Alton's Christians stick to 'pro-life' agenda

The fast-growing Movement for Christian Democracy seems obsessed with just one issue. Paul Routledge reports

THE MOVEMENT for Christian Democracy is one of the country's fastest- growing political organisations, with twice as many members as the National Union of Mineworkers and more adherents than the Socialist Workers' Party. Last year, it forced a reluctant Home Secretary to tighten the law on video violence, and in the coming months it plans legislation to make abortion harder.

Yet until David Alton, the Liberal Democrat MP and the MCD's best-known spokesman, announced last week that he was leaving Parliament, the body he co-founded had seldom been heard of outside church confines.

Mr Alton, the semi-detached member of Paddy Ashdown's parliamentary party, foresees the day when a fully-fledged Christian Democrat Party, on European lines, might emerge from the movement he helped set up only five years ago.

If politically-minded Christians fail to convert the major parties to their objectives, he argues, "those who wished to do so could proceed with the development of a party and agenda unashamedly based on Judaeo- Christian values. As in the rest of Europe, its appeal would go way beyond the church-going or even nominally believing community". Christians should not close off this option, he insists. "A cosy circle organising genteel parties or London dinners will never be listened to."

But that was how it all started. In January 1989, Mr Alton brought together 20 like-minded souls for a three-day think-in at Prinknash Abbey in Gloucestershire. They agreed on five uniting values: respect for life, social justice, reconciliation, active compassion and good stewardship. They called themselves the Epiphany Group, and held a number of dinners at the Commons before setting up a political movement under the chairmanship of Dr Robert Song of Cranmer College, Durham. The new body had its inaugural conference in November 1990.

The MCD has since gone from strength to strength, attracting "political animals who are not at home in any existing party". It has forged links with Christian Democrats on the continent - it is enthusiastically, even federally European - and it has drawn up policy statements on full employment and the evils of debt. In October, it has its annual conference in Birmingham, where speakers include Tory peer Baroness Cox.

But a casual reader of the bi-monthly Christian Democrat (circulation 45,000, mainly through churches) might be forgiven for thinking the movement has been captured by the radical religious right. Its agenda is unrelentingly "pro-life": anti-abortion, hostile to China's population-control programme, and opposed to "Emily's List" of women aspiring to be Labour MPs, who have to be "pro-choice".

Virtually the whole of the front page of the current edition is taken up by an emotive advertisement for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, and a lead story headlined "Abortion agonies", which discloses details of the movement's campaign "to highlight foetal pain and terror", and to change the abortion laws. Inside is a page devoted to establishing a link between abortion and breast cancer. There is also a proposal to set up "Esther's List", which would have a "pro-life" agenda.

Mr Alton rejects the "single-issue" tag, pointing to the variety of topics on which the movement has issued policy papers. He also stresses the organisation's all-party support, though this may be more apparent than real. It has some Labour members, but the late John Smith instructed Labour MPs to sever their links with the movement because of its relationship with continental Christian Democrats and the European People's Party, which is in opposition to the dominant Socialist group at Strasbourg.

Nor is there much Christian love lost between the MCD and the Christian Socialist Movement, of which Tony Blair is a strong supporter. Chris Bryant, chair of the 2,300-member CSM, says Mr Alton's organisation is composed of "people who are theologically conservative". He adds: "MCD is an organisation that pretends to bring together people from all political parties around core Christian themes but, I fear, generally attracts conservative-thinking people around a personal moral agenda rather than a political one.

"A Christian Democrat party would be a nonsense - and close to heretical, because it enlists Jesus or God to a political cause." And a Christian Democrat government, he says, would turn Britain into a theocracy. "You would outlaw abortion, divorce and homosexuality because the state would need to legislate on personal moral issues."

Mr Alton, who is likely to take a professorial chair of Politics and Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University after the general election, admits that a Christian Democrat party could get off the ground only if the electoral system were changed. "It would be absurd to contest elections under the first-past-the-post system. You would strike the rocks very rapidly. No doubt if you change the voting system it would be very surprising if there was not a fundamental realignment of politics."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee