Category Archives: Government

No wasted votes

It seems that it’s only the prospect of significant political upheaval that has the power to boot me up the butt and get me on the old blog.

I wish I was motivated and disciplined enough to write more regularly – I really do – but I think for now I’m content just to write whenever I feel the pressing need to.

And I’m not writing as a political expert – far from it! – but the winds of politics seem to be buffeting us Brits every which-way at the moment, and the narrative – which appeared to be destined to unfold in only one possible way just a few short months ago – has fractured into possibilities rather than certainty. I’m left with my jaw hanging open, wondering what on Earth is going to happen next…

Which brings me nicely here, to my blog that is all about questions; a little online space I have carved out for myself for whenever the pressure of such wonderings becomes so great that I have to release it by expressing them to a wider audience than just my long-suffering husband.

The most immediate, pertinent question to me at the moment is one that a friend of mine posed at the weekend: if you are voting in a safe seat against the candidate that will almost certainly win, what is the point or value of your vote? This question came out of a genuine weight of concern that voting with her conscience would have no effect. It’s one I’ve asked myself in the past, and for once, I feel like it’s a question that I have at least a partial answer for.

My response at the time was to point out to my friend that even if the same MP is returned again this time, if everyone who wants to vote for another candidate does so, there will be firm evidence of whether political opinion has remained the same or shifted at all. If the voting data records a shift, that’s worth noting and will be noted.

After she left, and I thought about it some more, as I felt as though that answer required further development. Voters may not, after all, see the value in recording shifts in opinion. So if there is a value, what is it?

Very simply, if the results of an election show a shift in public opinion, whoever wins said election has to take note, or they risk losing the support of the electorate. A swing in voting tells our country’s leaders the proportion of people who care about certain policies. If it’s enough of a swing, it will change the focus and direction of political debate, and give the opposition more power to oppose policies that the public views as harmful.

Perhaps it doesn’t sound like much, and I know there isn’t a huge proportion of the electorate that follows political debate closely between elections, but believe me, there is power in political conversation. No general election happens in a vacuum. The ongoing debate is filtered through the media, and more than ever, thanks to social media, involves the rest of us if we are able and willing to engage. As the discussion evolves opinions can change, and policy needs to be re-shaped accordingly.

So, if you’re considering not voting because you don’t feel there’s any point in your own consistency, take note. Your voice is heard, and filtered into the ongoing political narrative, if enough of you get out and vote. It will not be a waste of your time or your political voice. So do it – get out there – and be a part of the unfolding story!

Dear World,

I don’t think us British have much of a sense of what effect our recent domestic wranglings have had – and will have – on the global stage. Some of us do, but I suspect not enough, or we wouldn’t have got ourselves into the state we’re now in. So we’ve got ourselves into this massive political tangle, our economy has crashed and needed some quite fancy footwork to get back on its feet, and that small element of our society who thinks racial hatred is OK has felt validated in its actions. Add to that the economic and political shockwaves felt in many other countries by our decision, and to me it feels like we’ve got a lot to apologise for.

For a start, our ruling party has unleashed a beast that they had little idea of the size of, and next to no idea of how to contain. The beast is fear, conceived in an uncertain economic climate born of too many years of austerity, that have made the poor poorer, and are now rocking the economic stability of the middle classes.

And so we, as a nation, voted to raise the drawbridge and seal ourselves off from having to confront the politics of difference any more. Those who are already here can stay – they’re just about OK – but no more foreigners for us, thank you. It’s dreadful indictment on our political classes that they managed to sell us the lie that immigration has caused our economic vulnerability. Not just because of the rift such discourse opens up in our own society, but also because it has a huge impact on our interactions with the rest of you.

My burning question in the midst of all this mess is whether our political establishment will ever apologise for its role in all of this. Sadly, I’m not sure it even recognises the full extent of its culpability.

To begin with, a referendum should never have even been held on British membership of the EU. I realise that a lot of fellow Brits will now stand up and shout ‘oi! We had a right to reclaim our sovereignty!’ But the fact is that until David Cameron decided to placate the small but powerful right-wing element of his party by holding a ‘safe’ referendum, most of us didn’t know what on earth the EU was or what our relationship was with it. Most of us probably still don’t have much of a clue even now. What we were fed in the campaign was an indigestible mess of spin, propaganda and ideology that bore very little relevance to the actual costs and benefits of EU membership. Costs and benefits that we exercised our sovereignty in agreeing to.

So in effect, David Cameron placed a bet on a sure thing in order to unify his party, only to find that his horse fell at the last jump. Boris Johnson also thought he was quids in, expecting to raise up a large army of disappointed leave campaigners to support his bid to become the next prime minister. His morning-after face on June 24th was very telling indeed. Then, of course, every Tory MP who went along with this charade is also held culpable, if they placed more importance on their own position and power than on the welfare of those their actions have an impact on.

And talking of placing more importance on one’s own position and power than on anything else brings us neatly to the Labour Party. Imagine what they could have achieved, if they had made even the slightest effort at some kind of unity. Jeremy Corbyn, adept as he is at opening up dialogue in conflict situations, could not sway the intransigence of the Labour right. It seems clear now that from the beginning of his leadership, minds were set against him despite his strong mandate from Labour party members. What we’re seeing now is rank opportunism at its absolute worst, played out at a time when Britain desperately needs a strong and unified opposition party. I shouldn’t need to point out that unity does not require all members to agree on everything, it simply needs the grace to concede with one another and to compromise. I had hoped for so much better from the Labour Party.

And there you have it. Our political establishment in all its glory. Its campaigning on both sides of the argument was breathtakingly inward-focused, appealing predominantly to British self-interest. It didn’t seem to matter what the rest of the world thought or felt, even though plenty of politicians knew that a decision to leave would create economic shockwaves across the globe. Nor did it matter if we sent a message about the strength of fear and xenophobia, because whose business is it what we get up to? Well I believe we have as much global responsibility as we do local, and so you, dear world, have my apology, for what it’s worth. I’m just not sure you’ll ever get one from the people most responsible for bringing all of this about.

The Return

It’s been a while, I know. I’m afraid I had to let this blog lapse whilst I did the whole returning to work after kids thing, which involved a great deal of puzzling out as to what I could do that would fit in with all the other things that I already did.

I think I may have come up with a working solution, which is in its early stages but nevertheless is looking hopeful. However just as I begin to establish a new career, of course, we happen to experience political upheaval in Britain such as I have never known before. Whilst on the one hand vaguely hoping that the outcome of the referendum won’t affect my business plan (such as it is), on the other I am acutely aware of the shock experienced by a political establishment whose complacent expectations were proved so misguided given the referendum result.

So that is why I am here again. There are so many, many questions raised in the wake of what you might call a cataclysmic event, and I want this to be a place where I and anyone else can ask those questions. It is in many ways a selfish project, since for me it is therapeutic to launch my thoughts into a public space, but I hope whoever ends up reading this will find it helpful in opening up and exploring their own questions as well. I’m sure I’m not the only person who has experienced restless nights and stress-infused days since the result came out. Nor am I the only one who wants to see a stronger, more compassionate and courageous Britain emerge from the chaos of what has just happened. Perhaps this blog can, in some small way, help to bring that about. I look forward to giving it a try, at any rate.

The undeserving poor..?

I hear the expression ‘the undeserving poor’ a lot lately. For some reason it never fails to get under my skin, but I never really stopped to think about why until quite recently.  They don’t bother working, don’t pay tax, leech off the State and spend all their benefits on satellite dishes and Nintendo Wiis.

But the question I ask myself is, even if this massive generalisation is true (and I doubt it), who are we to say how people on benefits spend their money? Would I like it if I was judged on how I spend my money? Not likely.

It is a big question, I must admit, and one that a welfare state will always need to address: what do we do about welfare that benefits those who give nothing back to the State? They don’t deserve the money they get, because they don’t contribute anything.

But then, that also begs the question, does anyone deserve the money they get, whether wealthy, poor or in between?

Having been thinking about it recently, a couple of days ago I strayed across this excerpt from the book of Proverbs;

It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to desire strong drink; or else they will drink and forget what has been decreed, and will pervert the rights of all the afflicted. Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty, and remember their misery no more. Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and the needy. (Proverbs 31:4-9, NRSV).

Advice from a mother to a son, a queen mother to her king.

I expect this principle could be taken too far, generosity taken advantage of even more than now (though I’d hardly call it generosity from those who are so begrudging that some of their tax money goes to those who have so little). I shouldn’t think King Lemuel’s mother was advocating carelessness about budgets.

And if I’m to be consistent with how I read the bible, I need to be aware that the queen mother was speaking into a particular social and economic context, which may or may not resonate with British society today. Unfortunately, I cannot find any other reference to King Lemuel in the Old Testament which leaves me to work with the text in Proverbs. Is there a timelessness to the truth King Lemuel wrote down in his mother’s words? I think there is.

It remains true that poverty is harsh and difficult.

It remains true that poverty can bring misery.

It remains true that alcohol can indeed help people to forget their troubles – though we also know now, if we didn’t then, about the physical damage too much drinking can do!

But if we take the principle behind the suggestion, which is to give to those in poverty whether it seems they can use what they are given to help themselves or not, this to me sounds like an outworking of grace. Grace doesn’t try to contain us, teach us a moral code, or control us with a strict set of behaviours. Grace accepts us freely as we are, and its power to transform is within that unconditional freedom we are offered. Grace is the difficult way, giving people choice rather than limiting what we offer to them. Grace is sublimating our own judgement so that God’s judgement – which is steeped in grace – can work itself out.

It can of course be argued that it is not the State’s responsibility to be an outworking of God’s grace, and perhaps that is so. But it must be remembered that much of the social reform in Britain since the industrial revolution has been brought about by religious groups working to change government policy. And it remains the responsibility of christians to bear witness to God’s teaching in our society.

And one final question to end on: who on earth is capable of making the moral judgement on whether someone ‘deserves’ welfare or not? Me? Certainly not. And a quick glance at our Cabinet doesn’t reassure me…

When democratic institutions fail, what next..?

Set up our democratic institutions side by side, knock one over and see what happens…in the UK we began with the media, a crucial element of democracy, yet one of which large swathes are now regarded by the public with caution, if not outright distrust. And so we set up an inquiry.

Some of the fall-out of the Leveson inquiry has been to turn our attention to the government, parts of which are fatally enveloped in the mire of media’s undue influence. We can’t be simplistic about apportioning blame, since both media and politicians appear to be locked in a continuous cycle of dependence, the balance of power shifting from side to side as they wrestle over the question of who drives policy. However we have seen enough to lose more than a modicum of faith in parliament’s ability to put the needs of the public on at least the same par as their own influence and income.

And now we are faced with a crisis in the banking sector, which while not itself an institution of democracy, is required to be transparent and accountable in order for democracy to function as it should. As we’ve seen over the last few days, these characteristics are laughably absent from some key aspects of British banking. And so the trust is broken again. Depressingly there are already indications that the current scandal over LIBOR could also implicate the government on some level, though perhaps such a conclusion ought to have been inevitable.

Our government is going to have a long uphill struggle to build up public confidence in the functioning of British democracy, if indeed it is in their power to do so. Perhaps democracy, being now stripped and all its flaws revealed, can find new directions for growth. The internet is a valuable resource for many things, but I begin to see that in the upholding of democratic principles it is more than valuable – it is essential. Through social media people across the world, in countries far more restricted than our own, voices are being heard and stories are being told. Accountability is more possible because news of injustice can be more widely shared. Who knows what the internet could become in the pursuit of stronger democracy if it continues to be the place for free expression that it currently is? It is quite significant that there are movements within those great bastions of democracy, the US and the EU, to enforce greater control over internet traffic and reduce individuals’ privacy when they are online. Just knock our confidence in democracy even more, why don’t you?

I don’t hold British democracy in complete contempt. We have the core structures for it to work well if it is overhauled, and (so far) the judicial system is intact (though who watches the watchman?). It has weathered several centuries, and grown and developed over time. It has the potential to shake off the dust that’s settled and disguised the worst flaws, and be reinvigorated if we who condemn it will invest energy into it. Perhaps if new growth is permitted, British democracy will emerge stronger than it has ever been before.