fter the electorate hurled the Conservatives from iwer in 1997, their dispirited party was desperate to find a quick way, any way, to return to power. As director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, Tun Montgomerie was almost completely alone when he started to write letters to the press challenging those who were willing to jettison the traditional Tory commitment to Christian morality. He rejected abortion; he defended Section 28, which restrained favourable teaching on homosexuality in schools; he even dared to question the number of alleged homosexual voters in the London mayoralty election.
Then, Mr Montgomerie seemed a man left over from the past who was steering his barque into oblivion. Now the Tory leader lain Duncan Smith has taken him on as a political adviser. Although Mr Montgomerie has resigned as its director, he has brought the Fellowship with him, so that its website is now run from Tory Central Office. While showing no untoward aggression toward those who are not practising Christians it refuses to be to be mealy-mouthed about its beliefs.
This website shows a charming solicitude for Mr Duncan Smith. It asks party members to pray for him, so that he has "sufficient time to think and rest". It praises God for his church-going and his emphasis on a more compassionate kind of Conservatism. Mr Montgomerie is, of course, an evangelical. His sincerity and commitment to doing good are markedly different in style from those of Catholics. He bears the stamp of early American Puritanism, whose adherents emanate an unblinking self-confidence that differs so noticeably from the diffident culture of post
Reformation English Catholicism. My unease about being urged to pray in this public fashion by members of another faith is fed by some of the other prayers posted. People are urged to pray that the Shadow Home Secretary's "conveyor belt to crime" analysis will lead to effective and workable policies, and that those MPs seeking money from "potentially high priced donors to secure some major CCF initiatives in the coming year" will be successful.
While any strains in the relationship between the Catholic Mr Duncan Smith and his evangelical adviser will no doubt be resolved, there is a danger that the distinctions between the eternal truths of religion and the necessarily temporary priorities of politics
will be confused. The prayers run the risk of devastating parody, though any perpetrator might well meet a sharply hostile reaction from the public. Also, the importation of such a strong religious element into party policy must be a high risk for any leader whose members are already grumbling about his leadership. Should he fail at the next election, there is the possibility that the Tories will turn to a more obviously hedonistic leader, who will claim to demonstrate his modernity by not being overburdened by traditional morality.
Nevertheless, great victories are often only won by taking great risks. It is being suggested that Mr Duncan Smith's Tories have nothing new to offer. But this close identifica
tion with Christian morality marks him out from both Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's outgoing chief aide who "does not do God", and even John Major, whose idea of religion seemed to be old ladies bicycling to Evensong.
The belief that the country is as indifferent to religion as claimed will now be tested, as never before. The romantic novelist Barbara Cartland, a shrewder figure than was popularly supposed, claimed credit for having helped to defeat Neil Kinnock in 1992, when she declared that we could not possibly have an avowed atheist in 10 Downing Street. Everyone smiled. Some were uneasy. But she had a point.
David 71viston Davies works for The Daily Telegraph