Cover Story

London without a guidebook

"London without a guidebook" Continued...

Issue: "Minority report," Aug. 11, 2007

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.

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