Unlike the situation in America, politics and religion are rarely discussed together in the UK. But what part, if any, does religion still play in British politics?
In Northern Ireland voting is still heavily influenced by religion, with Catholics voting disproportionately for Sinn Fein or the SDLP and Protestants voting predominantly for the Ulster Unionists or the DUP. But has the link between religion and politics disappeared on the mainland?
Not entirely. Catholics’ votes still tend to be skewed towards the Labour Party, Anglicans’ towards the Conservatives and Non-conformists’ to the Liberal Democrats. In 2005 a significant number of Muslim voters switched from Labour to the Liberal Democrats after Labour prime minister Tony Blair led Britain into the invasion of Iraq, against the opposition of the Liberal Democrats under Charles Kennedy’s leadership. Respect also picked up voters as a result.
Britain is yet to have a non-Christian - or even a Catholic - prime minister. All three main parties have had a Jewish leader (Herbert Samuel for the Liberals, Michael Howard for the Conservatives and Ed Miliband for Labour), but none has yet become prime minister. Victorian Tory premier Benjamin Disraeli was born Jewish, but had converted to Christianity before he became prime minister. Tony Blair converted to Catholicism just after he left office.
So, religion still has an impact in British politics. According to my research, religion also has a bearing on political defections. Belonging to a religious minority within his or her party is an indicator of an MP’s increased likelihood to defect.