Monday, September 07, 2009

The Conservative Party’s emptying pews

The state of the Church of England has often been reflected in the ups and downs of the Conservative Party. Or is it vice-versa? Although no Churchman, Disraeli revered it as a foundational English institution, even though he considered the Episcopacy a cause of great trouble, and interminable discussion about religious ritual nothing but a lot of time-wasting nonsense.

But Disraeli’s political fortunes were as dependent on the Church as the Church was dependent upon him: his own conversion was always more political than religious. Queen Victoria considered it a duty of Government to oppose Romanising ritualism, and so Disraeli remained politically allied to the Archbishop of Canterbury in order to satisfy the Protestant feeling of the country - and court a sizeable constituency in the process.

The fate of the Conservative Party and the state of the Church of England seem somehow to be symbiotically linked, fused at an ineffable religio-political level, each divided by its traditional High ‘right’ and liberal Low ‘left’, and each in perpetual search of its own via media. The Conservative Party’s rank-and-file may no longer swell the Church of England’s pews, but the spiritual union endures.

The two great institutions have shared periods of strong and decisive leadership, growth, determination and commitment. But they have also coincided in their times of indecision, confusion, and the abandonment of their traditional creeds for another gospel. Margaret Thatcher’s reign was mirrored at Lambeth by the sometimes equally-intractable Robert Runcie, which gave way to the indecision of the Major-Carey years, which in turn was succeeded by the confused Hague/Duncan Smith/Howard/Cameron era of Rowan Williams.

Both the Church of England and the Conservative Party now seem to be searching for a new identity, and few know what either actually stands for.

But as the Church of England experiences year-on-year slow decline, it transpires that the Conservative Party has lost 25 per cent of its members since David Cameron became leader.

Not even the Church of England has lost a quarter of its members in just four years.

For all his ability, charm, charisma, determination and riding high in the opinion polls, David Cameron has been unable to retain the membership he inherited.

And one gets the feeling that neither he nor the Party machine particularly cares.

Perhaps because donations from the great and the good over prestigious dinners are now far more important than the paltry membership dues of the less and the insignificant.

It is interesting to note that in the years and months approaching the inevitable victory of Tony Blair in 1997, Labour membership soared by more than 100,000. But the Conservative Party’s increasing popularity under David Cameron is not translating into an increase in party membership. Even the ‘safe’ seats are bleeding members: young blood is not replacing the ever-aging party stalwarts who remember not only the good years of the YCs, but the Queen’s Coronation, the outbreak of World War II, the Abdication crisis... Baldwin and Churchill seem like recent memories.

Certainly, this may be a symptom of the times: people may be less inclined to formally affiliate with institutions and organisations they support nonetheless.

But this reasoning ignores the fact that people are inclined to join associations which have something to offer.

Party membership used to offer not only a social life but also voting rights, policy input, the opportunity to propose conference motions, and it was a prerequisite for becoming a councillor and a parliamentary candidate. But this is no longer the case.

Now anyone may become a Conservative parliamentary candidate, irrespective of commitment, loyalty and even of political philosophy. Local members may no longer interview and select their candidates: they can be imposed centrally by the Party Chairman. And neither can they deselect their MEPs, who are now among the unaccountable and immovable privileged élite.

If the Conservative Party has learned anything from policemen, teachers, doctors and nurses, it ought to be that there is no point in recruiting if there is no strategy for retention. The Church does not evangelise only to ensure that seed falls on stony ground. In a church which is functioning as it ought, every sheep which goes astray is sought and urged to return, because it is cared for, encouraged and loved.

But the Conservative Party appears not to be remotely concerned with its missing flocks. From the millions of members they used to have, there are now fewer than 200,000.

If the faithful shepherd is exhorted to leave his 99 sheep on the hills to go in search of the one that wandered off, how much more should he search frantically for a missing 40,000?


Blogger Gnostic said...

Your Grace, I believe the empty church pews and the gaping hole in Tory party membership can be put down to the same thing.

The Happy Clappy Brigade.

Perhaps we should instigate a national campaign - Keep Faux Kumbaya out of Politics...

7 September 2009 at 09:26  
Blogger dmk said...

Gnostic: I see no problem with people being happy in church, and as for clapping: well if the Bible exhorts it, who are Anglicans to disagree?

In our church, the two congregations which are growing fastest are a traditional Matins, and a Cafe Service in the local community centre complete with band and modern songs. The latter is succeeding in attracting families and younger people.

The 'happy clappy' label is tired and inaccurate, and with most of the folk who use it normally means "I don't like that sort of stuff". Other people do, so unless we insist that God's musical tastes ground to a halt in the 19th century, maybe there's scope for a bit of variety.

7 September 2009 at 09:44  
Blogger Jim Bartlet said...

I would not vote for anyone at the moment. It really is all quite depressing.

7 September 2009 at 09:45  
Blogger Gnostic said...

dmk - each to their own. Church should be a happy place for those who believe. :0)

As far as politics is concerned, you can't run a party, or a country, giving the impression its akin to sitting around a campfire, holding hands and being touchy-feely.

7 September 2009 at 09:56  
Blogger Jim Bartlet said...

I think the real issue here with everything that you say is down to the decline in moral values. I used to think like you and blame the church leadership, but they are only people at the end of the day. We are all to blame. We all buy these ridiculous news papers, which are full of bile and sensationalism that drives the political machinery along a reactionary path of hedonism and narcissistic folly.

In many ways we have become victims of our own aptitude for creativity and ingenuity with regards to material manipulation. There will be a point of critical mass, that when reached, some new energy will guide us back onto a more balanced path of recovery. Sadly, I do not think this will take place in my time.

But no, you cannot place the blame for this all onto a few good men who are as much in the barrel as the rest of us. We have lost our way basically, and because we are very much of the human condition, it is going to be a necessarily painful usual. It's our basic story isn't it, at the end of the day like?

7 September 2009 at 10:00  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neither the Church nor the Conservative Party welcome heterosexuals into their ranks - so that's the majority of the population snubbed by both of them.

7 September 2009 at 10:18  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of Cameron's first moves was to increase the annual subscription from £15 to £25 - this might have provoked a lot of inactive members into leaving.

Nothing to do with charm really.

7 September 2009 at 10:21  
Blogger Johnny Norfolk said...

The C of E is just so left wing and dumbed down. When I have been to church i come out so iritated I just go less and less. i expect the C of E to stand up for traditional values that it just does not do anymore.

the last funeral i atended the vicar refered to the deceased as
" being 70 something when she died"
Just one example on how the church has lost its dignity with claping and huging ugh.

7 September 2009 at 10:29  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the media we have movies, soap operas and computer games that are all based around similar themes of pups, alcohol, drugs, violence, guns, bombs, kung fu, sexual perversions, precocious kids, bad language, disrespectful attitudes towards society's older established customs etc etc etc.

Going to church and singing hymns can indeed feel all rather gay and homosexual in the face of what we do for the other 6 days of the week.

7 September 2009 at 10:32  
Anonymous Johnson and Johnson said...

What we need is a fake scroll to be discovered in a desert cave somewhere that tells the 'real story' of how Jesus was a third dan in kung fu, and drunk beer like a son of a bitch and kicked ass on a daily basis like Clint Eastwood or John Rambo! Maybe he could be a reformed heroin addict who was adopted at birth, and who seriously repented of stabbing all those people when he was a teenager, and who later on became a social worker helping disadvantaged ethnic minority groups in inner city areas.

Even after seeing the light, he still kept that symbolic cross earing in his left ear just to remind people that he is not to be dissed man (as if the tattoos were not enough). But yeah, totally cool! God would really be this understanding dude that really did have this plan for mankind to reach the approximation of Heaven on Earth

7 September 2009 at 11:08  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your Grace,

A disturbing article and pictures have been brought to my attention which show the desecration of Christian graves at a redundant Victorian church in Manchester which is in the process of being converted to a mosque!

I am utterly appalled. If the British National Party’s website is to be believed, this type of vandalism is being repeated all over the country. This would not be permitted in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. Why isn’t the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury defending Christianity in our country?

7 September 2009 at 11:21  
Anonymous Knighthawk said...

The lost sheep may indeed have wandered off but they still seem prepared to vote Conservative.
While Cameron is self-assured of electoral victory I doubt that membership numbers are of much concern particularly as the present situation favours centralised control.

7 September 2009 at 11:25  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Anon @ 11.21

Archbish Beardy seems only interested in keeping the coffers full. Presumably, when the C of E sold the Manchester church and grounds, the preservation of the churchyard and graves wasn't part of the deal.

Ain't happy clappyism wonderful?

7 September 2009 at 11:38  
Anonymous martin sewell said...

Christians of any persuasion ought not to describe each other in disparaging terms. What would we conclude if those who like singing Psalms in minor keys were described as "Dirge Monkeys?"

I can appreciate many styles of worship and the obvious truth is that God accepts praise offered with a good heart whether in four part harmony or accompanied by a tin drum.

The key words for any human organisation thriving is a sense of community and common purpose. A House divided cannot stand but that does not require us to be monochrome. I liked the mission statement of a church in Austin Texas:
' Intentionally inclusive, deliberately diverse'.

The 1662 folk and the devotees of modern worship both hope to be living for eternity together. It would be prudent to start trying to get along which each other right now.

7 September 2009 at 12:21  
Anonymous Johnson said...

I can see now how the Antichrist will win people over. All he will need to do is say "Iam the Antichrist", and everyone will say "thank Christ for that, where the hell have you been for Jesus sakes!"

7 September 2009 at 12:27  
Blogger Terry Hamblin said...

"Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." So said the Apostle Peter. In my experience the number of people who take that statement seriously is growing in the UK. They may not be attending C of E services and singing Victorian hymns, but so much the better. The Reformation allowed men and women to be individuals rather than one of a herd. We don't have to be bored by other people's musical tastes any more than we have to raise out hands when singing. Most of what the Archbishop calls the 'low' church is politically on the right now, while the 'high' church is on the left politically.

7 September 2009 at 12:45  
Blogger Preacher said...

Your Grace.
Perhaps the Conservative party have wised up to the state of the country & no longer wish to win the next election with its deadly inheritance it coiuld be political suicide for generations.
The Church may have its troubles, but God has it all planned out.
Thank Him for that.

7 September 2009 at 12:52  
Blogger Arden Forester said...

Disraeli was also the instigator of putting priests in prison!

7 September 2009 at 12:53  
Anonymous R said...

I first joined the Conservative Party five years ago, while a student. Prior to that I had been briefly at school (O foolishness of youth!) a member of the LibDems.

Now, while the Lib Dems would constantly badger its members about donating, volunteering, and - oh - your membership expires in four months and you still haven't renewed it yet: shurely shome mishtake? The Tories, on the other hand, never reminded me about renewing my membership once (neither was there an automatic renewal as with membership of e.g. the Bow Group). Therefore it will inevitably expire, and six months later I will be struck by a vague suspicion that I should have renewed it; finally, if at that time I am feeling particularly political I will drag myself over to the Conservative website and labouriously rejoin.
Perhaps that was just the situation a few years ago: but I as one have ceased to be a registered member of the Conservative Party (although still a card-carrying Tory, albeit with an outdated, torch-logoed card) for reasons of simple administrative perversity...

7 September 2009 at 13:22  
Anonymous R said...

While I'm commenting, here's my 2 cents on the plight of the C of E:

If you look at what's going on in the universities, I get the impression that Christian theologians are grouping into two, interdenominational, camps: the Radical Liberal and the Radical Orthodox; or, the Schliermachers and the Barthians; or, in old C of E terms, latitudinarians on one hand and both protestants and catholics on the other. Look at how the evangelicals and anglo-catholics stood together on the 'gay bishops' debate, for instance.

Now, Catholic and Protestant differences are so ingrained in culture they probably won't go away; and there will always be minority groups who will go off and do their own thing; but I submit that this new liberal/orthodox divide (in place of the old protestant/catholic one) will filter down to the pews and the laity.

But most importantly, it suggests a reason why the C of E is at this very moment facing such an unprecedented risk of division: simply, catholics and protestants are much closer to each other than either group might have historically thought (although this explains why the C of E was able to bind them together so successfully for so long); and far closer to each other than either is to the liberal-latitudinarians. That is because the difference of the latter group is far more fundamental than between either of the other two. 'Transubstantiation vs. consubstantiation' or questions of Papal authority pale in comparison to new debates such as 'Jesus was really God and really man vs. Jesus might not even have existed' or (per Bp. Spong) 'the resurrection really happened vs. the resurrection is just symbolic' which are implied in matters like the recent events in the USA.

7 September 2009 at 13:54  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

@ Anonymous (11:21)—Don’t expect any sympathy from Cranmer. I emailed him a couple of months ago about the building of a large mosque in Dudley. He couldn’t have cared less, adducing liberal democracy and freedom of worship. By tolerating the intolerant, Cranmer and his like believe they’re being ‘holier than thou’ but they’re actually cutting the throat of Christianity in Britain.

•Johnny Rottenborough•

7 September 2009 at 14:03  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tories really do have a problem in maintainig relationships when people have left. It's problematic and in some cases quite spiteful. The pragmatism that governs our policies also governs our interpersonal skills and once someone has ceased to be of use, or who aren't complaining about something relevant then we just won't call them. One of ours got beaten 2 years back and just ignored - his wife now, at every opportunity, takes great joy from abusing us at any meeting she attends and I guess, in all fairness, I don't blame her at all.

7 September 2009 at 14:24  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace,

As a new member of the Conservative party and as a member of the Church of England may I submit a few observations.

There was a strong link between the Church of England and the Conservative party.

Perhaps the socio-political link could be summed p by the following command: Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God.

The Church of England's membership has declined over the decades. The decline appears to be a symptom of an uncertainty in God's existence amongst the clergy which has overflowed, through sermons, from the pulpit to the pew. Believers realising that what was being preached was no different from that which is available on the street corner - have left to make their way to the street corner.

It is written: where there is no vision the people perish.

The modern Conservative party is exactly that 'modern'. Modern in the sense that it appears not to evince eternal values and principles that appeal to men and women who, probably acting, subconciously emulate what they received from their parents: to put God, family and country before themselves.

A patriotic love for their country (that is completely different from the aberration of nationalism).

The Conservative party can afford the luxuory of thousands of men and women drifting away because their presence is replaced by the corporate donor. There is no vacuum.

The Conservative party is failing to reach men in the north of our country. In the less prosperous north, men need a leader with a vision. They need hope. They do not see that in Cameron. They do not see a man of stature. He has no, what men call, Presence.

In the prosperous south our materialism chokes the need for a vision of hope for our country.

'I'm all right Jack.'

Thus, it is by default that men may vote for the Conservatives as there is no viable major alternative to them.

7 September 2009 at 14:46  
Blogger Dr.D said...

Is that Nero we hear fiddling?

7 September 2009 at 15:04  
Blogger Don't Call Me Dave said...

Could David Cameron’s apparent apathy to falling party membership simply be due to him sharing Labour’s desire for greater state funding of political parties?

It is rather inconvenient having to turn up to all these fund raising dinners and putting your hand your pocket for the obligatory raffle tickets. How much easier life would be if the taxpayer picked up the bill instead.

7 September 2009 at 15:58  
Blogger Wyrdtimes said...

It might have been an English institution once upon a time but these days the CofE seems more interested in supporting the introduction of Sharia law than supporting the people of England or even the idea of England itself.

Rotten to the core. It needs winding up and it's lands returning to the people.

7 September 2009 at 16:30  
Blogger John R said...

Maybe it's because what David Cameron leads is a party that has the Conservative name but isnt actually conservative in its policies?

Looking at the recent policy statements, shadow ministerial speeches etc you could be forgiven for having to check who was taking. It's all very much "Blu-Labour" instead of "Nu-Labour". Why would a Tory voter support either?

Similarly the CoE is now a fading social club with no firm, fixed views or beliefs on anything other than we should all be jolly nice to each other and not do anything to insult those poor immigrants in case they decide to riot.

7 September 2009 at 16:44  
Anonymous jeremy hyatt said...

Gnostic said... Archbish Beardy

This really is puerile name calling - also used on the same target by the tiresome Polly Toynbee. Does rhe fact Williams has a beard invalidate anything he says? If not what does the reference to his beard add to anything?

7 September 2009 at 17:35  
Anonymous Pure Rot said...

Dam and blast all of it!

7 September 2009 at 17:44  
Blogger Dr.D said...

@ jeremy hyatt

"Does the fact that Williams has a beard invalidate anything he says?"

No, the it what is says that invalidates his statements. The beard is the only thing that is real and has validity, something people can see and believe in. That much it real; its all the rest that is fake.

7 September 2009 at 18:06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's too simple:

If you want the people to support you, show the people that you support them.

If you don't, they won't.

Soooo - aha. They don't want the people to support them. They want to impose alien power on the people and beat them into some other shape. They are henchmen for the invaders.

8 September 2009 at 01:25  
Anonymous len said...

The body( or the church) without the Spirit is dead.

8 September 2009 at 07:54  
Blogger True Belle said...

The problem lies back with Conservative central office and the very ghastly staff who answer telephone queries for the public!

They are not user friendly and some forget that TORIES exist way beyond the home counties!

Local bods often wonder why they should fundraise when Camerons inner circle is seen quaffing good booze and grub etc, to fund raise!!

Good stalwart members have been forgotten and their opinions dismissed and so any way believe that other options may be more attractive.

8 September 2009 at 08:23  
Blogger Young Mr. Brown said...

the Conservative Party’s increasing popularity under David Cameron

I'm not sure that the Conservative Party's popularity is increasing under David Cameron. It is merely receiving the benefit of increasing disenchantment with the Labour Party.

Margaret Thatcher’s reign was mirrored at Lambeth by the sometimes equally-intractable Robert Runcie, which gave way to the indecision of the Major-Carey years

That's the first time I've ever heard Robert Runcie described in those terms!

8 September 2009 at 11:16  

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