It turns out that June is the cruellest month: for Theresa May and her party, for pollsters and pundits, and also for Christians in politics. Last night we lost some outstanding examples of Christians in public life. The Conservatives’ David Burrowes, an Evangelical who opposed his party on gay marriage and campaigned for refugees and the homeless, lost his seat. So did Labour’s Rob Flello, a Catholic convert who once said: “I could no more leave my faith at the door of the House of Commons than I could my name or my gender or my arms and legs.”
Flello was a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group; two other former members – Julian Brazier (Conservative) and Greg Mulholland (Lib Dem) were also ousted. A fourth member of the group, the Lib Dems’ John Pugh, stood down at this election. Meanwhile, Ben Gummer, a Tory minister who was opposed to abortion and said he would vote for a reduction in time limits, lost Ipswich. In Oxford West, Nicola Blackwood, a Christian Tory who voted against assisted suicide, was defeated by Layla Moran, a Lib Dem who supports it.
For all I know, the next generation of Flellos and Burrowses will be found among the new crop of MPs. But it looks as though Parliament’s Christian contingent has been seriously damaged, which is worrying given the issues which could come up in the next five years. Pro-choice MPs are seeking the decriminalisation of abortion; the Tories want to introduce four-year-olds to “relationships education”; promoters of assisted suicide never give up; and that is only to mention the more obvious areas.
Christians have other reasons to be disappointed. Within both main parties, the movements which are explicitly inspired by Catholic social teaching – Red Toryism, Blue Labour – now seem on the back foot.
Theresa May’s manifesto, whose rhetoric was clearly influenced by Red Toryism, claimed that she was rejecting “the cult of selfish individualism”. Her right-hand-man Nick Timothy has been brave enough to say that “there is undoubtedly a small minority of people in our party who frankly do not care very much about others”. Timothy wanted to vanquish the Ayn Rand-quoting libertarians. Well, his project can now be labelled a failure.
Some Catholics are excited about Jeremy Corbyn, and there are resonances with Catholic teaching: Corbyn’s plan, in essence, is to fill the hungry with good things and to lift up the lowly. He is a persuasive advocate for this appealing programme. But the means he proposes – massive government intervention, funded somehow or other – remind me of Dorothy Day’s satires on “Holy Mother the State”, and of Pius XI’s lament in 1931 that “there remain virtually only individuals and the State … the State has been overwhelmed and crushed by almost infinite tasks and duties.” It is also reasonable to ask whether a fan of Chavez and Castro should be tasked with reforming the national economy.
The hounding of Tim Farron suggested that British politics was an increasingly hostile environment for Christians, an impression which these election results have reinforced. Then again, the DUP – whose MPs tend to support the lives of unborn babies and oppose the redefinition of marriage – are now being welcomed into the corridors of power, so who knows? Perhaps we should all swear off predictions for a while. Perhaps Christians should especially.