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Collaborate as faiths can, divided Labour urged

30 September 2016


Looking to the faiths: Jeremy Corbyn addresses a Christians on the Left service during the Labour Party Conference

Looking to the faiths: Jeremy Corbyn addresses a Christians on the Left service during the Labour Party Conference

THE Labour Party can learn lessons from the Church and other religious bodies about how to unite despite deep disagreements, the newly re-elected party leader Jeremy Corbyn has said.

Speaking at a service in Liverpool during the party’s annual conference, Mr Corbyn told the congregation in St James in the City that the party could “draw political lessons” from the way in which faith groups came together despite differences between both denominations and religions.

In his constituency in Islington, Mr Corbyn said, he had seen how well churches, mosques, synagogues, and charities could collaborate, and he urged Labour members to follow their lead.

Christian activists on both sides of the party’s divide said this week that they agreed with him. Stephen Beer, chief investment officer of the Methodist Church and the communications officer of Christians on the Left, said on Monday that a Christian attitude could help the party’s divisions to be healed.

“A Christian approach is to make the effort to build relationships with the people we are debating with, and perhaps start by trying to see the best in them, even as we disagree with each other sometimes quite vigorously about policies.”

Christians should both model that in their behaviour, and call for it to be replicated across the party, he suggested.

The Revd Steven Saxby, a prominent Labour campaigner in his parish, St Barnabas’s, Walthamstow, in north-east London, also backed Mr Corbyn’s words. “Let’s look at the experience of our Christian communities when we work together also in an ecumenical context,” he said on Tuesday. “We find ways to disagree respectfully, courteously, and have a sense of a common goals that we share. There is something there for Labour.”

The chief executive of the Church Army, Mark Russell, who has tried to become a parliamentary candidate for Labour in the past, said that he had skipped the conference this year because the atmosphere had become too toxic for him and other Owen Smith supporters. “It seems to me that the Christian values the party needs are reconciliation and hope. I need to play my party and be somebody who builds hope. As Christians, we are called to help bring some healing.”

But this wouldn’t happen overnight, he warned. “It will take a lot of work, because there are a lot of awful things said and done over the last few months. You got lynched for expressing your view. We have got to stop fighting with each other.”

Fabian Breckels, a Labour councillor who attended this week’s conference, concurred. He said: “Jeremy Corbyn said we are one family at his speech on Saturday when he was re-elected. He needs to stand by that rather than insisting there any revenge de-selections.”

Some Labour centrists who are dismayed at Mr Corbyn’s leadership have decided to leave the party now that he has decisively won another mandate as leader. But Mr Breckels said that this would be a mistake.

“I’m not leaving. I know some people have, but, if there are any Christians reading, they should stay put, even if they are disappointed with the result. It’s not just a party for one faction. Labour has always been a broad church.”

Mr Russell felt the same: “The values are what I signed up for, not a particular policy or a leader. It’s a family, just like church. The party has always been a broad church.”

All four said that Mr Corbyn was good at engaging with Christians on the Left and with other faith groups that were part of the Labour movement.

“He’s not a person of faith but he has been formed by certain traditions and faith values,” Fr Saxby said. “Jeremy Corbyn is committed to respecting the role faith plays in society. It’s clear from his own work in Islington.”

Mr Beer said that it was vital that people of faith continue to play their part in the party, which, after all, had been started by Christians who wanted to put their faith into action.

Christians on the Left has found success at the conference with its latest campaign: #patriotspaytax. Their attempt to build a positive case for not avoiding taxes was praised by the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, who said in his speech to the conference: “It’s a great slogan. Patriots should pay their taxes. Labour are already setting the pace on tackling tax avoidance and tax evasion.”

Mr Corbyn was photographed with his own #patriotspaytax sign, which explained that he was happy to pay taxes, to ensure that “everyone gets looked after and every child gets education.”

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