Ballot box

This post is the last in my series summarising some of the arguments in my new book Why Progressives Need God.

An election looms. How do we decide who to vote for?

Most of us decide differently from the way our parents did.

The Second World War generated a public mood of collaboration in a shared effort. For a few decades afterwards it seemed natural for political debate to be about how ‘we’, the nation, should be governed. The question was: what policies would be best for the nation as a whole?

One of the lasting changes made by Margaret Thatcher was to repudiate this concept. She combined a belief that ‘there is no such thing as society’ with an economic theory that if everybody pursued their own individual interests we would all be better off. Although she did not know it, both these beliefs are direct contradictions not only of the teaching of Jesus but also of the social teaching of most faith traditions. I introduced the reasons in the first three posts in this series.

After Thatcher, the trend has been to encourage people to vote according to individual self-interest. This is made clear, for example, in the way newspapers and television programmes cover the annual Budget, calculating who will be better off and who worse off.

Once this change is accepted, the next is inevitable. If each of us is to vote for whatever suits us as an individual, why do we have to focus only on our financial interests? Why not choose our own criteria? Why should we not vote, if we so choose, for the most good-looking candidate? Why not treat elections like a Big Brother contest?

And so we reach the current election debate. Polly Toynbee reports that the pollster Deborah Mattinson

asked her voter panels to keep diaries at the last election, and found 80% of what they wrote every day concerned their feelings about leaders, not the policies.

A Guardian editorial a month ago described the situation as dangerously unserious. There is

a dysfunction in the conduct of British elections: a process that is meant to advertise policy choices to voters looks ever more like an exercise in the deliberate suffocation of ideas…
The shrinkage of policy debate conducted on a commonly acknowledged basis of fact feels suddenly acute.

This is the logical conclusion of the self-centredness which an individualistic culture inevitably generates.

If there is to be any successful movement to reverse this decline it will not come from the current Government, or the main television channels, or the daily newspapers, or the leaders of industry. We have to look elsewhere for public figures who speak out in favour of something better. Ken Loach is one, with his I, Daniel Blake.

Here is another, a man who is not up for re-election and does not need to ingratiate himself with the media: Paul Bayes, the Bishop of Liverpool:

Christians are called to be involved in politics because politics is about people, about the society we want, about the love and justice we want in the world. By thinking, praying and voting we demonstrate our love for our Lord and our love for our neighbour. Here is one way where we can indeed make a bigger difference…
In particular I ask all followers of the risen Christ to think, speak and vote so as to help the poorest and displaced.This year’s election is one that can bring real hope to the UK. For us, that hope comes from the power and life of the risen Jesus. As we pray each day… we ask the Lord - in our public life, in our care for the weak, in our love for one another, as we vote, may thy Kingdom Come.

This is the kind of leader we need now. How we vote matters. We should take it seriously.