Is it time Labour “did God”?

It was Alastair Campbell who famously declared that “we don’t do god”. Scottish Secretary, Jim Murphy now appears to disagree.

Speaking to a gathering organised by Progress, Mr Murphy, currently leading the arrangements for the forthcoming visit to the UK by the pope said:

“it’s wrong to think that religion plays no role in British politics. Particularly, given that over 5 million people have been to church, mosque, synagogue or gurdwara in the last month. That’s a hugely significant figure. Faith voters massively outweigh ‘Motorway Men’ or ‘Worcester Woman’ or any other trendy demographic group identified by political marketeers.

“In the UK, research at the time of the last General Election shows that Labour gained the most support from the actively religious – with 31%, a 9 point lead over the Conservatives. This lead needs to be replicated in the coming election – and it will be if we reflect and respect their values and aspirations.”

The Scottish Secretary continued:

“Faith has always been important to Labour. After all, colleagues in the very first PLP named ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ as a major influence not ‘Das Kapital’.

“Indeed, as we all know, the Bible gave the labour movement much of its intellectual legitimacy to challenge the vested interests of the old order. As David said in Psalm 9: ‘The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.’

“We all believe in big ideas. It’s why we are Labour. We are all believers. Social justice. Social democracy.

“Many of us also have faith.”

A recent poll, commissioned by the theological Think Tank Theos, found:

• 57% of Muslim voters intended to vote Labour.

• Since 2005, support for the Conservatives amongst those of no religion has grown from 21% to 34%, yet amongst Christians, during the same period, support for the Tories has risen by just 2% from 38% to 40%.

• 48% of Christians say that they are “absolutely certain” to vote, rising to 61% among those who say their faith is important to them.

• 21% of Christians feel that the Conservatives have been the friendliest party towards their faith compared with 20% who see Labour as more sympathetic and 9% who side with the Liberal Democrats.

• Liberal Democrats receive most support amongst those who do not identity themselves has having a faith.

• 40% of woman and 53% of men say that their religious beliefs influence how they will vote.

Reacting to the results, Paul Woolley, Director of Theos concluded:

“The UK isn’t like the United States, but the religious vote is going to be a critical factor in determining who gets into Number 10 – especially when it comes to appealing to female voters.”

Speaking following Jim Murphy’s speech at Progress, Scotland’s leading Roman Catholic, Cardinal Keith O’Brien declared:

“Any recognition of the role played by faith and religion in society is to be welcomed. However, a tangible example by the Government over the last decade that it acknowledged or endorsed religious values would also have been welcomed.

“Instead we have witnessed this Government undertake a systematic and unrelenting attack on family values.”

The question that faces those on the left is whether it lets such statements go by, or establishes the mechanisms, operations and organisations needed to engage with those of faith in addressing some of the most fundamental questions facing our society.

Labour now has an opportunity to harness its shared values with faith based groups and organisations, and end the myth that it is others, outside the progressive wing of British politics, who have a monopoly of truth on moral and ethical issues and policy.

Ed Jacobs is writing in a personal capacity as a members of the Christian Socialist Movement.

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