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UK Evangelicals Look Ahead to Potential Changes After Labour Victory

Survey finds that evangelical voters are motivated by care for those in need.
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UK Evangelicals Look Ahead to Potential Changes After Labour Victory
Image: Christopher Furlong / Getty Images
Labour Party leader and newly elected prime minister Keir Starmer

The United Kingdom elected a new prime minister in a landslide win for the Labour Party, a significant shift of political power after 14 years of Conservative-led government.

Neither party secured the majority of the country’s evangelical vote, but evangelicals of varying affiliations will be following how the new Labour government addresses areas of concern for the church, including the treatment of refugees, the beginning and end of life, and policies around sexuality and gender.

In the July 4 election, Sir Keir Starmer garnered the second-largest parliamentary victory since World War II, just short of the margin Tony Blair won by in 1997. Research from our team at the Evangelical Alliance found that 42 percent of evangelical Christians said they would vote Labour while 29 percent would vote Conservative. (The survey was conducted in late 2023 before a new party, Reform UK, increased in popularity.)

Just over half of evangelicals said they want to vote for a party that represents biblical values, but there is no consensus on what party that might be. A significant minority in our polling do not see that as a top issue in determining how they vote—probably because they do not see any party as offering that option.

When asked whether a commitment on certain issues would increase their likelihood to vote for a party, evangelicals wanted parties to protect free speech, stand for global religious freedom, reduce term limits on abortion, oppose assisted suicide, support safe routes for refugees, and promote marriage in the tax system.

The only issue evangelicals were polled on that has had any salience in the UK election is reform of laws that protect single-sex spaces on the basis of biological sex. Many non-Christians have spoken up about the issue, probably most notably Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling, who was very critical of the incoming governing party’s position on the issue.

The diversity of opinions among evangelical Christians means that no political party stakes a claim to their vote, but it can also mean political issues are viewed as too difficult to talk about in church.

Less than 2 percent of evangelicals we heard from said their church leader had explicitly backed a party or candidate, and only 1 in 7 had witnessed clear support or opposition for particular policies.

The government’s legislative priorities will be set out in the King’s Speech on July 17, but key policy announcements ahead of that will demonstrate its focus in the early months.

Evangelicals will be paying particular attention to the Labour government’s decisions on how sex and gender are handled in school. Prior to the election, plans were in place to take a more cautious approach and to ensure teachers are able to assert that biological sex determines someone’s gender, not being disciplined if they do not use the gender or pronouns a child asks to use.

A related area where evangelical Christians are likely to challenge the incoming government is over its commitment to introduce a ban on sexuality and gender conversion practices. Previous proposals could significantly affect churches and Christian ministries by restricting their freedom to teach and provide pastoral care and prayer.

The new Labour government immediately scrapped the former government’s agreement with Rwanda for processing asylum applications, which had been a highly controversial policy in recent months.

The previous government passed numerous laws to try and tighten immigration requirements, and the UK Evangelical Alliance joined with fellow Christian organizations to call for a system—whatever the level of immigration—that treated people humanely and with the inherent dignity they have as people created in the image of God. Critics worried that too many proposals put forward instead treated them as pawns in a political game.

“The Evangelical Alliance is committed to working with the government on restoring hope in our society, strengthening social cohesion, and honoring the dignity and value of every human being,” said Gavin Calver, CEO of the UK Evangelical Alliance. “Our faith is a vital component of what makes a difference and helps transform lives across the UK.”

Churches were more likely to talk about local social issues such as poverty or global issues like war and peace, international poverty, or the persecuted church. Though churches are likely to talk about practical care for asylum seekers and refugees, fewer than 1 in 5 heard their church talk about immigration policy.

In UK politics, life issues like abortion and assisted suicide are considered matters of conscience and typically are not governed by party platform, so members of Parliament (MPs) are free to vote as they wish.

Starmer, the new prime minister, has indicated that the government won’t take a position on any potential new law on assisted suicide, but he has also pledged parliamentary time to consider the matter—so it will likely be a key issue over the next couple of years.

Before the election was announced, the Conservative-majority Parliament was expected to vote on reforms regarding the regulation of abortion; these were abandoned when the election was called but are likely to come back for Parliament to consider.

Our survey found that the top reason motivating how evangelicals vote is the party that helps those most in need.

Though the estimated turnout was the lowest in 20 years, more than 9 in 10 evangelicals said they planned to vote in the election.

Evangelical Christians will be looking to work productively with the new government and with individual MPs both nationally and locally. As representatives of specific geographical areas, MPs want to build strong links with local groups, and this is a chance for churches to forge relationships and influence decisions for their communities and the country.

“There will be points in the years ahead where we will disagree with the government’s direction and will challenge policies and decisions. Any moves that disempower and harm the most vulnerable in society will be met with a robust response from evangelical Christians across the UK,” Calver said. “Our heart is always to serve and advocate for those most in need, and we urge the government to do the same.”

Danny Webster is director of advocacy for the UK’s Evangelical Alliance.

July/August
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