Candidates find that faith and politics do mix

24 April 2015

PA

Precursor: the Labour leader, Keir Hardie, delivers a speech in Trafalgar Square, on New Year's Day, 1910

Precursor: the Labour leader, Keir Hardie, delivers a speech in Trafalgar Square, on New Year's Day, 1910

A CONSERVATIVE inspired by her dealings with the NHS, a Labour candidate who worries about where the next George Lansbury is, and a Pirate keen to debate Edward Snowden's revelations are among the Christians fighting for a seat in Parliament this year.

Representing parties from across the spectrum, they all believe that their party best reflects their Christian faith.

"Our faith teaches us that we should build a society where people can fulfil their potential," Suzy Stride, the Labour candidate for Harlow, a semi-marginal Conservative seat, says. "It is ridiculously obvious that we live in a country where your postcode and facts outside of your control can determine your future."

Brought up in one of the most deprived areas of the country, she has worked for many years for a charity helping disadvantaged young people in Tower Hamlets.

"I struggle to understand a lot of Tory MPs, because I believe our first priority has got to be justice. . . Conservative MPs voted 18 times to protect millionaires' bonuses, but voted to scrap the Jobs Guarantee."

She feels "sad" that Christians are "so hands-off about politics. . . Where are the present day George Lansburys and Keir Hardies -Christians who joined the Labour Party to fight for social justice and sort out workhouses?"

Caroline Ansell, the Conservative candidate for Eastbourne and Willingdon, a marginal Liberal Democrat seat, was inspired to enter politics after her son was diagnosed with a brain tumour.

"The only question we did not have to ask was: 'How much will it cost, and how will we ever pay for it?'" she says. "We fell into the arms of the NHS, so have this powering sense of gratitude to the country."

Her faith marries with her choice of party, she says, because it "relates back to that belief that every person is created in the image of God, and is unique and has potential and promise and something to bring to to the world. Conservatives are looking for people to fulfil that potential."

Asked about the media's portrayal of the Government's programme, she felt that the party had been "held hostage to some rather negative presentation. . . Although we have weathered the storm . . . there are still people here who need a new opportunity, who need a second chance, who need that lift. So that has been my pledge: no one to be left behind."

Dr Brian Mathew is standing for the Liberal Democrats in Wiltshire North, a safe Conservative seat, after working for years as an engineer in international development. Growing up with two deaf sisters had a "profound effect" on him.

"I have always found, personally, the Conservatives too much in favour of big business and not taking into account people; and the Labour Party too controlling," he said. "The Liberal Democrats are a broad church of what is fundamentally decent in the human spirit."

One of his priorities, were he to be elected, would be tackling climate change, the effects of which he has seen as an aid worker: "In terms of the great tradition of Christian stewardship, we need to be taking this very, very seriously."

Jonathan Bartley is running for the Green Party in Streatham, a semi-marginal Labour seat, where the Greens had two per cent of the vote in 2010. He has "never been particularly tribal about my politics", he says, but believes that the Green Party is a "natural fit" for him. He cites its commitment to "active peacemaking" and the Living Wage, and argues that "it is the only main party that is consistently challenging austerity."

He questioned the claim made by some Christians that it was necessary to join one of the bigger parties in order to make a difference. "My experience working in and outside the House of Commons is that quite often Christians are pretty ineffective. The party whip is strong and the tribal spirit means that they often end up voting for their party rather than standing up for what is right."

This message should encourage Mark Chapman, who is standing for the Pirate Party in Vauxhall, a safe Labour seat. Started in Sweden in 2006, "standing up for internet freedom and government transparency", the party has two MEPs.

"There is an element to which the core principle of the party is evidence-based policy which leads it to be quite scientific and rationalist; so it might not seem the most obvious Christian fit," Mr Chapman said. "But for me the element is liberty and freedom. . . Christ came to preach freedom to everyone."

Mr Chapman is concerned about civil liberties, and believes that the debate that is needed is not happening: "Things revealed by Edward Snowden and others about mass surveillance haven't even been discussed effectively in this country."

A request to UKIP for the contact details of a Christian candidate was unsuccessful.

L etters

Overturning the vested interest -  Gordon Brown on how Keir Hardie's Christianity inspired both his politics and his contribution to the Labour movement

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