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Future imperfect as post-Election talks remain tense

16 June 2017


Remaining: the Prime Minister, Theresa May, makes a statement outside 10 Downing Street after she returned from Buckingham Palace on Friday

Remaining: the Prime Minister, Theresa May, makes a statement outside 10 Downing Street after she returned from Buckingham Palace on Friday

LAST week’s shock General Election result, in which the Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority, is still being digested by the political and religious establishment.

The Conservatives, who ended up with 12 fewer seats than before the election, were still locked in talks with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in an attempt to make a deal, as the Church Times went to press.

The expectation remained that the DUP’s ten MPs in Northern Ireland would not join a coalition, but would enable Mrs May to remain in power through an informal “confidence and supply” deal in return for some key concessions.

The main beneficiary of the Conservatives’ unexpected collapse was the Labour Party. It defied predictions of electoral embarrassment under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership to gain 29 seats, winning 261 to the Tories 218.

Stephen Beer, the political communications officer for Christians on the Left, said that he was as surprised by the result as the rest of the country.

“Theresa May called an election not for the national interest but for her own interests, and the campaign turned out to be very revealing,” he said. “The country is fed up with austerity and people talking about hard Brexit.” The message from the electorate was “Think again,” he suggested.

Several of the new Labour MPs are members of Christians on the Left. Mr Beer said that their success could be linked to church membership, which helped to ground them among the electorate. “They have been campaigning vigorously, and really connecting with their communities. They are embedded in their communities. Churchpeople understand, because there is a church in every community in this country.

“This is one of the things Christians on the Left have been talking about for a long time — connecting people in the Church to a political party, and actually campaigning for policies that can change our society for the better.”

paBuoyant: Jeremy Corbyn leaves Labour Party headquarters in central London, telling reporters the party had achieved an “incredible” result in the election

Gareth Wallace, the executive director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship (CCF), said that his party now needed to get over this blow and get on with governing. “It’s the voters’ choice, and we have got to put our best foot forward. It seems there was a reluctance among the electorate to say exactly what kind of government they wanted,” he said. “Maybe no one party was clear enough.”

Mr Wallace defended Mrs May’s campaign. “It was courageous to offer a comprehensive social-care policy. These are issues every Western nation with an ageing population is facing,” he said. “It’s right for government to grasp these nettles. The question will be whether that was communicated clearly.”

He also spoke about the loss from the House of Commons of several CCF members, such as the organisation’s co-founder, David Burrowes, Stewart Jackson, and Julian Brazier. Mr Brazier’s constituency, Canterbury, returned a non-Conservative candidate for the first time since 1918.

“Politics is a brutal business,” Mr Wallace said.

As a Northern Irishman, Mr Wallace said that he was familiar with the DUP, his party’s new allies in the House of Commons. The DUP’s own domestic concerns about agricultural subsidies and an open border with the Republic of Ireland could well push the Government towards a softer Brexit more amenable to those who voted Remain, he suggested.

“The DUP are well known for being socially conservative while the Conservative Party has edged away from some of those views,” he said. But he said that he was confident that the DUP would not seek to impose these views on Westminster.

The new parliament features both the most women and most ethnic-minority MPs in history. Fiona Onasanya, the new MP for Peterborough, a member of Christians on the Left, told the Evangelical Alliance last year that the Church had equipped her for public service.

“There are many characters in the Bible who show us we are called to serve outside of the four walls of the church building — from Joseph and Daniel to Esther and Nehemiah. We should take joy and strength from our positions knowing we are placed there on purpose for a purpose.”

PAPivotal: Arlene Foster and the newly elected DUP MPs in Belfast last Friday

The Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, said that he was enthused by the “absolutely extraordinary” election results, because they showed that many voters, particularly younger people, were calling for a “new politics”.

“People who are fed up with austerity and the poor suffering more while the rich get richer,” he said. “If Mrs May is successful in forming a government, they need to do a lot of listening.”

Writing in today’s Church Times, Bishop North argues that the days when economics determined elections seemed to be over. “Mrs May has fallen foul of a changing mood in politics, which means that appealing solely to financial self-interest will no longer do.”

The Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, was less complimentary about Mr Corbyn’s efforts. “Labour still lost, and the Conservatives will still form a Government,” he noted.

“I’m not sure that anything has completely changed. But Corbyn’s approach found traction, particularly with younger voters, and if there more young voters voting that can only be good for democracy.”

He felt that, in many ways, a hung parliament was preferable to majority government if it meant that parties talked to each other about how to negotiate Brexit.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that he was heartened by the increase in turnout. The election, particular coming after a string of terror attacks, was a “powerful and vivid testimony of our enduring faith in the values of peace, freedom and democracy, and a rejection of the forces of fear, hatred and division”, he suggested.

His prayer was that our political leaders would know the “love and presence of God” as they shoulder the “weighty responsibility of leadership”.

The Evangelical Alliance’s director of advocacy, Dave Landrum, said that the election had revealed again how divided Britain was. “Elections are always a chance for people to remind politicians that their position is only ever temporary, and we saw that last night. Our democracy is precious, but it is also messy,” he said.

A statement from the Church of Scotland called for prayer and reconciliation. The convener of its Church and Society Council, the Revd Dr Richard Frazer, said: “Now is a time to set aside tribal politics and work for an inclusive and generous future for our nation.”

PAVictorious: Layla Moran, the new LibDem MP for Oxford West, is the daughter of a Christian Palestinian from Jerusalem  


TALKS to resolve the crisis over devolved power in Northern Ireland have been placed in jeopardy by the relationship being forged between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and the Conservatives, commentators on both sides of the Irish border are warning, writes Gregg Ryan, Ireland Correspondent.

Conversations between the DUP and Sinn Fein resumed on Monday. The Northern Ireland Secretary, James Brokenshire, and the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Charlie Flanagan, were also in attendance.

On Sunday, the outgoing Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, phoned Theresa May to express his concern. He told her that any deal with the DUP must be made without jeopardising the Good Friday Agreement. He is also understood to have urged an early meeting with his successor, Leo Varadkar, who was due to be sworn in on Tuesday.

There was agreement from the Sinn Fein’s president, Gerry Adams, whose party caused the power-sharing arrangement at Stormont to collapse over the failure of the DUP leader, Arlene Foster, to “step aside” during investigation of her part in the alleged “cash for ash” financial scandal.

Mr Adams argued that, assuming that greater involvement of the DUP in the new administration, Mr Brokenshire would be unacceptable as an honest broker in attempts to restore the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly. He called for an independent chairman to oversee the talks.

Concerns were also raised by the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP). Its Legislative Assembly member Nichola Mallon asked: “How can you have a secretary of state sitting as an honest broker when they already have a deal with one of the parties sitting around the table?”

The DUP is known to be conservative on social issues and sexual ethics, but under Ms Foster, a member of the Church of Ireland, it has been more concerned about matters surrounding Brexit, the free movement of people from the Province to Britain without having to show passports, and a “soft” border with the Republic.


It’s the relationships, not the economy, stupid - Philip North

The shadow behind the election - Angela Tilby

It’s Facebook and YouTube wot won it - Andrew Brown

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