UK Labour Party leader Ed Milliband is pushing uphill to win voter support even at a time when the Conservative-led coalition is under heavy fire for government spending cuts that are biting hard into family budgets. The opposition leader is facing some tough obstacles including his seething (and more experienced) brother David whom he pipped to the leadership.
What may be more of an obstacle than Edmill realises is his declared atheism. He joins a line of former Labour leaders behind Neil Kinnock and Michael Foot – neither of whom made it to Prime Minister.
However secular modern UK society, some 60% of the population still profess a faith and voters are accustomed to their leaders wearing it on their sleeves. Tony Blair went further. His media spokesman Alistair Campbell famously sound-bited “We don’t do God” only for his boss to spout: “If you have religious faith, in the end it’s the most important thing in your life; it is not the adjunct, it is the core.” Years before, old-style 1950s Tory PM Harold Macmillan had said: ”I go to Communion as long as I can … I reach for the Bible whenever I can.” Harold Wilson, Labour PM in the 1960s, said: ”I have religious beliefs and they very much affect my political views.” Post-Thatcher Tory PM John Major came the closest to having doubts: ”I do believe. I don’t pretend to understand all the complex parts of Christian theology, but I simply accept it.”
Deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg (competing with Edmill for current electoral unpopularity) showed some awareness of the historic risks when, having trumpeted his atheism in 2007, he updated his views in (of all things) an article in the Church of England Newspaper in which he claimed that Christian values were “central” to his party’s policies. Oh, and he let it be known that his wife is a practising Catholic.
Who knows if there are UK votes in religion or negative votes against non-religion? But a populous which laments the disintegration of old-style family values might be wary of going for its first openly atheist Prime Minister.
So, Ed Milliband (who has rushed to marry his longterm partner and has had to admit a mistake in not registering as the father of his son) had better smooth out this part of his image before the next election. If he makes it that far.