Labour's day

International | Liberal Prime Minister Tony Blair enjoys a massive lead on the eve of parliamentary elections

Issue: "Power struggle," May 26, 2001

in London-In 1997 Tony Blair's Labour Party ousted the Conservatives with Britain's biggest electoral swing in over a century. The Conservative revolution that began in 1979 when Margaret Thatcher moved into Number Ten Downing Street ended with half of all Conservative members of Parliament losing their seats. Four years later Tony Blair enjoys a 20 percent opinion poll lead over the Conservative opposition for the election to be held on June 7. This opinion poll lead largely reflects the buoyant British economy and a Conservative Party that is still in transition. A victory perhaps even larger than in 1997 seems possible. In 1997 Labour won a majority of Christian votes, too. Although fewer than 10 percent of Britons regularly attend church, the language of Christianity still resonates, and Mr. Blair has been described as the most religious prime minister in modern times. He laces campaign rhetoric with biblical imagery, and photographs of him attending church with his wife and four young children are a PR adviser's dream: Bill Clinton without even the hint of a Monica Lewinsky. Mr. Blair's record, though, is one that should alienate Britain's dwindling number of churchgoers. His administration abolished the last recognition of marriage in the tax system in favor of a complex means-tested system of benefits for families with children. (Britain now has the biggest marriage tax penalty in Europe.) Labour allows Christian broadcasters to apply for radio licenses only if they include multi-faith scheduling. Labour attempted to repeal Conservative legislation that banned the promotion of the homosexual lifestyle in schools. (Only the House of Lords thwarted this politically correct madness.) In foreign policy, Mr. Blair has chosen grandstanding with questionable world leaders over hard talk about human rights. He has cultivated a close relationship with Russia's Vladimir Putin and was silent over Chechnya. When Chinese dictator Jiang Zemin visited, London police were instructed to keep placards of peaceful demonstrators out of sight. Mr. Blair himself has voted for abortion and human cloning. He may be personally devout but, as the editor of one of Britain's biggest-selling newspapers put it, he exploits the appeal of Christianity but ignores its content. Some Christians are deserting the Labour Party, but many are expected to vote Labour because of Mr. Blair's oft-expressed personal beliefs. The contrast between the churchgoing Blair and his conservative opponent, William Hague, is sharp. Mr. Hague is an irregular churchgoer but has a consistent pro-life voting record and a program that supports religious liberty and family values. He would introduce tax cuts for married couples and parents who sacrifice earnings to bring up children. He would end discrimination against Christian broadcasters and appoint an Envoy for Religious Freedom to investigate persecution across the world. He would establish an Office of Civil Society modeled, in part, on George W. Bush's faith-based initiative, and designed to ensure that effective faith-based charities receive a no-strings-attached share of public funds. He would subsidize Britain's hospice movement as the best way of countering growing calls for euthanasia. One-third of Britain's Christians are evangelicals; they are the only group of Christians growing in number, but few Christians look beyond the personalities involved and even fewer join political parties. It looks like more years of Labour domination are coming, and in that time enormous damage will be done to the country that was once transformed by the Christian worldview of men like Shaftesbury and Wilberforce.

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