Labour voters are the most likely out the major political parties to oppose people with strong religious faith from becoming Prime Minister, or the head of devolved nations like Scotland or Wales.
That's according to an opinion poll carried out for the Daily Express newspaper. The survey of 1,624 voters by polling company Techne UK suggests that support for people with a religious faith holding high office has now dropped below 50 percent overall.
The poll was published as Labour's leader Sir Keir Starmer reached out to the Christian community over Easter, including meeting church leaders in Manchester.
He tweeted a video of the roundtable he hosted, in which he praised the work of churches in creating what he called "a sense of unity and hope, particularly when times are tough."
“This is something that Keir Starmer is taking really seriously”, commented Labour party parliamentary candidate David Lawrence, who is a member of the party affiliated body, Christians on the Left.
“He's set up his Faith Champions programme, which is led by Sir Stephen Timms MP who's a Christian. That's going to be a really important part of Labour's outreach over the next year or so ahead of the coming general election”, he added.
Among Labour voters, the Techne poll found that a majority of those who express an opinion believe that having a religious faith should be a bar from holding high office, by 43 percent to 40 percent.
The meeting between the Labour leader and Manchester church representatives hasn’t gone without comment from critics of traditional church teaching. The video circulated by Sir Keir Starmer features Glyn Barrett, who is a senior pastor at !Audacious Church in Manchester, a member of the Assemblies of God.
“Looks like Starmer has once again managed to pick a church with a history of homophobia and links to conversion therapy”, tweeted journalist Ben Smoke. The church later issued a statement denying support for “any type of ministry or activity that is coercive or manipulative.”
Keir Starmer’s initiative in meeting churches has the support of David Lawrence. In an interview with Premier, he said “There's diversity in the church, and there's diversity within the Labour Party as well”.
“I don't think this is an issue for most voters”, he continued. ”Most people will think it's completely natural and will completely understand that the leader of the opposition needs to reach out to people who share different views, from different religions.”
In 2021, Sir Keir Starmer issued a public apology after coming under criticism from LGBTQ+ Labour supporters for visiting one of London’s biggest black majority churches, Jesus House.
At that time the Labour leader said: “I completely disagree with Jesus House’s beliefs on LGBT+ rights, which I was not aware of before my visit. I apologise for the hurt my visit caused and have taken down the video. It was a mistake and I accept that.”
According to David Lawrence, who is running in Basingstoke, Labour needs to be in listening mode as the general election approaches:
“Within the Labour Party, we recognise that we've lost the last three elections, which is pretty bad. And I think that means that we've got a lot to learn.“
“We need to be learning from our faith communities and not just preaching to them and saying what we want to do but also listening to those communities, especially when they are so often the people that are on the ground who are engaging with the people who ultimately we want to represent and whose votes that we need to get into government.”