David Cameron does Songs of Praise
He told Songs of Praise: "I believe in God and I'm a Christian and I worship - not as regularly as I should - but I go to church. Do I drop to my knees and ask for guidance whenever an issue comes up? No, I don't. But it's part of who I am."
There is something refreshingly honest about this appearance which is in stark contrast to that of Tony Blair, and even more to Gordon Brown's attempts to 'do God'. And this is not a trivial, partisan point: Mr Blair purposely did not 'do God' whilst in office, which gave the impression of dissembling: everyone knew that he did 'do God' in private and unashamedly converted to God quite spectacularly on leaving Downing Street. Fair or not, there is more than a whiff of hypocrisy about him. And Gordon Brown undoubtedly has a sincere Christian faith, and yet he is far more comfortable talking about his father's commitment than his own, so much so that when he does it feels insincere. When he talks of his spirituality it is with all the emotion of a Terminator: his compassion is expressed in the dialogue of fiscal rectitude and salvation lies in tax credits.
David Cameron has perhaps learned from both. We live in a 'spiritual' age: it is not fond of orthodoxy, but it demands appreciation of that which lies beyond the carnal and material. In order for Conservatism to regain its compassion, he understands that 'heart' and 'society' need to be re-injected into the brand.
And yet Mr Cameron is keen to give the impression that God will not enter Downing Street as he indicates that he does not get on his knees to pray for help 'when an issue comes up'. We all know he is talking of the 'big' issues, like war and peace. But what is wrong with praying to God before making such monumental decisions? Is there some shame in this? Or is the fear that of accusations of 'Christian jihad' and the perception of an oxymoronic Anglican Crusade? The bizarre thing is that moments of crisis are precisely when most people do fall on their knees: God is the final refuge; when there is no crisis, God is superfluous.
In an apparent reference to the death earlier this year of his son Ivan, Mr Cameron said that tough times in his life had strengthened his faith: "For me, and I suspect for lots of other people too, bad things actually sometimes make you think more about faith and the fact that you're not facing these things on your own," he said.
Mr Cameron said he prayed when he went to church, and described it as 'a quiet time when you can reflect a bit about your life and your family and your responsibilities and ask some questions'.
Asked whether he would follow his Christian beliefs or his political instincts when making a tough decision, he said: "I think all the time in politics, you're always thinking about what's the right thing to do. Politicians are always a bit of a mixture of ego and altro and you just hope that the altro wins out and that people do the right thing rather than the politically convenient thing.
"And by and large I think in politics, if you do the right things and stick to your principles then that comes through."
He sums up his Christian faith: "That's what it is to me. Church and prayer have always been about that. It's a moment to stop, to stand back and to sort of think about how you're getting on."
The Church of England has become a way of being religious without sounding religious, and Mr Cameron is perfectly Anglican. His moral compass has not sprung out of thin air: it is consistent with the moral tone of three centuries of Tory-Anglican fusion.
The media rarely report on the Church of England except when the institution is beset by embarrassment (which is frequent) or chaos (which is legion). The considerable amount of sacrificial good work and unpaid volunteerism which goes on is almost entirely disregarded. And the Church does not blow its own trumpet, not just for fear of sounding pharisaical, but because it knows it is in many ways quite weak. It cannot remain the Established Church by being the church triumphant: it has instead to be the church tolerant and inclusive, which makes friends with anyone of good will, including not only the local Roman Catholics but the local Muslims, and which encourages women to take over those roles which were previously reserved for men. Rather like the Conservative Party under David Cameron: an organisation which many thought to be dying — it is only four years since Geoffrey Wheatcroft published its highly enjoyable obituary under the title ‘The Strange Death of Tory England’ — but which is instead regenerating itself.
Perhaps, under David Cameron, the rift between the Conservative Party and the Church of England - which sadly reached its nadir under Margaret Thatcher - will be healed. Both Party and Church would benefit from a zenith of partnership and cooperation like that seen during the nineteenth century, when both shared a commitment to the maintenance of Establishment in the face of fierce opposition from the dissenting churches and the Liberal Party. The labels have changed slightly, but they are the same spiritual forces. One can only pray that David Cameron will manifest the wisdom and discernment necessary to defeat them.