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Election special

April 2010

Election special

 

Election fever is beginning to grip the nation. Behind recent salacious stories highlighting rogue apples in the barrel, there are dedicated people working hard to govern us rightly. Simoney Girard here interviews politicians from each of the three main national parties to try to discover how Christianity informs their work*.

 

The Labour Party

Stephen Timms,

MP for East Hampstead and Financial Secretary to the Treasury

 

Q. What made you decide to become a politician?

 

A. I’d always been interested in politics from a child, but the key step for me was when a group from my university Christian Union helped on a tent mission for two weeks in what would later become my constituency. I had never been to that part of London and it was a revelation. I realised that what I believed could shape my life and have a practical, positive impact on others. After I graduated from Cambridge I moved to the East End, joined a church and the Labour Party.

 

Q. How does your faith influence your work as an MP?

 

A. It is the fundamental starting point for how I think about my work and my whole approach to it. It is also my personal support. For example, my church prays for me and every Sunday morning I meet a small group of friends to pray about what I am doing. I would say that my faith shapes and influences my work and provides support in the decisions I have to make.

 

Q. Did your faith lead you to join the party of your choice?

 

A. In a sense it did, because my participation in a mission led me to move here to the East End and join the Labour Party. But before then, my parents had been Labour Party supporters and I grew up with it. When I became a Christian, I always thought about my commitment to politics in terms of the Bible’s teaching on tackling justice and poverty, and looking after the interests of strangers, widows and orphans.

 

Q. Why should Christians use their votes?

 

A. Surveys suggest Christians are on average more likely to vote. They care about what is going on in their community and the world. Christians do complain about things that ought to be put right, and it seems that if we ourselves are not exercising our share of responsibility for what is going on, then we have no basis for complaining. I would go further – Christians ought to get stuck into political activism and help shoulder responsibility for those decisions on the basis of which our society is run.

 

Q. What advice would you give to Christians uncertain how to vote?

 

A. For me, the most important thing to reflect on is which candidate is most likely to promote the interests of the poor – this seems to be the nub of the question to which the Bible takes us.

 

The Conservative Party

David Burrowes,

MP for Southgate and Shadow Justice Minister

 

Q. What made you decide to become a politician?

 

A. It was easy in a way! As I looked more deeply into what God did through the Lord Jesus Christ – that he loved the world so much that he died for it – it compelled me to get involved in politics. I felt that if God’s servants were not getting involved in government, then who was?

 

Q. How does your faith influence your work as an MP?

 

A. It is the foundation stone of me being in parliament. It influences my work in the constituency, in policymaking and my duties at Westminster. For example, it compelled me to oppose the Human Embryo and Fertilisation Act, as well as standing up whenever issues of religious liberty are at threat, as with the recent Equality Bill. Finally, I know people think that politicians do not listen or are just in it for themselves. So I must be seen to be trustworthy. Jesus was a great example of someone who did what he said and who showed the real heart of what service really means.

 

Q. Did your faith lead you to join the party of your choice?

 

A. My faith came first and is still first! I was saved when I was 13 on a Christian camp, although then I wanted to play centre forward for Arsenal, rather than become candidate for Southgate! But as I got older I was so impressed by the conviction of world leaders at the time that I got involved in student politics at Exeter University. I had an instinctive leaning towards the Conservatives’ policy of the role of the individual in society and the role of the family. I’d state here, however, that no one political party has a monopoly on Christian values and I have many Christian friends in other parties.

 

Q. Why should Christians vote?

 

A. I attended a Christian conference just after the expenses scandal, and a poll was taken that showed only 80 per cent of Christians were going to vote. That meant one-fifth of the Christian population has disengaged. But I believe it’s a biblical imperative to be involved (Romans 13). If Christians are not involved in the decision-making process either by participation or voting for people to participate on their behalf, what will that government look like?

 

Q. What advice would you give to Christians uncertain how to vote?

 

A. I would encourage them to be informed and vote. I believe that issues of fundamental importance have been threatened – religious liberty; the family and respect for life; and social justice. Because of this, Christians should be asking the sort of questions that will inform them about the candidates’ characters. It is important that the successful candidates know there is a concerned, active Christian community, which will challenge them on such issues.

 

The Liberal Democrats

Steve Webb,

MP for Northavon and spokesman on Work and Pensions

 

Q. What made you decide to become a politician?

 

A. It was the difference between what I could achieve as an individual, and realising what I could help change from being part of the system. During the 1980s as a private citizen, I felt that stringent aid policies were reversing any of the good I was doing; and there were huge inequalities that challenged me to act. At the time, I was at the Institute of Fiscal Studies, and I realised I was being called to serve in government. I joined the party in 1992 just after the general election, was selected as a candidate in 1995, and stood in 1997.

Q. How does your faith influence your work as an MP?

 

A. I am tempted to say that you should ask other people! My faith influences me at every level – personal, private and policy-making. I want to be approachable and try to be a servant to my constituents. We have a perfect model set before us in Jesus of the servant attitude. Christians of all parties work together in a way by voting together on legislation that affects our faith, but for me there is not a ballot box marked ‘Christian’ for moral issues and then one marked ‘Lib Dem’ for everything else. My faith influences every decision that I make.

 

Q. Did your faith lead you to join the party of your choice?

 

A. Actually, I would say that God was shaping me from day one! In any system there will be a party that is essentially the voice of the wealthy and I knew that I was one of the voices of the dispossessed. When I was working, I met many Liberal Democrats, whose set of political and social values matched my own. There is a misconception that being liberal means ‘anything goes’. It does not. It means freedom; and freedom is a fundamentally Christian concept. God gives us the freedom of sons and daughters. Therefore, the freedom to make mature choices is essential to us as believers.

 

Q. Why should Christians vote?

 

A. If Christians don’t vote, then decisions will be made by people that they did not choose. If the things that matter to you are not being considered when a parliament is chosen, then you will get something that you don’t want. All parties are essentially made up of a group of people who don’t all agree on everything. It is like the ‘perfect church’ argument – we are all simply humans who want to make a difference. But the things that really matter to you – tax, war, ethical issues – these are things worth prayerfully using your vote for.

 

Q. What advice would you give to Christians uncertain how to vote?

 

A. Firstly, try to establish who the candidates are for all the parties in your area, and contact them. If they can’t be bothered to reply to you when they’re after your vote, then that’s a good indication of whether they will listen to you when they are in power! Secondly, find out about them as people. Their manifesto will tell you one thing, but you could find out what makes them tick – what sort of values do they have? These things can say a lot about a candidate.

 

* Editor’s note: Editorial space means that only the three largest parties could participate in this feature. This does not mean there are no Christians in other parties, or that ETrecommends voting for only one of these three.

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