Richard Robinson writes:
“He who smiles last longer”, so read the Wayside Pulpit message outside a rather bedraggled Methodist church I passed on the way back from Labour Party Conference last week. Our Wayside Pulpit message is of course now clear; One Nation Labour, which as Matthew d’Ancona alluded to means social cohesion, the shared obligations that bind us, and our collective mission.
In terms of our collective mission towards One nation a country for all, with everyone playing their part, we have seen policy nudges for example towards a cap on the fees charged by pension funds, a move to replace Ofgem with a tough regulator that would force firms to pass on price cuts in the wholesale energy market. Both of course are veritable measures. Good stuff. Add to this as Andrew Sparrow also wrote “the 2012 gathering in Manchester leaves us better informed about the party, its leader, its policies and its electability”. This is all positive for the public at large.
As for the conference itself of course Ed’s brilliant speech was obviously a highlight. Enough ink is already being spilt eulogising its tone, no note delivery, and yes we had forty six mentions for the word(s) one nation. What has not quite been so widely acknowledged is the reference to faith (twelve times). Whilst Ed does not hide under a bushel his religious faith free soul, elsewhere in the Party the evidence of Christian influence again amongst the Party is noticeable. From Christian Socialist Movement fringe events discussing poverty, green issues and ethical banking to Lord Glasman discussing Labour’s “responsible recovery” the role of faith appears increasingly significant. Indeed Glasman was emphatic in his view that a future Labour government would only be able to balance economic and social priorities if it nurtured a relationship with business, trade unions and faith.
Now a collision course within the Party where naysayers of no faith and those who do “do God” lock horns is in no one’s interest. Yet as Michael Sandel has written the gap in the diminished place of moral argument on the political left has been prevalent since the 1960s. For those of us within the party who do “do God” there is no better time to re-kindle the moral imperative of a Christian Socialist message as central to everything we want to achieve. Does that mean aligning ourselves with a fundamentalist American neo-liberal view? Absolutely anything but.
What we do do as Christians in the Labour Party committed to social justice, equality and liberation for the poor is fight for a living wage, for a financial transaction tax, for a more radical redistribution of wealth from rich to poor, and for a society that crucially embraces relationship in a new way. A relationship that reconciles, offers hope, speaks truth and justice and offers therefore a better way.
I do wonder then whether Labour’s collective mission to transform our divided nation into One Nation will be achieved rather quicker if we finally put to rest a widespread tendency in the party to “disown God”.
Indeed who knows, if the Labour Party truly rediscovered its Christian heritage and roots, this might mean we are all smiling for longer.