David Cameron 'hijacks' Easter for election message

DAVID Cameron has been accused of hijacking the message of Christ for his own political ends, after he made an Easter statement talking of the hope of a "new dawn".

• Conservative Party Leader David Cameron and his wife Samantha Cameron during a visit to the Pedro Club, in Hackney, east London. Picture: Getty

With the announcement of a 6 May general election expected early next week, the Conservative leader took the unusual step of issuing an Easter message that seized on Christ's resurrection to suggest it was time for a fresh start.

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Mr Cameron's words were criticised by leading Church figures, who claimed he had taken the Easter story – the most important of the liturgical year – out of context in order to call subliminally for a change of government.

In his message, the Tory leader sent out his "very warmest wishes" to the people of the world, spoke of the inspiration of Jesus Christ and paid tribute to the "great contribution" made to Britain by Christianity.

But it was an extract that referred to Christ coming back from the dead, and which also had echoes of the Conservatives' "Time for a Change" slogan, that prompted the criticism.

"No matter what faiths we follow, we can all draw strength from Christ's message of hope, of a new beginning and a promise of a new dawn," Mr Cameron said.

That form of words was attacked by Canon Kenyon Wright, the Episcopalian clergyman who chaired the Scottish Constitutional Convention.

"The words he uses are accurate, but I would find it rather strange for politicians in such a blatant way to take something like this out of context. It is bound to be – in the public mind – identified with his political message," said Canon Wright.

"Throughout the generations, politicians have tried to hijack Christ for their own ends, and I think it is very unwise when they do things like this.

"It is not because what he says is inaccurate, but because it is bound to be identified in the public's mind with the political message."

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John Deighan, parliamentary officer for the Catholic Bishops Conference in Scotland, said it was at least encouraging that politicians were recognising Easter.

But he also questioned Mr Cameron's words. "The Church transcends politics and no particular politicians can say they are the fulfilment of the Christian message," he said.

Mixing politics with religion has already caused problems for politicians in the run-up to the election.

Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy found himself under attack after he tried to portray Labour as the natural party for religious voters.

That prompted a fierce backlash from the Catholic Church, which claimed Labour had been attacking family values.

And in a recent interview, Mr Cameron said he was a Christian who believed in God and went to church, although "not as regularly as I should".

He also said he did not "drop to my knees" and ask for help when in a crisis.

Labour MSP Michael McMahon, a practising Catholic, said: "David Cameron is entering dangerous territory here. The Tories can't learn lessons from the Thatcher era, and they can't learn lessons from Jim Murphy either."

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The danger of politicians becoming overtly involved in religious matters was recognised by Tony Blair, who, out of office, has made great play of his beliefs. But when he was prime minister, his communications chief, Alastair Campbell, famously said: "We don't do God."

John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, questioned Mr Cameron's tactics in using the "new dawn" remark.

"That's a pretty cheap line. It is so obvious," he said.

"One of the things the Tories are desperately trying to do is to suggest that things are going to get better if they get in. They have been criticised for not getting that across and using opportunities to do that makes sense, but it is too obvious a line.

"Those who are Christians – of which there are not that many these days – will say you should not hijack the Christian message for that kind of purpose."

But the Rev Ian Galloway, convener of the Church of Scotland's church and society council, was prepared to take the Tory leader's remarks at face value.

"I think if he is making a statement that is appropriate for the moment, we should give him the benefit of the doubt. I would not like to attribute that (political] thought or motive to him. But a new dawn will be when something actually happens. The new dawn David Cameron speaks of will begin on the day the last child is lifted out of poverty. Easter is, above all, about action not words."

In his Easter message, Prime Minister Gordon Brown hailed Christian churches as "the conscience of our country". He hailed the "redeeming power of faith" and said the forthcoming official visit of Pope Benedict would make this a special year for the UK.

The SNP did not issue an Easter message.

Meanwhile, Mr Cameron admitted yesterday that the Conservatives were "unlikely to get a very large number of seats" in Scotland at the election.

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His opponents claimed that remark showed his party was still not interested in Scotland.