London (CNSNews.com) - Leaders of Britain's opposition Conservative Party are meeting Wednesday with two advisors to Texas Governor George W Bush, including the man credited with helping shape the Republican presidential candidate's "compassionate conservatism" and "faith-based" welfare proposals.
Marvin Olasky and Don Willet will give a presentation to Conservative leader William Hague, who in recent months has been increasingly wooing Britain's "religious vote," and other members of his shadow cabinet.
Olasky, editor of the Christian newsmagazine World, University of Texas lecturer and Presbyterian Church elder, will be advising the Conservatives on how to involve churches and other religious communities in social welfare programs. Willet recently joined Bush's campaign policy team.
The two are visiting as part of an initiative by the Conservative Christian Fellowship, whose members include Conservative lawmakers.
Although one British paper Wednesday labeled Olasky, Bush's "religious guru," Olasky describes his involvement with the Governor in more modest terms.
In a letter written last March in reaction to criticism about his political position, and published in World magazine, he wrote: "My involvement with Gov. Bush has been occasional since 1993 and purely volunteer, with an emphasis on public policy ways to help Bible-based anti-poverty groups."
In the same letter, Olasky also wrote: "World has criticized Gov. Bush several times and pushed him particularly on abortion."
Politically and socially aware but not generally party political, religious Britons are considered a key target group in the next general election.
Hague has recently picked up on a number of themes likely to appeal to these voters, including abortion, the government's recent abolition of allowances for married couples, and the current dispute over the promotion of homosexuality in schools.
Earlier this year, he addressed a large evangelical gathering and appealed in a major Catholic publication for support of his stance on moral and ethical issues. He has also made approaches to the Jewish community, and recently paid a visit to Israel.
Hague said recently that despite their track records, many British faith-based projects were over-taxed and over-regulated, and struggled to do well under the Labor government
"In particular, faith-based groups are often required to dilute their religious character in return for continued funding when that character is actually the essence of their success."
Writing in Wednesday's London Times, Hague said he learned during a visit to Bush's home state last year of the successes of faith-based welfare.
"In some of Britain's poorest areas churches and other faith communities are pioneering innovative projects to help people to overcome multiple disadvantages. These projects appreciate the economic challenges facing individuals and their communities, but balance this with consistent relational support and a spiritual message of hope."
Hague promised that a future Conservative government would lift restrictions on and ensure support for religious-based welfare centers in Britain. It would also oppose any possible interference in the sector by the European Union.
"Successful faith-based programs are often denied government funds because of their spiritual foundations and the European Union's proposed Employment Directive may seriously imperil their independence.
"I will fight to protect the independence of faith-based projects as well as the right of potential users of such programs to choose a secular alternative."
Comment from the Conservative Christian Fellowship was unavailable Wednesday. But the CCF website says a delegation, including CCF director, Tim Montgomerie, and lawmaker Gary Streeter, last year visited three Texas faith-based welfare projects which had benefited from Bush's initiatives, including Teen Challenge in Fort Worth, "part of one of the most successful drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs in the USA."
The CCF site also features Hague's "five common sense guarantees for Christians."
It says a future Conservative government will: restore a recognition of marriage in the tax and benefits system; encourage church-based welfare programs; end current license discrimination against Christian broadcasters; give religious communities new opportunities to run schools; and "declare war on corruption and political correctness that prevents aid reaching the poorest of the world."
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