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Conservative leadership hopefuls have faith

08 July 2016


Shortlist: Theresa May makes a statement outside the Palace of Westminster after the vote on Thursday

Shortlist: Theresa May makes a statement outside the Palace of Westminster after the vote on Thursday

THE front runner in the race for the leadership of the Conservative Party, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is a regular worshipper in her parish church. She says, however, that it was wrong for politicians to overplay their faith in public life.

“I think it’s right that we don’t flaunt these things here in British politics,” she said on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs in 2014, “but it is a part of me. It’s there, and it obviously helps to frame my thinking and my approach.”

Mrs May grew up in an Oxfordshire vicarage: her father was the Revd Hubert Brasier, a priest who trained at Mirfield and was Chaplain of All Saints’ Hospital, Eastbourne, when she was born, and subsequently Vicar of Enstone with Heythrop, and then Wheatley.

Mrs May chose two hymns when she appeared on the programme: “When I survey the wondrous cross” and “Therefore we, before him bending”. She topped Thursday's poll of Conservative MPs with 199 votes.

The other candidate who went through to face the Tory party membership in the final round, Andrea Leadsom, Minister for Energy and Climate Change, who secured 84 votes, is a member of the cross-party Christians in Parliament group.

In a video on the group’s website, Mrs Leadsom explained that in her childhood she wondered a lot about God. “The moment for me when it just became absolutely impossible not to believe . . . was when my first son was born and I looked at him and thought ‘That’s a complete miracle, and nobody but God could have overseen such a perfect creation.’”

In an interview this week with The Daily Telegraph, she described herself as “a very committed Christian”: “My values and everything I do is driven by that. It’s very important to me.

“I actually study the Bible in Parliament with a group of colleagues and I do go to church but I am not a regular. There’s the cross-party Christians in Parliament group and there are various Bible studies groups, which I find incredibly helpful. . . I do pray a lot — all the time — mostly for support and doing the right thing. That’s what I really want — to be seen as principled and honourable and not the opposite; to do the right thing.”

Michael Gove, the Justice Minister, came in third place on Thursday with 46 votes, eliminating him from the contest. A Presbyterian, he is facing a legal challenge by the magistrate Richard Page, who was dismissed for opposing adoption by gay parents. But writing in The Spectator in 2015, Mr Gove said that Christians were being forced to hide their faith for fear of being labelled “bigots”.

“One of the saddest moments during my time as Education Secretary was the day I took a call from a wonderfully generous philanthropist who had devoted limitless time and money to helping educate disadvantaged children in some of the most challenging areas of Britain but who now felt he had no option but to step away from his commitments because his evangelical Christianity meant that he, and his generosity, were under constant attack,” he wrote.

“To call yourself a Christian in contemporary Britain is to invite pity, condescension or cool dismissal. . . . It is to declare yourself intolerant, naïve, superstitious and backward.”

Stephen Crabb, the Work and Pensions Secretary, pulled out of the race on Tuesday night after finishing in fourth place with 34 votes in the first round of voting. This week, he denied reports that he supported “gay cure” therapies, and defended his taking of interns from the campaign group Care.

Dr Liam Fox, a former Defence Secretary and a Roman Catholic, was eliminated in the first leadership ballot on Tuesday with just 16 votes. He has called for UK aid to be withdrawn from countries that persecute Christians.

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