HUNDREDS of hustings events are due to take place in churches across the UK in the next two weeks. A Christian group has suggested that the Christian vote will become increasingly important as the prospect of a hung Parliament grows.
Andrew Marsh, the national co-ordinator of the non-party-political Christian and Candidates organisation, which is urging churches to get involved in the political process, said that all the main political parties were “starting to wake up” to the importance of the Christian vote, and “need to stop taking it for granted”.
“As the prospect of a hung Parliament looks increasingly likely, it really raises the stakes for Christians and all the political parties. . . Christians need to scrutinise things carefully, as all the parties need every vote,” he said.
On Wednesday, 223 hustings had been registered on the Christian Action and Research (CARE) charity’s Make the Cross Count election website. CARE’s director of Parliamentary Affairs, Dan Boucher, said that he had been “bowled over” by the response of churches, and had expected only about 50 hustings to be registered.
It was both encouraging and important that the Church had such a high profile “in the context of an increasingly tightly fought election”. There had been “a real sea change of the place of Christianity in British life since the last election five years ago”, he said, and he cited the tribunal cases of the nurse Caroline Petrie and the registrar Lillian Ladele, which were possible reasons why Christians were more interested in engaging in the political process this year.
CARE’s development officer, Gareth Davies, said that a hustings at St James’s, West Hampstead, in the marginal Hampstead and Kilburn constituency, had been particularly “feisty”, while at a forum event at Christ Church, Bridlington, issues such as Christian views on immigration and war were discussed — subjects that people are often “quite afraid to talk about”. The issues of religious liberty and sex education in schools were raised regularly at forums and hustings, he said.
The Roman Catholic Bishop of Nottingham, the Rt Revd Malcolm McMahon, has criticised the Liberal Democrats’ election pledge to “ensure that all faith schools develop an inclusive admissions policy and end unfair discrimination on grounds of faith when recruiting staff, except for those principally responsible for optional religious instruction”. The policy was “unnecessary”, he said, and could erode the Roman Catholic education system that they had “fought hard over the last 150 years to develop”.
A number of Church of England bishops have been encouraging people in their dioceses to vote. The Bishop of Salisbury, Dr David Stancliffe, reminded church people of their diocesan link partner, the Church of the Province of Sudan, where the first general election for more than a quarter of a century has just taken place. The “hard-won opportunity” of the Sudanese people “reminds us not to take our established democracy for granted, and not to squander this gift”, he said.
The Bishop of Lichfield, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gledhill, called for all Christians to vote and “pray our national life will be enhanced by our next Government”.
The Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Price, called for a better moral foundation for society. “In recent decades, politics in this country has removed much of a sense of duty, obligation, and responsibility from the citizen, and replaced them with ‘rights’,” he said.
The Christian Socialist Movement lent its support this week to Labour’s plan for a global bank levy to redress the “moral imbalances” of the global financial system. Its director, Andy Flannagan, said that Labour’s commitment to this levy in their manifesto would mean banks across the world “would contribute fairly to the society in which they are based”.
The Christian Peoples Alliance has more than 130 candidates standing in the local elections, and 17 in the Parliamentary elections.
Christians and Candidates is holding a national hustings event at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster on Monday 26 April at 7 p.m.