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Watch humanist Tom Copley describe his work and motivations in politics
I’m an elected member of the London Assembly, and we essentially keep an eye on the Mayor of London, so we hold the Mayor of London to account and we investigate issues that matter to London and Londoners. And I’m also a local councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham.
I think for me, politics is the best way that I can make the world better, but that’s not the same for everybody. I think that there are many, many ways that you can make the world a better place, whether it’s through writing, through art, through science, you know, whatever. If you’ve got a particular skill, a particular talent, you can bring that to bear, to build a better world. I think, for me, I’ve got a particular sort of skillset, that means that politics is the best way for me to do that, but it’s not going to be the best way for everybody to do it.
I mean, politics is, you do - in politics you do have the ability, you know, to make change, but often it’s an awful lot of effort to make a very little change. But that change can be very, very important for a particular group of people, so it’s a sort of constant struggle but I think it’s an important one.
One of the things I’ve been working on, not just recently but for quite some time, is with the gypsy and traveller community in London. They’re a community that is very, very marginalised. There’s an enormous amount of discrimination against them, and they have particular needs in terms of their accommodation and one of my roles is, as the housing spokesperson for the Labour Group on the Assembly, I’m Deputy Chair of the Housing Committee. And so thinking about the accommodation and needs of gypsies and travellers is very, very important, and trying to ensure that they are not forgotten, that their needs are taken care of, and trying to fight some of that prejudice and discrimination that they face.
And this has been one of the ongoing campaigns that I’ve been working on since I’ve been elected.
I do feel there’s a sense that religious beliefs are given more of a priority than humanist beliefs. I think there’s this idea that if you’ve got a religious belief, that’s more important than if you’re a humanist or an atheist. I think that’s completely wrong. I think we need to respect everybody’s beliefs and, you know, treat humanist beliefs the the way in which religious beliefs are treated. I don’t know there should be any discrimination on that front. And, of course, within the entire political system, you know, you’ve got an established church, you’ve got bishops in the House of Lords.
There’s absolutely no doubt that religious voices hold more sway, but that’s why I think it’s even more important for humanists who are in politics to speak up and be visible and be vocal about our beliefs.
I think the humanist voice brings a perspective which is based on rationality, which is based on evidence, and that’s something which is sadly, I think, sorely lacking across many areas of policy at the moment. I think we bring a voice of reason and particularly now, at a time when we’ve got rising populism, I think that’s particularly important.
So at its core, I think humanism is about building a better world for yourself and for everybody else, but beyond that kind of core principle, I think there’s some very practical things as well. For example, you know, getting rid of religious privilege, ensuring that we have freedom of belief and freedom of speech and things like that. And I think those principles and those values go beyond the sort of left-right spectrum.
Whether or not you’re a conservative, or a liberal, or a socialist, or a green, or whatever you are, the principle that people should be able to practice their beliefs, whether they’re religious or not, be able to speak out and express their opinions and their thoughts, that there shouldn’t be religious privilege within society, whether that’s an established church, or bishops in the House of Lords, or faith schools. I think all of these things cross the traditional left-right boundaries and mean that no matter where you are on the political spectrum, we can come together and unite and campaign around those issues.

Tom Copley is an elected member of the London Assembly, serving as a city-wide member since May 2012, and is a councillor on Lewisham London Borough Council. He is the youngest person ever to be elected to the London Assembly. He is currently the deputy chair of the Assembly’s Housing Committee. He has also worked for the Labour Party and the Health Protection Agency. He is a trustee of Humanists UK.

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