There is a very interesting and informative article in the FT today that explores the influence Evangelical Christians have in the Tory party. It is a rather long piece as it covers the last decade’s resurgence of Christian influence within the Tory party, but well worth the read.
A Conservative MP was stage-whispering in the leathery, dark Pugin Room of the House of Commons late last year. With a view of the Thames, teacup in hand, he hissed at me: “They’ve campaigned to change the processes so that they can bus in their voters, stuffing the selection meetings with their people. They don’t outnumber us, but they can out-organise us. They’re taking over the party.”
“They” are evangelical Christians, and the MP was prompted to speak by a meeting a week earlier. The party had held an “open primary” (in which members of the public can vote) to choose a candidate to stand for a safe Tory seat – Congleton, Cheshire – in this year’s general election. The two leading names on the ballot were Matthew Hancock and Fiona Bruce. Both are well-known within Tory circles. Hancock is an economic adviser to the party, Bruce a solicitor who fought valiantly, if unsuccessfully, for a seat in the north-west in the 2005 general election. The main difference is religion: Hancock is secular, Bruce an evangelical Christian.
Bruce won comfortably, taking a majority of the 220 votes cast in the first round. But a rumour soon spread that most of her votes had come from members of the New Life church, a local evangelical congregation. Buses were alleged to have ferried 150 Christians from the church.
In truth, according to churchgoers and constituency officials alike, only between 40 and 60 of the people voting were parish regulars, and they made their own way to the meeting. Bruce had addressed the church shortly before the selection – but, then, all candidates had been welcome to do so.
Still, the Pugin Room MP continued: “You know, the Christians send e-mails to one another asking them to pray for them at selection meetings, but the point of the messages is to make sure that they all know who is standing where and when.”
As Conservatives grasp the real possibility of victory this year, some are asking what degree of power a few evangelical Christians – only 3 per cent of the party members, according to one poll – will wield. The answer will determine the shape and sturdiness of any Conservative government.