27 March 2011

Census Sensibility

I filled out my Census form today, thankful that my son's recent headlice episode had not re-occurred, which would have forced me to register several hundred overnight guests. I was pleased with my efforts, and I'm quite confident I got most of the answers right, though I was disappointed there wasn't a tie-breaker; 'In 10 ten words or fewer tell us why the maker of the Hellfire II missile system was chosen to count this year's Census'. With 25 million households involved, how on earth will they decide who's won otherwise?

Had there been such a challenge, it wouldn't have been the daftest question on the form. Not even the part where the government demands to know the number of rooms in my house excluding bathrooms, or the method I use to heat them. Although voluntary, Question 20 asked what religion each member of the house was. When I quizzed my 4-year-old daughter, her explanation of transubstantiation was so hopelessly wide of the mark I started to look for a box marked "Scooby Doo". She couldn't even understand the concept of Confirmation Bias that will ensure a skewed result in favour of organised religion in this census, despite dwindling numbers of church attendees.

I think my form must have been incomplete, because there wasn't a corresponding question asking for my political affiliation or that of my children. We've been told in the run-up to this year's Census that it's really important, because spending decisions will be made upon the data revealed. If this is true, you'd think it would be more interesting for the state to know our general feelings towards ideas of state control and freedom, or self-reliance and collective responsibility. How declaring your belief in Middle Eastern prophets should shape the redistribution of state spending is anyone's guess - you might as well ask people if they believe in the infallibility of Nick Clegg.

So despite the protestations of the likes of Anne Atkins, in the eyes of the state, religious beliefs rank higher than anything else you might believe. Though not as important as whether or not you have an outside toilet, which is a compulsory question and probably just as instructive about our British cultural heritage.

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