This is the second in a series of guest posts, in which regular readers of this blog explaining why, from a Christian perspective, they intend to vote for a particular political party—or, in one case, why they intend to spoil their ballot paper. In this one, Revd Patrick Gilday, who is Curate at All Saints, Ascot, explains why he intends to vote Conservative.
In 1987, Margaret Thatcher famously said in an interview, ‘There is no such thing as society.’ Though her comment sparked a tidal wave of criticism that her political philosophy was too individualistic, in fact what she meant is that the contemporary idea of ‘society’ is an abstraction, a concept of something ‘out there’, removed from people’s control. It’s a useful notion for political science classes, but the fact of people’s real lived experience is that ‘society’ doesn’t really exist. It’s not ‘society’ that raises children, it’s parents; it’s not ‘society’ that tends the sick, it’s clinicians and carers; it’s not ‘society’ that funds government spending, it’s people with jobs and bills to pay from whom taxes are demanded. Thatcher’s point wasn’t actually anything to do with the primacy of the individual. It was that lots of commentators were guilty of inventing a concept that was little more than a political-science lecture thought-experiment, outsourcing to that invented (and unreal) concept all sorts of responsibilities, and then insisting that when it proved incapable of bearing the very real responsibilities that had been outsourced to it, that the problem was that it hadn’t been given enough money to play with.
Broadly speaking, I belong to the group of people who think Mrs Thatcher’s diagnosis was basically right. I don’t believe that a single national, cohesive society exists – however much we might like it to. I do believe in much smaller, dynamic, constantly developing relationships between persons and families at a much more atomic level, however. I believe in the Body of Christ – a perfect and eternal society united by our common allegiance to the Head of the Body, Jesus himself. I believe in families, where bonds run deep, where children are brought up and the elderly cared for, and where lifelong mental health can be forged or broken. I believe in friendships that are laid down for long periods and even lifetimes, where people at opposite ends of the country geographically can rely on one another. I believe in the power of rural (and, increasingly, urban) communities to close ranks and protect their own. I believe in the kindness of strangers. I do not believe that all British people somehow belong to a conceptual unit called ‘society’ to which we should all pledge allegiance and to which we should all submit our own, or others’, needs and responsibilities.
There’s admittedly a long strain of Christian thought that insists to the contrary – that we are, in fact, all members of some great national society. Some of that strain is still stuck in the era of Christendom. There was a time when we could reasonably assume that everybody who was British was also a member of the Body of Christ, which meant that all the instructions the bible gives about how Israel, and then the Church, are supposed to live as a holy nation before God, could also be applied to Britain for (so the theory went) Britain, too, was a holy nation before God. Whether it ever was is up for discussion; but it certainly isn’t now.
Some of it is pure romanticism: we really like the idea of there being a national ‘society’ which we can bless. That’s particularly true in the Church of England where, desperate to think of some enduring national role for our Church now we’ve largely vacated the position of national moral arbiter, we’ve got to come up with some national social worth in order to justify our continued establishment.
But some of the Christian idea that we Christians ‘belong’ to a national ‘society’ strikes me as exegetically dubious. For instance, there are those who are all too happy to globalize Jesus’ ethic for his (non-national, faith-based) kingdom to apply to a secular society without realizing that (a) it’s obviously going to be impossible since only the Holy Spirit dwelling within every believer makes such an ethic possible in the first place; and (b) throughout the bible, societies and politics other than God’s own are to be shunned rather than embraced. Moreover, some of the modern-day Christian thinking that romanticises secular ‘society’ borders a little, I think, on the potentially idolatrous, and the concomitant assumption that if we only organize our ‘society’ a little better we will suddenly make the world a better place strikes me as a touch too Pelagian for comfort.
All of this means that I have a little bit of a difficulty with the welfare state. The welfare state is, if you like, the concrete expression of the invented national ‘society’ idea that I believe is (1) entirely made up and (2) problematic for the Christian to support. Established with laudable goals in mind (and often achieving spectacularly laudable outcomes), the welfare system of the UK is premised on the idea that a national ‘society’ requires a national bureaucracy to manage its outcomes. But since I don’t believe in national society at all, the existence of a national bureaucracy is an issue for me. For one thing, the existence of the welfare state effectively forces into existence the formal structure of the (non-existent) national society, and thereby functions as propaganda for the whole national-society idea. (Remember the opening ceremony for the London Olympics? In order to try and represent ‘British society’, Danny Boyle could not think of anything more concrete than the NHS. There, on a global stage, for all to see, British ‘national society’ was conflated with its welfare system.)
But much more importantly: the welfare state is like a black hole that, in time, has the capacity to suck all human social action into itself. What was once the province of parents (care for children) is increasingly regarded as a state duty usually devolved to parents (consider the recent Scottish proposal to give all children a ‘named person’, whom they might as well have named Big Brother); what was once the province of families (the provision of safe and secure environments in which all can thrive and grow) is now considered a ‘government priority’; what was once the duty of teachers (developing children’s learning) now belongs to a centralized curriculum with Ofsted inspectors looming and a Department of Education that is constantly shifting its list of demands.
And I think all of this is a bad thing. I believe that the idea of a national society to which we must all pay obeisance – complete with its central concrete manifestation, the welfare state – is actually gutting families, bonds of friendship, local communities, schools, you name it. It is taking away their responsibilities and rights and making them into nothing more than rhetorical categories for political campaign purposes. And at the same time, those institutions that the welfare state is gutting of moral worth are deteriorating as a result – it is not, I suggest, a coincidence that as the welfare state has grown and taken over all our social thinking, mental health, religious adherence, interpersonal relationships, and common decency have all deteriorated markedly in this country. The two are related, I submit. And it goes without saying that I don’t think Jesus would be very happy with this state of affairs.
So for someone like me, how I vote is determined by roughly this one question: which party, which candidate, has a general policy platform of supporting the institutions of family (marriage, household, personal stability), household (reducing the burden of taxation so that people can spend more of their money where they need to), locality (undermining centralized bureaucracy and relocating power back to persons rather than departments), and morality (emphasizing religious freedom and personal responsibility)? And, as a corollary: which party, which candidate, has a general policy platform of reducing the concrete manifestation of the made-up national ‘society’ fetish, the welfare system?
This is why I’m intending to vote for the Conservative candidate at this election.
If you’re a left-wing Christian reading all this, I expect you’ll be thoroughly confused as to how on earth I could think this way as a Christian. That’s instructive – I (and plenty of other politically conservative Christians) are frequently lambasted on social media and in day-to-day conversations for thinking this way. But if you are confused – well, actually, that’s helpful, because it allows me to set out something that strikes me as very important in explaining why I, as a Christian, intend to vote Conservative this election. Left-wing Christians and right-wing Christians have thoroughly different starting points when it comes to their political views. There’s no point in looking at my right-wing political leaning and trying to make sense of it in your left-wing terms. There’s just no overlap.
The left-wing Christians I know, broadly speaking, think that if we can only make the system work better, we can improve matters for people. But I believe that the system is the problem. As a Christian, I am firmly of the belief that human beings make up systems and structures in order to perform a psychological trick by which they can offload the responsibility for human brokenness and evil on to someone or something else. And I think that psychological trick is, by and large, original sin redux. I happen to believe that Jesus came to free us from it – to invite us into a real society, of which he is the Head – so the last thing I think a Christian should do is try and prop up a fake society.
None of this means that I think the Tories are gloriously right in every way. Of course they aren’t. It is only too painfully clear for me to see, when a friend’s disability benefit is cut and her quality of life ruined owing to a policy that I broadly support, that good policies can be executed in dreadful ways. Nor does it mean that I think there is no room for welfarism or state intervention at all.
But it is about the principle of the thing. I have lost track of the number of times left-wing friends (and acquaintances) have gotten irate with me saying any of this, thrown up their hands and said, ‘but what’s your alternative to the growth of the welfare state? What other way is there of trying to care for people?’ But to me, that’s not exactly the point of casting a vote. One votes for a philosophy, an idea one wants to get to, and one works out the route once one has set off in the general direction of the destination.
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53 thoughts on “Why as a Christian I am voting Conservative”
So true. I’ve lived in cities most of my life – where most people are anonymous and social support, basically, seen as the State’s problem. Now, in village communities, where people know each other and identify with each other, I see lots of support and personal care offered by family, friends and neighbours.
People air that the state run system is more professional and competent but we know that it is also impossibly expensive to do properly – hence 10 minute “home care” visits, expensive “child care”, and over regulated schooling (and stressed out teachers, careers etc). These are all symptoms of politicians taking on responsibilities that are not naturally theirs… and I’ve seen a better way!
Thanks, Ian, for giving me an opportunity to respond to this. My own interpretation of scripture has led me to the polar opposite interpretation of scripture from Revd Gilday. I am very busy at work today so this is written in great haste, but a few quick thoughts: there is a biblical imperative to care for the sick, the poor, widows and the fatherless. This care is to be provided by the entire community, not just relatives. Jesus saw his family as being those who do the will of His Father, not biological family, and, where necessary, non-family members are specifically tasked with providing the role of a family member (“Mother behold your son”). St Benedict, in his Rule, saw the purpose of healthcare as “giving glory to God”. The rich man was told to “Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor” (note, not just family members).
Modern society is so far removed from Jesus’ vision. Am I my brother’s keeper? Yes, you are, and not just your biological brother. In Acts 2, “44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” This is about as far removed from Margaret Thatcher’s ideas as one can get. And remember what happens to Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5:3: ““Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died.” Jesus’ definition for “neighbour” was not just family members but also most hated enemies. We are instructed to “go and do likewise”, including paying for their healthcare costs and paying more later if necessary, so pay your taxes as the governing authorities charge them (Romans 13 etc).
Jesus said (in Mat 5): “43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[i] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” God cannot be mocked (Gal 6:7). So I will be voting Labour on June 8th and rest my case that all Christians should “go and do likewise”.
I concur absolutely that a Christian family trumps biological family every time!
But the vast majority of British people are not in Jesus’ family. How are we supposed to respond to them, when pretty much all the instructions of the bible (and Jesus’ own) are directed to the organisation of life *within* God’s family? (Every one of the passages you deal with above is directed to those who are children of God, not an ‘at large’ society.)
Generally those on the left are happy to globalise up from the instructions given to the people of God for intra muros relations, and so draw from it a national political platform based on biblical principles given to those who follow Christ. I don’t see that it’s either desirable or possible to so globalize – that’s part of what I meant about politically conservative Christians starting from a completely different point of departure. What is more, the idea of a national society in no way deals with a globalised understanding of Jesus’ (rabbinic, Jew-to-Jew) instruction in Matt. 5, since the welfare state has nothing to do with love or being a neighbour – it’s just a system for moving money around.
Naturally, I think that the better Christian vote is Conservative, and I do think the principles are really rather important. But thanks for your comment – it helps me flesh out a difference of procedure that I didn’t quite manage to pin down in the original piece!
You say the left wing cannot understand your position from a left wing point of view and yet you dissect the left wing from your right wing point of view. How does that work. Your position on “secularism” is a little insulting . I get what you’re saying with regards accountability to an extent but I hardly think a return to Dickensian Britain is the answer. I personally do not share in a Christian faith so I am quite happy to opt for a society that looks to keep the very vulnerable safe.
“You say the left wing cannot understand your position from a left wing point of view and yet you dissect the left wing from your right wing point of view. How does that work?”
The author explicitly rejects the idea of “cannot understand”, using instead the language of confusion and uncertainty about the opinions of others. It is, in my mind also, completely necessary to acknowledge, as is done here, that much of the “ideological divide” between left and right is actually a matter of worldview first, and policy second. This needs to be placed on the table implicitly if good dialogue is to be achieved: we come to it with the bias of our worldview.
So, of course he’s dissecting it from a right-wing point of view, but only because he is deliberately pointing out and acknowledging that such a thing exists.
I felt it was implicit that this works both ways….
We need to define right wing and left wing (slippery concepts I know).
These days right wing can mean:
1. Libertarian (as it appears to mean here) – capitalist, anti-state, anti-society
2. Conservative – traditionalist, respecting inherited forms
3. Fascist – authoritarian, racist etc. (far right)
Left wing can mean:
1. Social democracy – welfarism, advancing interests of working class
2. Progressivism/Neo-Marxism – minority rights, identity politics
3. Revolutionary socialism/Marxism – communism, anti-capitalism etc. (far left)
Libertarians and progressives tend to be globalists who don’t believe in the role of nation state; conservatives and social democrats tend to be more patriotic/nationalist who regard the nation state as crucial – though this is a generalisation.
The histories of these groups of ideas (and their relationship to the amorphous thing called ‘liberalism’) is complex. For instance, libertarianism originated as (what we now call) classical liberalism, and was one of the progressive (i.e. left wing) ideologies of its day – it was advanced by the Liberal Party (to which the Lib Dems are heir), and opposed by conservatives.
So what is a ‘right wing’ worldview or point of view? The term right wing originated in the French revolutionary assembly as a term for the conservatives (i.e. those who favoured the status quo) who sat on the right of the king. If we refer to origins, then, libertarians are not right wing. But terminology changes. The problem is when it changes into something ambiguous.
I usually identify as conservative, but wouldn’t as libertarian. I share this article’s dislike of statism as a rule, but not its dismissal of the ‘existence’ of society or the nation. I’m sure people do approach issues and debates through the lens of their own commitments and assumptions. But I don’t think those come in neat binary left-right categories. It can often be unhelpful to imagine that they do.
When I’ve been using the terms right/left wing here I’m intentionally trying to be as vague and inclusive with the language as possible. Sorry if that’s confusing, I just felt it was best to keep the comments as broad/generalised as possible, so as to avoid putting everyone in their own box. It’s not ideal I know, but this thread was about ideals-in-abstract more than analytics.
That said, I can be more precise about myself if it helps frame where my comments are coming from.
I am a ‘social and moral conservative’, if such a thing exists; probably more part of the Libertarian right than the Authoritarian right on the political matrix, but at home in either of those categories. I am deeply cynical about Socialism (less so about Social Democratism), and thus share your, and the author’s, concerns about some aspects of how we approach welfare. I have many of the same concerns about Capitalism too, but am happier with capitalist economics because I prefer to view money as an ‘opportunity to be grasped’ rather than a ‘burden to be carried’.
That said, I do still hold many political ideals that are traditionally the home domain of Socialism: such as the unionisation of (a small number of) industries and the nationalisation of critical infrastructure, like rail and emergency healthcare.
Ultimately though, I label myself a conservative first and foremost because I think the family is both the key, if not the central, building block of cohesive communities and the principle foundation on which the/a state is constructed. A state without families, or one that seeks to deconstruct them, is a doomed state. (Indeed, if I were writing the article in defense of conservatism, I would start there, arguing that family is the central building block of not merely the state, but of the Bible, of human history and of the church!) I believe therefore that the family should be privileged in law, actively encouraged and promoted, and have it’s ‘sovereignty over itself’ (in terms of parenting and parental responsibility for education, health and well-being) supported. This necessitates a smaller state, and greater individual liberties.
That is why I personally am a conservative, but cannot support the Conservatives. The first point which I addressed above is the critical one.
A much shorter version of that comment looks like this:
Jesus cannot be put in a political box, so why should his followers? Jesus said some things about society that make Marx look tame, but he was not a socialist. Jesus said a lot about the power and greed of men, as accepted facts of life, but he was not a Fascist. He was both a conservative and a progressive, simultaneously and without contradiction.
St Paul would be so cross with us for making the saviour fit our molds, rather than trying to conform to His………
I suppose one response to that would be the question posed to Jesus and answered with the Good Samaritan. ‘Who is my neighbour?’ And it turns out that the neighbour is the one outside the covenant community, the one who helps the other in need.
So my question would be how can I best be the good neighbour? There are many things I can do on my own, some that I can achieve locally with others. But there are somethings that only governments can achieve. Thus my neighbourly ness comes from my willingness to to fund those bigger works by general taxation.
I agree so much with the foundation of your thinking (on the ideology of welfare and the dream of a single, cohesive ‘society’) that it makes it doubly hard (and doubly frustrating) to disagree with you profoundly on the conclusions you draw. I would contest that the Conservative party are entirely the WRONG remedy, but you do you have exactly the RIGHT diagnosis of the problem.
Looking at your examples:
1. “which party, which candidate, has a general policy platform of supporting the institutions of family (marriage, household, personal stability)” . Well, not the Conservative party! They have said nothing about the disaster of divorce rates in this country and nothing on abortion.. They have demonised fatherhood, deified working-motherhood (to the detriment of both) and put the power of the family and responsibility for children in the hands of the state at least as concretely as any other government before them. They are about as progressive as you can find on issues of sexuality, sexuality ethics and gender, especially promotion of such things in schools, and this was held up as the flagship achievement of Cameron’s, supposedly conservative, government. There is no distinct policy difference on this vital issue between either them or Labour; they both represent the progressive left and while there are dissenters, they are the easily-silenced minority, not the main.
2.“…household (reducing the burden of taxation so that people can spend more of their money where they need to)”. Again, not the Conservative party! Almost all the economic advantage of decreased taxation (which I too broadly support) is offset by the sluggishness of inflation and the consistent rise in the cost of living. This is not an entirely Conservative-caused problem however and Labour deserve a good deal of the blame for it as well, but the idea that current fiscal policy, while perhaps right-intentioned, is achieving the things it needs to, is naive. Until we get sensible investment (spend) alongside pragmatic restriction (cut), and not the false either-or we have right now, this is not a problem the Conservatives are going to be able to fix and they have 0 intention of doing so.
3. “locality (undermining centralized bureaucracy and relocating power back to persons rather than departments)”. You expect his from a party that ‘was’ overwhelming pro-EU, the largest and least personal bureaucracy in existence!? Perhaps that’s unfair, but I think this is something the Conservative party talks about a lot, but does little to resolve, or when it does do it, it does it really badly. By way of example in my local area, when the council closed libraries and made cuts to the service it did so with the expectation that the community would run these services instead. But, instead of being helpful and assisting in that transition/handover, it left them hanging and did irreparable damage to many communities. I think is a story repeated across the country. It is not objectionable to hand control back over to local communities, indeed I support this, but to dump an entire system on the community when it has been so intertwined with the state for so long is lazy and dishonest, especially as the local authority insists on having some form of oversight. I am not even sure it is done for the principle, but to appease the guardian deity of the new conservatives: ‘Austeria’.
4. “and morality (emphasizing religious freedom and personal responsibility)”. I don’t even know where to start with this (see my response to part 1), but I think you need to look no further than recent assaults on press freedom, on legal challenges to the church and to prominent media persons to see that there is a strong prevailing wind of what constitutes “morality” and that the government (including the opposition) broadly support. encourage and affirm it. Under two successive Conservative governments, Islam has been increasingly privileged, hate crimes have become a plague our policing and people now feel like they’re walking on eggshells when discussing religion/immigration/ethics in general.
We even have situations where prominent conservative-minded Christians such as Rev Ian Paul have to appear on Television with Rev Jeremy Pemberton to “explain themselves” when the church acts in a way that moves against that prevailing wind. TV shows like Question Time, the big Questions etc will show you everything you need to know about how genuinely conservative ideas are viewed.
I don’t know about you, but I do not feel especially free in my church either, and most preachers/teachers openly admit to self-censorship at some level, especially when it comes to sexuality and gender..
Don’t even get me started on the issues of drugs, crime, justice, military intervention, foreign policy and all of the other areas this corpse-of-a-party pretends to be conservative on but isn’t. It makes me genuinely angry that when I tell people, or people discover that I am right-wing, I am immediately associated with a party whose current philosophy, of pretending to be one thing while doing another, I utterly reject.
I am posting a detailed response here, and probably not on any of the others in this series, because this is the party that SHOULD represent my views, but doesn’t. I wish it did. I wish that all the things you rightly attribute to the conservative party of Old were still true, but they’re not.
All that said, I do broadly agree on this point:
5. “And, as a corollary: which party, which candidate, has a general policy platform of reducing the concrete manifestation of the made-up national ‘society’ fetish, the welfare system?”
But that one point is not enough.
Not even close.
Labour is dead, it died after Brown and is now forming into something more reflective of it’s left-wing, socialist roots. I am pleased about this. However the conservative party, desperate for the ‘glory’ of the Blair years took that project over, and is now New labour in all but name. I can only hope that the Conservative party goes through a similar process, dies, and in it;s place something more reflective of this genuine conservatism arises.
But this is perhaps a fools hope.
Great analysis, Mat. The Tories are indeed little less neo-Marxist than Labour or the Lib Dems in these areas.
Just want to put it on record here that I agree with pretty much all your points. I certainly was never a happy Cameron-Conservative voter; I’m happier with May (not least because I think she’s proven herself largely trustworthy in the last year, but also because I recognise her quiet Anglicanism as a tempering force and people I know who worship alongside her have the same confidence). We shall see what comes of May Conservatism, but broadly I wanted to put the case for a politically conservative Christian *existing* rather than taking on specific policies or record. But I do think you hit the nail on the head – the Conservatives of the last ten years have hardly been conservative. May has a duty I think to turn it round, and I think she is beginning to do so.
Explanation accepted and welcomed.
I’m not so sure about May in comparison with her predecessor Cameron, I personally see them as fairly similar: professional, media-friendly, but ever so slightly heartless and soulless, and possibly happier on the opposition benches when it comes to social policy. I think her record as home secretary leaves a lot to be desired too, but I do respect her for at least standing up to the European court. She has the necessary ‘backbone’ to be PM and she come across as slightly patriotic, which I like. You’re also not the only person to comment on her “quiet Anglicanism”, she does seem to have an integrity and principle that other politicians don’t, even if I feel her principles are mistaken. I am not sure the latter balances out the former though….
“We shall see what comes of May Conservatism, but broadly I wanted to put the case for a politically conservative Christian *existing* rather than taking on specific policies or record.”
I hope so too. I did not pick specific policies to highlight (Read: sustained rant about) because I’m advocating another party (as some other comments are) but because I think it’s dangerous to vote for a party that is not quite everything it seems to be.
I want people to not “hate” the party because they don’t understand it (I am sick of the “Evil Tory” refrain) but I do worry that another Con majority will see the “Blaritite” agenda in the party come to the fore again, when, for now at least, the Brexit vote has dealt it a bitter blow.
I confess, I am not that optimistic.
Mat, I think you are completely and utterly correct in the sentiments you express. I have no love for the conservative party but will reluctantly vote for them since the alternatives are even worse. It all feels like being caught between a rock and a hard place. I wonder if with the rise of the internet and mass communication a new kind of political force may arise that is more directly connected to the people. How you would wield it into a coherent movement for good remains to be seen but in this stage of political history it may only be in its embryo stage.
I was interested to hear Teresa May being asked about homosexuality and sin. She believes it isn’t.
I’d be interested in your own thoughts, especially as she states that she’s a Christian.
Thanks for asking Thad. I think that for her, as for Tim Farron, sadly realpolitik has triumphed over the expression of views of Christian orthodoxy.
I will also vote Conservative as it is the only party which has a realistic approach to the economy, employment energy and the environment
Michael, please reconsider if those are the reasons you’re voting Conservative. I’m not saying that Labour or the Lib Dems or any other party offers a perfect solution. But based on the things you mentioned the Conservatives actually have the worst record. They are offering the most expensive, riskiest, most socially irresponsible solutions. I don’t know how you came to a place where you feel confident of those assertions, but please please don’t vote without researching whether the spin from the Conservatives is true. I’ll address each of your points with the first things which come to mind (perhaps not the best arguments, but the ones I know I can remember or which I know I can find data on):
Conservatives have driven up national debt, under the banner of “austerity”. Labour reduced national debt. Franchised infrastructure projects (such as Govia trains) get paid whether they deliver a service or not. It doesn’t matter because execs get payouts. Much of the British rail network is run by foreign nationalised railways, meaning British tax payers and passengers are paying foreign governments to run our (non nationalised) trains. The NHS is going in this direction too, as is energy. Last year a Parliamentary select committee uncovered “sweetheart deals” between Revenue and Customs civil servants (HMRC) and major corporations like Vodafone. Instead of paying the full amount of tax, HMRC came to arrangements with major corporations and arrangements were kept secret, for obvious reasons. Effectively they weren’t paying the full amount with the blessing of the government. And the result of uncovering this? Nothing. In January this year, the press reported that six US companies, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Google, Ebay and Starbucks, that between them made £14 billion in revenue in the UK, declared only £2.6 billion – laundering the rest through tax havens, and paid 0.3% of that revenue in corporation tax.
Rough sleeping has doubled in 5 years and food banks are serving more people than ever before. These are metrics of how we treat our citizens. NHS and Education is in crisis – professionals employed by the state are chronically short staffed and leaving their posts for other careers. Philip Green was not penalised for removing £2bn from pension funds. Stealing money from people who will now not receive their pension. Many suffer so one person becomes very rich.
Theresa May approved the most expensive building project on the planet – a new nuclear power plant. At a time when we now know that nuclear power carries enormous risks and should not be operated “for profit” because corners are cut. Nuclear disasters happen and when they do it is the tax payer who pays for them. Not the company operating the plant for profit. There is little to no risk to renewable energy and it is the fastest growing energy sector. Why would we sink money into fission?
In recent months, science websites such as phys.org have been awash with news that renewable energy has become cheaper than fossil fuels in several countries. Every few weeks another headline appears of a country where renewables are cheaper than fossil fuels. Germany, at times, makes enough surplus renewable energy that they sell it outside their borders (making options like nuclear energy increasingly unaffordable, driving up cost cutting, making it less safe…). The UK has enormous potential for offshore wind and tidal power but investment grants from the government have been retracted in the last few years. We were among the leaders in this sector, until the government switched policy and many UK renewables companies collapsed. Then there’s fracking. Think of Flint in the USA. Fracking has enormous potential for ruining ecology and lives. It might work but it is risky. The risk is acceptable to those who will profit from it. But why invest in something risky when there is a viable alternative? Because the risky thing guarantees profit for the few, not for society as a whole.
I too vote for parties based solely on their policy in areas that begin with ‘E’.
A big irony with the argument of this post is that May is the most left leaning Tory leader in decades. She seems intent on implementing the 2015 Labour manifesto, and has shown little interest in bringing down the deficit or debt. Overall she is planning a large increase in the responsibilities of the (central) state e.g. in social care.
There is also a confusion in the post in that it seems to dispute the idea of applying Christian values to society (calling it ‘impossible’) yet that is precisely what it is seeking to do in its proposals for the primacy of relationships, families, morality etc.
But the main problem with the piece is surely its assertion that the national society doesn’t ‘exist’. The problem we have here of course is what we mean by exist. But on the face of it the nation (and its people, its society) must exist. Otherwise what is it that has a government, a law, a history, a culture, that is withdrawing from the EU? We need some agreed criteria for ‘existence’ here, but I can’t see why a family should exist, or a marriage, or a city, or a church, and yet not a people or a nation. It’s just a form of community. Are we going to deny the ‘existence’ of all human community? The church is also a human community. Perhaps though our criterion for existence is that God says it exists? But then there is ample evidence in the Bible of God referring to the nations and peoples of the world – so if God thinks they exist, does that suffice?
It’s also really odd to support the Conservatives on the grounds of not believing in a national society, since the Conservatives are traditionally a patriotic party – their full name is the Conservative and Unionist Party, and ‘one nation Tory’ is a major stream of party thinking (one by which May is influenced).
“It’s also really odd to support the Conservatives on the grounds of not believing in a national society, since the Conservatives are traditionally a patriotic party – their full name is the Conservative and Unionist Party, and ‘one nation Tory’ is a major stream of party thinking (one by which May is influenced).”
This is another of my frustrations as well. I am a conservative (small c) who does believe in the importance of a ‘national society’ and also that a significant part of the state’s responsibility is to protect it and priviledge the things that make it work (the ‘traditional family’ being a core pillar), a duty which, in my opinion, it has failed miserably at.
I recognize though, that my understanding of what that society has been historically, is right now, and could/should become, is entirely relative! The ‘society’ that the government wanted to protect in say, the 40’s, or even the 70’s, would be unrecognizable today and I think that was Patrick’s point, that society is not something that doesn’t exist (though he unhelpfully uses that term), but a concept that is entirely relative to the person describing it. Therefore, went the reasoning, what is the point of appealing to anything as “representative” of that society…. perhaps I’m wrong.
I share your first point in it’s entirety though. One of my favorite moments on YouTube is an Interview between Peter Hitchens and Owen Jones, where Peter describes the Tories (at the time this was Cameron’s government) as the ‘Socialist Workers party in all but name’, a party ‘constantly saying the same things he did as a Marxist 40 years earlier’ (my paraphrase). Peter finds this observation immensely funny, especially as Owen can’t quite understand it.
Sure, nations and peoples change and evolve. They are living things. That’s what living things do. But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, or mean they’re not important. In fact, nation’s are very important, as a major object of our identity, affection and loyalty, and because they are the principal guarantor of our liberty and security.
I’m not disagreeing with you, I think you’re correct. I was saying that I think you’ve misunderstood the author, who I thought was trying to make very much the same point: not that society is unimportant, but that it cannot be appealed to as a universal/national ideal with a universal/nationally understood meaning.
This article, and the responses so far, do help me as a Christian socialist understand a little of the different philosophies at play. And yes, how different they are! The lauding of individual freedom over all other social virtues sounds so strange to me! Libertarianism sounds to me like anarchism for the rich.
I am confused as to why you would vote Conservative, a party which wraps itself in the union flag and defends the notion of Britishness far more than any left wing party ever would. Should you not consider joining or even forming a libertarian movement?
I’m also curious that you don’t even try to outline your libertarian vision. Ayn Rand has done this very effectively in Atlas Shrugged. How her objectivist utopia compares to the Kingdom of God is undoubtedly something we would disagree on!
I was wondering why one would choose the NHS and Welfare State as examples of a secular society rather than the armed forces, education, police, roads, waste collection, state pensions, legislative bodies, charitable status for churches, child benefit, tax credits, food stamps – all exist for the common good and provide an economy of scale.
It is totally possible to think the NHS is a good idea without thinking that is replaces the Kingdom of God – as I do. So if it possible to have something good without making it an idol , why not have it?
If you believe that we live in a society built upon greed.The self accumulation of wealth. the powerful & the wealthy are allowed to trample down all who stand in their way. the poor the disabled & the vulnerable so that the few can line their pockets with 30 pieces of silver.Big corruption, tax evasion & corruption is part of a culture based upon the dog eat dog version of society where the cream is skimmed off whilst the dregs of society are trodden under foot. I have but one question to ask of you. Why, would you want to vote Tory unless you were only interested in yourself. & did not give a damn about anyone else.
Scripture certainly speaks of God establishing nations, if not society.
The money I get paid does not have my head on it. It has the Queens.
I am only enabled to earn a living because of a nation state that exists and the rule of law. Taxation is not the government taking my money, it is the government deciding how much of the nations wealth I am to be given stewardship of. In an ideal system this would be distributed more fairly – capitalism in no more worthy a system than feudalism in this regard.
I acknowledge a right wing argument that welfare dis-empowers some people, as well as the left-wing argument that it creates positive freedoms for others. Clearly a balance is needed. But poverty also has a wider impact on society and the economy. It is not just the good of the individuals using welfare that needs to be considered. It is the good of the nation, as established by God.
The idea that there is no such thing as society seem to be predecated that when other communities are working well ‘Society’ is not needed. Society is a safety net based on national values put into action.
The London 2012 opening ceremony was used as an example of saying Danny Boyle could only muster up the NHS. In fact he mustered up so many different facets of society, starting with a fly past and covering sciences sport the arts, you name it and it was there. What was striking is that the NHS has such a valued place in the Nation’s hearts that it was the only thing that you could remember. It is our capacity to, as a nation, care for the person who needs it that we are proudest of, and this is in fact Society.
I was shocked by the idea that having a ‘Named person’ for every school child in Scotland seemed to appall you. Leave it up to their family and community and keep out of it being the idea. 1 in 20 children in the UK are sexually abused and mostly that happens in the family but Society puts into place a mechanism to allow children to safely report it and you deride this. I suspect that you have never been interfered with and that you are fortunate in that so far your needs have been happily met within your family and church. Has society diminished your ability to thrive in your environment, if so you have not mentioned it but it just seems that in your fortunate position you are not willing to have mechanisms for those who are less fortunate.
Some might think this a poor show, I know I do.
Best analysis of why as a christian, the reasons you should vote conservative I have read in a long time.
A lot of this discussion is a bit over my head but I was curious to read this article, in order to try to understand a Christian Conservative perspective. As a bit of a leftie, I can still resonate with conservative concerns about the Welfare State with its over intervention and creating dependency. And I regret the breakdown of the family and children being farmed out to Nurseries, after school clubs and childminders. I don’t know what Society is. I prefer to think in terms of local communities. In recent years there seems to have been a rise in community building activities including unfortunately, food banks. What I do think is missing from this discussion is the integrity and honesty of our politicians. Unlike the author of the article, I would not vote so much for a philosophy, as for a person that I can trust. I choose to look for ‘virtues’ that are genuine and sincere. I am not impressed by Vitriolic name calling, making cheap insults, refusing to give straight forward answers to important questions on policies and worse blatant lies. We seem to have accepted that lies and spin doctoring are an integral part of our political system. I don’t see this as being compatible with a Christian life. Having listened to many Primeminister’s question times, I fail to understand how a Christian comes to terms with the behaviour of a Conservative leader who acts more like a ‘playground bully’ than a Stateswoman. What kind of an example is it to our young people to see qualities such as arrogance, intransigence, backbiting, being demonstrated as ‘strength’. Whilst qualities such as humility, integrity, compassion and a refusal to resort to insults are eagerly portrayed by the Conservative party as ‘ weakness’ ? Still very confused!
Hope you’ll get Steve Chalke to do your next post. But somehow I have the feeling this will not happen. (Is it only men who are interested in politics, I wonder from your comments thread…)
Matt . i am confused on your comments on the environment. The problems of water supply at Flint is due to lead pipes which are dangerous. It simply has nothing to do with fracking, though it is used to add to the scaremongering over fracking.
How can we move from a few per cent of energy from renewables to 100% is a short time. We are stuck with fossil fuels for decades whether we like it or not. None of your suggestions can even partially fulfil our requirements. Further they are dependent on fossil fuels and cannot provide 27/7/365 energy
Firther there has been much dishonest scaremongering about fracking by Green groups eg Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth (FoE were in trouble with the advertising standards authority over this in January). Sadly too many christian greens have echoed such falsehoods
As for the rest I don’t see other parties offering anything better and I am saddened when people I know lose jobs because of left ideological politicking
You meant to respond to Ian Hewer, not me. My comment was the one – liner underneath his. The comment threading on Psephizo can sometimes be confusing….
Let’s hope he sees your comment so he can reply to you directly.
I have never read such a load of hyperbolic, unkind DANGEROUS drivel. Can you even hear yourself? Christ’s message was “love your neighbour as you love your self”. Can you explain how your self aggrandising theory demonstrates love for our fellow human?
Struggling to find love or hope in anything you’ve written, and am praying for you through my sadness.
If Jesus were on Earth he’d be weeping and turning your tables over.
If you have failed to see the love and hope in what is written here then I would say you haven’t understood what’s been said, not because it isn’t there. I urge you to read it again.
Look again at this section:
“It (the welfare state) is taking away their (read: our) responsibilities and rights and making them into nothing more than rhetorical categories for political campaign purposes. And at the same time, those institutions that the welfare state is gutting of moral worth are deteriorating as a result – it is not, I suggest, a coincidence that as the welfare state has grown and taken over all our social thinking, mental health, religious adherence, interpersonal relationships, and common decency have all deteriorated markedly in this country.”
Yes, it’s a polemical piece, but the article knowingly pulls no punches when looking at our welfare system, which – for all the good it invariably does – is not very good at encouraging the individual responsibility advocated by Jesus. If anything, it can encourage the reverse. We can all to easily place the obligation to look after others in the hands of anyone but ourselves and it is this that is truly dangerous.
The implicit counter to this is, admittedly, left unsaid. To my mind the position being advocated for is an encouragement to love your neighbor because you know them personally, because you have a real, tangible, relationship with them and because you have a duty and an obligation not turn a blind eye to the problems immediately around you.
The Samaritan after all shows love for his neighbor by taking a personal stake in his care, and an individual responsibility for his fellow human, despite what other may say about him.
There must a balance in there somewhere.
“I don’t believe in national society at all”
Let’s project your ideas about welfare to every other area where the state takes a collective responsibility to act on our behalf.
– should everyone police themselves
– should we all home school
– should we leave fire fighting to those who own property
– why have a government at all
You see this is the problem with the case you make.
You seem to have left out the Old Testament in your background thinking, and then jumped to the wrong conclusion in your main argument.
In the Old Testament Israel lived as a people, and there was society with structure and rules, including commands to look after immigrants, widows and children. The vunerable, in other words. The system isn’t intrinsically at fault. It’s corporate disobedience of God’s word that has led to all these problems. Or leaders who lead people in the wrong direction.
As for which party to vote for, I believe the Labour party to care best for the vunerable. May’s nasty party is not going to help us move forward into a brighter future. I see dark times ahead if they win.
A note on Kingdom values – they should be followed by gatherings of believers who model the eschatological dream we have of a perfect future where there is no suffering, not to say we don’t suffer now. We suffer because we live in an imperfect world. But we can drastically reduce the suffering of the disadvantaged in our gatherings and around us where we live. Society can and will be influenced by our example.
Sorry, Mat, I replied to the wrong person
I found this very helpful. I would have put much of it differently, perhaps more strongly and certainly less well! But it’s a good perspective on why – to the obvious amazement of many of our Christian friends – some Christians are regular Conservative voters. I especially liked this quote:
‘For instance, there are those who are all too happy to globalize Jesus’ ethic for his (non-national, faith-based) kingdom to apply to a secular society without realizing that (a) it’s obviously going to be impossible since only the Holy Spirit dwelling within every believer makes such an ethic possible in the first place; and (b) throughout the bible, societies and politics other than God’s own are to be shunned rather than embraced.’
Have you ever had to accept food from a food bank? Asked to borrow money or other items from friends and family when you’re short? If you’ve been in this position, you will know how degrading this can feel.
Do you expect that when you have a unexpected stroke that family and friends can afford to put in handrails, commodes, stair lifts and other essential items to make your home accessible?
Giving people a sum in their bank account every week/month allows people to have the independence and freedom to manage their finances and choose how they want to live. It gives them more than anything – dignity. People are disabled, unemployed or elderly through (often) no fault of their own. Why should we make them beg off those around them for help?
A second thought. In both the OT and NT the people of God are called to be a royal priesthood. They are called to show people God’s way. To draw people to God and encourage Godly behaviour in others. If society seeks to emulate the love of others, social justice and redistribution of wealth both Israel and the church appeared to value, why would we seek to shut it down? For society not to do something good because that good thing risks becoming a fetish is to assume that the good thing is not a worthy end in itself.
I think you are perhaps missing the point a little.
What is being advocated for is not an absence of welfare, or the complete destruction of that system, but a shift in responsibility for it: away from state/national control, to more localised, individualistic (even community driven) methods. Not everything benefits from centralisation, or standardisation.. ..
I would also be wary of using the term “Social Justice”, as this is statement heavily resonant with many progressive ideals and the driving force of radical leftist, even if that isn’t what you meant by it.
I might type a longer comment later today, when I’m not on a tablet, addressing the idea of welfare from the perspective of OT Israel, but suffice to say I think a lot of people have a very strange view of it, mistakenly projecting their ideals of what a “state” should be onto it.
I’d rather not focus on the welfare state, rather on the idea that since the church and Israel have a priestly vocations the people of God hold be glad when we see the poor cared for, the orphan housed, the refugee safe. And similarly the Christian should be appalled when they see rulers set policies that harm the orphan, widow and alien.
If I were to focus on welfare, I would want to see profoundly strong reasons for health care being decentralised while retaining central control of law, the military, government, taxation, pensions etc. I don’t think that the data and possible modelling of different approaches could accurately support decentralisation (e.g. The fraught idea of any measure of quality of life). So that leaves only ideological reasons which I don’t think have a foundation in scripture and carry huge risks.
Under the 80s and 90s Tories I had to “farm out” my children despite both partners working: the current Govt has put a price tag on immigration (and now promise a massive increase) that means if those children presume to marry “out”, I won’t see my grandchildren grow up either.
And their invariable answer to these issues is “don’t have children”. Yay for the Party of the Family…
Not the only reason I’ve stopped voting for them, but a very material one for a dual national no longer even confident of my own rights in my father’s country in this age of rhetoric about “saboteurs” and “traitors”
Well I am an individualist, and sometimes quote the “no such thiung as society” quip, explaining that it is true in a philosophical sense (society is not a “thing” in itself, just a mechanisn of relationships between indiviual).
But still the approach of this post to welfare seems strange. The author extols the tories specifically for roling back the welfare state – then goes on to say “It is only too painfully clear for me to see, when a friend’s disability benefit is cut and her quality of life ruined owing to a policy that I broadly support, that good policies can be executed in dreadful ways.” If the “policy” in question was general”fiscal soncervatism” one could say, for example, “roll back the army instead”. Byt no, the policy is specifically anto-welfare state, so there is no “dreadful way” here – it is exactly what is being called for.
I was a libertarian in the past, I can understand the logic of libertarianism. But if the author were a libertarian, he would not bemoan the friend’s loss of a state benefit – he would pitch in himself and strive to organize other friends to do so. That is the libertarian idea- that private charity, not taxpayer money, should be helping the disabled.
As things are, the author sems to be contradicting himself.
Mr Paul, your ‘I’m alright jack’ smugness is exactly why i left the church. Apologies for such a brief response after the many wordy ones you have recieved (another reason i don’t attend church meetings any more). I would be foolish to argue theology with you. So i won’t. #toriesout
Thanks Jan—but you need to note this was a guest post, so it was not written by me (Dr Ian Paul). What it has done, though, in conjunction with other posts in other directions (check out today’s) is try and foster a place for respectful debate and disagreement.
Are you up for that?
My apologies Ian, reading on the hoof on my phone. Thank you for including my comment to the author if the post, rev patrick Gildhay not yourself . Still reading on my phone but am sat down!
I mostly hope you struggled to find a tory voting christian.
I cannot understand how anyone who claims to be a Christian can bring themselves to vote for the Tories. For the first time in my life i have seen a politician who has struck me as genuine and for the people. That man is Jeremy Corbyn. Before i could not really see much difference between them.
Disabled People are dying in their thousands under the Tory government. People born with no legs are being found fit for work because they can move around on their one arm. Really?. People (including families and pensioners) are being made homeless because they can’t pay their rent or mortgages. The ‘right to buy’ policy means that there is not enough social housing to go round and not enough new ones are being built. Plenty of luxury apartments being sold to foreign investors though.
The NHS is stretched to the limit. I have seen for myself 2 or 3 ambulance crews waiting in corridors of A&E department for someone to relieve them of their patient before they can go back out again. Someone might have died in that time.
I will not be voting conservative.
I’ve never voted Conservative, always having had a sense that the political class in general usually has values or in some cases anti-values different to the Christian ones.
However, Conservatives being in power corresponds to Christian rises and their being out of power corresponds to Christian falls. The 1950s and 1980s (Conservative government throughout) were times of health and growth for the UK church. The 1960s were a very tough time in terms of decline, as have been the Blair-onwards last 20 years.
In addition, whereas Labour demonstrates mindless block-voting on things like abortion and SSM (and – even worse – sometimes seems to regard the killing of children as one of its most non-negotiable ‘positives’, even the most non-negotiable ‘value’ of all, as in the case of Emily’s List) there will always be numbers, even if not healthy numbers, of Conservatives voting with typical world Christianity on such issues.
Firstly can I thank all the writers of this series “Why as a Christian I am voting X” for their time and thoughts.
My own view is that no party has a Christian ethos; rather we need to vote based on what we perceive the issues to be and which party is most likely to deliver those. (Granted the cynic might say that we don’t vote for a candidate rather we vote to stop the worse candidates getting in).
To me the top 3 issues in this election are:
1. Brexit – or our relationship with Europe
3. The Economy
Whilst I personally voted to remain a slight majority of voters voted to leave and the perceived wisdom is that “Freedom of Movement” between countries in the EU block is one of the key concerns for the electorate. As the Liberal Democrats (and the Greens) want to have a second referendum (which totally undermines the democratic vote), Labour will leave the EU but only if workers’ rights are guaranteed (this to me is akin to walking into a car salesroom and saying “Whatever happens I must have this car – now can we negotiate a price?”) In effect both the Liberal and Labour stances will result in the UK being part of the European Economic Area, still subject to the EU laws (including Freedom of Movement) and still contributing to the EU but with no member voice. I may be wrong but I believe this compromise will lead to the rise of the far-right (remember 4m people voted UKIP) as a large number of people would feel that the result of Brexit had not been delivered. Which leaves the Conservative “No Deal, is better than a bad deal”. No choice seems great but – to me – the Conservative one gets my vote.
Realistically, either the Conservatives or Labour will form a government, whilst the other will be the main opposition party. Therefore, my discussions on the last 2 issues will focus on my perceptions of where these 2 parties stand.
Historically the Conservatives probably have the better public perception of ensuring this. Personally, I think it was very naïve of Jeremy Corbyn to say that he would never use the nuclear deterrent. Whether, in reality, you would or you wouldn’t his answer has invalidated £70bn of defence equipment. Also, whilst in an ideal world, Osama Bin Laden would have been arrested and brought to trial (how many soldiers would have lost their lives doing this), I believe that sometimes our democratically elected leaders have to take dirty decisions on our behalf – once again I have little confidence that JC has the capability make these calls.
I totally understand people’s concern for those using food banks and the 1% pay cap on Public Services over the last 7 years. I also wish that there was a halfway house between the Tories austerity manifesto and Labours’ shopping list (By the way the IFS say that neither stack up). Against this it should be remembered that the deficit was so big in 2010 that whichever government had been in power it would have increased over the next 5 years (The big debate is whether Osborne’s austerity budgets mean we are in a better or worse place than a more gentle approach would have delivered). My big concern is that should Labour gain power, the country will have, for a few short years, a massive sugar rush, followed by a much longer period of famine as spending is reigned in so affecting the NHS, education and public services far more severely than a more moderate approach would have done. There is also a genuine question (posed by the CBI) as to whether Labour’s manifesto would deter businesses from investing in the UK at the very time Brexit makes us a much less attractive proposition.
You may have guessed but, for no theological reasons, I intend to vote Tory.