Black praise, white politics: Ed Miliband comes to Croydon

By - Monday 27th April, 2015

After Ed Miliband – an avowed atheist – visits a Croydon church, local (tech) evangelist Jonny Rose speculates on how the major parties might tap into the BME vote

Black church.
Photo public domain.

Engaging the pious and the pigmented

With less than a month until the elections – and the threat of gainful unemployment for many – it’s not surprising to see politicians turn to the Almighty for some assistance.

This might explain why Labour Leader Ed Miliband could be found at Praise House in Central Croydon on Sunday 18th April, attending a worship service with other Labour luminaries including Doreen Lawrence and prospective parliamentary candidate Sarah Jones.

As a self-professed atheist, one does wonder what Mr Miliband made of the undulating worshippers as they earnestly sang “Lord, I lift your name on High” and being prayed for by the assembled Croydon church leaders. By all means, the rictus grins on show from the publicity photos belie a good-humoured weathering of the event.

Yet, Ed wasn’t the only one courting the black church vote that weekend. Across town, David Cameron was at it, too, making warm overtures of goodwill towards several thousand mainly West African Christians at the pentecostal Festival of Life (for more on this debacle, read this righteous invective from my friend Jendella Benson, who was in attendance).

In both cases, the two men were vying for the favour of the pigmented and the pious – so, what is it about the black church vote that has suddenly become so important to the upcoming general election?

Operation Black Vote and the black church vote

‘Operation Black Vote’ is an organisation and campaign which seeks to encourage African British and Asian communities to participate in British politics. Research undertaken by OBV – The Power of the Black Vote in 2015 – shows that the BME electorate could decide over 160 Westminster seats in the 2015 general election.

Using the recent 2011 census, researchers looked at the BME electorate in all England and Wales seats and found 168 marginal seats where BME voters outnumber the majority of the sitting MP. The 168 constituencies are in both urban and suburban areas. The conclusions of the report are that BME voters have never been more powerful, particularly in the most marginal seat in the country: Croydon Central.

If Operation Black Vote’s conclusions are correct, it makes sense for our erstwhile politicos to go for what, for many, is the epicentre of the BME community – the church.

The first-ever manifesto from the UK’s black churches, Black Church Political Mobilisation: A manifesto for action, published in February, noted that 48 per cent of churchgoers in London  are black or from an ethnic minority, and reaffirmed Operation Black Vote’s work to identify those 168 marginal seats in which the BME vote could decide who won on 7th May. The report went on to say that:

“With such a high number of Christians among black communities, the black-majority church in Britain is set to have a significant say in who wins this next election”

From parliament to the pulpit

I’ve written before about my suspicion of politicians using BMEs as intra-white political capital; decorative assets that are largely utilised for photo-opportunities and diversity box-ticking exercises.

However, beyond the perishingly temporal plane of worldly politicking, I’m glad that in visiting black church services both men were given a glimpse into a heavenly kingdom to come which is devoid of the pride, conniving and confusion that marks earthly governance; whose subjects won’t be exploited for opportunistic self-promotional exercises; and whose leader promises an everlasting reign where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying”.

Whether either of the party leaders’ appeals translate into votes amongst the faithful remains to be seen. According to the Runnymede Trust, in 2010 ethnic minorities were three times less likely to be registered to vote than white people. This time around things might be different, as the BME community grows in political confidence and the parties realise that they have to work hard to secure their support.

They say that ‘prayer is the last refuge of the scoundrel’; I suspect that that weekend in Croydon won’t be the only time that Messrs Miliband and Cameron bow their heads before 7th May.

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He owns a lead generation company. He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training and a Linkedin lead generation service. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  • J S

    Some fair points in this article, but I’m struggling to see how Miliband’s atheism is relevant, unless he was duplicitously posing as a Christian. Did he make any claims along those lines?

    • Jonny Rose

      I only make reference to it in passing as I found it the scenario of him being trapped in a church service for three hours for a photo opportunity quite amusing. It’s not duplicitous, it’s just opportunistic.

      The main thrust of the piece is examine why politicians are going after the religious Black vote (irregardless of their own religious convictions – or lack thereof).

      • J S

        Thank you, I do understand what the main thrust of the piece is. But did Miliband say anything to indicate that he was ‘trapped’ and ‘weathering’ the event with a ‘rictus grin’? Or is that all based on prejudiced assumption? If there’s no evidence to the contrary I think the fair thing is to assume that one can respectfully enjoy experiencing another religious culture that one has been invited to participate in, without hating every moment.

        • Jonny Rose

          Although then you would also be guilty of projecting an assumption (albeit a more gracious one) without evidence!

          In either case, neither of us are privy to the inner workings of Ed’s mind so the jury is out…if Ed ever comes back for another church service I’ll be sure to ask so we can get a definitive answer from him on the matter :)

          • J S

            Yep, but I have no problem with assumptions along the lines of ‘innocent until proven guilty’!