It has been the most frequent question posed over the past month or so – sometimes emailed or DM’d; most often tweeted, and frequently interrogated in the chat threads. It isn’t only Christians on the left who ask: “How can a Christian vote Tory?”, though they are invariably the most piously judgmental with their patronising incredulity, as though righteous Socialism were somehow ordained by God; and Jesus, were he to walk upon England’s green and pleasant land, wouldn’t think twice about voting Labour in the prayerful hope of a compassionate coalition with the SNP. No, the question is also posed by cynical Conservatives and sceptical Kippers, both world weary of the Cameron brand of counterfeit Conservatism; disappointed with a litany of broken promises; disenchanted by the soft soap of deception; disillusioned with the sweet talk of jam tomorrow, when tomorrow patently never comes.
David Cameron is not the Conservative Party any more that Justin Welby is the Church of England. They presently lead their respective herds of fractious faithful while stewarding centuries of accumulated wisdom and performing the ceremonies of myth. But man’s leadership is ephemeral; his guidance provisional. Values endure.
The Church of England may no longer be the Tory Party at prayer, but surely Christians and Conservatives can agree that the old Anglican political theology has, on balance, been a force for good in the nation, and the exclusive link of Church and State has, historically, been a partnership which has helped to forge identity, impart truth and inculcate a sense of morality. There is no particular moment in history when the Church was established: it has simply always been so – the spiritual and secular united under the authority of the Monarch, anointed and clothed in the priestly vestments of coronation; appointed to rule righteously and justly, in accordance with the Moral Law and the sacred oracles of God.
The Christian does not primarily vote Conservative because of the taxation policy, defence spending, foreign intervention, social theory or manifesto commitments to feed the poor, house the homeless, heal the sick or offer refuge to widows and orphans. All of these are, of course, important, and the Christian may well be inspired to vote, agitate or legislate for a particular shade of liberty. But Conservative opinion in these areas differs, sometimes to the point of philosophical incoherence. Where Conservatism is uncompromising is in the preservation of religion – Christianity – perhaps no longer as its highest duty, but certainly as part of the sacral texture of public life. Conservatism repudiates the abstract truths of socialism and the exalted claims of liberalism: it seeks to govern by the dynamic political trinity of tradition, reason and pragmatism, mindful of the foundations and sensitive to mutable perspectives. It eschews revolution: it is not ‘radical’ in the sense of desiring to sweep away the old paths or attenuate our historical vision to persuade us of the latest revelation.
You may not believe that the Conservative vine is capable of bearing good fruit, and that it ought to be chopped down. You may be persuaded that David Cameron is a false prophet of paternalistic obligation who has conspired to lead an insensitive assault upon hallowed tradition, and that he ought to be cut off. You may, in the heat of political debate, apprehend Christian theology differently, envisage the gospel more socially, or allege another truth. But, please, temper your hostilty to those of us whose disposition inclines toward the prejudices of Edmund Burke channelled through the aspirations and expectations of Disraeli, Peel, Churchill, Macmillan and Thatcher. We do not all seek the patronage of sinecure or the gongs and baubles of honour and favour. Some of us are simply trying – in the coalition of our minds and the gentle pragmatism of our experience – to find the best way of feeding our soul, providing for our family and loving our neighbour. In that order.