James GRAY   Conservative MP for North Wiltshire

It always used to be said that three topics which should never be discussed at a dinner party are politics, religion and women. The link between the first two (I would not possibly open a conversation about the third) struck me during a 3 or 4 day holiday staying with friends in France.

Every village, every hamlet in France - as in Wiltshire - has a magnificent church. Most of them are mediaeval, built at a time when the peasants lived in hovels, with a short life expectancy. Life was indeed nasty, brutish and short in the words of that great Malmesbury man, Thomas Hobbes. Yet from all that poverty and misery they found a way to build these spectacularly beautiful and elaborate churches, and then to stuff them full of priceless treasures, many of which are still there today. A waste of money when half the people were starving? Perhaps. But as Jesus himself said to the Pharisee who had upbraided a prostitute for pouring an alabaster box of precious ointment on his feet, “The poor ye have always, but I am here but for a short time.” Just think of the astonishing devotion, the sheer belief in God and the afterlife which produced such stupendous churches as Hobbes’ own much loved Malmesbury Abbey.

Perhaps the worse life is, the more you need religion and belief to deal with it. “Religion is the opiate of the people” as Karl Marx observed, quoting (perhaps without knowing it), the Revd Charles Kingsley of ‘The Water Babies’ fame. That religion was the ‘opiate of the people’ was, to Kingsley, a good thing, not a bad one.

Perhaps something the same can be said of politics. Since the days of Cicero, the general public have derided politics and politicians as being ‘in it for themselves’; ‘out of touch with ordinary people;’ ‘getting it all wrong;’ ‘lazy, stupid, corrupt and generally useless.’ But then when things go haywire, when we come to a hotly contested election such as this year’s - when the people came to realise that they were facing a Miliband Government supported by Nicola Sturgeon - that’s when they ‘came home to Nanny’ and elected a Conservative Government. The least bad of the options available, as Churchill famously described democracy.

The tougher times are, the more we need religion and politics. I went to three church services in the last few days - that commemorating Trooper Collingborn at Brinkworth; the lovely, chatty family funeral of dear Nancy Ivory at Tockenham; and later that day a charming country wedding in Broughton Gifford. Religion plays a very real part in our lives at important times such as these; and so does politics.

As for women - well, they are essential to all of us at every point in our lives. As Confucius says “women hold up half the sky.” We should celebrate and nurture our wives and daughters, mothers, grannies and aunties. Without them, life would be troublesome indeed.

Politics, Religion and women. Where would we be without them?