Party Conference Special 2017

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​ ​GMP​ ​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.