By CCF Director Gareth Wallace
Every year The Conservative Christian Fellowship invites our supporters, churches, Christian charities and organisations to join us at our events held in partnership at the Conservative Party Conference.
Party Conference returned to Manchester with a certain degree of trepidation after the “Tory Scum” protests that delegates of all political flavors and none experienced two years ago. This year the police operation was much improved, and the usual friendly welcome from Manchester itself was in evidence.
The CCF were delighted that the inspirational founder of Christians Against Poverty John Kirkby was our speaker at the Conference Service in the historic surroundings of Manchester Town Hall. Prayers were led by The Rt Rev Dr David Walker, Bishop of Manchester and The Rt Rev John Arnold, Bishop of Salford. The CCF theme for Conference was ‘Agents for Change; The power of the local church.’
With so much debate taking place on the fringe of Conference, as the Conservative Party seeks to reconnect with voters after a humbling General Election campaign, the CCF wanted to ensure that a light was shone on the areas of policy debate of particular concern to Christians.
On Monday we focusing on International Development with fringe events in partnership with CAFOD, Tearfund, and Christian Aid where Ruth Valerio and Jeremy Lefroy MP shared with us on Climate Change. At our World Vision fringe we were joined by Rory Stewart OBE MP Minister of State for International Development and Africa as well as by former DFID Minister the Rt Hon Desmond Swayne MP.
I was hugely privileged to see at first hand the work World Vision are doing to rescue South Sudan’s refugees in Northern Uganda, the UK can be proud of its record of compassion delivered by World Vision and funded by your and my taxes through DFID. It was a record turnout for one of our fringe events proving how committed the Church but also the Conservative Party are to International Aid.
Our regular line up of prayer breakfasts included a hugely inspiring fringe with The Salvation Army as we heard from Cadet Paul Devine about the transformation in his own life from homelessness to training for the Ministry. ￼However we also learnt about the challenges that Local Government face, as well as the difficulties that some welfare reforms have created for those providing hostel accommodation for the homeless. With rough sleeping on the rise it's important for Conservatives to hear. I hope that as a Party and as a Government we can redouble our efforts to tackle the scourge of homelessness and rough sleeping.
Our final prayer breakfast included a Cabinet level contribution from The Rt Hon David Lidington MP, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. We heard from the innovative prisoner resettlement charity Langley House Trust who have seen a huge drop in recidivism from its residents who learn about independent living in a residential setting after release from prison.
The Justice Secretary proved receptive to the challenge of how to support these innovative projects that while costing money in the short term, not only save money, but transform lives in the long term.
Our final event was looking at one of the most intractable problems facing our world, the Human Rights catastrophe facing persecuted Christians in the Middle East. Foreign Office and DFID Minister the Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP addressed an event sponsored by Open Doors that explored their work in standing alongside the persecuted Church.
As conference drew to a close I had the privilege of bringing some local Church leaders into the main auditorium where we heard from the Prime Minister in her now infamous speech. I knew from her talk at a fringe the night before that Theresa had held 25 media interviews in just one day at conference.
As the protestor mounted the stage and as the PM’s cold played havoc with her voice I was reminded of my own voice cracking from hosting fringes. The cruel stare of the live cameras, not helped by collapsing scenery, certainly made the speech memorable in ways the Prime Minister might prefer to forget.
However despite the frenzy of post speech speculation it would be absurd to talk about replacing a Party Leader because they had contracted a Conference cold.
After all not only did I catch a dose but it had even spread to many hardy political journalists as well.The more profound question for the party faithful wasn’t about how to shake off a conference bug and the temporary physical lethargy and exhaustion that it brings.It was about how the hubris of an election nearly lost could lead to the whole Party catching a cold and taking to its political bed.
What I believe I saw in the inspiring speeches of the new intake of MPs as well as in the thoughtful fringe events championed by Compassionate Conservatives is that the shock of the challenges we face can inspire the Party to take a dose of the right kind of medicine and rise to the challenge of providing a listening ear as well as a clear vision for the future of our great Nation.
By CCF Director Gareth Wallace