The Universe Column
April 25th 2010
In first-past-the-post elections we still use a cross to vote. Rich in Christian symbolism, the Cross is a painful reminder of the consequences when those who hold high civic office wash their hands of their responsibility. Two thousand years ago the Cross was Christ’s fate after Pilate’s refusal to exercise his political power with justice.
Today’s politicians have the same opportunity to act with justice or indifference – to engage in public service or to hide instead behind trite slogans and political spin; to make decisions affecting life and death.
These same political classes are currently held in very low esteem – and few will be sad to see the back of this Parliament. MPs of all parties are frequently reviled and you hear the endless refrain “they’re all the same; whoever gets in, nothing ever changes. Why should I bother voting?”
But this is a counsel of despair – and it is Pilate’s excuse: “It’s a dirty business so count me out.” The reality is that we are incredibly privileged to live in a democracy. Millions died fighting Nazism and Fascism in order to preserve our democracy. Countless others struggled over the centuries – from the Peterloo Massacre to the Great Reform Act, from the Chartists to the Suffragettes – to win us the right that so many now view with such contempt. And, by the way, there are still plenty of politicians who believe in public service and are not simply in politics for their own aggrandisement.
So, as we approach the May 6th General Election recall the price that has been paid to enable us to exercise our vote; remember, too, the people living under tyranny in counties such as Burma and North Korea – denied any say over who should govern them.
Remember also that in a democracy politicians are only as good as the people who vote for them. We get what we vote for – or don’t bother to vote for. It’s not that politics is a dirty business, although it’s perfectly true that some of those who practice it have dirty hands. It’s a business that determines priorities; how our families and communities are treated; whether laws are passed on the right to life of an unborn child, whether the churches will be permitted to run their own schools, or whether we maintain development support to Africa; and so much more besides.
So then you say, “but who should I vote for? Which party? Which leader?”
Well, unless you live in the constituency of one of the political leaders you will not be able to vote for any of them. We do not live in a presidential system.
You might, however, want to weight the general merits of each leader and the policies of their party as you look at the individual candidates in your own constituency.
Ask yourself whether you would want to be represented by a candidate from a party which wishes to increase control over church schools, has party policy on issues such as abortion, euthanasia and experiments on human embryos? Do they allow conscience votes on these sorts of issues or do they impose a party dictat?
Does the local candidate agree with those policies; if they are a sitting MP, how did they actually vote over the past five years?
These are tricky but crucial questions. Fortunately, at this General Election, several excellent resources have been developed to help voters work out how to use their Cross in accordance with their beliefs.
One first class web site has been created by Election Crossroads – a Christian, ecumenical and non-party political website focused on candidates prepared to stand up for Gospel values: www.electioncrossroads.org.uk
They say their aim is to test all candidates in every constituency on issues ranging from the environment to the family, bioethics, law and order and education. It’s fairly safe to assume that where a candidate has refused to give their views that they are hostile.
Among their questions to candidates are the following:
Do you believe that in the fight against terror, it is inevitable that some civic freedoms could be lost
Do you believe that greater recognition of, and support for, marriage within our society is key to
effectively addressing issues around child poverty, low educational attainment and family breakdown?
Would you vote to ensure that individual schools retain the freedom to determine the content of their
PSHE curriculum, consistent with the values and ethos of each school?
Would you vote to allow faith schools to retain the freedom to determine their own admission criteria
within an agreed national framework which avoids the use of government fixed quotas or targets?
Would you vote for or against the legalisation of assisted suicide?
How would you and your party support the target of the rich countries achieving carbon emissions
cuts of more than 40 per cent on 1990 levels, by the year 2020? Would you support a strengthening of
the UK Climate Change Act?
Election Crossroads is also encouraging constituents to ask their own questions and to share the candidates’ answers with others. The responses can then be photocopied or e-mailed and shared with others living in the same parish or neighbourhood.
Election Crossroads are not alone in providing information for voters who are weighing up the local choices. Other web sites set out information constituency by constituency:
Right To Life www.righttolife.org.uk ( the redoubtable Phyllis Bowman has been compiling the voting intentions of candidates on the central issues of the sanctity of human life – abortion, euthanasia, embryo experimentation: further details are available from Marietta@rightt olife.org.uk )
CARE (Christian Action, Research and Education) — www.care.org.uk
Christian Concern for Our Nation —
www.ccfon.org (CCFON also urges Christians to fast and pray between now and election day)
Christian Medical Fellowship —
Christian Institute —
www.christian.org.uk (CI is making the voting records of all current MPs available on line. You can check yours out on CI’s website)
Another excellent resource that has been issued to coincide with the election is The Westminster Declaration 2010 – supported by Cardinal Keith O’Brien – www.westminster2010.org.uk
It calls on all who subscribe to the historic Christian faith and who hold orthodox Christian beliefs about life, the role of the family and conscience to sign up. It asks parliamentary candidates to pledge ‘to respect, uphold and protect the right to hold Christian beliefs and to act according to Christian conscience.”
There is also helpful information on the web site of the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales:
So, there is no shortage of information available to us. The question is, will we bother to use it? Are we going to use our Cross to defend our beliefs and values or wash our hands of our responsibility?