Tags: U.K. | Conservatives | Labor | Vie | For | 'Spiritual' | Vote

U.K. Conservatives, Labor Vie For 'Spiritual' Vote

Friday, 25 May 2001 12:00 AM

Making the appeal, the two leading bishops in the Church of England stressed they were not making a covert call for support for any particular party. But their intervention will focus new attention on the battle between the Conservatives and Labor for what has been called the "spiritual" vote.

Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey - the leader of the world's 78 million Anglicans - and Archbishop David Hope of York said in an open letter Christians should "give attention to the underlying beliefs and values of the individual candidates."

"Their personal attitudes and moral outlook, as well as the policies of the party to which they belong, will be part of the consideration when deciding where to mark our cross."

The clergymen also urged politicians to avoid negative campaigning, but to focus on their own party's policies and achievements rather than trashing those of others.

The letter was released shortly after the Conservative Party came under fire for its latest campaign television ad, which shows school children burning cars, buying drugs and shoplifting while classes are cancelled due to teacher shortages.

Labor's latest billboard ad has also been criticized as negative. It depicts Conservative leader William Hague and his finance spokesman Michael Portillo as characters in a spoof horror movie "The Return of the Repossessed" - a reference to claims they would raise interest rates if elected.

Carey and Hope said it was easy to be tempted to use negative tactics aimed at inflicting "the maximum short-term damage on political opponents," but warned that they did not best serve the interests of society.

Although the number of churchgoers in Britain has been steadily declining in many traditional denominations, evangelical and non-denominational "new" churches are thriving.

Politically and socially aware but not generally party political, religious Britons are considered a target group the major parties cannot afford to ignore.

Both Hague and Prime Minister Tony Blair have been reaching out to churches over the past year, expressing interest in faith-based welfare programs of the type introduced in Texas under then Governor George W. Bush.

Although Blair is generally regarded as the more committed of the two when it comes to personal faith, Hague's party has been the more outspoken on ethical and moral issues important to many Christians.

A Christian charity this week made available the voting records of all 659 lawmakers in the recently-dissolved House of Commons on a dozen key issues, including embryonic cloning, abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, Christian education, Christian broadcasting, and divorce law reform.

Noting that many candidates in the last election campaign pledged their support for family values, the Christian Institute said it was now offering voters the chance to see for themselves what actually happened.

"The election is a good opportunity for Christian people to raise their concerns with politicians," said CI director Colin Hart.

In the next parliament, he said, lawmakers would probably have to make choices one way or another on a range of moral issues likely to arise, such as legalizing euthanasia and giving homosexuals the right to marry and adopt children.

The CI's register of voter records gives politicians a positive rating for positions it says are morally right "according to our Christian beliefs." Morally wrong positions judged by that standard get a negative mark, while occasions on which lawmakers either abstained or were absent during a vote are noted.

Blair's voting record scores six negative points, no positives, and eight abstentions/absences.

The six negatives are for: voting against "mainly Christian" religious education; voting against banning experiments on human embryos; voting for reducing the abortion limit to 24 weeks; voting for a "no-fault" divorce; voting for reducing the homosexual age of consent to 16; and voting for research using human cloning.

Hague's record scores eight positives, one negative, and three abstentions/absences. His votes on abortion, cloning and euthanasia all reflected a generally pro-life stance. The one negative was for voting in favor of reducing the homosexual age of consent to 16.

The leader of the third party, Liberal Democrat Charles Kennedy, receives a mixed score, with five positives, five negatives, and four abstentions/absences.

Both Labor and Conservative parties have affiliated Christian organizations.

The Conservative Christian Fellowship has overseen a program called "Listening to Britain's Churches," under which the Conservative party has held more than 340 meetings with Christian and other faith groups since late 1998.

The CCF is highlighting what it calls Hague's "five common sense guarantees for Christians."

A future Conservative government will: restore a recognition of marriage in the tax and benefits system; encourage church-based welfare programs; end current license discrimination against Christian broadcasters; give religious communities new opportunities to run schools; and "declare war on corruption and political correctness that prevents aid reaching the poorest of the world," it says.

The Labor-supporting Christian Socialist Movement recently hosted a "Faith in Politics" conference, addressed by Blair, highlighting issues it sees as important to Christians.

Conservative Christian Fellowship chairman Gary Streeter welcomed the CSM conference and an accompanying document, but challenged Labor to match the Conservatives in four policy areas he said were vital to Christians.

"We have always said that we want to see Christians more involved in the political process - through whichever party," Streeter said. "Ultimately we want to see government policy being influenced by Christian thinking and principles."


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Making the appeal, the two leading bishops in the Church of England stressed they were not making a covert call for support for any particular party. But their intervention will focus new attention on the battle between the Conservatives and Labor for what has been called...
Friday, 25 May 2001 12:00 AM
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