This is the first of 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 first one, Revd Iain McFarlane, who is Priest-in-Charge at Boyatt Wood, Eastleigh, explains why he intends to vote Liberal Democrat in his constituency.
Guilty as charged
Firstly a couple of admissions, firstly I generally have a much higher regard for politicians than most. This is partly borne out by my having being a Town Councillor (non-partisan) in my spare time before following the call to Ordination, and by being fully immersed in Westminster for my Practical Theological Reflection Placement whilst training at St John’s Nottingham. The latter saw me shadowing the then Shadow DEFRA Minister, my local Conservative MP. Through that experience I witnessed much greater congruence across benches than the public get to learn through the media. Similarly I saw how the Christian faith was embedded into parliamentary life at many levels, be it The Parliament Choir, Christian Researchers, or Christian Fellowships and their pride in Wilberforce and the Social Reformers.
Secondly, since being eligible to vote I have changed my political loyalties through factors such as becoming a Christian, knowing the local MP, becoming disillusioned, tactical voting—but in principle (if I still qualify) I am at heart a Social Democrat. That obviously presents a problem as I still believe that sits me presently half way between Labour and the Lib Dems, but I’m not a New Labour Blairite either. By definition social democracy embraces aspects of socialism and the welfare state alongside free economics and a Keynesian form of capitalism.
Why do I vote in the first place?
Micah 6:8: “What is good and what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Simples.
The Westminster Vote
I aspire to many of the values that will underpin a Lib Dem Election Manifesto. That’s not to say I agree with all of their policies, especially those that rub against the convictions of my open evangelical perspective.
But before I share what some of those guiding principles might be in shaping policy, I want to bring this back to the MPs themselves and indeed the PM. I’m uncomfortable at the current appetite for presidential leadership. The finest political leaders in the UK have surrounded themselves with Cabinet colleagues who they are prepared to share counsel and power with. To quote former PM Clement Attlee: “I believe that the foundation of democratic liberty is a willingness to believe that other people may perhaps be wiser than oneself.” Attlee himself demonstrated this most persuasively as he led the nation through the most significant period of post-war political reformation, indeed through the greatest political change of the last century. Whether it was the birth of the NHS, nationalisation of a fifth of the UK economy, giving independence to India, or leading the Labour Party for 20 years that history will remember Attlee for, for me it will be his attitude to leadership. It challenges the doomed presidential quest we have had, beginning with Thatcher, continued by Blair and now desired by the ‘Theresa May Team’ logo that has not just relegated the name of a political party but has also undermined the UK Parliamentary system for the sake of placing her on a the pedestal. I concur with Attlee when he said “If you begin to consider yourself solely responsible to a political party, you’re half-way to a dictatorship.” I know there are many who view Attlee as also the founder of a godless Britain, but I can’t help but consider that much of what in the name of social justice christened by his government, reflects the gospel teaching of Jesus.
Politics has got so personal that many Christians have got to the point where they feel righteously justified defame their messianic candidate’s political opponents. Well it’s not fine. I do believe the media have been getting away with biased journalistic kindergarten sloppiness especially in their dealings with Corbyn but with Tim Farron as well. Much of the anti-Labour-Corbyn camp are sounding hypocritical. For years the point being laboured was that there needed to be a party leader who does not just spout out vote winning policies; and that we have needed a non-career politician that actually says and sticks to their principled views. Stage enter Corbyn…”Well…except him!!” Some of the social media responses to Corbyn I am just astounded by…he has become public enemy #1.
When we turn to the Leader of the Lib Dems, the only reason people do not mock him personally is because they cannot remember his name. I do not believe this is Tim Farron’s fault—he is charismatic and impassioned about his cause. But the media spotlight seeks to shape a view that many have of him as a damp squib of a man struggling to succeed out of the shadow of his big wig predecessors. Just as they did with Ed Miliband in the last election, the public has formed an image based on media mockery which is both shallow but then also highly toxic to would-be voters. Yet despite this all, under Tim’s Leadership, the party has seen a leap to its highest ever membership, they have chalked up several by-election wins and locally in Eastleigh the party regained every County Council seat it lost to UKIP.
Christian opinion of their brother in Christ is mixed too, but I judge him no less than how I have seen him sincerely believe to apply his faith to his politics, without him being perceived by many Christians as a weak defender of the faith.
Another virtue of Tim Farron is that he clearly believes in ‘good disagreement’ with there being several encounters recorded with him on the campaign trail where he actively and gracefully engages with those who oppose him—something particularly Theresa May could learn from without avoiding being seen as every bit less than ‘strong and stable’ in the face of such confrontation.
The Constituency Vote
But then moving from Westminster to Eastleigh, because it’s my local MP I’m electing in – not the Party Leader. In the recent Council Elections, the Lib Dems spectacularly regained power from UKIP in this town where it’s purple battle bus was more familiar than the #2 Bluestar to Southampton. In the various local campaigns that I have been involved, such as trying to prevent the County Council closure of a rehabilitation, respite and sheltered accommodation for the disabled, it has been the Labour and Lib Dem District Councillors/County hopefuls who attended and did the hands on leg work, meanwhile UKIP just took soundbites for the media and claimed the credit. My local Lib Dem Councillors are thoroughly active in local issues and take a clear genuine interest in engaging with other local community leaders for the benefit of all those we serve.
Now I appreciate that up and down the country there are councillors and MPs of every political colour doing a great job for their community. It just so happens that in Eastleigh it is the Lib Dems that I have seen to do the most, and our previous MP, Mike Thornton, engage in his constituency the most—and definitely more than his successor, who has not even personally responded to a number of issues including the inadequate rehousing of disabled people made homeless by shortsighted, cynical Tory cuts.
Many would argue that Mike Thornton was punished by the electorate, alongside so many others in the last Election, for his association with the Con Dem coalition. But since then he has continued to work tirelessly as a volunteer in the community. As a Christian he offers hands-on support to a charity that works out of our church called ARK (Acts of Random Kindness). I’ll then bump into him in a care home where he offers his time, or driving patients to appointments and much more that I’m sure I (or others) never see. So when people complain their MPs need to roll their sleeves up and help the real people they have been called to serve….well he already has been actually! I admire Mike’s political humility too. How many MP’s I wonder when sent home from Westminster, stand for the local council elections?
The Political Vote
The previous leader, Nick Clegg, (who was an atheist) wrote some years ago in The Church of England Newspaper of Lib Dem values:
It’s based on simple principles: regard for each other, help for those who need it most, and an obligation on those with the broadest shoulders to bear the greatest burdens. These are all values central to Christianity, and to Liberal Democrat politics.
They are a party that principally believe that to achieve equality and opportunity for all requires government intervention, including the need to alleviate social injustice. They believe that everyone deserves the same opportunities in life no matter what their background, seeking to break down the barriers that limit fairness, whether it be in education or the workplace.
They are progressive, green, internationalist, tolerant, compassionate and generous committed to always fighting injustice whilst standing up for the minority, neglected underdog, standing with the vulnerable against the powerful.
They believe in unity and reject the growing divisions we are creating in society, be that concerning anything from the elderly being pitched against the young or the disrespect being shown to Leavers or Remainers. As citizens of the world they believe our communities are stronger locally and globally when we work together through our common interests.
I believe that the Lib Dems will commit to saving the NHS, improving social and mental health care; they want to end homelessness and would lower the voting age to 16. As a School Governor I’m encourage that they have also pledged £7bn to protect per-pupil funding.
I share these pledges only because it demonstrates what they stand for—though these principles are unlikely to be enacted since, by their own admission, they seek to be the credible opposition that many (including the Conservatives) believe to be essential to give us a ‘strong and stable’ Government.
Tim Farron and the Lib Dems have also been portrayed as opposing Brexiteers, but as Tim has shared himself, he has Leave friends who he still just as much respects and will hush the boos of anyone seeking to undermine them. The desire for a second referendum I totally support. I accept the Brexit vote, but it’s become a bit like ordering a Full English Brexitfast without knowing you’ll be short changed with muesli. I can’t understand why those who voted for a ‘hard’ Brexit are not demanding the same; it’s as though coming out of the EU with nothing is justifiable because we have still come out. Why not hold the Referendum Brexiteer promises to account?
I have deliberately not cross referenced scripture to anything I have shared other than the Micah Challenge because there will be counter references and counter-counter references to each. We all know what Jesus said about this stuff and because of that I believe that you can be a Christian and vote for any of the political parties and that you may be individually guided by the Holy Spirit to do so. That is not delusional; it is part of what we we seek for the church, to display unity not uniformity.
But for these reasons, whatever your considered vote, I will be voting Lib Dem because I feel obliged to vote in the first place, because of what has been happening at Westminster and in my Constituency and because it is presently the most likely place where I will lay my political hat.
Rev Iain McFarlane, Priest-in-Charge, Boyatt Wood, Eastleigh.
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