Christians on the Left: Corbyn's Labour has opened a major national conversation


As Christians we know that bad roots bear bad fruit. The EU referendum was an act of political calculation to steal some votes, as was the calling of this snap election. Both of them have backfired spectacularly. The British people have shown that they are not prepared blindly to follow the lead of someone who has taken their vote for granted. The fundamentally flawed thinking of 'I need your vote to strengthen my hand because I know what is best for you' was exposed for the mind control attempt that it was.

The theory was that a stronger mandate would allow a better deal to be made for Britain. But people were not fooled. As I said in an article for Christians on the Left when the election was called seven weeks ago:

What this election should be is a discussion about what 'British interests' are. We talk about them as if everyone agrees what they are. We don't. Some people think securing our borders is more important than anything else. I don't. Some people think healthy employment practices that help family life can be sacrificed at the altar of the economy. I don't. Some people think we can ignore climate change. I don't. Some people think environmental regulations are bureaucratic red tape to be slashed. I don't...

Yes I do want the best deal for Britain. But not if it means a much worse deal for the EU. Not if it means Apple and Google don't pay their taxes. Not if it means sub-Saharan countries lose out on our help and expertise. And the further danger is that we shrink the 'best deal for Britain' to mean the 'best economic deal for Britain'. We then lose sight of what would be healthy for the wellbeing of our nation in terms of family life, in terms of community cohesion, in terms of the north-south divide, in terms of our environmental impact.

These metrics may be ignored by negotiators if they are emboldened by an electorate to just get the 'best economic deal for Britain'. As Christians we believe that we are more than mere economic units. We are people made in the image of God, whose worth cannot be measured just by our contribution to GDP.

The election has shown that rather than agreeing with Theresa May's definition of our national interest, that it is up for grabs. I think in fact perhaps the discussion is only just beginning. A new generation is realising that after the shock of Brexit that they need to grapple with the big issues, to fight for the things we believe in rather than expect them to always be there by default. Many new members have joined Christians on the Left and we want to welcome even more in now to be part of this crucial conversation.

Jeremy Corbyn has defied expectations and shown that people still have an appetite for getting beyond the superficial. His honest style has connected with people who have confessed their surprise at liking what they have heard. This throws into relief the lazy caricature that folks had previously been ingesting especially from the right-wing press. The partisan coverage of this election was fairly staggering, with negative articles about Labour coming at a ratio of 9:1 compared to the Conservatives.

What is most pleasing is that Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour Party has re-opened up a space for discussing how we organise our economy. It should be there to serve the people, not the other way around. The election result shows that that space is only going to enlarge, as the UK and the rest of the West work to find ways to tame the wild beast that capitalism has become.

It should also be noted that Labour did it with a raft of small donations and an army of foot soldiers having real conversations rather than huge mailouts and big donors.

As Christians on the Left we were proud to be part of trying to get people beyond the tabloid headlines with our 'geek files' to help people gen up on different issues. They are still worth a read and they may even be useful for the second election of 2017. We were especially pleased that amongst others, three of our prime campaigning issues were featured strongly in the manifesto; namely the Robin Hood Tax, HMRC changes to tackle corporate tax evasion, and action on international religious liberty.

Before Labour get too triumphalistic, however, we would do well to remember two things.

First, we are still some distance behind the Conservatives – politics cannot just be about protest. You create a manifesto to put it into practice, not just feel pious about your views being better.

Second, Labour cannot be content just maximising the cosmopolitan, urban, liberal, educated vote. That will never be enough to win again, but it also ignores the history of the party, and the contribution of those who reject a narrow progressivism.

This election provided even more evidence of the 'Americanisation' of British politics – sliding towards left of centre parties holding sway in cosmopolitan urban centres, while the right take hold in rural areas. Labour cannot become Democrats-lite. We cannot surely desire the polarisation of the USA to manifest itself here.

Many members of Christians on the Left are fighting for nuance, even thought it is hard to get nuance heard in the noise of tribal social media. Many are proudly left of centre on economic issues, but 'soft right' or 'central' on social issues, enabling them to connect with a much broader swathe of voters. But more importantly than that it is a worldview that rejects a rights-based narrow individualism in favour of family, community and roots that draw on deeper, ancient wisdom. The power of Labour paying more than lip service to its faith roots was also displayed last year by the election of overtly Christian mayor Marvin Rees in Bristol and Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan in London.

This ability has been shown by our 30 MP members who were all returned save for one and our three brand new members who were elected. Ray of light Fiona Onasanya defied all expectations to win in Peterborough, as did Marsha de Cordova in Battersea. David Drew in Stroud completes a wonderful trio of believers who wear their faith on their sleeve. To see the fruit of our training and mentoring is so satisfying. Many other of our 54 candidates came very close to causing upsets. They will be back. Chris Ostrowski in Watford and Gillian Troughton in Copeland deserve special mentions.

Please pray for all of them but more importantly, get involved – because the conversation is only just beginning.

Andy Flannagan is the Director of Christians on the Left.