This is the third and final post in my “Election results 2015” series and in it I want to consider the bigger picture and weigh the wider implications around the Conservative outright win in last Thursday’s General Election (click here and here for the first two). I knew it will be a challenge and I have no doubt that when I hear others try to address the same question they will come up with points I may not have considered and thereby that understanding increases, as indeed it must, and besides we will soon start to see. I am sure that among my friends there will be those who will be pleased with the outcome and those who won’t be (and that is to put it mildly). I urge both extremes not to get carried away and not to lose hope. I feel it is beholden on all of us to try and put aside our differences and work together toward the common good and heal any wounds, and I would urge the government to take a lead in this regard, as well as the various community groups, and especially the churches. In an age when we see things happening on a daily basis we would rather didn’t, it seems pertinent to point out the God is in control whatever our feelings about these particular election results are and, when it comes to governments, he raises them up and casts them down, and in the final analysis it is His purposes that prevail.
As predicted, I surprised a number by my announcement that I would vote Green nationally and UKIP locally, or more accurately for the candidates standing on those tickets. Understandably, some might accuse me of being schizophrenic given that on a number of issues the two parties are entirely opposed. But as I have long maintained, the issues facing us are many and complex and no party has got it right on all of these – by a long chalk. The best I can do is ask the question: what is the common good, and what is best for it, think (and pray) carefully about it and act accordingly, urging others to do likewise. I realize it is a big job, often with few obvious answers, but one we should consider according to our limitations. There are many issues. Even at the count, one “friend” shared yet another “issue”, which was crime was not something any of the parties satisfactorily had picked up on, leading me to wonder what on balance is the right approach overall for best government.
My two candidates (who did not get elected – by a long chalk) know this. After I wrote, I read reports that would seem to add to my concerns about their two parties. In Thurrock, not so far from where I live, there were reports of UKIP playing the racist card in its campaigning, thereby causing distress to the immigrant population, which reliable friends have confirmed. Two statements / actions by Green party leaders added to the marriage / abortion concerns I had. Natalie Bennet said she would look favourably on three way marriages and I discovered Caroline Lucas had brought forward a motion in Parliament to restrict the actions of protestors outside of abortion clinics (marriage, abortion, along with freedom of conscience are key issues for me). I am happy to have discussions with my UKIP / Green friends on these matters but suffice to say any support I might lend them will be qualified and to be beholden to the bigger picture / wider issues. I could go on at length about the other parties and have done so in my earlier blogs. Andrea Williams, CEO of Christian Concern, made a number of important points in her Election 2015 message, which illustrates why I am less than enthusiastic regarding the Conservative victory.
I say all this not just to set the record straight, nor merely to set out my store concerning things I believe are important that may not be shared by my readers (after all, isn’t that why we have elections, so these can be aired and we can come to a collective view?), but rather to ask the question: to what extent do the Conservatives have a mandate to govern? According to the rules they do, providing they keep broadly to their manifesto commitments (if they don’t the people should vote them out at the next opportunity), but is it wise to ignore the concerns of those who voted for other parties? While what people write on Facebook does not reflect that of people generally, even I have been taken aback by the dismay expressed by many of my “friends” over the election result. If there is to be a “healing of the nation” we ignore these concerns at our peril. Equally, given the Conservatives got more votes than any other party illustrates that within the country there is a concern for matters such as growing the economy and balancing the books. The Scottish concerns are pertinent given the success of the SNP, which received a huge mandate in Scotland, and as far as I can make out the SNP and the Conservatives are poles apart ideologically speaking.
The issue of the voting system is relevant here. Supporters of UKIP and the Greens are right- they do have widespread popular support but they are not represented in Parliament. While it is true the idea of Alternative Voting was rejected by the British people when put to a referendum in 2011, the ideas ought to be aired again and creatively to address the concerns of those who feel increasingly dis-enfranchised. Ever since I studied this subject at school, I have been aware of the pros and cons of different voting methods yet realise we need to be more democratic. But there are many other issues to consider: how for example do we preserve the Union (something the Conservatives are rightly committed to)? How to ensure there is a fair EU in-out referendum that is not designed as an appeasement exercise that will deliver what the politicians want? How do we address the glaring social injustices that exist in society including addressing the huge needs of the NHS and Britain’s housing crisis, and how do we help the poorest in our society, especially if more money is to be taken out of welfare, and how do we go about tightening our belts to reduce debt / deficit such that the poor are not the hardest hit as seems to be currently the case, and how do we make sure that those who can pay taxes do and those who shouldn’t don’t? One thing to be sure, the ideological debates on all these matters, will continue and so they should because questions around fighting for social justice, identifying Britain’s place in the world, working out what constitutes the national good, how to clear the national debt and realising the aspirations of a sizable non-problematic constituency matter immensely.
There is much more about the election and its aftermath than could be discussed here. For example there are the three main losers (Nick Clegg, Ed Milliband and Nigel Farage) doing the honourable thing and resigning – but then what next for their parties? There are big questions around Europe and Scotland – how to proceed? There is the new government, quickly put together once the outcome of the elections was known – discuss? There are the details of the government’s program to deal with (or not depending on one’s views) the key issues – what might these be and what should these be? There is the question of the government’s slender majority and how to ensure elected representatives are made accountable? There are the many mini-events that took place during and following the election, which also merit consideration? While this is interesting, and no doubt these matters will be discussed in various media, this is not something that particularly interests me right now as far as blogging is concerned. What does interest me is the big question that I never quite answered to my own complete satisfaction when I cast my vote at the polling station – what is the common good and given we are now where we are, with the people having spoken via the ballot box, what should we be doing next to achieve it?
I don’t have many of the answers and neither do the politicians. The prayer event I attended on the eve of the elections was partly inspired by the text: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land”. If I have an agenda in my political blogging and community activism, it is while I wish to serve unconditionally those of all faiths and none, it is also to bring people closer to God, and therein lies my hope; not in any politician. We (particularly the people of God) need to call on God’s name; we need to humble ourselves; we need to pray; we need to seek God’s face; we need to turn from our wicked ways (and that includes taking care of the poor and needy). This country needs to see the hand of God and to know God’s forgiveness and God’s healing.