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Raising the colours 11 April 2015

Posted by Dr Moose in Faith, Life, Politics, Ponderings.
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I suspect we have all, at some time in our lives, found ourselves saying something along the lines of “I’ll never do that!” What the that in question is will have varied, with different degrees of disgust, censoriousness or belief. As we grow older we may find ourselves confirmed in these positions, or grow to find that they are no longer desirable, appropriate, supportable, sustainable or simply no longer of such importance. Our self knowledge and beliefs change, as do our circumstances.

I was brought up in a stable, middle-class household, rather more affluent than I believed at the time. Although I’m old enough to have lived through the industrial disruptions of the early 1970s, with the three-day week and so forth, I have no functional memory of them. Admittedly there was a feeling, one whose origins that I can in no way substantiate, that the Labour Party was not for “us”. As the years went by I came to realise that Dad leant towards the classical Liberal Party, while Mum was most clearly Conservative. But even then it’s worth remembering that the political centreground around which things moved was considerably further to the Left than it is now. Despite the fact that I have never voted Conservative, and cannot see any circumstances under which I would do so in the near to mid future, I would probably have fitted comfortably enough with the pre-Thatcher party and it’s attitudes.

I was fortunate enough to attend public school in the late 1970s through to the mid 80s, an experience for which I’m very grateful, even though I’m still finding attitudes shaped by that period, and occasionally being made to question them by the circumstances and developments of the day. I also came to a very definite and clear Christian faith in that period, in no small measure due to the influence of fellow students and masters (they definitely were not teachers) at school. My evangelical zeal may have moderated somewhat over the years, but my faith remains, that in Jesus Christ is to be found the surest way to approach the holy divine that we call God, whose love and acceptance we cannot earn through our own efforts. A measure of the importance I place upon that is shown by the fact I’ve been an ordained minister in the Church of England for 15 years.

I suspect that it was about that time I made the statement that I would never join a political party. It seemed as far-fetched an idea as joining a Trade Union, which is hardly surprising as the son of a professional (whose income was considerably greater than I realised or even really understood until the realities of life came my way, first as a perpetual student and more recently as a full-time University Chaplain and home-owner, removed from the considerable benefits of being a parish priest).

I would never join a political party though. On the one hand there was something about the need to align my views with those of a larger body, which would inevitably include policies and concepts I couldn’t agree with. On the other, the statements of so many along the way that politics was the art of compromise, which, to my mind at least doesn’t sit very comfortably with the doctrinal, or even dogmatic, statements that issue forth from those who are elected, or wish to be elected, to represent us.

However I can’t help but admit that over the years, despite a degree of what I would hope is healthy cynicism (and it is too easy for clergy like me to acquire a degree of unhealthy cynicism) I have found most MPs and councillors I’ve come across to be personable, professional and, when asked, helpful. I have to say most, not all, as I’m still human and quite capable of taking a dislike to people and their attitudes! (None of us are as rational as we’d like to believe). I’ve also learnt through the practicalities of an active Christian faith and through holding an ordained position within the church that there are ways to clearly stand for what you believe to be important at the same time as respecting (and where necessary opposing) the views of others, whether you are in the majority or not within the wider body.

The passage of time has also brought about a different perspective in matters beyond the personal. I’ve only ever once failed to vote in a General Election (due to circumstances beyond my control), once deliberately spoilt a ballot (over the farcical Police and Crime Commissioner election) and never missed a council election. I have the right to vote and the responsibility to exercise it. But despite this I genuinely feel that it has made very little difference in the best part of the last thirty years, except perhaps in 1997. As the years have gone by the political centre has continued to move to the Right, favouring ever greater private interest and business profit over the welfare of community and nation in an electoral system that is out of date and out of touch. (It could be argued, of course, that I am out of touch…)

I suppose for me there have been two catalysts for change, the recent Scottish Independence referendum was one, showing that people were willing to engage in something if they felt it was of relevance to them. The other has been the rise of the UK Independence Party. That I disagree with their politics goes without saying but their increasing support cannot be denied, even setting aside the question of the role of the mass media in raising the profile of their leader. For whatever reason, or combination of reasons, they are having a disproportionate share in setting the political agenda, driving it further in an unpleasant direction. Enough people are both disenchanted with the status quo and believe that their votes will send a clear signal to those in power (and might make a difference) that they are prepared to move beyond traditional boundaries. This is not something that has suddenly appeared, the party has been around for years and have acquired a reputation and financial backing.

So, a couple of months ago, I did that which I said I would never do. I joined a political party. It doesn’t mean that I agree with all their policies by any means. I agree with enough, and that is a reflection of my life experience, something I didn’t have all those years ago. I have become part of the “Green Surge”. I don’t believe for a minute that a massive swing in this constituency will return a Green Member of Parliament. I find it highly unlikely that the Greens will have enough MPs to make substantial input in any coalition government in the near future (although the voice of the SNP should prove interesting). I’m not even sure whether I’m visionary or despairing to be honest. I will not be canvassing, just as I don’t engage in evangelism on campus, but I’m open to conversation. I see no reason in simply voting for the lesser of two evils any more. Tactical voting has its place in certain places and certain times. But it is tactical, not strategic, and we need a strategic change. To simply vote for the least objectionable option isn’t enough any more, not if all the mainstream parties are dancing to UKIPs pied piper. There is desperate need for a counter-melody, a strain to draw in the opposite direction and encourage thinking the unthinkable, introducing new ideas and energy. There will be no overnight change, the system is too entrenched for that (and we English aren’t very good at revolutions). I’m fed up with a vote that counts for nothing, but I’m old enough to see the long view. I have to exercise it in my faith all the time, so why not my politics? It is better to light a candle against the growing darkness than to rage against the dying of the light…. and it makes finding the light switch easier!

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Comments»

1. andiibowsher - 11 April 2015

Me too -joined the Green surge. Though my personal history is different: I come from a background where voting Labour was/is more likely, I was once a member of the Green Party when it was known as the Ecology Party. 🙂


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