WHEN she was a teenager, our daughter belonged to Crusaders. It
changed its name to Urban Saints, which I found appealing. Yet
when, in October, the Christian Socialist Movement (CSM) undertook
consultations to change its name, I felt I was losing a part of
The CSM was formed in 1960; chaired by the Methodist, the Revd
Donald (later Lord) Soper, its committee was in favour of
unilaterism, state ownership, and a classless society, although
these aims gradually diminished in importance. I was impressed by
Soper, but more influenced by Richard Tawney.
His starting-point was that God had created all people of equal
worth, and that they had an entitlement to resources,
opportunities, and responsibilities that fostered unity, not
division. I joined the CSM in 1962, and called myself a Christian
The CSM affiliated to the Labour Party in 1986, although later
some members were highly critical of the Labour Government's
invasion of Iraq. A former director of CSM, Dr Andrew Bradshaw,
wrote that in 2010 "it is in very good heart - membership is once
again rising. . . CSM members are having influence at all levels
within the Party. 2009 saw CSM make a major impact at Party
conference; it held more fringe meetings than any other
organisation, as well as hosting the conference service." A tenth
of Labour Party MPs were members.
Despite this progress, the executive committee now favours a
change of name. It circulated a questionnaire in October, to be
returned by the end of December. Its chairman, Stephen Timms (an MP
for whom I have great respect), and its director, Andy Flannagan,
have sent out statements arguing that more people are looking for a
political outlet, but that the word "Socialism" is difficult to
understand, and old-fashioned. In the questionnaire, members are
asked which of the following names they prefer: Communion, The
Common Good, or The Christian Left.
I have waited until after the closing date for the
questionnaire, as I did not wish to influence members. Its results
will be circulated in the next few weeks, and then all members will
have a vote on the change of name, before the AGM on 21 March.
IMPLICIT in the case being made for change is a reluctance to
use the terms "Christian" and "Socialist". Both the National
Children's Homes and the Church of England Children's Society -
with which I have had close links - have changed their names to
Action for Children and the Children's Society respectively. Among
their reasons, I understand, was to attract financial and other
support from a wider group than churchgoers, and grants from
I am a long-term supporter of the former Bible Lands Society,
which has become Embrace the Middle East (News, 31 August). I think
the change is acceptable, in that the countries served were not
necessarily lands of the Bible, and it is now working more in
co-operation with a range of diverse services. USPG has also caused
a stir by renaming itself United Society (Us). The former name was
a mouthful, but many are critical of the new one (News, 20
But the CSM did not have a mouthful of a name. It is not
changing its objectives. It does not run services with large
numbers of staff for whom huge amounts of money are required.
Instead, its argument is that the terms of its title are out of
date and not easily understood, and so put off prospective
Yet Mr Timms makes it clear that the movement will remain
Christian, and says: "We will still be a socialist society." So why
try to hide the terms? I am glad still to call myself a Christian
Socialist. It is the term I often use when writing an article or
before a talk. I have not found it a barrier.
At the Greenbelt Festival, I spoke about Christians and
equality. Some people disagreed, but all seemed to understand the
terms. The Labour Party may be embarrassed by the word "socialist",
but Christians in a society that remains socialist should be able
to explain it.
None the less, I accept that others have found it a handicap. I
will not go as far as the Revd Hazel Barkham, who has declared
online that she will resign if the title goes. But obviously any
new title must be linked with Christianity and radical
TITLES such as Communion, The Common Good, and The Christian
Left are vague, and are not obviously associated with socialism.
The first two indicate no link with Christianity. I want to be
positive, and suggest two other names: Equality, or Egalitarians. I
believe that equality should be the core of our movement.
It should also encourage the personal practice of greater
equality - a matter CSM has largely ignored. Keir Hardie and George
Lansbury (whose lives I have written) were both leaders of the
Labour Party, and called themselves Christian Socialists. They
reflected their principles in their lifestyles, and made explicit
references to Jesus. They lived on modest incomes, refused to move
into fashionable areas, and declined honours. Today, if more
followed their example, they would both challenge the domination of
greed and make the case for greater equality.
Poverty and inequality are increasing in Britain. Personal greed
is an evil that dominates much of society. I write not as a distant
academic or a wealthy politician. I do so as a member of a
congregation in a very deprived area. I meet families dependent on
food parcels, and people who often run out of money.
This is wrong according to the values of both Christianity and
socialism. A movement giving priority to promoting greater equality
and putting egalitarianism into personal practice would attack
Britain's great injustices, and also attract new members.
Professor Bob Holman is a former Professor of Social Policy
at the University of Bath. His book Woodbine Willie will
be published by Lion Hudson in March.