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Sir Keir Starmer assembles his top team from the faithful

10 July 2024

Archbishop Welby welcomes binning of Rwanda policy

Alamy

The Prime Minister speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday

The Prime Minister speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday

SENIOR members of Sir Keir Starmer’s new government have spoken of their personal faith as a driving force in their politics: two of the great offices of state — those of Chancellor and Foreign Secretary — are held by Christians.

The Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, has spoken publicly of the faith of her grandparents, who were members of the Salvation Army, and its impact on her “that you shouldn’t just take, you should always give something back”. She describes herself as a practising Christian.

The Foreign Secretary, David Lammy, has previously spoken of the way in which his faith and his experience as a child chorister in Peterborough Cathedral have determined his outlook (Features, 17 April 2020).

The Health Secretary, Wes Streeting, has also been open about his experiences growing up as a gay Christian; and the Business Secretary, Jonathan Reynolds, has spoken proudly of his Christian Socialism. The new Justice Secretary, Shabana Mahmood, has become the first female Muslim Cabinet minister.

Sir Keir has said that he does not have a personal faith, and does not believe in God, but his wife is Jewish, and he has spoken of the importance to the family of observing the sabbath. Sir Keir has also said that the Labour Party owes a “huge debt” to Christianity. He pledged before the election to work with church groups to transform communities.

On the swearing-in of the new Government on Tuesday this week, he made a “solemn affirmation” rather than take an oath.

The Parliamentary Labour Party held its first full meeting on Monday, in Church House, Westminster, where it had a photocall with all MPs.

Christian organisations have promised prayer for the Government, but have pleaded for action on specific issues, with early lobbying over conversion therapy, which Labour in its manifesto pledged to ban.

The founder and chair of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition, Jayne Ozanne, urged the Government in an open letter not to “allow for exemptions of any form” to the ban. She called for a “simple definition of conversion therapy as ‘any practice with a predetermined purpose that seeks to change, ‘cure’, or suppress a person’s sexual orientation”.

Other Christian groups, however, have urged the Government to reconsider the pledge, arguing that it will prevent parents’ having conversations with their children about gender treatment or sexual experimentation, and would criminalise what they describe as “gentle, non-coercive prayer”. Church leaders representing more than 1300 churches have written to the Prime Minister, saying that the “religious literacy gap” in the UK was breeding “unwarranted hostility . . . towards those in Bible-believing churches”.

A co-signatory, the Revd Graham Nicholls, director of the Affinity Church network, which includes 1200 Evangelical churches, said: “We want to be prayerful and supporting of the new Labour Government, but have grave concerns about their proposals for a so-called conversion therapy ban. New legislation which will not make any difference to genuine abuse, which is already illegal, but will open the door to spurious accusations to be made against those who want the freedom to live out their Christian faith, and parents and pastors who uphold the Bible’s teaching on matters of sexuality and gender.”

The former government’s Rwanda policy had been challenged by Church of England bishops, and its scrapping by the new government within 48 hours was welcomed by many. The Archbishop of Canterbury said that the decision was “very welcome”, in a post on X, but he also warned that that the challenge ahead on asylum was “immense”. He said that the Church would “keep calling for an effective system that treats people with dignity, prevents dangerous crossings, and tackles criminal gangs”.

The appointment of James Timpson as Prisons Minister was also praised as
“creative” by the Bishop of Gloucester and Bishop to Prisons, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek. “We know it is a critical time for our prison and probation and service, and James is well equipped for the task through many years of experience in prisons and recruiting prison leavers,” she said. “Reducing prison overcrowding is critical, and getting sentencing right and reviewing probation is essential to this.”

Mr Timpson was formerly chairman of the Prison Reform Trust.

The appointment of a Faith Minister has yet to be announced. Labour’s former Shadow Faith minister, Baroness Sherlock, has been appointed to the Department of Work and Pensions.

Paul Vallely: James Timpson knows that a punitive approach does not work

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