THE two men most likely to be Britain's next Prime Minister have
been courting the votes of black-majority churchgoers.
David Cameron and Ed Miliband are touring the country in an
attempt to secure an edge on 7 May. Last weekend, both headed to
worship gatherings near the capital, where Black Majority Churches
are experiencing spectacular growth, and can command congregations
Mr Cameron's faith, which he has described as intermittent ("a
bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of
comes and goes") was none the less enough to win him huge applause
as he appeared on stage at the Festival of Life in east London on
The festival began in a camp off the Lagos expressway; it can
now arrange an annual fixture at the ExCeL conference centre,
drawing 45,000 people for a night of prayer and praise.
"As Jesus said, with his arms outstretched to his disciples:
'Here are my mother and my brothers,'" Mr Cameron quoted. "For
whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, my
sister, and my mother. And that is what we are. As God's children
we are all one big family."
The gathering was, Mr Cameron suggested, a demonstration of the
Big Society he has championed, a concept that some were "determined
not to understand".
"Like Jesus turning water into wine, you turn loneliness into
companionship," he told them. "You turn deprivation into comfort.
You turn lost lives into lives with purpose.
"Just think how great our country Britain could be if we built
on that; if we have an even bigger Big Society where even more
people shared your family values: values of prudence, of hard work,
of looking out for those who fall on hard times. With those values
we can achieve the Britain we all want to live in."
He said that he was a believer in aspiration ("the only limit to
someone's aspiration is their own ambition and talent"). He was
confident that his successor was present in the room.
And he won a huge cheer for his assertion that it was a night to
be "proud that this is a Christian country, where we stand for the
freedom to practise your faith, and where we stand up for
He recalled the Nigerian schoolgirls taken by Boko Haram a year
ago, and prayed for their safe return.
Before he left the stage, the Prime Minister was prayed for by
the Festival's founder, the General Overseer of the Redeemed
Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch A. Adeboye. Mr Cameron had
earlier referred to him by his familiar title "Daddy G.O.".
Asking the crowd to stretch out their hands to Mr Cameron,
Pastor Adeboye prayed for "the wisdom of Solomon and the courage of
David so that in his days, in our days, Great Britain will be great
The first-ever manifesto from the Black Churches, published in
February, noted that, in London, 48 per cent of churchgoers were
black or from an ethnic minority; and that Operation Black Vote had
identified 168 marginal seats in which the black/minority-ethnic
(BME) vote could decide who won on 7 May.
"With such a high number of Christians among black communities,
the Black Majority Church in Britain is set to have a significant
say in who wins this next election," it said.
On Sunday, it was Mr Miliband's turn to try to influence this
constituency. In Croydon to support Sarah Jones, battling to take a
marginal seat from the Conservatives, he joined the congregation at
Praise House, a Pentecostal church he last visited in the aftermath
of the 2011 riots.
His address was more muted than Mr Cameron's. The party's
manifesto rather than the gospel was his key text, and his object
was to show how it matched the concerns of the community.
Before introducing the Labour leader, Pastor Damian Luke warned
that politicians blamed immigrants for domestic problems, and
xenophobia was on the rise abroad. Praise House is a short walk
from Lunar House, home of the UK Visa section.
Mr Miliband told the gathering: "What strikes me is that we have
equality before the law in our country, but we don't yet have real
equality. The battle for me, for equality, is not yet won."
He spoke of a promise to create a race-equality strategy across
every government department to address barriers and discrimination,
including those present in policing, "which is such a big issue
still in our country".
Baroness Lawrence, a Labour peer whose son Stephen was murdered
in a racist attack in south-east London in 1993, was present in the
congregation, and he praised her "incredible courage".
He was "definitely" committed to working more with Black
Majority Churches to alleviate unemployment among young black
people, he told a reporter from the newspaper The Voice.
At 32 per cent, it was double that among their white counterparts.
For a start, Labour would a guarantee a job to every young person
who was out of work for more than a year.
Promised "tough questions" by Mr Luke, Mr Miliband was asked
about the "discipline" of Christians who wore the cross, preached
on the streets, or tried to share their faith at work. He was asked
whether parents should be able to take their children out of
sex-education classes, what the Government would do to address
family breakdown, and how he would stop councils treating
Christians with "suspicion".
Mr Miliband appeared more comfortable talking about the economy,
suggesting that it was long hours and multiple jobs that kept
parents from being able to spend time with their children. He
defended sex-and-relationships education, criticising "certain
newspapers . . . who want to scare people". He repeated Labour's
commitment to creating an envoy for religious freedom, saying he
was "deeply troubled" by the persecution of Christians abroad, and
avoiding the arguably trickier issue of balancing at home the right
to freedom of expression and equality legislation.
Asked in a media round table whether his party had changed since
Alastair Campbell's assertion that "We don't do God," he explained
that it came down to common ground. "So many of the objectives I
have for the country - how we get a country that's not just run for
the rich and most powerful - that's something that motivates lots
of people of faith from all backgrounds. So, in a way, how people
come to these issues is different, but the view people take about
these issues is actually very similar."
His approach seemed to satisfy the congregation. "He was very
down to earth, and he did his best to address the issues that were
being voiced to him," one woman said. "I think that the proposals
that he wants to bring about are very practical."
Whether either of the party leaders' appeals translate into
remains to be seen. In 2010, ethnic minorities were three times
less likely to be registered to vote than the majority. Only 29 per
cent had been contacted by any of the parties during the campaign.
This time, things might be different, as the BME community grows in
political confidence and the parties realise that they have to work
hard to secure their support.