Today’s Observer has an article on Christian support for the Conservative Party ahead of the UK election. The article is preposterously headlined “Secret Christian donors bankroll Tories”; this is absurd because the donors discussed are hardly “secret”, either as regards the money they have donated or their religious faith:
An analysis of the Tories’ accounts reveals that a string of powerful Christian businessmen are helping bankroll the party, with many making significant donations in the days after the election campaign started.
Former investment banker Ken Costa, who gave £50,000 last month, is the chairman of Alpha International, an organisation that promotes the hugely popular Alpha course that has introduced millions of people to Christianity.
Michael Farmer, who founded a metals brokerage, gave £250,000 last month and has donated similar sums several times in the past. A self-made multi-millionaire, Farmer says he is happy to carry the “God squad” label. In a recent interview, he explained that he was backing the Tories because Labour “has governed incredibly badly”…
That’s “a string” of two, and their donations are a matter of public record. The Financial News reported a few days ago that
According to the Electoral Commission, which yesterday published statistics for political donations for the week commencing April 13, more than £2.2m was donated to the Conservative Party.
…Donations included £250,000 provided by Michael Farmer, chief executive of commodities hedge fund Red Kite… The Tories also received donations from a few well known bankers, including Ken Costa, chairman of Lazard International, who donated £50,000…
Costa’s website is here; he is the author of God at Work and is a well-known mainline evangelical. Farmer was profiled in the Telegraph last month; the paper described him as “seemingly enigmatic” and as “high on the mystery list” of Tory donors, but that’s just because he’s not generally well-known. The “secret donor” was more than happy to explain himself:
Farmer says he’s not fussed about being labelled ‘God Squad’ or an over-powerful trader: he’s never felt it necessary to speak out publicly before. But the Ashcroft row has finally provoked him. “I was watching the TV on Ashcroft and listening to all the accusations about City fat cats funding the political parties trying to further themselves,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “You can call me a City fat cat if you want but I’m not giving away my hard-earned money for fun. I’m giving it away because I want to fund something I genuine believe: that Cameron and the Tories will be a far better Government for the country than Labour. I’ve always tried to keep a low profile but this is important.”
The revelation of Farmer’s role as a “secret donor” can also be ”revealed” from “an analysis” of a 2007 Times article:
Michael Farmer: £500,000
Founder of an Anglo-US metal trading hedge fund, he is a multimillionaire Christian who increased his donation under David Cameron’s leadership, reportedly inspired by his support for the family.
Meanwhile, a 2008 Bloomberg.com report tells us that:
In June 2007, Michael Farmer, co- founder of hedge fund Red Kite Metals, hosted a lunch for fellow members of the London Metal Exchange. The topic wasn’t the latest movements in the metals markets. Instead, he invited a theologian to speak on Christianity and gave a testimonial himself.
Farmer, 63, a “born-again” Christian, has been mixing business and religion for years. It’s done nothing to diminish his success. A metals trader since the age of 19, Farmer helped turn London-based MG Plc into the world’s biggest copper trader during the 10 years he ran it. In 2000, Enron Corp. bought the company for half a billion dollars.
…Farmer has lately become a public figure in London. In 2006, he gave 640,000 pounds ($1.29 million) to Britain’s Conservative Party, according to the U.K. Electoral Commission. He told the Daily Telegraph that he admired Tory leader David Cameron‘s commitment to family values. In 2007, he gave the Conservatives 410,000 pounds more.
The new Observer article tells us that Farmer
has also donated £2,000 to Philippa Stroud’s campaign to become Tory MP for Sutton & Cheam. Like her political ally, Nadine Dorries, the Tory MP for Mid-Bedfordshire, Stroud is one of growing band of Tories happy to wear their faith on their sleeves.
…As head of the influential Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a Christian-orientated thinktank set up by former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, Stroud has had a profound effect on the party’s approach to social issues.
A second article in the Observer has some background on Stroud, whose husband David Stroud is a minister at a neo-Pentecostal Newfrontiers (written as “New Frontiers” by the paper; this was an older branding) church (formerly in Bedford, but now in London). Stroud appears to subscribe to “spiritual warfare” beliefs:
Stroud wrote a book, God’s Heart for the Poor, in which she explains how to deal with people showing signs of “demonic activity”. Stroud, who declined to talk to the Observer, writes: “I’d say the bottom line is to remember your spiritual authority as a child of God. He is so much more powerful than anything else!”
The paper features quotes from ex-members of the church which suggest that she applied this belief to homosexuality. The article on Stroud also says that Newfrontiers is “allied to the US evangelical movement”, which is so vague as to be meaningless – evangelicals and neo-Pentecostals see themselves as belonging to a broad transnational movement, so of course there are US links, but the Newfrontiers grouping was founded by a British Christian, Terry Virgo, and emerged from trends within British Christianity (particularly house churches). However, the specific US links are interesting: the grouping apparently received an endorsement from Paul Cain, one of the controversial and authoritarian “Kansas City Prophets”. Mark Driscoll (whom I blogged here) has also spoken at Newfrontiers events. Virgo regards the grouping as “apostolic”, although there are no obvious links with the US “New Apostolic” movement.
The main Observer article rounds off with brief overviews of the Christian Conservative Fellowship and Christian Concern for Our Nation – although we learn nothing about how the CCF is “bankrolled”, despite the headline. As for CCFON:
Lowering the abortion limit is one of the key aims of [Nadine] Dorries who, as the New Statesman discovered, has received support and briefings from Christian Concern For Our Nation. The little known but well organised group claims it “exists to serve the Church by providing information to enable Christians to stand up publicly against a tide of unchristian legal and political changes in the United Kingdom”. Accounts reveal it received more than £265,000 in gifts and donations last year.
Its sister organisation, the Christian Legal Centre… runs a number of initiatives with the Alliance Defence Fund, a hugely powerful US Christian group… One of the ADF’s biggest donors is Erik Prinze, founder of the highly controversial US private security firm, Blackwater, now the subject of lawsuits over the actions of its employees in Iraq.
Earlier this year, CLC and ADF supporters met at Exeter College, Oxford, to discuss how British Christians could answer the “call of today’s worshipful warrior”.
Dorries’ links to CCFON, and CCFON’s links to the ADF, were first noted in a 2008 Channel 4 documentary, which I blogged here. I also blogged on recent the meeting at Exeter College here. It is fair to say that the CCFON represents a British “Christian Right”. The New Statesman article, by Sunny Hundal, looked at the influence of the CCF and CCFON on Conservative politics:
You could be forgiven for thinking that the David Cameron project has been striking in its unwillingness to say much about faith. None of the inner circle of Cameron, George Osborne, Andy Coulson and Steve Hilton is regarded as particularly religious, and avoiding the subject is part of the Tory detoxification project. Yet there are signs that a change is afoot.
“Historically, there have been splits in the Conservative Party over religion. But the vast majority of the new MPs will be social Conservatives who have similar opinions to myself,” Nadine Dorries tells the New Statesman. “I can think of half a dozen Conservatives that don’t agree with me, but they’re leaving at the next election – people like Andrew MacKay and David Curry. The new MPs that are coming in are all social Conservatives – people like Fiona Bruce, Philippa Stroud, Louise Bagshawe.”
…It may be hard to believe that Britain will turn into Jesus-land, but social attitudes are always in flux. And developing a sense of victimhood is an essential part of the religious right’s strategy to fire up its base. After all, it has been used to great effect in the US.
When Dorries unveiled her “20 Reasons for 20 Weeks” campaign in 2008 to restrict abortion rights, Williams cropped up as an ally through another organisation she runs: Christian Concern for Our Nation (CCFON). The campaign website stated that it was not politically motivated or religious; however, I can reveal that it was registered and created by CCFON members, a fact not mentioned on the site. When asked about the organisation’s involvement with her campaign, Dorries says it “helped out with the research”. She adds that it had “an army of interns” who proved “very useful”. And how was the slick-looking website funded? She pauses before replying: “One of their interns did the website for free.”
Futher details appear in a follow-up piece by Sunny at Liberal Conspiracy.
In February, the Financial Times ran a long article on the same subject, providing background on the CCF and the CSJ (link added):
A Conservative MP was stage-whispering in the leathery, dark Pugin Room of the House of Commons late last year. With a view of the Thames, teacup in hand, he hissed at me: “They’ve campaigned to change the processes so that they can bus in their voters, stuffing the selection meetings with their people. They don’t outnumber us, but they can out-organise us. They’re taking over the party.”
“They” are evangelical Christians, and the MP was prompted to speak by a meeting a week earlier. The party had held an “open primary” (in which members of the public can vote) to choose a candidate to stand for a safe Tory seat – Congleton, Cheshire – in this year’s general election. The two leading names on the ballot were Matthew Hancock and Fiona Bruce. Both are well-known within Tory circles. Hancock is an economic adviser to the party, Bruce a solicitor who fought valiantly, if unsuccessfully, for a seat in the north-west in the 2005 general election. The main difference is religion: Hancock is secular, Bruce an evangelical Christian.
Bruce won comfortably, taking a majority of the 220 votes cast in the first round. But a rumour soon spread that most of her votes had come from members of the New Life church, a local evangelical congregation. Buses were alleged to have ferried 150 Christians from the church.
…Soon after Cameron’s election, Duncan Smith was invited to write a series of reports on poverty as part of the party’s policy review. And while some at the CSJ were concerned about losing their independence, it was worth what they won: relevance. Two years after being exiled by Michael Howard, a small group of Christian Tories was defining the party’s social policy. Today, the CSJ says it has crafted a full 70 Conservative policies…
In 2000, there was a concern over alleged entryism by a neo-Pentecostal church in the Conservative Party in Brentwood and Ongar, prompting Martin Bell to stand as an independent against Eric Pickles. Pickles was able to ride out the controversy, and the church concerned has since been diminished by a sex scandal.
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