LONDON- At 1 p.m. in the west of London, near the exit of the Ladbroke Grove tube station, a Christian candidate for Parliament on the Conservative Party ticket strides past a woman in full Islamist head-to-toe dress. A realtor in what was a depressed neighborhood advertises a two-bedroom flat on sale for 350,000 pounds (about $710,000). No customers are in a shop that advertises Bailey's Irish Cream in both English and Arabic, but a line waits at the counter of U.S. Fried Chicken.
At 2 p.m. in the east of London, the leader of the Christian Peoples Alliance walks past Canning Town businesses: Amazing Grace Afro Caribbean Food, Bargain Meat Centre (featuring Fresh Halal Meat), and His Grace Hairdressing, which offers curly perms, straight perms, braids, plaits, and weaves. No patrons at the Signs and Wonders Hair Salon are in sight, but a line waits at the counter of Dallas Chicken and Ribs.
Westside, eastside, all around this sprawling metropolis of 12-14 million, demographics are changing, prices are rising, and small groups of Christians are engaging the radically secular culture that surrounds them. How they fare will powerfully affect the future of a land once salted by Christianity, now sprinkled by Islam.
As Shaun Bailey, the 35-year-old grandson of immigrants from Jamaica, walked through westside Ladbroke one afternoon, he regularly called out to young men, "What's happening, bro?" They all responded with a wave, and some crossed Golborne Road to talk with him, darting past sidewalk stalls where sellers hawk clothes, games, shoes, and toilet tissue.
"Street work allows me to meet them in an arena where they feel comfortable," said Bailey, a 6-foot-tall, muscular youth worker. He tried to convince a fat English bloke to enter a training course: "It's not like sitting in college." He spoke with a bearded Moroccan immigrant who wore jeans and a jean jacket, and later explained, "He's a hustler, but he wants to go straight. My job is to challenge them, and if they offer crap, to tell them it's crap."
As Bailey walked past the neighborhood's three-story buildings, which typically sported first-floor shops with flats above, he sometimes singled out individuals sitting at small outdoor cafés. He told a slightly built 17-year-old Moroccan, "I've got a job opening for you. You'll be a proper businessman. Here's my card. All day Wednesday I'll be there. . . . I'm not going to call you, you have to come see me if you're serious."
He later estimated the teen's likelihood of showing up at 50-50. "I know he's been doing some bad stuff, but if he shows up we'll have the conversation. I'll tell him this is his chance to be a big man." If the person responds, Bailey gives him a GPS navigation tool (valued at $600) that will enable him to deliver take-out food. The would-be seller has to rent a cycle and pay insurance.
Bailey gave out another card to a man who kept glancing furtively down the road. "They all know I'm not a copper," he said, and then reported that he's handed out those navigation tools about 60 times and, amazingly, has yet to lose an investment: "I'm taking a risk, but if he absconds he knows he's hurting others. Besides, he knows he's likely to bump into me again."
If the teen succeeds as a deliverer, what comes next? "That's entirely up to him," Bailey responded. "Labour Party politicians say that delivering take-out is not much of a job, but the point is to get him used to the idea of working and earning legitimate money. He's also learning a lot from paying bills, because that means he is a big man who gives money to others. The job will keep him busy, give him self-respect, and start him thinking about how he can earn more money, legit. In three or four months he'll come back to me with a new business idea."
Working with donations and funds from a charitable trust, Bailey has also paid college fees for some among the poor and has equipped others for jobs as locksmiths, bicycle repairers, and hair cutters. When he recently sent 13 people to be trained for repairing railway lines, 11 gained jobs. (The other two failed drug tests.)
Bailey knows deprivations and temptations. When he was growing up, "my dad was almost entirely absent, so my mum kept me going to church until I was 13 or 14, but I escaped from that at my first opportunity." Three years ago Bailey had been a youth worker for a dozen years and was thinking of trying another occupation where he would earn more money, until something happened: "My girlfriend said I should do Alpha," the evangelistic program that has been influential across England.
Bailey says he went "to argue with the vicar, to show him how clever I was," but found himself believing in the resurrection and other doctrines: "What got me the most is when the vicar said Christianity is not a religion, but a faith. . . . Then I started reading the Bible. It was almost like it was written for me. . . . I had been a self-control freak, so I prayed that God would take control of my life. And that's what happened. . . . When I stopped having fear of failure I had more success."
He started paying attention to what was happening not only in the streets but also in government offices: "Well-meaning white people have hurt us, and we've been self-indulgent. . . . They remove religion from schools but give out condoms, and girls end up with lone parenting their only career choice. They talk about rights but not responsibilities, as if blokes are incapable. . . . Add to that school failure. Some children are not going to be academically sharp, yet school doesn't teach them any vocational skills. . . . The government sucks in all the pounds and wastes them."
As Bailey made his opinions known, he found himself invited to Conservative Party gatherings: "First they wonder who I am, but when I talk they think, 'Bloody hell, he's making sense.'" The next step came when Conservative Party leader David Cameron, born into privilege and without inner-city experience, began consulting Bailey. A third step came earlier this year when the Conservatives nominated him for a seat in Parliament, the next election for which is likely to come in 2009 or 2010.
Black conservatives flummox U.S. liberals, and Britain's Labour Party reacts similarly. Bailey said, "Labour wants people to think that Conservatives all wear tweed jackets and have offshore bank accounts, and that blokes from my background will automatically join them. Labour actually is saying, 'You're not clever enough to think for yourself.'" But Bailey is, and he's also done the right thing personally: He married the girlfriend who pressed him to acknowledge Christ, and they had a baby earlier this year.
On the other side of the metropolis, Alan Craig walked around his Canning Town ward in east London and explained that his is the poorest neighborhood in the city, judging by the percentage of people living on state benefits: "This is where I want to be. I stand up for the vulnerable, the marginalized, because I'm a Christian." He said he favors private enterprise because "initiative and creativity are part of God's creation," but he also pointed out proudly the spot where Kier Hardie, a Christian Socialist and Labour Party founder, announced his candidacy to represent the Canning Town environs in Parliament: "I'm part of that tradition."
The "working class" element of that tradition has eroded as some residents became affluent and left, and others became members of the non-working, welfare class. German bombers during World War II leveled the area, which is close to docks famous for launching the first ironclad ship in 1860 and many since then-yet residents returned when the British government after the war responded by building drab, brown brick apartment buildings that have lasted for 60 years. But two new pressures on the neighborhood are likely to affect residents as much as German bombs and British bureaucrats did.
One friend/enemy of current residents is visible: Craig gestured toward the huge corporate buildings of Canary Wharf just to the south; three of them are the tallest in Britain. The buildings house offices of heavy hitters like Morgan Stanley and Barclays: Canary Wharf now rivals the downtown "City of London" as a commercial center. The whole development, begun two decades ago under Margaret Thatcher's watch, has created 100,000 jobs, many of them well-paid: Canary Wharf office workers eat at places like Hartley's, which sells "the American burger" (with organic leanback bacon and cheese) for $17.
Those who pay such prices are also willing to pay a lot for lodging, so Canning Town condominiums are beginning to replace the old housing as corporate workers look for space. The 2012 Olympics, which will stage most of its events in the Canning Town area, will accelerate that process. Canning Town will become prosperous not by dealing with the problems of poor residents but by driving them out. Craig does not romanticize the old way of life, with its family breakdown, addiction, and unemployment; he emphasizes the need for spiritual regeneration but also works hard to deal with specific material problems as they arise.
One political problem for Craig, plus the two other members of his Christian Peoples Alliance elected to the 66-member borough council, is that that they gained votes by offering better constituent services than increasingly out-of-touch Labour. CPA newsletters headline offers to help constituents: "If you don't receive your [Winter Fuel] Payment, ring us and we will chase the claim for you. . . . Do you know an area that needs a cleanup? Ring Tom." An upwardly mobile Canning Town will remove some of the huge needs for services by which the CPA has gained a beachhead: Craig said, "Middle-class people don't have much demand for local council. They live in gated high blocks with porters downstairs."
The other squeeze on Canning Town is likely to come from Islam. The radical Muslim group Tablighi Jamaat (which translates as "Proselytising Group") wants to build a huge mosque nearby, along with a religious boarding school for up to 500 pupils. Craig has led the opposition, describing Tablighi Jamaat as an "ambitious, separatist and isolationist group," and pointing out the oddities of the sect. For example, strict members brush their teeth with a twig because Muhammad supposedly did so.
Craig has had some success at gumming up the works, at least forcing the Islamic group to hire a leading London public relations firm. He has also attacked Tony Blair and his Labour Party not only for ignoring needs in his area but for instituting "a fear agenda under the guise of the 'War on Terror'" while overlooking specific threats from Islamist groups based in East London. Craig wants a ban on one militant group active in his area, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which he says is filled with "hatred, intolerance, and deceit."
Craig also speaks of other threats; for example, "secular fundamentalists are trying to impose their agenda on the rest of us." He's angry about the direction of the Conservative Party and particularly its leader, David Cameron: "He's just Blair No. 2. Socially liberal. It's all about spin and who's got the prettier face." But Craig's Christian separatist party, based in poor areas, faces the same problem as U.S. Christian separatist parties that tend to operate in suburban and exurban areas: Christians are a minority, so alliance-building, even though often unsatisfactory, is both a necessity and a temptation.
Does anyone in the Conservative Party impress Craig? What about candidates like Shaun Bailey recruited to run in poorer areas? Craig said, "Tories don't know what to talk about in an area like this." He did praise one Member of Parliament: "Iain Duncan Smith is doing good work. Since he stopped being leader he's a man liberated."
West side, east side, Parliament building: Iain Duncan Smith, pushed out two years ago from his post as Conservative Party leader, is now chairman of the Social Justice Policy Group of the Conservative Party. As he leaned forward on a dark leather chair in his dark-wood-paneled office lit softly by lamps, his words came rapid-fire like fireflies on a summer evening.
First he discussed five interlocked problems: family breakdown, addiction, educational failure, debt, and unemployment/dependency. Not settling for a superficial causality, he explained the interrelations: For example, family breakdown may contribute to educational failure that leads to unemployment, addiction, or debt. But any of those may also lead to family breakdown and a different chain of events.
Then he described the variety of obstacles and excuses that conservative reformers like himself face. He noted social and psychological obstacles: "Many people live in a world of one," existing solely in the present without connections to others or the willingness to commit to a job or a person. He noted tax obstacles, explaining that the British income tax includes disincentives for couples to stay together, since joint household income cannot be divided and is thereby taxed at a higher rate. He summarized economic excuses: With Britain's growth fueled by an influx of motivated and educated tradesmen from Eastern Europe, middle-class Brits have not complained about the failure of British schools to train for trades those who are academically unmotivated.
Political obstacles are also key, since the Conservative Party for years played to fear of communism and Labour's domestic socialism: "Conservatives said, 'You don't have to know about us, you just have to fear them.' We were defined in terms of what we hate. . . . Conservatives became prisoners of their own 1980s success. . . . They didn't realize that as Communism and Labour collapsed what had delivered Conservatives into power was going." Once socialism was no longer a threat abroad or at home, voters lost their old reasons for backing Conservative candidates.
Duncan Smith said some Conservatives found new enemies in immigrants and in Muslims generally, but that did not work: "You can have a strong negative message if it's not a message of nastiness and if you have respect as a rounded person. But if I know you're a selfish bastard and you attack a group, I don't want to support you." Duncan Smith wants to educate Members of Parliament and would-be members by having them spend five days volunteering at a nonprofit anti-poverty group. When they do, he said, they "utter three words: 'I never realized.' That's what I want to hear from them. They all say it." He also noted the political payoff: "Once you show you care, voters can't say you are a bastard."
Duncan Smith also emphasized the importance of "choosing the proper words when going before the public": For example, Conservatives should not "cut" programs, but should "enable people to fulfill their potential." He praised the American attempt to reclaim the word "compassion" from the left: From 2000 until last year he and David Cameron defined themselves as "compassionate conservatives." But, as Duncan Smith said, the term "now has baggage," so he is trying to yank back from the left another concept and term: "social justice."
That will be a major effort. On the left, social justice means not only equality before the law but equality of result, which-given the highly differentiated callings, talent, and discipline of humans-can only be brought about by governmental dictatorship. (Furthermore, over the past century those who first proclaimed that all are equal soon asserted that some are more equal than others.) Biblically, though, social justice has a different meaning, one displayed clearly in Exodus 22 and 23 and in practices such as gleaning: Do not oppress widows, orphans, and the aliens within your gates; neither exploit the poor nor be partial to them in lawsuits; provide employment opportunities to all in need.
Duncan Smith favors such social justice and is battling with the Conservative Party for such an understanding. In the soft light of his lamps, he paused for a moment in his optimistic accounting to lean forward and say, "It's very difficult. Colleagues here are impossible, really. They think life is just to kick at things."