Well, here is a personal reflection on the processes I went through in deciding who to vote for. My friends will know that I work for a non-party political organisation so my conclusions here have no bearing on my employer. This is a post for my friends and has been deliberately posted after the election so as not to be seen to affect anyone else’s choice (as if what I think could!). I have travelled over 8000 miles in the run-up to this election, talking to hundreds of Christians, hearing their concerns and often being challenged about my views. I have always tried to be gracious and open (I failed on at least two occasions)- and have avoided the question of who I was going to vote for throughout. But I have been honest in stating that I was undecided until the last ten days of the campaign. So here is my reasoning- feel very free to disagree:
I am an internationalist- I think that as a rich country we should be prepared to play our part in alleviating suffering and investing in sustainable projects to help the poorest in the world. We should be part of the EU- fighting our corner for a more democratic legislature that serves its inhabitants better. But this will not be achieved by leaving it to others. And I welcome the immigrant, the alien, the foreigner, they should not be the scapegoats for the failings of our society. So at this point, it’s cheerio to UKIP.
Without a strong economic base it is impossible to provide a decent welfare state and opportunities for all members of society. So the numbers have to add up. As I sifted through the parties policies I found much to agree with and thought that in general, the parties had done a good job in being realistic about the next five years. One party fell short however- I couldn’t see how the citizen’s income, the extra houses etc could be afforded when the country is £1.5 trillion in debt – and rising. There seemed to be no way this had been priced in- and no Green candidate I heard from had any policy on economic growth (possibly because their commitment to sustainability means they are fundamentally opposed). Here I said bye bye to the Greens.
The Welfare State
Following on for the economy is the issue of social justice in our nation and how this is carried out via our welfare state. Firstly, though as a Christian, one thing I had to bear in mind was this- there are perhaps 5-10% of the nation who are practising, committed Christians. I am not making any judgments on others, simply indicating our tiny minority status. It is therefore no good us saying ‘the church should provide all the welfare as part of our mission’- the nation has important responsibilities here. So as I surveyed the policies on welfare the biggest turning point of the election, for me, occurred. The Conservatives announced that they would ban tax rises during this parliament- VAT, National Insurance, Income Tax. Alongside the unspecified £12 billion welfare cuts this can only mean more cuts to public services. And cuts to public services mean the poor and the vulnerable being the most affected. Alongside their spirited defence of the ‘non-doms’ this didn’t speak to me as a socially just approach. Imagine if there’s another worldwide economic recession- tax rises cannot help so deeper cuts will have to take effect. I spoke to a Conservative councillor who told me that he doesn’t know how to meet next year’s projected budget let alone the implications of these policies. So- despite thinking the coalition had done a good job, I wasn’t going to vote Conservative.
I am basically socially conservative. There were two particular issues that I had my eye on- assisted suicide and the laws around prostitution especially as they relate to human trafficking. The Liberal Democrats seem to me to be heading in a different direction on these issues due to their belief in autonomy (I know, however, that Nick Clegg isn’t a fan of assisted suicide). People should have the right to assisted suicide- it’s their decision- is the argument so often voiced without any reference to the wider effects on the elderly and disabled (cf. Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson). And at a recent conference, the Lib Dems endorsed the right of women to work as sex workers rather than adopting the Scandinavian approach of prosecuting the buyers. So, I wasn’t part of team yellow.
Which leaves me with Labour (SNP were not on my ballot paper and nor were any other candidates/parties). Were they the least worst option? As I have said many times publicly- no party is the perfect party (apart from the Gareth Davies party which I would agree with perhaps 90% of the time!) and we shouldn’t expect too much from them. Ultimately, my trust is in God and not a political ideology. I think Labour had some good policies on tax (I prefer council tax rebanding rather than mansion tax), welfare (axing the bedroom tax) and a more positive vision for the country. They also seemed to have more people in their party favouring the Scandinavian approach to tackling prostitution and more breadth of thought (than the Lib Dems, anyway) generally on social issues (think, Blue Labour). So on this occasion I plumped for the Reds.
Other comments- I have consistently despaired of negative campaigning and this particular election was dire in this regard. The ‘You can’t trust Ed Miliband- he stabbed his brother in the back’ mini-campaign was its nadir. The personal attacks were designed to stop people thinking about policy (in this case to move the argument away from the ‘non-doms’). The discussion of policy was minimal- a real loss to our democracy.
In the event we have a Conservative majority government (with an SNP landslide in Scotland). Many of my friends have been concerned that the Liberal Democrats have been a negative force hampering the government from achieving more for the country. That argument seems to have won the day. Congratulations to the Conservatives and the SNP and commiserations to everyone else. We pray for our country, its leaders and all its citizens.