Page last updated at 09:45 GMT, Monday, 14 April 2008 10:45 UK

Christian candidate's family focus

Interview
By Emma Griffiths
BBC News political reporter

ALAN CRAIG
Alan Craig
Age: 62
Family: Married, four children
Education: Newcastle University, MBA from Manchester Business School
Lives: Canning Town
Career: Chief executive RDF group, work with young offenders, director Mayflower Family Centre, councillor

Alan Craig believes Christianity has been dealt something of a poor hand by a "secular agenda" in politics.

The Newham councillor says political correctness has not left people "space to have a conscience", something which has helped turn society "superficial, materialistic and selfish".

"Everything is about shopping and celebrities. The vulnerable just get swept aside," said Mr Craig, 62, leader of the Christian People's Alliance and the Christian Choice candidate for London mayor.

He points to community projects, such as an Ilford-based drugs rehabilitation which he says lost money because their Christian ethos did not fit government funding guidelines.

"That sort of thing is complete nonsense," he said.

"It is precisely that secular agenda that's actually wrecking so much of society and that's why I set up the party."

Lives 'wasted'

Mr Craig, father to two daughters and two stepsons, is a strong believer in Christian values and the family's place at the heart of society, and of government.

Becoming a Christian in his late 20s, he turned his back on a successful career in business and a "posh flat" in Highgate to move to Canning Town - one of London's most deprived areas - in the East End.

There his belief that the breakdown of the family was at the root of much of society's ill was strengthened during his work with young offenders in the 1980s.

He set up a hostel to house young men coming out of prison, who wanted to go straight - but with no support network were at risk of falling back in with their old associates.

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"I saw young men whose lives were being wasted in prison and I thought something could be done about it. I wanted to have a go," he said.

"The vast majority of them came from 'broken homes' - which is a concept which we don't use so much now - a significant number of them came from care homes."

He said it had become "an established track" for youngsters in care to do some time in prison - "to them it was normal".

'The M word'

While he says he understands the arguments about needing more policemen on the streets and more youth clubs and other facilities - he argues a deeper shift in values is needed to properly tackle youth crime.

"Some of these kids are 'unclubbable' they enjoy being on the street," he said.

"I know there's no easy solution to it... it's very very difficult to get them off that track."

He added: "The mayor, in his or her role as a political leader, has to start shifting things back in favour of marriage and the family."

Street pastor at work in Swindon
Mr Craig says street pastors have been a success

The Conservatives have complained about the "tax bias" against marriage - but Mr Craig says he was discussing the issue nine years ago when the "M word" was not mentioned in Parliament because "they will accuse you of being against single mums".

He says it is "perfectly valid" to try to help single parents, but by doing so "we have actually financially disadvantaged marriage".

"At the end of the day, marriage should be about love. But actually if you are setting up a situation where you are encouraged to split, it isn't even a level playing field.

"Society is saying marriage is not a good way of bringing up children, through its tax and benefit system."

'Hollow laugh'

Crime is a big issue in Canning Town - where 22-year-old Peter Woodhams was shot dead outside his home by a teenager after months of harassment. Last November Biendi Litambola, 17, died after an assault on the street.

In 2005 it was among areas blacklisted by courier firm DHL because its drivers complained of thuggish behaviour by gangs of youths.

Ministers' claims that there is no "epidemic" of gun and knife crime are greeted with "a hollow laugh" in this part of London, says Mr Craig.

He would like to see more use made of voluntary sector faith groups - such as street pastors in Kingston and Peckham who talk to youngsters out on a Friday and Saturday night who he says are making a "real difference", as they are non-confrontational.

We all rub along together but we don't need this huge mosque, the biggest in Europe, coming in and teaching this form of separatism
Alan Craig

While other parties may consider themselves left or right wing - he says he has got a foot in both camps. He has got no problem with businesses, which he says can be "creative and positive", but says they should contribute to their local community.

And he adds: "I think some of the unmerited City bonuses that some of these young men and women are getting in the City are just absolutely obscene... Business is a good thing but there are extremes."

He is anti-abortion and believes there is a "gay agenda" which is trying to reconstruct the traditional family model, but says he does not judge and "people are allowed to choose their lifestyle".

"If you talk about our pro-life, pro-family issues you will think us right wing - that's valid on that issue. But our issues on social justice, about tackling issues of poverty and deprivation and what do we do at the town hall in Canning Town, that puts us on the left. I would call myself a Christian democrat."

Mosque campaign

Of the mayoral race he says he is "in it to win it" but also hopes the publicity will boost his votes at least enough to land him a seat on the London Assembly, something he says is certainly "do-able".

The party itself has between 400 and 500 members, reckons Mr Craig - mostly in London. His predecessor as CPA mayoral candidate Ram Gidoomal managed to get more than 40,000 first preference votes at each of the 2000 and 2004 elections.

Mr Craig has made a name for himself as a leading opponent of plans to build a 12,000 capacity mosque in the heart of the East End - a battle that provoked one person to make an "obituary" video to him and his family and put it on YouTube.

Christianity is in the soul of the country
Alan Craig

His main argument is against the group who wish to build the mosque - Tablighi Jamaat - who he says preach separatism and will upset the ethnically diverse community.

"We all rub along together but we don't need this huge mosque, the biggest in Europe, coming in and teaching this form of separatism," he said.

Tablighi Jamaat say claims it will be a "mega mosque" are an exaggeration - as the plans will also include a school, conference centre and garden which will be open to everyone.

The mosque will be one of his main campaigning issues - and he says it is not just Christians who are against it, he has the support of many Muslims too.

He claims some support from other faiths in previous local elections - and says there are many Londoners who might not go to church regularly, but consider themselves Christians.

He points out an example of a local primary school which chose to celebrate a "festival of lights" on 14 December 2005 - rather than holding a Christmas carol service.

This he says, is the sort of issue which really annoys people, who are otherwise perfectly happy for their children to participate in other faiths' festivals. The party says that incident alone pushed up their vote share in the 2006 local elections.

"These are the sort of people who will vote for us," he said.

"Christianity is in the soul of the country, you can't erase it just like that."





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