On a grey, pebbledash estate in Inverness, an out-of-work salesman in blue slippers is already scrutinising potential candidates for his new party. Daniel Hart and his Christian Unity Party plan to translate the current flap about family breakdown into a political transformation. Out will go old Left vs Right secular politics; in will come US-style single-issue crusades, with abortion centre stage. Unhappily for Mr Hart, things are not quite going to plan.
Mr Hart founded the CUP this summer, in a flush of success following his campaign to keep condom machines out of local secondary schools. A Catholic activist in his 50s with no direct political experience, who describes himself as "apolitical", he will fight the local seat himself. And he has invited, through the letters pages of the Catholic press, like- minded souls to join his party and stand for parliament across the country.
"The pro-life movement has not been nearly vociferous enough," he laments. "When the local council proposed putting condom machines in schools, I wrote to over 80 local ministers, asking them to appeal to their congregations to complain. Councillors received hundreds of letters, and they decided not to go ahead with the plan! You see, it showed that there was still a strong Christian ideal, and something had to be done. The problem is, we haven't had a real voice since Enoch Powell."
Shy, softly spoken and slightly twitchy, a less likely latterday Powell than Mr Hart would be hard to imagine, but his views on abortion are unswerving. It is wrong, a sin against God, as are contraception and divorce. He long ago quit the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (Spuc), the anti-abortion movement's leading body, because it failed to condemn contraception.
There will be no exceptions in the CUP's stance against abortion. In rape cases, the victim would, he says, hopefully "be flushed out before conception takes place." Does he mean the morning-after pill?
"Lord, no! Oh no." At this point he becomes embarrassed. "I'm talking about ... I don't know what it's called. It's rather like an enema, but the other side." What Mr Hart means is a douche, an old-fashioned "contraceptive" largely thought to increase chances of conception.
If CUP rhetoric sounds like US-style politics, the reality of the operation is more Laurel and Hardy than Billy Graham. The party's candidate selection procedure is unusual. Interested applicants have been issued with a six- page questionnaire, containing 43 questions designed to test their Christian moral fibre.
To help assess their responses, Mr Hart has drafted in Father James Morrow, a life long anti-abortion campaigner.
He is very anxious not to disclose what the "right" answers are, "because then people will know what to put down, won't they?" (It is hard to imagine applicants in any doubt of the "right" answer to questions such as "Should family planning clinics be permitted to ply under-aged children with contraceptives?") But the following questions, he acknowledged, "were the ones people tended to fall down on". These were: "Should employers be allowed to operate short-term contracts of employment?"; "Should the emphasis be on the rehabilitation of law-breakers or on their long-term incarceration?" ("Some people don't seem to have very much charity in their hearts," he sighed); and "What do you think of the privatisation of the utilities?"
Of some 30 initial applicants, only three had passed the test by last Wednesday. (He called later in the week, to report that he thinks he may have a fourth.) All, to date, are men - he knows little else about their background, having neglected to enquire. The important thing was getting the answers right. If the CUP has been less than inundated with model candidates, support from the broader anti-abortion movement has also been disappointing. Jack Scarisbrick, chair of Life, says he has never heard of Mr Hart. Ian Murray, director of Spuc in Scotland, is dismissive: "We never campaign on behalf of any political party, and we made the point months ago that a Christian or pro-life party could be a threat to the unity of the pro-life movement."
If the CUP is to prosper, it requires both a tide of public opposition to abortion, and an upsurge in the fortunes of single-issue politics. Neither appears to be taking place. Last week's MORI poll for the Independent on Sunday found that a majority of women - 57 per cent - believe the abortion law should be left as it is. In a new MORI poll for the National Abortion Campaign and Marie Stopes, over half the women supported early abortion on request. In both polls, the majority said that a candidate's views on abortion had no significant bearing on which way they would vote.
Fortunately for Mr Hart, he is, he says, an eternal optimist. "I don't worry about tomorrow. God will take care of that." He would, however, like us to print his address, in case any readers wish to apply for a questionnaire.
Christian Unity Party, 25 Old Town Place, Hilton, Inverness. Tel 01463 223376Reuse content