The ideological difference between the Labour Party and the Conservative Party is not socioeconomic – both parties see themselves as worthy paternalistic patrons to the poor – but a deeply entrenched urban/rural divide. This is expressed in our voting: with very little swings one way or another, rural constituencies vote Conservative, and urban constituencies vote Labour; with the Liberal Democrats most naturally at home in the suburbs between the two.
Labour ideology views rural life as inherently corrupt, and Conservative ideology views urban life as inherently corrupt.
In this context, the Church needs to communicate a robust theology of the soil and the city. Neither way of life is inherently corrupt; each can be expressed in life-giving or life-taking ways.
Regarding the earth, we are from the soil and return to it. We are charged with tending the earth in such a way as allows nature to be fruitful. Such activity is profoundly conservative, and in a positive sense. The land is a gift to us, and yet it is possible to take the land, as right rather than gift, as something to hold on to out of fear rather than to share. There is a dark side to the conserving, rural way of life. But it is inherently open to God’s good will, as well as resistant to it.
Regarding the city, this is biblical symbol of both declaration of autonomy from God and empire over other people, and of life-affirming cultural creativity. The city stands against the call to steward the land, and stands for the call to see a coming-together of the nations in harmony with God. God resists one way of building a city, and inspires dreams of another way of building a city. There is a dark side to the labouring, urban way of life. But it is inherently open to God’s good will, as well as resistant to it.
Rural and urban communities need each other. There are voices urging each one that they don’t, fostering suspicion of the other, or championing merely superficial connection – a rural holiday for city-dwellers, a city-break for country folk. And there are voices calling for a deeper connectedness between our cities and the rural land around them, where each finds ways of supporting the other, learning from one another, partnering together, resulting in synergy.
Ultimately, this is why the fundamental ideology of both the Labour and the Conservative parties needs challenging. They lead to stalemate. The Church has something significant to contribute – beyond relevance, resonance with the human heart - if we are ever to move beyond our current impasse.