What has turned so many Christians off voting Labour?

Last week I published a guest post by Dominic Moass on his perceived failings of socialism from a Christian perspective.  In the interests of balance, today’s guest post is from a Christian on the other side of the political fence.  Graham Burnby-Crouch is a Christian living in Lincolnshire and has been interested in politics since the age of 12.  He was politically active when younger was active but withdrew with the rise of Blairism.

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This article aims to look at the relationship between The Labour Party and the substantial vote of those who associate themselves with the Church in Great Britain,

Percentage vote of Church of England identifiers

Year

Labour

Conservative

Lib Dem

Other/ refused

1992

38

40

1997

39

39

2001

41

34

17

8

2005

33

43

19

5

2010

26

45

16

13

Percentage vote of Catholic Church identifiers

Year

Labour

Conservative

Lib Dem

Other/ refused

1992

46

22

1997

43

28

2001

66

20

9

5

2005

61

11

18

10

2010

40

23

19

8

Percentage vote of Other Christian identifiers

Year

Labour

Conservative

Lib Dem

Other/ refused

1992

1997

2001

41

26

16

17

2005

44

21

15

20

2010

38

21

13

28

As the above tables show the British electoral Survey found that since a high point of 2001 the Labour vote amongst Catholics and Anglican identifying people dropped sharply, much sharper indeed than amongst the population as a whole.

Now many in the labour movement may say “so-what”, because there has become a strong anti-religious streak in the party.

However, this is a constituency that not only is willing to vote Labour in the right conditions but also tend to have very high turnouts come Election Day.

According to the British Electoral Survey, turnout among Church of England voters is a whopping 94% with the Catholics only slightly less than 90%. Nearly 9% of Great Britain is Roman Catholic and they are reluctant to vote Tory even if they desert Labour, suggesting these could easily be won back. It is worth noting that the Liberal Democrat appeal among Roman Catholics grew 250% between 1992 and 2010. I suspect it is these categories that will leak the most number of votes for the Lib Dems in 2015, as this denomination punish them for entering the coalition.

In my view and experience of talking to Christians, there are several possible reasons for this flow away from the Labour party. Each individual may not be affected by all the reasons, but most would have a combination of more than one.

Possible causes for the loss of the Christian vote are

1. Broken Britain
2. Liberal Interventionism
3. Big Society
4. Wealth gap
5. Perceived Sleaze
6. Challenge to the Protestant work ethic
7. Issues surrounding “aggressive secularism”

Now each issue would not affect each individual, but most would be affected by a combination of more than one factor.

I will deal with these, one by one and look at the possible remedies from a Labour Party perspective.

1.  Broken Britain.

The observation of “Broken Britain” is perhaps not so far wide of the mark. Now, the ethos of neo-liberalism has much to answer for in this, but the perceived breakdown of morality, has occurred under the watch of the Labour Party albeit with the pro-noun “New” being added to it. Christians look around at society and do not like what they see. The government of the day may well get the blame for this.

So what can the Labour party do? The key plank here is to abandon neo-liberalism, restoring the party to ethical policies which care for people, bring security into the lives of individuals and families. People are happier when they feel secure, but neo-liberalism undermines security and produces desperate people.

2.  Liberal Intervention

Many Christians are uneasy about the gung-ho military intervention around the globe, Iraq and Tony Blair’s other wars, in particular the illegality of Iraq. This may explain why there was a drift in votes towards the Lib-Dems who opposed Iraq.

In this case Ed Miliband has already taken a step towards healing this situation, by apologising for the Iraq war. However a stronger line against the Libyan intervention would have been preferred.

3.  Big Society

This concept is appealing to Christians. Who look beyond individualism and operate in organisations that do intervene to provide services through the voluntary sector.

Labour needs to develop a policy that has a positive attitude to the voluntary sector and see them as a valuable partner in providing social policy…….

4.  The wealth gap

Contrary to popular mythology, the Bible, though not despising wealth in itself is very much against injustice in financial terms, the poor are to be supported and not exploited. The story about the rich man Lazarus, told by Jesus is very indicative of God’s attitude to wealth. It is to be used for social good. Many Christian’s are not comfortable with few people holding vast wealth, while others live in poverty.

Again to appeal to those Christians concerned about this, Labour needs to reject the neo-liberal consensus and no longer be outrageously comfortable with the very rich. A wealth tax and an excess profit tax would help to reduce the gap between the rich and poor. The current government has done one thing right in that they have kept the foreign aid budget, a review of how to target this to tackle overseas poverty would be useful.

5. Perceived Sleaze

Brought to a head by the Hacking scandal, but also exemplified by the expenses scandal, the New Labour administration had a whiff of sleaze and moral decay about it. Again I believe that Gordon Brown attempted to reverse this; one of his first acts was to scrap the super casinos, but perhaps it was a case of too little too late.

Ed has led the response to the hacking scandal extremely well and seems to have set the party on a good course. The pursuance of sound ethics in policy and in conduct is essential. No more cosying up to the elite, being in the pocket of News International or any other big business.

6.  Perceived challenge to work ethic

Perhaps unfairly, the last Labour government became associated with encouraging a culture of worklessness, where it paid to be on benefits. This offends many Christians.

Labour need to ensure that work pays, not by penalising those who are on benefits but by ensuring that workers are paid well and looking at the taper of benefits, so the effective marginal rates of taxation as people move from into work is moderate. Ed Miliband’s language is positive in this area, but we need that language to be reflected in hard policy

7.  Issues surrounding “aggressive secularism”

Many on the evangelical and Pentecostal wings of the Church are feeling increasingly beleaguered. Many of their beliefs in the area of personal morality have become much marginalised especially amongst the liberal left. I have been in meetings where it has seemed that everything is tolerated apart from Christianity. The Pentecostal vote has traditionally been very Labour, probably because of the high degree of ethnic minorities represented, yet news about couples being refused to foster because of their attitudes to homosexuality and adoption agencies having to close or allow homosexual couples to adopt, have alienated many Christians. Christians are not homophobic, but on the basis of their faith many believe that sex is for monogamous relationship between one man and one woman, this clashes with modern liberalism

To tackle this area is very tricky for the Labour party, because of how it has pursued the equality agenda. In its endeavour to equalise on the basis of sexual orientation, it has risked marginalising and persecuting on the basis of faith. The Labour Party needs to pursue some agendas far more sensitively. Rather than using law courts to settle disputes (like the famous Christian B&B case), mediation may be a far better and more tolerant approach. There needs to be recognition that many caring, naturally left-wing Christians have strongly held beliefs that clash with the liberal agenda.

To summarise as Dr. Eoin Clarke often says Labour would never have won one election without the Christian Socialist vote. Keir Hardie himself was a strong Christian and said that his politics was influenced more by Jesus Christ than by Karl Marx. Christianity and Socialism have many similarities, both have philosophies opposed to selfishness, both abhor poverty, oppression, exploitation and injustice and both have similar ethical basis. The Labour movement has risked alienating much of this vote and it would be in its interest to change tack.

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Categories: Faith in society, Party politics

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8 replies

  1. Maybe Christians turned away from voting Labour when they crashed the economy into the ground and we realised that their policies don’t actually benefit the poor at all?

    • Can’t spend long debating but that is economically illiterate because the economic crash was across the whole Western world, not just Britain, Admittedly New Labour policies of deregulation and privatization did not help but the Tories would have taken these policies much further.

  2. “Rather than using law courts to settle disputes (like the famous Christian B&B case), mediation may be a far better and more tolerant approach.” I’m afraid I don’t understand what the author is driving at.

    In the cases to which I assume he is referring – Bull & Bull v Hall & Preddy and Black & Morgan v Wilkinson – the aggrieved couples took the B&B proprietors to court. It had nothing to do either with the present Government or with the Labour Party. Is the suggestion that the courts should be replaced by mediation for this kind of dispute? If so, how would you define the category of disputes that would be covered by the mediation process? And what would happen if mediation was unsuccessful (as, I imagine, it would have been in both the cases about): do you then go to court?

    Nor am convinced that the Labour Part has endeavoured, particularly, “to equalise on the basis of sexual orientation”. It brought in the Human Rights Act 1998 (of which I confess to being a strong supporter) which made rights across the board justiciable in the domestic courts – and freedom of thought, conscience and religion is one of those rights. The problem arises where rights conflict – at which point it’s a matter for the courts to adjudicate. It also brought in the Civil Partnership Act 2004; but the present Government has gone further with the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill – which is massively more controversial than the introduction of civil partnerships.

    In short, I don’t think that there is anything party political about this, or that any of it is particularly the Labour Party’s fault: it’s more the Zeitgeist.

    (And just in case you’re wondering, the only political party I would vote for with any degree of enthusiasm is the SNP.)

    • Thank You FCranmer for your considered response making valid points, I originally wrote this article before David Cameron announced he was going to legalise gay marriage which explains that omission, though if you look at the voting record many more Labour members voted for it than Conservatives. I though a Labour supporter am not convinced that the Labour party are not partially responsible for that zeitgeist you mention. The area where mediation may be suitable is that very area where rights conflict.

  3. As has been remarked by several commentators across several blogs voting for any political party is always a composite decision where you weigh up what you are willing to compromise on against what must be done for now. The destruction and deterioration of the family unit has reached such epidemic proportions that for many Christians (myself included) it is becoming a priority above all others. I would vote for any party that is willing to face this issue and had hoped the Conservative would be that party. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what is in the next GE manifestos.

  4. Hmm yes Chris I understand your sentiments but I don’t think the conservative party has done anything to support the family in the past 30 years. Certainly the famous “on your bike” tebbit speech did not help, as communities and extended families were torn apart by the the destruction of industries. I am not saying the Labour party are angels in this but I definitely don’t think the tories will answer your call.

  5. Personally I can hardly see a glimmer of light between Labour and the Tories: neither stand much chance of getting my vote in the next election; and the LibDems (who did get my vote last time around) are too willing to compromise just to be in power, so they’re equally unlikely. That — for me — leaves one option: the Greens, who genuinely seem to stand for something worthwhile rather than simply wanting to rule for ruling’s sake.

    But then I’m stumped because they’ve got no one in my neck of the woods. What’s left after that? Spoilt ballot paper?

  6. The Independent Labour Party (ILP) was a socialist political party of the United Kingdom , established in 1893. Along with the Trades Union Congress and other left-wing organisations, it founded the Labour Representation Committee in 1900 with the objective of getting representatives of the labour movement elected to Parliament ; in 1906 the LRC changed its name to the Labour Party . Between 1906 and 1932 the ILP formed a ‘party within a party’ in the Labour Party, and provided many of Labour’s national leaders. As the Labour Party did not have constituency organisations or admit individual members until 1918, the main ways for individuals to become involved in the party was by membership of a trade union or membership of the ILP. Many socialists saw the trades union leadership as reformist and ‘syndicalist’, seeking day-to-day improvements in workers’ pay and conditions rather than socialist transformation; the ILP, by contrast, was seen as the ‘socialist conscience’ of the party, and developed a Marxist revolutionary wing. During the First World War , the ILP had also espoused pacifism, drawing in part on its nonconformist Christian roots and in part on socialist ideology.

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