Keep pressing our politicians, bishops urge the Church

15 May 2015

PA

New intake: David Cameron poses with newly elected Conservative MPs in Westminster on Monday

New intake: David Cameron poses with newly elected Conservative MPs in Westminster on Monday

THE Prime Minister, fresh from his election victory, has been warned not to listen to "harsh, strident voices", but to lighten burdens and "build one nation".

Last Friday, David Cameron celebrated the "sweetest victory of all", defying the polls by securing an outright majority in a General Election that had been widely predicted to be inconclusive.

The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, in a blog post written at the start of this week, counsels him to "reach out to the whole nation, to connect with the disaffected, to listen to the people and to be their servant".

The Bishop warns: "There will be those who see the Conservative majority as a mandate to fulfil and go beyond the manifesto commitments, blind to the risk of increasing the burdens of those who already bear the heavy load (of sickness, disability or the struggle to find sustainable employment)."

Dr Croft recommends that the Prime Minister abolish the so-called bedroom tax - "it has generated more resentment than revenue"; promise an early review of benefits sanctions - and exempt families with children, and people suffering from mental ill-health; and "revisit the Big Society ideas. . .

"Place active partnership, between national and local government and the faith and voluntary sector, front and centre again, not as a replacement of government initiative but complementary to it."

In another blog, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, suggested that the Bishops' pre-election pastoral letter had gone largely ignored by the parties.

"The trading of policies almost daily was embarrassing and, sometimes, confusing," he wrote. "Much of the rhetoric on all sides was competitive obfuscating mirage - and apparently based on the assumption that a market society (as opposed to a market economy) is what we have all now settled for. If we have, we are stuffed."

The Church must, he said, "continue pressing our politicians for the vision that fires their policies. . . We need to keep on questioning whether the economy is there for people, or people there for the economy."

The mood of Church of England bishops judging by Twitter was, by and large, glum. "What the UK electoral system needs most it is now unlikely to get: PR," wrote the Bishop of Sodor & Man, the Rt Revd Robert Paterson.

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, tweeted: "All manner of things may not be quite as well as some of us hoped. Julian of Norwich pray for us."

In a letter to The Guardian on Monday signed by religious leaders, Mr Cameron was urged to introduce a "tax-dodging bill" in the first 100 days of his term to "close loopholes and further protect the interests of people in Britain and in developing countries".

The result of the election - the Conservative Party secured 331 seats to Labour's 232 - came as no surprise to Colin Bloom, chief executive of the Conservative Christian Fellowship. The British people had "voted for competence", he said. The retention of seats by Christians, including David Burrowes in Enfield and John Glen in Salisbury, "will mean that kingdom values will remain at the heart of this Government".

While "absolutely delighted" with the Conservative majority, Mr Bloom was also "conscious that very many good people from various parties have found themselves now out of public service".

He paid particular tribute to the leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, Jim Murphy, who was ousted by his SNP opponent as part of a huge landslide for the nationalists, who took 56 out of the country's 59 seats. The Liberal Democrats had, by joining his party in coalition, "put national interest ahead of short-term political advantage".

Nick Clegg resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats last Friday. The results had been "immeasurably more crushing and unkind than I could ever have feared". The party now has just eight MPs, down from 58 in 2010.

A favourite to succeed him is Tim Farron, who won Westmorland and Lonsdale with a comfortable majority. Mr Farron has described his Christian conversion at the age of 18 as "fundamental and life-changing" (Back Page Interview, 20 May 2011).

The Labour leader Ed Miliband also resigned on Friday, taking "absolute and total responsibility for our defeat", before adding that the "issue of our unequal country will not go away . . . The fight goes on and, whoever is our new leader, I know Labour will keep making the case for a country that works for working people once again."

Andy Flannagan, director of Christians on the Left, said that he was "obviously disappointed" by the result, but "very positive about the future, and the role we can play in reshaping the Labour Party".

The result had shown, he suggested, "the difference in scale between the air war and the ground war". The Labour Party had undertaken five million conversations on the phone or doorstep. He laid the blame at the door of Conservative newspapers.

He had been encouraged, however, by both a surge in membership of Christians on the Left and the "unprecedented" number who were standing as candidates, including 24 seeking election for the first time. Victories included that of Catherine Smith, who unseated the Conservatives in Lancaster & Fleetwood.

He cited as an example of what Christianity could bring to Labour the victory of Stephen Timms in East Ham, who secured 78 per cent of the vote.

"You can see what can happen when a Labour candidate is able to speak the language of faith to Christians and also a large Muslim population. . . We have lot to bring to the party to make sure, both in politics and communications, we are working with people of faith, and those who have a real contribution to make to left of centre politics."

In his victory speech, Mr Cameron articulated his belief that "We're on the brink of something special in our country: we can make Britain a place where a good life is in reach for everyone who is willing to work and do the right thing."

After a General Election in which churches hosted nearly 350 hustings, Christians have been urged not to disengage from politics.

"Christians face the very real temptation to slip back into a form of political passivity, and it is absolutely essential we resist this temptation," the chief executive of CARE, Nola Leach, said on Monday.

Mr Cameron has appointed Caroline Dinenage as a Minister for Equality. She voted against the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill in 2013, and said that the state had "no right" to introduce it.


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