BNP lose all their seats in Barking and Dagenham

While all eyes have been on the General Election, in much of the UK (but not here in Chelmsford) there have been local elections. I thank a Facebook friend for letting me know through his status, and the BBC website for confirming, that the British National Party has lost all twelve of its seats on the London borough council of Barking and Dagenham. This is in addition to the BNP leader Nick Griffin coming in a poor third place, with his share of the vote reduced to 14.6%, in the Barking parliamentary constituency which he had hoped to win.

In fact this time Labour has taken all 51 seats on the Barking and Dagenham council, as two Conservatives and five “others” have also lost their seats – or is there some story here I am not aware of?

I am glad that the people of Barking and Dagenham have shown their true colours, which are not those of the BNP. The reason for their success at the previous local elections in 2006 was probably that most people who don’t like them stayed at home. This year, they came out to vote because of the general election on the same day.

The moral of this is that if you care who represents and governs you, whether locally or nationally, you must make the effort to turn out and vote.

Evangelical Alliance leader says "remember the poor", but too late

The Evangelical Alliance, of which I am a member, has issued a press statement concerning the election result, quoting Steve Clifford, their General Director, as saying:

I think that we realise difficult decisions will have to be made and the level of public services we are used to may not be sustainable.  But in taking these difficult decisions I ask that whatever form the Government takes they remember what was asked of the apostle Paul, to remember the poor.

I welcome this statement. It is indeed vital that any government of this country, or of any other, remembers the poor, both at home and worldwide.

But it is rather late in the day for Steve Clifford to make this appeal, one which should have been heard more clearly from Christians during the election campaign. It was implicit in the Faithworks 2010 Declaration which I reported on during the election campaign. But the poor merit only a brief mention in passing in the Westminster 2010 Declaration, which I also reported on, and no mention at all in the pledge which that group asked election candidates to sign – it seems that the pledge was simply to

respect, uphold and protect the right of Christians to hold and express Christian beliefs and act according to Christian conscience.

Yet this is the Declaration of which “Steve Clifford – General Director, Evangelical Alliance” is listed as one of the Key Signatories, in fourth place following three bishops. And this is the Declaration whose backers, as I pointed out a couple of days ago, were clearly using it to promote the Conservative party – the party which was campaigning for higher taxes and reduced public services for the poor, and tax breaks for the super-rich.

I don’t know if the Westminster Declaration had any effect on the election result. Its 61,234 signatories (as I write) are a tiny number compared with nearly 30 million votes cast. They were not successful in getting Philippa Stroud into Parliament, but other candidates they backed were elected even when this was not the expected result.

But surely it is somewhat perverse for Steve Clifford to give his backing, and implicitly that of his Alliance, to a campaign which was in effect to elect Conservatives, and then after the event call on them, as the likely next government, to embrace a policy of remembering the poor which goes against their manifesto commitments. He would have done better to avoid endorsing in the first place a Declaration as unbalanced as the Westminster one. If his repentance now is genuine, that is good. But it is too late for this election, and so he may have put himself, and all the Christians in this country, in something of the position of Esau in Hebrews 12:17.

Westminster 2010 shows its true blue colour

A month ago I wrote, not very positively, about the Westminster 2010 Declaration of Christian Conscience. I always had my misgivings about the lack of balance in this Declaration, which correspond to what I wrote a few days ago about issues of Christian principle at election time. To summarise, the Declaration seems to have largely ignored the real issues in this election, and the issues of poverty and social justice which ought to be of top priority for Christians.

So I was not really surprised to read, initially from Ruth Gledhill and also in their own latest news report, how the true political colour of the Westminster Declaration has now come to light. Now they write:

Westminster 2010 is not party political but concerned solely with conscience issues.

But their true leanings towards the Conservative party, if not already clear from their selection of issues to campaign on (and from the list of key signatories, including the husband of the controversial Conservative candidate Philippa Stroud), become clear from the list of preferred candidates which they have now issued:

Preferred candidates include 192 Conservatives, 35 Liberal Democrats, 19 Labour, 2 SNP and 2 Independents. Tories come out on top because in general their MPs have better past voting records on Christian conscience issues …

But let’s examine how they came to their conclusions in two constituencies.

In my own constituency of Chelmsford, the sitting Conservative MP Simon Burns is being strongly challenged by an excellent Lib Dem candidate Stephen Robinson, with the Labour candidate Pete Dixon likely to take a poor third place. Westminster 2010 is bold enough to “prefer” the Conservative. But on what basis? None of these three candidates have made the Westminster 2010 pledge, nor have any of them explicitly refused it. The Westminster 2010 preference seems to be based entirely on the sitting MP’s past voting record. But that is a quite unfair basis of judgment because the other candidates, who have not been MPs, have no known past record to be judged.

Then let’s look at another constituency, Sutton and Cheam. Here there is a Christian Peoples Alliance candidate who has signed the Westminster 2010 pledge. But Westminster 2010’s preferred candidate is a Conservative who has not signed it – although she is Philippa Stroud (with her name mis-spelled).

So, in the words of the Facebook commenter quoted by Ruth Gledhill,

it’s quite clear what you’re saying…”vote Tory.”

I’m glad I didn’t sign up to this Declaration. I urge my Christian readers to think twice before following the group’s recommendations, and to bear in mind what I wrote a few days ago:

So, how should Christians vote on Thursday? I don’t suggest that there is only one correct answer. But I do say that all Christians need to think about these issues of social justice as well as about those of life and personal morality, and need to base their vote on what the various candidates and parties are actually promising to do on these issues.

A Sermon on Jeremiah 4

Things have been quiet on this blog recently for several reasons. One is that my wife and I are entertaining a visitor from Italy. Another is that yesterday I had a rare opportunity to preach at my home church, to the traditional evening service with a small congregation of mostly older people.

The passage I was given to preach on was Jeremiah 4:5-31 – quite a challenge for any preacher, I would think. I decided not to mention the election at all as I couldn’t find an easy way to fit it in with this passage. Indeed it was difficult to bring any direct application, but I did bring a few lessons about how prophecy worked and still works now.

Some of the bloggers I read regularly often post their sermons on their blogs. And usually I don’t read those sermons. So I am not really expecting my readers here to do so. But then a few of you might want to read it. Also there might be friends of mine who missed it, and this is a convenient way to let them see what I had to say. So I am posting it here, following the “more” marker (which I don’t often use) for those of you reading the blog front page. I made one small edit to the notes to disguise the name of a congregation member. “Mones” is our vicar who also led the service.

Continue reading

Issues of Christian Principles at Election Time

In a comment on a previous post here Andrew Roycroft asked me an interesting question about how Christians might vote at the general election this week:

a question arises in my mind about how to square the liberal values of a party like the Lib Dems (some of which are no doubt shared by the blues and reds) with Christian principle. … I’m thinking particularly of life issues like assisted suicide and abortion.

Andrew has his own interesting blog focussing (at least at the moment) on a Christian response to political issues. I was particularly impressed by what he had to say about Nick Clegg’s lack of Christian faith, and his conclusion to that post:

As I look at Cameron, Clegg and Brown how I need to pray for these men as people, as souls, as those whom God may bring to Himself through His Gospel.

To return to Andrew’s question to me, I answered it in my own comment. But I felt that what I wrote was worthy of wider circulation. So here is an edited and expanded version of that comment.

The short answer to Andrew is that “life issues like assisted suicide and abortion” are not issues in this UK general election. I don’t think any of the main parties have clear policies to make any changes on these matters. I accept that I do not agree with the majority of Liberal Democrat and Labour candidates on these matters, and would probably find more Conservative candidates who agreed with my Christian position. However I don’t think the result of this election will affect what happens on these matters in the next parliament – which will most likely be nothing much. So I am instead choosing who to vote for on the basis of the actual policies which separate the parties, matters on which the result of this election could make major differences to the future of our country.

I could also argue that it is not the duty of government to legislate concerning private morality; rather this is the concern of the Church. Now I accept that taking life is more than a matter of private morality. As the two specific issues which Andrew named are matters of life and death, perhaps they should be matters for the government to legislate on. But many of the issues of principle which Christians get worked up about should not be considered matters for the government. For example, it is certainly regrettable when Christians working for private companies are not allowed to wear crosses at work, but what makes this a matter for the government to act on?

Finally and most importantly, I would argue that there are other vital Christian values, such as matters of social justice for the poor, which Andrew did not mention, and which are often ignored or marginalised by Christians who support more conservative (with a small “c”) politicians. This is what lies behind my ambivalence about the Westminster 2010 Declaration, and is why I am more positive about the Faithworks Declaration.

To be more specific, here are just some of the issues relating to the poor which I think Christians should be concerned about – and many of these are real election issues. Our own British poor need good housing, health care and education. Asylum seekers who have been forced to leave their possessions as well as their countries should be welcomed into ours. The poor of the Third World need not so much aid as a fair world economic system. Which party has the most “Christian” policies on these matters? Probably not the same as is most “Christian” on abortion and assisted suicide.

So, how should Christians vote on Thursday? I don’t suggest that there is only one correct answer. But I do say that all Christians need to think about these issues of social justice as well as about those of life and personal morality, and need to base their vote on what the various candidates and parties are actually promising to do on these issues.