So the results of the European elections are now in. While I (and many others) expected UKIP to do well, I did not expect them to do that well. It was just as in the local elections but even more so. UKIP have topped the polls and for the first time since 1906 another political party has managed to beat both Conservative and Labour into top spot. Sadly, the turnout was such that for every person who voted, two didn’t. While it might be reasonably argued that the local election result was not an earthquake, it would be harder to do so here. The real test of course will come in next year’s General Election when we will be voting for something more meaningful than representatives in what many see as a mere talking shop. One of the interesting, unexpected outcomes of this election was the surge in euro-skeptic sentiments in countries other than our own and, worryingly, of the right wing, racist type.
The analysis of what the results mean and where we go from now has no doubt begun. I hope that the main parties do take stock that what we see is more than a protest vote from a disillusioned public. Replacing the party leaders, for example, may result in some short term gains but doesn’t deal with the fundamental issues. While it could be construed, just as in the local elections, that the Liberal Democrats did worst, with Conservatives a bit better and Labour a bit better still, the fact is that all these parties did badly and one has to ask why? Here I need to curtail the temptation of extrapolating my hopes and concerns into the debate, since my record on aligning with the public mood has thus far not been good.
Just for the record, having thought hard who I would vote for in the European elections, just as I did in the local elections, I decided rather than spoil my ballot paper as many did that I would vote for the Christian Peoples Alliance, who unsurprisingly gained no seats. Also, for the record, I do feel the quality of the debate from all players has been poor. At best, it has resorted to soundbites and simplisticism, more geared to your average Sun reader than to those who would like to explore the issues more thoroughly. As some will discern, I have directed my thoughts at the latter category yet quite accept we must be careful not to lose those in the former.
When I spoke yesterday with an old friend who, as they say, says it as it is, his comment was that the Conservatives were complacent and out of touch, Labour had lost the plot and the Lib Dems were just “namby pamby”. UKIP success wasn’t because people were particularly in love with UKIP ideas but that the main political parties didn’t represent the silent majority and just maybe UKIP might. Given the hiatus when Nigel Farage said he would be concerned if a Romanian family were to move in next door, I thought I would asked my friend, who has lived in Romania for a number of years and married a Romanian, how he would have reacted. His response was, given his knowledge of the criminal mentality of some the Romanians he felt would be attracted to this country, he would feel the same. Sadly, those with the temerity to express such a view are often accused of racism.
This accusation of racism, among other things, has led some to believe UKIP to be unchristian. In yesterday’s BBC’s “The Big Questions” programme, the question was posed “Can you be a Christian and vote for UKIP?” we saw two black pastors argue opposite viewpoints. In the last few days, I have seen and even partaken in similar discussions with Christians who see things quite differently on this question. My own view is none of the parties are Christian per se but all the parties adopt some Christian principles and all parties contain some Christians. I would venture to suggest (but admittedly need more backup evidence) there may be proportionately more Christian UKIP members, albeit not the nice, fluffy, compliant type favoured by the political elite. When in my previous post I laid into the Tories for going against every principle of the 2010 Westminster Declaration, which underpins my own community activism, I should also have added that when it comes to the issues of the rights of the unborn, gay marriage and freedom of conscience that Labour and the Liberal Democrats would likely have come out worse and, I suspect, UKIP would have come out better.
I am not just talking about issues championed by the Christian right. Social justice issues traditionally championed by the Christian left come into it also. Consigning a quarter of a million asylum seekers to destitution because they cannot work and have no recourse to public funds is a national disgrace and goes against all that the Bible teaches when it comes to showing hospitality to the foreigner. Sadly, many who go on about racism conveniently overlook this. At least Mr Farage has stated he would allow such people to work if he were in power. Something I have dwelt on in previous posts is that we are seeing a paradigm shift in recent years in what shapes our world view. And what shapes our world view invariably shapes our politics.
The Judaeo-Christian consensus that once shaped British life and values and the priority that was given to doing the right thing, hard work and one’s duty are now being replaced by the gospel of equal rights, hedonism and tolerating everything except the intolerance of those who hold strong Christian views and adopt notions of absolute truth. One of the reasons I am less foreboding than some of my friends regarding UKIP success is that I believe the result will re-awake this debate as it is fundamental when determining the sort of country we are to be. As I write, the latest posting by the Christian Institute offers one of the areas where such a debate is needed.
But we are (as a friend frequently reminds me) where we are. The dust has to settle and we have to move on. While the ideological debates need to continue, we need to be individually going about doing our bit for the betterment of our community. When last night I parted from some of my rough sleeper friends who attended Open House at one of our churches, it was with a heavy heart. We had fed them, had entertained them and one notorious drunkard even had the audacity to thrash me at chess, but it was a drop in the ocean yet still important. Many of these were consigned to sleeping rough last night, whereas I was going to be tucked up in a warm bed (after listening to the BBC results program of course). There is work to be done, and as I suggested to a newly elected UKIP counselor and his Labour adversary from the same ward, it would be better to find common ground which I sense is enormous and work to the end that the poor people from their ward would be the beneficiaries.
This leads me nicely to reflecting again on the local scene. Europe still remains a bit of a mystery as does the power and influence of MEPs. That is a lot less so at a local level. I have detected in the past, certainly when I started working with the Council on the Growing Together project around 2000, that they the Council, and here I mean primarily Council officials, seemed very good about pulling the strings, lacking transparency and by virtue of having a better understanding of the rule book claiming the moral high ground yet managing to hinder the doers from making a meaningful difference. I do discern an improvement since then. Thankfully, our chief executive is no Sir Humphrey Appleby (of “Yes Minister” fame)! But members of the public may still be fobbed off, and councilors too.
Let me be clear, council officials have a difficult job and the austerity cuts have cut deep. Already they are showing more willingness to work with all and sundry on matters that affect the community and I very much welcome this. I have seen a good deal of evidence of exemplary public service. It maybe that we have lost some of our councilor heavy-weights, only to be replaced by naïve younger idealists, who really do need help. My plea and my vision then is that Councillors, Council officials and community groups and individuals do work together to fulfill the documented vision of Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, and that is to ”Create a better Southend”.