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The connection between the victorious cross-wearing BA nurse and...Steve Hilton

By Paul Goodman
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David Cameron has tweeted this morning for the first time since Sunday - to express his delight at Nadia Eweida's victory at the ECHR.

I hope he has expressed it personally to James Eadie QC, who opposed Ms Eweida's case in court...on behalf of the Government of which Cameron is Prime Minister.

Eadie argued that Christians should "leave their beliefs at home or get another job" - to borrow the Daily Telegraph's vivid summary of his lawyerly arguments.

To be fair, it is less absurd that it might seem to have the Prime Minister take one view and the Government's lawyers take the opposite one, and put it in court.

For it is sometimes (indeed, often) the case that Ministers' view of a case is one thing and their lawyers' view is another.

But there is a connection between the way in which the Government lawyers approached Ms Eweida's case and Steve Hilton's criticisms of the civil service, as reported last weekend.

She was asked by British Airways not to display her cross at work as long ago as 2006, and Ministers thus inherited the case from Labour.

This Government takes a different view of the place of Christianity in the public square to its Labour predecessor.  Eric Pickles is repeating it this lunchtime at Policy Exchange.

The Communities Secretary will say that Britain is in the grip of "aggressive secularism", and will defend the right of "people of all beliefs to...wear religious symbols and pray in public.”

A senior Government source tells me that Coalition Ministers were not briefed by civil servants about the legal handling of Ms Eweidas's case.

It may well be that it wouldn't have made any difference if they had been.  But the source said that Ministers were unhappy with the argument that Eadie made and the Telegraph reported.

There is an echo here of Hilton's claim that Cameron sometimes hears on the radio or sees on TV an announcement of Government policy that is the opposite of what he believes.

My own view is that his criticisms of the civil service are partly but not wholly justified, and that Ms Eweidas's case helps to illustrate why.

Ministers are right to suggest that the civil service has an institutional bias, which is not so much a left-wing one as an establishment one.

For example, I saw myself as a Shadow Minister that the OSCT had a very clear view of what the government policy on violent extremism and extremism should be.

It took a lot of hard work by Cameron in particular to impose his will and this Government's view on policy in this area.  There is a similar broad civil service consensus about the EU and ECHR.

Civil servants should in Ms Eweidas's case - and the others that went to court - have cottonned on to the change in Government policy, and asked Ministers for their view.

Then again, Ministers can't ultimately slough off their responsibility on to civil servants.  It's up to them to frame the laws that, in this case, govern the wearing of religious symbols.

Eadie made his argument in court last September.  So if Downing Street was agitated about the Eadie case it could have pressed for a new position during the preceding two years or so.

But it would never do to neglect the obvious.  Ultimately, Ministers have decided not to take charge.  Like their predecessors, they have ceded that right to the ECHR.

Chris Grayling told me last year that he hasn't ruled out a future Conservative Government leaving the ECHR altogether.

Hilton may complain.  And Ministers may take a view different from that of their civil servants.  But unless and until we leave the ECHR, very little will change.

P.S: I suspect Ministers are especially sensitive about the faith communities at present, given the approach of the same-sex marriage bill.

And I see that Lillian Ladele, who was disciplined by Islington Council after she refused to conduct civil partnership ceremonies, lost her case.


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