With the election over and a Conservative government firmly in place, the UK is now looking ahead to what the next five years has to hold. Colin Bloom, newly appointed director of outreach at the Conservative Party and director of Christians in Politics, spoke to Christian Today about the future of British politics.
What do you think the future of politics is going to look like for the UK?
I think that politics is going to increasingly be about the change in the electoral landscape of multiparty politics. Whereas before we had the two giants of Labour and Conservative, now we've got the incredible electoral rise of the SNP, and popular support for parties like the Greens, Plaid Cymru and UKIP....In a world of multiparty politics, how do we restore trust in politics from the British people? It's about regaining and restoring trust, and I think that and confidence in the individual is going to be enormous.
How is the Conservative Party going to do that?
For me personally as a Conservative, it's how do we continue to reach out and take the message that we are the party of the disadvantaged; of the least, the lost and the lonely? That we are the party who are positive about immigrants, positive about people with disabilities, and those who want to be defined by what they can do rather than what they can't? We want these people to know we're on their side.
I've been given the job of director of outreach for the Conservative Party...to do precisely that – to continue to engage with groups who previously might not have considered themselves to be core supporters. If you believe in families, if you believe in aspiration, if you believe in equality of opportunity, then we are your party. So my role, going forward, is I'm personally very passionate about making sure the least, the last and the lonely recognise that we are on their side.
What political trends do you expect to appear over the next five years?
The left is now fragmented into the Greens, the SNP and Labour, and I think that gives Labour a challenge – that it needs to reconnect with ordinary people. Up until 2015, in my opinion its message was quite a divisive one; of basically saying the Conservatives are only about the rich, we're only about the poor, and they missed out on the fact that most people don't want to be defined in those terms... and aspiration is the thing that they neglected. So going forward, they've got some self-reflection to do, which will be very interesting, particularly in the choice of leader.
In terms of for parties like UKIP, I would say that any political party that continues to deliberately conflate illegal immigration, legal immigration and asylum for political purpose, I think that there will be a reckoning at some point to that. I think it's immoral what some politicians have done. I'm not saying that immigration isn't an issue that needs to be discussed, but the demonization of immigrants was one of the most distasteful, immoral and unforgivable aspects of what has happened in recent politics. And I think that all parties are going to have a job to do in terms of speaking about immigration in an entirely new way.
I wouldn't like to predict whether they [UKIP] will grow or not, but I suspect that their highest electoral point was the European elections of 2014. Whether they will reach such dizzying heights again, who knows? The most important elections coming up are the London Mayor election in May 2016, the Scottish and Welsh elections in May 2016 and then the EU Referendum, and I think if they play it badly, then they will have lost all credibility. If their answer to everything is immigration and get out of Europe, then I think the British public are going to prove themselves more sophisticated than UKIP.
How do you think conversations between David Cameron and Nicola Sturgeon will go?
I think they will be positive; businesslike. Nicola Sturgeon is a pragmatist, and she is obviously going to fight for the best deal she can get, but I will make one prediction – next year, the Conservatives will be the second biggest party in Scotland, just behind the SNP. I think we've got an increasingly attractive message to pro-unionists, and people who believe in hope and aspiration.
And Scottish Independence?
That's not on the table at the moment for another generation.
How would you describe the climate for faith at the moment within the political sphere?
I think it's higher than it's been for generations and certainly in the Conservative Party, faith groups have been seen as a central part of society. For society to function well, faith groups need to be given the freedom to function, and to be recognised as an important part of our individual lives and our nation's life. The established Church has an important role to play and even though the party and Church might not always see eye to eye; it's still hugely important. One of the most exciting things we've seen in the last five years is extra growth in the accessibility and recognition between the Conservative-led government and the black church, the evangelical church, the Chinese church ... all of the different denominations have had unparalleled levels of access, even when they've not necessarily agreed with everything or reached similar conclusions, the Conservative party under David Cameron has never shied away from having an open conversation with people of faith, especially Christians.
What are the opportunities for the Church in politics?
The Church need to think of government as mission in the same way that it thinks of developing new worship leaders, church leaders and missionaries. It needs to think of the government as a mission field – from school governors, to local councils, to working for an MP to actually being an MP. The Church should be encouraging and engaging with people of faith, and should be the first to step up and do the things it was always supposed to do. I can't speak for the other parties, but certainly in the Conservative Party, Christians have always been respected, embraced, and welcomed to make a valid contribution at the highest levels of public life.
What about religious freedom – how do you think that will play out in the UK?
When we're thinking about freedom of religion and belief, I think it is always unwise for people in the UK to not start conversations by saying 'Look at Christians in Iraq and Syria, in Egypt and in Libya and other countries around the world where Christians have been killed and seriously persecuted to the point where they either die or leave their homes'. I think it is always incumbent upon us to remember our brothers and sisters around the world who have it many, many times worse than us, and for it to cause us to give thanks to God for the freedoms we have in this country, and to do all we can to protect the freedoms of those who are really suffering under religious persecution, whether they are Christians or not.
So we should really stop complaining then?
I wouldn't say that. I think there are legitimate concerns that people in the UK may have, whether it's the debating of cakes, to do with wearing religious symbols or at a Bed and Breakfast, and I think there are genuine areas that we need to address. But for me, the priority has to be those brothers and sisters being beheaded, crucified and burned alive in cages because of their faith.
Colin Bloom is speaking on the 'Future of politics' at the Future Conference on June 22. Hosted by the London School of Theology, it will look at the future of faith in the UK and include a number of short talks by speakers including Professor of Evangelism at Drew University, Leonard Sweet, and Aaqil Ahmed, head of Religion & Ethics at the BBC.
More information and tickets here.