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Commentary

Centre court

Agnostics anonymous

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When in opposition, move to the centre. It took the Tories a long time to grasp that rule, and for the first two terms of Labour government they seemed to assume that the electorate had taken leave of its senses and would come crying back. Assured of their entitlement to rule, the Tories were smug and self-satisfied, unable to understand the breadth and depth of the loathing they inspired across large swathes of the country.

It's harder to pinpoint the date at which Christianity went into opposition in Britain. The national religion was never ousted in a landslide but eroded by the congregants voting with their feet. The Church of England, once 'the Tory party at prayer', has pursued the centre, adapting style and doctrinal content to a society transformed by the sixties' various social revolutions. As we have come to expect, the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury consistently offered a left-wing, liberal critique rather than a narrowly Christian message. That's what you do in opposition; talk about what other people are interested in.

And yet for all its forays into politics, Christianity continues to lose relevance as it loses members; it is in the same position as a political party no-one will vote for. Its appeal is not helped by the fact that the smugness and self-satisfaction of individual Christians seems to increase as their number decreases. The defeated Tories in 1997 made a few brief verbal gestures of humility before demanding to be returned to the power they had abused. Individual Christians are often willing to boast about their humility, but the reverse side of this is a gloating pride about being part of the spiritual royalty.

British Christians and Tories seem locked into an unpopularity contest, a hostile symbiosis. Both brands alienate huge swathes of the British population. Both seek liberal approval in order to 'detoxify' their brands. And the best way for Tories to appear liberal is to distance themselves from Christianity, and vice versa.

That's the context in which to understand David Cameron's endorsement of gay marriage. The Tories eventually clawed back power when rebranding allowed them to get past the sensitive filters of the electorate's nostrils. Once in power, they immediately reverted to type, and the electorate is nauseated again. Cameron's answer is to court unpopularity with traditionalists. 'I hope we won't fall out too much over gay marriage', Cameron told church leaders.

But it's obvious that conservative Christians will push back, and every bit of resistance will bolster Cameron's standing with the voters he believes hold the electoral balance. You define yourself in opposition, and the Christians are David Cameron's stooge now.