Good morning. For a politician who has described his faith as a bit like the reception of Magic FM in the Chilterns – it comes in and out – David Cameron is showing a distinct religious streak. The Telegraph leads with “Cameron puts God back into politics”, and his intervention gets coverage in most of the papers (though inside, and less than I might have imagined). He has recently spoken about the importance of his Christianity and prayer, the peace he has found from the Eucharist, and now discusses his vision for a more active Christianity in Britain in an Easter article for the Church Times. We had imagined Mr Cameron as low-key CoE, but the fervour with which he has discussed “our Saviour” and – today – urged fellow Christians to be “more evangelical” about their faith reveals him as something altogether more muscular. Arguably, his faith is a private thing and so we cannot know what is in his heart. I suspect he is not quite ready to fall to his knees and pray with an American president, for example. But his approach is a striking departure from the “we don’t do God” policy imposed on Tony Blair (without a lot of success, it must be said) by Alastair Campbell.
There was a time of course when faith and Christianity were part of the everyday political discourse. Latterly, and to the often-expressed dismay of senior clerics from all faiths, the subject has been shunted out of the public square. Expressions of faith, or the depiction of Britain as a country not just of faith, but a specifically Christian one, have been frowned upon. The reasons are complex – a combination of militant political secularism, notably in the Labour party, and an anxiety about the growing numerical importance and militancy of other faiths. Politicians have learned to tread carefully, and those whose work is guided by their faith stand out.
Why is Mr Cameron speaking out? It does not follow, after all, that he should make public his private beliefs. We have learned to be sceptical of our politicians and that applies in this case. Could it be that Mr Cameron is anxious to counter the militancy of Christian leaders who have been attacking Government welfare policy? Cardinal Nichols did it this year for the Catholics; yesterday Anglican bishops criticised the growth in for banks. Could it be too that the Prime Minister is aware that part of Ukip’s appeal is based on a retro view of Britain? Burnishing his Church credentials speaks, perhaps, to the fears that immigration – Ukip’s big issue – is in some way diluting Britain’s Christian identity.
There is danger here for Mr Cameron. As our leader argues, “most voters do not want religion squeezed out of public life – but nor do they want to see it used for political purposes”. Mr Cameron must tread the line between speaking out for what he believes – good – and appearing to be playing the sectarian card for political advantage. We have been told to see everything the Conservatives do at the moment as being designed to maximise their vote in a tight election, and in particular to see off the threat from the right. They are particularly anxious to win back older, white voters who – coincidentally – are more likely to be preoccupied by thoughts of religion. If it’s a choice though, then better he says what he believes, and loudly. Voters can then decide whether they believe in him.
The Morning Briefing will be marking the holiday too, by taking a break. Back – with extra Tim Wigmore – on Tuesday. I wish all readers a most happy Easter.
LABOUR’S CAR CRASH MOMENT
The day after coverage of the economic numbers hasn’t worked out for Labour. It didn’t help that Ed Balls was discovered to have done a runner after bumping a car. The headlines about police investigations into his actions aren’t helpful, and everyone is making jokes about not giving Labour the keys to the car. I’ve summarised some of that on my blog. The FT says: “The challenges for Labour pile up – Miliband must say how he will improve the cost of living”: its gist is that Labour must work out an answer to a Government with a clear economic plan that is working. The Indy leader cautions – rightly – that there is a long way to go. The Mail raises Labour “frustrations” with Mr Balls, and the resulting crisis for the “Two Eds”. The Times – like the FT – evokes how yesterday saw two milestones reached (wages outpacing inflation, unemployment below 7pc).
BUSINESS FIGHTING RUSSIA SANCTIONS
In its lead the FT reports that major companies led by BP are lobbying ministers against Russian sanctions – what it calls a “barrage of corporate lobbying”. BP is among those to have told ministers that “they are at risk” if the EU decides to penalise Russia. “Are the member states united on this? No. Are they willing to die for Ukraine? I don’t think so,” a European official tells the paper. Our rolling courage is here.
UKIP v TIMES (CONT)
The Times have had another go, but inside this time. Around a picture of a younger Mr Farage, they raise the question of £287,000 in “other” costs that are unaccounted for.
CABLE, A RUSSIAN DANCER, AND THE KGB HEAVIES
Ephraim Hardcastle relays Vince Cable’s account of the time he led a young woman in an “unruly jive” in Kiev, and was frogmarched out by “a couple of heavies”.
GREAT FOR GRIMSBY?
Austin Mitchell announced last night he will stand down as MP for Great Grimsby next year. He has served Labour for nearly 40 years. His seat is one of those in the North being eyed-up by Ukip, so poses a challenge to whoever Labour choses to succeed him.
Latest YouGov/Sun poll – Con 33%, Lab 39%, LD 9%, UKIP 11%
In the Telegraph
Harry de Quetteville – Twitter is the worst forum for expressing grief
Dan Hodges – Those exciting Labour policies you were waiting for? There aren’t any
Sue Cameron – Why should the innocent pay for justice?
Best of the rest
Martin Kettle – The UK is on shifting sands – we can’t assume survival
David Aaranovitch – Farage and Salmond want you to live in Outopia