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
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there