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Tories can count on the C of E, voters tell polls

10 April 2015


Selfies: on the campaign trail with Ed Milliband, David Cameron, Nigel Farage, and Nick Clegg

Selfies: on the campaign trail with Ed Milliband, David Cameron, Nigel Farage, and Nick Clegg

NEARLY half the Anglicans in the UK are planning to vote Conservative in next month's election, an analysis commissioned by the Church Times suggests.

Overall, the Conservatives and Labour remain deadlocked on 34 per cent each. But 48 per cent of those who call themselves Church of England, Anglican, or Episcopal favour the Conservatives. Just 27 per cent plan to vote Labour.

No other denomination is so right-wing, but when all Christian denominations are taken into account, the Conservatives remain ahead on 38 per cent; 33 per cent back Labour.

The figures are an aggregate by YouGov of its polling from the whole of last month, which recorded the voting intentions of more than 35,000 people, of which 5552 identified themselves as Anglicans. Roman Catholics appear to be firmly the other way: 42 per cent of the 1574 Roman Catholics polled said they would vote Labour, 31 per cent Conservative.

The Anglican figure for UKIP is marginally up on the national average: 16 per cent compared with 14 per cent; and six per cent say they will vote Lib-Dem versus seven per cent in the total sample.

Smaller parties, including the Greens, the Scottish National Party, and Plaid Cymru, get just three per cent of the Anglican vote, compared with 11 per cent nationally.

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, who was a Labour councillor in the 1980s, said he was not surprised by the findings. "Consistently, there has always been a majority of people who are Church of England and Conservative," he said on Tuesday. "I think it's about Establishment, and the fact that the Church is by its nature conservative with a small 'c', and that tends to make people a Conservative with a big 'C'."

The news was welcomed by the chairman of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, Colin Bloom. He said: "Obviously these poll findings are extremely encouraging, but the only poll that matters is the one on 7 May. You could say that it demonstrates how wise most Anglicans are."

The findings contradict accusations, made by Conservative politicians when the House of Bishops' Pastoral Letter was published in February, that the Church was overwhelmingly left-wing (News, 20 February).

Bishop Broadbent said that Conservative Central Office "decided to go for the jugular" over the pastoral letter but ignored the real issues it raised, which were not political.

Only two per cent of Anglicans surveyed by YouGov said that they would not vote on 7 May, compared with six per cent nationally. Bishop Broadbent found this encouraging, as did the C of E's director of mission and public affairs, the Revd Dr Malcolm Brown.

"There is some sense of civic duty among Anglicans, [and they] are slightly ahead of the field by intention to vote," he said on Wednesday.

Despite their hostile reception of the Bishops' Pastoral Letter on its publication, the Conservatives were not monolithically against the new politics espoused by the Bishops, Dr Brown said.

"It has had very warm private endorsement from a number of senior Conservatives. One bishop told me: 'It has divided Parliament between those who hate it and those who have read it.'"

He held that the vision held up in the pastoral letter could be pursued through a conservative, Socialist, or liberal framework.

Christians on the Left were less enthusiastic about the results of the poll. Stephen Beer, the group's political communications officer, said that, as the survey looked only at affiliation to church rather than active membership, it could give a skewed picture.

But the most important thing was that Christians were engaged with politics. "The first message [from Christians on the Left] is take the next step in politics - if you don't vote, then vote. If you do vote, think about being a candidate, whatever party you're from," he said.

He also suggested that voting intention did not mean blind support. For example, many of those campaigning against government policies that had forced people to rely on foodbanks would be churchgoing Conservatives.

Bishop Broadbent said things were changing. "I think there is a generational thing here. That longstanding conservatism may not last for ever."

Leader comment

Question of the week: Is the C of E a natural ally of the Conservative Party? 


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