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After Tory victory, Labour urged to connect with faith

08 May 2015


Sombre: David Cameron leads tributes to Margaret Thatcher, in the House of Commons, on Wednesday 

Sombre: David Cameron leads tributes to Margaret Thatcher, in the House of Commons, on Wednesday 

THE unexpected outright victory of the Conservative party in the General Election shows that "the British people voted for competence", the chief executive of the Conservative Christian Fellowship (CCF) said on Friday.

The result - a majority for the Conservative party, which secured 331 seats to Labour's 232 - contradicted earlier polls which had suggested a  neck-and-neck race.                     

But Colin Bloom of the CCF, who has predicted for weeks that the Conservatives would get at least 326 seats, was unsurprised. Pollsters had "tried to turn politics from an art into a science", he suggested.

While "absolutely delighted" with the result, he was also "conscious that very many good people from various parties have found themselves now out of public service. My thoughts are with them."

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.    

Mr Bloom said that Mr Murphy had done "a magnificent job for the No campaign to hold our union together". He also wanted to put on the record his appreciation for the Liberal Democrats, who, by joining his party in coalition, had "put national interest ahead of short-term political advantage."

On Friday morning, Nick Clegg resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats. 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.

Mr Bloom described Mr Clegg as a "genuine British statesman, and somebody who I hope remains in high public office in some capacity".

The defeat of many senior members of Mr Clegg's party, including Vince Cable, Danny Alexander, and Simon Hughes, means that there are limited candidates from which to choose a new leader. A favourite is Tim Farron, who won Westmorland & Lonsdale with a comfortable majority.

A prominent Christian, he has described his conversion at the age 18 as "the most massive choice I have made. It didn't seem like it at the time - it was a wonderful experience; I didn't realise how fun­damental and life-changing it was" (Back Page Interview, 20 May, 2011).

It was a crushing night for Labour, which lost heavyweight members including the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, and the election campaign chief Douglas Alexander. On Friday, the Labour leader Ed Miliband resigned, taking  "absolute and total responsibility for our defeat" before adding that "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 on Friday 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 and he laid the blame at the door of Conservative newspapers.

"The Express, Mail, Sun, the Evening Standard are becoming increasingly less journalistic and more one-sided, and that is a pity in terms of the future of the nation's conversation. We are sliding towards a more American style of political discourse, which I find worrying."

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.

"It's hugely encouraging that a lot of younger candidates are standing for the very first time and learning the ropes," Mr Flannagan said. "A lot of younger Christians are behind them and realising the importance of being politically engaged."

He had a prescription for the Labour party.

"The Labour party is at its best when it is at its broadest, with a range of opinions on various issues, and not a narrow, secular, progressive, humanist party," he said. Votes for UKIP and the SNP were in part, he suggested, "a reaction to us seeming like a liberal, cosmopolitan, London-based party".

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."

Conservatives celebrating today include Caroline Ansell, also a member of CCF, who took Eastbourne from the Liberal Democrats by 733 votes (News, 24 April). In her victory speech she pledged to work "for all those in Eastbourne & Willingdon and to ensure we see a more prosperous future in these next incoming years".

Mr Bloom suggested that 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".  

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."

He also thanked his coalition partners, including Nick Clegg: "Elections can be a bruising clashes of ideas and arguments and a lot of people who believe profoundly in public service have seen that service cut short."

His Government would work to deliver a recovery for all, he vowed,  including "building that northern powerhouse" and "giving the poorest people the chance of training, a job, and hope for the future".

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the president of the bishops' conference of England and Wales, sent his congratulations to Mr Cameron, who would face "many challenges, not least encouraging and sustaining economic growth and, at the same time, giving particular attention to the needs of the poorest people in our society today".

The reaction of Church of England Bishops on Twitter was, by and large, gloomy.

"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 Hereford, the Rt Revd Richard Frith expressed sadness that his son, James Frith, standing for Labour in Bury North, had narrowly failed, by 387 votes, to unseat the Conservatives: "Couldn't resist national tidal wave, but brilliant effort. Proud of him."

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."

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