Progress | Centre-left Labour politics
Keir Hardie

God’s Politicians

As we’ve spent most of the week appalled by the activities of people at one end of the moral spectrum, it is reassuring to remind ourselves of the people at the other end.

On Monday evening, the Labour Faith Network will hold its inaugural meeting in the House of Commons. This is a new grouping of Labour party members from the major faiths, who want to see the party reconnect with faith communities across the UK. The chair is Cllr Abdal Ullah from Tower Hamlets, and the sponsor of the event is former Christian pastor Gavin Shuker MP (he’s the guy who saw off Esther Rantzen in Luton South last year). The ubiquitous Maurice Glasman is the guest speaker. If you want to come, the details are below.

People of faith have been at the heart of Labour politics since the founding of the party. Keir Hardie was converted to evangelical Christianity as a young man. He joined the Evangelical Union, a nonconformist sect of the United Succession Church rooted, not in the ‘respectable’ liberal middle classes, but in its working-class membership. He viewed his own life in quasi-messianic terms, and is the closest Labour has to a saint. He told the Commons in 1901 ‘socialism is a religious movement akin to the Reformation and it is the only force able to inspire men with the boundless devotion and utter disregard for personal interest or even personal safety. We are called upon to decide the questions propounded in the Sermon on the Mount as to whether we worship God or Mammon.’

You can trace the influence of Christian Socialism, from Hardie, to Lansbury, to Harold Wilson, to John Smith, to Tony Blair. Graham Dale’s excellent God’s Politicians does just that. Flicking through it just now, I noticed a picture of the much-missed David Cairns holding an umbrella over the head of Tony Blair at the Christian Socialist church service at Labour party conference in 1994. I would also recommend Chris Bryant’s Possible Dreams or Alan Wilkinson’s Christian Socialism.

But it has not just been Christians. From the outset Jewish men and women were at the heart of the Labour movement. Manny Shinwell, from a Polish-Jewish family was born in 1884 in Spitalfields, but grew up in Glasgow. He was a Red Clydesider, minister in the 1940s, chair of the party in the 1960s, and a Labour peer when he died in 1986. His great-niece is Luciana Berger MP. The contribution of Jews to the Labour party has been huge. In more recent times, Muslim and Hindu socialists have played their part too. Each of the major religions places on its adherents the impetus for social action. Each has a variant of the instruction to care for the weak, to respect others, and to perform altruistic works. It is natural that so many people of faith see their religion as a guide for their politics, and of those, that so many choose the Labour party as the expression of their political faith.

The Labour Faith Network is a reminder that decent people are active in politics. Labour must do more to recognise it, and to learn from, and listen to, them. Of course, the Labour party has its share of humanists, agnostics and atheists, and their voices must be heard too.

The Labour Faith Network event takes place at 7pm on Monday 11 July in Committee Room 7 of the House of Commons.

For an invitation, contact

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Paul Richards

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