This is the third in a series of guest posts, in which regular readers of this blog explain 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, Ali Campbell, who is Youth and Children’s Ministry Consultant at The Resource and lives in Haywards Heath, explains why he intends to vote Labour.
It was the spring of 1979 and I was Jim Callaghan. There was an election. I lost to Margaret Thatcher. I don’t think I have ever recovered.
I was only 10 at the time, but in my stump speech I thought I was convincing and spoke with passion (I was encouraged to thump my lectern when hammering home a point). I might have warned too much of the danger of a Conservative Government and not spoken enough about Labour’s own policies . . . or, it could simply have been that when it came to the vote the boys in my school mostly voted for me and the girls mostly voted for Thatcher (I don’t remember the girl’s name). There were more girls in my school and I couldn’t do anything about that.
Flash forward to the mid 90s. Since that piece of theatre at school (which I just saw as a bit of fun and a chance to ham it up in front of my whole school) I had gone through my teens and most of my twenties with just one flavour of Government—led, for most of that time, by my nemesis.
As I look back now, I’ve got to say I am staggered at the still widely held belief that a Conservative Government is a safe pair of hands when managing our hard earned taxes. Give me a break (no, not a tax break). I’m not a corporation doing very nicely, nor am I among the wealthy elite – and yes, I’m sorry to say that you are deluded if you believe that £80,000 is a modest middle class income – if earning over twice what I earn means paying a bit more in tax . . . well, I’d gladly take your £80K and pay that tax for you (AND then some).
Nope – not a safe pair of hands. To my mid 90s self, the Conservatives were a disaster with public money. I worked for a decade for the Ministry of Defence – oh, the stories I could tell you. Well, I’m not Donald Trump, so I won’t reveal state secrets, but disastrous decisions led to various “support services” being sold off to incompetent household names.
By now it was 1996 and the nation was on the cusp of change. Black Wednesday remained fresh in the minds of many when, er, under a Conservative Government (you know, that safe pair of hands with our money?) we crashed out of the ERM, sleaze surrounded a host of Tories and – irony of ironies – arguments and disagreements on Europe led to a Labour landslide! Worth noting that the Tories – had their worst defeat since 1906, returning just 165 MPs (I don’t think, even in my worst nightmares, I envision that kind of loss being inflicted on Labour this time round).
Oh happy day! Things could only get better – and, I think they did for a while – until bombast, spin and unpopular wars took the shine off.
The best thing though, about a new Government, is each one (regardless of their stripes) might come up with something genuinely excellent for the common good. As a children’s and youth ministry worker that was, “Every Child Matters”, although it didn’t come in until 2003, its foundations were laid early on and during its lifetime it brought a fresh multi-disciplinary approach to working with children and young people that lasts to this day. EVERY child matters, at least for me, is echoed in the Labour strap line for this election, “For the many, not the few.”
However, when leadership changes nationally (again, regardless of the stripes) incoming Government’s can behave like jealous children. Here was something excellent, worth keeping, worth treasuring that was working and had brought cohesiveness across the disparate services for children, young people and families. The coalition Government banned the use of the term “ECM” or “Every Child Matters”. What petty nonsense. They had a list of words and phrases that were used on May 10th and earlier and what those words and phrases should be from May 11th 2010.
The coalition, under the Tory ideology of “we must reduce the State and sell things” (although, using as cover the need for “austerity”) has – despite the early promises of George Osborn – done nothing LIKE balance the books! Somehow, unbelievably, many remain convinced that a Conservative Government manages money well. Yes, I’ll admit, Labour did continue to borrow in a brief time of plenty, but – they were not a disaster with the economy simply because Conservatives say so.
Since 2010 public sector debt has risen by just over 50% and, as a proportion of GDP, UK debt has risen from 62% in 2010 to 81% in April 2015. This is against a backdrop of a massive £18bn being cut from local authorities across England (something close to 20%).
I am a simple guy, but this makes no sense to me – the debt is not dropping it is growing, cuts under this Government are happening all over the place in an unsustainable way and yet, tax receipts are up to £168bn (2015/16) from £144bn in 2009/10 – that is a rise of 15%. Yet, “cut”, “cut” “cut”, “public sector pay freezes and caps”.
As a youth worker, I see this most acutely in a decimated youth sector. It’s all but gone. Everything left is “targeted”. Youth centres are being sold or hired out to bring in money for cash strapped councils. Never mind, it only impacts young people.
As a Christian, I can’t countenance pouring this kind of scorn on the next generation. “Strong and stable” does seem to me focused on the wealthy elite. I’m not impressed by the Theresa May party, this is not a presidential election . . . as parliament was being closed in preparation for the election she actually said these words, “a vote for me makes me stronger”. I had to play it back several times to check I’d heard it right! I believe we have a fantastic parliamentary democracy – I don’t want to vote for an individual who doesn’t appear to have an ounce of humility – which holding great office requires – and doesn’t respect her own constituency MPs, never mind the country!
In the Church of England there is a fantastic little phrase that links nicely with “For the many, not the few”. It is “The Common Good”. This is about adding value for all in society. I believe that this is what Labour is seeking to do. Conservative ideology remains convinced of the rightness of Margaret Thatcher’s statement, “There is no such thing as society.” If you read the transcript of the interview for Woman’s Own magazine (see it here) the individual takes preference over any idea of valuing those around us – we seek our own good, the good of those closest to us and then – if we have anything left over – we seek the good of others. I don’t want a Government that tells me my personal ambition and aspiration trumps the needs of those around me. In fact, this individualistic approach has led to the increasing gap between the rich and poor. In a General Synod paper for the Church of England on the Common Good we find this quote,
Important Enlightenment virtues of autonomy, individuality and property rights have unleashed a monster that threatens to carry all before it … sweeping away not only democracy but also our values. (Jurgen Habermas)
A vote for me, makes me stronger, “I am strong and stable” . . . Theresa May has swallowed this whole. Whereas I feel “For the many, not the few” resonates in my soul.
Again, from the synod paper on Common Good,
By seeking the welfare of all, the church expresses its conviction that God wants his creation to flourish (Jer. 29: 7). By living out Christ’s sacrifice for us – liturgically, in prayer and in selfless service to others – the church’s commitment to living as Christ lived is demonstrated in its pursuit of the common good of all.
I don’t have a chance of my vote making a difference in this election – but I will vote anyway. Although I live in a sea of blue, with the grandson of Winston Churchill as my local MP – holding a 24,000 majority – my vote is for Labour, my vote is for something greater than me and mine, my vote is about the kind of country I want to live in, my vote is to set an example for my own children who can’t vote for themselves yet, my vote is for refugee children – many more of whom we should be receiving in to this country, my vote is for re-nationalisation of key services, my vote is for education, my vote is for the national health service.
My vote, as a Christian, is Labour.
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