Except in Northern Ireland generally in Britain we don’t “Do Religion” (as Alastair Campbell once put it) in politics. Campbell’s boss Tony Blair was gradually moving towards the Catholicism of his wife Cherie but none of them thought this was anything but a private matter. Fair enough.
At a simplistic level it’s probably true that Tories, if they are Christians are C of E and Labour Methodists. Harold Wilson once said that Labour owed more to Methodism than Marx. And the Church of England was often referred to as “The Conservative Party at prayer” . But Ulster aside religion has rarely intruded into politics in modern times. So what’s up with the Conservatives “Good Friday” Party-promoting graphic?
As the Conservative government continues to look westwards to the United States, rather than eastwards towards Europe (a clear trend) we can see evidence of their embracing positions of the Republican Right. Deeply embedded in this group are the Religious Right. Donald Trump knew this and wholly bizarre though it was he, a serial philanderer with the morals of an Alley cat, conned them into thinking that he was one of God’s representatives on Earth . (I exaggerate, but not much).
Boris Johnson, whose personal morality is Trumpian, has not yet taken to openly waving the Bible in our faces, but maybe we shouldn’t hold our breath. Are there really votes in this ? Religion is, as Marx put it, the “opiate of the people” and that is certainly true of the Happy Clappy brigade in the Southern United States. But would it work here?
In times of stress we do all need props and to feel that someone is with us. Many have, in the past, turned to God in these moments. If for some multicultarism is part of that stress (it is) then religion is at the heart of it. A diversity that opponents of a mixed society very often object to is that of religion and, very specifically, Islam.
If voters that the Conservatives want to attract have, in many cases, a significant degree of Islamophobia the Tories know that they cannot appeal directly and overtly to that prejudice. During the EU Referendum campaign they did this with the barest modicum of subtlety:
For the Tories to proclaim their Christian faith is part of a positioning that contrasts with the support for multicultarism that characterises their opponents. Christians aren’t Muslims. There’s votes in that. Again there is a strong Trump parallel though, once again, with a tad more subtlety than the Donald.
It’s a time for facile symbolism it seems. Though our society is multi-religious the State religion is firmly Christian and in that sense the Conservative Party, by using the most sacred of Christian symbols in its promotion, is simply being mainstream. Flying the establishment flag again 🇬🇧 you might say. The nationalist positioning is clear. Like you we Tories are patriotically British, Christian and White. If you doubt the latter read the Sewell report. On the one side the overwhelming white establishment on the the other what is patronisingly referred to as “ethnic minorities”. Non whites.
For the past nearly a decade the Right in Britain has been characterised by what it is against. Europe. Immigrants. Asylum seekers. Liberals (=Woke). Muslims. The counter to these enemies is populist. “Britain is Best”. Restricted entry to foreigners. An anti-woke campaign against the liberal media. Overt criticism of the “Black Lives Matter” movement. And now promotion of the state religion and if this means hijacking the Cross to promote the Party so be it.
I don’t know whether Boris Johnson was, like me, a Crusader in his youth.
I don’t recall that part of the teaching on those Sunday afternoons and during the summer “Crusader Camps” was that we should retake Jerusalem from the Mohammedans. More Jesus wants me for a sunbeam. But let’s be clear to emphasise implicitly the sanctity of one religion on its holiest day is intended to set it apart from the philistines.