Dr Timothy Bradshaw, Oxford University theology department

WHAT are people of faith to make of the party conferences now winding up?

We certainly get a wider menu with the arrival of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader, taking his party further left.

Many Christians will resonate with this socialist agenda, and Liberation Theology is a global movement stressing ‘the preferential option for the poor’ by churches and by the state.

Like Mr Corbyn, these theologians wish to change unjust structures which they think operate in favour of the wealthy and against the poor.

The capitalist system, as Marx argued, funnels profits towards a few rich owners and away from workers.

The same criticism could be launched at the UK housing structures, with the badly-off renting and at high rates, the rich able to afford to buy a house and watch it appreciate, even buying more to rent out.

Theologians call for justice and can draw on the Hebrew prophets for this message, condemning those who ‘add house to house’, and ‘trample on the faces of the poor’.

Prime Minister and Witney MP David Cameron’s speech ranged far and wide, but also struck a note of wanting to help those trapped in poverty. He said he wanted equal opportunity for everyone, whatever their background, but did not attack the economic structures like Mr Corbyn.

He wished to ensure capitalism works more fairly to enable all to have a fair chance of prosperity, and for those at the bottom of the economic pile to be protected.

A previous Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath, a bitter opponent of Margaret Thatcher, was much influenced by the Christian tradition and wrote an introduction to Archbishop William Temple’s profound book Christianity and the Social Order, arguing for Christian values to operate in society, values which helped create the NHS.

Heath famously condemned the unacceptable face of capitalism – the markets cannot be allowed to become dominating forces crushing the vulnerable.

The Church of England’s 1985 report Faith in the City argued for urban priority areas being accorded special help to deal with social problems and unrest, a theme which the church has repeated in the run up to the last election.

And Mr Cameron could see his speech as chiming in with this liberal Christian tradition of trying to ensure the weak and vulnerable are cared for and the better off fulfilling their responsibilities in terms of tax.

But his speech was not crystal clear on policies.

Going back to the 19th Century, Disraeli was the archetypal one nation Tory happy to use state funding to build sewers and council houses.

Gladstone, his Liberal opponent and a devout Christian, was keen to stress individual responsibility and prudence, as did the ‘Nonconformist Conscience’ of the Free Churches.

Christians take a variety of views on how to support a fair and just society.

Mr Corbyn and Mr Cameron might be seen as representing the different approaches or emphases taken for a century and more by Christians.

One happy to use state power to enforce equality and justice, one happy to moderate the worst excesses of the market forces and ensure those who come off worst in the capitalist competition are looked after but not disempowered in the process.