The Christian Socialist Movement is about to change its name. In a postal ballot over the summer, members voted overwhelmingly to change the name to ‘Christians on the Left’. The vote follows an almost unanimous endorsement at our AGM and over a year of consultation and debate. The outcome of this extensive democratic process is a name change that is good not only for the Christian Socialist Movement (CSM) but also for the Labour Party.
Christian Socialism is a noble tradition within the Labour Party and it predates it. We can date the origins back to at least 1848. The driving force of Christian Socialism is a belief in equality; that we are all made in the image of God. Inspired by faith in Jesus Christ and by his example, Christian Socialists aim to relate to each other in that light, knowing we are of equal worth. From this flows a strong and active commitment to social justice and the alleviation of poverty. Christian Socialism came about because church people, active in their communities, realised that charity was only one part of the solution to inequality. Political change was required. Christian Socialists have pushed for government action to promote social and economic change to move us closer to a more equal society.
You can find thousands of people today reflecting this tradition. As the Demos Report, Faithful Citizens, found:
“First, religious people are more active citizens – they volunteer more, donate more to charity and are more likely to campaign on political issues. Second, and more counter-intuitively, religious people are more likely to be politically progressive. They put a greater value on equality than the non-religious, are more likely to be welcoming of immigrants as neighbours and when asked are more likely to put themselves on the left of the political spectrum.”
Members of churches and Christian organisations are working in their communities (often in deprived areas) and campaigning for an end to poverty both at home and overseas. They can be found running food banks and debt counselling services, working against and angered by government cuts. You will find them in the vanguard of every campaign in support of international development. The Christian Socialist Movement, a socialist society affiliated to the Party, acts as a bridge between this world and national, Labour Party, politics.
There is a problem however. Many such church people start to cross that bridge but turn away at the sign marked ‘Christian Socialist Movement’. They do this for two reasons. Many are simply put off by the word ‘socialist’. Those of us who love our Party’s traditions (and I am one such person) can sometimes forget that for most people ‘socialism’ means ‘far left’ or something to do with the Soviet Union. Time and again, when we talk to church communities, we find that we cannot get much beyond that word. We take time to explain it, at church conferences or on the TV or radio, but that often means we have little time to talk about what we actually stand for and what we are doing today. That is frustrating to say the least.
There is a second reason why people are confused by our name. We are often asked if we are a separate, Christian, political party. This tends to happen close to elections, when fringe parties emerge. Again, we have to use valuable time to explain why rather than standing in opposition to the Labour Party we are in fact affiliated to it. By this time, representatives of other parties, such as the Conservative Christian Fellowship for example, will be already talking about policy.
These observations seem to be held by most CSM members, as the ballot shows. The new name, ‘Christians on the Left’ effectively ‘does what it says on the tin’. It is also a name which emerged from the consultation with members rather than from CSM officers, as we responded to surveys and debated the issue online. The consultation process also highlighted our commitment to Christian Socialism. Members voted for a stronger commitment to Christian Socialism in the constitution, building on the successful refreshing of our statement of values a few years ago. Together, these moves are a healthy sign of an organisation confident in what it believes and determined to look outwards and change the world.
You will not find CSM members uncritical friends of the Labour Party, but you will find us loyal friends and fellow campaigners. We will continue to argue for radical measures to promote social justice and against measures such as the bedroom tax. Our longstanding campaigns for more bank reform and a financial transactions tax will continue; these ‘left wing’ ideas are now mainstream. We will continue our work helping Labour candidates communicate with church and other religious communities in their wards and constituencies.
There is a new generation of activists who are fired up initially by single issues, motivated by their faith and united in a commitment to social justice. They should be more involved in national politics and in the Labour Party. That would be good for Labour and for the country. With a clearer name, hopefully we will be a stronger and more inviting bridge for such people become more involved with the Party which, we believe, best represents their values. Together we decided to change our name so we could start where the voters are, not where we would like them to be. That’s not a bad campaigning principle.
Stephen Beer is CSM’s Political Communications Officer and former chair of Vauxhall CLP.