U.K. red and blue all over

UnionJack.jpgHere’s an item from the long-dormant GetReligion assignment desk:

Working title: The use of religion in American politics vs. its counterpart in the U.K.

Format: In-depth multipart series. (Think of the recent Julia Duin series in The Washington Times, plus a few more parts.)

Difficulties: Would have to decipher thick English accents and eat British food.

Upside: You might win a Pulitzer.

Some notes: Don’t look only at what the politicians are saying, but step back and take in the whole media fishbowl. The American form of Christianity is strong, loud, and highly individualistic. The British religion is largely lapsed, quiet, more corporate.

Both George W. Bush and Tony Blair are practicing Christians, but Bush is more outspoken about his religious faith (though not as outspoken as one would expect) while Blair has taken to warning against “an American style of politics, with us all going out there beating our chest about our faith.”

The general religious currents in England are also more liberal than in the U.S., so Conservative Party leader Michael Howard managed to cause a huge row by promising to pull the latest legal date for an abortion from the 24th week to the 20th, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, gave a speech last Tuesday in which he attacked the “scandal” of globalization.

In fact, in this election season (polls to be held Thursday) classical liberal ideas have been tossed right out the window.

The Tories (the red team) promise some small tax cuts, but the real focus is more on social and moral order: law and order, abortion, restricting immigration. They haven’t even really attempted to lie about future cuts in spending, and have attacked Labour from the left for introducing fees to state-run British universities.

Labour and its fellow travelers are pitching government as a bulwark against the ravages of market forces. Blair, worried that the frankly populist Howard campaign will manage to make real inroads into his probably unbeatable majority, has decided to go all Harry Truman on the Tories. At a speech today he warned that if the Conservatives win, there go your mortgages.

Remember, this election presents British voters with two kinds of unabashed populism — what we in the U.S. might call red state and blue state populism, for lack of a better term. It will be entertaining to see how the local press deals with the fallout.

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  • http://noleftturns.ashbrook.org Joseph Knippenberg

    I wrote about this some weeks ago for the Ashbrook Center website: “Religion and (Abortion) Politics in Great Britain: Tony Blair’s Faithworks Speech” (http://www.ashbrook.org/publicat/oped/knippenberg/05/blair.html).

  • http://uuhispano.blogspot.com Vilanovanus

    In the 70s you could say that Religion was totally irrelevant in British politics. Now you can say that Religion is *mostly* irrelevant. I guess there has been some change there, but don’t expect British politicians to say that Jesus is their favorite philosopher!

  • http://benedictionblogson.com Bene Diction

    Canadians don’t say that either, neither do Australians, New Zealanders and other former colonies. It is less about irrelevancy and more about cultural differences.

    Tony Blair’s strong ties to the US led Iraq war, and the leaked memos has given oppositions politicians opportunity play the typical religious cards played in US elections.

  • http://www.rogeraubrey.com Roger Aubrey

    Sorry chaps (ironic British accent here): I couldn’t get past ‘Would have to decipher thick English accents and eat British food’.

    This coming from BigMacSupersize Land? Accents are wonderful – the Irish lilt; the Scottish burr; the Welsh hwyl (we even have our own language here in Wales). Ever been to Alabama or Tennessee? And what about Noo York? I think they might have a slight accent.

    I love visiting America; I even like the way you speak.

  • http://theconnexion.net/wp/ Richard Hall

    I’m not sure where to start…


    Calling the tories the red team is a basic cultural error. Reublicans may be red, but British tories are blue. Labour are the red team.

    It is true that Christians in Britain are more likely to be left-leaning than our American brothers and sister – the founders of Trade Unionism and the Labour Party in Britain were largely Christians (many of them Methodist) and that legacy remains with us. Here, Christian and socialist are not taken to be opposites. Americans often find that hard to understand, but we see the world differently.

    Intersting that you use the words “weak” and “strong” in relation to British and US Christianity. I know what you mean, but perhaps what St paul said about strength and weakness should be borne in mind. And though there has been a decline in the institutional church in Britain, that has been matched by decline in most member-based organisations that demand commitment and active participation: the decline may have more to do with cultural changes than loss of faith. (Although I accept that faith which is not sustained by a community of believers tends to weaken and wither)

    As to accents, ditto what Roger said. And food.