Monday, 22 May 2017

'Not another one?' The 2017 General Election

When Theresa May announced a snap General Election last month it was Brenda from Bristol, who featured as a vox pop on BBC News, who appeared to sum up the mood of the nation. When told about the election Brenda exclaimed: ‘You’re joking?! Not another one? I can’t stand this. There’s too much politics going on at the moment.’ 

I too have some sympathy for Brenda’s reactions as I too have election fatigue. In the UK we’ve been to the polls an awful lot within the space of a few years. If you’re Scottish then you had the 2014 Scottish Referendum - of course while the rest of the UK couldn’t vote a vote for independence would have had an implication for the whole country. Then there was the 2015 General Election and a divisive and bitter EU Referendum in 2016. Added to our elections and referenda we’ve also been subjected to the impotency of watching a car crash of a US presidential election last year too.

Prime Minister's Question Time
Photograph © UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor. 
Under Creative Commons Licence
But while I’m not overjoyed to be going to the polls yet again I do think that unwelcome as it is this election is necessary. After so much uncertainty following the vote for Brexit it does feel like the political landscape is completely different to the one voted for in 2015. Though let’s hope its not a hung parliament as that will add to uncertainty - worse still, if no-one forms a majority we might have to go to the polls yet again!

Though this election may be necessary, in a world that has seen Brexit and Trump in the last twelve months there is part of me that is worried what will happen next.

I am not apathetic towards politics. I do have political views and it’s probably fair to say that these views probably don’t fit neatly into any of our political parties. There isn’t a party that I could honestly say that a feel at home in. However, unlike some other clergy who share their party political views, I personally don’t think it’s right for church leaders to express their party political views; the vicar and Guardian columnist, Giles Fraser, for example, has always been very willing to nail his colours to the mast as a Jeremy Corbyn supporter. (In the interests of balance I should name a Tory supporting clergyperson but there are far fewer examples to draw from. However, while not run by the clergy, the Archbishop Cranmer blog is an example of a Christian commentator that supports the Conservative Party). Now, I don’t mean that the Church shouldn’t get involved in politics. It absolutely should air its political views (whether that’s a concern for the poor or the plight of persecuted minorities) but I don’t think we should publicly show preference for any political party or leader. Apparently that’s why elections aren’t held on Sundays in the UK - so that clergy can’t influence their flock how to vote on polling day! Though as an aside, it's interesting to note that any intervention into an election campaign by the Church of England is normally seized on as being partisan. In 2015 the House of Bishops letter to congregations was seen by some Conservatives as being too pro-Labour whereas this year the Archbishops’ letter has been criticised by some on the Left as being too pro-Conservative - the Bishops’ can’t really win! Sadly, the truth is that sometimes people read bias into something just because they disagree with it.

While my party political views are private, I will say that I do have some anxieties about what we will happen after 8 June. But I think people of all political stripes will be anxious about the outcome of this year’s snap election - and come May 9th there will be some very disappointed people out there, as there always is when the results come in.

However, the sad truth is that whoever is in Downing Street for the next five year is likely to make mistakes that harm ordinary people - all prime ministers and governments have done so, no matter what their party colour; think Blair and Iraq or Thatcher and the Poll Tax. Yes, we should vote, yes, we should care who governs us and yes, we should hold our leaders to account but ultimately any government - no matter how powerful - is temporary. They are here one day and swept away the next. 

In these past few years when we have seen so much political instability and turmoil, one of the verses in the Bible I keep coming back to is from Psalm 146:3-7. It says: 

‘Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God. He is the maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them - he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free.’

As a Christian what is important is the bigger picture. If we believe that God is sovereign and that God is our true King then it ultimately doesn’t matter whether we are ruled by Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn. In the not too distant future both May and Corbyn will find that the power they had has slipped from their grasp and neither will have made the impact that they hoped for. Yes, as Christians we should be engaging proactively in democracy but in doing so we shouldn’t lose our perspective on the bigger picture. 

The big picture is the Kingdom of God - which belongs neither to the Conservatives nor Labour nor any other party. The Kingdom of God is where God’s rule of peace and justice prevails. It is where men, women and children discover the love that God has for them and their lives are changed through encountering Jesus Christ. Coincidentally, the week leading up to the General Election is the week between Ascension and Pentecost and the Archbishop of Canterbury has launched a  global wave of prayer called Thy Kingdom Come. He wants Christians from all over the world to pray for more people to come to know Jesus, for that is ultimately how we will change the world and change people’s lives - not just for five years but for eternity.

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