Christianity and the Labour leadership

. . . And what the biblical Sermon on the Mount tells us about modern politics.

There is an interesting write-up here of the Labour leadership hustings hosted by the Christian Socialist movement, at which each of the candidates had the opportunity to air their values.

It was an important debate, given that -- despite leftist Christians from Keir Hardy to William Beveridge to Stafford Cripps and so many more -- the right likes to claim ownership of this faith. Harold Wilson may have said that the Labour movement owes more to Methodism than Marx, but it is often said that the Church of England is the Tory party at prayer.

So, from the report:

David Miliband explained, "I'm not a religious person but actually I'm a person of faith. I have faith in people." He said the Labour Party can learn from Jesus's Sermon on the Mount and stressed the importance of the "notion of right relationship".

His brother Ed Miliband likewise said he had learned "not a religious faith but a simple faith", that "if you saw an injustice then you had to do something about it". Criticising the language of the Blair-Brown era, he said, "We need to reclaim those words -- love, compassion, caring."

Andy Burnham, a Roman Catholic, emphasised the Christian origins of his politics, insisting several times that "the basic tenets of the Labour Party and socialism are one and the same [as] those of Christianity". He said that Labour had recently "lost its way" in relations with the churches, but that both sides shared the blame for this and needed to rebuild their relationship.

Ed Balls spoke of his positive early memories of his parents' Anglican church and said his father's commitment to Labour had grown out of Christianity. He added that Labour needs to "talk more about values".

Diane Abbott emphasised the values with which she had been brought up, saying, "We could do worse, as we go forward as a Labour movement, than return to those values of faith, community and family."

All interesting answers. Perhaps the one that needs expanding on is David Miliband's, for the Sermon on the Mount is indeed an amazing guide to what Jesus Christ's values might have been in politics: values that would be difficult to describe as "right wing".

Here are the Beatitudes from it, from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5.

1 And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. 2 Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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Theresa May defies the right by maintaining 0.7% aid pledge

The Prime Minister offers rare continuity with David Cameron but vows to re-examine how the money is spent. 

From the moment Theresa May became Prime Minister, there was speculation that she would abandon the UK's 0.7 per cent aid pledge. She appointed Priti Patel, a previous opponent of the target, as International Development Secretary and repeatedly refused to extend the commitment beyond this parliament. When an early general election was called, the assumption was that 0.7 per cent would not make the manifesto.

But at a campaign event in her Maidenhead constituency, May announced that it would. "Let’s be clear – the 0.7 per cent commitment remains, and will remain," she said in response to a question from the Daily Telegraph's Kate McCann. But she added: "What we need to do, though, is to look at how that money will be spent, and make sure that we are able to spend that money in the most effective way." May has left open the possibility that the UK could abandon the OECD definition of aid and potentially reclassify defence spending for this purpose.

Yet by maintaining the 0.7 per cent pledge, May has faced down her party's right and title such as the Sun and the Daily Mail. On grammar schools, climate change and Brexit, Tory MPs have cheered the Prime Minister's stances but she has now upheld a key component of David Cameron's legacy. George Osborne was one of the first to praise May's decision, tweeting: "Recommitment to 0.7% aid target very welcome. Morally right, strengthens UK influence & was key to creating modern compassionate Conservatives".

A Conservative aide told me that the announcement reflected May's personal commitment to international development, pointing to her recent speech to International Development staff. 

But another Cameron-era target - the state pension "triple lock" - appears less secure. Asked whether the government would continue to raise pensions every year, May pointed to the Tories' record, rather than making any future commitment. The triple lock, which ensures pensions rise in line with average earnings, CPI inflation or by 2.5 per cent (whichever is highest), has long been regarded by some Conservatives as unaffordable. 

Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has hinted that the Tories' "tax lock", which bars increases in income tax, VAT and National Insurance, could be similarly dropped. He said: "I’m a Conservative. I have no ideological desire to to raise taxes. But we need to manage the economy sensibly and sustainably. We need to get the fiscal accounts back into shape.

"It was self evidently clear that the commitments that were made in the 2015 manifesto did and do today constrain the ability to manage the economy flexibly."

May's short speech to workers at a GlaxoSmithKline factory was most notable for her emphasis that "the result is not certain" (the same message delivered by Jeremy Corbyn yesterday). As I reported on Wednesday, the Tories fear that the belief that Labour cannot win could reduce their lead as voters conclude there is no need to turn out. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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