How I’m Planning to Vote
That’s not because I lack political opinions. I know what I think civil government is for: the protection of those it serves, especially the weakest and most vulnerable, from harm, violence, exploitation, the curtailment of liberty, and injustice. I think this is best achieved when governments engage not just with individual acts of injustice (policing, national defence) but also with systemic injustice (through welfare and education). With all the relevant caveats, I see the post-war welfare state, not as the rabid expansion of an untameable, anti-Christian behemoth, but as the natural outworking of a society shaped by Christian thinking with respect to the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed. I believe in freedom of trade, freedom of movement, freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. I think societies flourish when they raise taxes to pay for education and healthcare, not just for armies and law enforcement. I think tax revenues are more important than tax rates. I think immigration is good for the economy, good for a society, good for the poor, and good for the world. I think the state has a particular responsibility to protect those who cannot protect themselves, which today, as in Scripture, includes sojourners (asylum seekers) and orphans (children in care), as well as those with learning difficulties or mental health problems. I think the right to life is more important than the right to have sex without consequences, and I think governments should fight abortion and sex trafficking with equal vigour. And so on.
But when it comes to party politics, I am homeless. That list of convictions, many of which I regard as extremely important, conflicts not just with Ukip and the Greens, but with the major parties as well (all three of whom I have voted for over the last fifteen years). In some ways I am progressive, but not like Labour; I want progress on international equality and civil liberties, and they don’t. In some ways I am conservative, but not like the Tories; I want to conserve all human life and traditional marriage, but they don’t. In the classical sense I’m both a liberal and a democrat, but the Liberal Democrats are neither (though I admit that calling themselves the Interventionist Republicans might not have the same ring to it). If a party popped up whose platform was simply that they wouldn’t kill any Middle Eastern civilians, unborn children or long-term sick people, I’d probably vote for them. In the absence of one, I am, as I say, somewhat homeless.
I can’t even identify myself as left- or right-wing. All the normal ways of telling, don’t work. It’s well-known that right-wingers think the BBC is biased to the left, and left-wingers think it’s biased to the right; I always think it’s impressively neutral. When I watch or listen to political debate, I always find myself rooting for the most heavyweight person on the panel, whatever their party allegiance happens to be (Ming Campbell one week, Michael Heseltine the next, and so on), so that doesn’t help. Prime Minister’s Questions never involves any answers, so that doesn’t help either. Right-wing dailies are worse than the others (the Mail and the Express), but a right-wing weekly is also better than the others (the Economist). My favourite daily newspaper is the Guardian, and certainly not the Telegraph, which makes me feel lefty, but much prefer the Spectator to the New Statesman, which makes me feel righty. If I was American, I’m still not sure whether I’d be a rabidly pro-life Democrat or a rabidly anti-gun Republican. I’d say I was in the centre, but even that wouldn’t be true: it’s just that sometimes I find myself on the right, and sometimes on the left. Confusing.
Yet for all this, I think voting is hugely important. Just as I’m responsible for wisely stewarding my money, my time and my gifts, so I’m also responsible for stewarding the civic power with which I’ve been entrusted as a citizen of a democracy. Using the electoral power I have, which is massive when compared with the vast majority of generations who have lived on earth, is a key way in which I can love my neighbours and contribute to human flourishing. So sitting out an election because I’m confused, or because I have disagreements with every party - which presumably everyone does - is not an option. What to do?
Well: this is the joy of living in the UK. If I was American, or in any country with full proportional representation, engagement in the political process would require aligning with a party, a Presidential candidate or a platform, and negotiating the cognitive dissonance that comes from (say) liking the candidate and loathing the party. Being British means I get to avoid that. I get given a vote for one person: the individual I most want to represent me in Parliament. I don’t vote for David Cameron or Ed Miliband, or even the Lib Dems or Ukip. I vote for whichever candidate will do the best job as my representative.
That makes everything much, much more straightforward. It means I can simply go to the local hustings, ask good questions, listen to the answers, and decide which candidate (as opposed to which party, let alone which party leader) is closest to the set of beliefs I hold, and most likely to do things that love my neighbours. I can ignore the letters from Central Office, and the posters that tell me that if I don’t vote Cameron I get Salmond, and most of the op-ed pieces (though I’ll make an exception for Simon Jenkins, Gary Younge and Matthew Parris), and the soft-lit creepy-music party political broadcasts, and the TV debate brouhaha. All I have to do is decide between a handful of people - six, in my case - who live in my town, answer my questions and speak to my issues.
So I’m not voting for Cameron, or Miliband, or Clegg. I’m voting for whichever of those six people, none of whom you have ever heard of, will represent my views most effectively at Westminster. And if you’re wondering which, so am I. I’m heading to our Hustings tomorrow night, to find out.