THE Christian community is a great boon to London, all parties at a church hustings before the London mayoral elections next month agreed. The event was hosted by the Evangelical Alliance (EA), and Churches Together in England, at Kensington Temple. The mayoral candidates from the main political parties attended to discuss the issues important to churchgoers.
The hustings began with pleas from the Bishop of Kensington, Dr Graham Tomlin, and the Senior Minister of Kensington Temple, the Revd Colin Dye, for an acknowledgement of the important part that the churches played in London life. London is the only capital city in the world where the Established Church was growing, Dr Tomlin said, and its 720,000 churchgoers punch above their weight in social contribution.
But that influence should not be just one way, the director of the EA’s One People Commission, the Revd Yemi Adedeji, said. “Fail to pay attention to us, and you will lose the election.”
Candidates began the session by addressing issues of “faith or values” in their campaigns. The Green Party candidate, Sian Berry, said that she had been brought up Christian, but had become a Humanist — she is a patron of the British Humanist Association. She cited values that she believed would be shared by Christians, such as social justice and working together.
The Liberal Democrat candidate, Caroline Pidgeon, remembered her Sunday-school days fondly, and said that, although she was now a “non-practising” Christian, she continued to hold to the basic idea of helping people.
The Conservative candidate, Zac Goldsmith, told of his “confused” religious upbringing with a Jewish father and a Christian mother. But he took his spiritual lead from his uncle, a co-founder of the Green Party, and his desire to protect the world.
The UKIP candidate, Peter Whittle, was unable to attend, but his replacement, David Kurten, standing for the London Assembly, is a regular churchgoer, and he and Sadiq Khan, Labour, spoke of their attempts to be faithful to their religious tradition.
“I am a Muslim,” Mr Khan said. He said that he prayed daily — five times when possible — and fasted every Ramadan. But what made him want to be London’s Mayor, he said, was the city’s respect for difference, which was stronger than mere toleration.
Housing was the first issue to be addressed. The audience was keen to know of the candidates’ plans to deal with homelessness and rough sleeping.
It was unacceptable that there were 7500 people sleeping rough in London, Mr Goldsmith said. He wanted to lobby the Government for powers that would enable the mayor to do more. Ms Berry said that homelessness was the tip of an iceberg, under which were thousands of people in other kinds of housing difficulty. She would be a strong critic of any government that brought these conditions about, she said.
Mr Khan agreed, reminding people that the Labour government of the Noughties had managed to rid London of its cardboard cities.
On the proliferation of betting shops in poor neighbourhoods, each candidate wanted to contain the spread. But there was a limit to the power that the mayor could wield, they agreed.
A comment from the chairman, the Assistant Curate of West Kilburn West, the Revd Christopher Landau, led to the biggest laugh of the evening. After Mr Khan had talked about how a bad mayor would just “turn up on the red carpet, cut the ribbon, and tell a few jokes”, Mr Landau quipped: “A bit like a bishop, then.”
“We also get a pulpit,” Mr Khan replied, in reference to the mayor’s ability to advocate new ideas.
On terrorism and keeping London safe, Ms Pidgeon said that she would ensure that the city had enough police. Mr Goldsmith believed that it was the mayor’s most important responsibility; and, referring to the audience’s concern that churches could be affected by anti-terrorist attempts to investigate religious gatherings, Mr Khan spoke of how Christians and Muslims worked together for good across the city, and how they could “vote for each other, too”. Ms Berry made a case for faith schools’ having links with schools of other faiths, so that children were exposed to other traditions.
In their final addresses, candidates appeared to ignore audience concerns about freedom of religion for Christians in Britain, except for Mr Kurten, who talked of the national day of prayer before the Dunkirk landings, and how unlikely that would be today. But the Churches were part of the Big Society, Mr Goldsmith said, and the mayor would not be able to solve some problems without their help.
In their closing speeches, Ms Pidgeon and Mr Khan talked of how London had “stopped working” for those who were not rich. Ms Berry said that she had spent the evening in front of “the clappingest and most polite audience” of the campaign.
The Auxiliary Bishop for the RC diocese of Westminster, the Rt Revd Nicholas Hudson, closed with a prayer from Pope Francis: “Enlighten those who possess power and money, that they may avoid the sin of indifference.”