UKIP has a track record of saying the unsayable and promoting inconvenient truth against the mainstream consensus. Brexit, control of immigration and opposition to gay marriage are just three issues where the party has, famously, refused to kowtow to the liberal establishment.
There is another issue too: the public role of the UK’s traditional religion.
Until recently Tory MP Andrea Leadsom had been a less than high-profile politician. But she’d frequently gone public about her Christianity and her religious reservations about – but personal support for – same-sex marriage.
These, together with some naïve comments about motherhood, brought a storm around her head from party colleagues and media alike during her brief bid for the Conservative Party leadership earlier this month.
Faced with this onslaught the MP withdrew from the contest. Journalist Allison Pearson interviewed her afterwards and concluded that “Leadsom was genuinely shocked by the poisonous attacks from within her own party. She said it was highly unlikely that the daily stories saying how useless/dishonest/Christian she was ‘are coincidental’.”
Anti-religious prejudice in the UK is reserved only for traditionalist Christians like Leadsom it seems. In her article Pearson drew attention to the fact that no-one calls London’s Muslim Mayor Sadiq Khan a ‘religious nutter’.
And when celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins claimed that then New Statesman editor Mehdi Hasan was disqualified for the job because of his Islamic beliefs, the media leapt en masse to the Muslim’s defence and it was Dawkins who came under sustained media fire.
By the end of the 19th century, laws requiring holders of public office to assent to particular religious beliefs had been repealed. Jews, Catholics, Puritans, Atheists – they were all free to participate in public life. It was a long time coming, but freedom of religion had come of age.
But step-by-step today’s secular Britain is turning back to public prejudice. As Andrea Leadsom found out, there is a new intolerance in the air.
And a wider targetted hostility can be observed, for instance, via the stand-up comedians in the popular TV series Live at the Apollo. Mock Christians or Christianity and the audience falls about laughing. This is no problem in a society that values satire and freedom of speech of course. Except that it does not, it seems, translate across onto Islam or atheism.
So who will step into the breach and stand against this rising tide of prejudice against the nation’s traditional religion?
Yup, once again: only UKIP.
In last year’s general election, ours was the sole party to publish a manifesto specifically for the faithful. In the document Policies for Christians, Nigel Farage wrote “UKIP is the only major political party left in Britain that still cherishes our Judeo-Christian heritage” and “we need a much more muscular defence of our Christian heritage and our Christian constitution”.
UKIP’s deputy leader Paul Nuttall was reported as saying too that “UKIP is the only party that will confidently protect the rights of Christians in the UK and speak out against the attack on our Christian heritage.”
The party was as good as its word. In the 2015 manifesto UKIP promised to “extend the legal concept of ‘reasonable accommodation’ to give protection in law to those expressing a religious conscience in the workplace“- in this case over same-sex marriage.
Since 1757 our society has been broad-minded enough to allow Quakers and other pacifists to refuse military service even in times of national peril, and freedom of conscience has developed into a fundamental feature of western democracy.
Yet the establishment’s growing liberal authoritarianism has meant that UKIP’s pledge on this issue is unique amongst the main political parties.
UKIP also has been the only party to speak up for Christian refugees from the Islamic Middle East and North Africa.
In Syria Christians are a vulnerable minority who frequently suffer the double whammy of having to flee first from Islamist violence in their home towns and villages, and subsequently from the hostility of militant Muslim migrants inside the refugee camps. In 2013 Nigel Farage faced down a storm of politically-correct censure when he called for the UK government to take in only Christian Syrian refugees.
Eighteen months later, after African Muslims threw Christian fellow migrants out of the boat while crossing the Mediterranean, the UKIP leader repeated his call for Christians only, this time from north Africa, to be offered refuge in Europe.
Farage and Nuttall have both resigned from party leadership and currently UKIP is looking for a new leader. Nominations close today, and hustings and voting will take place during August. The successful candidate will be announced at the party conference on 16th September.
Will he or she be sympathetic towards Christian values and defend the nation’s traditional religion? To find out, some CAUKIP (Christian Action in UKIP) colleagues and I have formulated an online questionnaire which we will be submitting to each declared candidate.
You can view it here.
We plan to publish the responses of the candidates on the CAUKIP website. If you’re interested, watch this space too.