As a child my politics reflected the views of my parents – I was a Tory. However, when I was a student at Cambridge I was an ardent supporter of the Labour Party – I adorned my walls with large posters which proclaimed ‘Go Labour’. However, in my mid-twenties I returned to the Tory party and in elections consistently voted for the Conservative Party. I became a supporter of Margaret Thatcher – not least when she stood up for Britain in the Falklands’ Conflict. However, in the General Election of 1997, I voted for Tony Blair and Gordon Blair: both men took their Christian faith seriously and as a Christian I wanted to support them and so I voted Labour. However, when Tony Blair joined with the USA and sent British troops to invade Iraq, I was so appalled that I went up to London for the first time in my life joined the protest march against Tony Blair and his policies. Thereafter I always voted for the Tories.
However, at no stage as a Christian minister did I publicly support any political party. I did, however, encourage church members to become politically engaged. On the basis of Jesus’ calling his disciples to be as salt and light in the world (Matt 5.13-16). I have always believed that Christians need to get involved in every aspect of civic life, and not least in our political parties.
It was only when I retired that I felt free to join a political party. Sadly my family are not at all supportive of my political allegiance. My eldest son, for instance, named his son David Aneurin after the far-left Welsh Labour politician Aneurin Bevan!
Why am I a member of the Conservative Party? The fact is that I like the Conservative support for small businesses. Britain has always been a nation of entrepreneurs and even today has more small businesses than any other country in Europe. Napoleon famously dismissed England as ‘a nation of shopkeepers’, but in my judgement small businesses are a key to a nation’s wealth creation. That judgment is rooted not in political theory but in the success of many of our friends here in Essex who run small businesses. I also like the ‘one nation’ vision for the country offered by Conservatives on the centre-right of the part. Here I have in mind, for instance, the vision offered by Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s former Chief of Staff, in his book Remaking One Nation: The Future of Conservatism.
For the record, let me make clear that I am not on the far-right of the Conservative Party. I voted to remain in Europe – but as a good democrat I accepted the outcome of the vote in spite of my sadness that we left the European Union. Furthermore, in the leadership elections of the Conservative Party I voted for Jeremy Hunt and not for Boris Johnson; similarly I voted for Rishi Sunak and not for Liz Truss. Let me go further and say that as a Tory I have always believed Boris Johnson to be a charlatan (as distinct from Liz Truss who ruined the finances of the UK through what appears to me to be naivety).
Earlier this year I was asked to speak to students at Westcott House, the Cambridge High Anglican college, on leadership, and did so through a presentation on charisma, competence, and character. Although my task was to speak about Christian leadership, I could not help making as an aside the comment that although Boris Johnson had plenty of charisma, he appeared to have little competence and certainly had no character (in the sense of integrity). True Boris Johnson made a good after-dinner speaker, but there is no place for buffoonery in a Prime Minister.
But to return to the topic of Christian ministers and political engagement, I found it interesting that almost every one of the Westcott students to whom I was talking had any qualms about ministers becoming politically engaged. Indeed, the overwhelming majority felt that they had a Christian obligation to be card-carrying members of the Labour Party. Indeed, reading the online comments of those having responsibility for faith and society issues in the Baptist Union of Great Britain, I get the impression that they could scarcely envisage the possibility of a follower of Jesus being a Tory. Sadly, many Labour and indeed Social Democrats tend to demonise those with whom they disagree.
No doubt through this article I will have provoked many of my friends who follow my blog. Still, I am sure that we can all agree that Christians need to be politically engaged. As Jesus said, we are to be as salt in the world – and to be ‘salty’ Christians we are to stop the rot which corrupts so much public life.