Hands up then, is anyone going to do God?
October 29, 2012
After campaigning in Corby I am happy to report it is going well for Labour. Plenty of volunteers, lots of leaflet folding, good spirits, canvassing and of course rain. I left with the impression that it is going to be gain for #onenation Labour.
On my journey home from Corby I mused about the next General Election on 7 May 2015 as Tory MP Chris Skidmore helpfully pointed out we are now on election count down with less than 940 days to go until then. Yes, we can win Corby, but how do we really win the nation? My thoughts were interrupted by a Wayside Pulpit Message outside a rather bedraggled Methodist church I passed. I stopped the car to read its simple message “he who smiles last longer”. This set me thinking.
Our Pulpit message is clear; One Nation Labour, which as Matthew d’Ancona recently alluded to means social cohesion, the shared obligations that bind us, and our collective mission. In terms of our collective mission towards One nation a country for all, with everyone playing their part, the recent Labour Party conference gave certain policy nudges in this direction for example towards a cap on the fees charged by pension funds. Add to this as Andrew Sparrow has written “the 2012 gathering in Manchester leaves us better informed about the party, its leader, its policies and its electability”.
As for the conference of course Ed’s brilliant speech was obviously a highlight. Enough ink has already being spilt eulogising its tone, no note delivery, and yes we had forty six mentions for the word(s) one nation. But what about the meatier stuff and in particular a lasting and enduring ideological underpinning that cements and sustains a future Labour government not only into 2015, but of successive terms in office thereafter? #Onenation is great, but what about the Party’s soul?
What has not quite been so widely acknowledged in Ed’s speech is the reference to faith (twelve times). Whilst he does not hide under a bushel his religious faith free soul, elsewhere in the Party the evidence of Christian influence is noticeable. At the Labour Party conference you could find Christian Socialist Movement fringe events discussing poverty, green issues and ethical banking. Also Lord Glasman discussing Labour’s “responsible recovery” the role of faith appears increasingly significant. Indeed Glasman was emphatic in his view that a future Labour government would only be able to balance economic and social priorities if it nurtured a relationship with business, trade unions and faith.
Now a collision course within the Party where naysayers of no faith and those who do “do God” lock horns is in no one’s interest. Yet as Michael Sandel has written the gap in the diminished place of moral argument on the political left has been prevalent since the 1960s. Sandel pinpoints a weakness inherent in progressive politics in the UK and the US where for three decades and longer the notion that intrinsically conservative approaches on engagement concerning justice, the good society, virtue, public office were seen as the only game in town. Furthermore there was a struggle for the left to identify a clear moral and spiritual dimension to the public sphere, fearful of the then omnipresent and all conquering religious right.
For Christian Socialists of course themes of Justice, The Good Society and virtue have always remained non-negotiable elements of a practical outworking and faith. Yet Lord Glasman whilst undoubtedly sympathetic in his “Blue Labour” approach to `The Good Society`, and even after previously criticising Ed Miliband’s leadership for having ‘no strategy, no narrative and little energy’ has nevertheless challenged Christian Socialists. He warns that as social democracy has become neither social nor democratic, this has in turn, led to Labour deserting this land, with the vacuum now being filled by the ‘Big Society’. Nevertheless Glasman is equally adamant about what the response should be and proclaims “Labour needs to develop the idea of a Good Society as its rival, and such a society would be built on relationships built on reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity, all the up and all the way down, in politics and within the economy”.
Indeed for those of us within the Party who do “do God” there is surely no better time to re-kindle the moral imperative of a Christian Socialist message as central to everything we want to achieve. Does that mean aligning ourselves with a fundamentalist American neo-liberal view? Absolutely Anything But (AAB). Remember the Anyone But Cameron (ABC) message?
What we do do as Christians in the Labour Party committed to social justice, equality and liberation for the poor is fight for a living wage, for a financial transaction tax, for a more radical redistribution of wealth from rich to poor, and for a society that crucially embraces relationship in a new way. A relationship that reconciles, offers hope, speaks truth and justice and offers therefore a better way. I do wonder then whether Labour’s collective mission to transform our divided nation into One Nation will be achieved rather quicker if we finally put to rest a widespread tendency in the Party to “disown God”.
Whilst we know the Tories will always claim Christ as their own, even the moderate Muslim and Political Director of the Huffington Post Mehdi Hasan has unswervingly responded how “in word and deed, the son of God was much more left-wing than the religious right likes to believe”. The days then of large swathes of the Labour Party disowning God are surely over. It’s not simply a case of regurgitating the trite old sayings about the Labour Party owing more to Methodism than Marxism, and the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus talked about Blessed be the poor, meek, peacemakers and so on, important though they are, it’s more than this.
We don’t have the sybaritic option for the next two and a bit years of just letting the Coalition sink.There’s a massive task of winning in 2015 and then remaining in government as a radical and transforming movement, offering hope and vision and a sustainable alternative economic model based on cooperation, vibrancy, initiative and fairness. Who knows, if the Labour Party truly rediscovered its Christian heritage and roots, we might last in government for a greater period and we’ll all be smiling longer.