Labour leader Ed Miliband praises Christians' role in society


Ed Miliband called yesterday for "respect" to be the watchword in the immigration debate. He praised Christians for their work in promoting social cohesion and fighting hunger and inequality.

The Labour leader was speaking at Labour Party HQ after a reception for Christians on the Left, just hours after a pre-election speech on immigration was overshadowed by a row over a leaked Labour strategy document that advised MPs against campaigning on immigration.

Many Christians and other faith leaders, including Vicar of Baghdad Andrew White, have made calls for Britain to take in more people fleeing atrocities in the Middle East.

Mr Miliband said care had to be taken to differentiate between helping refugees and on immigration. "On the refugee issue, the British people are incredibly proud of our traditions of taking in innocent people who are genuinely fleeing persecution and doing our bit," he said. "You see that in the generosity of people when it comes to giving money when emergencies, disasters take place. I don't think that should be confused with the immigration issue. I don't think harshness in relation to emergency refugee situations should be seen as a proxy for an immigration policy. You've got to get immigration policy right and you've got to make sure you uphold our traditions in relation to refugees."

Generally, on the immigration debate, he said "respect" for another person's point of view was the "most important" thing. "Dialogue, respect, they are my watchwords when disagreements come up."

He reiterated his passion for social justice. "Clearly I'm not a Christian, but when I talk about a more equal, more just society, I think that speaks for so many Christian traditions. And it speaks for the traditions and indeed advocacy of Christians on the Left. I totally don't agree with the idea that there aren't reasons for Christians to support the Labour Party because I think we speak to a vision of society which many Christians would support."

Mr Miliband also praised the work of the Trussell Trust and others running and supporting food banks.

"There are lots of Christians all round the country who are doing an incredible job at food banks. I think it is right to praise them for what they are doing."

He referred to comments by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who said he had been left more shocked by the plight of Britain's hunger-stricken poor than those suffering in African refugee camps. The Archbishop made his comments shortly before the Feeding Britain report was published, calling for more to be done to fight hunger,

Mr Miliband said: "I share the Archbishop's deep outrage about the fact that we're one of the richest countries in the world and we've got such an epidemic of people in food poverty having to go to food banks. I pay tribute to the work at food banks that lots of people are doing.

"But I think the volunteers themselves would say, this is a sign of a society that isn't working, actually, the fact that there's been this growth in food banks. And no it shouldn't be left to the volunteers to feed people in Britain in 2014."

He described the work of the Trussell Trust as "exemplary". He continued: "We should be getting to the roots of what's happened and deal with the roots, low income, debt and terrible problems with delays in benefit payments. I think it says a lot about our country and our society and we have got to change it."

While he came at inequality and justice from a non-Christian background, he had a "huge amount in common" with people of a Christian background on such issues. "My vision of society is of a tolerant society which celebrate people of all faiths and indeed none."

"We are clearly a Christian country, we've got an established Church," he said. "But we are also a country of people of a broad range of faiths, all faiths and none." He was not saying it just because of the time of year, Christmas, but because it was what he believed as a person. "I think it's important to unify the country, that's what the One Nation vision is about. It's about different people of different backgrounds, different faiths, coming together, feeling a sense of kinship, feeling a sense of affinity with each other, and I think that's a really important part of our country. In a way it's partly a tribute to the Church of England because it's an established church, and it's an extremely tolerant church, and I think that's one of the good things about our country."