.

"I was also irritated by snobbish attitudes among intellectuals towards people who voted leave in places like Barrow and I didn't think the ways 'northern towns' were being portrayed showed much understanding."