When I wrote part 1, I said there will a part 2 – when the European election results are declared on Sunday. I still plan for this but it will be part 3 (not 2). As there are a few further loose ends I would like to tie up and some personal perspectives I wanted to share, I want to write about these now and so what follows is part 2.
In an earlier post, I shared thoughts about one of my (unlikely) political heroes, Tony Benn, who recently died, who among other things helped get me interested in politics, and adopting a left wing perspective, at the ripe old age of 15. A little after that I got religion and, while not the entire reason, my (C)conservative Christian background not only tried to veer me toward the right but sought to persuade me that I should be focusing my attentions on higher goals, such as the world to come. As for Christian Socialists, I didn’t get too much exposure to these folk as they tended to be of a more liberal ilk and thus despised. Things have moved on considerably since then but that is another story, found in part in my writings.
One thing to be sure is I need to see things from God’s perspective, which is why I have written about the Gospel. We are exhorted that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” 1Timothy 2:1-4. While I have no doubt that good government and attention to matters to do with social justice are important in God’s eyes, it is interesting that the main object here is that we can live quietly and peaceably, and God wants people saved and to know the truth, and this has to govern my outlook and attitude toward politics. I take a view nowadays to contribute to the political process yet to look to God, who really is in control.
I have maintained an interest in politics ever since having that long ago youthful fascination, and more so in recent years. The reality is that in a democracy politics is the prescribed way of getting things done and as a community activist this is something I cannot ignore. Some have challenged me about becoming more involved in politics and maybe becoming a politician. I suspect to some extent I have long been doing this anyway. Alas, I feel I am too old and, as much as I try to resist it, my health is not too good, and this is important if one is to operate effectively in the political arena. The best I can do is to exercise my voting rights responsibly (i.e. to understand the issues and personalities better) and encourage a new generation of political activists, irrespective of their political preferences.
Those who have read my previous posts will rightly detect an air of ambivalence and skepticism toward all the main parties and it is one of the reasons I see the ascendency of the Independents and UKIP in a more positive light than many more closely aligned to mainstream politics. One of my disappointments was that after signing the Wesminster Declaration in 2010, I have witnessed the undermining of all the principles contained therein by the Conservative led coalition. Not that we would have fared better under Labour, I suspect. Labour may well have owed more in its development to Methodism than to Marx but I can well imagine John Wesley turning in his grave. The issue of, on one hand, a well managed economy, fiscal prudence, security, freedom etc., things the Conservatives have traditionally stood for, and that of social justice, fairness, equality, championing the rights of the poor etc., things Labour have traditionally stood for, continue to stir me, for both sets of priorities are right, even if the underlying philosophies may be flawed, and it is right for me to engage with politicians of all shades.
So I turn once again to UKIP. While their recent fortunes and more likely to follow when the European election results are announced may not be the earthquake claimed, these are still highly significant. I am grateful to one of the Christian UKIP leaders for posting me transcripts of John Bunyan’s trial. While many will know of, and some may identify with, Bunyan’s classic work: “Pilgrim’s Progress”, few will know the process by which he landed in jail for six years (when he wrote the book) and on the grounds of exercising his conscience. While things have moved on as they say, I feel I need to play devil’s advocate with the message I’m hearing from our liberal elite, and those that have been sucked in, including some of my friends, that UKIP is now the new nasty party to be avoided like the plague, along with its members. While I doubt the few who see things like Bunyan did, and here I align myself, will end up in jail like him, I sense the spirit of the age is leading us in that direction and just maybe UKIP, even if, unlike my friend, are ambivalent to religion, do more to resist this tendency than the major parties.
Regrettably, when I imbibe UKIP propaganda, as I try to do, as with all the parties, the overwhelming message that comes through is stop EU immigration and the only way to do so is leave the EU. Of course it is more complex than that and when my friend tells me that on his campaign trail many other issues were brought up, I believe him. However, it seems to me a strange thing that it is in those areas of greater social deprivation where UKIP fare better. Just maybe the folk that vote for UKIP do so because they have taken on board the idea that part of their woes have arisen because of the foreigners coming into the country. Sadly, balanced reporting and debating on the subject is not what I see much evidence of.
I have tried hard to support and empower black and minority ethnic communities, but will leave it to others to confirm my credentials. A lot of my work has been among the aforementioned foreigners and there are several who I look upon as friends. Being involved in the setting up of the Southend Zimbabwean Network and Southend Malayalee Association and these days with Communities and Asylum Seekers Together (CAST) is some of the evidence. The 2014 Immigration Act (supported by all the main political parties) is now on the statute books. It does a lot to try to curtail illegal immigrant activity and undesirable behavior by our foreign residents but fails to address issues around destitution such as I have come across more recently with some Eastern European rough sleepers and failed or “in the system” asylum seekers with no recourse to public funds and no right to work. The Oxfam “Coping with Destitution” report along with recommendations still makes salutary reading.
So where do we go from here? For me it is back to my community activism, as health and strength allows. I will watch with interest political developments and engage with our elected representatives and democratic processes as and when. My offer is to any politician to come and have a chat over a coffee in my favorite coffee house (The Utopia) where we can also buy a suspended coffee for one of our homeless friends. Some have commented on the calibre of the currently constituted Council, that it is less than before. Some who had worked hard and had understood and contributed well, were sitting councillors who lost their seats just because they were in the wrong party at the wrong time, to those who have yet to prove themselves. My hope and prayer is that those who have been elected will grow into what is a challenging and often thankless job, remembering that the reason why they are there is to serve the people who they represent, focusing on the facts, dealing with the issues, maintaining their dignity and making a necessary difference.