Hague says low tax is Christian policy

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The Independent Online
WILLIAM HAGUE will today argue the "Christian case for lower taxes" when he launches a campaign to reconnect the Conservative Party with its church-going roots.

In a direct challenge to Tony Blair's use of religion to underpin New Labour ideals, the Tory party leader will claim that individual freedom lies at the heart of Christianity.

Mr Hague will quote the Methodist pioneer John Wesley's edict to "gain all you can, save all you can and give all you can" when he delivers a keynote speech to the Conservative Christian Fellowship tonight.

Mr Hague, who will claim that sex before marriage is not a "sin", will also end his party's traditional dislike of the clergy interfering in politics and call for more clerics to debate government policy.

The new campaign is in part a response to Mr Blair's claim before the general election that Christians would find it difficult to vote Tory. Many Tories were furious with the comments and wanted a strong restatement of the religious values that underlie their party's belief in the family and self-reliance.

Echoing Margaret Thatcher's infamous view that the Good Samaritan could not have helped anyone if he had not been rich, Mr Hague will say that Conservatives should not be afraid to make the "moral case for capitalism".

"Freedom and free will lie at the heart of Christianity. Conservative politicians and thinkers from Burke to Disraeli to Lord Hailsham have always drawn heavily on Judeo-Christian ideas," he will say. "Ideas about the freedom and dignity of individual human beings, about our mutual obligations to one another and our personal responsibility to care for our family and our neighbours."

However, in contrast to Baroness Thatcher's clashes with senior clerics, such as the Bishop of Durham over her economic policies, Mr Hague will encourage more clerical intervention. Several Tory officials were impressed two weeks ago when the new Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev James Jones, appeared on television and radio to attack government plans to remove the married man's tax allowance.

While admitting the Church of England can no longer be described as "the Tory party at prayer", Mr Hague will welcome such contributions and claim that Conservatives should not be afraid to use their faith to back their beliefs.

"Sometimes, people who've been in a leading role in the church have found it very easy to embrace collectivist, left-wing solutions to problems and, I think, placed to much faith in government intervention. I want to redress that balance a little and I want to form an alliance with those people who would like to see the church do that."

A new Conservative and Churches Standing Committee will be created in an effort to re-establish contact with the Church of England, particularly in the inner cities.

"It's important that the Conservative Party reconnects with the churches and learns from the churches," Mr Hague said last night. "A lot of people thought that we didn't listen to people enough in the last few years. Whether they were right or wrong about that, we now have to put straight that perception.

"I'll also be talking about the importance of voluntary action, of charitable activity, of how they're often much more effective at helping people than action taken by governments and local authorities, which can be extremely insensitive."

Gary Streeter MP, chairman of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, denied that Mr Hague was trying to win the moral majority. "Our view is that we need Christians in all parties," he said.

"Over the last 18 years we became disconnected from a lot of church groups. It was a period when we appeared to become more concerned about pounds, shillings and pence than wider, deeper values."

The CCF was founded eight years ago and has more than 1,000 members, including Ann Widdecombe, Peter Lilley and Sir Brian Mawhinney. In the recently published book of interviews, Christians in the House, Ms Widdecombe espoused her belief in "Christian capitalism".

Steve Richards, Review, page 3

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