Christian influence grows as Britain’s Conservative party shifts rightward

British culture is underscored by “our Christian way of life”, declared Tory MP Nick Fletcher in a pre-Easter parliamentary debate about the place of Christianity in the UK that he organised this month.

Hosting debates about Christian faith ahead of Easter and Christmas has become a tradition for Fletcher, one of a clutch of vocal Christian Conservatives first elected in 2019 who have placed religion at the heart of a number of policy debates in Westminster. 

Miriam Cates and Danny Kruger, co-chairs of the New Conservatives right-wing faction, are other prominent Christians from that cohort who have spoken publicly about their religious beliefs. 

Their influence has increased with the party’s rightward shift in recent years, while their profiles have risen further because of their willingness to speak out about a range of social and moral issues.

“There have been so many issues that have come around recently that are very important to people of faith. I think that’s why their [Tory Christian MPs’] voices may have been heard a bit above what’s usual,” Fletcher told the FT.

Nick Fletcher MP
Nick Fletcher: ‘Our faith is not always supportive of what the secular society is moving towards.’ © Danny Lawson/PA

Fletcher is a proud evangelical Christian, and cites trans rights, conversion therapies, abortion, assisted dying and freedom of speech as topics where religious MPs “need to be able to talk about our faith”.

“Our faith is not always supportive of what the secular society is moving towards,” he said, and stressed that his personal beliefs were “grounded in scripture”. “We have to phrase these things carefully, be careful not to be judgmental, but to say this is what we believe in,” he added.

Fletcher told the Commons last December that his Christian faith had informed his hardline views on the need for a crackdown on irregular migration, following criticism of government policy by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

“I do not think it is very Christian to put people in boats who will, sadly, sometimes fail. I do not think it is Christian to promise people a life in this country when we do not have the services for them. I do not think it is Christian to take the best people from developing countries because we do not train our own in this country,” he told MPs.

Danny Kruger and Miriam Cates in Downing Street
Danny Kruger and Miriam Cates have both spoken publicly about their religious beliefs.  © Yui Mok/PA

Tim Bale, a politics professor at Queen Mary University of London, said the growing strain of evangelicalism in the Tory party, which he described as “an American import”, was particularly notable.

He said: “You can go back to the 19th century and Christianity was of course important back then, [former Conservative prime minister] Robert Peel’s Christianity was a strain of evangelicalism, but I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this for a long time.” 

Veteran MP Sir Gary Streeter, Tory chair of the all-party Christians in Parliament group, confirmed there was a growing number of Christians in the Conservative party.

He said this was the result of 30 years of work that included “actively reaching out to people of faith”, listening to British churches, and creating a “pipeline” of men and women of faith and shared values.

Streeter and other MPs also cited the role of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational Christian network founded in 1990 that “inspires and equips believers to go into public life”, as a key force in ushering in more Christians into the party’s elected ranks.

Urging against generalisations, however, Streeter added: “We come in different shapes and sizes.” That includes Christians of different denominations, as well as Christians with starkly different political views under the umbrella of the Tory party.

Last October, the party’s attitude towards Christianity was a key factor cited by Scottish MP Lisa Cameron for her defection from the Scottish National Party to the Conservatives. She told the BBC that she “didn’t feel particularly wanted as a Christian” in the SNP and claimed her religion had been “frowned upon” by her old party. 

Some colleagues in her old party had taken a dim view of her voting in line with her religious beliefs, including on issues such as abortion and protest buffer zones around abortion clinics, she said.

Lisa Cameron hugs Douglas Ross at the Scottish Conservative conference in March
MP Lisa Cameron, who defected to the Scottish Conservatives over concerns about her faith being tolerated within the SNP, hugs party leader Douglas Ross during the Scottish Conservative conference in early March © Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Later in the autumn, then-home secretary Suella Braverman’s claim that rough sleeping was a “lifestyle choice” also triggered a backlash that prompted some of her colleagues to speak up on the grounds of their faith.

Steve Brine, Tory chair of the health committee, told Times Radio that while it was “not fashionable” to draw attention to it, he was “a Christian in politics”, adding: “I don’t think it is very Christian to say that about some of the most marginalised people in society.”

Streeter, a moderate, said the trend among some of the newer right-wing Tory MPs to match faith to policy was a new phenomenon in the UK. He added it was of “immense interest” and needs “room to develop”, but warned that it “mustn’t be the only show in town”.

He argued that Christians in the party who “don’t want to go down that route, don’t want strong links between faith and policies” must also be respected. 

Not all Tory Christians have welcomed religion playing a more central role in political debate. “I’m very alarmed by the mirroring of the American Christian right in pockets of the Conservative party,” said one long-serving MP, who asked to remain anonymous.

“I worry about how shrill and unkind some of my colleagues’ messaging appears — on migrants, on people with gender dysphoria, which is a serious issue,” the parliamentarian added.

Steve Baker, a minister in the Northern Ireland Office, is a devout Christian who values the UK’s tradition of secular politics. “While my faith is strong, I am absolutely clear all public policy should be justified by evidence and reason,” he said.

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