By Clare George-Hilley
The political playing field in the lead up to the 2015 general election is likely to be one beset with the biggest, trendiest policies and bright new ideas, but all three of the main parties are missing a trick. For too long now, political strategists have turned a blind eye to potentially the biggest vote winner there is – the people that make up the pillars of British communities: the clergy.
In some cases this is due to complacency but more often than not there seems to be a wilful distain for wooing the very people that make the country tick.
Whatever is said of these people and the values they represent, they are a constant, silent source of energy and in many cases they are the people that put the Great in Great Britain. These are the people that run the local church, the community groups and the volunteers that comfort the sick and go that extra mile to help out their neighbours. But these are also the people that can swing a general election, they are the people that others in the community listen to, respect and follow.
But despite possessing the character and qualities that would command respect elsewhere, research shows that these people are coming under constant attack. Police figures gathered by the Parliament Street think tank research team show that nearly 200 members of the clergy have been violently assaulted over the last five years, including many incidents of grievous bodily harm. In many of the cases, the police notes revealed that the crimes took place within a church or when a member of the clergy was wearing a dog collar or robes. These incidents paint a worrying picture of the threats facing Britain's Christian leaders throughout their daily lives.
Further research, which is due to be released over the coming weeks, shows that attacks on church buildings are also on the rise. From repeated broken windows, to damage, lead theft from roofs and even arson, the police figures from 25 forces across the country make worrying reading. It is of course almost unavoidable that occasionally a priest or a vicar, who works with the sick or vulnerable finds themselves attacked. Likewise, it is of course likely that any building could become the target of vandalism.
But the question is not whether or not these incidents are going to happen, the question is whether the government or indeed any political party is going to stand up and do anything about it. Time and time again we have seen political parties turn a blind eye to the key pillars of British communities and this arrogant approach has to end. We need to see a much tougher approach to classifying attacks on members of the clergy as hate crimes, send a clear and concise signal that any attack will result in the most severe penalties, no matter what.
The next election cannot be won on ideas and slogans alone. A resounding election victory can only be delivered by capturing the hearts and emotions of the electorate, and to do this you need to campaign on the issues that impact their daily lives. Come polling day, voters need a real reason to get out of bed, to give up their time to travel to polling booth and to cast their votes.
The government has the opportunity to show that it respects and treasures the people that make up the pillars of British communities. Doing so will not only reinforce the values that are so critical to our country, it will mobilise a majority for a decisive election victory.
Clare George-Hilley is director of communities and social justice, Parliament Street Research Council and an elected Conservative councillor.
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